Thursday, August 23, 2007

Demographics for a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
The material question you asked did not go unanswered; Perpetual should be going after exactly the audience they're going after, and have stated they're going after which is a combination of MMO fans with little Trek experience, hardcore Trek fans, latent Trek fans, and general games. That's why I've been saying throughout this thread that this debate is actually over nothing, and making an academic distinction that's unwarranted.
It's possible that this accurately described Perpetual's intentions. I don't believe that necessarily makes our discussing it entirely academic, however, since:

1. Intentions can change, in which case our having explored the driving concerns might contribute something useful to the discussion of the new design/marketing plan. [Addendum 2008/03/27: I would say that Perpetual Entertainment losing the license to make Star Trek Online is a pretty good example of how "intentions can change," possibly leading some other developer to adopt a different marketing strategy and therefore a different game design.]
2. Someone might make such a great point in disagreement that Star Trek Online's developers could adjust their own intentions. (Not likely, but possible.)
3. Discussing it, even if it's exactly what the developer already plans to do, could help us non-developers and amateur designers better understand how and why these design/marketing decisions are made.
It occurs to me that the kinds of questions I've been asking about ST:O's design and marketing are really "why" questions, not "what" questions. When a developer says, "we're going to do X," then there's little point in arguing that they should do X or Y or Z... but there is, I think, value in talking further about why they might want to do X or Y or Z.

Maybe when I say, "ST:O should be like X because 1, 2, and 3" you feel I'm focusing on the "should be like X" when in my mind I'm focusing on the "because 1, 2, and 3." Is this possible? It might explain why to some it seems silly to keep talking about a decision they think the developer has already made, while to others there's still value in exploring the reasons behind various development decisions.

Originally Posted by CINC-UFPForces-Cardassia:
is it your contention there are no notable and significant barriers to drawing people across media, particuarly to MMOs, regardless of age group? I think it's a question that still hasn't yet been appropriately addressed in the thread, and probably the most important one.
As I said earlier, I think passive entertainment consumption will always exceed interactive entertainment consumption. (At least until we have real holodecks!) In other words, no, I certainly don't think it's possible to get everyone who likes a particular movie or TV show or book to play an online computer game based on the setting and characters of those passive entertainment forms. For reasons of both human nature and the time available to the typical person in our society, active entertainment is less popular than passive entertainment -- no franchise can ever reasonably expect to achieve a 1:1 ratio across media.

But that doesn't means some amount of penetration into the numbers of those who currently don't play online games isn't possible. With the right design, and with enough of the right marketing, I think an online game that taps into several generally untapped markets could bring in more gamers than even WoW is currently enjoying.

In summary, my argument is that a Star Trek MMORPG can attract more subscribers than other MMORPGs from the passive license fans and from the general public if it takes the usual MMORPG feature set and completes it by adding the following:

  • design and marketing for casual (30-minute to one-hour) players

  • design and marketing for social players (engrossing gameplay-based stories, and chat -- with perhaps live Web links -- with a light Star Trek feel)

  • design and marketing for Explorers and Socializers (key motivators IMO within self-identified Star Trek fans)
I don't think a gameworld like this would look like your typical MMORPG. It certainly wouldn't be your typical hardcore, gameplay-uber-alles MMORPG that exclusively attracts hardcore gamers. Which is precisely why I think it would have considerably broader appeal than the typical MMORPG has (among Westerners, anyway).

Pulling across age groups and across media is almost an incidental side effect of the focus I'm suggesting, which more than anything is about recognizing how people today want to spend their entertainment time. Most people will prefer to watch TV or see a movie or read a book... but a game that's not too far removed from these things has a chance to capture the attention (and pocketbook) of those entertainment consumers who would be willing to try an online game that didn't demand too much from them.

I see no reason why Star Trek Online couldn't or shouldn't be that game.