MMO Theorycrafting Rants and Hissy Fits 5 Comments

So Long, Transient Players

I’m fairly certain that this post will irritate some people, so let’s start it off right with a quotation from an established blogging shit-stirrer, SynCaine:

“[Transient, casual members] are a nightmare. They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers, but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege.”

SynCaine’s post was as much about the number of hours that a person plays each week as it was about their commitment to a game, but I’m more interested in the latter point.

Ever since WoW hit its peak and then started to fade it seems the general mood of both the playerbase and the industry is to move towards MMO design that requires less commitment. Group sizes got smaller, subscriptions disappeared, and content became easier or gained “easy modes” like LFR. MMOs have gone out of their way to eliminate mandatory social interaction (or any social interaction, in some cases) and support a “drop in, drop out” playstyle.

These things are all well and good, but what has the cumulative effect been so far? Obviously my information is anecdotal, but those folks who were sick of WoW and wanted things to better suit the anti-social, transient player? They’re currently.. still sick of MMOs. They played some of the new hotnesses this year like Pandaria and GW2, and now they’re bored and cranky again.

The people who I see playing and enjoying MMOs now are the opposite of the transient player, what Rohan calls the Extended player. It’s the people who schedule a weekly activity, who find a game they like and stick with it, or who seek out group content. It’s the people who have committed in some way to their game.

So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — WoW was crazy good fun in its prime and online games were still kind of a novelty.)

And let me be clear — I realize that appealing to a wide audience will net the most possible dollars. I’m just saying that I don’t care, and neither should good MMO developers. The vision of an MMO as a commitment-free, socializing-free utopia doesn’t work, as a general rule. The vast majority of people in my own gaming group and in blogging circles who are dissatisfied with MMOs insist on playing them as single player games, and it just frustrates both them and the Extended players around them.

I started out 18 months ago or so believing that playing an MMO without any commitment to anything was possible and perhaps even admirable. Now, however, when Rohan says in his original post that “[Transient players] still need an endgame” my first response is, “No they don’t”. The idea of “Extended vs. Transient” or “Casual vs. Committed” isn’t new, but I’m officially so over the current popular thought that MMOs need to fit both audiences. Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.

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  • Reply
    November 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    As much as it might annoy I have to agree as well, building social ties, community and commitment is absolutely a great thing for an mmo, its just sad that this isn’t in vogue anymore.

    From what I’ve seen the transient player is all about experiencing novelty. New fights, New experiences, New blockbuster action but an mmo is not the place for this as it isn’t able to maintain a sense of novelty over the long term. You have the short burst of a new event or expansion but that isn’t enough, that’s where having more social orientated play and goals make an mmo more then the sum of its mechanical novelty.

  • Reply
    November 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    You just said what I’ve been trying, and failing, to figure out for years. MMOs aren’t particularly great games in terms of just gameplay, graphics, and all the rest. They can offer great experiences, but so many of those are in the social aspect: We killed the boss, We worked together, We played together for years. It’s hard to have that we when the game is filled with individuals who are only there for a few weeks after a patch.

  • Reply
    November 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm


    Interesting article, but how do you explain a “fluke of the times” that’s involved ten+ millionf players and that’s lasted 8 years? Maybe the mmo tent is big enough to allow casual players too.

    • Reply
      November 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

      Well, I posit that when WoW was at its height the majority of players were committed to the game. They were in guilds, they ran things with friends, they played whether there was a new patch or not.

      It’s the attitude of playing an MMO like a “drop in, drop out” single player game that is at odds with the entire genre.

  • Reply
    November 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I think the issue is less genre, but people who pick communities or guilds they don’t fit in. that was always my major qualm in WoW; if you join a raid guild, then know what it entails, please. don’t join a progressive guild when you’re unwilling to commit or contribute, both in terms of effort and time spent. choose the guild that fits you and be honest and upfront about your intentions.

    I just joined a fairly serious WvW guild in GW2 and told them right away about my play time. it was up to them if they could use me (WvW is also not the same in terms of fixed numbers and roles needed like raiding is).
    I know I won’t see all of WvW nor PVE in GW2, but the point is I am fully aware of that and more than accepting of the fact that my agenda is MY problem. the 20 year old kids that have all the time in the world will see more than me, have better loot etc. and I am completely fine with that. I knocked myself out at that age too and that’s how it should be. :)

    you can absolutely play any MMO on your own terms as long as you’re happy with the sort of progress, community and content access that will give you. the issues you describe arise with the ‘whiner crowd’ who think less effort needs to avail the same results as a lot of effort/time. no, it really doesn’t. still, it’s up to a developer how much of that they want to take aboard, how far they will compromise – and Blizzard are not a good example of this. even today with my current playtime, I would personally prefer vanilla WoW / TBC over the game it is today.

    also, for reference –
    I quoted Rohan there too and I made a to me very important distinction that should not be forgotten in this context. I still “have a feeling that correlation is being mistaken for causality here and there.”.

    UO was a very oldschool game in many ways, hardcore, that icon of grumpy veterans today – and yet UO had an incredible amount of ‘room’ for different playstyles, as long as the players were willing to commit to a world that was harsh and rather infested with gankers. but there were players who dedicated all their time to crafting, becoming famous armor-smiths on their realms, or people who specialized in other trades and services. it is GOOD to have an MMO world with different people and playstyles in it!! if the game does it right, it is beneficial to everyone involved. but with that we are back to more open and sandboxy approaches to MMOs that allow players to create their own micro cosmos.
    Syl´s last post: Experiencing Events, Impact and Player Mindset

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