The greying of the MMO

The Greying of the MMO

MMO’s are narrowing their demographic focus

/tldr MMO’s are trending towards twitchy, hyper-repetitive, and reaction based combat. These systems preclude older gamers which makes sense if the target market for MMO’s is younger gamers.  Demographic evidence for the populations of advanced economies and MMO gamers in particular suggests that this trend might be a mistake.

Amidst the recent EQ Next reveal, during the combat question and answer panel, a gentleman asked a simple question about the older players in his guild (see through 2:10 for the question and its answers).  How, he wondered, would his guild of mostly older players fit in this twitchy, fast-paced EQ Next?  The question was generally deflected during the Q&A.  That isn’t a knock on EQN, I don’t know that there is an inclusive answer to that question.

I have seen similar questions asked in The Secret World.  I recall that a very active member of the beta community lamented the fact that his older guild was simply blocked from nightmare mode (the endgame of TSW).  Nightmare mode is built around a hyper-fast, movement based combat within a very twitchy, one second global cooldown.  The response from the developers was sympathetic, but still mostly a sorry, we can’t help you, but have you seen the great roleplay theater?

The Internet community commenting on this type of question has, expectedly, been pretty hostile.  “Sorry grandpa, this game is not for you,” is the most polite way I can put the various web responses.

Setting aside the ageism and toxicity in the Internet responses, there is nothing wrong with a game being targeted for some people as opposed to other people.  Some games appeal more to some of us than to others.  That’s okay and it’s inherent in defining a genre or product.  A better question, though, is whether its the right answer for MMO’s in general?

Take a moment and review the population pyramids provided below for the United States, Canada, Japan and Germany.  All data, and the pyramids themselves are pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau.  A population pyramid depicts the population of a country, by gender and by age group.  It stacks the age groups from youngest to oldest.  This permits a quick analysis of the age mixture of a population.


The figure is called a pyramid because pre-industrial societies typically plot out in an exact pyramid with most of the population in the youngest age brackets and few in the oldest age brackets.  Post-industrial, advanced economies don’t follow the pyramid model, though.  They feature an aging population where the bulge happens closer to middle aged.  I did not include plots for the U.K. or a number of other advanced economies, but they tend to be similar to the Canada/Germany model.  Follow the link above and check for yourself, Italy is pretty interesting looking.

In every advanced economy, and even more so outside the United States, the middle-aged demographic is the largest demographic.  Forty to Sixty years old is where you are going to find most of the population.  This is the effect of “the baby boom” and the result of family downsizing over the past generations.  It results in advanced economies having more older and fewer younger citizens.  The aging effect is less pronounced in the United States due to higher net immigration, but the aging effect is a significant and important trend for every advanced economy.

That’s fine you might say, but older people aren’t gamers, so who cares?  The problem is that’s not true.  Using data from the entertainment software association, the average gamer is 30 years old and has played games for about 13 years.  If we think about that for a moment, the average gamer starts playing games at around 17 years old and they typically keep playing games as they age.

We can use that idea for a thought exercise examining how the gaming habits for a 17 year old from different decades might have looked.  The table below provides some information on what types of games a 17-year old in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s might have played, the types of home gaming systems available to them, and the age of that person today.


There are a number of people in their 50’s and approaching their 60’s for whom gaming has always been a part of their life either at the arcade or in their home.  Think about that a moment, we’re not talking about converting grandparents into gamers, we’re talking about grandparents who have always been gamers!  Further, older gamers typically have more discretionary income and more free time, they are pretty much the ideal MMORPG customer.

While its wrong to think that gamers in general are young, its even more incorrect to assume an exclusively young age to the MMORPG audience.  The most comprehensive, accessible data that I am aware of examining MMORPG customers was prepared by Nick Yee over at the Daedalus project.

His decade old data describes significant representation in virtually every age bracket and notes that EQ players averaged (circa 2000) ten years older than players of other popular PC games.  Ten years later, those respondents are again ten years older and most likely still playing MMORPG’s.  More recent demographics shows MMO’s have a large female population (as much as 40% in the BBC study).  Since Yee’s data suggests that female MMO players tend to be older than male players, an increasingly female population might correspond with a population trending older as well.

An older, not younger, audience also just makes sense for early MMO’s.  Playing EQ, AC or UO required an Internet connection, a computer with a graphics card (for EQ), and a credit card.  None of these things were as accessible, or inexpensive, for young people then as they are today.  But, the early MMO’s also featured game play systems that were less twitchy.  There is a reason why the people alluded to in the opening paragraph are advised to “keep playing Everquest.”

