Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 April, 2013

M is for multiplayer
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 9:38 PM
(This post has been viewed 27324 times.)

I'm probably not going to shock anyone here by saying that MMOs aren't living up to their potential. I've said before that there's something missing our games. I think that while games are offering a little more of that spirit of adventure I mentioned in the previous blog topic, we developers still have a ways to go to realize the full potential of MMOs.

One of the biggest problems is how we design the game to allow interaction with other people.

A multiplayer foundation

Early online game developers realized that there were some things that online games wouldn't be able to do as well as single player games. Online games usually had worse graphics, less complex gameplay, and less focus on the player as a unique hero. But, most early online game developers realized that being able to play with others is an amazing advantage. Being able to play with (or against) other players, particularly a larger number of other players, was something that single-player games couldn't match.

We see this even beyond MMOs. One reason why DOOM took the world by storm is because you could jump in and shoot at your friends. It was amazing. MMOs came along and upped the ante by allowing more players. But, even playing in a text MUD with a few dozen other people was amazing; as I've said before, the ability for some Midwestern college kid to play a game with people half way around the globe is a big reason why I make online games.

The social fabric

Even though a lot of MUDs let you solo pretty easily, early MMOs focused a lot on the multiplayer aspect. You could fight M59's monsters fairly easily alone, but the PvP elements meant that there was strength in numbers; joining a good guild helped protect you. UO followed the tradition of MUDs in that it didn't force you together, but it also had open PvP, so it was best to stick with some friends lest you become prey. EQ doubled-down on the multiplayer despite largely eschewing PvP; the PvE design made it so you couldn't really progress unless you played in a group (or played a few specific classes extremely well).

The big advantage of multiplayer is what MMO developers call the "social fabric" that bound the players together beyond the game. While playing an MMO, you meet people and get to know them; "Fandalor, the Sorcerer of Light" becomes "Bob, who works IT support and plays the game from work, the lucky bastard." Making a personal connection is part of the "Socializer" motivation Bartle's wrote about. For people who are Socializers, the game stops being just about the gameplay and becomes about hanging out with the cool people you know in the game; similar to how people will go down to the corner bar to hang out, not necessarily because they want to drink, but because that's where the people they know hang out.

For developers, the social fabric is vital. Even if an MMO had the depth of gameplay of a single-player game, and honestly many early MMOs didn't, there are few single-player games that can entertain a player for hundreds if not thousands of hours. The social elements kept players interested past the time when the core game mechanics were no longer fresh. A common refrain in EQ was, "The gameplay doesn't excite me anymore, but I'm still playing because my friends are there."

Social overhead

There were a few problems with the grouping requirement. First, it meant you might have to take a lot of time to find a group. It was common for some EQ players to spend significant playtime just looking for a group then traveling. People who didn't have a whole lot playtime felt this cut into their limited time.

The second, related, problem is that social interaction created social obligations. If someone complains about having spent 2 hours finding a group, you might feel like an ass if you break the group up early. At the higher end of gameplay, raiding created new requirements, structure, and obligations. Especially for people in key roles like main tank, there is a strong sense of obligation to not disappoint the rest of the raid group.

These two problems, which I like to call "social overhead", lead people to complain that social interaction requires too much time.

The attempted solution

WoW was a landmark, where it allowed you to solo the game and reduced social obligation. In fact, the way some game and quest mechanics worked often made it less efficient to play in a group with friends. Given the tremendous success of WoW, this particular lesson was taken to heart. (The lesson that having a decade-strong game and business brand people loved was largely ignored because it wasn't so easily replicated.)

Of course, technology and techniques advance. Today, MMOs are no longer firmly behind the curve. Games like Guild Wars 2 rival the graphical splendor of contemporary single-player games. MMOs don't need to rely on multiplayer, and the focus has shifted to providing solo content. The problem is that this has exacerbated the "content problem", where MMOs have to release a steady stream of content in order to keep players.

But, this brings us to the original problem: MMOs aren't sticky anymore. People have noticed solo play just isn't as engaging. We see people trying out a game for a few months then leaving, a class of people called "MMO Tourists". I think this shows why MMOs are stumbling, because now people are treating them like single-player games: something you play for a few months then set aside in order to find new experiences in another game.

Moving forward, not back

Let me address a common accusation: I'm not merely advocating a return to the "forced grouping" of older games. What I want to do is investigate new ways to encourage grouping in modern MMOs. I think it should be obvious that the current development path of MMOs has failed. I'm not merely trying to recapture the "glory days" of the older games with all their associated flaws, but looking at how modern games can reincorporate a multiplayer focus to bring back some of what people truly enjoyed about games.

In other words, no accusing me of nostalgia here. I want to move things forward in MMOs.

I firmly believe that modern games can support the type of gameplay I'm talking about here. In GW2, I had a glimpse of what could be: I was running the Fractals of the Mist (FotM) dungeon as a beginner with a PUG. One person dropped part way through the first of three dungeons, but the rest of us decided to press on. FotM is pretty brutal, and running it short was going to be tough. We persevered and conquered the three dungeons we needed to get a reward. After that, we added each other to our friends lists. But, I never talked to those people afterwards; I never ran into them again since they were on other servers, and I didn't run FotM all that often.

A possible solution

I firmly believe that MMOs need to focus back to the multiplayer foundation. I'm going to pick on GW2 a bit here since it's a game I've played a lot recently. There are also just a lot of great illustrations in this game about how partial solutions don't quite work.

The first step is to stop punishing grouping, as I've written before. This is a necessary but insufficient step: GW2 has all but eliminated the need for formal groups in the game when playing content in the open world, yet the social fabric doesn't feel stronger than in other modern MMOs.

The next step is to have content that requires a group and encourages that group to stick together. This shouldn't just be small spots of content in a sea of solo content, because these "group events" feel like annoyances rather than opportunities. Also, if you just make groups required for small bits of content, there's little motivation to stick with a group and make friends.

This group content needs to involve a smaller community where people will run into each other often. In the original EQ, you would run into the same people who played at the same time and were about the same level as you, leading to friendships. As I said, my FotM experiences in GW2 didn't result in a stronger social fabric because I never needed to rely on those other people anymore. A positive example from GW2 is the WvW zones. When I tried my hand at some WvW, I got 2 separate guild invites. I began to run into the same people I recognized, particularly other commanders that I recognized from previous forays. The problem with WvW is that it feels separated from the main game, outside gear makes a difference, and scaling a low level character up doesn't quite put you on equal footing.

Finally, I think we need to take the emphasis off of single-player gameplay. Note, this doesn't mean that solo gameplay has to be eliminated. The reality is that sometimes you just want to do something in a game by yourself; maybe you had a bad day and don't want to deal with other players, maybe your friends are getting on later and you don't want to get involved in anything, whatever. But, the solo gameplay must be an alternative rather than the focus. Finding the right mix is going to be one of the most difficult parts of this type of design.

The patient doesn't want the medicine

The biggest challenge here will be to convince players that this is in their best interests. As I said above, the problems of social overhead have lead people to believe that social interaction takes too much time. I think this is backwards, though; the social connections in MMOs meant the players often chose to spend more time in the game because they enjoyed it. As far as I know, the most active players are still playing as many hours per week as before, just that they aren't staying as long in a particular game.

The other issue is that WoW was the first game for a lot of people. These players might not see the advantage that a focus on grouping confers. They got into WoW's social fabric just fine, thanks, not realizing that the elements they loved in WoW can't easily be duplicated in other games. Convincing people who were new to MMOs with WoW might require a different approach.

I think a good way to accomplish this is to purposefully have a more niche focus. For example, I think Camelot Unchained will do eventually very well because it is focused on an team vs. team niche, like GW2's WvW gameplay. It won't attract the breadth of players, but those who do play will find it easier to group together to fight the enemy. A more niche game will mean people will run into the same other people. I predict that the game will not be plagued with "MMO Tourists" like other games have been.

MMOs need to change

I realize the focus on grouping isn't a perfect solution. There are people who really just don't have the time to pour into a game that requires a lot of social activity. The good news is that current MMOs serve those needs fine if this is the case. But, for the rest of us, we want a game that sweeps us off our feet again, where we meet great new people and make real friendships.

What do you think? Do you fear social overhead in a game that strongly encourages grouping? Do you think that fear is unfounded? Do you find yourself wishing for an experience like you might have had in older games? Do you think the social fabric was a big part of those experiences?

--


« Previous Post:





69 Comments »

  1. I often wonder how much early MMOs and their designers actually realized what they did right - most likely by accident?! Because later on so many tried to optimize single player style aspects and the social aspects got mostly ignored for single player style content like a "story".

    I always found it interesting how often modern MMOs try to make a solo experience and even punish grouping, this was the case with some "Featured Episodes" in Star Trek Online e.g.. Being in a group could bug the mission! Later on things got more group oriented but the dungeon finder style matchmaker often leaves little chance to get to know each other and after the mission it was over. The TRUE heart of Star Trek Online's community are besides the Star Trek background the user channels that are easy to create where people can talk to each other. I found the test server channel TTS and Doffjobs (for finding the best duty officer missions) to be way better and more "social" than guild chat most of the time.

    Regarding GW2, yesterday I talked with a guildmate and he was telling me about his love for LINEAGE. He is still playing a privately run version called Lineagezero, Lineage shut down by now except for in Korea or so. Now Lineage is dated in about every regard - but it managed to create a community, that "social" thing that seems to be amiss in many MMOs nowadays.

    Comment by Longasc — 21 April, 2013 @ 11:15 PM

  2. One thing I wrote about emphatically after playing WoW for a year or two is that I do not understand why the game (and any other game I can think of) treat their player base as existing only within the game world. To repurpose your words: stop punishing social interactions.

    The essence of my complaint is that it is impossible for me to send "Fandalor, the Sorcerer of Light" an email or Skype message inviting him back to the game Tuesday at 9pm CET.

    It would be an easy thing technologically to treat "Fandalor" in the online "Woods and Wyverns" game as fandalor@woods-and-wyverns.com. It would be an easy thing technologically to require me to log in to the woods-and-wyverns.com mail server before sending mail to any address there, thereby preventing many forms of spam. It would be an easy thing technologically to combine this email inbox with the in-game mail system. It would be an easy thing technologically to extend that idea to a chat server, etc. Thousands of websites do this sort of thing, some at extreme scale the like of which MMOs will struggle to achieve.

    As far as I am concerned, the single largest hurdle towards recognizing "Fandalor" as "Bob" is that I can only find him in the game. If I can't find him outside of the game (forum pages tend to make it possible, but not convenient), then I can't interact with him outside of the game. If I can't interact with him outside of the game, I can't plan to interact with him in the game again. I must rely on sheer luck.

    I can rely, as you say, on game design geared towards making it fairly normal I will keep running into him. But that's assuming I want to play the game as it's designed. That's assuming the game design meets my personal needs. That's assuming that Fandalor and I *usually* play at the same hours (we might have run into each other by accident, and then decide to change our game hours so we can interact). There are a lot of assumptions here that make designing the game towards meeting Fandalor quite hard.

    Why not give some of that power to the players? After all, MMOs don't invent what "social interactions" are; players are quite well versed in them already. Just give them the ability to exercise their skills.

    Mind you, none if this means that you should not do what you propose. I'd just start at a much earlier point when considering how you can improve the social fabric of a game.

    Comment by unwesen — 22 April, 2013 @ 12:38 AM

  3. I think it's interesting the way MMOs have evolved to emphasise the "Massively" part almost to the exclusion of all else, to the point now where games like WoW and GW2 could better be described as "shared single player" rather than multiplayer.

    I think you're right that niche is the way to go and I think there's definitely a market for much smaller scale (in terms of both world size and server pop) virtual worlds where it's easier to form relationships with other players.

    Comment by bcdevMatt — 22 April, 2013 @ 1:37 AM

  4. I had a conversation with Mrs Bhagpuss just yesterday in which I observed that one several ways that ArenaNet chickened out when making GW2 was when they decided to have Parties at all. There is no reason whatsoever for Parties under their system and having them undermines the kind of paradigm-shifting, genre-changing mechanics they claimed they would introduce.

