I’ll be the first to say it’s more about the journey than the destination, being the anti-achieving gamer-slacker I am, but what exactly do we all mean when we talk about meaningful travel?
Not, presumably, the old tabletop gaming model of “You travel for 4 hours, let’s roll for a random encounter — oo look, goblins!” As far as I’m concerned that wasn’t all that much fun even back then, though admittedly it was less jarring as a device when the DM had done their legwork prior to the session and integrated such things into the travel without any obvious rolling of dice and looking up of tables. Even so, the longer we gamed (and the core of the group played various games relatively regularly for over a decade) the less random stuff became, at least in terms of being determined by dice rolls. DMs would improvise, often with great results, but that’s not the same thing.
In any case, that already exists in most MMOs in the form of random-spawn (or wandering, as they used to be called) mobs. I don’t mind dodging those when I travel, though when they’re too thick on the ground they end up being a bigger pain in the backside than they’re worth. Dodging them should take some effort but not too much at even levels, and you shouldn’t have to fight every 20 feet just to get to where you’re going. Like any other unwanted repetition, that gets tedious very fast.
So if it’s not random encounters, is it slow travel? It’s often said that moving more slowly makes the game world seem larger, and I’m sure it’s true. But slowing players down in games promotes one thing (psychological impression of distance) at the expense of another: fun. And it seems to me that players expect large worlds now in most MMOs — and if the world isn’t large (as in, say, Wizard 101), it had better be packed with interesting stuff (as the W101 zones are, for the most part). I’m not certain the slow travel = larger-seeming world is all that valid anymore. Yes, it sort of works, but as players we’re getting wiser to that and when a world is small, or disjointed, or arranged in weird ways (as WAR always seemed to me, more like a hopscotch board than a “real” world) then travel speed isn’t going to help.
Or, as was suggested in a previous post’s comments, is the meaningful part of travel the part that’s under the player’s conscious direction? If I’m travelling from TinyPotatium village to RatherOutstanding town (or, more drily, quest hub A to quest hub B), then faster travel would seem preferable since what I’m intending to do is simply go from one place to the other and then resume whatever else I was doing. The travelling isn’t an activity in and of itself. If, on the other hand, I’ve just arrived at the Province of DeepDarkWoods and I’m keen to explore and see what hidden traps and wonders the place has, then slower travel won’t bother me at all, because that is part of the exploration concept. (We’re not talking about WoW-style achievement-exploration — that’s just solo tour-bussing if it’s the only intent when riding around an area.)
On the whole, I’d rather travel at a good clip and live without the illusion of a larger-seeming world, since that doesn’t work so well on me anymore anyway. Part and parcel of getting older and smarter, but also having less time: when I want to do something with my friends, I want to be able to do it in a reasonable amount of time. I can’t afford to spend half my weekly 10-gaming hours just getting places so I can DO stuff. Travel is an end in itself only when it’s what we actually want to do — when it’s a road to somewhere else, artificially slowing it down only creates frustration. Frustration you can’t do anything about = anti-fun (as opposed to encounters you can eventually master, or challenges like that, which are frustrations you *can* do something about, with a little effort). Which breaks the basic premise of an MMO. Why play if it’s consistently not fun?
Thanks to Wiqd and Scott’s discussion on last week’s post for reminding me of my interest in this! (And all the others who make my posts far more interesting than they were to begin with. Thanks for commenting! :D)
EDIT — and a reminder that these questions don’t necessarily have perfect answers, and get asked fairly regularly. Thanks to Tesh for that link!
Woohoo! Been waitin’ for this since you mentioned it last week 😛 So, here we go!
