I've just read a great post from Tobold. Shame I did not found his blog earlier, it's really good. In this post he pointed out that hardcore players are unimportant to Blizzard: "They pay as much as everyone else, unless they multi-box, but use more resources in terms of server capacity, bandwidth, and customer support."
He is completely right that "Their function as a role model only existed in their own minds. This was especially evident this year when Warhammer Online came out, followed shortly by Wrath of the Lich King. WAR had more success with hardcore players, while WotLK was a bigger hit with the casual players. In spite of all the hype on many blogs and game forums on how superior WAR impact PvP would be to the carebear version of WoW, in the end the casuals didn't follow their "role models" to WAR."
Completely true, these HC players are mostly viewed as no-life losers living in their parents' basement, although it's usually not true. They are envied and hated by most, not respected.
However his conclusion "If Nihilum would tomorrow announce that they will quit WoW en masse, that'll get them a headline on WoWInsider, but will not make any noticeable dent in Blizzard's subscription numbers." is wrong. There are more here than meets the eye!
To attract players to a Massively Multiplayer Online game, you need several things.
At first you need lot of content. That's obvious. The content cannot be unconquerable, or people will leave in frustration. The content also cannot be trivial, no one will pay and spend time for one-shotting wolves. (Sometimes I'm unsure about this statement when I see morons killing critters but still).
The content need to be "multi-player". To quest up from lvl1 to 80 you need nobody else. The questgiver gives you a task and you do it. It can be exciting and new to complete tasks in a magical kingdom but definitely wouldn't last for months. And after all, a single player RPG is much better on content since you will have choices, you can affect the world, while here you have no effect, even if you refuse to do the quest. What keeps the people here is the multi-player enviroment. You fight alongside with friends (real and online), and while doing so, you also socialize, you chat about not just bosses but RL things too.
Here comes trouble: to make WoW attractive for a casual, Blizzard must create a multi-player enviroment where he could connect anytime! While HC players have raid schedule, casuals, according to their names, play now-and-then. If you are a casual, playing an evening/week, and just met with another such casual, and found him a nice person, it takes 7 weeks to meet again if you log on randomly. And as casual, you do log in randomly, according to your RL schedule. So the casual have very little chance to see the same friendly face twice. Not that social enviroment you get connected to.
Here comes the solution: soft-core players ("player" as opposite of "casual"), like Tobold himself, or the great Larísa, or practically anyone from my blogroll, including myself. We don't push raids 6 hours long 6 times a week, we will never kill Sartharion with 3 dragons up (granted I already told my guild that 1 dragon must live or I won't go heal), nor clear Naxxramas with no one dies *shakes fist towards the slime-globs between Patchwerk and Grobbulus*. Yet we are online often, ready for a Heroic, premade BG or to tank/heal/lead a raid.
We are the friendly face the casuals see, we are the core of the guild, we are the names on his friend list that are not always grey. Without us the casuals would always be PuG-ging with complete strangers. We are the ones who know and explain the boss tactics, give advices on talents, can craft a rare item, and above all, we know the greatest of secrets: where is Mankirk's wife.
But what is there for us? I remember running countless Karas and Heroics giving great time for casuals who barely knew the way. Was I a Good Samaritan boosting them? No, I was collecting badges. Every badge bought me closer to my personal goal, downing Mrs Naga. Granted, finally I had to pay to a HC guild for a spot (was in a hurry to meet her before 3.0.2), but I still smile on the story that involved Mrs Naga on the ground, my healing meter position and a blurry explanation from the HC guild's druid class leader about "we are slacking now on farm content".
Now I don't run HC-s at all. Guildies who whisper for "can you heal HC XXX" get a scripted answer, "Sorry, I can't go to HC now, I'm busy with my own stuff". And I am. Writing blog, reading blogs, seeking business opportunities, leveling alt. While my green letters are there, I am not there for them. I'm still running raids, yet with less and less enthusiasm. After Malygos will hit the ground, I doubt if I raid at all until the next content patch.
We are softcores and not casuals because we want something more from the game than just 4 hours/week escape into a magical kingdom. Some wants challenge, others enjoy theorycrafting, others want adventure with friends. If we bash content so easily, why would we play? To boost casuals?
The ultimate nastiness: we, softcores use the resources the hardcores create. While they are definitely not role models for us, we watch their videos and read the tactics they write. While they are elitist jerks, their talent and spell descriptions are good, isn't it?
Granted, Blizzard guys could create official guides to bosses, but it would turn the game into some ridicoluous menial task: pay $15 for repeating the steps described on the official page. Now, we are defeating the content with the resources of the community. We're just following advices of peers and not commands of an authority.
Granted, Blizzard could tune the instances even more down, but the one-shottable content would not satisfy a casual. A casual is not dumb, just play rarely (most dumbs are softcores, playing a lot because they suck at life - and they suck at WoW too). He can and want to face strong opponents, just don't have enough time to prepare for it properly. So he just reads his part on the guild forum and follows the raid leader. If there is no part for him, just "go in and solo it", he will also be disappointed, and soon leave. How many people go kill Onyxia? Would a dozen Onyxias be able to keep even the casuals in the game?
So the food chain:
- casuals pay money to Blizzard
- softcores provide the social enviroment, and in-game help for the casuals
- hardcores provide expert game information and an example of possible progress for softcores. Even if most don't take it, it must be there.