During the latest round of blogs, I've heard a large number of people saying "players don't want something too new anyways." This is hardly a new topic of thought for me, but I thought I'd go into some persuasive hyperbole on the topic.
For starters, I'd like to give you a test. The test consists of three questions, at the end of which I should be able to accurately predict what you want in a marriage.
1) How badly do you miss beating your spouse?
A. Very much
C. Very little
D. Not at all
2) How many days a week is it acceptable to cheat on your spouse?
3) Your potential wife must hold down a steady job.
A. Strongly Agree
D. Strongly Disagree
Obviously this questionnaire is fundamentally flawed. At every point we make certain assumptions, that the taker is abusive, considers promiscuity acceptable at some level, and that they are marrying a woman. For the majority of takers this will provide a result that is non-applicable, though it will always return a result as there is no condition in which it cannot.
When we come to asking questions as to player's wants, needs, and motivations we tend to fall into similar traps. One of the greatest criticisms of the Bartle Types is simply that the tests assume you fall within those bounds. They will report a final type report, so long as you completed the test, even if you do not have any preference for any of the given activities. But the basic principle extends out to our probing of players for their preferences. For instance we might ask what genre of game they plan to buy next, MMORPG, RTS, FPS, Flight Sim, Racing, Sports, RPG, and completely miss the reality that their next purchase may be Arcade.
Obviously, we can expand the list, but that does little to solve the fundamental problem. Without being able to build a comprehensive list of all genres that have, do and ever will exist the answer will always be flawed. Even having such a list wouldn't be a magic bullet though.
Those doing the asking are not solely faced with this problem, the ones being questioned face a similar dilemma. It is very difficult for a person to think outside of what they know and to extrapolate out a choice that they didn't know themselves to have. To bring it into sharper perspective, few people could have possibly expressed their interest in purchasing first person shooters in 1973, shortly after pong's release. This isn't any sort of criticism of players, either, it is simply the reality that we seldom express interest in options we don't know exist.
A great TED talk by Malcom Galdwell comes to mind. I'll go ahead and embed it so that you can take this opportunity to watch it if you haven't had the pleasure yet.
I've heard some criticism of his talk in that the idea of diversifying product lines is not a new one. That wasn't my take away, though. What I had picked up on was that there had been a segment of their market that they had previously been unable to sell to, simply because they didn't know it existed. MMOs recently went through this, we hadn't known there was a market for relatively speedy leveling, end game raiding and pop references in a setting created within the games industry.
Generally speaking, I don't pretend that the games I wish to make are anything other than niche products. However, I am generally slow to speak as to what exactly the customers of the MMO market want. I feel that, in many ways, we haven't finished growing our market. Because of this, in terms of financial success, it is almost impossible for us to accurately state what is or is not what the players want. And likewise it is impossible for the players to tell us what, if anything, they want outside of the current offerings because they have no frame of reference for those 'other' things.