So, I had other topics I could have babbled about, but then this month’s Game Director letter dropped for The Secret World. I could geek over the whole thing; but then I’d have nothing to say on the podcast tomorrow. 😛
It did remind me of something that not all companies do well, though – listening to their audience. In this case, their new player audience.
See, TSW is a difficult game. It feels all weird and, “Aren’t I awesome?” to say that about my favorite MMO, but it’s not like this is news to anyone familiar with the title. The difficulty and the need to think about things like strategy are aspects of the game many of the players appreciate. It’s refreshing to play a game where you can’t just run off mowing down enemies while nomming a sandwich. I have to think about the ways in which my powers and skills interact with each other, and with the enemies in the area, instead of shoving any old build together and barreling ahead. The game rewards learning from your mistakes, planning, and your ability to be flexible with strategy. These are all good things!
New players, though, have been coming to the forums with the same issues for a long time. That the mobs are too dense in the beginning areas. They feel like they hit a wall in some parts instead of steady progression. They’re not ok with having to sneak through Nightmare level areas to complete lower level missions. (On that last…I’ll admit I love it. There’s a thrill in having to sneak through areas knowing anything there can stomp you! )
When these issues come up in the forums or in chat, I’m with the folks saying “Oh hey, I can help. Try doing this with your build, try using this strategy.” I learned from the forums and got through those areas, so it’s definitely possible. It’s also something I legitimately enjoyed – not “blind fangirling.” BUT…that doesn’t change the fact that issues repeatedly brought up by new players are pretty clearly common issues for the new players.
Labeling these issues as “new player issues” may not even be strictly accurate. When the problems are in the second or third area of the game, that’s not someone who hasn’t even found their feet yet – that’s someone who was tooling along ok and then hit a wall. That kind of thing can be frustrating, and for every player who toddles over to the forums for advice, how many just rage quit the game? Again, I appreciate the challenge of the game but that doesn’t mean folks feeling like they hit a wall are necessarily “wrong.”
I see a lot of games that seem reluctant to piss off the high end players. I can understand that to a point, some of them are the players who have been there since launch. There’s a loyalty there that you don’t want to lose. But…high end players out in Tokyo (current endgame for TSW) aren’t always the ones who can tell you about new player experience. We’ve already played through it, we know how to do it and if we love the game it’s easy to only see it through the lens of something we accomplished instead of something that initially made us struggle. I do it myself when I talk about the game. When I talk about my experience, I’m often remembering my second-times through missions – when I’d already been to the forums and had an idea of what to do. I don’t automatically stop and remember my legit first-time-there-no-help.
I also can see the point of folks who say, “but it’s an MMO; why wouldn’t you ask other people for help?” It seems so easy, right? Except other MMO’s have already spoiled that for many people. Sure, *I* know the TSW community is grand, the forums are helpful, and there’s ingame chat channels that exist to help new players. Many folks come to the game with a very different experience from other games. They expect to be laughed at, harassed, or ignored in chat or on forums. So they don’t even try. The issue of gaming communities often being toxic and crappy is a topic for another day, and certainly not TSW’s fault. But it’s not something you can just ignore and expect players to psychically know this is an exception. Lots of people aren’t even going to risk it.
Plenty of players have been burned by games tweaking areas in a way that breaks the game; I get the uncertainty about it. No matter how many times the devs say they want to balance the game, not nerf it into simplicity, folks are going to be nervous. I see a lot of games out there, though, that don’t even want to try. They buy into, “if you’re struggling, you must just suck” instead of considering that maybe some parts of their game might be out of whack.
I’ve strayed a bit from my original point though, which is this: If you want to improve new player experience, it makes sense to listen to new players. Not every game I play seems to understand that, so I’m glad one of them does; including when that means *I* am one of the players whose opinions aren’t the ones to listen to! Whether I like the TSW changes once they roll out or not, at least it’s pretty clear that they listened to what their new players were saying.
If you’re remotely curious to hear more about what I think about the TSW GD letter specifically, I’ll use that as an excuse to plug the Beyond the Veil podcast. 😉 Livestream is Thursday(s) at 7pm EST and I’m sure we’ll be talking about it quite a bit!