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Community Schmommunity

Very interesting article from ICO Partners that follows up on (and links to, so I don’t have to) some of the other community-related discussions that have been going on in the blognet lately. Here’s the start — you’ll have to clicky the linky and visit them directly for the rest. (This is also by way of bookmarking it for myself, for further reflection.)

 

There have been  a few very interesting blog postsin the last weeks after a IGN Vault post by our estimated former colleague Richard Weil (now Community Director for Cartoon Network’s Fusion Fall) discussing  the future of the community management profession.

The debate is extremely interesting, so we just wanted to reflect on it and  think out loud on where we think OCR is going in the online games industry.

Just because something is “soft” and may be difficult to define doesn’t mean it’s not important! The articles above say it much better in terms of the professional requirements than I could, so I’m going to tangent off into the player-based perception and definition of “community.”

Spinks recently asked her readers how they get their server news, which ties in to the community debate and — for me — raised the question of whether server-based communities are as vibrant as they used to be.

In the last few years I’ve found it increasingly difficult to identify with server communities and in some cases even with game communities — not that they don’t exist, but that they’re either too closed (cliqueish) or, conversely, so diffuse that it seems more like 27 mini-communities than one meta-community.

online_communityYes, game communities tend to be made up of many smaller ones that gradually build into bigger ones — friends/guild/guild group/server/game — but it’s been my experience lately that beyond the friend/guild level it tends to devolve. Name-calling and trash-talking on forums do not a server community make; nor do popularity contests and “who’s the best killa?”-type threads. Well, they might for 17 year olds, but it’s been a long time since I passed THAT particular milestone and I really don’t give a shit who’s the best trash-talker among us. Or indeed, who’s the best anything. See, to me, community is NOT a set of leaderboards, which is what WAR started to devolve into at the time I was playing, with everyone feverishly scanning those various ranking sites to see how their guild was positionned. (Though to WAR’s credit there seems to be at least a bit of community spirit there, even if most of it lies in the “Order sucks!” — “Well, Chaos sucks more!” type of discourse.)

Is that something else we can lay at WOW’s feet? The need to be one of the top guilds because players only consider top guilds because top guilds are what do the top raids that get you the top goods so you can then move on to an even MORE top guild that will get you even better stuff?

If I sound snarky, it’s because I am. Using guilds as stepping-stones to access ever “better” (*cough* bullshit *cough*) content is community-breaking, not -building. Using guilds as nothing more than an organisational tool to access content (which is basically what guilds are purposed for by WoW’s basic design) is, at best, neutral in terms of community. I’d argue it’s a lot worse than that, but I’m trying not to rant.

Moving on — Roleplaying servers often seem to have much, much better communities than other servers. At the very least, they tend to see themselves as a distinct community, united by the “RP” flag. Which begs the rather obvious question: maybe RP (and PvP?) servers have better communities (and more solid, visible, definable communities) because the people on them actually try to interact with each other. I’m as guilty of that as most other people — in games, being talked to by a stranger is often like being talked to by the weird person on the subway:  you avert your eyes, hope they don’t decide to latch on to you, and move on.

That’s a real shame. A few short years ago (and an aeon in MMO terms), when I started playing AC in 2000, I would talk to anyone and everyone, and everyone and anyone would talk to me. Sure, some of them were a little strange, and some of them were a little clingy, but most of them were great people and those pass-you-at-the-merchant interactions occasionally led to friendships. What they almost always led to was getting to know the faces (well, names) of the people who played around you, not just the people you played directly with; and that, really, is the basis of a server community. I may not know “Joe The Mighty Plumber” (yes, in AC you could have names that were more than one word /scowl) personally, but I’ve seen him around, I’ve said hi a few times, he dropped some gear on me (or vice-versa)… basically, he’s part of my server crowd.

Now, while there are a lot more people playing MMOs now, the proportion of wierdos is probably no higher than it used to be.  If MMOs attract weirdos, then they were attracted in 2000 as well, so statistically… same ratio now as then. On the other hand, because there are so many more people playing, it feels like some days all I get are strange or irritating interactions, so I have become more and more protective of my personal space (speaking of which, I have such a huge pet peeve about people invading said space in games — don’t stand on me!! argh!!!).

Actually, I’m being unfair to weirdos, who really are rather few and far between still. What I do see a lot more of these days is the rude, the pushy, and the generally ignore-worthy. I detest being talked to by a complete stranger without so much as a hello, but that’s the nature of MMOs these days. “Where’d you get XYZ” is, apparently, accepted shorthand for “Hello, you don’t know me from Adam but I’m admiring your XYZ, mind telling me where you got it?”

easthamWhich leads me directly to two things we didn’t have when we were “forced” to interact in the stone-age days of MMOs:  (1) examine-their-undies: though I think EQ had it, AC didn’t and if you liked something someone was wearing, you had to *gasp* ASK them what it was, and (2) global, server-wide channels. Sure, it’s good to have more chat channels than we used to… but I’m not entirely certain global channels didn’t help kill face-to-face interactions. Global channels and the … devolution, for want of a better word, of “places” in games. In Asheron’s Call, Eastham was a real place where you’d regularly see the same faces; in WoW, Stormwind seems to be nothing more than a place I go to because the bank and the auction house are conveniently close to each other (unlike stupid Darnassus); sure, it’s always crowded, but not by anyone I have any interest in getting to know. (Dancing on the fountain? Guaranteed to make me never “see” you again.)