    In WvW at the moment there's a fetish for grouping. Commanders constantly and tediously insist everyone "Party up". I've asked repeatedly what the benefit of this is supposed to be and no-one has a reason that makes any sense. As far as I can tell, about the only thing being in a Party does for you in GW2 is give you an extra chat channel and put a blue dot on the screen for your Party members. I strongly suspect the only reason Commanders want people to Party up is so they can see when someone is goofing off by watching the little blue dot.

    In PvE in GW2 Parties are even more irrelevant. Dungeons and Fractals are instances that only allow five people to enter. What possible benefit is there for making those five join a Party? It's solely a selection process and one that I would argue goes against the whole grain of the rest of the game. It's exclusive not inclusive. You just need a lobby at the start of the dungeon that people enter and when there are five of them the Dungeon door opens. (Although personally I wouldn't have had any instanced dungeons in GW2 in the first place).

    I played through most the same evolution of MMOs as you did, starting a little later in 1999. I would strongly contest that what we have lost outweighs what we have gained. I prefer modern MMO gameplay to old-school by a considerable margin. Most of the changes that have happened have come about because when players were (eventually) offered the choice they grabbed the new version with both hands.

    I don't play MMOs for the social side. Never have. I play them because I want to spend time in well-realised fantasy worlds and because I find the gameplay endlessly entertaining. The huge majority of my time is spent interacting with the world and the game systems, not with other players. I very much welcome other players being there because their characters bring life and, especially, unpredictability to the world but I don't need or want to get to know them personally. If I get to know them I want to know them as "Fandalor, the Sorcerer of Light", not as "Bob from IT". That's kind of the point.

    The real issue though, is indeed the Social Overhead. For most of the first decade of the 21st century I played MMOs in a highly socialised manner. I was very active in guilds and in chat channels analagous to guilds, I got to know the people behind the characters in the way you describe, I went through years of guild drama, personality clashes, friendships and the general range of emotional engagements that occur when people spend long periods of time together, even virtually.

    It was tiring. Really, really tiring. Moreover, it pushed the gameplay to the edge and pulled the personal relationships to the centre. I come to these spaces to explore imaginary worlds, fight monsters and generally do stuff I can't do in the outside world. I'm delighted to do it with other people and to banter while I'm doing it, but that part is the sideshow.

    That said, playing online has largely spoiled offline games for me. If there's no-one there but me then I can't see why I should be there either. It's a difficult balance to strike, but for me Groups and Grouping in the old style are the problem, not the solution. Guilds too. Open it out, make us all one huge, permanent Party. Don't close it down into insular little units.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 22 April, 2013 @ 2:20 AM

  5. I would love to see more encouragement for increased interaction between players in general - whether grouped or not. The connections and social bonds I formed with people in early UO, for instance, happened through interaction completely outside groups (or guilds, for that matter). Through face-to-face trading, becoming a regular at someone's shop, or player-run taverns/towns, PvP encounters that were more personal(compared to "RvRvR" and battleground/arenas, etc where you encounter new, random opponents most of the time).

    Yes, I know; rose-tinted glasses and all that, yet I still feel that we've lost something along the way from then to now. Back then being in a guild didn't limit my interactions with players to only those in the same guilds. I went treasure-hunting with an entire village of people, where few were in the same guild, and none of us were formally grouped."Social" then meant interacting with other players in ways that formed and strenghted in-game bonds and communities. "Social" now means the game is linked to Facebook and Twitter and lets you upload screenshots and automatically tweet your "achievements". :/

    Comment by Xoduz — 22 April, 2013 @ 2:44 AM

  6. About your GW2 fractals experience: I've had some similar groups by now running dungeons. the big issue in my opinion is the 'global village' ANet has created by letting players group up with anyone across the continent (the AH suffers from the same issue). in terms of community building, cross-server is a big no-go; it has been detrimental in WoW and it's detrimental in GW2. adding folks from 'anywhere' to a friendlist is simply not the same as being on the same server and meeting each other frequently in the same hubs. I keep preaching that we need smaller server communities, not bigger. does it increase wait times on parties? it sure does, but it also encourages longterm bonding even if as you say, the patient won't like the medicine. when did this high focus of just running dungeons and collecting tokens start anyway? why is this the endgame focus of MMOs like WoW, Rift or even GW2 which wasn't supposed to even have an endgame? Rift's new housing aside (which sadly is instanced and not very meaningful towards the world), none of these games offer much in terms of simulation, creation or impact to players.

    I agree that things need to move forward on the social side but not as in bringing back the good old bad times. sadly, while GW2 did get a lot of things right, they did not manage to replace the things they removed in terms of motivating cooperation differently (one exception is the rez feature and it works). I will say this: I still like the ease of forming parties in GW2, especially when it comes to setup freedom. there's nothing more relaxing than being able to join 'any' group rather than one that only has a spot left for a specific class. I do not want the trinity back (and I don't dislike the more chaotic combat). I wrote a while back that I'd like to see more bonus than malus based systems when it comes to coop in MMOs. this is what I wished for GW2 too but they didn't quite deliver, for several reasons. as a principle however, I don't believe in forced grouping - instead, I believe grouping should be 'highly recommendable', with many bonuses attached (not loot). there should be a positive motivation why people want to party up rather than a negative one.

    Comment by Syl — 22 April, 2013 @ 5:57 AM

  7. I've been feeling a certain social community in GW2's WvW - small enough playerbase and server-limited, so that you do keep running into the same people and recognize their names. Non-elitist in the sense that more hands the merrier, so most people are welcoming, and it generally supports both casual and hardcore investment of time into the minigame.

    Had GW2 launched with a server LFG tool, perhaps a similar effect might have started working on dungeons, though I still have a hefty amount of doubt about that. People have a tendency to get too elitist with dungeons and obsess about the reward at the end, then they start cherry picking based on class, levels, experience, how fast they want to go through it, etc. and clashes of opinion seem to lead to quarrels rather than community building.

    I'm pretty much at my wit's end on what could possibly encourage community building and more social ties in PvE - perhaps something that involves creation/construction in the open world as an unlimited players group, but we keep running into the problem of there being so many people that one doesn't recognize each other's names, with a low probability of bumping into the same person again. Guess there may need to be a way to artificially reduce the playerbase in a local area - be it via land distance and travel time, or separation based on player interest, or something else.

    Comment by Jeromai — 22 April, 2013 @ 6:35 AM

  8. The first MMO I played "for realsies" and fell in love with was SWG and I'm sure everyone's heard all the wonderful social stories of Ye Olde Galaxies. I've told this story before but it bears repeating here perhaps that I came from a tabletop background. I'd played some Tomb Raider on my PS1 so was inclined to try my first-ever female character in SWG and since the last three letters in MMORPG are "RPG" I role-played to the hilt because that's what you did in tabletop. A friend of mine joined the game with me, also playing a female although he was a "recovering EQ addict" so he probably knew was I was getting myself into, LOL. Through pure social interactions we managed to get into one of the most well-respected guilds on our server, and that meant something back in those days. Come to find out the guild thought I was a female player because I never broke character for months on end. Not that I was trying to trick anyone, it was just hey, I'm playing an RPG so I'm doing the Chat RP. You're supposed to, right? :) So I eventually started turning the RP on and off (often mid-sentence, so keep up with me!) so it was clear the player is male but the character isn't.

    The other thing is that SWG is -- strike that, would have been -- a decade old now. I was fresh out of school working at my first flight instructing job at the time, building a rep and trying to get students so I had a crapload of free time to shoot blasters at monsters. A decade later I have a real flying job where I'm away more than I'm home. So yes, the "social overhead" I once had time for and enjoyed is now something I look at with disdain and something bordering on fear; if I want to invest myself at all that means I need to be getting as much actual gameplay in the short amount of time I have available now, I can't be sitting around spamming LFG for an hour or sitting in a queue.

    Another social factor that affects my duration and enjoyment of any MMO is "is there any social interaction happening at all?" I've written before that within the first 3 weeks of WAR all social interaction had ceased and it felt like I was the only one playing. I often was, at least in my zone. Again, my job means I level up much slower than anyone else. TOR was the same thing, inside 3 weeks and the low zones I was in were silent and it became a rare treat to even *see* another player running around in silence. GW2 has utterly failed in this. Even when I can obviously see there's a crapload of players there isn't a single word in chat. Ever. Unless linking waypoints to an event is the height of being "social" in GW2. I mean, WAR yeah we all know that tanked. TOR? Tanked. TSW? Probably tanked? But GW2 is supposed to be this Big Huge Popular MMO. But if you logged in and blocked your screen except for the chat window, you'd think you were the only one left playing the game, and that gets me to leave an MMO faster than anything else. No primitive requirement to get into a Group UI? Great! But no interaction whatsoever? Not so great.

    Much as people love to bash on Cryptic, all their games are single-shard and even their red-headed stepchild Champions Online has very busy chats 24/7. That alone is part of why I still love playing Star Trek because holy crap there's so much chat going on, especially once you acclimate yourself with the popular user channels. No matter what time of day it is, in every zone there's people running around or spaceships flying around, and the chats are busy. When an MMO looks, sounds, and feels populated, that's like a magnet to get me to smile and stick around.

    Comment by Talyn — 22 April, 2013 @ 6:49 AM

  9. I really, really like unwesen's comment (#2) about extending characters to offline. And yet, I worry about spam and identity theft.

    I definitely think that there's a level of exhaustion that's affected any number of people. We found out that maybe we don't like people as much as we thought we did. Because of drama, or griefing, or just a severe mismatch in worldviews. I think adding voice chat to MMO's contributed to this. Listening to people make offhand racially-charged or highly gendered slurs becomes exhausting. One of those outweighs the ten good groups you had, and makes you feel like not looking for a PUG at all. And so you stop looking for those PUGs.

    Comment by Toldain — 22 April, 2013 @ 7:45 AM

  10. A few thoughts:

    One, I'm largely in agreement with Bhagpuss on this. The social side isn't why I play these games, it's just a sometimes-fun aside.

    Two, if the problem is MMO tourists, I'd say the problem is less about grouping, more about content consumption. If the game is designed to be "finished" and capped with an "endgame" treadmill, yes, you're going to lose people when they get done with the game (or at least the part they care about). This dovetails with Syl's recent article on MMO storytelling; if the game is about the devs' story, and it can be completed, you're naturally going to see players stop playing when they finish the story. (Here, of course, I'm talking about more dedicated players who stick with it and don't leave before that because of ennui, finance, lack of groups for raids or whatever. I'm also ignoring the "stupid to put critical storytelling in group-only content" tangent at the moment.)

    If your game has a more dynamic world, where player actions are the heart of the narrative, you see a different dynamic. I'll cite EVE Online there, though I know it's a different sort of animal. From what I've seen of it, there's no forced grouping (though lone wolves tend to get eaten), no Evil Empire or Big Bad Dragon to crush, no "A Hero Is You" storyline, there's just a big universe where crazy stuff happens. (OK, there's a lot of game design and massaging under the hood, but the play experience isn't remotely the same as a bog-standard fantasy MMO.) They have had financial troubles, but the game keeps kicking, and there seem to be some pretty robust communities that have formed. (Notably, not just in-game, at that.) Maybe those are based on shared misery like the "rose-tinted golden age" of fantasy MMO gameplay, but I think it's more important that the players are empowered to affect the game universe to a degree unheard of in most other MMOs.

    That said, there's WURM Online, and that's not exactly taking the world by storm.

    I'd say that ultimately, MMOs really are niche beasts anyway. It's a simple function of the Venn overlaps between the potential client base; the more people you have together, the smaller the overlaps. WoW is an aberration that has been able to leverage the brand extremely well and keep people in the same game, largely by not making them do the same thing while they are there. It's a "big tent" show, with a bunch of entertaining diversions.

