Overthinking social

Back when the Massively team started the Kickstarter to launch their own site, i spent some money on my favourite MMORPG-related website. That enabled me to provide a question for the team to tackle in their “Massively Overthinking”-column. Yesterday, it was published and today, i’d like to share my thoughts on that.

The Question

This is what i wrote:

We criticize MMO devs for making our MMO experience less social, but are they the only ones to blame? I think our (the players’) behaviour to others and within the games themselves has also changed. I’d like to know if you can think of ways we players could improve that situation – from behaviour, less game or guild hopping, ways to grow our friends lists – to make our MMO experience more social again.

I knew from the beginning that some answers would suggest behaviour that i’m struggling with myself- for instance, i expected an answer along the lines of concentrating on one or two games.

Now, i’ve thought on how to formulate the question for a long time- i think i’m one of the last backers to have their question posted. Reading the answers, i wonder if i did phrase it correctly, because staff and commenters alike mention genre-developments and “forced grouping” as solutions or problems, depending on their point of view. I’d have liked the answers to concentrate more on the player-side of things- what can we do to make our MMORPGs more social again, grow our friendslists.

Thankfully, the staff and most of the commenters didn’t forget about that part and so i still think the answers are great and- in context of the guild/community i might be starting with an online friend- inspirational.

The answers

You can read them in their entirety on Massively Overpowered, of course. And you should. Here’s my take on the staff’s answers. They suggest to

  • focus on a few games, if it has to be more than one
  • building your own guild/community or actively take part in your guild
  • think about your own behaviour
  • just be! (Syp, my personal casual-superhero)
  • be the change you want to see

All of them ring true, but i think in Bree’s answer there’s a sentence that basically tells it all without being too general.

[…]attend events, host their own parties, put together their own painstaking groups, promote guilds and forums, form alliances, work around the game’s limitations. Does it suck? Hell yes. It’s work.

Handiwork. Do it yourself. That’s something i read on a forum these days, as well. The author pointed towards the /who feature to build groups. That’s a really old-school way to build groups, but truth be told, i’ve always found it to be one of the most effective. Dungeon finders “improve” on the efficiency, but the social part falls by the side there. When i played WoW and needed a group for a dungeon, i started by asking for others in guild chat. Then i tried to fill the gaps with my friendlist- if i couldn’t do it, i’d ask in general chat but would simultaneously seek out players of missing roles by searching through the /who list and sending them a tell. Usually, the ones that joined the group were those who i talked to directly. They’d also join the guild from time to time and if not, some of them made it on my friendslist.

There’s another comment, again made by Bree, that’s significant to me:

Social once existed in the cracks between the game, and those cracks have been sealed up.

That’s on point on where i wanted the discussion to go- i’m totally against forced grouping or some kind of “hardcore” mentality and i don’t want to be surrounded by people who only care for ingame progress. So this is it- “social” isn’t really a part of game design, it used to be a lack of game direction that possibly made those “older games” and/or the players behave in a more social manner.

So in part, it is a matter of game development these days, but let’s not forget that it’s us, the players, who drive development- that’s where Larry was going with his answer- customers feed devs who feed customers. Nobody is really “wrong”. If the cracks are sealed, though, i’d like to think about ways to open them up again.

The other day some commenters here were stressing/agreeing that to enjoy Wildstar you have to force your pace on the game. I guess this is one way to open the cracks back up.

All staffers on Massively have a point, and of course, as is usually the case, i’ve found myself agreeing with Eliot. It’s strange, because his opinions also make me feel guilty most of the times- but he’s still right- you can’t expect to make social ties when you only use other players as a means to an end (which i rarely do) and guild- and game-hop like a crazy frog (guilty on all charges- or at least the second part). I have to say Eliot’s answer surprised me the most, not in attitude but in execution- it’s a great and unexpected point-of-view. I expected him to concentrate more on continuity.

Syp is just…well, Syp. I really don’t know how he does his thing. He’s casual, he’s got three kids at home (and a fourth on the way, i think?!?), other responsibilities, plays like a thousand games at the same time, with hundreds of characters in each of them and yet….he’s got maxlevel characters in most of the games he plays. He also has a really good track record of finding nice guilds, so i wasn’t surprised by his answer. He still has a secret, because there’s talent in finding and engaging those. My guess is that he is quite outgoing himself- combined with his positive nature i can see why he doesn’t really struggle to create social bonds.

Jef and MJ concentrated on the “play one MMORPG and create the community yourself”-part. I really like MJ’s way of putting it.

In my ideal gaming universe, folks would settle in a virtual world (or two) and spend their time, effort, and resources on building up their community. There are many ways to bolster a community, from running guilds and events to joining said guilds and attending those events.

Jef’s opinion is similar

Do that by being an active guild leader, organizing server events, constantly communicating the need for more social gameplay to devs, and basically spreading the gospel of MMOs by showing people how and why MMOs should differ from single-player games.

Brendan focused on the technical part, unfortunately, but he also states that you should

deliberately seek out guilds of likeminded individuals

So what did it accomplish?