Now, when someone collars me on an MMO street, it feels like more of an intrusion than if they simply asked in global chat. That’s just … wrong. It makes me more comfortable, but it’s still wrong as far as community creation goes. Global channels are a community building tool, or can be — but being the apes we still are, nothing beats face-time, even in MMOs. And face-time is exactly what I don’t want to give people these days, because odds are (based on past interactions) that they’re an asshat.

So if I feel a lack of community these days, maybe I have mostly myself to blame.

Categories: MMO Tags: , ,
  1. April 7, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Snarky? Your never Snarky! ;P

    Funny how people seem to need a community, when most of them scream about how they are forced to group and want more soloable content. Some feel that being “forced” to interact with people is a bad thing. I think that it’s a good thing, because it puts people together like a blind date, sure they might not like the other people, but every once in a while, your find a friend for life. I feel that if people were forced to group together it would make them more socially adept rather than socially retarded, which is what is happening now.

    But I think your wrong when you say, today its all about leader boards. It was all about leaders boards back in the EQ days as well. Which guild was the first to down the Sleeper or raid the Plane of this or that. As long as there have been MMO’s there have been those who seek to out do others, to achieve the unachievable and to flame those that don’t know what they are doing. But, people did interact more with each other in the game, and weren’t complete Asses either. Back then, people helped each other, PuGs were wonderful and people would actually say Hi instead of how did you get that gear.

    Whether it’s the fault of Blizzard and their attitude to invite the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the rude, the lazy, the socially retarded or the gaming industry as a whole, who knows, but these days MMO players only see other players, for the most part, as tools not other people. They are a means to an end and yes, that is a very bad thing.

    In my opinion and taking into consideration that there are exceptions to ever rule, a majority of people who play MMO’s today are selfish, rude and in it for themselves. Long gone are the days of polite social interaction, now it’s what have you done for me lately and rude comments.

    Sure, I’m generalizing. I’m sure that people on RP servers tend to be less about the material and more about the social, but what about the rest of us, who want to enjoy a game without someone sending a whisper asking if you know your character name is actually Spanish for Penis and yes, that happened to me. It would have been funny except I named my character after a friend that passed away last year and in no way did the name even remotely resemble a Spanish word.

    I don’t know the answer to the problem. Make people interact with each other through forced grouping, hoping their social skills improve over time or let them solo the entire game and remove End game so there isn’t any interaction between players at all?

    Hard to choose?

  2. April 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I will never play a game that *forces* grouping — because I won’t play anything that forces me to anything. I’m contrary like that in real life, but I also think it’s against the whole concept of fun, and that’s why I play games.

    Besides, encouraging people to and facilitating certain interactions is much more effective than laying down a huge “thou shallt!” — be it for grouping or questing or whatever.

    I don’t think WoW welcomed the asshats — I *do* think that the basic WoW playing design (get gear to get better gear so you can go get even better gear, then start again) is one that encourages greed and selfishness, for all that it’s supposed to happen in a “collaborative” (raid-group) setting. If it were truly designed for collaboration, there would be better loot sharing & division methods from the get-go — or they’d have been put in by now. Ultimately though, WoW is about competing for drops and competition can kill community just as easily as it creates it.

    But aye, since there have been games there have been leaderboards. My contention isn’t that leaderboards suck, it’s that they’re a poor form of “community.”

  3. April 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I think that MMOs as we know ‘em are on the cusp of a split into more social type games (eg. Free Realms) and more gamer type games.

    And part of the community side is that so many players I know were more sociable on their first MMO than on later ones. I know I was, I know some of my friends were also. So why did we stop being so outgoing?

    For me, I realised that while I was having fun hanging around and chatting, the guys in my guild were off levelling. ie. being sociable was not in any way helping me with game goals. And that was sad actually. I enjoyed playing slowly and savouring the social side of the virtual world (but I like gaming too so I adjusted, as you do).

    Compare to a MUSH where you must interact to get involved with the game. The RP is the core of what that type of game is about and the only way to get into it is to build IC relationships with other players. But I guess it’s a more marginal playing style.

  4. April 7, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Ohhh interesting, Spinks!

    So we’re saying that being an Achiever in games is incompatible with being a Socialiser? At least in the way most games are designed? (Not that people don’t want to be both, but that they aren’t designed to be complementary but rather doing one makes it hard to do the other at the same time.)

    You might be right, actually.

  5. April 7, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Yeah, I’m kind of thinking on my feet here but that’s pretty much where I’m going with it.

    What I find is that I will happily socialise, but will prefer to do it in an environment where I can progress my character at the same time (ie. not standing around in the capital city). It’s quite telling that one of the big hubs for social chat in DaoC were the crafting keeps. Crafting was very grindy and you pretty much had to stand and do it where the vendors were.

    But there were always other crafters to talk to. And sometimes we got attacked by enemy shadowblades who’d climbed over the walls and all the crafters would put down tools and go help kill it.

  6. April 7, 2009 at 8:53 am

    “But there were always other crafters to talk to. And sometimes we got attacked by enemy shadowblades who’d climbed over the walls and all the crafters would put down tools and go help kill it.”

    Perfect example of being able to do more than one thing at once in a game (unlike crafting these days).

    Now stop being so interesting, I have work to do! :D

  7. April 7, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Thinking about your comments regarding a server-wide community…I’m not sure it’s really possible. Sure, you can have server acquaintances and what not, but my definition of a community is that it exists with the knowledge of other communities.

