What Do Gamers Really Want?

Uncle SamGamers are a strange bunch. We want to have input into the direction of our games, and we decry studios when we feel we’re being ignored. But it must be pretty tough to be a game studio, sifting through feedback on multiple issues, some of it in diametric opposition, knowing that you can’t please everybody. And then there’s the big question: Do gamers even know what we really want?

In a very recent example of missing the target, Carbine MMO Wildstar launched to much fanfare and bravado, promising difficult raids and old-school end-game. The community was delighted, and continued to nudge game development forward throughout the beta testing periods, affirming that MMO players indeed yearned for the days of caffeine drenched raid nights and Cheetos fueled rage. With these rabid fans and WoW-like graphics, there was no doubt that Wildstar would be able to stay afloat using a subscription model, and perhaps even challenge the king of MMO’s itself. After all, it was taking everything everybody loved about WoW – the graphics, the humor, the questing model, and re-introducing the difficulty element that so many gamers waxed nostalgic about.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the hard core…people stopped playing. In fact, by Q4 2014 (just 2 fiscal quarters past launch), Wildstar was selling the fewest copies of any NCSoft game. Two quarters into 2015, they announced plans to convert to a free-to-play game. What happened? Some have suggested that the hard core audience, while niche and willing to pay for challenging content, is simply a vocal minority. Others wonder if Wildstar simply overestimated the number of gamers who would be willing to “switch over” to a game with such a heavy focus on a difficult end game. But I wonder if this was really a case of gamers themselves not really knowing what they want in a game. A return to six hour raiding may sound great in theory, but perhaps in practice we’ve found that our patience and our lives no longer support such a play style.


It’s not just MMO’s, either. I constantly hear gamers complain that we want to see innovation, and that we’re tired of recycled concepts. But, let’s just take a look at the top selling games of 2014:

  1. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  2. Madden NFL 15
  3. Destiny
  4. Grand Theft Auto V
  5. Minecraft
  6. Super Smash Brothers
  7. NBA2K15
  8. Watch Dogs
  9. FIFA 15
  10. Call of Duty: Ghosts

Looking over this list, at least six of the ten are “sequel” type games, which pretty much disqualifies them as being extremely innovative. Super Smash Brothers and Minecraft may have been innovative in their day, but have benefited from unusual staying power. Destiny is a re-skinned Halo. The only game that may claim some elements of innovation is Watch Dogs, but at it’s heart, it’s an open world RPG. If we really want innovation, why do we keep buying games that are carbon-copies of tried and true formulas?

It’s my assertion that what we think we want is not what we really want. We think we want something new and exciting, but we really want something comfortable and easy to jump into. We think we want the same game that we played ten years ago, when what we really want is that feeling that we had while playing that game ten years ago. We think we want something to challenge our views, but we really want something that will win others over to our current worldview. We think we want a challenge, but what we really want is fun.

Perhaps we’d be more content with our games if we were more aware of what we really want out of them!

Uncle Sam I Want You – Poster by DonkeyHotey on Flickr Creative Commons

IMG_0351 by H. E. Smalley on Flickr Creative Commons

13 thoughts on “What Do Gamers Really Want?

  1. I have a couple of thoughts on your article, which I really enjoyed btw.
    Nostalgia. When we started playing (X) game when we were (X) years old (probably pre-teen, teen) everything was shiny and new, we had fun learning a new game, new concepts and banded together with our brethren to do epic things.
    Now we’ve grown up, have a lot more responsibilities and a lot less time. We think we want those new experiences with the all night raids, but let’s be honest here, who has the time or energy for that? Going into something familiar and comfortable makes decompressing from the pressures of life a lot easier to slip into than something that may be hard core.
    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post! I don’t really know what I want, therefor I never scream out loud what I want either. I have vague ideas perhaps, or small tweaks within games, but no gamebreaking ideas that will change a game completely.


  3. I think part of the problem is that we don’t know what we want. I’m kind of depressed by the quality of the games on that top 10 list but at the same time… I purchased 4 of them. I think with the big series (CoD, GTA) people know they’re going to get a solid, if not original game. These aren’t series that launch full of bugs or mechanics people don’t like. If you liked a previous one, chances are, you’ll like the next.

    I also think that part of the problem is that everyone wants different things.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think the problem is necessarily not knowing what we want, but rather being evolutionary. We grow and change our entire lives; as we change so do our tastes. There are points in my gaming career that I wanted certain things, and some of those still sound great in theory, but in practice are nearly impossible. Nostalgia, comfort, fun, challenge, they all factor in, in different ways for different people.

    One things gamers should be able to universally agree on is that we want more games. We just don’t know which ones until they are released or we get our hands on them.

    I think over time you tend to narrow down your criteria for a game you’ll play regularly. If a new title meets at least a good percentage of those criteria, you’ll play it. If it doesn’t, you’ll pan it and move on. The problem is, our criteria tend to change as much as we do.

    I try to judge games on a case by case basis, though bad experiences can tend to color your opinion prior to giving one a chance. Either way, I know what I like and know what I don’t currently. My current me would probably argue with my twenty year old me though, just as much as they’d both argue with ten year old me. Oh fuck it. We don’t know what the hell we want.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ‘We think we want the same game that we played ten years ago, when what we really want is that feeling that we had while playing that game ten years ago. We think we want something to challenge our views, but we really want something that will win others over to our current worldview. We think we want a challenge, but what we really want is fun.’

    SO TRUE!

    and because this post reminded me so much of this song here is the link for others to be inflicted by spice girl ickyness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJLIiF15wjQ


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