While F2P certainly opens the door for a younger audience, there is little reason to expect the MMORPG market would trend younger over time given that the average PC gamer has grown older.  Over the past decade, the ESA typically depicts an aging gamer population.

There is an oddity in the average age of gamers, though. The 2011 average age was 37 while the 2012 average age is 30.  Ars Technica wondered why the trend towards an aging population reversed so rapidly. They discovered that the change has more to do with the old metrics failing to account for handheld gaming.  So, 30 is the new 37, but the PC gaming population has, in general, aged over the last decade.

Ars Technica notes that what is happening with gaming and age is “more of a generational platform shift, where the traditional PC and console gaming markets continue to age while younger players gravitate towards smartphones, tablets and portable systems.”  PC gamers tend to be older than console gamers who tend to be older than handheld gamers.

There is certainly a young component to the MMORPG market.  It would be foolish to ignore that.  Younger consumers are also the largest, and most contested, market segment in gaming.  In the next section I will discuss how the trend towards action combat skews towards the younger part of the MMO market.

The Action MMO and Demographic Shift

My point is that telling older gamers (overtly or implicitly) that there’s no place for them in a new MMO might just be a bad business decision.  Moving towards an action based, twitch oriented, target reticule driven MMO is a movement that likely has inherent appeal to a younger audience, but it greatly limits the participation in an older audience.

Our physical abilities atrophy with age.  Starting somewhere around our 40’s, our physical speed, stamina, and response times begin to deteriorate.  Frequent physical training can slow, but can not stop this decay.  Notice how amazing it is when a professional athlete survives (let alone remains near their peak) into their 40’s.  That’s not to say that older folks don’t remain competitive, it’s just that competition has to take into account what’s reasonable.  There is a reason why there is a senior PGA tour.

I am in my early 40’s.  At this point, I haven’t seen any MMO content that I can’t do.  That’s not true for some of the people I have gamed with over the years and I acknowledge I can see the writing on the wall myself.  I can bang out a top-tier damage rotation with the best of them, but after a prolonged session, I’m uncomfortable.

Seriously, a full night of dungeon crawling in a 1-second global cooldown system leaves my wrist, elbow, and shoulder tingling.  That’s only going to get worse over time.  At some point, I’ll have to simply say its not worth it and just give up MMO’s with action oriented combat.  I’ll point out that any game design emphasizing 7,200 left-handed key presses in a 2-hour window is unlikely to be a healthy one for any age, let alone older ages.

But this post isn’t about me, it’s about a demographic getting less and less focus every year.  Modern MMO’s are moving in an action combat direction.  Either they are outright adopting 3rd person shooter mechanics in games like Defiance, DCUO, or TERA or they are moving towards an action bar hybrid with 1-second button presses like the Secret World, Dungeons and Dragons Online, RIFT, or Star Wars the Old Republic.

The MMO’s in development at this time Wildstar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EQ Next, and Firefall are continuing this market shift. Each of these MMO’s (including recent releases and in development titles) emphasizes fast-paced movement combat with hyper-twitchy, dive-roll mechanics.  It’s no longer just “get out of the goo,” it’s “do so within .05 seconds or you’re dead.”  These systems are visceral and exciting certainly, but they narrow the demographic accessibility of the genre.

Virtually every MMO recently released or in development is trending towards twitchy, action gameplay.  This focuses their products on their younger customers, brushes aside their older customers, while placing MMO’s in direct competition with MOBA and 3rd Person Shooter genres who target the same younger gamers.

There is nothing wrong with demographic targeting, that’s good business.  I believe, though, that telling your older customers to “keep playing Everquest” creates a market gap ready to be grabbed.

But Skill Should Matter

The impetus for moving towards twitchy combat stems from the desire to make the player’s skill matter.  I don’t think anyone takes the opposing position and argues that skill shouldn’t matter.  I think most gamers like to face a challenge.  The question, though, is which skills are we challenging?

Twitch based combat focuses on a specific range of skills.  They emphasize dexterity, reaction speed, and muscle memory.  Being skilled at these things is certainly something to be proud of and building skill based games is desirable.  However, these three specific skills are also the ones which atrophy with age.  Twitch combat design isn’t about building a skill based game, it is about building a young person’s skill based game.

