Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Major Fault Line in the MMO Audience

I'm going to respond to the comments on the Blueprint for Endgame, but I find it requires a little set up first.
There are many divisions among the MMO audience. Casuals versus Hardcore. PvP versus PvE. Gevlon's Morons & Slackers versus all the non-M&S. Roleplayers versus Everyone Else.

But there is one conflict that I think is more important than the rest. The conflict that essentially shapes all the contortions that endgame goes through. This is the conflict between Transient and Extended content.

To recap:
Transient group content is content that is expected to be completed in a single session of play. The group is formed, the group completes the content, and then the group is disbanded. In WoW, group quests, battlegrounds, and 5-man dungeons are transient group content.

Extended group content is content that is expected to be completed over several sessions of play, and where the group is composed (more or less) of the same individuals throughout. In WoW, raids and PvP arena are extended group content.

The MMO community is divided into two factions. Those who are willing to do Extended content, and those who are not willing, who only want to do Transient content.

Please note that this is not about skill, or anything like that. It's about time, and the willingness to follow a schedule, or accept a constraint on your free time. It's about being willing to undertake obligations to other players. Many people simply do not want to be obligated to other players, or for other players to have a duty towards them.

It's also not about the amount of time played. There are Extended players who play once a week for two hours. There are Transient people who play for 40 hours a week. They play so much that it is really hard for Extended players to understand why they will not commit to a schedule. The stumbling block is the existence of the schedule at all, not about the total amount of time played.

In the past, it was assumed that people would move from Transient into Extended. That it was a natural graduation. You joined a guild, and started working with that guild on Extended activities. But I think this was a bad assumption. Rather, the Transient people are simply different from Extended people. You can't change them into Extended people. You can go the other way, however, in that Extended people will do Transient content.

Traditionally in MMOs, Extended players have made the core of the playerbase. The raiders, the high-end PvP players, the stable guilds.  But I think the Transient players actually outnumber the Extended players significantly. And the Transient players want the game shaped to meet their needs, not the needs of the Extended players.

As an example of the design choices imposed by this conflict, consider the Guild Perks system that was introduced in Cataclysm. I don't think this system really made any difference to the player base, and to be honest, was probably a waste of developer time. The Extended players already were in guilds. The Transient players simply joined uber-large guilds to get the perks. But it did not change the nature of the players.

The single biggest problem with the endgame of WoW is that it persists in believing that if the incentives are just right, Transient players will transform into Extended players, and everything will work out properly. But this transformation never occurs. The Transient players are unhappy that their needs go unmet or that they are thrown one or two sops while the Extended players get all the goodies. The Extended players are unhappy because those sops for the Transient player often end up distorting the Extended endgame.


  1. Good analysis! I think you have a very valid point there.

  2. Good post, I think you're on the mark here. And I also think that extended players can transform into transient ones and this is where games are going. If you only need 2 people for your group then you can just catch the other person when they are around, or shift nights every week as best suits. If you need 24 others, then you need that rigid schedule.

    There may also be a notion of solo transient and solo extended, where you log in regularly to do your PUGs but it doesn't matter who the other people in the group are or where you only need one person in the first place.

  3. I think there's a bit of a grey area in between, at least in WoW. Personally, I enjoy PvE Extended content -- running against bosses in a consistent group. However the time demands, both in terms of hours-per-session and hours-per-week often get the better of me.

    Firelands is the first tier I've been able to run with a consistent team since Kara and ZA. We raid 2x3hrs, and that's the outer edge of what I can commit to. I think more people would join the end game if there were 1-3 boss raids, with no/light trash, dropping relevant loot, beyond the first tier of an expansion.

  4. Only 17.9% of the NA/EU playerbase have killed nerfed Magmaw nine months into this expansion. With the easiest (non-Naxx) boss of the easiest expansion, 10m Beasts of Northrend, that number only improves to 23.8%. Indeed, if you just look at the raw WoWProgress numbers, the total pool of non-Chinese raiders is just a bit over 1.5 million players. Out of 6.5 million.

