Wolfshead has an interesting post over here about the lack of Explorer (a Bartle player type) content in WoW, and how it is a problem for the game. I agree with most of it, being an Explorer myself.
I am left to wonder, though, what of this “balance” thing? Wolf seems to imply that all four Bartle types are necessary for a healthy game world. In a purely theoretical game design view, I agree. All four types of “players” are present in the real world, to some degree, and inasmuch as online worlds are meant to be, well, “worlds”, why not try to get everyone involved?
Firstly, it’s a game. The demographics are different, merely because of core game design concepts. The demographics are different because not everyone plays games. Yes, there are more people playing than ever, but games still attract a disproportionate number of Killers and Achievers. MMOs tend to get more Explorers and Socializers than most games, simply because of the nature of the genre… but still, I tend to think that the Killer and Achiever focus is somewhat of a chicken/egg issue.
Killers and Achievers made the game. They play the game. To what extent is that a reflection of the demographics of the players, and to what extent is it merely the game design attracting those players instead of the other types? I think it’s a little of both.
As such, I can’t really blame WoW for catering to its audience. It’s smart business. Of course, reaching out and finding new audiences is smart business, too, and this, perhaps, is where WoW has lost its way. As Wolf points out, the focus of game design out of Blizzard is heavily skewed to the Killer and Achiever types. It’s a self-reinforcing spiral, a feedback loop. Such are useful if the business goal is to maintain subscriptions, rather than to provide content for all Bartle types. Closed intellectual loops can be maintained far easier than trying to juggle varying points of view. Even so, long-term viability means bringing in new people, and WoW seems content to cater to the existing clientele.
Short story long, WoW is very good at what it does; suck people into the addictive achievment grind with frequent Pavlovian rewards in pretty packages. That’s not inherently bad design so much as it is a narrowly focused design. I tend to think that there are some ethical concerns there, but just speaking of design, it’s remarkably effective. It’s a game, not a world.
So why not try to get more people involved? Why not try to make more of a world? Socializers are happy if there’s a decent chat function and other socializing options, like guilds and haircut, so they aren’t nearly as demanding. Socializers mostly depend on other players, rather than dev-created content. Explorers, on the other hand, are demanding, as they consume content faster than other types. (As Wolf rightly notes.). That’s a significant cost to the company, so while I think it’s short sighted to ignore Explorers, it does make financial sense for the devs to go for the cheap options in other players.
As for my perpetual distaste for the subscription model, I’m an Explorer. My Bartle test is 100% Explorer, 50% Socializer and 50% Achiever. (The Bartle test adds up to 200% for some reason… they should just normalize it to 100%, but I digress.) I’m a casual player. I like to savor my exploration. I wander around, taking screenshots and reading lore. The Damocles sword of “I’m paying $15/month for this” exerts a subtle “squeeze as much value as you can out of this” effect, and since the game mechanics are so heavily rooted in the level/loot treadmill, I subconsciously find myself bending to that simply because it’s the sole way of reliably opening up new areas to explore. It’s very much like being forced to “play their game” so that I can do the part that I really want to do.
In the end, that does tend to mean that I’m not the best fit for WoW rather than WoW being somehow fundamentally flawed. Still… is there harm in trying to reach out to players, rather than corral them? Should WoW be trying to balance the population by reaching out to other Bartle types? I tend to think that it would be a good idea, since long-term viablility needs new players all the time… but as I’ve noted elsewhere, perhaps even a subscription MMO has a lifespan, and expecting to perpetuate it by making the online world persistent and persistently interesting is fighting inertia, and the law of diminishing returns will kill the game at some point. Entropy wins in the end. There’s a cockeyed sort of sense in focusing on your “core competency” to stretch out the tail of the graph for as long as possible.