Planning, coordinating, and strategic flexibility are also skills.  They are primarily cognitive skills though, and thus ones which are less likely to atrophy with age (save perhaps in the very aged).  You could, easily, build combat systems which test those skills.  The pacing would be slower, but the demand on skill would remain high.  It’s a more egalitarian skill based system.

Consider, for a moment, an MMORPG combat system based on the builder mechanic commonly used in deck building card games.  Each participant in a combat starts with zero resources and each participant accumulates a resource every fixed interval (say 10 seconds).  Additionally, you have an allotment of abilities.  Some build resources (on yourself or others), some remove resources from opponents, some consume resources to deliver larger effects (on  yourself, your allies, or your opponents).  All abilities have a recycle on them preventing their continuous use and there is a fixed time allotment (perhaps 5 seconds) between the use of abilities.

Whether this is done with a random card drawing system or a fixed ability bar system isn’t critical.  This type of system could use a limited range of abilities or it could use multiple action bars.

What’s important is that this is a system which emphasizes choices in planning over choices in reactions.  Do you build or spend resources?  If you choose to build resources, do you build them on yourself or a teammate?  Do you block/remove an opponent’s resources or let them build?  Do you have any abilities that stack conditions or effects that you, or your allies, might take advantage of?  Are there stacks or conditions in play that benefit your opponents and, if so, what can you do about them?

This can be played out in a real time, but slower paced combat setting.  It’s easy to design, indeed its conceptually similar to how tactical points (TP) works in FFXI, or even deck building card games (Wizard 101) but in real time.  It can also be designed to emphasize party-play or solo-play.

It can still work in movement and facing, but at a slower pace.   I would suggest that all abilities would be instant cast rather than channeling.  Movement becomes more about avoiding clustering to minimize aoe effects rather than diving out of a splat on the ground. The skilled player, in this system, thinks ahead to prevent bad things from happening and uses debuffs and control abilities to disrupt the plans of their opponents.

You return to tab targeting over reticle targeting.  The emphasis of movement and positioning is in creating general tactical field advantages, not on circle-strafing or jump shooting.  I would also suggest including a broad array of buffs, debuffs, controlling, and control breaking skills.  The emphasis of this type of combat involves building up to coup-de-grace and preventing opposing buildups.

The system facilitates (one might argue even requires) communication.  It’s different than action combat, but it’s certainly not lacking in skill.  The system above lends itself well to a keyboard and mouse, without requiring banging out keystrokes.  Hammering a lit up action bar is not inherent to this system, nor is single button macroing, nor is finding the optimal DPS rotation.  This system also lends itself to a controller, a touchscreen, or mouse click gameplay reducing the repetitive stress inherent in our modern combat systems.  Its pacing leaves time between actions for communication and coordination.

It may be that the AAA market is moving away from older gamers.  It may be that this is absolutely the right thing to do from a financial perspective, although the evidence does not seem to clearly support that argument.  Having all of your competitors move in one direction might mean that a move away from twitchy combat systems would benefit at least one of the AAA MMO developers.

This is the first article in a two-part piece on the narrowing of the MMORPG target demographic.  While this article is entirely focused on aging and its incompatibility with twitch combat, the next article is going to spend more time on motivation to play.  Initially these were bundled together, but the article was far too long (indeed, this one alone is pretty long).  This article and its motivation counterpart will be the last two editorials for awhile.  With Beta-4 getting going, I will be spending a bit more time on FFXIV again.  Future editorial-ish posts will be more in a “suggestions for game systems” mode.

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28 Responses to The greying of the MMO

  1. Golf Mike says:

    Ahem, your graphic is a bit too generalized. You don’t have to be 17 during those times to have played those games or those systems. I was born in the late 70s and I’ve played every single one of those games and systems. Granted this was most likely because my father had the systems, but to generalize like that dilutes the true metrics that a survey could have determined.

    The inability for gamers to evolve to how games are being develop is their own fault, not the fault of the developers. Pong on high levels is just as “twitch” as any game today. The advantage gamers have today is they are introduced to this type of game earlier in their gaming career.

    • Ryahl says:

      Thanks for the comments, as always, Mike.

      Of course someone in their 1970′s would have had access to games from the 80′s, 90′s, and beyond. That’s obvious and wouldn’t need to be built into a graphic. What is, I think, important to realize is that Eric Foreman (not the actor, of course) could very well be a 50-something gamer today.

      Pong was twitchy, sure. Twitchiness isn’t a new thing. Twitch in the 70′s would be as prohibitive to an older person as twitchy in the 2010′s. However, back in the 70′s we didn’t have older people playing games. We do today.