    There's definitely room for a new generation of MMOs that try to pull in community-minded players. I don't think it'll ever be the driving force in the genre, but there should be room for profit and fun. It won't be my kind of game, but then again, I've always been an outlier anyway. My kind of game just doesn't happen.

    http://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/emmo/

    Comment by Tesh — 22 April, 2013 @ 8:00 AM

  11. Oh, and sorry for the double post, but Toldain got me thinking: What about private servers? Where do they fit in all this, with their ability to cater more specifically to the demands of a smaller player base? I'd expect they would wind up with more socially cohesive groups with tighter clumped shared interests, but that's just me guessing. I'm not sure how they work out in practice, since they are out there in the "don't do that, it's evil" space.

    Comment by Tesh — 22 April, 2013 @ 8:03 AM

  12. Longasc wrote:
    I often wonder how much early MMOs and their designers actually realized what they did right - most likely by accident?!

    Well, game design as a whole is more of an art than a science, and online games are an even newer branch of game design. A lot of stuff was found by accident because there was no roadmap. Keen observation was what an online game designer really needed back in the day.

    I always found it interesting how often modern MMOs try to make a solo experience and even punish grouping....

    Yeah, that was the motivation for that previous blog entry I linked about punishing grouping. LotRO had a lot of that, where you had to complete the story relating to the Fellowship solo in most cases. I duoed with my significant other, and it was just frustrating to have to go solo because we really build our characters to rely on each other (I was really fragile solo without her healing, she couldn't do the damage most solo encounters required).

    unwesen wrote:
    It would be an easy thing technologically to treat "Fandalor" in the online "Woods and Wyverns" game as fandalor@woods-and-wyverns.com.

    As Toldain says, this is open to spamming and other abuse. I imagine a game company doing this would have that mailserver pounded continuously by spammers. You'd spend a lot of IT time and money just keeping that secure.

    We did have a bit of that in older games. Even though I didn't play EQ long I do remember giving my email address and ICQ number to a few people I met. One element I didn't cover is that a lot of the older games, especially back in the text MUD days, did have an audience that was more tech-savvy in general, and the community felt more familiar to a fellow tech geek.

    bcdevMatt wrote:
    I think it's interesting the way MMOs have evolved to emphasise the "Massively" part almost to the exclusion of all else....

    Exactly. I think this is one reason why I get irritated when people dismiss smaller games like text MUDs or Meridian 59, because it puts too much emphasis on the massively part. Smaller games do seem to form tighter communities as a rule.

    bhagpuss wrote:
    I don't play MMOs for the social side. Never have.

    And that's fine. And, the current games seem to suit you well; you don't fit the profile of the MMO tourist. I'm not advocating tearing down the existing games, I'm trying to figure out a way to increase engagement. I suspect you have very low Socializer motivation. As I've mentioned before, I'm SEK personally, so my socializing motivation is high. I will stick with a game to explore out the mechanics, but ultimately I want a social connection to keep me in the game.

    My observation is that the current games aren't working for a lot of people. There's a lot of pining for old-school games, and I don't think it's really the old-school gameplay that people want. I think there's a desire to belong to an organized group, as most people are social animals.

    I disagree that the solution is to throw everything open, though. I think you really need to have different types of social organizations for different needs. Like the best parties are the ones that have a big room for people to gather, but also have small quiet corners where you can get into a deeper conversation if you find someone really interesting to chat with.

    Syl wrote:
    the big issue in my opinion is the 'global village' ANet has created by letting players group up with anyone across the continent (the AH suffers from the same issue).

    Yeah, this is why I disagree with bhagpuss. I think if you focus too much on having everyone in one big group, then you don't form those deeper connections if you want. And, yeah, that line about the AH was my point in my blog post about GW2's economy. ;)

    instead, I believe grouping should be 'highly recommendable', with many bonuses attached (not loot).

    Agreed completely. At no point should I say, "being in this party is hindering me." I agree that a lot of GW2's mechanics work very nicely to not make you fear having other people around. But, there needs to be more that keeps people together.

    Talyn wrote:
    Another social factor that affects my duration and enjoyment of any MMO is "is there any social interaction happening at all?"

    Right, not only do you have to have the social interaction, it has to be available to be found by people who want it. That's the disadvantage of having the world be too large, really, as it's hard to find those interactions. An active global chat channel is a step in the right direction, although it can get spammy if the world is too large.

    One one hand, I really don't want to keep advocating smaller server sizes as I see the appeal of larger servers. But, it seems a lot of the problems keep circling back around to this problem of larger server sizes making meaningful interaction harder to find and establish.

    Toldain wrote:
    Because of drama, or griefing, or just a severe mismatch in worldviews. I think adding voice chat to MMO's contributed to this.

    Yeah, interesting thought about voice chat. The pace of text meant that it tended to be either more thoughtful or more terse by requirement. Now that we have voice chat where you can hear that person making casually bigoted comments, it can get more wearying.

    On the other hand, I think the fears of drama are something people need to learn to deal with. We have to deal with this in person, and online interaction gives us even more tools to address the situation. I think one thing that would help is having more flexible social organizations so that you don't feel trapped into a group where drama is brewing. I had high hopes for GW2's ability to join multiple guilds, but the requirement to "represent" only one guild at a time meant that we saw the old patterns re-establishing themselves.

    Tesh wrote:
    I'd say the problem is less about grouping, more about content consumption.

    Content has always been a problem for online games, though. Even back in the days of EQ1 MMOs had troubles creating enough content to keep up with players. I don't think the problem is so much that the content is intended to be "finished", but the game content is the sole focus. When you were camping monsters in the same location for a few hours, there would be downtime where you'd chat. Other players were the content as much as the monsters, etc.

    As we've focused more on gameplay content, costs have increased. I remember hearing that 3DO stopped working on an MMO portal because it would cost a whole $4 million in the late 1990s. Now we have single games that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and need to have HUGE audiences to just break even.

    And while GW2 seems to be doing a great job of pumping out content on a regular basis, I wonder how long they can sustain that. And, what happens when the content pipeline tapers off in the future?

    MMOs really are niche beasts anyway.

    If you mean that MMOs should focus on a niche, yes, agreed completely. There's room for plenty of games, even for misanthropes like you and bhagpuss. ;)

    WoW is an aberration that has been able to leverage the brand extremely well and keep people in the same game, largely by not making them do the same thing while they are there. It's a "big tent" show, with a bunch of entertaining diversions.

    Tipa made a great comment on Google+ that I'll copy in a second. She points out that WoW cheated a bit by building directly off of EQ1's community. I remember when WoW launched they spent some time recruiting whole guilds from EQ. They were able to benefit from the social structure of the game without necessarily having to have those social features in their own game.

    What about private servers?

    As for officially sanctioned servers, there's no profit in it, so unlikely to happen. As for "pirate" servers, the problem is that people who run these are frequently the type of people who let the power of running a game go to their head. When I ran M59, we had a number of pirate servers. Without exception, they tended to implode on themselves because the admin was giving favors to some people and not others. Although, until that point people usually thought the pirate servers were awesome, probably because the community was more focused.

    Anyway, great comments, all! Thanks for posting. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 April, 2013 @ 9:04 AM

  13. A comment from Brenda Holloway (Tipa at http://westkarana.com/) from Google+ that is super insightful:

    In his book Slapstick, Kurt Vonnegut Jr mused that the one thing missing from modern society is the possession of an extended family, the collection of friends and relatives of which you were a part and which guided you through life and, in turn, you helped guide. In Vonnegut's future vision, everyone is given a new middle name and a number, and they are now friends with everyone that shared that middle name and maybe also with that number.

    The Eagles were particularly prominent. Thirteen Clubs sprang up in all major cities.. Everyone was connected again.

    MMOs, in their best implementations, are ways to bring people together in extended families. EverQuest had several examples. Racial, for instance -- in the vanilla game, it was very hard to leave your racial homeland until you were level ten or so, forcing you to socialize with people who had chosen the same heritage, soaking you in your chosen culture before being allowed to mix. Low level open dungeons in every racial home got people grouping from low levels, teaching this skill from the very start.

    Every class had something that only they could do that would be very valuable to any group, making your class your automatic community. Same with servers. There were so many potential extended families available that chances are you would fall into one of them and become hooked.

    Give each character some number of characteristics that connect them to several clearly identifiable extended families, and you'll get your community if you can keep them long enough. WoW came out the gate with almost all EQ's extended family mechanisms entirely intact. You could solo, now -- but the races started out in their racial homelands, travel to another racial homeland was difficult to start, classes were unique and distinct, there was the Horde/Alliance separation -- WoW is the true child of EverQuest, not EQ2, which walked back almost every decision that had made EQ popular in the first place.?

    She's right that WoW really benefited from EQ's social structure and was able to thrive despite the solo focus. Would explain why other games that focused on soloing never saw the success WoW did.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 April, 2013 @ 9:09 AM

  14. See, I don't get how treating character names as email addresses is more open to spamming and abuse than any other email provider has to deal with.

    The point I'm trying to make is not that it's as easy as sticking to your own in-game only implementation for messaging and chat.

    The point I'm trying to make is that running scalable and spam-protected email servers is pretty much the oldest IT problem in the world. Any competent IT hire will know how to do this well.

    I get the impression that the arguments against doing so are more to do with NIH-syndrome than with cost benefit analysis. But I'm happy to be convinced otherwise; I just haven't seen the data yet that would convince me.

    Comment by unwesen — 22 April, 2013 @ 9:17 AM

  15. Tipa's comment on what I've come to think as "tribalism" is interesting. I'll be pondering that as a twist to the post on such social constructs that I've had percolating for a while. There's much good and much evil potential in that sort of social segregation.

    Yes, I think MMOs should focus on niches, which carries the crucial decision to limit the scope and cost.

    Eh, it's not so much that I'm a misanthrope, it's that I'm an introvert. Not the same thing at all. I'll often go out of my way to help people in online games, I just do it on my terms, and don't want the game to be designed to force me to socialize. Forcing me to do something is the surest way to make me hate it.

    Making other players the content is really the heart of what I'd like to see, largely by letting them impact the world. That way lies griefers, though. You either accept that players might be jerks and let the good bubble up, or you rein them in and force them through cattle chutes. That's why I think private servers and high player impact on the world is one potential outlet. Let people build their own walled communities and make their own little tribes by self-selecting based on interest/playstyle, and let them influence the world. Maybe that's less "private server" and more "guild housing" and "guild gameplay modifiers" to keep it under the devs' roof, but there's got to be a way to make that work. If the problem is sharing space with the unwashed hordes of those filthy "other" players, you need a way to minimize their impact or simply ignore them altogether.

    ...but now we're not really talking about massively multiplayer games any more. We're talking about tribal multiplayer online games, where it's not about interacting with a variety of players with different interests. We're talking about walled communities. That's OK and marketable, but it's a bit of a different animal.

    Comment by Tesh — 22 April, 2013 @ 9:42 AM

  16. Just because I like to be evil, but I noted that this discussion about the future of MMO is basically a discussion about GW2...

    And how I am an evil person, can I note that FFXIV ARR, WildStar and Defiance have public quests? That is a trend?

    Comment by João Carlos — 22 April, 2013 @ 12:41 PM

  17. The current MMO existential crisis has been with us for years. This is indeed a vast problem which I have spend about 10 years analyzing on my blog.

    First, we need to ask a fundamental question:

    What is the point of being a participant in a massively multi-player online world?

    The current answers provided by companies like Blizzard, SOE and NCSoft are not compelling enough (at least for me) and this is why subscription numbers and interest in the genre have remained stagnant.

    Back in 1999 when I first started playing MMORPGs via EverQuest, what attracted me to the genre was the fact that I could play online with other people from other parts of the world. As a shy and awkward person, being able to have a virtual avatar that could make friends with other players was liberating and exciting for me.

    Back then prime design ethos in MMORPGs was group interdependency and EverQuest wisely implemented that concept based on the what came before with MUDS. Socialization, relationships and community was everything. Then along came a company called Blizzard that decided it could exploit what EverQuest achieved. Sadly, what ended up happening was that the notion of MMORPGs being a massively online experience was sacrificed to appease the business imperative of gaining more subscribers.

