A new age of players for a new age of games

While MMO players discuss the next generation of online games in terms of post-WoW era, innovative concepts, market saturation and whatnot, a rather striking occurrence has somewhat slipped under the radar: the great player age shift creating a completely new set of challenges for future developers. That’s right, we’re not just harder to please and more experienced, we’re plain older!

The MMO players of yesterday are grown up and “their kids” have joined the market. This is quite the precedent for this industry; yes, there used to be older players before, but not nearly in the same way as there are today. If we look at the age of when MMOs actually became widely popular, we cannot really talk of much longer a span than maybe 10-12 years. Mainstream? No more than 7 years.

That means, for the first time the MMO market faces an audience that has grown with them – and they still want to play MMOs! They’re the teens of yesterday, now joined by the kids of today. Slowly, we begin to realize just what this means, especially in terms of a whole new world of player variety and new expectations.

A relatively young, average audience is easy enough to manage; back when we were in our teens and early twens, we had loads of time. We had a high tolerance for repetition and grinds. We easily worked in teams and committed to regular guild runs. Not so a decade later. The young audience is still there, but so are we – and now, we have lives to run, checks to pay, families (and lazy cats) to look after who cannot so easily “fit around” other schedules and cannot be second priority to other people. And we need our sleep, regularly (darn…). So, we try to make the most of our time online, because it’s preciousss. Somehow, we realize that we cannot and should not quite achieve the same under such limited conditions – still we’d like to feel like we’re not missing out on too much. I still want to have the cake and eat it too.

How will the MMOs of the future deal with this changing, more mixed and demanding audience? Will they grow past us, leaving us behind or will they try and benefit from this huge opportunity to appeal to a wider circle of players? Might they even change their focus drastically in favor of this older generation?

P.S.: For the record, I’m still young – just so we cleared that up!

5 comments

  1. Personally, I think the question you pose has already been answered, and has been answered by the 800lb Gorilla in the room: WoW.

    When it first launched several years ago, raids and group content were onerous, multiple hour affairs. But as time has gone on 5 mans have become less so, and raids have gone from gigantic 40 man affairs that progression guilds took months to clear down to the current 10/25 man incarnations where hardcore progression guilds are clearing the “hard” modes faster than any guild I can think of could back when.

    So, is that a bad thing? I suppose if you’re on the younger end of things, pushing content hard, it means you run out of content faster. But for those of us who are getting older(I’m 30 now), with limited play time, it’s not so bad. I don’t know that I could run through something like the Horde Onyxia attunement quest in a day or two like I used to be able to. To me, 5 man content is about where it should be, and I don’t really have enough experience in the raiding environment to be able to talk to that, but I think that Ulduar in Wrath was about the sweetspot for my likings.

    All in all, I think that there definitely needs to be a balance in providing content to vastly different demographics; the aging set that now has kids, a spouse and more responsibility against the younger crowd, with little responsibility to anything but themselves and maybe school. But it’s a balance that’s certainly very difficult to hit.

  2. @JThelen

    I suppose you’re right, of course – funny enough I don’t recall anyone ever bringing up the age shift issue when debating the changes in WoW over the past 5 or so years. somehow that was never a topic for explanation, at least not that I noticed. rather, everyone assumed that WoW’s increasing popularity just brought more and more ‘mainstream’ players to the table with every expansion and that this somehow influenced the whole “going casual” trend.

    so for me personally, this brings a new factor into it all that I never considered in its gravity. I would assume that the next genreation of MMOs will have to make this their focus a lot more than even WoW. be it that we see new and more dynamic concepts or simply more splitting the audience into niche products. I have a feeling that the time of the “one big MMO hit” is over..

  3. “A relatively young, average audience is easy enough to manage; back when we were in our teens and early twens, we had loads of time. We had a high tolerance for repetition and grinds. We easily worked in teams and committed to regular guild runs.”
    Are you suggesting that younger, less mature players are more reliable, patient, and team-friendly?

    In my own biased view, younger players are worse off in every category except time, and even the excessive amounts of time only really applies to college students. Even in high school I had a bed time.

    Maybe the problem isn’t the high or low, but both: there are now immature players with moderate amounts of time, young’uns, and mature players without much time. But MMOs were founded on the middle: somewhat mature college students with way too much time. Now games are trying to go in both directions for two audiences which are much different from their original core, and that might not work so well.

  4. @Stumps

    Nobody listens to you, ogre! =P

    @Kleps

    That’s indeed true. what I probably meant more than just younger players, is simply also a more homogenous audience in general. now extremes are definitely drifting apart.

    “Are you suggesting that younger, less mature players are more reliable, patient, and team-friendly?”

    Hehe….God no. :P

    1) my point on playing in teams is more time-related: establishing contacts, being part of a guild – all so very time-intense. in terms of social competence, more mature players will ofc win.

    2) patience: I think we simply have a lower tolerance for meaningless/boring grinds etc.
    For one thing, we’re just past that – we’ve done so and so many before. then, I doubt our reward-drive is nearly the same (need to epeen factor). And: our time is more precious, because we have less.

    so here I base my point on tolerance/willingness, rather than patience. older players will naturally expect and demand more.

    3) reliability; tricky one. mature players will certainly feel more obligated to keep appointments and not stand the group up. at the same, they have external factors they must prioritize too and they know when that applies. the younger player isn’t necessarily so wise and will prio the game in favor of RL ‘duties’.

    but there’s school, parents, money etc. of course and he will probably not have sleepless nights over not showing up.

    Fact aside that we’re now utterly in the land of age clichés. :D I met many grown-ups in WoW that were frankly useless and vice versa.

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