On the composition of playerbases

I remember standing among a small group of people at the Gamescom Cantina in 2015, chatting with Eric Musco after the show part of the event was over and everyone was enjoying their drinks and socializing. We talked about the population of the game, and two things he mentioned were especially memorable for me: firstly, that raiders make up by far the smallest part of the community even behind PvPers, and secondly that there are more than just a few accounts that have been continuously subscribed since launch and never had a single max level character in all these years.

I bring this up because quite a few people on the SWTOR forums love to pull “facts” and “figures” out of thin air to try to badmouth changes they have yet to experience. Then they harp on about how this game moves further and further away from the rose-tinted “vanilla” experience, and the thinning population is blamed on the lack of operations or whatever else their personal favourite activity is that is being neglected. Don’t know about you, but I feel like the forums could use a lot less of uninformed drivel.

Don’t be this guy.
Don’t be this guy either.

I’m not arguing for the end of all discussions ever, but I do think said discussions would benefit from a more… cautious? realistic? distanced? approach.

If this alone doesn’t convince you, take it from Ion Hazzikostas, Game Director on World of Warcraft, who touched on this subject in a very well thought out and highly informative forum post.

[…] This is going to be a lengthy post that will stray far afield from the topic of expensive vendor items, but there there are at least two major underlying issues here:

First off, there are multiple viewpoints on nearly any topic, as you can see in this thread. If I’d instead posted that we were going to reconsider and massively reduce the prices of the cosmetic items on this vendor, there would be other people feeling like their feedback was ignored. It’s exceptionally rare that everyone wants the same thing (despite frequent framing of “no one likes X” or “we want X” when giving feedback). And even then, there is a large silent majority that does not post on forums. If there were actual unanimity regarding a certain issue, we would change our design: For example, early on in Warlords, we changed Group Finder loot from Personal back to Need/Greed until we could iterate on Personal loot further, and the community overwhelmingly told us that was a dumb idea. The change was reverted within 2 days.

Second, almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the playerbase. That may sound odd at first blush, but it’s true. In a sense, that’s part of the magic of WoW. It is not a narrow game, but rather one that can be enjoyed in numerous different ways, by people with hugely diverse playstyles. A minority of players raid. A minority of players participate in PvP. A tiny minority touch Mythic raiding. A tiny minority of players do rated PvP. A minority of players have several max-level alts. A minority of players do pet battles, roleplay, list things for sale on the auction house, do Challenge Mode dungeons, and the list goes on. Virtually the only activity that a clear majority of players participate in is questing and level-up dungeons, but even then there’s a sizeable group that views those activities as a nuisance that they have to get through in order to reach their preferred endgame.

And yet, taken together, that collection of minority groups literally IS the World of Warcraft.

Perceptions of feedback are further complicated by the fact that, due to the cooperative nature of the game, players tend to make connections with others who favor a similar playstyle. I’m generalizing a bit here, and there are certainly exceptions, but I’d guess that a typical Gladiator-level player probably doesn’t have a WoW social group that consists of people who mostly solo-level alts and explore the world. And most small friends-and-family guilds don’t spend a lot of time talking to competitive Mythic raiders. So when there’s a change, or a feature, that is aimed at a portion of the game that isn’t your personal playstyle, it’s easy and in fact natural to have the sense that “everyone” dislikes it.

If we decided to focus on a specific playstyle and elevate that portion of audience above the rest, then we could certainly visibly and consistently address clear feedback from that group, but WoW would become a far smaller game in the process.

Another major consequence of this structure is that if we have some special reward (be it a unique mount, a powerful item, a title, etc.) and we choose to associate it with a particular playstyle, almost by definition a majority of player feedback will be against that decision. For example, if an awesome mount comes exclusively from PvP, the majority of players who don’t participate in PvP yet desire the mount would prefer that it were otherwise. If our goal were to please a majority, we would likely have to make a version of that mount also available through raiding, and one also available through outdoor questing and reputation, at the very least. But doing that would dilute the reward itself. Ultimately, the approach we take is usually to tailor different content and rewards that can feel special to different groups, rather than trying to come up with a lowest common denominator that isn’t special to anyone.

In closing, I know it often can seem like we don’t listen. We are – just to many, many different voices. And it may be that a given change, feature, or reward is simply aimed at a different portion of the playerbase. Or we could be wrong and we haven’t realized it yet. So please, keep talking.

Edited by Watcher on 5/9/2016 8:12 AM PDT

Besides the issue of perception he also mentions that a lot of narrow playstyles ultimately make up the whole of the userbase. The correlation between what you offer and how many people you are able to attract should be obvious enough, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that clinging to questionable standards set in 2004 is better than carving out your own niche, and I think that’s the process SWTOR is going through right now. I support it. I believe that 5.0 can be a step in the right direction, but that remains to be seen of course.

TL;DR: We don’t have data. BioWare has data. Perception is by nature deceptive. Discussions shouldn’t happen on the basis of made up figures.

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sally e. goldfinch

Level 24 biologist. Has a weakness for non-humans, beer and voices lower than a 100 Hertz.

2 thoughts on “On the composition of playerbases”

  1. A couple of months ago Syp from Bio Break did a poll about this on his blog, asking people to tick what features they are interested in in an MMO. Exploring came out as number one… but with a relative majority of less than 11%, so nearly 90% of his readers still weren’t interested in what was the most popular choice. I thought that was a great illustration of the concept.

    Liked by 1 person

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