Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Types of gamers

This article title over at PC Gamer caught my eye today:  "Destiny 2's mysterious Black Armory expansion doubles down on putting 'hobby' players first." Specifically the term hobby player.  This prompted me to think of the way I classify gamers as I'd never considered "hobby" as a type of gamer.  Gaming itself is a hobby, but classifying a gamer as a "hobby" gamer?  I am not sure that makes sense.  In my view gamers come in three main types.

Before we get to my three types of gamers I want to get the concept of "hobby" gamer out of the way.  The article never explicitly defines the term but quotes from the Destiny 2 developer help frame the use: "...people who live and breathe their hobby playing a videogame..." and "...a community that wants a hobby more than something that comes and goes over the space of one week..."  Based on that context my take is "hobby" = hardcore.  Now on to my types.

My three types are Casual, Core, and Hardcore gamers.  A quick description of each:

The Casual gamer
  • Plays occasionally; contrary to popular belief they don't make up a large segment of any game's population with the exception of mobile games
  • Plays mainstream games; especially free 2 play
  • Not likely to monetarily invest in games unless it buys their way ahead in the game
The Core gamer

  • Plays daily; makes up the bulk of a game's players
  • Plays mainstream games and willing to dabble in non-mainstream games
  • Likely to monetarily invest in games they like

The Hardcore gamer

  • "Plays" doesn't begin to describe what these gamers are doing; they are "living and breathing" their games day in and day out (hence my association to the hobby term in the article)
  • Plays any game, any time, any where if it piques their interest
  • Invests monetarily in games (likely to pre-order and buy special editions of games)
  • At the same time they are willing to invest in games they are the most likely group to grind out free 2 play games to avoid paying

I don't think there is much discussion to be had around the hardcore gamer type.  They are easy to pick out of a crowd and there is no doubt about who they are when playing an online game.  This is a desirable audience for every game to attract as they become the word of mouth that carries games into popularity or helps stem the tides of negativity when the plebeians rise up against a game.

Of more value is discussing Casual vs Core gamers as I feel they get confused as one and the same.  And more importantly is how often developers miscalculate these gamers and that is exactly what I read-between-the-lines in the PC Gamer article that prompted this post.

From my outside observer point of view; Destiny 2 missed for many Core gamers but the game carried forward a key Hardcore audience from the Destiny 1.  In the article the discussion of satisfying "hobby" gamers is placed against a message of "disappointed about the financial results of past Destiny 2 expansions".  Those messages conflict when you take into consideration that the Hardcore (aka hobby) gamers aren't what drive population in a game.  Core gamers are the key in that regard.

Core gamers are gamers like me.  I used to be hardcore (and then I got married, got a job, and had a kid).  I get confused as still hardcore (duh, I have a gaming blog!) because I can talk to the talk and on release of a new game I may indulge myself a little bit (staying up to 2 am a couple nights in a row isn't that hardcore).  I generally play games daily and am willing to part with money for the experience.

As a Core gamer I am looking for simplicity in my gaming choices; how do I get in and make the most of my time.  Games that deliver on that are likely to attract my attention.  This is why I am enjoying MtG Arena and looking forward to Artifact.  MtG Arena is a generous free 2 play game where I don't have to invest money while Artifact is a mostly pay-to-play game.  Both of them actually end up getting into my wallet for the same amount.  Neither one is out there looking to please the "hobby" gamer.  In fact; they really hit Core gamers pretty spot on.  MtG Arena through the free 2 play generosity and Artifact through the no-shame fact they are charging players to play the game and will allow players to buy to exactly the spot they want to be at.

That is where it feels like Destiny 2 misses.  Just reading the article and hearing about expansions and free seasonal updates and then paying for season passes; my Core gaming mind is gone to other games.  I was almost pulled in when Destiny 2 was free on Battle.net, but it was so confusing to know what I was getting into.  Like; do I need to buy expansions or not?  Do I need the pass?  Was this a Guild Wars 2 type experience where I can buy once and jump back in whenever I want for no cost?  Or was this something else where I was going to have to tap that pass each time?

Ultimately what I am getting at is that as far as types of gamers go Core gamers get confused to one side or the other and in that light its easy to see a developer to miss us.  I probably would have picked up Destiny 2 if the updates/expansions made any sense to me and it was clear how I could play the game with or without paying (again, as a Core gamer I'm not opposed to paying).  But reading an update going towards the "hobby" player makes me turn away.  I don't plan to live and breath any game anytime soon.  I am sure the Hardcore Destiny 2 players have already paid up and will keep paying up but no doubt we'll keep seeing the "disappointed in Destiny 2 financials" as the Core gamers are missed.




Monday, November 19, 2018

Something Something Artifact Something Something Valve

"I've never gone from 100% hype to totally deflated so fast" Uh oh!  Something is afoot in Valve-land with their now-in-public-beta Artifact digital card game.  The NDAs are lifted and people are speaking their mind.  Not about the game play or that some totally broken card/combo, but about Valve's audacity to actually charge players to play the game.  A tough pill to swallow in a universe of "free 2 play" competitors.

