Cameron Sorden on Random Battle asked a very good question recently in his post How Raiding Hurts WoW More Than It Helps:
So why does Blizzard make a community with a majority of non-raiding players raid, given all the problems it causes? Why do they spend so much time and effort on designing, developing, and tuning zones that only 1-6% of their subscribers ever use?
But Blizzard has answered this question themselves. I’ll paraphrase from the AGC talk I attended a couple of years back: Their audience is a donut with the hardcore in the center and the larger, fluffier casual crowd in a ring around that. The hardcore is especially important because they are the ones who convince other players to try the game out. These people are, in the language of The Tipping Point, mavens and connectors. They know the game inside and out and they sit at the hubs of the largest guilds, eager to recruit others into their world.
So to answer Cameron’s question, Blizzard builds content for a tiny fraction of their subscribers because those particular subscribers are directly responsible for recruiting and maintaining the other 94-99% of subscribers. So it’s not a waste — it’s actually quite economical!
Except, of course, that the theory is wrong.
Hardcore players are not universally recruiters. They don’t have a monopoly on knowledge or social networking. Mavens and connectors exist within the hardcore population, sure, but they exist outside this population as well, and in greater numbers. Nor are casual players always the passive recipients of this game evangleism. Players recruit other players who value the same kinds of gameplay — hardcore raiders recruit other hardcore raiders; PvPers recruit PvPers (aka victims); roleplayers recruit roleplayers.
In the past — say, before WoW — it may have been true that the raiders had the most organized social connections and spent the most time talking about their obsessive hobby, and that their efforts caused a ripple effect through the interested-but-slightly-less-hardcore that was the rest of the smallish gaming world. But it’s simply not the case any more. We’re seeing the same shift in focus in the gaming press, and for the same reasons: Look at the growth of the narrow niche fan site, or the widespread growth of personal gaming blogs as compared to the slow but steady demise of print magazines and gaming megasites.
So yes, I believe in Blizzard’s donut model — I just think they’ve mis-labeled the rings. And given that, I also am puzzled as to why they keep pouring so much time and money into creating content that only the tiniest fraction of players will ever see — or care to see. I suspect it’s because life on a live team is often too fast-paced to let you step back and really think about what you are doing.
(And for the record, I swear we’re not picking on Cameron on purpose. It’s just that he keeps writing interesting posts! And commenting on this post of his, inspired as it was by one of Eric’s posts, gets points for being pleasingly circular as well.)