    In some cases, what is needed is not merely knowledge but rivalry. Think East Coast v. West Coast, North v. South, US v. Europe, etc. Servers don’t have rivalries with one another, except maybe in that they hosted the guild who took down XX boss first. In WAR, though, I really don’t see any server rivalry, so it doesn’t seem as though a server community can exist.

    Not sure if that made sense, I’m operating on much less sleep than I am used to.

  8. April 7, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Maybe less grouping and more soloable content might be what we need after all. If the conflict is you can’t be an achiever and a socializer because you need groups to achieve the goals then soloing might be the answer.

    You can socialize in chat and progress at your own pace without having to do grouping. But this would only work if the person is already a social butterfly and not socially inept. sometimes a little forced grouping is needed to bring shy people out of their shells.

    Also, people might get offended if you only solo and don’t participate in group events or questing.

    Tough to find an answer that meets all the requirements of not pissing people off.

  9. April 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I think the original post was about community boards and not in game social interaction. Sorry if I steered us off course.

  10. April 7, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Blizzard has fixed the loot distribution by adding tokens that once enough are collected people can turn them in for gear. Course, this doesn’t fix the overall competitiveness of raiding, but isn’t a little competition a good thing?

  11. Tesh
    April 7, 2009 at 9:50 am

    “Sometimes a little forced grouping is needed to bring shy people out of their shells.”

    In lieu of writing something more… testy, what makes you think that’s the game designer’s job?

  12. April 7, 2009 at 9:52 am

    @ Oakstout – Yeah, cuz “Miss Tangent 2000-2012″ doesn’t allow any kind of digression or deviation in post comments! :D Tangent and deviate all you like, that’s how the fun discussions get going anyway, and it’s not like I’m writing a thesis. In any case, it’s not off-topic, which is more or less about community and why we feel less of it.

    Also, not to pick on you Oaky, but there *is* quite a lot of exploitable continuum between “forced grouping” and “all soloing” ;) People can be encouraged to group — not by saying “Oh, I think y’all should group” but by DESIGNING a game to make grouping more entertaining, easier to get going, more rewarding, and all manner of other incentives — just don’t make grouping be *worse* for me than soloing and then, to ice the cake, FORCE me to do it. Grouping could, for starters, be seen as something other than 4+ people. Technically, a duo is a group but there are almost no games out there that actually take that into account, which means you have a whole grunch of people who can easily make duos and trios but who still can’t take part in “group” content (and I don’t mean raids, that’s a different activity).

    Yeah… I’m working. Honest… *ahem*

  13. April 7, 2009 at 9:57 am

    @Tesh — it kinda is though, in the sense that how the game is designed (group composition, group xp rewards, ease of getting to each other / to content, yadda yadda yadda) does have an effect on social interaction.

    Design isn’t everything, but it is a large part of the equation. (See WAR’s ease of taking part in PQs for instance — the groups are so open there, nobody gives a crap whether you’re shy or not, and presumably shy people may find those easier to join.)

    I’m not particularly shy, especially online (shaddap you all), so it’s hard to judge this one.

    • Tesh
      April 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

      It’s a game designer’s job to provide tools to play with, not to engage in social engineering. Give players the ability to play however they want (without griefing, unless you’re Darkfall), and leave the psych evaluation of “shy” up to the player. Otherwise, it’s just railroading in another form. Most players don’t play games to be forced into anything. We get enough of that sort of crap in real life.

      • April 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm

        I disagree.

        A game designer in a MMO is like a tour guide or a cruise directory (ask Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard). MMOs are not pure games, they are part game and social interaction. Therefore a good cruise director will design events and activities that involve other people that enhance not only the activities but the social nature of those activities.

        You could also say that restaurant, bar, country club owners are also in the business of social engineering because getting people together and ensuring they are happy while they experience the activities at those places is important. Nobody wants to go to a restaurant or bar that is empty and nobody forces you to go their either. But undeniably part of the reason we go there is the social ambiance and camaraderie we get from the patrons.

        You want to know why most MMOs are crashing and burning lately? It’s because the game designers have failed to realize the social nature of MMOs and they failed to incorporate that ethos into their content and mechanics.

        Speaking personally, games bore me. But virtual worlds fascinate me because they have so much more potential.

        P.S. This issue of being “forced” to do things is becoming a bit of a tiresome red herring. Nobody is forced to do anything yet it’s continually trotted out as a reason to make MMOs less social and less challenging. Read any patch notes from WoW and you’ll see that things keep getting easier and more dumbed down to placate players that see even things like flying on a mount as being a hardship.

  14. April 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

    To a degree this is pushing on the invalid concept that grouping equates to being social. Back in the EQ days *perhaps* it was. Perhaps. But that’s because soloing was more rare and more difficult, spawn times were long and quite frankly, there just wasn’t anything else to do besides get in a group and camp. Ridiculously lengthy downtimes meant bored players who most likely would rather be killing things had to chat instead. Other than the ability to solo the majority of the leveling game, the only thing WoW and Co. really altered is the spawn timers. Now we’re busy killing, even in groups. EQ was just as bad about raid raid raid, gear gear gear as any MMO (WoW) we complain about now. It was just forcibly slower about it.

    Are people who are shy in life also shy online? I don’t know. Speaking for myself, I tend to be quiet in life, though I don’t know if I’d call myself shy. I would consider myself fairly social inept in life as well but online (game or otherwise) I’m pretty chatty and social. At least textually. Voice chat, I can go either way; often I’m quiet, other times I’m a chatterbox. Online lets me come out of my shell more than I tend to allow myself in life. But that’s just me, I cannot speak as to how others behave.

