I wanted to start the week off with a little bit of general commentary. This is a topic I have discussed in the past with my associates in other MMO's and it is a reality that everyone with an interest in the genre needs to be aware of. Now most of the MMO bloggers that I follow understand this to one degree or another. But unfortunately others are less informed. I am speaking to the fact that you and I (those that actively follow MMO's, read about them, research them, etc.) are a distinct minority of those who play MMO games. The vast majority of MMO players, at least since the advent of World of Warcraft, are far more casual in terms of their overall interest. They don't read forums. They don't write blogs. They don't post on "Elitist Jerks" or Wowhead. They log in, they do their thing, and they leave. Why is this important? Because it causes us to fall into some very bad "trap" behaviors.
We (the "informed") sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who plays these games is similarly informed. We expect everyone to be up on the latest "theorycraft." We expect everyone to know the "best" spec of the week. When someone asks a question about a quest, or game mechanic, or the user interface, we /facepalm at our desks and wonder why they don't already know the answer. We call them a "noob" and tell them to "google it" or something to that effect. We need to stop for a moment and realize that for many of the people playing around us, it is just a game. I know that is anathema to the "elitist jerks" among the informed, but this is the reality I am speaking to. Most folks are just looking to have a good time. They don't care about getting that 0.5% more DPS by moving two talent points or swapping a piece of gear. If the mobs die before they do, that's good enough for them. And really, it should be good enough for "us" too. Obviously this doesn't apply once we start talking about content where that 0.5% actually does matter, but the amount of content that applies to is extremely small and should only be run by like-minded people anyway.
The other trap the "informed" fall into is expecting MMO developers to cater to our needs rather than to this less informed majority. We are the ones reading the forum threads, subscribing to blogs, and following devs on Twitter. And so we expect that the decisions that developers make should be responsive to our needs, problems, and issues. Well yes... and no. The gaming industry, like any other business, is all about maximizing profit. Which is more likely to generate more profit? Catering to the needs of 10% of your customers, or catering to the needs of 75% of your customers? I'm no math major but even I can figure that one out. When "push comes to shove," the decisions at the top are going to reflect the needs of the majority of the paying customers.
Now does that mean that the concerns of the "informed" are neglected or ignored? Certainly not. Just as a wise developer knows that they have to address the needs of the majority, they also know that keeping us happy has benefits of its own. A happy informed community provides excellent word of mouth and free "press" about your game. We gush about it on our blogs, we comment on forums, we spread the word about the good things. And also, whether we realize it or not, very often we actually want the same things that our less informed fellow players want as well. So while it may feel like an "Us vs. Them" scenario, often that simply isn't the case.
The one argument I always see from the more narrow-minded among the "informed" is this: Well, maximizing myself IS how I have fun and so I should be able to play that way if I want and not "put up" with people who don't. You know what? I agree... to a point. I enjoy maximizing my character too, but not to the point of insulting anyone else who is even a tiny bit less than perfect. If that is truly the only way you can enjoy the game, then by all means do so, but surround yourself with like-minded people so that you are insulated from those "mere mortals" who can't perform at your level. And those people are then similarly insulated from you and your lack of patience. Neither group should inflict themselves on the other, but as I think we all are aware, this is a very difficult thing to achieve in practice.
But the next time someone else in one of your groups doesn't perform up to "your" standard, or the next time a developer makes a decision that sounds somewhat silly to you... just remember, you are not the majority.