The Ever-Evolving Audience

Tobold and Syncaine are having a debate as to whether the great unannounced MMO from Blizzard will reach a million subs. Both make some interesting points, but of course neither will be proven correct for a long time.

I think both arguments are missing a key element, though.

Especially for those of us who have been playing MMOs for ten years now, we tend to think of the audience as being fairly static. As with most forms of entertainment, it isn’t.

If the success of the second Star Wars movie trilogy had been predicated on the response to those of us who grew up with the original three films, the newer movies would have been failures or modest successes (after all, many original fans were disappointed in them). On the contrary, the films were huge hits. Why? Because there was a whole new audience that embraced them–yes, even Jar Jar.

My friend and colleague Bob Salvatore has written a lot of books about dark elves. If his sales were confined to the same people buying every single one of them, he wouldn’t keep ending up on the New York Times best-seller list. He does. Why? Because new generations of readers are buying his books. While he also retains many readers, his audience is constantly renewed.

Blizzard’s next MMO project will be a huge success. Why? Because (unless something completely uncharacteristic happens) they will release a very polished game that is a lot of fun to play. Will the 11 million players of WoW buy it? It won’t matter–there will be a whole new generation of MMO players who will. Whether it’s future gamers who are kids now but won’t be in a few years, or those who feel WoW is too old and entrenched to be appealing, or those who just don’t care for the Warcraft franchise– there are a ton of people who will be ready to try something fresh and new.

This is the same reason why the fantasy Diku MMO still works. Jaded gamers on message boards may tire of them, but the genre’s proven appeal will continue to resonate with new gamers coming into the space.

It’s fashionable to complain about Hollywood or the games industry revisiting the same ideas time and again. But the truth is, there are new audience members entering the marketplace of ideas all the time, and what is well-tread ground to you is an open road to them.

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

5 thoughts on “The Ever-Evolving Audience”

  1. That is a pretty great point. A lot of us old folks still assume that we’re the target audience. The truth is, while we’re as loyal as puppy, there are probably ten folks ready to take our place!

    Darn kids, they need to stay off my lawn er… MMO?

  2. /agree

    Jaded gamers are jaded and will move on when they are burnt out, nothing wrong there. Making a game which can stand the test of time, not by holding onto customers til their hair turns grey, but by capturing new audience at a regular pace is the real bar of success.

    That isn’t to say that original adopters should be out in the cold, they are an integral part of the community and need respect and sweet loving also.

    One is silver,
    the other is gold.

  3. Some interesting points! I don’t think your Salvatore example works though because presumably if his fans get him onto the bestseller list ones, the same number will get him on it every time. If his volume of sales was increasing, then it’s a different matter though.

    I think the key to MMO exposure (if that’s the right word) is accessibility. Subscription fees and Internet access has always limited the audience of MMORPGs and I think now that both those barriers are starting to recede (the Internet is more accessible now and sub fees are more acceptable) the size of the potential player pool increases.

  4. You’ve made an excellent point. We often forget that every year there are literally millions of new potential MMO gamers waiting to be hooked. They don’t know what EverQuest is in the grand scheme of things nor should they care. Just like many of us didn’t know much about MUDS when we first started playing EverQuest. All we cared about was the here and now.

    Isn’t it interesting that even after 10 years many of us are still here. We’re still playing MMOs and obviously passionately concerned about them. I wonder if the WoW generation of players will still be playing MMOs 10 years from now?

    The question for most of us regarding Blizzard’s next MMO is will it continue with the current trend of MMOs becoming even more accessible by dumbing-down the gameplay experience? We shall see…

  5. It’s a good point, but I feel you neglected something. Star Wars prequels did well for the same reasons R.A.’s Drizzt Books did well. They are tied to a preexisting hot property. It’s not so much a reputation for quality or polish, but the strength of the original intellectual property that drives a certain level of success. Blizzard will have similar results, but it will be on the strength of the brand name until people can evaluate the actual quality.

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