      I don’t care where or when you start your hobby. At some point the aging process kicks in and you lose reflex speed. Practice doesn’t change that, it merely slows the decay.

    • Vulpis says:

      ‘The inability for gamers to evolve to how games are being develop is their own fault, not the fault of the developers. ‘

      …Seriously? You’ve got it badly backwards here. It’s the inability of developers to evolve to how gamers play that is the problem. There’s certainly a place for the hardcore twitch types, but there’s also a good reason why there’s such a large market for more casual and less intense games as well. The ideal is a middle-ground, where one can enjoy playing in the environment without having to be at the peak of physical shape to play. :-/

  2. Vulpis says:

    I agree with this article 99.99% (The only thing I disagree with is the characterization of some of the games presented).

    I’m an older gamer–I grew up with the Atari 2600, and have been a gamer nearly all my life. But as you say–those super-fast twitch reflexes atrophy with age, and one tends to prefer something more strategic, where planning and decisions are more important than how fast you can physically react.

    Personally, though–I’d rather see a happy median, a game with action mechanics, but not tuned to the degree of a twitch-game shooter (if you want that, you’re probably better off playing such a shooter in the first place). I enjoy Rift (especially since it went to f2p, though Trion does seem to be slipping a bit in quality), from a mechanics stand point I like Guild Wars 2 (my beef with them is their forced requirement for grouped content to finish what is otherwise solo play), I mostly like DCUO (again my gripe is more with content than mechanics, though that one *is* pushing it in the RPG vs. Shooter arena..then again, part of the reason I played it was for the variety of having a shooter-type MMO). One recent game I really liked play-wise was FF14, which is set up to be able to be controlled by a gamepad, but isn’t (at least at the levels I was playing) ‘twitchy’.
    On the other end of the spectrum (and supposedly more for the ‘older’ gamers) are things like WoW, where people I know who play tell me they barely look at the the main action at all, instead being busy watching their cooldown timers on their abilities. Even as an older gamer, I want *some* action elements, rather than ‘Lock on, then stand there and watch timers, only moving if you get targeted or are standing in a ground effect’. Sadly, it seems like it’s the dime-a-dozen Korean clones that are catering to this kind of play style, not the so-called ‘AAA’ games.

    • Chris says:

      people I know who play tell me they barely look at the the main action at all, instead being busy watching their cooldown timers on their abilities

      I found some of that in FFXIV, at least compared to FFXI. In FFXI, your TP built slowly, and so using a WS seemed to carry more importance. You also had more time to watch what was going on on-screen outside of your action bar. In FFXIV, using abilities seems more “spammy” (it boggles me that people complain that the cooldown timers are too long), and I often found myself so focused on my action bar that I wasn’t able to enjoy what was happening elsewhere on screen.

      • Ryahl says:

        I think part of the reason people are watching their action bar is they are adapting to the FF14 GCD. It’s slower than recent GCD’s and it takes some getting used to.

        I have been banging out 1 to 1.5 second GCD’s for a couple of years now (RIFT, TOR, TSW), 2.5 is taking a bit of time adjusting to.

        That said, watching the UI isn’t bad if there is something important to watch. One of the problems as we transitioned from stage 1 MMO combat (1997-2003) is that you mostly watched buffs and debuffs.

        Those were largely phased out in stage 2 MMO combat (2005 to 2009) and we started playing “whack a mole” where every action was some form of attack/heal. Watching the UI was needed because you had 20 different types of attacks and 8 different types of heals.

        I would submit that type-1 UI watching is good, possibly even great. You don’t have to stare at the UI, but you need to be aware of the UI. type-2 UI watching is just ability bloat.

        Narrowing down the number of actively slotted abilities isn’t inherently a bad thing. Broadening what abilities do, that would be a great thing.

  3. Melvin says:

    Reading OP’s article reminded me of an interesting article I read few months back. It talks about how F2P monetization works. I believe this article has the answer to why current AAA MMOs are more action oriented which targeting younger demographic.

    as quoted from the article:
    “As discussed in my Monetizing Children paper, the ability to weigh this short term “pain relief” vs. the long term opportunity costs of spending money is a brain activity shown by research to be handled in the pre-frontal cortex. This area of the brain typically completes its development at the age of 25. Thus consumers under the age of 25 will have increased vulnerability to fun pain and layering effects, with younger consumers increasingly vulnerable. While those older than 25 can fall for very well constructed coercive monetization models, especially if they are unfamiliar with them (first generation Facebook gamers), the target audience for these products is those under the age of 25. For this reason these products are almost always presented with cartoonish graphics and child-like characters.