    I also don’t like forced grouping, even though I make an exception for DDO. Having said that, I would never suggest making a game where all content is soloable. I don’t want a solo-mode raid. Solo and Raid are mutually exclusive terms. I don’t even want every normal dungeon to be soloable. If it’s a levels-based game, fine, let people solo from 1 to level cap if that’s what they want to do. It will only affect someone else’s game if the soloer then decides to get into the grouping game. But I’ve played with tons of people who’ve grouped the entire leveling game and still cannot play their character in a group. So I don’t necessarily buy the argument that soloing 100% without a doubt makes for bad players. Bad players make for bad players. Some bad players are hopeless; others just haven’t yet been in situations where 2+2=4 and their mental lightbulb was illuminated. A little patience and guidance and they could soon become one of the guild’s MVPs. Ya never know til ya give someone a chance and allow them to succeed or fail on their own merits.

  15. April 7, 2009 at 11:50 am

    @ Ysharros: “Using guilds as nothing more than an organisational tool to access content (which is basically what guilds are purposed for by WoW’s basic design) is, at best, neutral in terms of community. I’d argue it’s a lot worse than that, but I’m trying not to rant.”

    It’s far worse than neutral, and sometimes ranting is justified and constructive. Most guilds in WoW function not as a community-building group, a place to make friends, an outlet for socializers… but rather, as you said, a way to access content. People join guilds because they want to be able to raid, and they use the guilds to get the items they want so they can go to other raids. And yes, it seems like a deliberate design choice in WoW… it’s hard to raid without a guild, and raids are hierarchical – requiring increasingly better raid-gained equipment, therefore people join a guild to get their start in raiding, then leave it for another guild once they “qualify” for the next level of raiding. Rinse and repeat. The leaderboard phenomenon lionizes achievement over exploration and socializing, and everything in the game steers one towards gaining better loot… guilds are just a means to that end.

    And yes, I think that global channels lead to the decline of civilization. They lead directly to a decrease in immersion, for those few who pursue such things (I’m one of that minority), and to an increase in general asshattery and sophomoric outbusts. Plus those damned kids always trample my begonias.

    @ Jennifer: “In some cases, what is needed is not merely knowledge but rivalry.”

    I’m unconvinced that rivalry builds communities well in MMOs. I can see how it works for competitive sporting events, where people have a strong connection with a given team – that’s how people generally become involved with the hobby of spectator sports. In MMOs we’re actors, not spectators, and rivalry seems to almost always degrade into juvenile trash-talking and popularity contests.

    • April 7, 2009 at 2:35 pm

      I don’t agree with your assessment about rivalries degrading “into juvenile trash-talking and popularity contests.”

      About your other point, I think that establishing a rivalry works just as well when the participants are actors as when they are merely spectators. Look at high school football players or the spirit of UT vs. A&M. Both CAN involve the spectator aspect relating to their respective sports, but the rivalries in both cases can also be looked at on the level of the participants.

      In any case, I meant that the absence of a sense of rivalry stops MMOs from developing a sense of server-wide community. I think it’s certainly possible for smaller communities within servers to develop — guilds, alliances, acquaintances, etc. — but the server as a whole cannot be a true community if it does not acknowledge the presence of other communities or compete/cooperate with them.

      • April 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm

        Hrm. Football is, as you know, very much a competitive sport. Establishing competitive rivalries is a central part of differentiating teams from each other and allowing emotional buy-in (so it “means” something when one team wins). I don’t really see that point carrying across to non-competitive hobbies though.

        How would you propose having rivalries between servers in a non-competitive game? Are you advocating making MMOs more competitive by focussing more attention on leaderboards and the like? Certainly the tools are already there to make MMOs more competitive, but I’m uncertain if that’s a good thing overall.

        I think it’s important to establish some shared context in which members of any group can view themselves, and this is often a distinction between “us” and “them”. It doesn’t have to be, though. E.g. as Ysharros noted, there’s a much stronger sense of community on roleplaying servers, by and large, than on other types of servers… and those are by their nature generally quite noncompetitive. Landroval server in LotRO, for instance, had a pretty strong sense of community, or so it seemed to me… based on mutual respect and a shared desire to have fun with light- to heavy-roleplay focus. There was no “them” to compare to, just “us”, and it worked fine.

        Your mileage may of course vary. :P

      • April 7, 2009 at 4:18 pm

        “How would you propose having rivalries between servers in a non-competitive game?”

        That’s what I’m saying. There ISN’T a way of establishing server rivalries. Therefore there ISN’T way of establishing a true sense of community as a server.

      • April 7, 2009 at 4:47 pm

        I guess I’m still unconvinced of the necessity of rivalries as a basis for community. As I mentioned, I’ve seen communities form without it.

        I’m of the opinion that, to form better communities, we need better social networking tools, and designs that don’t emphasize achievement through disposable networks. E.g. when players have cause to spend time in the same location, bonds form… this happens all the time with bad design choices (e.g. the downtime of EQ), but it could also happen with a deliberate and good design choice (e.g. rewarding socialization).

      • April 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm

        It’s possible to have friendly rivalries too – which may have been part of what Jen was getting at. Competition doesn’t have to be cut-throat, and it does help to foster an “us” feeling that in turn helps to define a community.