    I've said it for years: WoW is basically a single-player experience where other players are incidental. Other players are now a means to an end, instead of an end in itself.

    Blizzard changed the focus of MMORPGs to "me" instead of "we".

    In addition to the removal of player collaboration and interdependence, designers have removed conflict from the MMO experience. The result is a safe, predictable, sanitized MMO experience where nothing is allowed to impeded the player's journey on the Disneyland amusement park ride.

    Players who exhibit individualism and autonomy are not welcome in this brave new age. Few features if any are created for them to self-express. Instead, they must followed the scripted tyranny of the "quest". When the content runs out players get bored while waiting for the next fix -- the new expansion.

    I believe that a big part of the problem is that Blizzard would rather make a financially successful MMO than a great MMO. Game design today has become all about numbers, metrics and figuring out ways to rake in more cash. Imagine if the game of chess were designed by Blizzard or Zynga? It would be an abomination.

    As Brian noted, since most players today were introduced to the MMORPG genre via WoW it's going to be an uphill battle trying to convince them of the benefits and joys of group interdependency. We have 10 years of the dominance of the WoW zeitgeist to counteract. It will not be easy.

    Most MMOs are the same to me today which is why I stopped caring and writing about them -- at least for now.

    We need a game changer. The collective MMO design brain has atrophied because all of the current crop of designers have been weaned on the WoW experience. All have them have been seduced by the glitter and the success of WoW. Very few designers have the courage to think outside the box and due to the recent failures and instability in the video game industry it's doubtful that risk takers will be encouraged.

    The best thing a MMO designer can do is to stop playing MMOs entirely. The industry needs a collective sabbatical from the rigidity, smallness and vapidity of what MMOs have become.

    To make a bold statement, everything about MMOs needs to be questioned and re-evaluated. We need to start all over again. The current MMO paradigm is in terminal condition and not worthy of resuscitation. We need to start from scratch.

    Comment by Wolfshead — 22 April, 2013 @ 3:06 PM

  18. Psychochild said:

    On the other hand, I think the fears of drama are something people need to learn to deal with. We have to deal with this in person, and online interaction gives us even more tools to address the situation.

    Yeah, there's a lot to be said for courage and fortitude. They are very positive things, and the more of it we have in the world, the better. And...

    MMO's are an entertainment, not a family, not a job. It's far more likely that people will just move on to some other place than deal with difficult emotional issues. Also...

    When you are in person, you get a lot of non-verbal cues about who you're talking to, and what acceptable behavior/speech is. Which are completely absent from the MMO world. No matter what you say or do, the faces of the other players remain immobile, fixed in their neutral expression and body language. I don't think this is a small thing.

    Comment by Toldain — 22 April, 2013 @ 3:43 PM

  19. First, I read the post at "I has PC" and I completely agree that people hurry through their login time and then logoff without having much social interaction. What I don't understand is why people don't just take downtime in MMOs. Its like all of the complaints about MMOs being too easy (travel, combat, gaining gear, store purchasing, etc.) - JUST STOP DOING/USING IT. If you don't want to play in a frenzy and then logoff without interacting with people, stop doing that. But I suppose there must be some psychological reason why people feel compelled to do these things even when they understand that it is causing their gameplay to be less fun.

    When I play an MMO, I usually spend just over half my logged-in time goofing around (crafting, managing inventory, exploring, shopping the auction house, etc.) instead of questing/grinding. During that time I often have interesting chats with people. People I know and people I don't know. I also am not very competitive in MMOs. I abhor PvP and don't feel obliged to have the best gear or the new shiney. So maybe its just my personality that I'm not affected by this need to do some particular thing to the detriment of my gaming experience.

    I also agree with Bhagpuss - I have played many MMOs and been involved in some guilds. There has ALWAYS been high drama so in most MMOs I've decided to just solo. Another contribution to the decision to solo is an increasing attitude in MMOs that levelling is just something you are forced to do to get your character to the level cap, not something to be enjoyed. Most players want to hurry to the level cap as fast as possible. I'm an altoholic and crafter - I've only gotten to level cap once, briefly, in any MMO I've played. But I do see the value in having the ability to party so that you can do a quest or dungeon with a particular group of players if you choose rather than "first come".

    I also agree with unwesen about being able to communicate with players outside of the game (if they so choose). I find it very strange that, in this age of social media, MMOs have not incorporated that ability. One caveat to that wish however, is that I would hate to see MMOs end up going overboard with the social media connections. I don't want to play an MMO by Zynga :)

    Syl mentions that he doesn't think that cross-server is good for socialization. I disagree, I think that the problem - especially in GW2 - is that you don't know when people are on. It is very easy for people from different servers to all get together. What hinders that is knowing when your friends are on. GW2 would benefit greatly from a notification system.

    In Psychochild's reply comment he said: "I think the fears of drama are something people need to learn to deal with. We have to deal with this in person, and online interaction gives us even more tools to address the situation. I think one thing that would help is having more flexible social organizations so that you don't feel trapped into a group where drama is brewing." The biggest problem I see in gaming is that you don't ACTUALLY know the other people. It is easier to get fed up with someone because you only interact with them in one very specific context. You don't have any other relationship with them to help you get through the "bad times" with them. But I agree with the idea of more flexible social organizations.

    All of this said, I think that the more you allow/encourage people to "live" in an MMO (rather than simply consume content), the more socialization will go on. There need to be more tools to communicate between the game and "RL". I'd like the option to get some kind of flag through the launcher when certain players were online even if I'm not in-game ala Skype. And I've always thought that MMOs should give some kind of benefit for just being in the game. Some activity should be required, but I think if people didn't feel they were "losing XP" if they weren't actively questing/grinding then they would feel more comfortable just hanging out in the game.

    Comment by Djinn — 22 April, 2013 @ 3:57 PM

  20. "Finally, I think we need to take the emphasis off of single-player gameplay. Note, this doesn't mean that solo gameplay has to be eliminated. ... But, the solo gameplay must be an alternative rather than the focus. Finding the right mix is going to be one of the most difficult parts of this type of design."

    With my credentials as a certifiable MMO Tourist in hand - max level characters that have never done any significant grouping in multiple different MMO's (along with a few that have grouped extensively) - I disagree. With all of the single player games and (often free!) solo-friendly MMO's already on the market, the solo play you describe is never going to be a significant selling point. Your hypothetical niche game cannot afford to waste the resources (dev time = cash) or the design space (i.e. every class has to be able to function solo) on an effort that puts your product's weakest aspect up against your competition's greatest strength. Do (have soloing) or do not, there is no try.

    I do group, and I enjoy it, but I have near zero patience for what you call social overhead. I'd rather have a night where every last piece of gear on my character was permanently lost due to how badly the group failed than a night when I couldn't find a group because at least in the former case I actually got to play your game. In the latter case, I spent my time and money hoping that I would get to play and you wasted both - I have canceled more than one MMO subscription after a night like this.

    The problem here is that everything about Diku-based games - from the holy trinity to levels to gear to time /played - is a reason why that other avatar is not a suitable group companion for you. Developers make incentive structures which say that only a very narrow band in their vertical progression is worthwhile to any given avatar, and players do exactly what the developers asked for. If what you want is for me to join and remain in a subset of the community/social fabric/whatever you cannot have a system where the only way to remain useful to those people is to exactly match their progress every step of the way at the risk of being left behind, because vertical progression will literally tear your fabric apart.

    Comment by Green Armadillo — 22 April, 2013 @ 7:04 PM

  21. Some additional thoughts based on reading the plethora of intriguing comments:

    It strikes me that the places where I've felt the greatest sense of multiplayer community has been in games (or parts of games) where interacting players hover around a certain Dunbar Number limit (say 50-300.) My old MUD, A Tale in the Desert, Glitch, GW2's WvW, etc. It's that 'tribal' thing. I wonder about Eve sometimes, the total account playerbase seems rather high, but is it that players generally know a Dunbar's Number worth of people in their corporation, plus some famous guilds/celebrities?

    Problem is, for MMOs these days, 300 players is too ridiculously low a number to aim for. So the game focus flips to catering for Achievers (of which there are very many) and Explorers, Socializers and Killers are left playing second fiddle or lower depending on the game. Throw in single player gameplay in casual bite sized chunks, and you grab a lot more populace than those willing to invest many hours into developing social relationships, which can only come about through repeated social interactions with each other.

    If I were playing an MMO casually for just 1-2 hours a night (or a week, egads), I certainly can't imagine myself interacting much with anyone online. But MMOs still want to grab these players because they can be paying customers, be it through a sub or convenience and speed-boost microtransactions. That then suggests that any MMO who wants to focus on developing social niches may have to think about how they can generate funds via the more committed, higher time investment socializers, at the cost of potentially losing a more casual time investment group.

    Another random thought is the value of chat persistence to counteract the issue of players not being logged on 24/7 to interact. Boards and blogs can develop communities, even if everyone is not necessarily logged on at the same time. ATITD has persistent chat, so someone can send a message to another player via regional, guild or private chat tab even when they're not on, and continue a conversation that way. I recall MUDs used to have public notice boards where players could post messages for all and sundry to read. Conversely, the party chat in GW2 vanishes the instant your party breaks up, for whatever reasons, which can lead to a "who the hell were they all again?" situation.

    Comment by Jeromai — 23 April, 2013 @ 2:33 AM

  22. Jeromai, that's why I like guilds/clans/etc. You limit the number of people you interact with, and create stronger bonds with them. In addition to that, you will likely join a guild/clan whose members enjoy a similar play style to your own.

    IMHO that was the biggest problem with guilds in WoW, where everyone wanted to be part of a good raiding guild in order to get high-level equipment, and good raiding guilds rarely encourage relaxed, fun play styles. No, let me rephrase that: they focus on achiever play styles, and discourage others.

    One way that might be solved is by allowing players to join multiple guilds. There's been some debate in recent years on the utility of multiple online identities (see e.g. http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/03/25/jeff-jarvis-and-multiple-identities-a-critique/), which exist in MMOs in the form of multiple characters you can play wildly differently. But within one character, 10 days a month you might want to focus more on crafting, and 10 others more on exploration, and a one-guild system will not provide you with tools to organize events with well-known and trusted players for both of these activities.

    If you can join more than one guild, it would also make sense to distinguish between open guilds (no real moderation activities, just a shared space) and closed guilds (membership requirements, etc.), and perhaps tag guilds with their main purpose (metalsmithing, etc.).

    I'm basically describing how special interest forums on the internet work, yes. And there is a common thread between this suggestion and my previous comment about offering email addresses per user/character.

    Basically I increasingly view "the intenet" as a (rather organically grown) virtual world, and each website I frequent as a more strictly defined shared instance for members which imposes it's own set of rules. In much the same sense, each forum/community I join becomes a (limited) virtual world, and in each of them I express a different identity facet. While I think everyone does that (in the sense of expressing different identity facets in different context), I'm equally sure that not everyone shares this conceptual model of the digital world.

    But if you (can) view the internet through this lens, then the logical next question for me is: why should a "real" virtual world like an MMO be more limited in how it lets me express identity and interact socially than the internet, which can barely be called a virtual world?

    There will always be practical (cost vs. benefit) reasons, of course.

    The point of all this, IMHO, is that when we're discussing what helps create/maintain social fabric in virtual worlds (which is part of this discussion), then there are plenty of examples outside of virtual worlds that do it right (and also plenty of examples that do it wrong). Do things differently by all means if you have a good reason for it, but not just because that's how MMOs have worked so far.

    Comment by unwesen — 23 April, 2013 @ 3:40 AM

  23. [GW2] Farming Arah and the ugly Face of Anonymity

    [...] expected a lot more in terms of encounter design or combo mechanics). I’m in full agreement with Psychochild here – I’ve no wish to go back to good old bad times but there’s clearly a lot [...]

    Note from Psychochild: Great quote from this article, "The entire server/world is your guild? If so, where’s the g-quit button?"

