A couple of days ago Spinks asked the question can hardcore players destroy a MMO – I guess I’ve kind of given away my own view on the subject with the title of the post.
The two things about hardcore players are that they’re rare, and they’re vocal. It’s easy to overestimate what percentage of the player base are hardcore because these are the guys invested enough in the game to write blogs, run fan sites and beat their chests on the forums. They’re also the guys doing newsworthy stuff – nobody wants to hear about the guild that finally got around to running Gnomeregan two years after WoW launched, and the most riveting EVE stories aren’t about a guy who logged on, mined ore in a 1.0 sec system for a couple of hours and then went to bed. But the vast majority of players don’t raid and don’t go into null sec space, and may never even meet a “hardcore” player. They’re having fun doing their own stuff, which is (or should be) separate from the concerns of the godlike min-maxed guys who are fully kitted out with the latest, hard-to-obtain, top-of-the-line gear or starships. Having said that, there are four ways I can see that the hardcore can impinge on the experience of the lesser mortals:
The main one Spinks talks about is dominance - that the hardcore guys get such a lock on the game that there’s no room for anyone not at their level. It can be territorial dominance in a PvP game, or they could take over the auction house and drive any and all competitors bankrupt. That requires that there are enough hardcore players to be able to lock the game down – remember, there aren’t actually that many of these guys. If the game worlds is big enough, then the hardcore guys have to leave some land for others or they’ll end up too thinly stretched to defend anything (quote of the day: He who defends everything, defends nothing) Likewise, in a complex enough economy there are too many profitable niches for the hardcore to be able to control all of them. The hardcore will lock down the most profitable ones (and then compete with each other to make those less profitable) but there will be opportunities for some profit left for a more casual player willing to make a little effort to find them.
Secondly, they can mess up the game by strip mining content - that can mean camping a top farming spot 24×7 and not letting others get a look in. It can also mean by turning dungeon runs into speed runs where everyone is expected to be fully optimised, geared up and know the dungeon backwards, and guys who are actually there to get upgrades from drops or see the dungeon for the first time are not welcome. A decently designed game would not encourage this behaviour, because there should be other content for the hardcore with challenges and rewards that are more at their level. Unfortunately, not all MMOs are decently designed…
Then there’s the risk of elitism poisoning the community - where newer or more casual players are told to meet hardcore standards or GTFO. Probably worth making the point here that “hardcore” and “elitist” are not automatically the same thing. Some of the most dedicated players I’ve met have been nice guys, and some of the most elitist jerks I’ve met have been wannabes who would never be up to the standards of, well, Elitist Jerks. To some extent this is out of the hands of the devs, although effective forum moderation helps keep it in check and ‘normal’ content shouldn’t be built in such a way that elitist attitudes are actually justified.
Finally, the worst risk is that of dev pandering to the hardcore – where the lion’s share of development effort goes on content that is intended exclusively for a tiny minority of players, or where systems put their rewards out of reach of most players (new shoulderpads? Only 500 hours of rep grind with the new Too Tuff 4 U faction!). Basically, this is like the previous point except that it’s the developers rather than the payers who are saying, or implying, that the casuals should be more hardcore or GTFO. And the risk of doing that is that the NEXT thing they’ll be saying is “Dude, where’s our player base?”