Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

11 May, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Making friends
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:16 PM

This week, let’s think a bit about socialization in online games. Specifically, how can the design encourage people to make friends with others?

Some thoughts after the jump.

The social fabric is one of the most important aspects of an MMO. It’s common knowledge that people who have connections to the social fabric are much less likely to leave the game. Now that MMOs have been around for a while, we’ve seen that people often bring their little pockets of socialization with them, often from another game. So, the primary challenge isn’t to introduce new players to new friends, but to get players to expand their network a bit to build more connections within the game.

So, the challenge is to describe how you would do that via a game’s design. Or, describe what you think is a good alternative goal for reinforcing the social fabric in a game, if it’s even possible.

What do you think?


  1. I find my answer Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slapstick. Allow me to quote the Wiki:

    The [two characters in the story's combined] intelligence goes on to create, amongst other things, a plan to end loneliness in America through the creation of vast extended families.

    Of course his given plan is a bit complicated, but hey, the basic idea of creating artificial communities as an impetus for real ones to exist sounds solid enough. What’s needed is a way to group players in ways that make them similar to each other, but different from the majority of other players. A simple example I can think of off the top of my head; hometowns. Have new characters randomly assigned a hometown and it be one they have to return to often in the early dozen or so missions. Hopefully this regular association with a given subset of other players will create friendships (or at least some type of relationships.) After reaching mid-levels allow players to change their hometown to that of their (out-of-game) friends, to avoid that complaint.

    Worst case scenerio, the majority of cities remain sparsely populated as players all settle on one main city (though, this can be worked against.) Players rebuke the system and things continue as today and some work is wasted. Best case scenerio? Town pride, competition, rivalry, actual drama that will, yes, chase some players away who only want to grind epics, but it will (hopefully) draw more over friendships and fun. It’s an attempt to facilitate the creation of stories like: “Oh man, back in my day we played a game with actual drama, instead of this giant organized grind! When a PKer from the town over started farming our newbs, we declared war! It was truly epic!” And the games that we tell stories like that about, those are the ones we’d play forever, right?

    Comment by Jeffool — 12 May, 2008 @ 2:43 AM

  2. I think that the key to encouraging friendship is first, to make the tools available. It doesn’t matter how much people want to be friends if your game doesn’t allow them to find eachother. Something more than a simplistic friend list or guilds is really required.

    Then you need a reason for people to interact, and have both parties benefit. Bonus points if you can get people to depend on one another (One is always more motivated if there are others depending on you). This can be anywhere from a good trade/crafting system (Having the tools) to PvP permadeath (This is debatable, but I believe that permadeath strongly encourages cooperation, and PvP permadeath encourages being nice to everyone. Enemies are not a good thing in a permadeath mmorpg.)

    I don’t really believe in forcing communities together, but encouraging separate and competitive groups to form would also form strong bonds.

    Comment by Ryan — 12 May, 2008 @ 2:02 PM

  3. The other replies have expressed my view. You need support for loose, meta, organization. You can’t have a “guild of enchanters” in WoW since you need mixed groups to raid, yet enchanters likely share some common threads. Interestingly, ex-game, we see enchanter based message boards, for example.

    The second problem is that there is no point having friends if I can’t play with them. The level, gear, attunement, requirements of raiding all act to isolate people. Extremely difficult encounters, while challenging, discourage PUG because you can’t trust the quality of the other members. The limited, binary nature, of friends lists makes it impossible to correctly track those you do meet in a chance encounter to hope to be able to play with them again. (And if you do, will you be compatible level?)

    High levels of alts also isolate – switching characters usually means losing touch with those that know you by the other characters. SWGs one character approach is tempting for this reason as much as any.

    Comment by Brask Mumei — 12 May, 2008 @ 3:19 PM

  4. One thing I’ve observed both online and in reality is that different people are comfortable ‘making friends’, that is to say, crossing the boundary between not caring and caring, at different points. As for myself, I tend to form bonds, or reach out and attempt to form them, when under pressure to meet a shared goal. So I tend to fare best socially in a game where a few people undertake a complex task together, or rather, where that option exists. I’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts about when that bond forms. Not yet having heard them, I’d posit that a good game for Socializers will provide an array of situations suited to the most common styles of interrelating.

