There are three kinds of player who make up the Warhammer Online community right now:
1. Fans of DaoC who trust Mythic to bottle the lightning again
2. Fans of Warhammer who want to try a MMORPG based on a favourite setting
3. Fans of PvP who want to try a game in which PvP was built in right from the start.
(You can add to this the people who are bored and will try any game once, people who will play because they have a friend who wants to play, people who are related to one of the developers, and journalists. But they aren’t the game’s evangelists who are out there trying to drum up some excitement.)
Reviews and word of mouth aside, these are the guys and gals who will try the game when it comes out. But that doesn’t constitute a huge proportion of the gaming population. Oh, don’t get me wrong, as long as the game is fun then this alone will garner Mythic a decent, workable, profitable number of players. But if they really want to succeed big time then the game must sell to people who are more cautious of a hardcore PvP setup.
Yes, I know, PvP is optional. But that’s not really the main selling point of the game. The selling point is that all of the game is fun. The more you do, the more fun you will have. And PvP is the core of the game.
Main Barriers for Potential Players
A lot of these potential players will be familiar with WoW, but no other game. They will assume that when they see ‘PvP’ mentioned, it will be similar to what they have seen in Warcraft. And, most potentially punishing, they will assume that if they don’t like Warcraft PvP then Warhammer won’t be fun for them.
I’m not personally a huge fan of Warcraft PvP. But I do remember how fun PvP was in DaoC. And that’s something I find hard to communicate to my friends who never played it. They think of all those times they got yelled at for zoning into a battleground at level 12. All those times they got lost in Alterac Valley. All those times of being corpse camped by higher levels. All the smack talk on the official forums. These things do not make them think that PvP is fun.
The big challenge in attracting players who aren’t keen on the idea of PvP is making the PvP inviting to newbies and marketing it so that it doesn’t also put off the hardcore. How do you get people to shell out the cash for a game that is based on a type of gameplay they haven’t had good experiences with? This is a topic Jeff Hickman addressed a few weeks back in an interview on bigdownload.com
What would you say to people who are apprehensive about stepping into a game so PvP-oriented?
Jeff: I would say you should come out and give our game a try. There’s no danger when you first enter our game. There’s no RvR unless you choose to enter those areas. It is purely up to you to play through the game how you want to play through it. I can tell you that my wife, who used to not be a PvP player, came into our game and enjoyed the crafting and questing. But because of how our game is designed, she was led near an RvR area, and she could look down into the battlefield to see what was going on. This kind of demystified it for her and she decided to try the RvR. She then spent the next two hours on the keep pouring boiling oil on people and having a great time. There’s no fear in it. Enemies can’t talk, yell or make fun of you. It’s the easiest PvP you’ll ever play, and it’s so much fun.
THIS is the message they need to be giving out. It’s the message we need to be passing on too.
The Raine Test
Jeff’s wife was also used by Mark Jacobs as an example of how they tested their cultivation tradeskill.
I kid Jeff Hickman because his wife Raine is an absolutely fantastic woman and she plays WAR. as well and she saw the cultivation system and fell in love with it. She kept playing it all night. So I said, from now on we have to make sure things pass the Raine test!
I can’t say that I like the stereotype of the non-gamer wife/girlfriend — why does it always have to be a woman who is the example of the non-hardcore gamer? I’m also tired of guys saying “Yeah, my wife really liked it,” without letting her speak for herself. But he gets the point across.
Who is this everywoman? And why does she matter?
Truth is, I have a lot of friends who sound very like her. They are gamers. They like MMORPGs. They are smart people and good players, some are hardcore raiders, others more casual but none have enjoyed their experience of PvP and they avoid it where possible. (They aren’t all female, by the way.) And Jeff’s observations on how his wife was drawn into the game could describe them to a T.
The fact that the designers are aware of this group of players and are really trying to make a game that will draw them in gives me a lot of confidence in the design team. Make no mistake, if the game is engaging for these cautious players, it’ll be fun for everyone else too. Fun is fun. (Unless you are a griefer in which case grief is fun. Followed by a long slow tortuous sojourn in an oubliette to consider your trespasses while listening to uplifting spiritual music.)
So how do you close the deal?
The best way to get people to try the game is to give it to them free. That means free trials. If the game really is engaging then the free trials don’t need to be long. A week would be enough.
Tying the trial to an existing account (ie. free trial codes to give to your friends) means that your triallists will have at least one friend who plays, who will also have a copy of the install discs.
Giving trial CDs out at game stores would get the install code out there, and would let people check how well the game runs on their hardware without having to shell out for it. But there is a problem with this. Once you have the installed game, you don’t need to go buy a box from a retailer and Mythic/GOAs relationship to retailers and distributors is important to them. It may be possible to present a cut down set of areas only as part of the free trial – maybe allow access only to a starting zone and a couple of scenarios. And at least giving CDs away in shops would get people into the shops.
So what I would hope to see is Mythic being generous with the free trials. If they believe in their game, if WE believe in their game, then we have to believe that it will sell itself. Probably the best way to do that initially is free trial passes for fully paid subscribers to give out to friends. And I hope they do this right from the start, not waiting a month or two after the game goes live.
I also hope to see at least one interview with Raine herself explaining what she likes about the game and telling us about her experiences. And maybe how she feels about being used as an example in the interviews.
I hope Mythic are brave enough to try to convert the non-PvPer without worrying that the hardcore will be put off.
I hope we are sensible enough to read between the lines and know that what’s fun for the goose is fun for the gander too. And that having more people to play the game with is a bonus for everyone.