    Pingback by MMO Gypsy — 23 April, 2013 @ 5:50 AM

  24. @Djinn - thanks for reading my article =) I agree with your some of your sentiment - that you can find people to talk with if you are just messing around, but I bet if you really got to know that person they were from 'old school' MMO. Most people I come accross in current iteration don't understand what to do in 'downtime' because they never have experienced it. The majority of any MMO playerbase typically goes for the path of least resistance. That is why I beleive that you should make grouping the fastest way to level - so people learn that groups are ok, can be fun, and can add to gameplay. Of course you only need to make it 10% faster (or even less) to get most people to do it - and that would still make the solo route viable for gamers light Bhagpuss.

    Currently grouping while levelling is bad for questing (different stages, level disparity, etc.). Of course - all of this is in the context of levelling done now. The fact that levels are so fast to get now and so numerous is also the problem. Why have 90 levels if each takes two hours to get? Why not have 10 levels that take 40 hours each to get? Right now, if you are 5 levels apart, the XP gain is terrible for the higher level and the lower level dies too fast to the mob levels.. Levels really impacts grouping to be 'effective'.

    I have written about relative power levels before and also how to make levels more flat in time as well way back in 2008. I know, I know. Playes want their insta-dings and insta-gratifications - but its the only thing they have ever known.

    I am just a consumer who would spend hundreds on a game per year - subscription or FTP - I don't care which! But not until I am being engaged, which for me requires other people. I have disposible cash but no one worth spending on right now (again - for my tastes). With all the failures out there right now, isn't time for a company to try something different for a change?

    Comment by Isey — 23 April, 2013 @ 9:47 AM

  25. When I ran M59, we had a number of pirate servers.

    Do you know how they got the server binaries? I've been thinking about this issue a lot this week.

    Comment by Robert Basler — 23 April, 2013 @ 11:46 AM

  26. Funny I come across this blog right after I saw this post (apologies for the link):

    https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/livingworld/flameandfrost/Living-story-ends-with-a-5-man-instance/first

    . . . and had a conversation with a friend which centered around "you know, I'd play more MMOs if it weren't for all the trolls, griefers, and hardcore players making my experience feel painful".

    "A positive example from GW2 is the WvW zones."

    Very much this point. I started doing WvW regularly, and stuck to doing the same thing. And, ahhh, some people knew I'd be there, knew what I was doing, and at least one asked "why don't you get a Commander tag?" and so forth. Heck I bet if I popped in there tonight when some of the people are usually on they'd say "welcome back".

    Why? It's a smaller community within the server by somewhat necessity. Only a certain number of players can make it onto the battleground, which means a server of thousands (assumed) only has hundreds of people (or even *a* hundred) who are there at any given time.

    I don't know if *grouping* is the answer, at least as we think of grouping from old-school games. Some hear "grouping" and think "four or five schmucks we get stuck with for a time so I can actually do this content and may never see again". Some hear "grouping" and think "four or five friends who play the game with me and we get together every other night to go wreak havoc wherever we choose to". I really . . . *REALLY* want the second to be emphasized more than the first.

    "Exactly. I think this is one reason why I get irritated when people dismiss smaller games like text MUDs or Meridian 59, because it puts too much emphasis on the massively part. Smaller games do seem to form tighter communities as a rule."

    I love and hate both, because if you have a community you like in these cases or have good healthy relationships with . . . it's very good. Very very good. If you don't, or if a significant portion don't like you? It's not going to be as fun, and could even turn into something you don't want to do.

    It's worth saying the only reason I stopped Meridian twice was because I was a nice big vulnerable target for most of the player-killers running around. Similarly, Ultima Online got shelved after a particularly clingy antagonist managed to get into my house over my dead body and take just about everything not nailed down. (And then waited for me to come back from the long walk and killed me again just "for the lulz"...)

    . . . and on the other hand? There's been times in Guild Wars 2 where I desperately wished for the ability to beat up on people basically being unwelcome parasites who know the only option to deal with them is "/ignore". I bet if it was possible to die doing some of the stupid crap they do, it'd happen less . . .

    Comment by Kereminde — 23 April, 2013 @ 6:18 PM

  27. @Wolfshead

    "We need a game changer. The collective MMO design brain has atrophied because all of the current crop of designers have been weaned on the WoW experience. All have them have been seduced by the glitter and the success of WoW. Very few designers have the courage to think outside the box and due to the recent failures and instability in the video game industry it's doubtful that risk takers will be encouraged."

    It's not the design brain, I think, or solely the designers being responsible for the mess. I think in a greater sense, it's the whole.

    - Designers are familiar with certain mechanics or ways of doing things, so they tend to be where they go. Comfort zones, to say it nicely. I had a conversation once about "why aren't there RPGs without levels?" and it boiled down to "it's an easy way to sort out what a player should be able to do". . . which is also saying "it's what people expect, and what people are used to working with". Similarly here, I bet most game developers asked to start development of an MMO are going to go right to their first or favorite one and try to draw inspiration from there. (And many who don't probably aren't going to be the ones asked to start an MMO.)

    - Funding is likely to be absent for a game which isn't expected to take off. Best evidenced in so many games trying to kill WoW by . . . being WoW but different. "Come play Realm of Astaria, it's like World of Warcraft but with funny hats and no orcs!" Given that it can take a lot of money to develop a current-generation game which can stand out, funding is probably only going to be thrown at things which look "safe". (Note: It's not just the development cost, it's the maintenance of the servers and future development.)

    - And most importantly. PLAYERS may not know when the familiar is gone. Going from M59 to EverQuest, I had to train myself *not* to go immediately defensive on seeing another player - no PvP. Going from EverQuest to GW1, I had to adjust to a world where I was pretty much picking up a party and it was just us outside cities. By extension from EQ to GW2? "Hey, get off my camp spot!" no longer exists and not an insignificant amount of players have noted it's an odd feeling not to have to worry about seeing other players running by or dropping in to help you.

    Now something I say rather often: as a social-based issue, this matter isn't an easy one to approach.

    (Relevant XKCD? http://xkcd.com/592/ )

    Comment by Kereminde — 23 April, 2013 @ 6:32 PM

  28. @Wolfshead: "I've said it for years: WoW is basically a single-player experience where other players are incidental. Other players are now a means to an end, instead of an end in itself.

    Blizzard changed the focus of MMORPGs to "me" instead of "we".

    In addition to the removal of player collaboration and interdependence, designers have removed conflict from the MMO experience. The result is a safe, predictable, sanitized MMO experience where nothing is allowed to impeded the player's journey on the Disneyland amusement park ride."

    Apparently you are not talking about WoW endgame which is the self-described point of the game for a large number of its players. WoW endgame is all about raiding and PvP which is the antithesis of a single-player experience and definitely includes conflict. Many players spend the vast majority of their WoW gaming time in this highly-competitive and contentious environment.

    There are also many players (like myself) who enjoy WoW's solo-friendly PvE "themepark" and have nothing to do with its endgame. Perhaps that is a major reason why WoW is so popular: it seems to have content for disparate types of players.

    What it comes down to is that different MMOs have different things that appeal to different people. Yes MMOs as a whole, by definition, would benefit from being more of the "virtual worlds" that they were originally touted to be. They need more content that encourages players to group but also more that attracts players to simply "be" in the world so that higher levels of interaction can occur.

    Comment by Djinn — 23 April, 2013 @ 10:01 PM

  29. And funny aside, not MMO related specifically...

    I admin on a Minecraft server belonging to a friend. Everyone there (all . . . six of us) are approved by the owner and are all friends with them (not necessarily with each other, though). In theory, the server is where you can get together and build together.

    Nuh-uh. Having wildly varying schedules and even time available means we pretty much are on whenever we can find time or want to. This leads to one person pretty much going dominant on the server if they play a lot, which happened in one of the server's previous incarnations (we generate new worlds after every major update which adds new things generated at start) - I got a copy of the map and they had roads and buildings *everywhere*.

    Not only that, you had one person building a Menger sponge for fun and setting it up as kind of an "alien artifact being unburied". You had another making, laboriously, a railway system connecting everyone. I was building a tower and furnishing it entirely in Survival (i.e. with limited resources) and then putting down other minor outlying buildings along a coastal area. Nobody was building together, and nobody did before either. Why? We had much varying ideas of aesthetics, we were never on together to do it, and the only time the idea got raised it was pretty much lost in a conversation of ideas which veered off into tangents.

    I know this isn't indicative. There are whole servers of people laboriously doing things like recreating Middle Earth, or Westeros . . . or running huge faction wars in a PvP manner. I've run into a series where on the XB360 version there's a group of 4-10 different people doing crazy "missions" dreamed up by one of their number and editing it into one big episode.

    Does this actually mean anything? I dunno, maybe it's a different breed of "massively multiplayer" because to tell you the truth, I do not run into Minecraft players who stick solely to solo-play all that much. And the question they ask me on finding out I play is "hey, what server do you play on? Is it cool?" . . .

    Comment by Kereminde — 23 April, 2013 @ 11:53 PM

  30. I would disagree that there aren't any games with 'social overhead' requirements. DF2.0 is here and Camelot Unchained may be on its way, with or without Kickstarter's help. Meanwhile A Tale in the Desert is still running and I know a number of people that play private instances of UO and SWG.

    Meanwhile, as another commenter has mentioned, WoW offers an endgame with a medium to high social overheard (Progression raiding, arena, rated BGs) for those that want to participate and an 'MMO-lite' for the rest.

    Comment by bernardparsnip — 24 April, 2013 @ 3:36 AM

  31. Since Blogger doesn't do trackbacks for some reason...

    Green Armadillo wrote: http://playervsdeveloper.blogspot.com/2013/04/incentives-driving-3-month-mmo-tourism.html
    Tobold wrote: http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2013/04/social-fabric.html

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 April, 2013 @ 3:42 PM

  32. Robert Basler wrote:
    Do you know how they got the server binaries?

    From what I heard, 3DO left stuff up on an unprotected FTP server. It was intended for their German licensee to localize all the files. Someone found it and downloaded it. When 3DO shut down the game, they released the server binaries (but not the source) for the fans. I appreciate the sentiment, but it was a pain in our rear.

    So, not due to any fault on our end, and the M59 servers ran on Windows.

    Kereminde wrote:
    I don't know if *grouping* is the answer, at least as we think of grouping from old-school games.

    The focus should be on building the social fabric. Getting people to play together meaningfully for an extended period of time in a limited group is the focus, not bringing back "forced grouping". As I said in response to Green Armadillo's blog post I linked in the previous comment, I want to identify a design goal and then build mechanics from that. But, the first step is understanding the design goal.

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 April, 2013 @ 5:08 PM

  33. "Getting people to play together meaningfully for an extended period of time in a limited group is the focus, not bringing back "forced grouping". As I said in response to Green Armadillo's blog post I linked in the previous comment, I want to identify a design goal and then build mechanics from that. But, the first step is understanding the design goal."

    I think it's a noble design goal. Achieving it would be revolution, not evolution, from current MMORPG's.

    At the end of the day, my concern has nothing to do with how many characters are on the top left of my UI (just my own, a group of 4-6, or a raid group of 10-40). I have spent extended periods of time in "raid groups" in WoW but formed no social ties whatsoever because nothing about the modern raid finder experience requires you to do so - I'm not sure if this fails the test because it's not "meaningful" or because the random group pool is not "limited". Every precedent I am aware of for strong social ties in MMO's ultimately hinges on making players dependent on the availability of an appropriate group of players so that they HAVE to form a community.

    I can't think of an implementation that solves this problem. Then again, I'm the unpaid freelance MMO analyst, and not the professional game designer. If folks in the latter camp can solve this problem, I'll be interested to pay for it.

    Comment by Green Armadillo — 24 April, 2013 @ 7:54 PM

  34. Green Armadillo wrote:
    I'm not sure if this fails the test because it's not "meaningful" or because the random group pool is not "limited".

    I suspect it's mostly because it's not limited. If you did the raids with 20 out of the same 40 people, I'd suspect you'd make a lot more connections. Honestly, it doesn't take much for the group activity to be "meaningful". I think running into the same people repeatedly and spending significant time with them are the more important aspects.

