I feel obligated to post disclaimers here: I love Turbine. I love Asheron’s Call. I respect the way Turbine’s addressed some sticky issues, and I have a lot of respect for the creativity of the dev team: there’s some inventiveness, some quirkiness, and some real passion for the game.

I just want to be able to, you know, do something, but I can’t.

I’m not a career MRPG gamer. I’m what some would derisively call a “casual gamer”. Early in the game, I eagerly powerlevelled to the extent that a non-draining non-lifemage could, and got into the 30-something levels when that was still considered “almost, but not quite, high level”.

Now as my “main” character walks past a group, the “level 38” tag isn’t anything to look twice at. In fact, it’s rather mundane.

And that’s a key word: “mundane”. It’s taken as an article of faith that any character in the 20-levels (and higher, these days) is played by someone whose “main” character is in the 60s or 70s.

Go into #asherons-call and strike up a conversation. Go ahead and try to discuss anything other than the month’s latest super-high level content. Talk about content ideas that would benefit all players regardless of level.

Talk about the benefits of the game-within-a-game concept, giving players ways to “compete” that don’t involve 12-hour powerlevelling sessions, the addition of items that aren’t designed to make stuff die faster, and there’s a fundamental disconnect in the chat.

It’s like walking into an elementary school in Georgia and screaming obscenities in Basque while gesticulating violently. They raise an eyebrow, back away, and continue their discussion about the best template to beat the game, and how to get it to 40th level through twinking, when it finally becomes playable.

Turbine, here’s a news flash: most of your players haven’t made it to the point where they can fight diamond golems. The players you’re spending all of the time designing content for are a small minority, and nobody else can touch it. Furthermore, most of your players don’t play Darktide, and while those who do tend to log in more hours than those who don’t, they represent a small slice of your userbase. I’m not suggesting that they don’t have needs and desires to be filled – not by a long shot – but balance changes that address the immediate concerns of 3% of your playerbase but guide 90% of the development work are inherently lopsided.

I’m not suggesting Turbine stop raising the ceiling, either. That’s not bad, in itself. When the only way to experience the content of the month is to have the template of the week, that is bad. Note I didn’t say “beat”, because I’m all for monsters that you have to group to kill. But the casual player is left out in the cold entirely, with the option to maybe do BDC for the 705th time. The new content for the last several updates might as well not even exist for most players.

Casual players aren’t the ones who cry “foul” on the CoD Dev board within minutes after finding out that, yes, new 200th level monsters are hard, and can’t be killed solo. Casual players aren’t the ones who give the fan sites pictures of the latest dungeons by 5:00pm the day that they’re enabled. Casual players just get to read about all this stuff and hope that, since they don’t log in 20-40 hours of game time per week, they might be able to kill a diamond golem with three of their casual player friends by December 2001. The vocal minority, the powergamers, the people who log 40 hours of game time per week, the people 20 hours of active IRC time per week, they’re the only ones benefitting from the patches every month, and something as “mundane” as a diamond golem is derisively called a “legacy monster” in their ranks.

Catering solely to the highest level gamers has a price – you lose the people in the cheap seats. AC isn’t going to sell 50,000 new copies in 2001 because they added monsters that some 80th level player actually needs to bring a friend along to defeat. Again, I’m not suggesting that the template-tweaking powergamer community is playing “wrong” or that they don’t deserve notice, but – and this is critical – there are other people playing this game, too, and a continual supply of new gamers is rather crucial.

Casual gamers are patient. They’re forgiving and they want you to address their concerns, too, but they won’t wait forever.

Zure ama emagaldua da, alu hori! Zoaz popatik hartzera! * rude, vaguely sexual fist-pumping motions *