Maybe i’ll take on the comments one of these days, because there are some very note-worthy comments below that article, but this post has already gotten very long. It’s a coincidence in timing, really, but what these answers achieved was to strengthen my resolve of founding, co-leading and maintaining that guild we’ll probably create.

All staffers- magic Syp aside- agree that it takes some considerable effort to create and maintain social bonds in the genre. We can’t do that in a passive way, “social” won’t come to us anymore like it used to when we were all flabbergasted by the fact that we could play games on the internet. We have to build that part actively.

I honestly can’t and won’t believe that we can’t have social (gameplay) elements and ties in MMORPGs anymore just because we’ve gotten more casual. And honestly i think this blog proves that assumption wrong- not because of its contents, but because i’ve made some ties this way already. And i’m a casual blogger.

If you have anything to add or suggest on topic, i’d really appreciate if you’d comment on that- still looking for input!

10 thoughts on “Overthinking social

  1. Thing is, though, if one creates social bonds it won’t feel like work. I don’t look back on the friendships I made in meatspace and think “Fuck, that took forever. I’m exhausted. Pass me a mimosa.”

    If one is driven to make a community, or at the very least find one, it ideally won’t end up feeling like busywork. Of course, that depends on the ease of starting along that path–something that an MMO dev should help to facilitate but also shouldn’t be expected to engineer on their own. It didn’t happen then, it likely won’t happen now.

    This, of course, takes in to account current games and not considering making a game where metrics demean players, as I had stated in my own comment on the topic.

    Great topic all the same, though! Definitely got wheels turning. 😀

    1. True. I think “effort” might be a better word- and i’d say RL friendships take effort to maintain, especially when family and travel distances come into play. My guess is that Bree used the word “work” in connection with “improving” the game community as a whole- and i can see that. Those people organizing Weatherstock in Lotro? I think they have fun doing it, but it will involve some work.

      Your comment on MOP rings true and it seems to me that for instance the WoW community suffered when DPS meters made an appearance. First, it was fun to see the statistics- after a while, it became a competition. Then grouping became less fun because people started taking those stats seriously. I left WoW when i did because i didn’t like that way of playing anymore.

      On the other hand, and this is the thing i like about Bree’s “cracks” comment; i think social suffers generally when all we pursue are ingame (progression) goals. It used to be that for some reasons- possibly to keep people subbed, but maybe also to lower server loads or some other technical limitations- there was “designed downtime”, and that is out of design nowadays- and nobody really misses it. So we need to create our own downtime.

  2. We don’t play in virtual sandboxes any longer. We are instead hooked up to a Matrix, bleeding out our soul as we are fed drip-drops of manufactured achievement.

    1. Hehe, you’re a real sunshine today 😉 Unfortunately, that’s not a bad way to put it, at all. Although i’d change the feeding part from passive to active- many players want just that- a manufactured experience.

  3. I’ve been in a guild that stayed together for a long time but the game we were playing eventually started to feel like groundhog day. We decided to try and hop the guild to a different MMO. A few people jumped over, but the endeavor just fell flat. It started a spiral where some guild members kept jumping to other games and inviting the rest along, but the gang never got back together. It was a good guild with strong ties, but once people stopped having compelling reasons to log into the games we had available, those ties just weren’t enough. I wish I had a solution to this because I see it in my current MMO where the content has become very old hat and people are really restless.
    Roleplaying within an MMO setting (rather than playing the game presented by the devs), only seems to work for those few people who make it into the RP clique within their guilds, or so it seems to my experience.
    Maybe the really strong guilds that stick together regardless of what people are playing have other things in common than just the game(s) they are in?
    I think there has to be a combination of aspects that support social activity, but also fun to be had doing while playing them. If people aren’t having fun they aren’t logging in, regardless of whether or not you have people willing to hang out and do stuff together. When content gets recycled too much, players can tell. Give it a different name and reorganize the scenery, but eventually long time players will start to really notice that it is only superficially changed. Eventually, “killing the bandits that are infesting my farm” starts to feel like what it really is, killing ten rats.
    Sorry to be such a downer in this. I really would like to see social groups that can succeed whether people are playing the same games or not. Counting on them to be in game with you playing the same game you are playing seems a lot less likely these days.

    1. Oh well, this isn’t a good outlook and i’m sorry to hear that- it seems your guild was really close but started drifting when the guild moved on to different games.
      I don’t know what makes these strong guilds go for so long- but you’ll sometimes read comments in guild discussions where someone mentions being in a certain guild since 10 years or more- so i guess it can work. But of course i don’t know if they maybe knew each other before playing their game(s)- we’ll try to build something like that the other way round….and with todays’ themeparks and customers instead of with UO or SWG.
      Don’t know if it’s going to work, but i hope it does in some way.

  4. . We can’t do that in a passive way, “social” won’t come to us anymore like it used to when we were all flabbergasted by the fact that we could play games on the internet. We have to build that part actively.