    Note that while monetizing those under 18 runs the risk of charge backs, those between the age of 18 and 25 are still in the process of brain development and are considered legal adults. It seems unlikely that anyone in this age range, having been anointed with adulthood, is going to appeal to a credit card company for relief by saying they are still developmentally immature. Thus this group is a vulnerable population with no legal protection, making them the ideal target audience for these methods. Not coincidentally, this age range of consumer is also highly desired by credit card companies.”

    Below is the link to the full article

    • Ryahl says:

      Thanks Melvin,

      There’s a reason why University’s had (at least in my day) an array of tables with a “sign up for a credit card, get a T-shirt.” I think the paragraph you quoted nails it.

  4. Zyn Tael says:

    Until a comprehensive, broad-ranging, massive-sample scientific study has been done on the demographics of gamers, this is mostly speculation. It’s not enough to quote generic population stats. I remain unconvinced that the *proportion* of gamers skews young or old. Ignoring stereotypes, I couldn’t even guess what an age chart of gamers would look like.

    However, I support your point that twitch gaming is more challenging approaching and beyond middle-age. Keep vocal about it, vote with your wallet, or if you are in the industry – make the change you want to see.

    French studio Ankama is an example of an MMO developer who’s games don’t require quick reflexes (think turn-based FF Tactics as an MMO). But the aesthetic/target market is geared to the very young and ultimately a huge turn-off.

    • Ryahl says:

      Thanks Zyn,

      The problem is that the sample you want can’t be obtained. We can’t go back to 2000 era EQ or 2003 FFXI or the like. Nick Yee’s sampling methodology is sound, his academic background is very solid, and his current career as a social psych expert at Ubisoft says that at least one game company found his work worthy.

      Your point about Ankama is important. There are some interesting non-twitchy combat systems out there, but it’s mostly happening in the children’s MMO market. Those systems with more mature mechanics and complexity is what we’re needing.

      • Leosoul says:

        Another somewhat less twitchy game is Atlantica online. Unfortunately, it is similarly being put out by the generally ‘childish’ company, which will no doubt turn off a huge number of potential players.

        It focuses on building your party (a 3×3 block of people) and then attacking other 3×3 blocks of people. The turn timer is somewhat short, so you can’t sit back and think for a long time about your moves, but it’s combat can be interesting at times.

        I haven’t played it for a long time though, so it may very well have changed since back then. Darn friends being too much into twitch games.

        • Ryahl says:

          I played around with a bit this week following feedback from this column. It’s definitely a good example.

          Then again, I also played through all the tutorials in EVE again. Combat there can get rather complex, rather fast, without ever getting twitchy. It’s more a matter of keeping a mental track on several objects in three dimensional space, recognizing which ones make better priority targets, recognizing how movement can affect how many can attack you, and making good use of debuffs (snares) and defenses (repairs) at appropriate times. Granted, most of the tutorial combat is simply pick a target and blow it up, but one or two of the scenarios actually involved some meaningful thinking. I’d love to see how the higher tier missions play out, but I don’t think I have the time to dive deep into EVE while playing FFXIV!

  5. Atipikul says:

    I have been following your editorials and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your writing and insight. Pieces like this one, in my opinion, are what the larger gaming community could use more of to drive conversations about evolving and improving products and services within the video game industry.

    I look forward to part 2, and while I can understand the reduction in content in the near future, I do hope you continue to offer such well thought out writing on a somewhat regular basis.

    • Ryahl says:

      Thanks Antipikul.

      The 2nd piece is going to take a bit, I’m not happy with where it’s sitting quite yet. It’s commingling two different (but important) topics and I need to get it narrowed a bit in focus. The differences in motivation to play (where that one is going) are very interesting, though and again seem to separate audiences by age.

  6. Celestian says:

    Good article. I find I fit solidly in your description of a mmo gamer. I am mostly confused why a MMORPG would try and put the skill (dexterity, speed/etc) in the hands of a player when I am “playing” the role of the elf, I am not actually the elf. How could I be expected to do what he should be able to do?

    The Next reveal really put me off and why I found FFXIV recently. I look forward to giving it a try in a few days.

