It is much better for developers to specialize their MMORPG for a specific audience, whether it be open world PvP, casual, raiding, etc. However, there are many MMORPGs these days that try to cater to all playstyles. The problem is, none of them, including World of Warcraft, really do it very well. They have all the data to identify the various types of players that regularly play their game. What they don’t do is make content for all those players. MMORPG developers would do a lot better if they follow one simple rule: Every content patch must include content for all the player types that regularly play.
Case Study: World of Warcraft
For the sake of simplicity, I will just identify three player groups: Green, Yellow, and Red. These terms correlate with the more general terms of Casual, Mid-core, and Hardcore but are not the same. After all, a Casual player of World of Warcraft and a Casual player of Facebook games are totally different.
Green players play the game sporadically. These players generally spend the most time leveling characters, doing daily quests, and obtaining cosmetic gear. They will occasionally engage in PvE dungeons and PvP battlegrounds — especially while leveling characters — but they have no long term plans for endgame progression. When a character gets to the maximum level and they have gotten all the goodies from daily quests, they start leveling a new character.
Yellow players represent the in between. Some of these players are in transition from green-to-red or red-to-green but not all. They put a good amount of time in the game and fully understand the game mechanics but for some reason choose not to go further to become red players. Usually, this is because they do not have the time or they find it too tedious. They spend most of their in-game time with dungeons, scenarios, and battlegrounds. They realize they can not get the best gear as raiders and arena PvP players, but they still want to have some progression for their characters over time.
Red players spend the most time in the game. For them, the game has become a hobby. It is what they do. Some people collect stamps; red players play this one MMORPG religiously. They want to be the best. They dream of being number 1 on the PvP rankings or being the first in the world to clear the latest raid. They might never reach those dreams, but every content patch they are ready to put in the time and energy to give it a very hard try. Most of them still have normal lives, a job, kids, etc, but their primary goals are centered around progress in the game. They want those exclusive titles and the best looking gear to show off.
Knowing these player types, an ideal content patch would contain a new daily quest zone, a new dungeon, and a new raid. The green players will enjoy the daily quest zone, the yellow players get a new dungeon to run, and the red players get a new raid to sink their teeth into. Of course there are many other combinations of content that would work such as a new reputation with cosmetic gear for green players, a new battleground for yellow players, and a new arena map for red players. Just add one thing for each “bucket” and your players will be happy.
Blizzard is one of the best in the business, but even they frequently release content patches that do not cater to non-raiders. Part of this is the lack of adapting to a changing playerbase. The WoW playerbase today is much more casual than the WoW playerbase of Vanilla and Burning Crusade. I remember when I started playing, pretty much everyone’s ultimate goal was to get into raiding. That is not the case anymore.
Players have grown up and now have families and jobs. They still like to play but no longer than 2 hours per session. Raiding just takes too long for most of them to be interested in. I believe Blizzard has slowly gotten better at this over the years, but there are still times they forget about the green and yellow players.
Note that I have not considered the PvE – PvP divide. In reality, there are 6 audiences playing the game made up of Green, Yellow, Red PvE players, and Green, Yellow, Red PvP players. I believe it is probably too much to ask to have content for all of those players in each content patch. Just make sure to have one piece of sizable PvE or PvP content for Green, Yellow, and Red players.
I have used World of Warcraft as the example, but this rule applies to all MMORPGs. Sure, it takes more work to cater to more players, but is that not what developers want? The more players, the more subscriptions being paid for or the more microtransactions that occur. Developers get more money, players get more content that they want. The number one complaint players have with a MMORPG is lack of content caused by a series of content patches which have no content they are interested in. Most MMORPGs do get regular content updates. The problem is it usually does not cater to more than a small subset of the player base.
As another example, look to Star Wars: The Old Republic. The developers should be releasing content patches that adds something for all three player types. Patch 2.1 mostly just added to the cash shop, a disastrous move overall. Patch 2.2 added content for Red players (more raids) but not Green or Yellow players, not the best content patch for the overall playerbase. Patch 2.3 added content for Green (new daily quests) and Yellow players (new dungeons) but not Red players, better for the overall playerbase but still not perfect.
Their development team did have layoffs, so maybe it is impossible for them to follow this rule every content patch. That could even be the reason they were not able to compete with World of Warcraft. They just did not have enough content in each content patch to satisfy most of the players. Only the most casual players, still going through class stories (the best part of the game), maintained their subscriptions. If EA / Bioware want to compete with World of Warcraft, they cannot release content patches that only serve one segment of players.
This can apply to other MMORPG developers too. Maybe you cannot cater to all of the players in every content patch. Well, at least make sure to cater to two out of three, the majority. When enough players are not getting content, they stop spending their money on it. As a developer, you have to know your audience and cater to them. There are enough alternatives out there. Your players will not stick around.