Sunday, August 19, 2007

Demographics for a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
Now, not to get too technical, but I think it's somewhat inaccurate to say that people in their 30s, on average, are primed to have more disposable income. This may be true in some cases, and may have been true in more prosperous times, but it's terribly unlikely to be true now. Real wages are down in the United States, credit is difficult to find, jobs even among the middle class and white collar sectors are being sent abroad, costs both for basic necessities (gas, milk) and major investments are up dramatically, new homes purchases are down dramatically - in other words, in the present economy, you're far more likely to struggle with money in your 30s than you are to have it to spend.
Not to get too technical myself, nor to open up an economic-political debate, but I consider your list of woes a) incorrect unless one cherry-picks particular moments in economic history to make today look bad by comparison ("down" and "up" are relative terms), b) incomplete versus the general trend of economic activity today (regardless of how the major media prefer to report only the economic news that damages an administration they don't like), and c) irrelevant. If economic matters were as bad as you imply, people would be leaving WoW, not still paying to play it in record numbers.

More importantly, this analysis confuses two slices into the economic data. The perceived amount of disposable income across time (months/years ago vs. today) isn't applicable to this thread. What we're talking about here is disposable income across age brackets today, which is generally independent of how good or bad we think the U.S./world economy is doing today versus some time in the past. Even if today's economy is as bad as you claim it is, within today's population 30-somethings still have more money to spend than 20-somethings; 40-somethings still have more money to spend than 30-somethings; and so on for at least one or two more decade brackets.

Overall I don't think it's unreasonable at all, if you're making a product for sale, to design it at least in part according to who's more likely to have money. 20-somethings, with lower-income jobs, have time but not money... so why design the features of games to appeal so particularly to them? Being able to spend lots of time in-game is irrelevant to revenue if having less disposable income means one person is less able to pay for a subscription-based game than another person who has less time but more money.

Plus the people who'll pay for a whole subscription but stay logged in less of the time are actually more valuable customers. If there are enough of them -- and that's an open question -- then from a purely business perspective, reaching out to them with features seems like a good idea.

Consciously designing a Star Trek MMORPG (and perhaps any modern MMORPG) to appeal to people with more money than time doesn't really seem to me to be such a terribly objectionable suggestion. So if 30-somethings and possibly even 40-somethings are not who Star Trek Online should be aimed at, then who should be targeted and why?

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
It's not like EVE and WoW are overrun with 30 and 40 year olds, though of course there's going to be a higher percentage of such in WoW due to a larger subscriber base. It doesn't scale down to STO in the way you might suggest.
That, I think I'm correct in saying, is a matter of opinion, not fact.

I'd actually be OK with assuming that the average age of WoW's players is mid-20s. But I'd bet the average age in EVE is higher -- not by a lot, since the full-frontal PvP of EVE probably appeals to a younger player, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that the typical EVE player is nearly 30.

And I'd bet the average age of a SWG player one year post-launch -- when it was still a thoughtful game but after the younger gamers with shorter attention spans had already moved on to something else -- was low- to mid-30s.

The people who grew up with the Atari 2600 and who've played games ever since are not far from their peak earning years. (And the people who started watching Star Trek with TNG aren't far behind.) Overall, then, there are more older gamers now than ever before, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect that process to continue for at least another decade... during which time Star Trek Online (assuming it ever gets made) will be active.

Again, I truly don't see this idea that the features of online games should adapt to reflect the reality of aging and wealthier gamers -- i.e., going where the customers are -- as either surprising or deserving of strong dissent.

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
And Flatfingers, I'm still interested to know - what makes you think these people that you feel Perpetual ought to attempt to bring in won't be "Achievers", as you've put it?
Some of them will be, of course. The general population appears to consist primarily of Achievers and Manipulators (their non-gameplay-specific personality style equivalents, actually). If you buy my theory that Achievers = Guardians (in Keirsey's temperament theory) and Manipulators (Bartle's "Killers") = Keirsey's Artisans, then there's some evidence (from Myers-Briggs surveys) that Achievers and Manipulators are indeed a significant majority of most Western populations.

That being the case, I'd certainly also expect to see Achievers and Manipulators in Star Trek fandom... but Star Trek fans aren't the general population (surely we can agree on that! :) ). Star Trek, despite the action sequences, still appeals strongly to the Idealists and Rationals -- the Socializers and Explorers, respectively.

By offering social and exploratory features as Actual Core Gameplay -- not as a mere text/graphics/audio skin cynically intended to bring in the marks, nor as mere support features for a combat game -- the developers of a Star Trek MMORPG can pull in more of the Star Trek fans. Up to some reasonable point, that would be commercially smart; otherwise why agree to be limited by the Star Trek license with all of its restrictions and lore requirements (and rabid fans)?

In summary, I don't think there's anything inconsistent with the position that it's possible to offer Achievers and Manipulators and Socializers and Explorers a gameworld they can all enjoy. I believe it can be done, and done well; it would make some games better; and games with richly detailed "world" backstories -- and a persistent-world online game based on Star Trek must IMO be such a game -- require this depth to achieve maximum appeal to likely subscribers.

That's sort of the point of seeing gameworlds as game "worlds." The chance to build a world with wide popular appeal -- a place that people can both "live in" and "play in" -- comes along so rarely that none of us should be satisfied with a game that caters to just one or two styles.

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
Star Trek XI is an experiment and a test, rather than proof of strength.
I think it's reasonably regarded as evidence that the IP still has some strength when you look at what Hollywood is willing to bankroll. The money people are known to be highly risk-averse. So if the new Star Trek movie truly is charting a new course for the franchise, if in addition to being a sequel it's also an experiment, that's actually evidence that its new owners and financiers think there's more support for Star Trek as an entertainment franchise than the mere numbers suggest. Otherwise they wouldn't risk multiple millions of dollars making yet another movie based on this franchise.

Whether they will be proven correct is another question. But what we're discussing here is whether declining numbers for Star Trek on TV are evidence of such a loss of popularity for the franchise that focusing an online Star Trek game on the "game" part is justified. My view is that the willingness to make another Star Trek movie suggests that someone thinks there are still Star Trek fans, existing and latent, who will be interested in it as the core of an entertainment product, whether movie or game.

It's probably worth mentioning here that I'm not suggesting you think anything like, "Oh, Star Trek is dead; Star Trek Online should just be a generic MMORPG." At the same time, insisting that Star Trek is a property in serious decline ("stigma"?) raises the question: if Star Trek is really such an untouchable property now, why should any game developer ever agree to make a game with "Star Trek" even in its title, much less in its features?

I've actually made two suggestions: one, that there's enough of an active and latent fan base for Star Trek that ST:O should be designed in part to satisfy those people, and two, that there's enough general-purpose entertainment value in Star Trek to design ST:O in part as mass-market entertainment (i.e., imagine and implement some features appealing to non-MMO fans regardless of whether those features break with the conventions of most current MMORPGs).

If that's not the right target for Star Trek Online, if it shouldn't be designed and marketed in roughly equal proportions to fans of current MMORPGs, Star Trek fans, and the general public, then what is the proper balance of a target market for this online entertainment service?