Friday, April 22, 2011

Building an Individualistic Community

"The fault lies not with the Dungeon Finder or the Call to Arms feature but in the fact that players are strangers outside of dungeons. There's no other meaningful need or reason for two WoW players to interact."

I found this interesting quote on Massively's Soapbox article on the new "Call to Arms" feature. Here's the link, in case you wanted to read it -

It got me thinking. I've been a WoW player since around the end of Burning Crusade. I enjoyed my first level 70 character the day before Wrath of the Lich King came out, and raided through that entire expansion. Cataclysm rolled around, and I've barely stepped into any Heroics despite now having two 80's and an 85, all three being built and geared to tank.

Background information aside, it made me look at the WoW community in a new light. In a way, the author is very correct: Unless your goal is to make friends in WoW you quite literally have no incentive to interact with other players. Allow me to run through some of the "social" features of the game to elaborate.

Guilds - Cataclysm has introduced the guild levelling system, that encourages players to be in guilds. The larger guilds will, of course, be the ones to level the quickest through the system. Now, I'm sure a number of you know that being in a guild in WoW doesn't necessarily mean you're going to interact with somebody meaningfully. You can, but the largest ones often have their guild chat as little more than a more organized General Chat. You play adjacent to each other rather than together, as the majority of challenges don't require you to need help.

Dungeons -  And then we come to the challenges that do require other people. Random PuGs have such little social cohesiveness you'd be stretching to call it a group at all. With the Call to Arms system, any role that is needed will find it more beneficial to queue alone rather than with friends. Even before this system, you can obtain up to a 15% increase in damage, healing, and hit points by teaming with random strangers rather than your own guild mates. You could argue that teaming with guild mates gives guild exp and reputation, of course, but that does not guarantee a meaningful social interaction.

Raids, on the other hand, require far more coordination and practice. However, I find this sort of interaction lends itself to a coworker mentality rather than a legitimate social space. You gather, complete a challenge, pat each other on the back and move on your merry way. I'm not implying you need to be best friends with a person to do such a thing, but if Gevlon's model from The Greedy Goblin is any indication, you need only be able to pull your weight, a task placed entirely on the shoulders of the individual. His responsibility to gear up, gem and work properly so that he can contribute for a chance to get his rewards.

The Official Forums are a lovely example of what the majority of the playerbase is concerned about. Each class forum holds a good portion of posts doing nothing more than complaining about the class they play. Players feel as though they have full right to take the words from the developer's mouths and twist them in such a way to try and convince others than the game is being run by complete idiots, and the poster has the end-all-be-all idea that can "fix" the game. Not that other games do not have this problem as well, it is only exacerbated by WoW's large playerbase. 

Levelling up is a solo experience. Daily Quests are solo experiences. Crafting is a solo experience, albeit with some faceless interaction via the Auction House.

Social interaction is not needed to play a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Curious, isn't it? I have no opinions on how to change the individualistic bent of the gameplay in WoW and I cringe at the idea of trying to tackle it. I do find it interesting, though, how much of this game can be played with success while seeing other players as simply NPC's who are here to assist you in obtaining rewards.

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