    The Extended group has never in the history of WoW been more than a quarter of the playerbase (without assuming that more people did 40m and 25m in TBC than raid today). That said, the Extended group can still be a valuable, stabilizing core that improves the value of the Transient group by their secondary effects (e.g. creating EJ, Wowhead, addons, etc).

    I do think it is a valuable question to ask why so much development time gets spent on raiding content when the content the overwhelming majority of players experience for months on end (heroics, dailies, etc) are just phoned in.

  5. > if the incentives are just right, Transient
    > players will transform into Extended players

    Isn't that what happened in WotLK?


    > That said, the Extended group can still be
    > a valuable, stabilizing core that improves
    > the value of the Transient group by their
    > secondary effects (e.g. creating EJ, Wowhead,
    > addons, etc).

    Does EJ really improve the game for transient players? Or does it just a) spoil the fun of figuring it out yourself and b) force you to optimize in content which was never designed to be optimized?

    And why do you think add-ons were mainly created by extended players? Boss and raid-mods, probably yes. But all the others? I don't think that there is a relationship between player that love to code and are dedicated enough in WoW to learn how to do it and player willing to accept a fixed schedule because of their raid.

    And Wowhead I don't know. Was that created by raiders?

  6. @Kring: no, WotLK was easy enough to transform the raid content to Transient.

    A random pug formed, did 4-8/12 and disbanded.

  7. @Spinks: I don't think Rohan's definition of transient/extended applies to solo play because no groups are formed. Even if you schedule your solo play, there is no real difference.

    @Kring: EJ doesn't force you to do anything. The "takes fun out of optimizing" is a valid argument but not all players think optimizing is fun and sites like EJ are able to allow those players to skip the optimizing (or more general - the parts of the game) they don't consider fun without fearing they would gimp themselves.

    @Gevlon: Not all content but some of it was. Also, older raids eventually get transient as characters' power grows so much it is not a challenge at all.

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  9. Rohan, a very insightful post! I think you could be successful as a developer. =)

    Azuriel, I think a lot of development time is spent on raids because it provides many benefits to game regardless of whether players actually raid or not. To name a few:

    1. Big raid bosses make the game feel epic.
    2. It's a good way to add to the lore.
    3. Developers can create superior loot that many players (even if they don't actually raid) will dream about, and many raiders will spend countless hours trying to get (read: keep paying subscription fees).
    4. Some of the ideas they learn from making raids can be used to develop other content (ie. 5-mans).

  10. Thank you for posting this. I've been posting something similar on the wow forums for ages. It's not about the amount of time someone has or if they are "casual" or "hardcore" it's all about how players treat their time.

    Even if you win the game by raiding every Tuesday and Wednesday from 7pm to 11pm, that's not going to motivate people who don't want to schedule in game time.

    Personally I've been an "extended" player and moved my schedule around to make my raid times, but found that it would make me angry when others in my group didn't do the same. Which isn't fair to them.

    However, the game became a lot less fun when I was cut off from the content that comes from being an "extended" player. So I just stopped playing.

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  12. You hit the nail on the head for me. I don't have the time given expectations of my family and other hobbies to participate in raiding content. I made a good faith effort in Wrath to get to that level, but instead merely made it to a level of high end transient content. That was satisfying as the rewards made me feel like I could still progress. Cataclysm comes along and suddenly it feels like my needs aren't being met. I felt like I was being pushed toward raiding which I already knew I could not do (the time in regular slots just wasn't there). Its not so much the rewards, there are ways to continue to get rewards (in terms of gear) as a transient, but the story seems to stop if you don't raid. I think Wrath struck a wonderful balance in bringing the transient player along for the ride right up until the very end game - and that was fine, I knew by that point that I wouldn't get into Icecrown - it was the fact that elements of the main story being carried by the raids bled down into the transient content better than in Cataclysm. I think that there is much that could be done to keep the transient population in the game, both with rewards that they can achieve and with story that can bring them along - but that element of the player base has been taken out of the focus. If in fact you're right, that the majority of players are transient, then that's a dangerous game they're playing if they don't keep them in the "game" as it were. For myself, I finally left WoW which as been my only computer game since Burning Crusade because there wasn't a story for me anymore. The challenge is, how does Blizzard bring someone like me back (who is enjoying the extra time I can put into my other hobbies now)?

