Last week, there was a positively eyebrow-raising thread on the Guild Wars 2 subreddit that tied neatly into the overall MMORPG meta discussion many bloggers and gamers have been having throughout February on raiding and why developers keep pushing it in spite of the fact that most MMO players aren’t actually interested in it. The original post argued that hardcore players and elite raiders drive the communities, events, and streams around the game, while detractors called that “delusional.” It got pretty heated, as these things do, as “salty scrubs” and “toxic elitists” battled it out.
I thought we could back up from the namecalling for a sec to actually dig into this, especially in light of the listener question we tried to answer on the most recent MOP Podcast that specifically wondered whether the loss of prominent community leaders – like the type that run guide websites – is a crushing blow to MMOs. So: How essential are hardcore gamers to an MMO’s health, and how do different types of hardcore impact the overall perception of the game’s strength and popularity? Do MMOs really need hardcores or raiders to survive? Let’s tackle it in this week’s Massively Overthinking.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Most of the restaurants near my parent’s home aren’t good; they just have their audience. All products are like this. By chasing an audience your team simply can’t attract or please, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
WildStar was a great example of this. From marketing and gameplay, aesthetics and customization were their strong points. Hardcore raiders I knew were attracted or repelled by this unless they dug through forums, dev journals, or gameplay to realize it was just another raiding game but with good housing. Not bad, but not what most people wanted.
But they had fashion sites, home building blogs, and fan comics. No one type of gameplay has a monopoly on inspiring community and creativity.
If this had been more clear, if NCsoft hadn’t been chasing World of Warcraft numbers, and if the team had listened to its actual base rather than a subset someone at corporate told them they “needed,” it might have survived or even thrived. We’ve seen it with Elder Scrolls when the game moved more towards gameplay that more closely aligned with its main series features.
Obviously raiding games can do well. And PvP games. And survival games, collectors and builders. But you gotta play to your base, and alienating large amounts of them isn’t going to help.
Andy McAdams: I’m going to refine something – we are talking about hardcore and raiders as an example of what I think an MMO really needs to survive: passionate people. Gamers and what we think of as hardcore are a type of passionate player, but not the only type and definitely not one I would use as a stand-in for passionate people.
Is the loss of the hardcore raider crowd a death knell for a game? Definitely not. Is the loss of passionate people who pour their time and energy into the community and meta space around the game a death knell? Well now that’s a different story. I think the loss of passionate people in a game is a warning sign about the health of that game.
But I don’t think hardcore raiders are representative of passionate players, and so their loss from a game isn’t a measure of the health of the game. The loss of website operators, cosplayers who don’t spend time on the game, RPers who feel like their interests are better served someplace else… these are all way better indicators about a game’s overall health than whether the “cupcake” crowd wants to move onto the next game.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I think that hard core raiders and PvP players are definitely beneficial to the health of a game. The rise of streaming and esports have introduced a whole new way to advertise games to a potential playerbase. I’m not a streamer, but I’ll bet that a PvP stream is on average much more well attended than a stream of somebody crafting, selling in the guild store, or wandering the countryside. More viewers means more exposure, more conversation about the game and more familiarity with the product. It’s a large part of why so many games are now designed with some aspects of esports or hardcore competitive play in mind.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Quite a few MMOs don’t have raiders or raiding and do just fine. So let’s first disentangle raiders and hardcores. I’m willing to bet some of the most hardcore MMO gamers you’ve ever met weren’t into PvE endgames, and I’m also willing to bet that along the way you’ve used addons and websites built by fans who barely play enough to be considered casual.
Even if raiders were the ones making all the raiding guides and doing all the raiding streams, that’s not really a boon to anyone but other raiders (and the marketing department’s budget). You could even argue that emboldening that type of player encourages the very elitism on display in that thread. The majority of players aren’t actually looking for that content; they’re looking for basic character builds and auction hall tips and map databases and housing videos, so guides for content they’ll never see are not really helping them at all.
Where hardcores have an edge is in helping sell the game to people like them (or people who want to be them, whether they can do so or not) on behalf of the studio. Large-scale raiding is more exciting to watch on a stream than lowbie grinding, yes, so that’s great for a game’s attention-grabbing abilities. But… PvP is way more exciting and more palatable on Twitch, so if marketing power were the goal, raiders would be talking up PvPers, not trying to elevate themselves and justify their niche.
It’s probably obvious I think it’s a silly, self-congratulatory discussion on the part of the “elite,” and the old Breakfast Club “You’re so conceited, Claire” line keeps popping into my head. (Brian tells Claire his friends wouldn’t object to her friendship, and Claire argues that’s because Brian’s friends look up to her elite clique, and he calls her out for being so clearly full of herself.) A good virtual world needs all kinds of players, from super casual to hardcore, raiders and PvPers and midgamers and newbies. No one group survives long without the others in a well-rounded, healthy MMORPG; just ask WildStar.