To me, meaningful travel is travel that actually has a reason for existing. In WoW there’s no reason to hoof it on foot from one major city to another if you say, have a Mage with you that can port. Back in EQ if you knew a druid that could port you between rings, things were a lot easier. But the travel you’re missing out on, is that meaningful if you don’t have the means to circumvent it? I don’t think so. I don’t think meaningful travel CAN be circumvented. So to me, there’s travel and there’s meaningful travel. I’ll use an example of trade routes from a previous post here:
You get a commission to explore and establish a trade route from city A to city B through a rough place that hasn’t been frequented too much. Should you complete this task, you have full rights to the trade route and your caravans can pass w/o a taxation. However this will also open the route to other merchants and possibly increase competition along with business. For the sake of argument, let’s say you accept the challenge and go out on your merry way. At this point your quest is to basically make sure the route you choose will be safe enough from bandits, animals and monsters so caravans can use it reliably. You may take a couple people with you or you may scout it out yourself first, but the route won’t become active until you’ve taken a caravan of your own along the path and set up at least a small shop on the other side. Everything that happens in that exploration, from the time you leave until the time you arrive, to me, is meaningful travel. You’re exploring the way for a purpose, not just to get from City A to City B.
Now, what happens after that? Well now that the route has been established, you can hire NPC caravans that are coming through the town to carry your goods for a price and based on how good a choice you made in the route, your goods will get there intact, or perhaps a few get lost to raiders, or if you made a poor decision, the caravan doesn’t arrive or comes back after being assaulted. Again for the sake of argument let’s assume it’s successful.
We now have an established route between 2 places that wasn’t there before. Along this route crafters can build small horse stables so a transport horse system (much like SOE did with EQ2 when they implemented the horse travel between stations) so the mundane travel between these 2 places is now quick if your only objective is to get from City A to City B.
I still believe that in areas that are supposed to be desolate, remote or extremely dangerous, that manual travel is always necessary UNTIL that frontier is settled. Civilization must catch up to the explorers. Until then, feel free to use the transport systems already in place between the already civilized cities and towns. 😉
Making people wait 7 levels to fly like WoW did isn’t meaningful travel. It intentionally throttles people from getting around quickly. But flying in WoW is a luxury (as has been stated by Blizzard several times). It’s not even necessary anymore for instances because you can be summoned in.
Contrary to that, a very long time ago in Everquest, unless you knew a Wizard or a Druid, you’d hoof it everywhere. Many a times was I scared as hell to go through Kithicor Woods at night. But EQ had no set quest setups like WOW does. Everything was finding camps / grinding, until you happened upon a quest or set of quests. The journey WAS where the excitement happened. With the advent of !s signifying quest givers and ?s signifying turn ins, much of meaningful travel was lost. I’ll never forget how pissed people were when the Plane of Knowledge was released and you could teleport to any continent in Norrath.
Anyway, there still exists meaningful travel, it’s just different nowadays and has to be implemented differently, imo.
I dunno, I could argue either side of your argument, Ysh. I’ve certainly felt inconvenienced by having to hoof it places…just this past weekend I was playing War and getting frustrated with questing over my level and decided “OK, time to drop back to my proper tier and jump over to a different pairing.” But then I realized I’d have to run for 10 minutes to get to a flight master, so I just logged off.
At the same time, this past weekend I had a quest in LOTRO to go talk to some Rangers living on an island in a lake in Evendim. I had to hoof it up there since I’d never been there. It was a long run, but it had some truly breathtaking, stop and just gawk, moments. If I could have just teleported there, I would’ve missed these moments. And if the world had been more compressed, there wouldn’t have been room for the vistas I came across.
I think the system most often in use now… run there once, then use some form of fast travel thereafter, works pretty well. I don’t think it would break anything if every adventurer had the skill to teleport a friend to his/her location, either. That way you could always immediately join friends, but the world could still be large for those days when you just want to explore.
Warhammer was just broken in so many ways.. run speed was too slow, flight masters were much, much, much too rare, and the pairings weren’t interconnected any way but by flights. WoW is better, LOTRO is better still in terms of the number of “travel nodes”. EQ2 is great once you figure out the system but early on it felt like I was running constantly. (Plus they’ve added more nodes as time passed.)