        As regards server communities though, you don’t need cross-server rivalries — SWG used to have quite vibrant server communities, though it’s interesting to note that there were a fair few *internal* rivalries (not least of which was the basic rebel/imperial divide). Bria Imperials were nasty gImperials, but they were OUR imperials, so to speak. (Well, not mine, I played on Kauri and Shadowfire, but the principle remains. ;) )

  16. Kanter
    April 7, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Very interesting discussion. Going back to the old Bartle AESK categories, as Ysh did above, seems to be helpful. Communities can be based on ‘Killing’ and I think that’s what we have now. Either you’re a raider and you kill together or you’re PvP player and you kill each other together.

    What this discussion seems to be pointing to is the desire for communities that aren’t based on killing. I don’t have an answer, but as someone who scored ESA on Bartle and who likes playing MMOs, I have an interest in helping find at least one.

    Looking at non-traditional very young focused MMOs might help since by nature they don’t focus on killing. Disney Fairies (which my 4 year old plays with my help), Toontown, and Hello Kitty Online would be interesting examples of non-killing focused MMOs if one had the time and patience to look at them (which I don’t). (laugh)

    It shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ option. You should be able to have a game where you can do either depending on your overall interest or your mood that day and not feel like you are falling behind (per spinks).

    • April 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

      @ Kanter: Raiding is more Achieving than Killing in Bartle terms. It’s about PvE competition to make your character more powerful.

  17. April 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    @ Kanter, I agree. There’s a fair bit of comment along the lines of killers not liking what achievers like who don’t like what socialisers and/or explorers like, but I think that’s much too reductive.

    It’s been my experience (personal, and friends) that most of us aren’t one thing all the time, or one playstyle all the time. We have preferences, sure, but most of us like to mix it up.

    Free Realms might be interesting in this regard when it comes out (or has it already?). It’s aimed at a young audience, but maybe not *just* at a young audience. There’s also Wizard 101 and others, though W101 actually *does* concentrate on the “fighting” aspect — it’s just not very gory. ;)

  18. April 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    EQ definitely had a sense of server community. How it was established, I don’t know, but it was there. If you had a good reputation, you got access to more guild-related things even if you weren’t in the guild, which was awesome for people who couldn’t necessarily make the hours for raiding guilds, but still were nice / helpful / knowledgeable / skillful enough to make a difference.

    Inter-server communities are “meh” and have always only ever been for bragging rights as far as I’ve seen. Server communities though … well just look at RP servers like Antonia Bayle or Lucan D’Lere in EQ2. The server population takes it upon themselves to set up RP events that don’t help towards leveling ANYTHING and are purely in-game social events. That’s a pretty good community if you ask me.

  19. April 10, 2009 at 1:52 am

    I respect your opinions greatly Ysharros but I’m still a bit puzzled as to why you’d feel that you were “forced” to group in EverQuest? To me it’s like someone who joins a little league baseball team complaining that they forced them to play baseball. Or it’s like someone joining a debating club and not wanting to debate.

    For me and many others the whole point of playing massively multiplayer online games ten years ago was adventuring together with other players in order to defeat monsters. That very act required that people learned how to socialize and become better socializers. You needed to be polite and you needed to know how to player your class in order to contribute to the group.

    The difference is that back in EQ (10 years ago) as you know, soloing was the exception and not the rule. Today with WoW everything has changed and for the worse.

    Good communities don’t happen by accident. When there is no value on having polished social skills and politeness you end up with WoW. You can’t really blame the players — they are playing WoW the way it’s meant to be played. They should put this “system requirement” on the box.

    No social skills required.

    Here’s my bottom line on MMOs and community:

    Every MMO gets the community they deserve.

    In order to make money, Blizzard willingly made a business decision that made playing MMOs more inclusive but it came at a terrible cost (no pun intended):

    1) a horrible community – people are rude, mean and selfish

    2) unskilled players – they don’t know how to play their class in a group

    Let me leave you with a little story about what happened to me on my street this past winter. I live in Seattle where it rarely snows. Being from Canada, I brought a snow shovel with me when we moved here a few years ago.

    Most of the people on my street don’t talk to each other. We keep to ourselves as we all have jobs, lives, etc. Yet when it snowed this year I took my snow shovel around and helped folks get their cars unstuck and shoveled their driveways for them.

    The result is because we were all forced to “socialize” because of the shared conditions (the snowstorm) we ended up meeting each other, talking and laughing. Suddenly barriers and distrust evaporated. What a feeling when you feel a genuine sense of community!

    Why did it take a snowstorm for this to happen? Why didn’t we all meet each other and share each others company before it snowed?

    Answer: because we didn’t need each other

    But somehow on that snowy winter day we *did* need each other.

    WoW for all it’s brilliance and polish is a MMO where people generally don’t need each other until the endgame but by then the die is cast and the community is what it is.

    Community is dead and gone in most MMOs because the building block of community are sociable players. When there is no reason to be social you end up with a MMO like walking in Manhattan. You are alone among many. You end up with the anonymous cacophony that plagues the Internet with no checks and balances.

    I didn’t start playing MMOs so I could be alone. I genuinely like people. I like to be needed and wanted by people even in *gasp* virtual worlds. The magic of EQ is that everyone was needed and it made me feel needed as a player and as a person. Friendships in EQ were simply amazing and rewarding. You rarely get that in WoW and that’s by design.

  20. April 10, 2009 at 4:46 am

    @Wolfshead — I actually didn’t play EQ for very long, I played Asheron’s Call (first and foremost). If I did say that people were forced to group in EQ, it’s because that’s what I’ve heard from everyone who did play it.

