What do players really want?

It’s that time again in the MMO market place where restive players are looking for new vistas. As luck would have it AION has just launched and there have been many spirited exchanges on WoW’s forum over the weekend and through Tuesday’s troublesome patch rollout in WoW. All of it got me thinking what is it MMO players in general really want. Obviously the community is an amlgamation and probably no two players want exactly the same thing, but I think we can still take away some lessons.

First and foremost I believe most players want a bit of freedom, with an ability to play solo. Vanilla WoW was much more centered around group play than I think we see today. For the most part a player can quest, complete dailies, craft or play the economy, and PVP entirely solo. You really only need to group if you want to run a dungeon or raid.

Secondly I believe most players want an ability to have access to all content, and I think Blizzard has done a fairly remarkable job at enabling that in Wrath. Creation of hardmodes in raids and dungeons has enabled them to tailor raid and dungeon content so that newly minted level 80s can walk into the same content as the hardest hardcore players and have different experiences.

And thirdly I believe most players want personal progression in the form of gear and equipment upgrades. Again I think Blizzard has done a good job at enabling this, and there are multiple venues through which players can achieve upward progression for their characters. The recent emblem change instituted in patch 3.1 enables players earn 4 pieces or Tier 8/7 gear relatively quickly, while simultaneously enabling players to earn Tier 9 pieces to replace those through completion of the Daily Heroic. And all without ever having to step foot in a raid instance. There is also considerable upgrade potential through PVP for those who like to PVP and a plethora of craftable gear that players have access to at various levels as well.

The threads I read through yesterday on the WoW forum are mostly in the vein of “Aion rules” and “Aion is so much better than WoW” which all point to the primary differences in that player base. The dreaded “Hardcore” vs “Casual” depiction. Hardcore players seem to be more and more despondant with WoW as each successive patch rolls out, while casual players seem to be more satisfied. Aion seems to offer those harder core players an out from WoW because it offers what WoW does not currently, for the most part. And that is that it is more centered on group effort and also makes PVP a more central aspect of the game. In other words they can “pwn noobs” and can gain access to content and gear that other less deserving people can not.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next few weeks and months. A few friends have purchased Aion and of course my son has too. I might jump on myself this weekend to check it out, but there have been fairly harrowing tales of how long it’s taking people to actually get in the game (hours). I’m hoping that NCsoft will have made some adjustments to that by the weekend otherwise I’ll be skiping that party.

One of my friends told me NCSoft rolled out only 12 servers for AION initially, which is surprising considering the number of pre-orders alone. Yet I think they are being smart. How damaging was information to Mythic regarding their server consolidations? NCSoft appears to be on top of the situation, ensuring racial balance is enforced by locking some servers to new players entirely, and opening others to only a specific race. Again, it’ll be interesting to see how that works out over the next few weeks or months because the last thing I think NCSoft would want is to open a bunch of servers now only to have to announce consolidations in 2-3 months.

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