    • Ryahl says:

      Thanks Celestian,

      I primarily agree. The issue is that the RPG aspect (be it immersing in character or thinking of the character as someone different than you, is primarily gone from the MMORPG. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the third person shooter approach to gaming. The problem is, I think, when every game becomes a third person shooter.

      • Pai says:

        I’ve felt for years that there are a lot of players who play MMOs despite actually wanting a fantasy-skinned FPS. Personally, I’m not interesting in that kind of game at all.

        I’ve always liked turn-based games, so I never understood the loathing for ‘tab target hotbar’ combat. If there is actual strategic aspect to encounters, who cares if it’s twitch-based or not? I really identify with the subject of this article because I have been feeling like I must be getting old and obsolete in my tastes as well, since so many of these upcoming action-MMOs don’t appeal to me at all.

        I’ve never liked twitch games though, so I kind of resent them invading my RPG space. =P

        • KRO says:

          “I’ve felt for years that there are a lot of players who play MMOs despite actually wanting a fantasy-skinned FPS”

          I think you hit the nail on the head here.

          the biggest and most annoying fallacy is that these kind of gamers tend to be incredibly disloyal: they play an MMO for a month or so and then quit around the 6 week mark.

          They really aren’t the type of gamer the devs should be building around if they want to be making a successful game that keeps them employed for a lengthy amount of time. However forum threads and things like reddit are terrible for them to be basing their design decisions around: the twitchy disloyal gamer frequents these kinds of places and wants their 6 week action flick they can dump in the bin and move on from. So they comment/vote attack people requesting a more enduring game and come up with inventive/strawman ways for why they are wrong in their place.

          Sadly I don’t know how many more of these repetitive failures need to be released before the devs finally learn their lesson, but i’m really getting sick of it. Maybe the building mechanic will be the innovation we need.

          However for all SoE’s lauding of the old stories of marriage and friendships forged in EQ1, the game they are making is not going to be one that can forge those kind of memories and that entire deal just rubbed salt in the wounds of the type of gamer that are the real reason they have lasted as long as they have as a company.

  7. MarzAttakz says:

    As a 37 year old gamer I guess I’m not too over-the-hill but quite frankly I’m getting extremely fed-up with the direction practically every MMO is taking these days.

    I cut my teeth with 4 years of playing EVE, it rewarded patience, diligence and a shitload of hardwork with some of the most intense PVP I’ve ever faced.

    After that I took on the more traditional fantasy aspect playing LOTRO, TSW, GW2 and NWN. I still look back with fond memories to the time I spent raiding in LOTRO.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the dungeon design in The Secret World, although nightmare mode was exactly that. Guild Wars 2 was a massive disappointment, the only thing I enjoyed was WVW and that’s where I spent that majority of my time. Neverwinter, while being a fun distraction soon lost my and my entire guilds attention as a result of the appaling approach taken by their dungeon designers.

    What’s my point in saying this, well firstly I can handle twitch and the action combat, but let’s get real, reflexes aren’t everything, factor in lag that I cannot control playing from Southern Africa and you’re already at a deficit.

    Nothing compares to playing and succeeding as a group using tactics and good core decision making.

    If the future of MMO’s is going to be twitch based bullshit for the kids, well I’m sorry to say I’ll be taking my money and time elsewhere.

    Thank goodness for FFXIV, it really is my last hope for something solid that has the good qualities of both the old school and more modern action based MMO’s.

  8. Pashmana says:

    I’ve always been an RPG/platform/puzzle gamer. As the gaming industry has changed over the past decade or so, games that I am interested in are fewer and farther between than ever. I enjoy watching my husband play shooters (watching The Last of Us was riveting), but I know that I lack both the skill and the dexterity to play them well. I’ve been playing Mass Effect off and on to experience the story, but it’s taking me FOREVER.

    Games like Little Big Planet, Final Fantasy, Ratchet & Clank, Kingdom Hearts, and even your basics like Mario Kart are my go-to. FFXI, and FFXIV have been very welcome for me, because it gives me the chance to be skilled AND play a game that I actually really want to play.

  9. joel says:

    What this tells me (at almost 40) is that there are plenty of people like us and whoever creates a ‘Geezer MMO’ will make a lot of money. Games like Eve Online are where a lot of older gamers are these days and many still play WoW or LotRO.

    • Ryahl says:

      That’s pretty much it Joel. It’s a gap created because everyone moved in the same direction and just assumed leaving 10-year old games in their wake would be good enough.

      I don’t think everyone needs to go 40+, that would be as bad of a herding problem as the current problem. I’m just surprised no single AAA MMO in development is looking at this gap.