    Most of the stuff here that deals with forced grouping was written by Oakstout, not me. ;)

    (EDITED to remove a lot of snarky, pre-first cup of coffee stuff. Our mileage varies. I just don’t happen to think that community equates to FORCED interaction. I don’t think games should equate for FORCED anything. It’s not grouping I mind, it’s the view held by some designers and gamers that there is only one way to do things in MMOs, and that involves forcing me to group. I will stop playing rather than bow to that kind of pressure.)

  21. April 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    No offense taken, I’m just very passionate about how I feel about MMOs :)

    I guess it all depends on what we want out of a game, a MMO or a virtual world. WoW is so open-ended that it can be played like any of those with no socializing to lots of socializing depending on how the player approaches it.

    Sure nobody should be forced to do anything but there are realities and mechanics in MMOs laid down by the designers that are integral to how a MMO works. Nobody is forced to level either but if you don’t do it then you can not progress your character.

    As a side bar, this reminds me of paladins that don’t realize they have a mana bar or the priest or druid that refuses to heal. We seem to be in an era of gaming where it’s almost rude to expect someone to actually play the game the way it’s intended to be played.

    Games at their most basic level have rules and systems that need to be followed or you end up with a software toy/sandbox. We need to get away from the negative connotation of being “forced” to do something and replace it with being “persuaded” to do it. Good game design persuades players to use all the possible mechanics to figure out an optimum solution and to play the game well.

    Blizzard removed socializing from the equation and got 12 million subscribers who crave personal autonomy; that’s largely been the key to their success. Socializing and grouping were key elements of MUDS and MUDS up until the time of WoW. Now we are seeing the result of their elimination which I think has been an unfortunate trade off.

    I completely respect anyone’s right to do as they please in a MMO or virtual world — that is part of the current appeal of this genre. All I’m saying is that for many of us old timers socialization played a big part in why we loved logging on each night and I miss it.

    • April 10, 2009 at 2:09 pm

      “All I’m saying is that for many of us old timers socialization played a big part in why we loved logging on each night and I miss it.”

      I agree. What I’d like the people with your opinion to realise, however, is that the way I play is not unsociable — you think it is because I’m not joined at the hip with a group, but if I spend all night chatting to people (in guild, tells, zone, etc) doesn’t that make me sociable too?

      It seems to me that the group-ONLY camp thinks any other mode of play is UNsociable, and I find that pejorative and limiting.

      But I suspect this may be something where never the twain shall meet. It’s a shame, because I’m not unsociable, and I’m a little tired of being labelled as unsociable just because grouping isn’t always my primary mode of socialisation. It is *not* the only interaction mode available.

      I also thought I’d made my own nostalgia for old-time interaction plain in the article, but clearly I didn’t since what most people seem to be reading from it is “I am a soloer which means I hate people and never want to have anything to do with anyone else.”

      To be quite blunt, it’s extremely disheartening. Eh well.

      • April 10, 2009 at 7:18 pm

        Ysharros I apologize if my words suggested in any way that you personally are anti-social. That was not my intention. For the record I solo 99% of the time in WoW because I play late at night and I can’t find a group. It’s not by choice but because of circumstance. I don’t look down at soloers rather I feel bad for them that they are missing out.

        However my anecdotal experience with soloers is that they are in most cases not interested in any form of personal contact — they just want to play the game their way and not be bothered by anyone. As I stated previously they are not to blame and playing the way that Rob Pardo intends them to play. People like yourself are the exception.

        I believe that there is a causative connection between the lack of grouping required in MMOs and the shockingly poor caliber of the community. Trying to talk about enhancing community without looking at the root cause of the malady is like ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Everyone knows that the current MMO community is generally very bad and immature yet we don’t want to face the problem head on.

        If people are no longer expected to group then what purpose does socialization fulfill within a MMO? Of course you may be a wonderfully social and community minded soloer but the majority are not. So how does a soloer socialize when there is really no reason to except for some friends you may know and/or guildmates?

        Without the need to group socialization is relegated to the periphery of the MMO experience. When a player can get from level 1 to level 80 without every speaking a solitary word to another player then the ability to socialize is for all intents and purposes a antiquated meaningless skill for the general population of that MMO.

        Before I played EQ I was not a particularly social person. I was in fact very shy. EQ taught me many great social skills that I use even today. Socialization really was a by-product of grouping as you got to know people who you were playing with. Not only did EQ make me a better player it made me a better person. Can the same be said for new players to MMOs like WoW?

        This is why I was so excited about the communal aspects of MMOs and virtual worlds bringing people together from all over the world. There was something about virtual worlds that was transformitave and magical — it was the bonds of friendship we formed that really matter not the shiny loot. Conversely, a solo friendly massively multi-player online game doesn’t bring people together, it keeps them apart.

        Given the reality of the WoW solo-friendly paradigm: can people be sociable, decent, considerate and respectful when there is no real reason to cooperate/group?

        Possibly but unlikely unless they create more reasons for people to be better socializers like the way they are constantly creating ways for players to become better achievers.

        Yes there are exceptional people like yourself who are already predisposed to being kind, friendly and gregarious. I hate to break the bad news but it’s wishful thinking to think that most people will be friendly and socially coherent (especially on the Internet) when those qualities have nothing to do with your very survival in that virtual world.

      • April 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm

        Eh, I’m a crabby old bag today. I’m not offended at you, I’m offended at the world in general. ;)

        The question all this raises though is: have we gamers recently *become* so antisocial (and if so, how/why)? or is the recent influx of WoW-introduced gamers an antisocial bunch?

