I love that quote from The Running Man. Its the tag line/catch phrase for the host of a game show where criminals are allowed to try to win their freedom by out foxing a gang of hunters who chase them, all while an audience wins cash and prizes.
“Who loves you and who do you love?”
When building, and then running, an MMO, this is probably the single most important question to ask, and ask often. Its the mantra of watching the trends, both the short and the long, to see where the tide is going to flow and hope your game continues riding the crest of the wave and not washing out.
Ryan Shwayder and Grimwell both recently posted about if an aging demographic should affect a game in production and future game design, and there has been much recent discussion about change in WoW by Heartless, Foton and others.
As it comes to the age stuff, I think both Ryan and Grimwell are fairly dead on, if your game got successful on a certain demographic, you shouldn’t change based on them growing up unless you aren’t gaining new people at the entry level. If your game once appealed to teens and young adults but is no longer attracting those people, then you have to choose either to change to try to attract them again, or change to continue appealing to the people already playing your game and maybe attract more people at that demographic. And that leads into the other discussion…
When it comes to World of Warcraft, just as with many games before it that mix PvE and PvP styles of play, changes are sometimes made to favor either the PvE or PvP side of the game over the other, often to the detriment of the other. A spell might be too powerful against other players so they need to reduce its power, thus affecting the power of the player in combat with NPCs as well. It does indeed suck when changes are made to favor the side of the game you don’t favor. However, of all the companies out there making MMOs, Blizzard is the only one I inherently trust to completely understand their entire player base and do what is best for the bottom line of the company. They didn’t get their reputation for wildly successful polished fun games for nothing…
So, why is it that they seem to be favoring the PvP side of the game so much with changes to classes and abilities?
While WoW has always been a casually friendly game, is has also long been accepted that rolling into large scale PvE content (raiding) at the high end was where the “real game” was. More recently, however, the Battlegrounds and Arenas seem to have taken more focus. For one, it often takes less people to participate in, and a pick up Alterac Valley is more likely to succeed than a pick up Kazharan raid. For another, their restructuring of the reward system of PvP has made the PvP gear much more accessible to the casual player than raid gear. This denotes an understanding from Blizzard that BGs and Arenas are much more accessible to the majority of players than raids, and will net them the largest continuous player base. I know if I were back playing WoW, I’d be over in the PvP elements of the game as often as possible, if for no other reason than a few rounds of Arathi Basin would be more productive, personally, than a night of raiding with a guild.
Another aspect to keep in mind with WoW, is that unlike many other MMOs out there, it is truly a global game. And in the Asian countries, professional gaming is much more a reality than it is here in the United States. I wish I could find it again, but there was a video a while back showing some (Korean, I think) professional gamer (national Starcraft champion or something) getting mobbed by girls in the street. I’ve seen pictures of the audiences that will come to watch pro-gaming over there. I doubt girls will scream or audiences will come watch a carefully orchestrated 3 hour long raid bound to net the guy with the worst items and/or the most points an item upgrade. But for Arena matches… they will come. So when you consider that more than half of WoW’s 10 million subscribers are in the Asian markets, markets where previous PvP Blizzard Games like Warcraft and Starcraft were monstrous successes, it really is no surprise that they might be giving WoW a little PvP nudge and luvin’.
In the end, it all comes back to the quote… Who loves you and who do you love? Answer that, and keep answering that, and you can run a successful game.