      I have been playing around with EVE during the downtime between Beta-3 and Beta-4… wow it’s great to see a complex MMO!

      • Pai says:

        It’s the same with TV and film, though, isn’t it. At least in the states we have a huge baby boomer population that for some reason is not targeted as a viable market. I remember many years ago, when ‘Murder She Wrote’ was canceled not because it was an unpopular show (it was very popular), but because it wasn’t popular with a young-enough demographic. It basically illustrated the ‘screw you’ attitude a lot of the entertainment industry has toward people over 30, even when it’s obviously self-defeating.

        • Vulpis says:

          That does seem to be a weirdness with US marketing methods. Companies seem all too willing to drop something that has a large and potentially profitable fan base because it’s the ‘wrong’ demographic rather than simply going ‘We must be doing something right with this, let’s roll with it and make some money.’

  10. bhagpuss says:

    That’s a very interesting article. The analysis seems sound and I agree with most of it, but I have issues with conclusions drawn. There’s also one premise that I find hard to swallow.

    I’m in my mid 50s and I was in my late teens when I first began playing computer games. I couldn’t really have started much earlier but I find it very hard to believe the average age that someone would begin playing games throughout the following four decades would be anything like as late as 17. Surely video-gaming has been a core childhood activity in technologically developed societies at least since the 1980s? I’d have thought 7 would be nearer the mark than 17, unless that figure refers specifically to MMOs.

    The problem I have with the conclusion is twofold. Firstly, the alternative combat model you describe sounds unattractive in the extreme. I don’t personally like the MTG model and while I enjoyed Wizard 101 a little of that kind of tactical, card-based gameplay goes a very long way. I don’t feel that having to make the decisions in real-time would make it any more interesting, either.

    Secondly, as someone who played his first MMO at the age of 40 and who is now, as I said, in his mid-50s, I don’t find the new “action” models for MMO combat particularly challenging or off-putting in and of themselves. Being able to move while casting, having to dodge and roll, using a reticule instead of Tab, none of these is particularly arduous either physically or mentally, not per se at least.

    Where the problem arises is clear in your own example of Nightmare mode dungeons in TSW. That level of content is intended to be difficult, arduous and draining, isn’t it? I’ve never aspired to that tier of content in any MMO but the reasons I avoid it aren’t related to failing physical faculties but personal taste.

    In what I’d call normal play, running around the world, leveling up, doing quests and so forth, the current action model feels pretty relaxed and comfortable. Indeed it’s probably sloppier and more forgiving than the old EQ/DAOC approach, being that there’s far less at stake and mistakes have far less impact. I find it pretty relaxing and very easy.

    The issues of RSI and aching joints are indeed a potential problem, but in my personal experience the worst ever MMO for both of those is LotRO, which uses the old-school systems. I had to stop playing it after a few months because my right arm would go numb from the shoulder to the fingertips after an hour of simple quest&kill gaming.

    Firefall, on the other hand, which has a reticule/mousefire system, is very physically undemanding. All you need to do is hold down the left mouse button and gently sweep the mouse around. It’s like watering the lawn, only with bullets.

    For my money it’s not so much that older gamers need to go back to the older combat mechanics as it is that the newer MMOs need to be less frenetic. The systems themselves aren’t a major turn-off but the underlying credo of “you must be pumping DPS every second you are logged in” definitely is. The new MMO paradigm simply doesn’t offer the range of combat options old-timers expect and therefore what’s left seems thin and weak.

    The same systems, were they to be utilized with more subtlety and certainly more sparingly, could work for all generations. That said, I do hate it when I don’t have direct and constant control over my mouse-pointer. That’s just annoying.

  11. Michael says:

    29 year old gamer here. Quite young compared to topic here but my first MMO was Lineage 1, played for 2 years which makes me understand quite a bit of what stage-1 MMOs look like. No buffs no debuffs. All you do is hold down the potion button and auto attack. Loot has to be picked up from the ground with a F4 button. I don’t know. I never had so much commitment to a game. The games I played in elementary school were Dune 2, Day of the Tentacle. Then FF7, Red Alert 2 as I stepped into middle school. None of them can grasp on you like Lineage. Nor the reward can compare. I started playing Lineage at around 16. I remember at over level 52 you need to kill mobs for 3 hours to level 1% exp. my elder brother plays at daytime coz he works at night. We do shifts on one account to reach level 59 before Lineage 2 came out. Imagine that commitment. I don’t think any game worthy to do such a thing now. Honestly I don’t know that game got on me so much but it just did.