As the veil of the NDA came down and Valve released an updated FAQ concerns started to flood in about the "Artifact paywall".  Essentially; everyone is upset that Valve plans to charge players to buy tickets to get into common events.  Specifically is the requirement to buy "tickets" along with the packs to participate in draft modes. 

For those unfamiliar with drafts within card games; players buy a a set number of card packs and then spend turns picking cards (drafting) from those packs to play a game.  In real life paper card games; this means you get to keep the cards you draft (because once the packs are open there is no putting the cards back).  Draft modes where players keep cards are often called "keeper drafts". With digital games there is the ability to have phantom drafts where players do not keep the cards.  Often times these phantom draft modes allow "free 2 play" games to give their "free" players a way to enjoy draft.  Alternately, some games like Magic the Gathering Arena, allow "free" players to acquire free credits that can be redeemed for a draft.

Valve has decided to eschew the "free entry" model for their game modes and are instead charging players a number of tickets to participate in the game modes.  This includes keeper draft modes; players have to pay for tickets and packs.  Valve's reasoning for the tickets is due to the events rewarding tickets and packs (the better you do the more you get).  Also for phantom draft modes the requirement to pay for a ticket (or use one you earned) also helps solve the issues of 100% free drafts where players quit after a poor draft (i.e. they didn't get good cards).

There is no way to play Artifact for free.  Players have to buy the game ($20) and have to buy tickets to play in modes that reward new cards.  There is no method where players can grind for free cards just by playing the game.  Caveat; if you are a really good player you can go "infinite" whereby you always win the events and thus receive more rewards than needed to join another event (and thus after your first purchase you never have to buy into an event again).

This is a distinct difference from the other major players in the digital CCG market.  Specifically both Hearthstone and MtG Arena offer completely free methods to enter their draft modes.  Combined with the feedback from the Artifact beta testers that draft is the best way to experience Artifact it sets the stage for the hype to die.  Essentially lots of folks assumed Artifact was just going to be a free 2 play game.

On one hand I can see where players would assume the game would be free becaus Artifact is based on DOTA2 and DOTA2 is 100% free 2 play.  On the other hand I can point to the fact that Valve has always stated that they intended Artifact to replicate a real life card game where players can buy, trade, and sell cards just like they were real cards.  Thus it should be no surprise that Valve was going to charge an entry fee for events since the rewards (cards) have tangible real world value.

Another concern was that the hero cards in starter decks were also in packs which means they are dead cards with no value (everyone gets the starter decks and thus would never need to trade/buy a copy).  Also Valve clarified they will be taking a 15% cut of market sales which many felt was a high take.

All of this has cascaded in a torrent of "Artifact is doomed" and "Artifact's paywall is stupid" type posts across the Internet. Those sort of posts are my area of expertise as I am usually the pundit screaming the loudest about this sort of thing.  I love me a good doom and gloom post! 

However, all I can do is sit back and wonder what the heck these folks expected.  More importantly I struggle with not giving Valve the benefit of the doubt.  There were many people, myself included, who doubted that a 100% free 2 play DOTA2 would ever work or that a bunch of silly community-created content could drive a robust economy in Team Fortress 2 or that players would drop hundreds of dollars on barely recognizable skins in Counter Strike GO.  Valve has made all of these "different" models work in their major games and for the most part executed them in the face of "that'll never work" punditry. 

The bottom line is that Valve has never looked at the market and said "we're going to do what everyone else is doing".  They have always forged their own path.  Some things have worked; some have not.  Valve has taken a calculation with Artifact that there is an audience out there that wants a close-to-paper recreation of a card game in digital form. 

Personally I am one of those players.  I want to be able to buy, sell, and trade my cards.  I want to know that other players have bought into the game.  I am done putting credit cards into slot machines hoping the magical number overlords deem me worthy of the specific card I need.  I am done with dusting and wildcards.  If there is some stupid low power common card I want; let me buy it for a few pennies.  If there is a high power rare for a top tier deck, let me make the decision to keep hitting the slot machine for it or just take that money and buy it out right from the community (or better yet, let me trade up to it without having to expunge the cards from the community pool). 

All of this to say; KEEP GOING VALVE; I'M WITH YOU!  Contrary to the "I'm canceling my pre-order"; I am taking this opportunity to pre-order Artifact.

Also shortly after all this hub-bub; Valve mic-dropped a beta update invalidating many of the concerns.  In summary; excess cards can be recycled into event tickets.  This means there will be a minimum value for all cards (i.e. at some point it is better to recycle than to sell on the market).  It is a simple and brilliant solution and while it brings in a form of "dusting" it is acceptable for the problem it is solving  (worthless cards and a race to the bottom for card prices in the market).  In addition to the recycling of cards they are prioritizing a couple game modes to help bring more options for draft modes.  Oh and most of these changes are going into the live beta right now vs some dubious "future" release (take that as a lesson MtG Arena devs!).


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