    Comment by Bret — 12 May, 2008 @ 5:43 PM

  5. Make the game complex enough so that people can ask questions, but simple enough so that other people will answer those questions instead of just rattling off the name of websites to data mine.

    Make it possible to help strangers. In fact, if someone jumps in and helps in a fight (if your game has fights) and he makes the difference between you wining or dieing, have the game spell that out to you. “It’s a good thing Sharpblade came along when he did, that Green Hosrt almost did you in.” Sure, you might have taken a potion or run away, or what-have-you, It’s just a best guess not a crystal ball.

    Comment by Rik — 12 May, 2008 @ 8:07 PM

  6. Write in events that remind the player of the existence of other players.

    If they’re playing solo, when they’re working on a quest line, find a way to let them know other players that just turned in that part of the quest line. If they’re grinding mobs in an area, run the names of the players in the area past them once in a while. Not in an obvious way but in a peripheral, ‘news feed’ sort of way.

    This kind of repetitive reminder that other people are in the room with them is the sort of thing our subconscious does in the real world all the time; in a game we have to write it in :)

    Next, force them into groups ever so often. ‘Big Bad X is invading. Cease what you’re doing and stand by to repel them’ – all players in the area not currently in groups are put into groups and given a rewarding quest to go report for action. Maybe give them a time limit to get into groups, or else the game does it for them – worked in 2nd grade :)

    Last, and most importantly, please don’t hide your plot behind too much forced grouping. Some people just don’t have the time or the temperament to find a group! A mix of solo and group work is best, and I really think you should leave the door open for a skilled player with an hour or two a day to finish your game and see all the most important plot points.

    Comment by KingMob — 13 May, 2008 @ 10:31 AM

  7. Here’s a great way to have players make friends. Every so often, give the player a “friendship token”. When you give this token to a player you don’t know, the player may can cache it in for gold.

    If you stop paying your friends, then they stop pretending to like you. This system proposal pretty much mirrors my social life.

    Comment by Bobby Thurman — 13 May, 2008 @ 10:56 AM

  8. The quest giver both automatically introduces players to each other, and puts them in a pseudo group. An example scenario:

    1. Quest giver Bob gives quest #57 to player A at 5:31pm.
    2a. Quest giver Bob gives quest #57 to player B at 5:39pm.
    2b. Quest giver Bob informs player B that player A is also on quest #57 and that their efforts will be combined.
    2c. Player B gets writ to give to player A
    * Quest #57 – Collect 80 rabbit ears in 4 hours.

    Is this good game design?

    Comment by Jason Komsa — 15 May, 2008 @ 11:23 PM

  9. Put points of interest in remote / desert areas.

    While this might seem odd to help people make new friends, that’s actually how I met quite some people that I kept seeing after.

    When you’re in a crowd, like a spawning point, people won’t pay attention to you because there would be just too many people to pay attention to. Add spammers and beggars to this…

    When you’re alone, far far away and someone show up, I found that there’s much chance you’ll have a nice relation with this person even if it’s just to say “Hi, good luck with your quest”. A stranger seems much friendly when you’re alone than when you’re in a crowd.

    Anyway, it worked for me!

    Comment by Over00 — 17 May, 2008 @ 6:39 PM

  10. Make it easier to remember the people you meet and befriend. The Friends list in WoW is pretty woeful in this regard – it only recently facilitated adding a note to their name, but doesn’t do anything more than that. It could also automatically note the date/time/place where you met them. Additionally, have a thing similar to the friends list which is simply the list of people you’ve recently encountered or chatted with, automatically expiring any names you haven’t dealt with for quite some time. Tie that last thing in somehow with the way local players names are displayed – if you keep seeing the same person, it should become more and more obvious without having to remember their name.

    Comment by Garumoo — 22 June, 2008 @ 8:00 PM

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