        I’m an optimist — I like to think most of us *would* socialise if the conditions are appropriate for it. Thus, I believe it’s partly game design that’s to blame — as are we, for wanting what we wanted (easier, less interconnected, more soloable content) and then being granted it. Gamers most often shouldn’t get what they clamour for. ;)

        There’s no *real* blame attached to any side regardless — gamers didn’t set out to become materialistic misanthropes, and designers certainly never set out to make games where being out for yourself is more productive than trying to spend time with people. (Hell, even talking when fighting has become more difficult. I used to have long conversations while swinging at stuff in AC — these days, I have to make sure I’m hitting the right buttons at all the right times, and that puts a crimp in even the fastest typing!)

        Blame or not though, it’s how we’ve ended up. I don’t happen to think that making something the only viable choice (what I would call “forcing”) is the way to go about changing what we play and how we play it. I understand what you mean by encouragement, I’m just on the extreme end of the “more options = better” spectrum. Of course, fortunately for me I’m not the one who has to code all these options I’m so fond of.

        At the end of the day I don’t want to believe we’re antisocial bastards as a rule, because that’s really depressing. I’d rather think that it was a combination of players thinking they wanted one thing and designers wanting to give it to them. How to get out of it all without creating a game that’s as fun to play as wearing a hair shirt is another matter for another, less cranky post. :D

      • April 12, 2009 at 10:28 pm

        “The question all this raises though is: have we gamers recently *become* so antisocial (and if so, how/why)? or is the recent influx of WoW-introduced gamers an antisocial bunch?”

        Great questions. I think while gamers are maybe not anti-social by nature (in their real lives) they may appear to be anti-social while they are playing the game/world. When a player is chasing the dragon of achievement as in a MMO like WoW there is precious little energy and time left for socializing.

        I have seen good friends who socialized quite extensively in EverQuest turn into apparently selfish, anti-social people when they started playing WoW and realized they didn’t have to group. Needless to say I was shocked that nobody wanted to group in this brave new world.

        While I think there is lots of blame to assign to the new breed of young, misanthropic MMO gamers I have a feeling that they would probably increase their social skills if it was required more then it is currently. We already see that in WoW when most players reach the level cap and realize they need a guild to keep progressing. You can’t be a total a total social reject and expect to last very long in a guild.

        “I’m an optimist — I like to think most of us *would* socialise if the conditions are appropriate for it. Thus, I believe it’s partly game design that’s to blame — as are we, for wanting what we wanted (easier, less interconnected, more soloable content) and then being granted it. Gamers most often shouldn’t get what they clamour for. ;)”

        I agree. Gamers always want the path of least resistance at least in a MMO. Game designers need to resist the temptation to give in to players. What player does not want their class to have more powers?

        Players are by nature selfish in that they rarely understand that things must be done (their power limited) for the good of the game and the good of the community.

        “There’s no *real* blame attached to any side regardless — gamers didn’t set out to become materialistic misanthropes, and designers certainly never set out to make games where being out for yourself is more productive than trying to spend time with people. (Hell, even talking when fighting has become more difficult. I used to have long conversations while swinging at stuff in AC — these days, I have to make sure I’m hitting the right buttons at all the right times, and that puts a crimp in even the fastest typing!)”

        Another good point! Players tend to play the game the way it’s intended to be played. It’s not fair to blame them — blame the designers instead. Much the same way I stated earlier that MMOs get the community the deserve I too believe we get players with the current level of skill you see in MMOs.

        “Blame or not though, it’s how we’ve ended up. I don’t happen to think that making something the only viable choice (what I would call “forcing”) is the way to go about changing what we play and how we play it. I understand what you mean by encouragement, I’m just on the extreme end of the “more options = better” spectrum. Of course, fortunately for me I’m not the one who has to code all these options I’m so fond of.”

        The carrot is always more preferable then the stick when it comes to motivating players. Designers can’t sit on the sidelines; there has to be a certain sense of direction (some call it social engineering) involved. While I love sandbox virtual worlds and I respect emergent gameplay you still need to have underlying mechanics, scenarios and conflicts that produce enough of a reason for players to log on each day.

        A company like Blizzard *does* believe in the value of socialization and cooperation in that players should socialize at a certain point in their MMO (i.e. grouping and raiding at the level cap). The real issue and point of contention is at what point in the player’s career should this happen?

        My feeling is that it should happen much much sooner. At the very least there should be concrete mechanics and content introduced that make grouping and socializing so addictive and fun that people can’t wait to log on and participate.

        I do think that it may be tough to retrofit improved socializtion into a MMO like WoW as the horse is already out of the barn right now. It’s going to take a complete rewrite of the standard MMO design document to get it back on track and then some.

        “At the end of the day I don’t want to believe we’re antisocial bastards as a rule, because that’s really depressing. I’d rather think that it was a combination of players thinking they wanted one thing and designers wanting to give it to them. How to get out of it all without creating a game that’s as fun to play as wearing a hair shirt is another matter for another, less cranky post. :D”

        Well said :)

  22. April 10, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Let’s try this as a compromise: how WoW implements grouping has been to the detriment of socialisation in the game (as touched upon by others eg Muckbeast) since in many cases grouping *hinders* personal progression.

    You could possibly even argue that the personal-progression-uber-alles model is to the detriment of socialisation, but tbh AC, EQ and UO all had that as their basis too: kill, loot, level. They just didn’t make it kick you in the teeth if you tried to do it with other people. In fact, it wasn’t long before AC gave quite generous xp BONUSES for being in groups, which made it a total no-brainer to get together with people in the same area as you.