It sounds like you’re describing the Guild Wars ethos: Travel there “on hoof” the first time, then subsequent trips are significantly quicker via Map Travel. You can still walk if you feel like it, but you’re not forced to.
By the way, I like the “trade caravan” concept. It’s a hook to hang combat on in a trade/craft heavy game world. (Since there will always be those who want to kill stuff.)
I don’t mind travel if it is interesting in either a visual, social or adventurous way. Every trip doesn’t have to be the same either, as long as the game allows for it.
For example, the flight routes in WoW, once you’ve flown a route once or twice, they’re uninteresting and become a meaningless time sink. I usually take that time as an opportunity to get a drink, check the news, browse the web, or hit the washroom.
That doesn’t sound meaningful to me and I’m not sure it is a good mechanic because it drives the player’s interest away. It’s impossible to interrupt (from outside sources – ejection seat aside), you’re invulnerable and you’re disconnected from what you’re seeing. It’s out of the player’s control so why put it there?
Traveling the roads by foot/horse is a little more interesting because you’re not invulnerable and you’re close enough to what you see to interact with it (PVP flagged player? a harvest node? a rare named? or a side path that looks like it could be a short cut…).
Imagine if the flight paths were more interactive by allowing people to steer (within reason), there were things to dodge or avoid, there were obstacles to overcome or even opportunities to stop along the way… that might be more interesting and meaningful.
Oh, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, time sinks like forced travel times are just one more tool in a subscription model’s kit to eat your time. They want to waste your time so you play their game for longer and pay for “one more month”. All that slow wandering from point A to point B continually being harassed by mobs adds up.
I’m tired of game mechanics that are designed that way. Give me a reason to explore, yes. Nearly any reason will do since I’m a solid Bartle Explorer with thousands of screenshots on my machine. Force me to waste my play time, however, and you get to watch me flit off to a game that I can play at my own pace.
Exactly why travel needs to be more meaningful. I guess Blizzard decided the trade off from being able to fly somewhere safely (and quickly) was time spent not really playing the game.
In hockey they call that a penalty. heh.
I just realised I mentally lumped together two different concepts.
There’s “instant” travel (or nearly so, via ports or gryphon rides or whatever) and then there’s base travel speed.
Base travel speed is something I have big problems with when it’s too slow, as it is in WAR. It seemed slow in LOTRO at times too, but in many ways that’s compensated for by how incredibly beautiful the landscape is (though after the 18th identical trip from A to B, that probably starts to pale a little).
Being able to commute from place to place rapidly is almost not worth discussion anymore, since even proto-hardcore Vanguard ended up putting it in; people just don’t have the RL time to sink into 30 minute foot- or horse-trips when they may only have an hour to play all told. Whether we like it or not, insta-transport (or quasi-insta like the WoW griffs) is probably here to stay.
What I’d like to see is faster CHARACTER movement in most games. Make mounts more rapidly accessible if there’s a reason the base character run speed should be low, introduce run speed buffs or potions or items, whatever. But please oh please don’t make me lumber, because it FEELS slow which is not fun.
That may be a personal peeve, but it’s one I’ve had since Asheron’s Call … which could be what spoiled me in the first place, since it had an actual run skill you could raise. Zoom zoom!
I like the fact that I don’t have to sit there and wait flying in WAR, like I did in WoW.
But I would like more mounts in WAR it’s the Fluff I enjoy sometimes.
“Give me a reason to explore, yes.”
To me, that’s almost an oxymoron.
Exploring, in my opinion, is its own reward if the world is compelling. But maybe that’s what you mean by a reason?
Anyway, at what point is travel a “problem?” Reducing the issue to absurd levels, some players may not want to spend 10 seconds traveling over to that monster to fight it. That’s silly of course. But what about 10 minutes? That seems like a lot of running. 5 minutes? I’m not sure. 2 minutes? Everyone has their own threshold of when its now a tedious chore.