And that’s especially true when the game in question is a game that launched with (and made most of its money with) “no raiding” as one of its bullet points.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): Do I think MMOs need hardcore players? Absolutely. They’re the people that play the game at a level a casual player wont. Is that a slight on the casual playerbase? No because I’m simply answering whether or not we need hardcore players.
What people don’t recognize is the content needs of a hardcore playerbase compared to a more casual one are different. The thing is, the stuff a raider needs actually does generate content like guides. I can’t think of someone running a YouTube channel where all they talk about is a guide to a 4-man dungeon and doing well. Their needs just so happen to force them into the spotlight, whereas a huge swath of folks in FFXIV will be happy to finally get umbrellas, but I don’t think it’ll make for engaging content. The more midcore group of people have access to normal raids and dailies, but for people who play the game for the combat, doing dungeons over and over again isn’t going to be their jam. The content a raider needs is just different, and it just so happens to create community leaders.
People shouldn’t be shaming them for it. Sure, maybe a few of them should at least go to the attitude store and buy a new attitude, but that’s sage advice for the whole community, not just the elite raiders. And yes, they are the ones making the guides and content, so if they’re not making it, then who is going to do it?
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Here’s the thing about a game’s community: It is, by definition, amorphous. It’s a whole lot of players looking to do stuff to have fun, and trying to discern it by looking at a community-by-community perspective is ultimately a bit deceptive. For that matter, it’s ultimately a bit deceptive to look at your corner and see it as representative of the game as a whole, even if it might be.
For example, if you’re an active part of your game’s roleplaying community, you might see some hundred-odd other people who are all working hard at making lore guides and character guides and putting things out there as transcripts and the like. You can easily see all the stuff that is produced and know that there’s an even larger community of people consuming instead of actively producing and find yourself thinking that this is, in fact, the heart of the community. And if there’s a hundred times as many people involved in the community, your community is… about 100,000 people, which depending on the game might still be just a small fraction of the overall playerbase.
If that aforementioned roleplaying community loses some of its creative portion due to burnout, but the stuff that fostered a larger RP community is still in place? Other people will take up the mantle. The community will move forward and adapt. But if the leaders start leaving because the game is aggressively fighting against roleplaying as a concept, then this isn’t a result of the community having churn but being actively forced out. And that’s the sort of thing that can actually do long-term damage to a game, squeezing out the people who enjoy something about the game. It’s indicative of an illness at the core of the development.
Which is – almost always – a result of developers catering to the most hardcore players claiming that the game doesn’t cater enough to their community. So no, the hardcore progression demographic is not the heart of the game; more often, it’s the disease.
Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I think it doesn’t drive the overall health of the MMO as much as those in that community believe. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to have some minimal level of YouTube/Twitch visibility. Before I dive headfirst into an MMO, I do my due diligence. I check out some videos, look at what the community says in a few different places, and then decide whether to play or not.
I do think it’s important that a few dedicated players with resources build fan sites, post walkthroughs, and build other useful tools for the times I need to find something out. But I really don’t care and don’t watch most user-generated MMO content.
It could just be that the larger demographic of MMO gamers are older and less likely to spend their evenings watching Twitch streams than watch traditional scripted TV. Or it could just be me. But when I have gaming time, I’m usually spending it gaming. I bet that MMO players like me are more common than those in the hardcore community would think.
Tyler Edwards: Just as I draw a distinction between newbs (new players just beginning to learn the ropes) and noobs (people who don’t understand the game mechanics and don’t want to learn), I’d draw a distinction between elites and elitists.
Elites are the top end players. They like to maximize their characters, and usually provide most of the guides and community content for a game. They are, by and large, an asset for a game. They help the rest of us mere mortals improve our game and understand more arcane mechanics that we might not have been motivated to figure out on our own. I’m not convinced that they are essential — I think most games would survive OK without them — but losing them is definitely a loss that is felt.
Elitists are an entirely different breed. Some of them are also elites, while others are more mid-tier players who simply have an inflated sense of self-worth. Regardless, they’re all people who view their worth and the worth of others as being dependent on their skill with video games. These are the people who will do anything to maintain their perceived status as virtual royalty. They’ll fight tooth and nail against any quality of life change that might make life even slightly more livable for casual players. They’ll argue against dungeon finders and the like, perhaps even making up lies about the “disastrous” effects such features have had in other games to make their points.
My feelings on elitists like this are far too intense to ever adequately communicate without this conversation becoming very, very NSFW, but suffice it to say that no game needs them. In fact, any game would be improved immeasurably by the permanent removal of all players like this. Any value they add with guides or the like is offset by the toxicity they bring to the community.
The sad thing is the elitists tend to be the far more vocal crowd, so they usually end up the face of the hardcore players in any game.