    Interesting though, but even when MMOs first came out, it still took work to create a community. I remember my first steps into the MMO genre some 15 years ago. At first I hated it because I didn’t know how to work with others in a meaningful way. Time and effort brought me into a community of players that had fun together. When I went into SWG as it first came out, it was almost a sandbox game compared to today’s MMOs. We the players really had to create the communities. Did it take work? Yup. But we had fun doing it through cooperative play. This hasn’t changed. I sometimes feel the dynamic has changed amongst the players though. Because there is always a new shiny around the corner, players are in too much of a rush without watching the community. So, guild hops at the first sign of obstacles happen, game hops after rushing through content without exploring happens. I used to be a serious guild and game hopper. I’ve limited myself to 2 MMOs now and 1 Single person game.

    What I will say is players must know what they are really looking for. If you are just into raiding, and once all content you have burned becomes boring, then maybe a multi game guild is for you. This doesn’t mean you are any less loyal to the current game than the average fan boi, but it means you have a different objective in mind. I currently belong to a multi game guild and have built up far better relations with the actual players than I do in the real world. Why? Well both the guild and I were picky in our search to link up together. It wasn’t a search for the progressive raiders or pvpers but for a community of players that actually get to know each other for a good fit. It took me 2 weeks just to get off the candidate for membership list. But everyone was so cool and helpful. To this day I have to say they are hands down the most kick ass wonder group of people I’ve met. Their gaming guild covers about 10 different MMOs . So if I decided to try one that they cover then I already have the contacts and the community.

    But today’s gamers are as diverse in objectives and expectations as they are in origin and background. It has to be expected that different people are going to have different ideas for what is and is not social in an mmo. Don’t rule out solid communities. Be the spark in the darkness and create them. Understand that people will come and go. That’s ok, just keep the doors open to new folks. But, as a community, be discerning about who joins in. Make sure they share the same qualities as the community’s. Sometimes things don’t work out. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean the community is dead. When someone heads out, wish them well. There is adventure in every world, to include the REAL WORLD.

    Anyways, just a quick ramble and a few thoughts.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree, it’s the players that have changed- i implied as much in my question. Of course i don’t make an exception myself- i also game hop a lot, although sometimes i feel like this is an egg or chicken question. Do we game hop a lot because of missing social ties or are social ties missing because we game hop? Both will have some truth to it.

      You made me curious, though- what about that community of yours? What are they doing good, in your opinion? Did it just click on the personal level or is there something more to it? And also. what about their recruitment- how do they review if someone is a good fit or not- what’s their process and how often do they turn people down?

      I hope you don’t mind my curiousity- it’s because i’m setting something up with a friend and some inspiration is always welcome.

      1. Don’t mind at all Mersault. I belong to a gaming community called Pax Gaming. First off, they are a multi gaming community so as long as the games they run are out there, you are a part of the community. What they look for: fun loving players who care about the given game they play but keep drama out of it. They are either PvE or PvP, little on the RP line. Raid leadership is very calm and always willing to sit down and answer questions, go over quick and dirty raid strats before every fight. The quality of player is thier first priority, not so much in skill as that can be trained. More so in keeping a level head, cooperation and willingness to learn. Above all, care about each other as human beings. I’ll tell you this goes miles and miles above hardcore progressionists in my opinion. Every member is valued as a person first and the rest comes later.

        As to recruiting. The first thing that struck me is there was a 2 week getting to know each other period. Prospective members are required to maintain a daily input on a recruitment thread so people could get to know them. Members of the community from various games would ask questions every day about the person. Nothing sensitive or too personal, just getting to know the person with a bit of humor involved. If no one asked a question that day, it is up to the member to jot down some thoughts or ask questions of the community. In this way, we get to know each other as humans, not just button clicks and pixels. There are other things such as reading the Guild Charter, rank structure etc, and acknowledge how the leadership works. I found the 2 week thread not hard at all. but I like to write so it wasn’t a chore.

        It’s actually rare people are turned down per se. If they don’t keep their recruitment thread up, they either move on to a different guild or have to start at day 1 again for trial purposes. This seems tough, but it is a clear indicator of the level of dedication to the community at large and willingness to go the extra steps to become a part of us. I think in my time, I’ve only seen one person asked to leave (or perhaps they left themselves) due to some personal conflicts. This is however, a very very rare occurrence. Now, some people take extended breaks trying out different games or waiting for different content, or just dealing with the Real life. Others stay in the community but work on a different game altogether, they still are a part of the community as a whole. But I’ve seen them come back as well.

        So combining the trial period along with in game activities, we quickly get to know each other and it becomes a jumping point for conversations that enhance the experience even when you are out slow leveling. Our Leadership knows just about every alt and main and often greets us daily with chat. Everyone is pretty involved and very giving to one another.

        The atmosphere is calm and friendly. Even on our worst nights where everything has broken down in a tough fight, no one gets really mad or rage quits. In general, members actually feel like they are a part of something, even though the guild is very large. Activities are done at least 3 times a week. For SWTOR Imp side is more PvE centric while our Pub side is PvP centric. It’s kind of a fun balance. Yup there are the quiet mouse types, and the go getters, but there is a mutual respect for everyone. Maturity is a huge factor in our success as well.

        The points above, while a bit long winded are why this Community continues to flourish and over all have a very happy, motivated crew. Now, all of these points are from a member NOT in the Leadership, just in the community. Gotta say it’s been a successful one at that.

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