  13. great analysis, you definitely hit it on the head for me.

  14. In the past, it was assumed that people would move from Transient into Extended. That it was a natural graduation. You joined a guild, and started working with that guild on Extended activities. But I think this was a bad assumption. Rather, the Transient people are simply different from Extended people. You can't change them into Extended people.


    If you look at the blogs and other websites out there, it may seem that WoW is populated with mainly extended people, but the numbers (as suggested by Azuriel) say otherwise. That is a big thing, because it means that people simply don't progress from one type of player to the other.

    This realization also means that the numbers of who is leaving WoW are far more important to Blizzard, because they can tailor the game to try to get that sort of player back. If the game is losing the extended players, Blizz can tweak things to keep them. However, some of the changes (Call to Arms, anyone?) suggest that more transients are leaving, and Blizz wants those players back.

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  16. I want to give this post a thumbs up so hard that thumb's husband comes after me with a shotgun.

    Needless to say, I absolutely agree. Raiding is a horrible design for end game content for the vast majority of players.

  17. Fascinating point about the lack of insight on the dev's part about changing people. How old is the knowledge that you can't really change a person? Yet dev's keep waving that carrot on a stick, hoping to capture the attention of players who can't see past their own nose.

    I think that it's very likely that the only thing that can change a transient player to an extended one is force of friends' will. If enough of your close friends - not e-friends - real world friends - are into extended content, it can drag you in. On the other hand, there's many things that can change an extended player to a transient one; a new job, a child, moving, a weaker internet connection, an aging computer; all of these being things that the older gamers are dealing with.

    Great post!

  18. Good analyzis - although now, we still need the solution on how to solve this issue within the same MMO. :)
    (obviously us extenders are still important!)

  19. @Spinks, while you can talk about transient and extended solo content, it's generally not very interesting. That's because the solution is fairly obvious. For solo extended content, all you need to do is save the "state" of the content, and restore it when the player logs in again.

    But in extended group content, the group itself is part of that state, and the game has no control over the other players in the group.

    @Rodos, I tried to make it clearer after seeing your post, but amount of time isn't the dividing line. It's the scheduling, the approach to time that is important for this distinction.

    The devs still need to take players with differing play times into account when making content, but that's a *different* issue than the one I am discussing.

    @EJ discussion, I think the EJ discussion is really immaterial. It has nothing to do with the transient/extended division. Games which are fully transient often have theorycrafting websites just like WoW does. A perfect example is Magic: the Gathering. It's just in WoW, since the edge endgame is aimed at Extended players, the edge theorycrafting arose out of the Extended community.

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  21. Also, the last point I want to make is that the assumption that all people could be converted to Extended was wrong, but it wasn't obvious that it was wrong.

    The older MMOs had a playerbase which was dominated by Extended players. It was quite reasonable for them to assume that was the norm and the majority.

    As well, I think it's hard for Extended players to truly grasp the Transient mindset. If you look at the first three years of this blog, there's a default assumption that anyone could raid, that the vast majority of people can schedule some time for raiding.

    Even now, deep down, I feel that scheduling makes life easier, allows one to accomplish more, and that the "freedom" Transient players are choosing is mostly illusory. The Transient players will vehemently disagree with me, but that is my mindset as an Extended player.

  22. I've deleted several posts arguing about Elitist Jerks. I feel that EJ has nothing to do with the Transient/Extended division, and is just a old argument that has no purpose in this conversation.

    Future comments discussing EJ will also be deleted.

    Once again, Optimized vs Non-optimized is NOT the same as Extended vs Transient. Please don't conflate the two arguments.

  23. What about activity/process vs. goal?

    The simple example is a rep grind. The activity of grinding can be done in small pieces, as little as one kill a day, and it will progress. However the grind itself, or the goal of exalted, will not be a one-session activity.

