"World of Warcraft is officially Casual!"

I am quoting the headline from a friend of mine who droppt this in a chat. And he is right. Considering that you can level from 70 to 80 in days very easily plus you can enter instances/dungeons in normal mode 5 levels before the level requirements and having no difficulties helps the casual player reaching goals he would never be able to earlier.

At level 80 random groups for Naxxramas, the 10 man instance, were running Naxx successfully days after the expansion has been released. Even for the heroic version of Naxx, the first 25 raid you might enter, are being run with success.

Now 2 german players solo'ed Loatheb, a boss in Naxx, in heroic mode! Thats how easy it has become.

The elite guilds hate it, casual players love it as the difficulty is ok for them. Two things start to happen: the elite guilds miss the challenge and casuals are raiding like the pro's have been before. Fun fun fun, but Blizzard has a problem. The pro guilds were the heros of WoW and casuals saw them as their role model. Of course they complained that they never can raid like they do, but still they liked that there is somethign after their level cap to reach, unlikely, but it is there.

Now everyone can raid and the feeling "there is somethign beyond" is missing. That might lead to the problem that pro guilds stop playing or waiting for the next expansion as there isn't an alternative for raiding outside WoW right now (neither WoW nor Lord of the Rings do it "right"). My personal opinion is that Blizzard needs to offer an elite content patch real soon otherwise they are going to loose the role models of the masses.

Check this: the majority of the playerbase never saw the inside of Sratholme before Burning Crusade came out, less than 5% of the players at that time never saw Naxx from the inside. Less than 5% of the playerbase before Wrath of the Lich king saw sunwell from the inside.

Yes, its the right move Blizzard to make things more casual and more fun for everyone, but do not forget what principle (among others) made WoW big: Elite content for the core players.


Fiction Book on Nano Tech

A friend of mine wrote a pretty neat book, it took him serveral years to complete and he offers it as a free download with a donation optional if you like it. Want to check it out?

Item Selling?

The latest craze in online gaming: Free to play and item selling. But this word "item selling" is misunderstood. Casual users think that you can buy anything the game offers in items, that you must spend money in order to succeed. In RPG's itemselling  suggests you can spend real money to buy the best armor or weapons available.

But this doesn't work for RPG's. A fellow gamer looks at you and thinks "hey, he spend money and has better equip, I won't pay so why should I continue playing?".

Some games do allow exactly this but they are designed in a different way. Those games are made to have a stickyness of maybe 3 month (With stickyness I mean how long the player actively plays). In this case it is ok to sell anything you want as the player is merely a bypasser in the game world. The business concepts varies here: some publishers push millions of users through their games and only a fraction stay. Many user in - many users out.

Some games, usually virtual worlds like MMOG's, have a larger stickyness. I heard from games where people play it since years, just like you read from World of Warcraft. Exactly here the word "itemselling" is hurting the user base.

So care must be taken how you implement item selling. I prefer the term "Micropayment" as you pay in small amounts and buy things which aren't usually visible to fellow gamers in the same world. A famous example is the XP scroll, which grants you a temporary boost in experience points you gain for monsters and quests.

However the experimentation goes on and usually the creative teams thinking exactly what their customers would pay for are successful. Here customer bahviour or motivation research is very important.
In one game I have data that seasonal items are the best sellers. Halloween costume anyone? Santa Claus hats? People who spend a lot of time in a virtual world love this. Ask yourself why and you are close to find the grail of itemselling.

Generally there are a lot of good business cases here but what works is hard to research if you are just starting or don't have connections to the industry. Thats one point where I usually get paid for, to tell people which works and what doesn't for their online game.


German Developer Awards 2008

I was attending the German Developer Awards 2008 yesterday and was in for a surprise: one of my last games "Panzer Tactics DS" won the "Best German Console  Game"! The game had a difficult history in all aspects and surely this award will help this game which many strategy fans don't even know about.
The developer Sproing Interactive surely is proud of this award, and rightly so! Many people worked hard on this project and it wasn't easy to bring on the market.