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 April, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

  35. @Psychochild

    "The focus should be on building the social fabric. Getting people to play together meaningfully for an extended period of time in a limited group is the focus, not bringing back "forced grouping". As I said in response to Green Armadillo's blog post I linked in the previous comment, I want to identify a design goal and then build mechanics from that. But, the first step is understanding the design goal."

    This is an interesting idea, but . . . I don't think the problem is understanding the design goal. I think the problem is understanding the question and the people involved. Two issues rear their head in my limited experience with online games.

    One, that people who don't want to group . . . with anyone . . . aren't going to want to play a game with even some limited rewards for grouping in a meaningful way. And they're going to feel manipulated or even pushed into doing it if you try to put enticements there to encourage them to "come socialize". In stronger cases, they will not only "not play" but they will actively stick around to snark. In short, these people aren't likely to be coming around to the goal. Unfortunately, more people are getting to be this way due to how multiplayer works these days. "I want to play my game and avoid the elitist hardcore gamers, idiot bros, childish jerks, and freaking trolls" is a common sentiment said as to why people fly solo as much as they can and group only when absolutely necessary.

    Secondly, the people who already work on social bonds or are outgoing with their groups are already doing that. I know for sure I tend to try to hang onto people I find are reliable, skilled, and really useful to have tag along for a party endeavor. Heck, in EverQuest I had two people who I just pretty much ran around with because they were just fun to hang around with and blunt the tedium of Hell Levels. I'm not the only one, my guild/alliance from Guild Wars (one and two) could best be described as "friends who get together and party sometimes" just for the fun of it or fly solo and chatter in the text box as they play.

    I'm unsure if you can design to cultivate that, because I partly think it's a personality thing. People either are willing to be sociable or they're not, and trying to push one of those sides to the other direction winds up working only so long as there's a compelling reason.

    (Strange note, there are people who will play single-player games as a sort of community project. "Boatmurdered" comes to mind. And there were genuinely people in old venerable M59 who were devoted to being a loner playing the game and trying to have as little to do with people as possible.)

    Anyway, if you're looking for a "tl;dr" sort of soundbye, I'll summarize. People who want to put social things in their gaming will always find a way. Even in games you're not meant to play multiplayer. On the other hand, people who want to play alone will move every boulder you put in their path to stick with it like that, even if it makes the game that much harder for them.

    Comment by Kereminde — 24 April, 2013 @ 11:55 PM

  36. Pathfinder Online and social fabric

    [...] players like NPCs as they chain-run dungeons for loot upgrades. Psychochild raises the issue of social fabric, that earlier games like Ultima Online or Dark Age of Camelot required players to cooperate and [...]

    Pingback by GamingSF — 25 April, 2013 @ 12:24 AM

  37. I was thinking about what @Kereminde said above and reminiscing about the days when MMOs had chat monitors. I think that a lot of players are intimidated by what they read in chat (the "elitist hardcore gamers, idiot bros, childish jerks, and freaking trolls") and so they don't participate in chat at all for fear of drawing the attention of this type of person. I know many people who don't even have a general chat channel open in their UI because they don't want to even be exposed to the crap these types of players spout on a regular basis. I think that until this issue is addressed, it will remain one HUGE reason why there is a lack of general socialization among the majority of MMO players.

    Comment by Djinn — 25 April, 2013 @ 9:30 AM

  38. Grouping is the solution even if it's not the solution for everyone or even the majority. Not only are socializers not catered for thus reducing the target market size but socializers are sticky, they hold other non-socializers in the game.

    The question then bcomes either A) grouping game or B) both a grouping and a solo game.

    One part of either option would be to collect a list of the downsides of grouping from all the bitter memories people have of EQ and think of ways of fixing them e.g.

    1) Loot: Say you were a tailor in EQ farming silk from some nasty spiders in Karana and someone else arrived with the same plan. Now in theory you have two people both doing something slightly unusual who'd probably have a lot to talk about but with the loot system you're enemies - competing for the same silk. However if the loot system was set such that the mob would drop the same loot for each member of the group then that second person arriving would be great.

    2) LFG time:
    For groups to form naturally you want the core group players to want to be in the same place at the same time. You can do this with bread crumbs. Say the two core group classes of a race were fighter and priest (and they could be a functioning group in themselves i.e. they weren't just tank and heal they were tank/dps and heal/dps) then you can make a trail of breadcrumbs with mob drops i.e. mobs that congregate in groups and need a group to take down drop gear or quest items that are needed by the fighter and priest class. Once the core group is in place then other classes can join in. Once this trail of bread crumbs is set for each zone then people who want to group know where to look.

    If the idea was to have both a solo and a grouping game running side by side then the distinction could be made by class. Each race could have two classes with a lot of group synergy with their respective trail of breadcrumbs. Another class might be designed to be fully solo and any others could be a bit of both.

    Examples
    1) The elf race has a warrior and a priest class and a nearby orc dungeon with a trail of breadcrumbs leading from the starter city to fighting the orc camps outside the dungeon to the dungeon entrance to the trainer to the slavers to the castle etc where the orcs drop gear and quest items for warriors and priests.

    The race also has a ranger class with tracking and mobs which drop ranger gear and quest items roaming roam the wilderness around the starting city.

    2) The lizard race has a warrior and a shaman class which form the core of groups and a nearby bandit camp which drops warrior and shaman gear and quest items. After the bandits there's an dungeon also dropping warrior and shaman gear and quest items.

    The lizard race also has a necro class that doesn't get spells directly but instead build their spells from research components that drop off undead which congregate in different parts of the zone.

    Other classes between the two extremes might be a bit of both.

    #

    Say six (maybe twelve eventually) unique races each with their own very unique solo class for the misanthropes and six (maybe twelve eventually) racially unique group breadcrumb trails for the socializers (at least for the first 1/3 of the levels as the group breadcrumb trails will start to merge at higher levels).

    Comment by bubble — 25 April, 2013 @ 9:59 AM

  39. Obviously one of the corollories of the above is loot must be the opposite of random.

    Comment by bubble — 25 April, 2013 @ 10:57 AM

  40. @bubble

    "1) Loot: Say you were a tailor in EQ farming silk from some nasty spiders in Karana and someone else arrived with the same plan. Now in theory you have two people both doing something slightly unusual who'd probably have a lot to talk about but with the loot system you're enemies - competing for the same silk. However if the loot system was set such that the mob would drop the same loot for each member of the group then that second person arriving would be great."

    One of the few things I'd point to without qualification as "what Guild Wars 2 does that other games really need to do from now on". Loot is not singular and limited to "okay who rolled the highest, you get the pick". No, anyone who participates enough in killing a target gets a chance at loot and otherwise kill credit.

    Comment by Kereminde — 25 April, 2013 @ 12:59 PM

  41. I was pondering same thing - why no MMO have any developed social systems in place. I dont mean the game which plugs into your facebook, but one which allows you to form social networks of friends to do shared activity together. Even friend lists in most mmos are so rudimentary that they dont allow you to create named groups/put comments so you remember who is who

    Like for example when running difficult content and being pleased with experienced in a pug I quite likely would love to run with same people again or with some of those people. Allow me to "like" them and them "like" me so next time I want run grouped activity ( by using LFG or similiar tool)

    For example in TSW when I played in release month I had to resort to excel spread sheet with all the competent people by role (dps/healer/tank) and when running end game instances I would go trough the list asking everyone with tells "do you want run dungeon x"? -it was necessity because end game instances were impossible with untested pugs early . And this is game released in 2012. GW2 doesnt even have in game lfg and its friend system is most basic ever

    Comment by Max — 25 April, 2013 @ 1:59 PM

  42. One simpler aspect is that the fundamental tools for Social Activity don't exist in MMOs, or are at levels pioneered by AIM back in the 56k days. Guild Wars 2 lacks even the functionality an IRC channel provides, allowing only one tabbed chat window without the opportunity for custom channels, and allowing chat to only one out of up to four guilds at a time. Friends lists are incredibly limited in scope and functionality, as well as not being terribly intuitive to use, since players aren't listed by the name you encountered but by their account name or their currently played character's name. The in-game mail system is very weak, and can cause game problems if it overflows. ((Conversely, GW2 does have reasons to group with nearby people from a non-Social viewpoint : doing so allows easy read on location, health, and boon/debuff status, all of which are very important for the Elementalist and Necromancer classes. It also allows players to share information on the map, although few do so.))

    While GW2 is unusually bad on this metric, it's not uniquely so, nor are its faults setting it in a different category. World of Warcraft has official RP servers -- but not fundamental tools for roleplay, like a background/backstory tab on characters, which people have to go to (often conflicting) mods in order to get. Few, if any games, have graduations for social relationship beyond friend, guildmate, party member, and global ignore. Mailboxes and mailbox limits, highly segregated public posting -- games very, very rarely integrate social communities with any real seriously, and those that do are highly specialized for that purpose. General games often (for good reason) build anti-socializer tools, like interserver groups or raids that can not exchange goods, or looking-for-group tools that trend toward never encountering the same person twice.

    Making good social situations requires good social tools, and good methods for people to form long term friendships, which are drastically different things than the guilds or the contacts concepts used in mainstream MMOs.

    Conversely, MMO designers /might not want/ to focus on Socializers : relationship players spend more time online than even achievers (though this may reflect availability instead of preference), and while they don't usually consume content as quickly as achievers/explorers, they are going to cost bandwidth and support time, and tools oriented toward such players are not very mature.

    Comment by gattsuru — 25 April, 2013 @ 2:29 PM

  43. "Guild Wars 2 lacks even the functionality an IRC channel provides, allowing only one tabbed chat window without the opportunity for custom channels, and allowing chat to only one out of up to four guilds at a time."

    And to be perfectly honest, there's a lot more where that came from as far as lacking tools. And there are a few the first game had on hand which are conspicuously absent:

    1 - No "Last Online" in the Guild window so people can see who's still playing even infrequently.
    2 - No LFG or party search tools, or even a dedicated chat channel for it.
    3 - Guild Message of the Day doesn't play on login. (Note: I do not rightly recall if this did happen, but I know previous games I played it would happen, so I am tentatively putting it on here.)

    Also, it is a good thing you can create different tabs. I have three. One for when I'm partying up for something and desire focus and not map chatter, one for just logging combat and loot data (which I never used but I thought might be useful to have someday), and one where I listen in on all the channels. You can't create custom channels, per se, but why would you go after that?

    See, I played a game once which could have roughly 100 chat channels globally you could filter in and out of (or password and use as private). Do you know what I noticed? Only about 5 of those were really ever used by me or even half the people I remember chatting with. The rest . . . mostly were used by guilds as an impromptu private chat area, roleplayers (of all stripes) as both a main chat and several satellite chats for roleplayers to split off into.

    I'm not knocking the idea of something more akin to an IRC type chat, but at the same time . . . I suppose a question to have developers ask is "would it get much use if we put the effort into making it, to make it worth the effort to do it?". Remember, for every extra you want in the game, that's time that needs to wind up getting used building it (or of course, they could just steal/license something pre-existing, if it was decided it was really needed and not enough time was required). Of course . . . that also becomes one more thing to test and several more things which now need to be at least given a cursory monitoring system to prevent abuse.

    Comment by Kereminde — 25 April, 2013 @ 11:03 PM

  44. Kereminde wrote:
    People who want to put social things in their gaming will always find a way. Even in games you're not meant to play multiplayer. On the other hand, people who want to play alone will move every boulder you put in their path to stick with it like that, even if it makes the game that much harder for them.

    Well, the problem is that if I want to group but the game makes grouping an actively worse experience (like some areas in WoW), I'm never going to be able to do it beyond some grudging acceptance from people I already know. If there's no benefit to it, I'm still going to have a hard time doing so.

