Themeparks Vs Adventure

Wolfshead has just posted his second post on The Emasculation of MMOs. As usual his arguments are very well thought out and contain a lot of good points about the state of the MMORPG genre. However, I really do think that he doesn’t truely understand people and their motivations.

Early on he states.

I daresay the majority of people who enter MMOs today would prefer to be immersed in a virtual world of adventure than deposited into a theme park of amusement and fun if offered the choice. Sadly, that choice is not available in today’s market. Instead the player just follows along the predetermined storyline that the quest designers lay out in front of them. Never questioning, never deviating from the golden path.

I daresay that he’s right that some people who enter MMOs would prefer the adventure, but the majority? No, unfortunately humans love the easy way.

Just look at the number of people who go on, lets say, an adventure camping trip as opposed to going to Disneyland for their holidays. The theme park attendee numbers vastly overwhelm the wilderness sandbox folks. Despite the absolutely amazing things you can do in nature (an off the trail horseback ride in Alaska’s Denali National Park with just me and the guide was one of the most marvelously memorable things I’ve ever done) the sad fact is most people will spend all their holidays staying in motels and going to Disney and Six Flags. If they ever do something adventurous, it will probably be only once.

It ends up being simple economics. All companies, not just game developers, will go to where the market lives. And, the bigger the company, let’s say Blizzvision, the more compelled they are to reach the biggest market possible. Hence Blizzard will continually refine World of Warcraft to meet the expectations of casual gamers who want their games to be fun, and not an adventure.

This is also why the big game developers aim for the status quo of MMO design. They’re after the casual segment. They can’t afford not to aim for the casuals.

The good news is that there are plenty of small niche adventure businesses out there that target the much smaller market. The guide who took me on the cross country horseback ride was in the process of packing up for the winter and moving down south. He targeted a small niche market out in the boonies that made him a good enough living to run that business on half a years revenue. Would he have made more money offering pony rides in the Disneyland carpark? Maybe, but the risk of being put out of business by the big company would have been higher.

In the same way, there are game developers that are targeting the niche MMORPG market. CCP for example with Eve Online. It’s no Blizzard, but it’s happily making good money running a sandbox game that players love.

Perhaps that’s where the immediate potential for change in the MMORPG market lies. The niche developer, not the giant game publisher.

And, one other thing. I’ve also been to Disneyland, Universal Studios, and other theme parks, as an adult. They were fun and engaging and I had a great time.

So are theme park MMORPGs. What’s wrong with fun?

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  1. Longasc

    What’s wrong with fun – nothing? q.e.d., it is all good?

    Fun is not enough and it is not a long term motivator. Fun is exchangeable, but a world full of the mentioned adventure grows on you.

    The argument of potential profit as most important factor of design is exactly based on the notion to go for the lowest common denominator.

    So, profit is made with Coke and Burgers. And people love it.
    How many Coke clones do we need?

    Where are the alternatives? In terms of food we at least have the popular pizza, but in terms of MMOs we seem to be stuck with burgers.

    EVE covers a niche, but also includes the officially confirmed by CCP 90% carebears that never ever ventured into the low sec or 0.0 system.

    Darkfall is usually mentioned as the other alternative, as it supposedly is “hardcore”. Now does hardcore with a focus on hardcore pvp automatically equal adventure or a good game? Of course not.

    I see SWTOR and GW2 and see the new bigger themeparks rolling in. This won’t stop till someone gets the idea that “adventure” also can make money.

    I will probably also comment on another point in Wolfshead’s article, the state of perpetual adolescence. I think *my* thirst for adventure in MMOs rather comes from a perpetual adolescence. But I think kids and hard working adults can also enjoy adventure.

    “Fun” as a virtual no-risk happiness pill is a bit like drugs. An unhealthy illusion.

  2. Stropp (Post author)

    @Longasc — I think the basic disconnect is that adventure is not equal to fun. Wolfshead alludes to this in his article when he says that there should be a “Theory of Adventure” rather than “A Theory of Fun.” This isn’t the case. Underlying adventure, at least recreational adventure, is the enjoyment of such.

    I’m pretty certain that there is no real market for an adventure that isn’t fun or enjoyable. Not many sane people would put themselves through anything that they didn’t enjoy for entertainments sake. Would Frodo have gone on the quest if he hadn’t been compelled to?

    The Eve figures only go to prove that it’s not PvP that draws these types of players, but the sandbox feel. And perhaps being the only real space simulation out there helps too. But still, Eve still only gets a small share of the MMORPG market. If pure adventure was all it took to draw players, shouldn’t Eve be as big as WoW?

    As much as Wolfshead, and I to a certain extent, dislike the use of the phrase, “It’s just a game.” Our MMORPGs are not real life, they are entertainment, diversions. Should they be as unenjoyable as (some aspects of) real life?

    Honestly, when all is said and done, I think fun (as in enjoyment) should be a motivator. If you are not enjoying, or getting enjoyment through the satisfaction gained by doing something hard, then why are we doing it?

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