    This was a solo example, I'm not sure what there is in terms of group content. Maybe the AQ gates event, in which everyone gathered materials, but could do so in small individual quantities.

  24. > Once again, Optimized vs Non-optimized is
    > NOT the same as Extended vs Transient.
    > Please don't conflate the two arguments.

    Is that the case? Azuriels argument was that all the optimization work comes from the Extended group and therefore improves the game for the Transient group.

    My feeling would be that it's the other way around but I have no data to back that up. Theorycrafting is a transient activity. You can do whenever you like.

    But I think the question is interesting.

    > If you look at the first three years of
    > this blog, there's a default assumption
    > that anyone could raid, that the vast majority
    > of people can schedule some time for raiding.

    Back in vanilla we had 40 man raids and the raid had a 60 person pool. Whevener you wanted to raid you had a spot. And if you didn't wanted to raid there was probably a replacement. And if there wasn't you would run the raid with 35 people.

    Yes, that doesn't work with "bleeding edge progression" but there were many raids, if not most, who were exactly like this.

    With 10 man raids you either have a huge bench which enforces rotation or you have to call a lot of raids because you have no replacement or you have very dedicated members who feel very bad about not signing on for a raid.

    Yes, 40 man raids allowed for raids created fromextended and transient people.

    But 10 man raids are either dedicated extended raids or transient PuGs.

  25. @Kring, in my view Azuriel's thesis (as you have described it) has a 'correlation proves causation' fallacy.

    It's not 'Extended players are the theorycrafters'. It's:

    1. Edge and high-end players produce the theorycrafters.
    2. The edge and high-end game is Extended content.
    3. Extended players do Extended content. Transient players do not.
    4. Therefore, Extended players produce the theorycrafters.

    If #2 did not hold, then there would be nothing preventing theorycrafters from coming from the Transient community.

    Consider a game like Magic: the Gathering. It is an entirely transient game. But it has extraordinarily high levels of theorycraft. 'Net decks' are pretty much the original Internet theorycraft for games.

  26. @Kring-- I agree with Rohan in that Optimized vs. Non-Optimized is a separate argument from Extended vs. Transient. Just because you are an Extended player, it doesn't automatically assume that you are Optimized and follow the Theorycrafter data. Likewise, people who are Transient aren't automatically Non-Optimized.

    I think that you can confuse the two arguments when people's concept of "Optimized" is the latest raid loot. In that case, you restrict the concept of Optimization to not only the Extended people, but those Extended folks who regularly raid hard modes.

    Optimized/non-Optimized is more a matter of mindset than Extended/Transient. You can always angle your gear and playstyle to be Optimized, but whether you are able to play as Extended may depend heavily on external factors.

    For example, I know people in the guilds I'm in who would like to be Extended, but due to factors such as job, military deployment, family, etc. they can't. They still play, however, but they are definitely classified as Transient.

  27. Well put and very accurate imho.

    when WoW was first released the only reason to keep playing beyond level cap was to engage in extended content. many transient players, in a desire to keep playing, tried to engage in extended content even if it wasn't the best choice for them.

    Todays WoW hasn't changed much except that transient content was increased to give the "Casual" player something to do that didn't require a massive amount of time to achieve. It was also hoped that the content would equip this player base and enable them to take on extended content.

    WoTLK is the perfect example of this in action, but in a lot of ways in backfired as the Extended player base felt they were being cheated and the game had become to easy. Cataclysm was an attempt to meet the two groups in the middle, but as Rohan has pointed out this is almost impossible to achieve in the present system.

  28. Yikes. :o

    The "Extended players have stabilizing secondary effects" line was not intended to be a thesis or engender a EJ debate - it was a throwaway line I included to avoid implying that Extended players were not worth catering to (given their sub-25% population).

    That said, I do want to say I disagree with the "You can't change a Transient" sentiment. People change. Before WoW, I played Magic Online (and paper M:tG before that) and Battlefield 2 for years and years. I loved my first taste of raiding, in the same sense I imagine others did, "being a part of something bigger than yourself." Perhaps I wasn't straight Transient, but Extended-curious. Either way, I had a set raiding schedule for 3-4 years before the whole "being obligated to people you don't actually like" thing soured.