    That’s the kind of thing I’d like to see. Positive reinforcement, rather than negative (you can’t do this quest if you don’t have exactly X people with exactly Y gear).

    I’d probably try to sneak in a remark about how the insane emphasis on gear (having it just to have it, getting it just so you’re ready to get the next set, which is EQ taken to the ultimate, beyond-sense extreme) makes grouping difficult because people have to compete over drops, which means they will unconsciously prefer to go after stuff themselves. It may not make it any more likely that they’ll get said stuff, but at least they won’t get mad when some bugger ninjas the loot. (Raiding is just a formalised version of this, imo… but I’m not a fan of social mechanics as applied to raiding.)

    My prescription then — by way of offering a little more than just criticism — would be to tone down the monomaniacal focus on gear (gear is important, people like to get it, but it’s not *everything*; let’s get a little more Zen here); provide genuine incentives to get together with people (we’re not talking twice the xp here — add a small percentage every time you add someone to the group and I guarantee they’ll form, I’ve seen it in other games); and maybe rationalise the whole 18,000 skills game (give us fewer buttons to mash but maybe more interesting ways in which to mash them, so that we can also chat occasionally at the same time).

    I’m hoping the pendulum-swinging nature of the world at large means that we’re going to see this kind of design soon. WoW is one extreme of the spectrum, and someone is bound to go in the other direction sooner or later.

  23. nugget
    April 22, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Ysharros:

    “My prescription then — by way of offering a little more than just criticism — would be to tone down the monomaniacal focus on gear (gear is important, people like to get it, but it’s not *everything*; let’s get a little more Zen here); provide genuine incentives to get together with people (we’re not talking twice the xp here — add a small percentage every time you add someone to the group and I guarantee they’ll form, I’ve seen it in other games); and maybe rationalise the whole 18,000 skills game (give us fewer buttons to mash but maybe more interesting ways in which to mash them, so that we can also chat occasionally at the same time).”

    I’m currently in the mad honeymoon-love stage with Guild Wars – I think the only other game I’ve loved as much, though for different if overlapping reasons – is LegendMUD.

    —–
    Grouping Incentives in GW
    —–
    One of the things I’ve observed in GW though (granted, I’m almost 4 years late to the party!), is because they do incentivise grouping with better random drops, what’s become common in the more popular farming areas is hard-mode farmers asking for more people to come along, so that _everyone_ gets better drops. They call them ‘leechers’.

    I find this interesting and funny at the same time. I mean… from an (armchair) designer’s perspective, the idea seems to be – Oo give people more reason to group, like moar shiniez, and they will groupz moar!

    … that does happen, true. ‘HM farmer looking for more leechers’ is definitely a group forming. But somehow *mad giggles* I don’t think the devs really envisioned these encouraged ‘groups’ to be one person doing all the work (happily, I might add), while others just stand around and leech (and I hope, socialise).

    I don’t actually know what leechers do during their leechiness, since I am too proud to do that *hangs head* and I like learning games and finding stuff out for myself.

    ~_o It’s not that I think poorly of leechers, I may decide to be a leecher (or the farmer!) in the future… But I’d rather learn out how to farm before I learn how to leech.

    Also, in GW gear caps out really, really early. Player skill (imo) matters a lot more than in WoW… and I was a pretty hardcore (whatever that means) WoW person till I quit with WotLK.

    Additionally, GW handles random drops by simply doing its very own round-robin, automated. ‘A monstrous chicken drops CuteLittleBatterCoatings, which are reserved for Nugget.’ The combination of the gaming power lying more in your knowledge and skillset (and skill) than anywhere else, and the early cap out of gear, mean that the random drops that sell for a lot mostly do it because they’re just really pretty – or rare, or pretty rare! It also means a lot less party drama about loot. In fact I’ve not seen ANY loot drama yet… but I do tend to play with the AI a lot, and be social on my guild channel instead of in a group.

    But a lot isn’t all of the time… and I’m sure by now, 4-5 months in, that I’d have had at least one group with a ninja/hearth type incident in WoW. XD

    —–
    Grouping Incentives in LegendMUD
    —–

    Disclaimer: I left LegendMUD over 5 years ago, so I don’t know the current mechanics in place. Just so you know my comments are … 5 years out of date!

    I remember LegendMUD introducing a feature where you got more xp if you grouped with someone than if you were solo. But again, I’m not sure it worked exactly the it was planned to.

    Because if you were a decent player you could still get more xp, faster, alone by simply going on a dedicated killing spree than you could get if you paired (or more) with someone, then split the xp, then added back the bonus xp.

    It basically (to me), turned into a ‘perk’ you got when going to areas that tended to need more people. As of the time period I’m referring to, that would only be two areas – Paris Opera ‘killzone’ and the Shadowlands. Usually needed about 8-10 people per runs, and in a community that tended to have about 30 people online at one time, max.. that’s a sizeable part of your population.

    The grouping incentive was never enough to make me group (lol), but liking the people and enjoying the areas was, and the incentive made those things just that much better. =)

    —-
    I guess I’m saying that incentivising groups is a nice thought, and it may even get people grouping! But it’s also very unpredictable in terms of the ‘usage’ of the incentives, which can lead to both ‘!@#???’ and ‘haha that’s actually pretty neat!’ type… thingies or… fall into the realm of being almost totally irrelevant.

    In my examples above, I’d say ‘haha’ is GW and ‘irrelevant’ is LegendMUD in terms of the examples I gave.

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