MMOs for gamers or businessmen?

Brooke Pilley
B. Pilley|10.23.09

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MMOs for gamers or businessmen?
We ran a column earlier this week by the fantastic Brendan "Nyphur" Drain about the gaming renaissance. One of the key points he made was that there is a new generation of game developers coming out of school who have played MMOs for nearly half their life. This sounds quite promising, doesn't it? I'm here today to play a little devil's advocate and say that while MMO gamers want MMOs made for and by MMO gamers, they get games made for and by businessmen instead. Oh, those businessmen (and women) may have been gamers at one time, but once they formed that studio and sought outside investment, their new priority became making money.

There are of course a number of indie developers working on niche titles and their ambitions might not be so great as their multi-million dollar indebted brothers and sisters, but don't kid yourself; they aren't slaving 16 hours a day over their computers for free. They have families to feed, do they not? So, let's start off by defining these two creatures and then analyzing the concept a bit more.
The Gamer
Gamers love to game! A gamer who doesn't love to game and only does it to make money is a businessman. Gamers have a variety of tastes and come in many shapes and sizes. There are grinders, non-grinders, PvPers, PvEers, hardcores, and casuals. Then you have those who prefer stylized or realistic graphics or fantasy, sci-fi, horror, super-hero, or kid sub-genres.

MMO gaming can be expensive, even though it's relatively cheap compared to some pricier hobbies. Do you upgrade your PC every year or three? How many titles do you purchase per year? Racking up $15/month in subscriptions adds up too, especially if you run multiple subscriptions. How many items do you buy via RMT?

Finally, gamers are fickle, especially MMO gamers. It isn't uncommon to try out a few new MMO releases per year just to see if you enjoy them more than your current home. Have you ever heard of WoW Tourists? Everyone has a vision of their MMO Holy Grail, and like Indiana Jones they keep on searching.

"Gamers are fickle, especially MMO gamers."

The Businessman
Businessmen love to make money! Any businessman who doesn't love to make money isn't going to be very successful and might as well just stick to playing MMOs instead of making them. Some businessmen keep their eyes the same size as their stomachs and focus on niche genres but most aim for that mass appeal sweet spot. Blame World of Warcraft.

Whether the businessman is self-funded or backed by investors, making MMOs is expensive. There's time, money, and since time is money, you might want to add a square value to that cha-ching. Smart business means maximizing your return-on-investment (ROI), which is tough to do in a risky marketplace full of fickle gamers. Needless to say, making an MMO is much more expensive than playing one.

Finally, most businessmen only get one kick at the can. Spending $50 on an MMO and finding out you don't enjoy it is a bummer, but it's not the end of the world. Spending years pouring your blood, sweat, and eye lubrication into a title that doesn't meet expectations is another thing. Having realistic expectations for the potential success of a title that isn't held up to WoW for direct comparison is something businessmen (and their investors) are just starting to realize.

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