    I’ll skip contents on Lineage 2, it lasted around 3 years and leveling was slightly easier but money was the hardest to save up among all games I played. Yet everything can be bought with money.

    Then started the era of Chinese gold farmers.
    (Erased 1000 word paragraph of rant here).

    I forgot when I started WoW, I played level 60, 70 and 80. I do however remember when I stopped WoW. For those that played, I stopped WoW in ICC when they introduced the first ever boss nerf. We planned for everything. Every raider knows the mechanics so well they can write a strat out on their own. We downed most of the bosses on the first day on the first attempt, with pride. Few weeks later they NERFED bosses. Blizzard gave in to people that don’t want to do preparation for raids, or “kids” as most people call them, or just, noobs. I couldn’t call that coz I was just 22 at that time.

    All I thought was, if they can’t do WoW raids properly, they probably won’t even survive first few levels of Lineage.

    I left WoW. Since then I tried a lot of betas for MMOs but things just get worse. I mean WoW got worse but these new ones are just……

    Six years since I didn’t pay any monthly subscription. Doesn’t mean I didn’t play MMOs though, GW2 is a one time fee and its a good game to level up and go through the story. But the no healer method didn’t really work out I guess.

    SWTOR, AION, RIFT I can’t finish the first few levels of the betas……I did buy FFXIV 1.0 in 2011, uninstalled the game at level 2.

    FPSs and MOBAs were my mains these six years. Since college ends and work starts. Never thought any MMOs would get my attention anymore. It’s either a WoW clone or failed attempt to try new systems.

    But MY, FFXIVARR is something. Finally gonna be subscribing again to an MMO. I really like 2.5 second GCDs. More time to watch the environment, this will allow for more complex battles but not more tiring battles.

    World events is an all-round improvement from GW2. Auto party making is better than WoW with the scaling down level system. Levequests prevents mob snatching and has customizable levels. Dungeon difficulty is comparable to post-BC WoW dungeons. Materia is just, my memory from FF7.

    There’s so much more I can’t list it all out.

    Of course there’s still problems. Zone boundaries (blue dotted line) can be more user friendly by adding a tip of where that blue line is leading you to when you walk close enough, thus not having to open map all the time, or going into the zone to realize it’s not the zone you want to go.

    HUD not yet fully customizable, size of action bars, transparency, etc.

    Overall this game seems successful to grab gamers of different age groups, even younger gamers as you see in auto party making, tanks that don’t know they’re a tank, hmm, that’s probably a new gamer. :D

  12. Thanatos says:

    First off I would like to say that I loved the article. Very well put together.

    Secondly, I am a younger gamer, 23, I started playing video games at 3 years old with the old super nintendo, not the NES but the one before it, and the Dreamcast. And even in the 20 years I have been playing I have found that my reactionary speed to certain things, especially in the FPS genre, has gone downhill slowly. I played WoW for approximately 7 years from its release all the way until Cataclysm and for me it wasnt really the mechanics that turned me off, but more the repetitive gameplay. Target, clickclickclickclickclick, next target…… I mean dont get me wrong I could pump out a solid DPS rotation as a rogue but when it came down to getting out of the way in time for something like an on-enemy AOE I just usually wasnt fast enough. What I really did like was the mob mechanics…. stunning, pulling, ‘sheeping’ and so on. The slow, thought based game work. Not just repetitive button smashing.

  13. Fiz says:

    An interesting article, certainly for someone like me. I started gaming mmo’s at a somewhat later age than many. That, despite the fact that our kids sometimes had to wrestle their Atari away from us because we had as much fun playing on it as they did.

    The plain fact is, the mmorpg I’ve been playing the past several years has lately become too much of grind-fest and boring. I still love the people I guild with there and I also still love casual-but-serious progression. I just can’t donate my precious time ingame to that which really isn’t fun. I don’t mind working for my phatlootz, mind you, but getting there really should be at least part of the fun, don’t you think? It’s called a game for a reason, dadburn it.

    I agree with you that the intricacies of well-considered strats is a core fun-part of raiding. It’s too bad so many game creators think it’s “slow and boring” (and grinding 50K mobs isn’t?) when it’s really not and never was. FFXIV – ARR has a lot of potential in my personal viewfinder. I hope their end-game is as much of a winner as the opening is for me. I’m in no rush to get there, but I am looking forward to it.

    Nice article!

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