torsdag 12. februar 2009

Wrath of the Casual King

With the release of WOTLK WoW took at distinct step towards a MMORPG that caters for casual gamers. Where will it go next? Who is the game designed for?

As a backdrop for this you find the endless arguing simply referred to as "casual vs hardcore". The grife bewteen casual gamers and hardcore gamers has raged since... well forever. Long story short: Casual gamers complain that too much content is designed so that only no-lifers and social clients gets to enjoy it, it's too hard and too timeconsuming. The Hardcore gamers complain that the game is dumbed down and changes are made that is ruining the game, simply cause people are crap at playing.
That these will ever make peace is quite unlikely, you might as well put money down on pigs flying. However, what's getting interesting is that these two groups are getting harder to seperate. In early WoW days someone with an epic item was hardcore, cause that meant that they had either been in a raid (something reserved for the few and brave) - now you can roll through 5 man heroic dungeons withtout any issue and there has been a severe inflation of the value epic items from rare to standard. Moreover, a hardcore player used to be the one that knew their way around dugeons, about what specialisations were worthwhile and of the underlying mechanics. Now, this is something expected from everyone. Even the most casual of players is presumed to know about their classes abilities, to know of moneymaking schemes, instance strategies and patch updates. So is this still a valid distinction?

There is still arguments raging on most forums about upcoming changes and persistant problems, calls for nerfs or buffs to classes or content. Some say that the current content is too easy, while others are cheering about the chance to finally get access to parts of the game that previously were only avaiable to a minority group and a ceritain playstyle. However, it's not a clear divide between the two groups. It is true that the current content has taken a surprisingly short time to overcome, however as a entry level raiding dungeon: Naxxramas (which comprises most of the current raidingcontent) is alot more advanced then Molten Core (one of the first raid instnaces in early WoW) ever was. The community as a whole is more educated about game mechanics and strategies, regardless of the hardcore/casual distinction.
What's been removed is the elements that earlier were central in making the distinction between casual and hardcore: fights were you needed a strange raidcomposition (like 8 tanks on Four Horseman), gearchecks (fights that required the entire raid to be max-geared), resistchecks (fights that required a ceirtain type of gear to give survivability, like fire resist gear in Molten Core). With these timeconsuming and committing elements gone from the game, the focus is now on the fights themselves.

A bit of a roundabout way to my point, but I think I am getting there:

Our perception of new content is colored by our previous experiences, but we seem to forget the advancement of the player community when making such comparisons. Gameplay isnt just about what is designed, it's also about what the player brings to the table. With the aveage player beeing more knowledgable then before, new content ends up beeing perceived as easier - but in reality it's more complex then ever before.