    So while I agree that you cannot force someone to go Transient --> Extended, people do indeed cross that line on their own.

  29. Yeah, I generally agree with that Azuriel. Sometimes people can switch from Transient to Extended or back.

    (Though, honestly, I think there's a large segment of the audience to whom schedules are just plain anathema.)

    But the game company cannot "incentivize" the switch.

  30. WoW really broke new ground by bringing transient players into a style of game that had always been built around extended players, and doing so massively increased their subscriber numbers, but as Rohan stated they haven't come to terms yet with what that means in terms of the players' expectation of new content. Blizzard said themselves that there is no model for how to procede given such massive success as they have experienced. I'd compare their position to that of a band making music of a certain style who suddenly become mega-famous; do we keep making exactly the same kind of music and hope people still want to listen to it, or do we follow our changing interests and make new, different songs some (or most!) of our fans will hate? Trying to please everyone results in a muddled mess that nobody really loves (U2) but focusing too tightly earns you a few rabid fans along with anonymity (Radiohead). The middle path, keeping it fresh and new while still accessible, is really REALLY hard to pull off (the Beatles). I'd like to see raiding continue to be the focus of end-game content, as that is what keeps me playing, but is that the best business decision for Blizzard?

  31. @Klepsacovic, I believe your example is a transient activity and would use the words "delayed gratification" to describe it.

  32. Neat -- I think Extended and Transient is as good of a way to describe the division amongst MMO players as any I've seen. It's certainly better than "casual / raider" or "noob / elitist".

    One of the things I like about this theory is that it indicates to me that companies should cut raiding loose from the "casual" ties that bind. If transient players are never going to raid because it's just not how they roll, then raids no longer have to try and cater to them.

    It might also explain why I've seen a lot of WoW people skip to League of Legends lately -- that is about as transient as group content gets!

  33. As a transient, I agree completely with you comments. I have a family, kids and a demanding job which means I just cannot commit to a schedule. But I still play 10 to 20 hours a week at random times.

    I'd love to actually SEE the end game content, but with the current system, I never will.

  34. This fault line is only a problem because most MMOs follow a design of vertical gear progression. If there were other things to do than simply kill stuff, there would be other yardsticks used to measure sub-communities of players.

  35. A two-year old post that only increases in relevance as the player base ages, new games are made, and new MMO players come into the fold.

    Great post.

  36. There is one case I can think of (from my own experience) when a transient can successfully convert to an extended:

    When there is no other option to collect a specific reward that the player is emotionally driven towards.

    I saw this happen a lot in my guild, which ran as a casual/hardcore raiding guild for 8 years.

    Certain players would sit on the fence. They knew the rhetoric. They had histories in old-world (pre-WotLK) raiding. They knew where the real challenge and excitement was. They wanted a piece of it.

    But maybe they were a little younger, or perhaps a bit more immature (not necessary an age thing), or more easily influenced by their peers. They could be swayed one way or another. I saw many good people swing down on to the side of 25-Man during Wrath because that's what they saw as the greatest challenge and reward.

    But when Cataclsym launched, there was no more fence to sit on. They could now easily shift the cons of dealing with a 25-Man guild much higher than the pros. Since the rewards were equal, they excuses themselves from the responsibility of contributing.

    These weren't bad people; they just didn't have the guiders keeping them focused on the straight and narrow. There were no more guiders. Every ball tossed down the aisle could go into the gutter.

    Perfect example of this was people that claimed "family & kids" as an excuse to get out of a schedule (apologies to the commenters here!) I have a wife, two kids, and a pretty demanding career, all of which I was able to re-arrange and shuffle around, week to week, for eight years. It's doable. It can be done. It is not impossible. And if *real* large-scale raiding is important to you, you can figure out how to do these things without completely ignoring your family and friends.

    You just need to set your boundaries clear, and stick to a schedule. Many of my guildies did; took a bit of work, but they pulled it off, and thanked me for it later.