    Are there people who will only play solo? Sure. And, for the most part, those people can play WoW or GW2 or a lot of other games as long as they keep running. Will designing the game to encourage grouping help? I think older MMOs show that this is the case, despite the worrying. I only played EQ1 for a short while, but I remember giving my email address to 2 different people; the social fabric was just stronger in that game than most modern games.

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 April, 2013 @ 11:44 PM

  45. "Are there people who will only play solo? Sure. And, for the most part, those people can play WoW or GW2 or a lot of other games as long as they keep running. Will designing the game to encourage grouping help? I think older MMOs show that this is the case, despite the worrying. I only played EQ1 for a short while, but I remember giving my email address to 2 different people; the social fabric was just stronger in that game than most modern games."

    Understandable, but I don't really know if games are to blame or the . . . for lack of a better term, "culture" which envelops gamers and colors expectations now. Sounding a little pompous, you and I both took part in Meridian 59 so we both can remember the "old days" when communities were fairly small and knit together on a server. Even as large as servers were on EQ1 it was possible to actively know people through your whole play career and see them around often enough to make bonds.

    These days, instant matchmaking seems to be more of a way to go. "Find me a way to get to the play faster" over "let me cull through people and look for someone I can chat with and enjoy". There's something to be said for the "don't have to wait to get started" point, but you trade off something else for that leisure. Your post here pretty much encapsulates what got traded off.

    But the more I reflect on it, the more I just feel a game which tries to offer a social fabric building could wind up relegated into a niche somewhere. Is there a market for it? Demonstrably so. Now, can the game be made inexpensively enough to survive?

    Another odd remembrance. I played a MMO-shmup called "Realm of the Mad God" and was culling my bookmarks when I came across it. Get this - it did the seamlessly grouping sort of thing GW2 does, plus the "do enough damage to get a loot roll no matter who does the lion's share" thing. I think it predated GW2, so that would make it a small lil indie game which did what a big budget title did.

    . . . which is also the point above. Sure, it probably can be done. But can it be done in a game which will actually receive exposure enough to make this attempt at social fabric work? N.B: small niche games inevitably form a social fabric anyway :)

    Comment by Kereminde — 26 April, 2013 @ 2:16 AM

  46. Great post. I want to just address Tipa's comment on extended families and why I don't think that works any more.

    Back in the day, when we logged into an MMO, chances were we knew very few other players, if any, and the game would most likely need more people than that to group. Everyone started on the same social basis, they didn't really know anyone but they needed to make some connections to people. Add that to the way the starting game was structured and you could probably see the guilds and social connections building up.

    These days, every new MMO I try, I will know at least a few friends. Maybe they will be from twitter, maybe people I know from bboards where I post, maybe guildies from some other game I have played and still keep in touch with. Most likely we'll plan a new guild before joining the game and won't spend too long looking for other members.

    I suspect that's becoming the norm. It won't matter how many community hooks you put into the game if people are already tied by out of game connections and have no real need or intent to connect with new people. (Think of how the Goons just invade any game they're interested in.)

    I have joined other guilds and met other new players in MMOs since WoW and LOTRO but the connections were never as strong as when we all were new to the genre and the game and each other.

    Comment by Spinks — 26 April, 2013 @ 1:09 PM

  47. @Spinks
    "These days, every new MMO I try, I will know at least a few friends."

    All the more reason to have a group path from the start as an option - and for a viable group to start at 2+. It's not like people in this situation don't group - they group more than most - but in instanced dungeons with people they already know they get on with.

    New players don't get the opportunity to go through that same process of playing with lots of people they don't like until they find the few they do.

    Comment by bubble — 26 April, 2013 @ 2:09 PM

  48. @Kereminde: "One of the few things I'd point to without qualification as "what Guild Wars 2 does that other games really need to do from now on". Loot is not singular and limited to "okay who rolled the highest, you get the pick". No, anyone who participates enough in killing a target gets a chance at loot and otherwise kill credit."

    I do like that aspect of GW2, but on the other hand, GW2 discourages grouping because if a party is doing a Heart (quest), the criteria for the quest (kills, gathers, etc.) are not shared among the party members as occurs in other MMOs. Instead, the quickest killer/gatherer has completed the quest first and has to wait for the "slower" party members to catch up. There have been times when I have lied and said that I had completed the quest in order to avoid inconveniencing the other party members. This doesn't lead to a positive social experience.

    Comment by Djinn — 26 April, 2013 @ 9:32 PM

  49. @Djinn

    I never said GW2 was perfect, and I refuse to :) I may be a fan of it, but fanboy I try to avoid. I'll agree that about the Hearts but I always felt those were more personal and meant to be done less with people and more on your own. (Note, most of the tasks for Hearts are not ones which require coordination with other players. Neither do other players mess up or steal what you need, either, from what I recall.)

    Comment by Kereminde — 26 April, 2013 @ 10:52 PM

  50. O/T but if the EQNext / StoryBricks tie-up thing mentioned on other sites is correct then congrats - sounds very promising.

    Comment by bubble — 28 April, 2013 @ 8:27 AM

  51. @Kereminde Just mentioning a different aspect of GW2 that affects the social experience. :) You are correct that most of the hearts CAN be solo'd, but I have a group of friends that I sometimes run with. We party up as a natural course to see each other on the map, use Party Chat, etc.

    Yes, GW2 is great in the aspect of not worrying about ninja/stealing any resource from another player. The only exception I guess is Events. If there are a lot of people you can either not get completion because everything is accomplished too quickly for you to make enough of a contribution, or if you get a completion it can be very low level so you don't get a good reward or access to the chest. Certain very popular events are notorious for this.

    Comment by Djinn — 28 April, 2013 @ 10:26 AM

  52. Spinks wrote a bit about the effort that socializing requires: http://spinksville.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/emotional-labour-in-mmos-things-you-cant-get-players-to-do/

    Kereminde wrote:
    These days, instant matchmaking seems to be more of a way to go.

    This is about reducing social overhead without promoting social behavior. I watched the CEO of Storybricks attempt to play a raid in Raid Finder, and the stupidity on display was painful to watch. People wouldn't clear trash mobs, but after a wipe they'd spend so long waiting for people who would die trying to run past the trash. Instant matchmaking is more about shuttling people to the content to keep them in the game rather than encouraging socialization.

    I played a MMO-shmup called "Realm of the Mad God" and was culling my bookmarks when I came across it. Get this - it did the seamlessly grouping sort of thing GW2 does, plus the "do enough damage to get a loot roll no matter who does the lion's share" thing.

    Unless they changed it later, it was open looting; when a monster died it dropped a bag anyone could grab from.

    N.B: small niche games inevitably form a social fabric anyway :)

    It's easier to do, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that social fabric will form. A lot of smaller games used old-school mechanics which encouraged the social fabric. It was possible to have game mechanics that excluded people and hurt the social fabric; I saw this in Meridian 59 where people became extremely distrustful of new names which prevented people from getting introduced to the social fabric.

    Spinks wrote:
    I suspect [having friends before playing a game is] becoming the norm.

    Possibly, but what about people who don't have it? People new to online games (I've heard a few exist), or people who start playing with friends, but those friends leave but you're still interested in the game? I think we can do so much more to help the creation of the social fabric than we are doing. Just because some people show up with their own social support seems to be a weak excuse not to do something about it.

    bubble wrote:
    but if the... thing mentioned on other sites is correct then congrats - sounds very promising.

    I can't talk about this, but I won't deny the news. ;)

    Djinn wrote:
    The only exception I guess is Events. If there are a lot of people you can either not get completion because everything is accomplished too quickly for you to make enough of a contribution, or if you get a completion it can be very low level so you don't get a good reward or access to the chest. Certain very popular events are notorious for this.

    Yeah, I've seen this happen a bit myself. Usually if I see people running towards me as I'm killing the last guy, I'll try to hold off. Not that I've gotten much in the way of thanks. :P

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 April, 2013 @ 4:49 PM

  53. @Psychochild

    "Unless they changed it later, it was open looting; when a monster died it dropped a bag anyone could grab from."

    Yes and no. Brown bags dropped which contain low-to-mid level gear and potions? Yes those are open. but the higher level gear drops in "bound" bags which are different colors and have their own chance to spawn after a player does at least 17% of the damage or some number I don't recall clearly.

    Comment by Kereminde — 28 April, 2013 @ 7:07 PM

  54. Kereminde: I'm pretty sure that changed from when I played. Interesting to note, though.

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 April, 2013 @ 8:25 PM

  55. Fabrics and Metaphors

    [...] been a fair share of discussions about social fabric over the last few days, starting with Psychochild’s take on it.  Several others have responded, including Rohan, Tobold, and Green Armadillo, just to [...]

    Pingback by Sheep The Diamond — 1 May, 2013 @ 2:58 AM

  56. The Pro-Social Problem

    [...] have been a number of posts lately about making MMOs more pro-social. As you might imagine, nearly every suggestion [...]

    Pingback by In An Age — 2 May, 2013 @ 4:01 AM

  57. Psychochild wrote: If you did the raids with 20 out of the same 40 people, I'd suspect you'd make a lot more connections. Honestly, it doesn't take much for the group activity to be "meaningful". I think running into the same people repeatedly and spending significant time with them are the more important aspects.

    I've been doing a fair amount of grouping using SWTOR's groupfinder of late. The game does not have cross server grouping, so you will encounter the same players. I have not seen a significant difference in the amount of chatter that happens on my main (who is in the decaying carcass of a bloggers' guild that I have no particular reason to leave) or on my alts (who are all unguilded).

    Maybe my alts aren't worth recruiting yet because they're in the low teens, and unguilded characters in this level range may just be F2P folks who are going to hit the soft paywall and quit soon. Maybe most "guilds" that use the group finder are either vanity guilds or real world friends who use it to offset the reduced ability to get groups within their guilds. Or - and here's what concerns me - the problem could be that the content is easy and the players are immediately replaced (i.e. the content isn't meaningful). My gut says the latter, and that's part of where I'm coming from in my skepticism that a game can meaningfully drive social interaction without whatever we're calling the old, bad aspects of social fabric.

    Comment by Green Armadillo — 2 May, 2013 @ 4:41 AM

  58. (disclaimer: I'm a solo player)

    Looking back to all my years of playing, with the obvious exception of roleplaying, I struggle and fail to find a single game activity that felt better and more fun while grouped with others.

    Made possible by being with others? Sure. Made available? Naturally. Facilitated or eased? Of course. But better and more fun? I can't find a single one. The hell from other people largely outweighs whatever paradise they also bring.

    Comment by Julian — 2 May, 2013 @ 9:25 AM

  59. "I think we can do so much more to help the creation of the social fabric than we are doing. Just because some people show up with their own social support seems to be a weak excuse not to do something about it."

    Oh, I agree. I am always surprised at how poorly MMOs do with this, given that community and social ties are so important to long term numbers. And even people who turn up with their own social networks might be interested in meeting new people - especially when half the friends they turn up with inevitably get bored after a couple of months and wander off.

    But it gets more difficult to do that than back in the day when the majority of people looked to meet people/ guilds in game. I think only the most social players of all actively want to put the effort into building new social groups from the ground up in every game. Many of the others will do it for only as long as it takes to form the tight knit group they want/need and will then ignore social meetup mechanics - either due to feeling part of an elite group that is too pro for newbies, or feeling happy with the size of their social circle and not needing more people.

    So you could start with wondering what triggers people to actively seek out new players to hang out with and chat. This is why RP servers tend to have friendlier communities IMO, especially when the IP supports it.

    Comment by Spinks — 3 May, 2013 @ 5:41 AM

  60. I've mentioned a few other places: the goal here is not to force people to socialize where they don't want to. Again, I don't want to bring back "forced grouping". I do think that we should take emphasis off of the solo experience, but that doesn't mean that we get rid of the solo option entirely.

    The goal should be to introduce people to social interaction who might not be explicitly seeking it out. Social interaction requires other people, and if everyone is soloing then the opportunities for social interaction are less. Yes, some people aren't particularly interested in being forced to deal with others, but I think there's a sizable number of people out there who might enjoy social interaction and making deeper connections that just aren't served by current games. When we had structures like "forced grouping" these people were integrated into the social fabric, but now they might not even realize it's an option (or might have found out it's an implicitly discouraged option because of game design).

