Do players want something new?

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
B. Slightly
C. Very little
D. Not at all

2) How many days a week is it acceptable to cheat on your spouse?
A. 7
B. 5
C. 3
D. 1

3) Your potential wife must hold down a steady job.
A. Strongly Agree
B. Agree
C. Disagree
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.


  1. Well first of all, anyone that says "Players don't want.." anything is wrong, since "players" encompasses so broad a community that about the only absolute you can apply to them is that they have an interest in games.

    But to the broader point, if you pull 1 argument out of a bigger discussion its easy to dispute it, but in the larger context, (the one the all spun off Brent's message that "Warhammer isn't revolutionary so Warhammer isn't fun.") it isn't as easy to dismiss.

    Look, if someone invented a vacuum cleaner that was cheap, silent, and converted the dust it sucked up to energy so you'd never have to plug it in, pretty much everyone would now want that kind of vacuum cleaner. Because now we have a more efficient TOOL.

    Games aren't tools, they're pastimes. When FPS first hit the market, it didn't mean suddenly Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit were no longer fun.

    Turning it around and looking at the discussion another way, Sony has been promoting The Agency as a very different kind of MMO. If when it ships, it's another Diku variant, I'll be disappointed because the expectation is that we're getting something 'new'.

    Mythic never said Warhammer was a revolutionary new kind of MMO. Those of us who got excited about it were fine with that. We didn't want or expect something 'too new'. We wanted a Diku MMORPG with strong RvR components based on Warhammer Lore. And that's what Mythic is delivering. No foul.

    Turn it yet another way. The Superbowl is around the corner, and my friends and I are pumped. We've got the party all planned. 6 foot subs, a keg, big screen tv... we're all set. Then they announce that this year, the Superbowl will be broadcast in a new VR technology. This technology puts you right there on the field and lets you watch the game in was we've never dreamed of...but to watch it, everyone has to climb into a VR Isolation Pod.

    Here's something "better" that we never expected, but guess what? My friends and I were all ready to watch the game the old fashioned way. We WANT the old fashioned way. We want to slap each other on the back and cheer together. And here's Brent telling us that we're wrong, that the Superbowl is NO FUN to watch the old way. And we're saying "We don't want this to change." and you're faulting us for that, trying to show us the error of our ways.

    When you get to my age you'll learn that new doesn't always equal improved. Sometimes the old ways really ARE better. Taking an established, beloved by many, lore and applying it to a tried and true methodology is a Good Thing. And from a business standpoint even more so.

    YOU should be (and I have no doubt you will be) creating the revolution with your smaller, niche products. Prove the concepts, then apply them to a huge multi-million dollar product that directly impacts the livelihood of hundreds of people.

    But please don't gamble our chance for a Warhammer MMO on radical new ideas.

    /end cranky old man rant


  2. *wishes to heck he could correct all those typos*

  3. That would be applicable to the current post if I were only concerned with the hubbub around Brent's post. Which I'm not.

    His just had people bring up something that isn't really new, and got me thinking about something that isn't really a new thought to me either.

    But as to the points you are making more directly, it's perfectly fine if you like "the old way". The question is, do you like the old way? OR do you just lack any other way to compare it to? Lets say you do, in fact, like the old way, but how many other people would prefer another way they just don't have the option presented.

    And assuming some of the people out there want a "new way", what is that new way? How could we even go about asking them and measuring the general popularity of this "new way"?

    I brought up Gladwell's talk because he does speak about something that isn't at all necessary. A minor preference, not a tool or fundamental need. Even if a new game doesn't make an old game less fun, it can replace those games as the game you immediately reach for when you want to have fun. It can be that much more fun to you. If it, and others like it, don't exist though, how would you ever know?