At the same time, some of my fondest memories come from epic “quests” in the form of traveling across a few zones in older games like EQ, being in danger through much of the trip, and not all of us making it…. you no longer get that kind of experience in modern MMOs, due to no corpse runs and/or light death penalties and so forth. Which is getting off topic… but maybe not really. When there’s real “danger” in the travel, is it less tedious?
And the issue hardly limited to MMOs… how many single player games have plagued us with random monster encounters every 5 steps?
I’d simply phrase that as “everything in the game needs to have a reason for being there”, and more importantly, “give me the ability to skip anything I deem uninteresting”. Just because I want to walk to Stormwind today doesn’t mean I want to tomorrow.
Cross-posted with Ysh…
But the same issue here. How slow is too slow? How fast do you want to go to feel comfortable, and isn’t that a factor of how far you need to go?
How fast doesn’t your PC have to be in order to keep up with how fast you’re going? I’m sure we all remember back when you could run faster than your computer would render, and you’d run out of terrain… 🙂
Pete, yes, the world content needs to be compelling to get me to explore it. Long walks in the wild aren’t compelling if it’s bland visuals punctuated with mob fights every ten steps plunked there in an effort to make travel take more time.
Reading the article and all the replies thus far has reinforced my long-standing opinion expressed in my original article: meaningful travel is a myth; it does not exist.
Wiqd tried a situation which might have meaning, but it’s fictional scenario that does not exist in any game.
I think it may have been Smakendahead who, either on my blog or his, mentioned taking a car trip with your buddies. It’s the conversation and any (mis)adventures you have along the way that makes the drive meaningful, and he had a great point. But that doesn’t occur in games. Maybe it did back in the EQ days where you got in a group and camped mobs for a week and therefore got to know the other players during the significant downtimes. But those days are over. What happens now? It doesn’t matter if you’re solo or grouped, mounted or on foot — everyone just runs through mobs to get to where you’re going, hoping to not get dismounted (or in the case of doing that in “elite” areas, hoping to survive the aggro).
One of the events that prompted my original article was playing Vanguard and I got into a group to do a particular bit of content. Even using the Riftways (teleporting system) it took me *40 MINUTES* of travel to arrive at my group. There was no “meaning” behind the travel whatsoever, just riding in as straight a line as possible from my current location to where the group was to meet. In that particular case things worked out because a few other people in the group also took nearly that long to arrive, and we were all patient because the game has such a low population that it could have been hours waiting to find replacements. But if I’d been the only one taking that long to arrive I wouldn’t have blamed them in the least if they’d booted me, because I certainly don’t relish waiting around for anyone else. ESPECIALLY someone who intentionally makes everyone else wait so that he can have his precious “meaningful travel” when there are ample opportunities for him to get to us as quickly as possible so we can begin the actual FUN content.
Currently my favorite travel is in LOTRO where, like Guild Wars, I have to manually hoof it to the next outpost to get the stable unlocked. Then I can rent a horse to take me (like WoW’s griffons) back and forth if I don’t feel like riding/running myself. Some even have “swift travel” which is essentially a teleport. But at all times I have a Dismount button so if I see something to explore, a named mob who is a shard-dropper, a resource node I want, or whatever, I can jump off the rental horse and continue my adventures whereas in WoW once that griffon takes flight there’s no jumping off of it. LOTRO gives me enough choices how I want to get from place to place. If I need to get to a group fast, there are plenty of swift travel routes to do it (assuming a captain doesn’t summon me or a hunter doesn’t meet me at a stable and ‘port the entire group somewhere closer to the content we’re doing) but if I’m soloing I can swiftly get to the area I want to be in and then slow down and manually travel/explore at my leisure.
Perception is just so much a part of this discussion though. I’m with you, Scott, in liking the way LOTRO handles it, but go read West Karana and Tipa thinks LOTRO is irritatingly slow.
