Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Man is Keeping Me From Making Friends - Part 1

This is the first part of two posts involving issues I've had on my mind that affect the social situations that games place players in. 

I feel like a good number of MMO's lately are missing out on a key component of their games to provide hours of amusement, argument, fun and content. That is to say, other people. Decisions are made in order to lessen the effect other players have on your experience in game, as if to anticipate you are going to run into people you don't like and never want to play with again. WoW and RIFT's dungeon finder systems come to mind, as well as SWTOR's presumption that you will want to play with an NPC far more than an actual person. Part of this design choice to exclude other players must come from developers trying to out think the people who actually -are- jerks in-game by making them incapable of doing much to bother others in ways that wouldn't get them immediately banned.

And yet, these systems are also creating environments where each person's experience is self contained and not affected by other players. Yes, I did just repeat myself. However, if nobody can affect and you can affect nobody, how are you supposed to care about other people in the in-game community? The people in the guild are just a vehicle for more epics at that point. The obvious topic of discussion involving social consequences is that it forces people to be nice to each other because your reputation on a server matters. Making the consequences of social actions have in-game solutions (vote-kick, cross server dungeons, ignore other people and solo) not only assists the players in removing rude players from their experience but prevents them from allowing anyone else to affect their experience either.

One of my favorite things to say about the dungeon finder is that it changed WoW from a game where you play with each other to a game where you play adjacent to each other. Sure, you're in the same dungeon as them killing the same boss, but you have no motivation to assist or befriend the person next to you. Jerk or potential next best friend, it hardly matters who they are because your only goal is the loot and badges.

Now, one could say that you could avoid the dungeon finder altogether and group the "old school" way, but that is like giving someone a powerdrill and then telling them to manually screw in the bolts to the bookcase he's building. Everyone else is using it, and though you may be patted on the back for doing things manually you end up with the same result but slower than everyone else.

Don't mistake this for trying to advocate spamming trade for groups though. The Dungeon Finder accomplishes its task extremely well. It is only an example of how design choices can turn a community into just a rough collective of people. Another example is comparing Monoclegate to the fiasco from last year. EVE players formed an in-game protest and nearly shut down the central market hub. WoW players all posted on the forums and in blogs and sent e-mails to complain. the difference? EVE was a group effort, WoW was a collective of angry individuals each acting on their own accord, which just happened to coincide with the goal of the group.

Sometimes the urge to protect your players can be great, especially if you are an MMORPG player yourself and know firsthand how people can be terrible to each other from behind a computer screen. But some of these tools backfire and cause a community to dissolve into an rough collective. Making players depend on each other to succeed in a game outside of dungeons and raids may be a scary concept, but it has the potential to really solidify a community.

On an unrelated note, MMO Melting Pot is looking for more blogs to feature. I have shamelessly self promoted myself and I suggest you do too.


  1. I think the genre has been in flux for two decades. After all video games were popular before the internet without other people then rather abruptly segued into an experience of being intensely interdependent in worlds designed around complex interactions. It seems inevitable that having gone from solo offline gameplay to intensely social games designed to showcase the new potentialities of the new medium we're now moving towards a balance.

    I think though that rather than everyone being concentrated at the middle we've ended up with a spread. Some people are highly solo and private, wanting minimal interaction with others. Others yearn for the golden years of player interdependency, forced grouping and downtime.

    My prediction for the next decade is that MMOs will break the shackles of having to be similar to WoW and spread more on the solo/social access.

    (nice blog btw and thanks for the link!)

  2. "My prediction for the next decade is that MMOs will break the shackles of having to be similar to WoW and spread more on the solo/social access."

    I think SWTOR is the make or break point for this. If it is fantastically successful, then the industry will understand WoW like games can only be successful with a good IP and a AAA budget. Which lets the smaller companies be able to fill in what a theme park can't cover. If they are smart and don't try to copy WoW again, that is.

    If it fails, then it'll be a tremendous financial loss and big companies will be scared to invest in big MMO's, so a lot of small projects will start moving in. Either way it goes, it will be interesting to watch.

    As for your comment on moving towards a balance, I feel like we hit that balance and kept swinging back towards solo progression. Not all the way there, of course, but the momentum kept going. We have more games currently that seem to encourage that playstyle then interdependent gameplay, in my opinion at least.

    (Thank you kindly! Only felt right to link the blogs I read regularly.)