This botched article is an example of an idea I that never really materialized, and I could never really get a handle on. I was thinking of how difficult it was for developers to make games for a widely diverse range of players, and wondered if they lump us in simplistic categories. On one hand, I like dissecting and analyzing things, but on the other, I don’t like to be shoved into a category and think I should resist doing that to others. Anyway, here it is!
As the MMORPG genre continues to evolve and grow, three audiences for these titles are coming into their own as desired demographics who sometimes have wildly different playstyles and needs. Not to peg anyone into just one of these categories, but here’s how I see it:
The Youth Audience
Here’s where a bulk of 6 to 18-year-olds reside: living at home with parents, dependent on them for income (unless you’re an industrious person and get a job, which I’m seeing a lot less of in teens around here lately). They typically have access to a computer (sometimes their own, sometimes shared), and can invest a decent amount of time into a MMO on the whole.
This audience is generally less impressed with complexity and depth, and more on graphics, visuals and the coolness factor. We’ve seen a huge uptick in developers trying to capture this market with kid- and family-friendly titles like Wizard101, Free Realms, FusionFall and pretty much every Facebook app on the planet.
The Hardcore Audience
This audience can range in age from 14 to well into the 30’s and above, as long as they have decent disposable income and copious amounts of free time. The combination of those two factors create the spawning ground for a hardcore gamer who is able to put in more time into a MMO than any other market. Here’s where a bulk of the raiders and vanguard players reside.
These gamers are content-devourers, chewing up whatever devs can make faster than it’s being made. They’re pretty loyal to one title (where all of their time is poured in to becoming the best of the best), although some have so much free time that they can spread the love out between multiple games and excel in all of them.
The Grownup Casual Audience
This is the next destination for gamers who take on added interests and responsibilities in life — demanding jobs, marriage, kids, other hobbies — and yet who still love MMOs and play them fairly regularly. They just can’t do so with the time and intensity of the first two audiences. While they appreciate the complexity of more advanced games, they demand that those titles make allowances for the fac that not everyone can game 40 hours a week, or in 8 hour blocks of time.
These gamers value their limited time, and want to spend whatever time they’re logged in doing something fun and productive. They might or might not reach the level cap, they might or might not raid, but it’s no longer the most important aspect of their MMO gameplay. They value the social aspect more, and might be more prone to trying out different games without feeling as if they’re falling behind the pack.
Stereotypes: Love ‘Em!
Okay, those are all over-generalizations that have loosely-defined borders that overlap and spill into each other. You might instantly want to rebut and tell me how you’re a combination of two or all three audiences, or how I forgot whatever, but putting you into a category wasn’t the point here. The point is that developers see these three audiences as potential subscribers who all have different amounts of play time, money and interests. They either craft these games specifically for one audience, or work extra hard to provide a little something for everyone.
Wizard101 is a terrific example of a game specifically made and marketed for the youth audience, but it then experienced a great cross-audience appeal with adults as well — and took advantage of that with their family subscription pricing. Free Realms is a bit of the opposite — they wanted to capture the entire family market, young and old, but its focus on minigames and overly simplified MMO-ness has turned off a lot of adults I’ve talked to (although they’re certainly not hurting for players/subscribers, no sirree).
The paradigm for MMO audiences isn’t just hardcores vs. casuals, it’s hardcores, casuals, adults, youth, simple and complex. People don’t fit neatly into a certain-sized hole, and while in the past MMORPG choices were so few that everyone either had to adapt to that style or simply not play, nowadays there’s literally a game for every level of interest, playtime, complexity and style. Some of the newer MMOs deliberately cater to a more specific niche, refusing to generalize, while others see how successful MMOs are that offer a bit of something for everyone and do away with specialization.
I don’t think it’