So are we right and she is wrong? Or are we wrong and she is right? Or is it all based on personal preference and opinion?
A lot of how we experience MMOs is subjective, which is probably why it’s so incredibly hard to please people when you design them. If nothing else, all these discussions we’ve had — about what guilds are for, how we perceive our characters, whether it’s ok to have alts, gear, travel, challenge — really highlight how each of us perceives games in our own way, even when we’re in broad agreement about a given concept or system.
All the same, it’s fun to be an armchair designer. Sometimes I wish I had enough coding ability (read: some, any) to actually try to get into the industry.
You and me both, Ysh 😉 But that very reason of being absolutely irritated with the current design of MMOs is why I started my company in the hopes that I’d be able to actually DO something about it 😛 Unfortunately that road will be long and require money from sources I haven’t identified yet 😛 And since I’d rather make a game w/o the uninformed pressure of a publisher, the outlook is grim. BUT … I still hold on to the dream 😀
Scott, my account is fictional yes, but does it have to be? I mean right now it is, but why couldn’t someone adopt the idea and run with it? Designers are so slow / resistant to change from the 800 gorilla model that it makes me sick sometimes.
Anyway … meaningful travel is indeed subjective, as some people are content running from here to there with nary but a beautiful scene unfolding in front of them. Others are in a rush and need to get from here to there ASAP. No one’s designed anything even remotely interesting to go with those in between times because it’s all about where you’re going. Even in leveling, games nowadays want you to rush to the max level so you can experience “the true game.”
There should always be a reason to go somewhere, even if you’ve outleveled it. There should always be a reason to take the manual method of travel over the instant. If you want people to be able to congregate quickly, when you join a group just have the ability to warp to the group leader. Why not? You do that now with meeting stones and summon spells and the like, they just disguise it with 1 or 2 people having to be there in order to initiate the spell. It’s all a clever disguise 😛
We’re never going to get away from the variable perceptions when we talk of MMOs. There are other people, after all. The best a designer can do is make the game as friendly to customization as possible, and let people have as much power to tailor the experience as is prudent for their particular engine.
That’s why I keep arguing for options, rather than railroading people in the “one chosen path”, whether it’s in regard to gameplay mechanics, storytelling or even monetization.
@Tesh Indeed. I just had a thought, so picture this (it builds a bit on WoW’s new phasing technology).
Let’s say you log in to do some questing with a friend. You’re both in a major city and decide that you want to hoof it to another large city on the other end of the continent. You could teleport, take a winged mount of some sort (yours or rented) or … you could phase into a “travel mode.”
Travel mode would set you apart from the hustling and bustling game world by phasing you so you can only see your group members and generated mobs along the way. You would essentially be either walking or on mounts from destination A to destination B, however long it took you to get there, with scripted events happening along the way. You could encounter bandits or find a randomly generated cave or stumble upon a nest of animals that produce exquisite eggs, but the momma’s on the lookout.
You could solo “travel mode” as well just by turning it on and off as you went.
It presents a couple of scenarios, not all of which are good, but it presents immersion and interactivity while you’re en route to your destination. In today’s static worlds, you know where mobs will more than likely be, which ones you can stealth past, which ones you’ll have to fight and which ones you can avoid all together. It would be purely for wilderness treks and stopping in a city or hub along the way to your destination would turn it off, making you turn it back on when you left, but it could do away with the mundane world.
On the flip side of that coin, people who just care to explore and take in the sights could not travel in “travel mode” with the standard transport rules of current MMOs applying.
It may defeat its own purpose since people would get caught up in “travel mode” questing / experiences and totally forget they were even traveling somewhere to begin with … but is that such a bad idea?
There have been times in WoW when I would gladly pay double or triple the normal flight cost for an instant port to my destination, because I would rather gouge my eyes out with rusty spoons that sit watching the flight from A to B for the nth time. Especially as they take a “scenic” route each time…
Pete asked: Anyway, at what point is travel a “problem?”
