Sometimes 1% is enough

Stawek commented something that many people often say: only 1% of the players are good enough to do hard content without welfare so the game must cater to the “casuals”. I have a very simple counter-argument at Steam charts:

Yep, on Steam, home of tens of thousands of games, only the #2 and the #3 have more than 10% of the players of the #1. Another 11 have more than 1%. I don’t think that all of the other games failed. They are simply niche.

My point is that having only 1% of the players of the “king” isn’t bad at all. Think of the MMO market, where the king is WoW with 7M players. The 1% of that is 70K. If you can charge $15 per month, you just made a million dollars every month. If you have some whales, you can get more. That’s not so bad. I doubt if EVE has more than 70K real players and the server is still up.

I think aiming directly for the 1% is not only acceptable but the responsible thing. Out of tens of thousands of published games only a dozen made it higher. What makes you think you are special? Instead of aiming for the stars and reach … Star Citizen, you should budget the development with “1%” playerbase as target, therefore design the game for a specific 1%, instead of the “wide audiences”. You just won’t get those guys, the king will. And I’m sorry to tell you, statistics says that you belong to the 99.999% of the game devs who are not called PlayerUnknown. But you can get the guys who hate P2W or hate content resets or hate toxicity (or the opposite, love unrestricted free speech). Then you’ll have exactly what Stawek told: 1% of the king.

And that should be enough to keep the server up, the patches coming and the devs paid.


Author: Gevlon

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10 thoughts on “Sometimes 1% is enough”

  1. @Gevlon

    I will always take issue when people throw the “1%” number around, especially for WoW when trying to justify the reasons for more “inclusive” game design. Even if only 1% of the playerbase completed Vanilla WoW raid content, that number does not include the hundreds of thousands who attempted the raid content and failed. As we’ve seen since WOTLK, there are diminishing returns for the necessity to have skill when devs opt for more “accessible” gaming.


  2. The question is… why do that?

    You’re asking businessmen with millions of investment dollars to intentionally make less money. All for the (supposed) nobility of some greater game design? There is an opportunity cost for every decision one makes, as you well know, and it makes little sense to leave cash on the table. Indie devs can do it, of course, and a few of them make a Minecraft and get endless riches. Most everyone else barely breaks even at best, and others who do “compromise” their values get enough profit to fund their next venture.

    This is all besides the point that the 1% only generally exist because of the 99%. These are competent, skilled players with effective social groups that are entirely capable of transplanting their group into another game that “isn’t dying.” Wildstar tried the “cater to the 1%” method, and they hollowed out their revenue stream in the process, which lead to investor flight, which lead to no more development for the 1%.


  3. @Azuriel: because he makes *some* money for sure, instead of risking a loss. You can’t possibly lose money for a niche game designed for a certain audience. Sure, it’s probably not a billion dollars, but definitely positive return on investment. If you want to challenge WoW, you need $300M at least and there is a high chance that the game will STILL have less than 1% of WoW playerbase.

    The “1% who raided in WoW” is not the only “1%”. There are many niches like “those who always play with a certain partner (2 brothers, spouses)”, “open world PvP-ers” for example. You could design a game for these niches.

    Wildstar failed *because* they ignored the fact that they are focusing for an “1%”. They should have set their budget for 100K subscribers at best. Also, the game was buggy and unbalanced when released, which is absolutely unacceptable if your niche is the “l33t”. Having placeholder graphics is OK. Having login queue is OK. Having little content is OK. Anything that can alter the outcome of a challenge is NOT OK. They designed a dime-a-dozen WoW clone, tuned it hard (when WoW already had Mythic raids) and expected the crowd to come. My point is that you cannot expect the crowd. You can expect 1% of the leader.


  4. My comment was more specific towards the WoW at the very time it was released. 1% of world’s game market is still a massive amount of revenue, of course.
    I am strongly against welfare epics myself. Players will be happy as long as they get something out of their game. For vanilla WoW it was just the fresh AAA MMORPG experience. That option isn’t available anymore.
    Evolution leads to speciation. Every genre will eventually split into subgenres and then even more. Every now and then there will be a meteor strike of PUBG or DotA that changes the whole ecosystem.
    Once you spend money developing your game it’s silly to simply discard 99% of potential customers. Identify your core 1% target audience and design for them, then accommodate at least 50% of the others with some cheap additions like easier game modes or single player campaigns. Which is exactly what WoW had done. Now, if it affects the core gameplay negatively, you’re in trouble, but there is no negative impact on WoW progress guilds from introducing pet battles. If anything, it’s the potential developer time redirected to those side activities, but then you escape diminishing returns if you focused all your resources into a single aspect.
    My current idea for next billion dollar game is an EBay of games. MMORPG platform which allows random people sell their GM and design skills for cash. Why chase rat tails when some amateur GM can run a professional quest series for you and your friends?


  5. One of the first things you’re confronted with when trying out Wildsrar for the first time is a man screaming “YOU LEVELED UP!” while your screen erupts in obnoxious visual effects. It might have made for an amusing parody of MMORPGs and how they addict the M&S in a cartoon like South Park, or for a tutorial that you end at max level. But for the “l33t”, who only care about positive feedback from their peers, and from downing bosses others fail at, they see through such sound and fury. Several people I know uninstalled the game when they saw the level up fanfare and knew they were in for a hundred hours of that crap before thy got to play the real game.

    Wildstar keeps getting trotted out as the reason we can’t have nice things, when the success of private servers like Nostalrius is probably more telling, or the clamor to get City of Heroes back,


  6. @Stawek: “accommodate at least 50% of the others” is a slippery slope because you always do “a little” to annoy the core audience to accomodate the others again and again, until the game is nothing like it was originally and flops. For example, WoW as it stands is a pretty good raiding game. It’s catch is that the next patch WILL erase all progression (for the casuals).

    You cannot tell if a tangential feature won’t break some core feature in a way you don’t expect. It’s especially bad in PvP games. WoW got lucky with pet battles, for every one like this, there is a dozen bad ideas that damaged the core. It’s safer to just cater to your core audience and whoever fanboys and stream-followers come around.

    Sorry, your imaginary EBay game is a nonsense, players will simply buy whatever mode is giving them the fastest progress, even if its shit. Then they complain that the game is shit and quit.


  7. I agree with Gevlon here, but with a caveat…

    Don’t expect any financial backing from the “Finance community” when you’re doing this. Self funding or crowd funding only. They don’t call VC “Vulture Capital” for fun, if they think they are taking too much of a risk, the only terms you will be able to get are going to be … well, let’s just say “Highly one sided.”


  8. For the big players in the west making some money is not enough. Profitable projects get scraped because companies think there is more money elsewhere. There were direct statements for such a behaviour from game companies although i don’t remember if it was EA or someone else (they did that too regardless). If you want however devs that are happy with less you just have to look at the asian market. Whether korean,chinese or japanese. They all have such titles. We just never get US/EU versions and the group of people who jump hoops and play there with english patches is so small you never hear about it unless you actively search for them yourself.


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