A month or two back Lord of the Rings Online’s former community manger Rick Heaton, also known as Sapience, made the following statement on the games official forums:
“Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).
Forum posters comprise a slightly larger group than the combined group of PvMP and Raiders. However, Raiders and PvMP players make up the overwhelming majority of forum posters (More than half. Though raiders are the smaller group of the two (PvMP/Raiders)). So you have a tiny group, inside a small group that is grossly disproportionately represented on the forums.”
He posted this as part of a response to a discussion about the fact that LOTRO would not be including any new group content with their latest update. This caused many people to shrug their shoulders and say “see we always knew raiders were noisy and pointless, we don’t need them anyway”.
Ever since then I’ve been pondering this, and wondering just how much games, especially ones like LOTRO, really need their raiding and PvP oriented players. The presumption on the part of many players seems to be that if only a small percentage of players are engaging with those kinds of content, then persisting with development for them is a waste of time, money, and resources which could be better spent on designing content for their larger playerbase. As The Ancient Gaming Noob points out however, these numbers are potentially a little dodgy, and have perhaps led to some extrapolations about MMO endgame content in general that aren’t supported. He also goes on to capture the mood quite nicely:
“Doesn’t this just confirm something you have long suspected? (Unless you’re a raider/PvPer.) Haven’t there been times when you have just prayed for somebody from any given MMO developer to show up and say that? Raiding and PvP aren’t the most popular activities in the game, so stop bringing them up in every single thread.”
I think a lot of the reaction of players, particularly on this Massively thread about the news, comes from that kind of place.
However, let us presume Rick Heaton is right about this. Let us assume that, at least in the case of LOTRO, a very insignificant number of players ever get involved in raiding or PvP. It seems a reasonable utilitarian argument to state that continuing to develop for raiders is a waste. Yet I would argue, that in these times of MMO tourism, where playerbases are incredibly transitory, raiders and PvPers are likely two of the types of players who are invested for the long term, and have probably been playing and paying for a while. That’s got to be worth something right? What sort of community are you left with when a large segment of your long term players are gone, effectively told the game isn’t for them anymore?
LOTRO may be in a slightly unique position as it tends to attract quite a lot of non-gamer/MMO players, and also many players with an interest in role playing, or just plain larking about in Middle Earth, so maybe they are better placed than most MMOs would be without raiders and PvPers. Yet I still feel that any games community is going to be considerably worse off without its most long term and long invested players. Something from the tapestry that makes up a good MMO community could be lost irrevocably, and you’re effectively left with a bunch of people who are into solo questing with some roleplay thrown in. Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t sound like as strong a basis for a community.
So in a roundabout way the point I’m trying to make is this, do raiders and PvPers bring something to a games community that other groups don’t? Something less tangible than raw numbers. A certain dedication, a love for the game that’s been borne out over long periods of time, and a willingness to draw up guides to help new players, and post on the forums, and generally be vocally involved in a community, that can’t otherwise be replaced. In LOTRO’s case I guess we’re about to find out, but I think most games that aren’t LOTRO would certainly struggle to maintain this new development plan of Turbine’s.