Monday, April 20, 2009
So I visited Ulduar for the first time last night, trying Razorscale and XT-002 for the first time. We didn't succeed killing either, but we did have fun, laughing about the childish antics of the killer robot, and trying to figure out strategy. We couldn't play very long, because after a bit over 2 hours we got struck by some strange bug, where after a wipe we all found ourselves in front of Ulduar, unable to reenter because "encounter still in progress". But I was happy enough to have had the opportunity to hang out with the guys, and see some new places together.
I think that World of Warcraft isn't really a good game to hang out with friends. It is too achievement- and progress-oriented. Your character is at a certain level of power, determined by his level and gear, and that seriously limits the places he can play at. Too easy and the rewards that drop aren't useful for you, too hard and you don't succeed and there aren't any rewards at all. So hanging out with people who aren't at exactly the same level of power than you are is a problem. The other problem is that once you are doing something together, everybody is kept very busy by the game mechanics. There isn't all that much chatting going on during a raid.
Some games, especially Asian ones, have deliberately low-input grinding activities, where a group can hang out and grind together, using the time for social interaction. EVE mining with a guild fleet works in a similar way. The big downside is that if you are trying to solo these games, you have nobody to chat with during the grind, and it quickly becomes incredibly boring.
I think the best games for hanging out offer a mix of interesting activities and opportunities to do nothing much in a group. Features like player / guild housing obviously helps. And of course you need to find people with a similar mindset. I always found it amazing how different the same game plays if you are on a "roleplaying" server, where people invest more time in social interaction, and less time in character advancement. One of the best hang-out events I've been at was a hobbit farmer's market my guild organized on a LOTRO roleplaying server. Great mix of doing something at least minimally useful, selling my crafted goods, and just hanging out and having fun.
If you see the tremendous success various "social spaces" like Facebook or Twitter have on the internet, I do think that more social interaction will be a big feature of the multi-million player MMORPGs of the future. Not everybody is an achiever Bartle type, and happy with a game where you select your friends by their class, level, and gear. The new kind of hanging-out game will most probably have a different business model than monthly fees, but being more social helps there: Buying a pink sofa for your virtual house with real money only makes sense if you have people to show it to. Sometimes I think Blizzard knows what they were doing when they didn't introduce player housing into World of Warcraft. It just might work better in a game like Free Realms.
[EDIT: Great minds think alike! It was only after posting this that I found a post from Spinks on MMO hang-out places.]