I’d say it’s a problem when the player logs out rather than travel?
Travel is a conundrum for me because I enjoy the scenery when I travel in a game, but at the same time I have a limited play schedule. When I played Asheron’s Call, some of my most memorable gaming moments involved just running some where for the first time, dodging big baddies, discovering new dungeons and enjoying the view (I can’t believe how awestruck I was at times by AC now that I’ve seen LOTRO!). But I played AC for hours at the time — often 6 hours after work every evening. I’m lucky if I get 45 minutes to play in an evening these days.
There’s also the fact that now I know that just running everywhere isn’t the only way to travel. Once I’ve been somewhere, the next time I go I don’t want to take 20-30 minutes to get there. The hoof it once, then fast travel is my favorite “meaningful travel” these days. Don’t punish me every time I want to go to a particular place, I just won’t go (Kingdom of the Sky in EQ2, for example — you have to run to a portal (there are many) out in the middle of somewhere else) — I seldom hit those areas.
There are other interesting facets to the travel question, too.
One place WoW & WAR both fall down is in having “rest experience” only accumulate if you log out in a specific place. This encourages you to always ‘return to base’ at the end of a play session, assuming we want to maximize rest experience.
Another reason we have to return to town is to sell stuff. Now if we need to use the Auction House, that’s one thing. But to see off the orc ears and rat tails that we’ve collected just seems like a waste of time. More wilderness NPC vendors would help, or just lets us convert this stuff to gold on the fly. Granted that isn’t ‘realistic’ but neither is the idea that there’s a vendor out there with unlimited funds to spend on creepy body parts of things. (Another thing UO got right…vendors had limited funds to spend on trash.)
Lastly, talking to NPCs. City of Heroes lets you call a quest giver on his cell phone rather than travel to him/her. I’d love to see this adopted in other games, though in a fantasy game you’d have to rig up some kind of “magic system” to allow for long distance communication.
And as I’ve mentioned earlier, widespread use of summoning abilities to let you zap right to a party that’s forming somewhere.
What I’m getting at is… if we can work towards eliminated the “chore” travel and just leave the exploration fun travel, then maybe that actual travel mechanics don’t need to change as much?
(Ugh, sorry for all the typos..that’s what I get for trying to comment at work where I have to constantly switch tabs to hide what I’m doing!! LOL )
The new guild halls in EQ2 allow you to have multiple merchants and amenities so that you eliminate a bunch of running around in town. Our guild hall has a broker, a “commodities merchant” who buys the miscellaneous stuff AND status items, a banker, a portal druid, a writ giver for the folks who can hunt in Kunark and more. That’s why I spent time running my evil alts to Qeynos this weekend. Convenient one-stop shopping — and a 15 minute timer on the recall ability!
That said, eliminating running around in town also eliminates running into (non-guild) friends at the mailbox, the broker or the bank… so it isn’t 100% win. Just like other travel conveniences, there IS something lost.
Yeah, we have an NPC Druid that will teleport you to any Druid Ring you’ve tagged, and I find that dude to be incredibly helpful. Actually all kinds of travel amenities. But you still have to know how to use them most efficiently. In my case, I do it like this: “HONEEEEEYYY! How do I get to Nektolus Forest???” 🙂
I think there is one game out there that got travel right. Unfortunately, it was too late. SWG. A mixture of shuttles, starports and personal shuttles amounted to a great travel system.
A game that takes the travel element out of play, but I believe really hurts because of it, is DDO. I just couldn’t stand being boxed into the city and running instance dungeons. Boooring.
Even in WAR, there are ways around the travel problems. I stock up on guild recall scrolls. I set my rally point to the current quest hub I’m in. If I need to get the war camp, I use the guild recall and head to the camp. If I want to PvE a while I just port to my rally point. I really don’t travel too much.
That said, I think the default movement in WAR could be ramped up a bit in PvE areas. For balance and to reduce server strain, I can see them keeping it the same in scenarios and when you enter PvP areas.
