Seems to be a battle of words raging in one particular post here, that I thought maybe we should bring it to the front.
What makes an MMO a "Niche" title.
First, I will state, I never came up with this wording, yet it seems from the comments that others believe I did. I am using it based on how I feel that title is doing and what it does well.
Others can use it as they see fit.
But let me define what it means to me.
What exactly is a Niche first...lets define that.
"a position particularly well suited to the person who occupies it"
Ok, so it refers to a person and a place it occupies. Can it even be used for a company in that respect?
"recess, recession, niche, corner (a small concavity)"
This seems to place it in an corporeal form.
So, if we look upon these, a Niche for an MMO to me would be...
"A game that has settled itself into a small place, and is unique to it's position"
I look at it as doing something particular that garners a group of favoritism among it's base...
Whether this is good or bad, is also subjective.
The MMO genre for example is it's own Niche. It does something well, and that is create a world that more than one person inhabits to play together if they wish.
Hmmm....interesting choice of words...
So, then how do particular games get placed into their own "niche" away from the overall reaching MMO title.
I put it back into this definition of doing something specific well.
This is why I have placed some games into this title.
If the game does not have a wide reaching collective use, then it is "niche".
How does this work?
Lets take a genre within the game to start. Why is Sci-Fi more niche, than Fantasy?
You rule out certain audiences as you enter each genre.
Fantasy has a wider scope due to everything from Fairy Tales from young children age, on up.
Are you more likely to read a child a book about Snow White and the Dwarves or about Aliens?
Sci-Fi seems more grim, more hardcore due to words that are not always accessible.
Will the child understand what a truth spell is for example? Or Pentothal?
Science Fiction has always tried to sound more erudite.
Fantasy uses a more simplistic approach and morals system as well. Usually we know who is good or who is evil also. Black and White, yet Sci-Fi can be further reaching with gray areas of who is right and who is wrong.
This is not to argue black or white situations do not exist in Sci-Fi, but to give an example...
We watched an episode of Stargate last night, where an alien asked for help. This alien has taken the lives of humans before.
The humans though have found one type of serum that helps the alien lose the need to feed on humans.
Yet, now the aliens have taken on an alternate disease due to this serum.
Was it right for the humans to do this? And is it ok for them to let the aliens die?
Now again, this is not to say this cannot happen in Fantasy as well.
But, you are guaranteed that the majority of Fantasy has these black and white lines. We know who is good, and who is evil (even though using WoW as an example here, people state that there is not a line...I beg to differ...example: Eating people is not a moral high ground in our moral society)
I could go on about things like bombs and guns, and how this reflects today's society, and as such, we as a people tend to stray from that reality to enter a world where magic lives when we look for escapism...blah, blah...
Instead, try a search on why science fiction versus fantasy shows fantasy wins in sales.
Read this little tidbit to get an idea of why some believe this is so...
And this gets to the other crux of a niche. Big sales vs "Niche" sales. Some believe that just because something sells more than something else does not make the lesser product niche.
This goes back to defining a small location, or a particular spot.
Some games do not sell well in various locations...this makes them niche.
Some games do not sell well due to subject matter (sci-fi)...niche.
Someone said...is Runescape niche? 1 million players. I think not..
Lets look at it this way...
Is Runescape easily accesible? Yes.
Does Runescape do well in more than certain locations? Yes.
Can you be Casual or Hardcore? Yes.
I would not call Runescape niche.
Then why would a game like LOTRO (yep, here it is) be a niche title?
Lets try to look at this based on what we know of the game.
It is a Fantasy. People love fantasies...right?
It is like WoW, the largest MMO available..right?
It has other features like housing, dress up, etc...right?
So, why has LOTRO gained this connotation?
Placing itself into a particular place in the genre itself.
When we look at WoW, and take away the Fantasy trappings, we still have a multitude of mechanics, which makes the game a far reaching title for players.
PvE, PvP, Casual or Hardcore, Raid? No Raid? RP? You name it...many mechanics within a single genre.
But, again, LOTRO can do these.
But, limitations exist.
A player cannot PvP right away. There is no factional PvP except in specific areas.
As has been noted by many an LOTRO player, a large percentage of the base is Casual. And the game does Casual well.
I found this post which explains the niche ideal of LOTRO better...an explanation of the type of player in LOTRO.
"- Lord of the Rings fans (people that loved the books and probably liked the movies).
- People that couldn’t care less about shiny gear. Most of the comments I hear about people’s gear is about appearance attributes such as matching or looking silly rather than looking god-like or powerful.
- Casual Social types: people that enjoy small groups of friends that play semi-regularly and solo on occasion.
- Explorer types (Middle-earth is large and thanks to the rapid expansions by Turbine, there always seems to be new areas cropping up here and there).
- People that enjoy horizontal game play where you can get things which do not necessarily make you more powerful or advanced (eg: houses) along with the vertical, achievement type at which WoW excels (eg: leveling, “gearing up,” etc)."
So, it is not so much how big the population that makes a game niche, but how it delivers the end product.
This much is noticeable though...Niche games does equal low populations.
This is how the discussion of niche started.
WAR is another good example of a niche game. It looks like WoW, plays like WoW, but where does it lose the WoW moniker of far reaching, and why does it not have a million scrips or more?
A game that put's limits on your gameplay is definitely niche. It puts you into a "small recess" and does not offer an alternative way to do the game.
Thus niche equals a smaller player base.
So, when asked about Guild Wars, some believe it is niche.
It does PvE, PvP, Casual, Hardcore, Grouping, No Grouping....
And has the audience to prove it is not niche. At 6 million in sales...this is not a small little game trying to gain recognition.
It is not a "little corner" of the market like Eve Online.
And this is where the total argument goes to niche or not niche. What really defines a niche market. We can say all MMO's are niche, yet a large segment of the market has made them mainstream. Yet only a few are really mainstream.
So, in the future when we discuss Champions Online as niche (Superheroes, a very dedicated group, nerdy, and not widely encompassing) or Jumpgate (no avatars?) as niche...it makes sense.
Until LOTRO opens the Rohan area as full on PvP, or with large scale battles that people can join or avoid, and increases it's player base...it will stay niche.
Until WAR opens a PvE server alongside the PvP server, it is niche (swap those for LOTRO).
Until Age of Conan lowers entry requirements for hardware to the game, it will stay niche..(of course, hardware can catch up to AoC, and it could become mainstream...time will tell for that game...how about that Xbox 360 port also...MAJOR mainstream...)
Do you have a reason these are not niche? What game is called niche right now, but has mainstream written all over it.
Let me know...