Can Targeting the Top Work?
Reacting to the steep requirements, Syl writes:
What attunements absolutely shouldn’t be is a way to divide your playerbase and essentially make it excruciatingly frustrating to nigh impossible for the more casual crowd, which constitutes the majority of your paying customers, to ever experience endgame or raid content. It makes no sense to create content for your top 1% or even top 5% and that’s a lesson Blizzard learned down the line, to a point where even flex raids have become a reality.History may argue for the opposite. The majority of MMO's in the last five years, assuming they managed to launch an endgame at all, have drastically reduced or eliminated both hard requirements (you must complete this attunement to zone in) and soft requirements (you must have X gearscore, but we're resetting the gear curve every patch) to enter compared to days of old. Excluding the two titles that launched in the last two months (for which the jury is still out), none of these titles have done especially well at retaining their subscription base, and have instead been forced to relaunch with different business models. Yes, Blizzard continues to release raids, but I don't see the increasing efforts to lower raid difficulty as a vote of confidence. Instead, it seems a reaction as more and more people and guilds either refuse to play them in the traditional formats or struggle to field the requisite rosters.
Business models are not a democracy, so the percentages don't matter. What matters is whether the content you are creating is retaining your revenue stream or not. A possible explanation of the trend, which I believe is what Carbine is banking on, is that it may not make sense to invest the time to develop raid content for the less dedicated crowd, because they are leaving in a few months anyway.
If there was no top 1-5% then you could always price out a cut-rate option that would fit within in the budget, but there's an additional cost. Making a raid game that looks like what WoW has today makes the game not worth playing for that 1-5%. Five percent of WoW's over ten million peak would be over half a million subscribers, which would put Wildstar in solid territory by any measure.
Legacy of the Burning Crusade
Raiders will often swear that WoW's first expansion, the Burning Crusade, was the pinnacle of the genre. I don't believe this is solely nostalgia, as TBC existed at a unique time in history. WoW opened the genre up to players who wanted to spend some or all of their time soloing, but at that point they faced little or no competition to retain those dollars. This left Blizzard free to do what Carbine may be attempting to do with Wildstar - pocket money from the majority, accept the risk that these people will run out of content faster than you can produce it and leave, and spend your effort on the minority who will only stick around with a robust raid game that's not feasible if budgeted solely on a per-capita basis.
That said, it's a different risk today than it was in January 2007. As other companies finally caught up to Blizzard's lead, WoW faced real competition for solo players dollars for the first time from titles like the newly launched LOTRO and the largely re-launched solo-friendly incarnation of EQ2. After cramming three full tiers of raids into the first four months of TBC, Blizzard spent much of the remaining time in that expansion, and arguably most of the time since, trying to make the game more accessible. You don't make that kind of change to a 10 million subscriber cash cow because things are trending in the way you wanted.
All In for Wildstar may mean All In
Wildstar launches in an era where the risk is that the majority of players will leave in the first 90 days regardless of anything they do. Posturing to anticipate who will be left when the dust settles - trying to be good at one thing, rather than mediocre at all things that WoW does - could be a better plan than many games have tried. The problem with catering to the top 1-5%, though, is that you don't have a lot of room to run in if you're not liking your numbers. When you're that far off the median MMO player, you'll render the endgame completely useless to its existing demographic long before you make it even slightly acceptable to the median.
(The same is true of the business model; despite being the heaviest users of games and demanding a disproportionate level of effort on their content, raiding players are generally the least tolerant of any model in which they would pay a higher share of the development and operating expenses. If you add anything that raiders would actually want, they are quick to accuse your title of being "pay to win". IE, if Wildstar does have a secret plan to go free-to-play in six months after pocketing the launch box prices, they should probably be focusing on other demographics.)
The real test for whether Carbine can win their bet is not whether dedicated raiders continue to pay their $15, but whether they actually willing to back up their desire for this old school system with their own time. Forcing players to rehash the content endlessly to flag their guildmates is not a side effect of this system, it's the entire point. Those guild groups will be short a player or two and that will create the rare opportunity for new players to enter the system. If the Wildstar elite take the position that neither the PUG masses nor lower tier content that no longer offers worthwhile drops are an acceptable use of their time, the system will collapse.
That's where I'd look - not to declarations that the system is demographically unjust or that games should be allowed to try different things - but to whether raiders are willing to run PUG's. If the system works, it'll stick around. If the system never reaches critical mass, both the elite raid community and possibly the entire game could be in a very tough spot.