The problem with guild recall scrolls is that you have to be in a guild to use them. I’m not in one, and I have 1 bind point and no other method of travel other than endless running. But if they took that “guild” requirement off them, then I’d agree they’d be a great solution.
And back to Perception… I remember spending a LOT of time running running running running in SWG. But that was back around launch, so maybe they added more methods since then.
I’m not arguing with you that SWG had a great system. Just pointing out again how differently we all approach games. Based (I’m guessing) on our own individual preferences and personalities, as well as *when* we played, both in terms of our lifespans and that of the games we play.
Just to play Devil’s Advocate a bit and argue the other side, SWG was horribly boring with regards to its travel (and well… the entire game, but that’s another story). Having to stand around picking my nose waiting for a shuttle? I forget what the shuttle time was, 10 minutes? Then without fail I’d haul ass to a Starport only to see the ship takeoff as I enter the hangar. Wonderful, now I have to stand around picking my nose for 30 MINUTES! (I understand the times have been reduced in the NGE game, however.) That certainly isn’t meaningful travel because *I’M NOT TRAVELING* at all! The *potential* for socializing was there, and people did chat but too often it turned into the same idiotic routine of the children challenging everyone else to duels just like the WoW children duel everyone waiting on the boats. /yawn
As for DDO, that game isn’t attempting to be a virtual world to wander around in. I’d be interested to see if their mechanics would even work in an open world but to me the game has always been more focused towards replicating individual D&D adventures. You never actually “travel” in a tabletop RPG, the GM just announces time has passed and you’re in such-and-such location now.
SWG has actually got rid of most of the wait times for travel — all you need is the newbie starter ship (that you get for free if you take the right quest) and you can hop on your own time from one starport to another. They even got rid of Corellia as the travel hub you had to go through to get to most other places.
Upside, much faster travel. (Pete — they also added personal vehicles after launch, further reducing travel times. I remember 4 hour on foot harvester runs … in the snow, uphill, etc. 😉 )
Downside, some community reduction because waiting for stuff *did* lead to interaction, although as Scott points out the quality of said interaction wasn’t always that high.
Then again, player interaction was somewhat killed by player cities, ironically enough. But that’s another story.
@Pete S – Sorry, I was going to put a disclaimer in there about it being more difficult to get around if you’re not in a guild. Really, there should be a city recall scroll for Altdorf and the Destro city – can’t think of the name right now. Ugh. Long day.
To a degree, yes player cities killed some interaction while promoting other. At least on my server during the time period I played. (Difficult to judge now since the game has such a teeny population)
Turbine has not added crafting facilities within LOTRO’s housing neighborhoods for fear the social hub areas would become deserted, for example.
But during those early days of SWG, my guild was based on Tatooine for awhile and the various player cities were fairly active and the NPC cities were downright hopping. Tatooine became over-populated so my guild moved to Lok. Tougher monsters and ugly desert planet, but awesome background music. And despite the additional travel costs to get to Lok we were popular enough and had enough popular crafters and entertainers that players would travel all the way to Lok and ride to our city to socialize with us, trade wares and have our entertainers buff them up.
One of my favorite SWG memories was when a non-guildie Jedi friend came into town being hunted by several bounty hunters. One of our officers added the Jedi to her personal house admission and the Jedi hid inside while all of our entire guild dropped what we were doing and traveled back to Lok to help protect a friend. The bounty hunters also called in reinforcements and even dared to initiate a brief skirmish but we outnumbered them at the time so they backed off. Mostly the entire encounter was virtual shoulder-pushing over chat, with a little non-fatal (I think? I forget…) PvP thrown in for flavor, but even with the confrontations and tension it was more of a social thing. The bounty hunters were not griefers who tried to have their “revenge” on all of us, they went their way and cut their losses.
Things like that simply don’t — or can’t — happen any more…