Casualization is a topic we’ve been discussing in the MMORPG community for over a decade now. Features that used to be considered a part of this phenomena were originally things like lower leveling curves, instancing, and quest-centric leveling systems. In addition, the lowering of the complexity of games, their dumbing down, has been and still is considered a part of the same process.
In recent years another word has been popping up more and more when the subject of casualization has come up. That word is convenience, and I want to try to address some issues related to it in this post. Some players and developers seem to hold the view that in the name of convenience, sacrificing the credibility of a virtual world is an OK trade-off. But is it really OK, and when does the point come where there’s too much convenience for your virtual world to remain credible?
When does convenience become problematic
Convenience-related features are not necessarily a problem, but they can be.
In MMORPGs, an important aspect of gameplay is often the grind, which gives value to objectives – the longer it takes to achieve something, the higher it’s value (most of the time, anyway). Changes done in the name of convenience tend to stealthily reduce the amount time it takes to reach objectives, thus reducing their value.
This is a much greater problem in games that attempt to appeal to the more oldschool crowd who often expect a greater focus on the open world aspects of the genre. Talking recent games, I feel this was a problem with WildStar for example: the difficult and demanding raiding experience was to appeal to many older raiders, but the abundance of modern convenience features made the game feel cheaper than intended – Dungeon Finder, quests you don’t have to read, an overabundance of quests, fast travel, what have you. Essentially, WildStar with these features reduced it’s world to a lobby space for minigames, and that did not appeal to many traditional MMORPG gamers, not even the raiding niche of them – instead it only appealed to people who were solely playing the game for the raids and did not care for the open world aspect or much else.
An interesting thing about many convenience-related features is that alone they often are pretty harmless. Vanguard for example remained a very open world -feeling game despite getting a Dungeon Finder. Granted, the feature didn’t automatically teleport you anywhere or give you extra rewards, but it still found you a group semi-automatically. Even World of Warcraft’s DF didn’t start out with the extra rewards or teleportation, and everybody was fine with the feature at the time. As one starts adding more and more convenience-related features to their game though, there tends to come a point where they have affected other parts of the game so much it begins irritating some parts of the population. MMORPGs have traditionally been timesinks, and even though their average player now has less time than before, they still need those timesinks to keep people playing – older games had casuals too despite appealing more to the hardcore crowd, and there were timesinks for the casuals to partake in.
Timesinks aren’t the only thing affected by convenience-related features: immersion is a big part of the genre to many a gamer as well. Take for example an archer’s arrows: it is convenient to not have them as consumables, but on the other hand it is rather unimmersive for your bow to not consume any arrows to say the least. The key questions when it comes to implementing a feature like this then are: what type of a game are you building, and who is your target audience. Many games nowadays focus solely on the dungeon grinding and minigame aspects of the genre, and to players of games of this type immersion may not be the first priority. On the other hand if you are trying to appeal to an audience of both, people who like immersion and open worlds, and people who like convenient dungeon grinding, you’re going to be making some difficult decisions when it comes to these features.
For a developer the biggest help in making these decisions would probably be nailing down the game’s core audience right from the first steps of production. It seems unlikely that there’s going to be another WoW at this point, a super popular game that would appeal to all kinds of players of the genre, so focusing on one or two niches per game seems like the best solution. Being a one-trick-pony has it’s advantages in the fractured MMORPG market.