How to Indulge the “Low Playtime” MMO Gamer?

There’s an interesting discussion taking place on Slashdot… a user of A Tale in the Desert says he cancelled his account because he wasn’t playing enough to justify the monthly fee, and asks “where is the metered model for the casual gamer?” The lead designer of Tale responded that he might set up a server especially for casual gamers that limits playtime to a few hours a month, but costs the same amount. His rationale: most casual gamers complain that they can’t “compete” with hardcore players who give the game more time; they don’t complain (at least outwardly) about cost.

First, I think it’s really important not to lump “low playtime” users into the larger category of “casual gamers.” Someone who wants to play WoW for eight hours a week is not a casual gamer; a dedicated user of Pogo.com probably is. That said, I think a “casual” server is a compelling idea, but I doubt you can charge all players the same amount. People feel very strongly about fairness, and as a game developer, you violate those feelings at your own peril. If a casual server is identical to a “hardcore” server but has limits on playtime, gamers will probably expect a discount (and I see no reason why not to indulge them.)

Of course, there are other pricing models that remove emphasis from playtime altogether. Second Life’s “play for free, pay monthly fees for land ownership” model, for example. This could be extended to MMOs like World of Warcraft by, for example, charging a small monthly fee for ownership of a mount, a guild hall, etc. Ultimately, hardcore players would still end up paying a fair amount.

Pricing solutions aside, I’d love to see an MMO that makes both “low-playtime” and “high-playtime” gamers happy by truly addressing the problem of competitive disadvantage. WoW tried to do this via rest experience bonuses (the longer you’re offline, the easier it is to gain experience while online) — but it only helps so much. How about designing an MMO in which “important” functions only require a limited amount of time (say, one hour a day) but “less important” functions can be enjoyed endlessly? For example, a space trading game that limits crucial mercantile functions to a given number per day, but places no limits on exploration, combat, etc?

The game industry is currently underserving two markets: people who would love a casual MMO (like Yo Ho Ho Puzzle Pirates), and “low playtime” gamers who enjoy hardcore games but hate to be left behind by high playtime friends and/or enemies. Going after those markets would probably entail less risk than making the next traditional hardcore MMORPG, too.

6 responses to “How to Indulge the “Low Playtime” MMO Gamer?

  1. Can you expand on the distinction between casual and low-playtime gamers? It sounds like you’re saying that one is “8 hours/wk of WoW” and the other is “8 hours/wk of Pogo”. Is it the genre of game that separates them? What makes a game “casual”? Perhaps a game is casual if it’s easy to learn, hard to master, and hardcore game is hard to learn, impossible to master?

  2. This was a great find, BTW. I think that the ATITD designer has it right when he says that he thinks it would be fun if the game was “about playing the smartest 10 hours/week you can, rather than grinding”. That really appeals to me. I want games to really hook my interest, concentrate my attention, and make me believe that what I’m doing really needs doing well. This is part of why multiplayer works — no one wants to be a fool in front of other people, so there’s more at stake (plus the AI is better).

  3. I like your definition of a casual game, but I can imagine a “hardcore” game (for example, a really bloody, violent FPS) that is relatively easy to learn but still attracts experienced console gaming addicts because of good story, graphics, AI, etc.

    A proper definition should probably include the simplicity of the game, the replayability of the game (i.e. highly replayable), and perhaps the game’s appeal to a broad audience (i.e. young and old, male and female.)

    Btw, while thinking about this, I browsed the web for various definitions. There are an amazing number of takes on the subject. The funniest were posted by elitist PC gamers who define anyone that plays EA Sports titles on the console as a “casual” gamer. :)

  4. I would love it if games like EQ2/WOW/etc. had alternate servers for casual players where you were charged per hour. Maybe 50c an hour, so you could put in 30 hours in a month and not exceed the $15 fee thats normally charged. Or something similar. hardcore players would avoid it since $15 for all the playtime they can fit in per month would be more affordable. But casual players who might play only a few times a month would be able to afford it: since they wouldn’t pay when they didn’t play.

  5. If you think about it Anonymous dude, 50c an hour.. So let’s say the casual game
    player puts in 2 hours a day on EQ/WOW/ etc. that’s a dollar a day, and that can
    exceed the regular monthly fee price to about $30 a month. If that guy played
    an hour a day(.50c)puts in 30 hours a month… Monthly fee would be the same about
    $15 a month.

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