Encouraging social play: venues

From time to time, i think possible ways to make MMORPGs more social (again). I believe that this topic is an important one, that the highs and lows of the genre are connected to this topic, but i also think that this is not something we can only blame the developers for. When WoW launched, the internet was fairly new (at least in these parts; i had access to it since about ~1999) and there was still the wonder of a place where humans from all over the world can gather, chat, work and play games together. Even if your area had access to the internet longer than i did, i personally think that the behaviour of players in Everquest 1 was different to today’s just because the whole experience was new.

The city
The city

When you think about World of Warcraft, again, there is something in its success that gets mentioned often: the social ties. Everybody and his/her grandma play WoW, sometimes literally. Even if they unsubscribed, they’ll return for an expansion. I’ve read countless reports of mmo playing friends that they tried to find a new place with a guild and couldn’t agree on the game to play. So WoW’s expansion cycle is like a bi-yearly “class of 2004” event.

Social ties are important- they make the games so much more than just games. I am not really involved in many things, don’t have so many ingame friends, but my wife still teases me from time to time that i’m in an “expensive 3D chat room” while playing.

Now we have social ties on different levels: the bigger MMORPG community, the communities on sites like Massively Overpowered, the ingame community, the Twitter community (i’m slowly getting the hang of it), the blogging community, guilds, friends and real-life friends. These levels are one reason why i like the genre so much.

So why is it that the games we love, themselves, seem unable to tie these bonds? Generally speaking, the communities in Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2 seem to be quite good and friendly. This has been connected to the fact that there isn’t any competition in these games between players. I think that there’s something else at work, as well.

Venues

We need places to meet, and this in such a way that we really feel like we’re meeting other players and not NPCs. If you look at the list of communities above, they all have their venues: Massively Overpowered is one by definition, as is Twitter, the blogging community has their own ways of connecting, guilds have forums and so on. Ingame communities need places to meet up, as well.

Localities

One possibility would be to add “real” places into the worlds we visit where we can meet other people. But this will not suffice- if you look at some of the newer games, they mostly deal with one “central hub”- in SWTOR you have the fleet, in Rift there are capital cities for each faction/expansion, in GW2 as well, so an effort has been made to centralize the players in cities on the map. But all we really do is just stand there.

One-off grouping isn't enough
One-off grouping isn’t enough

I think these places should be smaller and directed to a smaller audience. It isn’t enough to create one “social hub” place where everybody…just is. I don’t think someone would argue that it’s more social to live in, say, New York than it is to live in some village in Maine.

There are examples, even within the bigger social hubs. Think about the Prancing Pony in Bree- i guess it also has the lore going for it, but it is a nice inn in a larger, nice city. Roleplayers and other types of players go there to meet up- i even went there in the early days to get a group going for the group content that existed back then.

For instance, the world could be designed in such a way that, say, housing afficionados gather in one place, metalsmiths in another and so on. There could still be big cities where everything is possible, but then you’d have to get rid of fast-travel, to avoid all players being there all the time.

I think there need to be more places in the world(s) where small groups meet each other.

Reasons

We also need reasons for visiting different places. Maybe there are certain resources that can only be gathered at special places, or rare loot drops in some open world area. I mentioned this in another post, but an open world area filled with stronger mobs that drop something worthwhile would help, as well. There’s a reason people flock all over GW2’s maps to get the named mobs and group up to do this. Things like this also happen in FF14.

We’ll also have to have reasons for higher level characters to be in lower level areas- again, i think crafting is the key here: if you don’t make early resources obsolete in later crafting levels, there’s a reason to visit. Or maybe there’s an NPC vendor that sells special housing items, or a special workbench as the only place to craft certain items- and so on.

Opportunity

I mentioned the stages, the theater of TSW would be another thing and Lord of the Rings Online does a great job at hosting seasonal events outside of the bigger hubs. Lotro also caters strongly to roleplayers- there’s really only this game where something like Weatherstock happens.

The open world

Whenever i think about this topic, the open world gets mentioned a lot. I think instanced dungeons and dungeon finders are not the way to go for MMORPGs- not that they shouldn’t be done, but maybe, instead of offering bonuses, why not do it the other way around and give the bonus to people who didn’t use it to enter the dungeon? I know, queue times, but still.

In my opinion, the open world(s) need places where smaller groups of people gather- not people who coincidentally do the same quests or small areas with a few quests that require small groups- it should be bigger areas, maybe even whole zones (like Craglorn, maybe?) and there need to be reasons to visit as well as a bonus for venturing forth in a group- there are many ways to do this, mechanically.

For instance, Vanguard had a system that applied bonuses when you were gathering resources in a group. Combine that with an area with rare materials and tough mobs (that give out good loot), and you may just have given a small group made of a few crafters and adventurers something to do together- and tell something more than “Hello” and maybe, even create social ties.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Encouraging social play: venues

  1. I still think SWG had the best social tools and venues. As you played you gained “wounds” (permanent reductions in your maximum stat) to your 3 health pools as well as a “battle fatigue” stat (which generally reduced your combat effectiveness). The only way to remove the wounds to your health and action bars was to have a doctor patch you up *in a clinic* and for mind wounds and battle fatigue you had to watch and/or listen to an entertainer *in a cantina* to do so. Eventually a doctor could heal wounds if he had a droid pet in which he’d installed a medical module, but the mind/BF was still limited to cantinas, so docs with droids would set up shop in the cantinas too and it all became a giant social gathering place. There weren’t any NPC vendors in the cantinas either, so the only thing you could do while in there was heal up and socialize.

    Healing up only took 3-5 minutes and was usually done at the end of a person’s play session, so they weren’t necessarily jonesing to get back out into the field and play the game some more, so instead they’d flirt with the dancers, trash talk the opposing faction, show off their latest “city clothes” or their awesome new composite armor, maybe hawk their wares if they had something to sell, and it somehow just worked. Certain “cantina hubs” developed and shifted over time, and they became “go to” spots for everyone. Theed with its instant-travel spaceport until the travel timers were reduced, Anchorhead for the constant pvp until the imperial buff made it pointless, Coronet since it was the best travel hub with the most available destinations, the “MOP” on Dantooine since everyone and their dog was there as the easiest of the “adventure planets…” It worked.

    No game I’ve played since has had any kind of place where everyone “had to go” and then had nothing to do except for be social when they got there, and as a result… no one is social anymore. They’re busy at the bank or the market board or the mailbox (assuming they can’t do that all in a guild hall) or on their way to their next dungeon. No reason to simply stop and smell the roses and talk to the people around you.

    So yeah, I still occasionally get nostalgic for SWG — not for the game itself, which was merely ok, but for the friendships and relationships I developed while playing it. No other game has done that for me.

    1. I agree with this, at least in principle. I think the key to making MMOs more social again is finding reasonable/workable ways to slow them down in some key areas. All the queuing and action gameplay keeps people too busy to ever kick back and chat.

      1. You’re so right. While i liked Wildstar, in general, and think it did provide pretty engaging gameplay for an MMO, i went into it because two of my friends were playing it. With all the action combat, strange respawning of enemies and all the activities that are thrown at you while playing, i didn’t even find the time to chat with them- even when i went out of combat, i’d also have to look for a safe place.

        And when i was able to chat, i often got no answer. Some time later, an hour or so, they’d write: “sorry, was in a dungeon”- needless to say, i didn’t continue the sub- the game wasn’t relaxing to me.

        So yes, “designed downtime” is one way to go- the comment above is also in favor of this. Unfortunately, i never made it into SWG; i hope The Repopulation might follow the spirit.

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