    Julian wrote:
    I struggle and fail to find a single game activity that felt better and more fun while grouped with others.

    Really? Maybe it's because I score so highly on Bartle's social motivation, but I find everything better with friends. Going through a challenging quest is a lot more fun with friends. I'll even endure grinding if I have a friend along and we can chat, something I'll rarely do when I'm playing alone. Sometimes I just need a bit of time alone, but in general I much prefer to have people I know around; and the way I do that is by grouping occasionally with people I don't know.

    To me, it's the difference between heading to the bar for a drink (or a restaurant for a fine meal) to unwind, and heading to the bar (or restaurant) with friends to enjoy ourselves together. I understand that someone might want to do both rather than just one or the other; in the offline world, though, we start to get a bit worried about our friends if they just go out alone all the time.

    Spinks wrote:
    But it gets more difficult to do that than back in the day when the majority of people looked to meet people/ guilds in game.

    Well, I think part of the problem is that devs haven't put much effort into it, and they don't necessarily understand the consequences of what the heavy focus on solo play has done to the social fabric. I assume a lot of developers just assume that since the social fabric happened almost automatically in the past, that it would continue to do so. But, games have focused so much on, IMHO, the wrong lessons for success.

    As I said, the first step is to understand that there is a problem to address and form hypotheses as I've done. Then we test them as best we can.

    Comment by Psychochild — 3 May, 2013 @ 12:55 PM

  61. Another interesting blog post from Blogger that didn't give a trackback: http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2013/04/social-fabric.html

    Rohan suggests limiting guild size and only letting people group with guildmates. An interesting proposition, but one I worry wouldn't quite address the problem.

    Comment by Psychochild — 3 May, 2013 @ 10:34 PM

  62. @Psycho: "To me, it's the difference between heading to the bar for a drink (or a restaurant for a fine meal) to unwind, and heading to the bar (or restaurant) with friends to enjoy ourselves together."

    I think that's a valid approach, and I share that approach when I'm roleplaying, which I do extensively and I have tons of other fun. As a Roleplayer, my content is other players. But for other game activities I don't have the same approach.

    That just goes to show how different players approach different things. Your example is the bar and it's valid. If I had to illustrate my situation, it'd be that I'm trying to play a game of chess and I don't enjoy it when I have (n) hangers-on going "Oh hey, move that one there", "Hey, you got him now" or "Hold on, don't make a move for 5 minutes while I go grab my chess book", etc.

    Unless the content is strictly designed to be accessed or overcome by a group, I'm always much more efficient by myself. And for good or bad, the contemporary MMO goes out of its way to make the majority of its content able to be soloed.

    Comment by Julian — 4 May, 2013 @ 8:33 AM

  63. @Psychochild says "the goal here is not to force people to socialize where they don't want to" and not only do I agree but I think any game that tries to will be writing itself into a niche role. People who reminisce about forced grouping aren't taking into account the evolution of MMO player population. When MMOs started, there was almost no concept of soloing (except as singular self-challenges). First, the content of those first MMOs was extremely difficult. Players were forced to group in order to accomplish ANYTHING. I remember in EQ people getting a group just to run through an at-level zone to some location. But we have to remember that for those first MMOs that level of challenging gameplay was acceptable because the only people playing video games were "Gamers". Casual players were a tiny percentage. Second, the whole point of an MMO seemed to be to meet/play actively with other people. That definition has changed over time as more and more casual players have joined MMOs, many with time/timezone constraints or other reasons for not wanting/being able to group. We can't go back to that type of play being popular because now the casual player outnumbers the more dedicated "Gamer". A forced-social game will have to be, at best, a niche game.

    I also found this comment from @Attic Lion on Spinks post to be on-point:

    "It’s also worth considering the impact that the shifts in game play have had in changing player communication. Modern games expect that you’ll be hitting a button every second or so. There is literally no time to chat when combat is occurring and sometimes even when it’s not.

    It wasn’t always this way though. I remember when I played FFXI back in ~03 I chatted with my group mates all the time, even if we were just a bunch of pugs who didn’t know a damn thing about each other, because combat didn’t require all that much input and recovering after combat actually took a non-trivial amount of time."

    So game mechanics themselves (twitch et al) are discouraging socializing. People may respond "voice chat" but that is usually only used with already-established groups or for serious, time-intensive endeavors like raids. Until MMOs have better, more user-friendly integrated voice chat it won't be a viable solution for getting random players to start socializing.

    I also liked Spinks post in general. I think the idea of integrating socialization into the game mechanics is a head-slapping idea. After all, MMOs attempt to create a mini-society. Every society has social rules/norms/guidelines to encourage cooperation in its citizens. MMO code mostly defines gameplay, hardly ever the MMO society itself.

    Comment by Djinn — 4 May, 2013 @ 9:37 AM

  64. @ Psychochild
    "Rohan suggests limiting guild size and only letting people group with guildmates. An interesting proposition, but one I worry wouldn't quite address the problem."

    I think that would be worse and far more limiting an option. I mean, on the surface it looks reasonable: you join a guild with people you want to spend time with, right? Well . . . no, not always. About half the guilds I joined was not for the company, but for the ability to "ride along" on hard raids which lesser guilds couldn't do. Or harder content. Sure, for a couple of those I did form connections but for many more times it turned out to be just advantageous for the things I couldn't do with friends.

    Limiting Guild sizes on the other hand might work out, but I can't think of many cases in which massive guilds were an active problem. MOST large guilds existed for two reasons: you needed 60+ people to run a raid (Plane of Time, for instance) or a bunch of small groups wanted to have one banner under which to identify. More often than not, the latter sort of "super-guilds" break apart . . . the former often does to as personality conflicts arise and small grievances pile up.

    Limiting guild size seems like one of those artificial limitations imposed solely to fit the developers' view of "small guilds are better". And if it seems like the developer is building things on their own preference instead of player preference, it will turn people off the game.

    @ Djinn:

    "Voice chat" doesn't work for me, for one personal reason and another technical one. See, I'm running without a microphone . . . and unless I can find one for a USB port, and the ability to run TeamSpeak or whatever with my Guild Wars 2 (currently not possible), the technical reason is the most limiting. The personal reason is that I *really* hate my voice. Thus, even when I did have the option two years ago (before my mic broke) I have to be forced to use it even when it was a large advantage (such as playing Team Fortress 2).

    Also this point right here:
    "MMOs are typically really bad at helping players find compatible guilds, it’s a flaw that no one ever has properly addressed."

    I don't think that's a flaw in the MMO, I think that's a flaw in the guild leadership. If your guild isn't out there advertising what they want, how can they expect to get new people? I'd say there's one minor step I'd take in this, and it's one I want to just say nicely:

    I miss in-game message boards. Sure, rife with the potential for abuse and requires some policing fairly regularly to keep them in check but they were a valuable tool for getting to know your other players by what they say, and also for advertisements for guild recruitment. Heck, way way back in the dark ages of MMOs, Meridian 59 had one of these solely for gathering guild charters so people could look at them and see what guilds (supposedly) were out there.

    Comment by Kereminde — 6 May, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

  65. Re-inventing MMOGs

    [...] that’s recently been fueling great discussion is the current condition of the MMO genre. Psychochild wrote about the problems he sees with the current MMO paradigm and suggests the genre re-focus on the [...]

    Pingback by T.R. Red Skies Gaming Blog — 6 May, 2013 @ 11:01 AM

  66. Djinn wrote:
    ...any game that tries to will be writing itself into a niche role.

    Niche is not a dirty word. As I've said before, the beauty of the free-to-play business model is that it can make a niche game more profitable than a subscription would otherwise allow it to be. I think developers need to get away from the idea that a game must have WoW-sized numbers or it's not worth the time.

    People who reminisce about forced grouping aren't taking into account the evolution of MMO player population. When MMOs started, there was almost no concept of soloing (except as singular self-challenges).

    Actually, you're showing your lack of understanding history. MUDs were played solo, but the small server size and global chat channels allowed you to form social bonds easier. Same with Meridian 59, where the game didn't even have the concept of a "party" that came to dominate later MMO designs. It was EQ1 and the games derived from that line that introduced the concept of the group. Games have gone back to a focus on soloing without designing structures to reintroduce the social elements.

    I think people, particularly bloggers and people active in MMOs, are trying to ascribe their own situation to the majority of players. I don't think the majority of players are time-starved players who can't afford social obligations. And, I think of the people who think they are time-starved, there are a lot that would "make time" to spend with cool people like we did. I know there's a few groups of lovable rascals in DDO I carve out time to play with as much as I can, despite being fairly busy.

    But, as I said, this isn't just about looking backwards, but about looking forward. I think pacing of combat and game design play absolutely vital roles in how we can accomplish these goals again.

    Comment by Psychochild — 6 May, 2013 @ 11:38 AM

  67. MMOs certainly are not the same as they used to be. When I started gaming online there was a crude MMO site called PLATO. It was not much more than a text and crude maps multi-player questing type game site. I would dial up on my 1200 baud modem and play this simple game not so much for the game itself but for the fact that I was playing with people from all over the world. That was what was most enjoyable about the whole thing and I paid $5.00 per hour to do so.

    Now it seems that many online gamers are playing half solo and half in groups. Sure its ok to go out on your own to grind or just to have a little fun but the purpose of MMOs is to play along side with other players from anywhere.

    I have nothing against solo game play. Thats what I have my X-BOX 360 for. But when I log in to World of Warcraft I am looking to team up with others as the game was designed for.

    Oh well, no biggy.

    Comment by Zack (Warcraft) Baywood — 12 May, 2013 @ 8:59 AM

  68. Hello! First of all, I just wanted to say that this was the first article that I have read authored by you, and it was a very interesting read!

    "There are people who really just don't have the time to pour into a game that requires a lot of social activity. The good news is that current MMOs serve those needs fine if this is the case. But, for the rest of us, we want a game that sweeps us off our feet again, where we meet great new people and make real friendships."

    I 100% agree with the above! There are more than enough modern MMOs that cater to casual players or players that don't want much social interaction. But I definitely would love to see a game with a thriving community where I feel "attached" to the game world and the playerbase. I haven't yet experienced such an MMO, but I'm sure it would be an amazing experience.

    I played Runescape and WoW with a bunch of RL friends and I also made plenty of in-game friends in both. But, afterwards, I have played Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, a little of GW2 (still playing), among a few other MMOs, and have failed to make even ONE new friend. And even in Runescape and WoW, the socialization wasn't ideal. I'd love to see an MMORPG that could take socializing to new heights, without sacrificing gameplay.

    Thanks for the article, and I look forward to reading more!

    Comment by Lithion_Shadowscale — 26 May, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

  69. Extreme Makeover: Random grouping

    [...] though MMOs are multiplayer, people tend to be wary of socialization. The whispered horror stories of "forced grouping" in [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 26 February, 2014 @ 3:43 PM

Leave a comment

I value your comment and think the discussions are the best part of this blog. However, there's this scourge called comment spam, so I choose to moderate comments rather than giving filthy spammers any advantage.

If this is your first comment, it will be held for moderation and therefore will not show up immediately. I will approve your comment when I can, usually within a day. Comments should eventually be approved if not spam. If your comment doesn't show up and it wasn't spam, send me an email as the spam catchers might have caught it by accident.

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, HTML allowed: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <div align=""> <em> <font color="" size="" face=""> <i> <li> <ol> <strike> <strong> <sub> <sup> <ul>

Email Subscription

Get posts by email:


Recent Comments

Categories

Search the Blog

Calendar

October 2014
S M T W T F S
« May    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Meta

Archives

Standard Disclaimer

I speak only for myself, not for any company.

My Book





Information

Around the Internet

Game and Online Developers

Game News Sites

Game Ranters and Discussion

Help for Businesses

Other Fun Stuff

Quiet (aka Dead) Sites

Posts Copyright Brian Green, aka Psychochild. Comments belong to their authors.

Google