Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 31, 2011
 
Creating a better community

In a recent thread about game communities Espoire asked how to create a better community for a game. This is an aspect of MMORPGs which appears to have been widely neglected, as many players feel that older games often had a better community than modern games.

Unfortunately part of the problem is that some factors that would help to improve the community have fallen out of favor with developers and players alike. One such factor is simply size: Small games tend to have a better community than large games. But as the number of players is also roughly proportional to revenue, game developers obviously prefer games with more players. One could artificially create smaller communities by cutting the game into small servers, but that would have the negative effect of longer waiting queues for battlegrounds and dungeons. You'd also have to suppress the ability to transfer between servers and change names to avoid that players escape social consequences by hiding or fleeing.

Similarily out of fashion are the tricks that the original Everquest used to foster a better community: Long downtimes between fights, and a harsh environment basically forcing the players to cooperate or perish. Forced grouping and 15-minute stretches of mana regeneration giving players the time to socialize are unlikely to reappear in a modern game.

So what can developers still do to foster a better community? One trick is currently applied in some cheap Asian grinder MMORPGs, and works reasonably well there: Giving veteran players rewards for mentoring new players. The first Asheron's Call had a similar system with lieges and vassals, which also resulted in veteran players having a vested interest in new players doing well in the game. A similar trick is having a system in place like City of Heroes / Villains, where players can temporarily adjust their levels to be able to play with others of higher or lower level. With rewards from dungeons being increasingly some sort of points instead of gear, that would actually be feasible now even in World of Warcraft. If you can give a player justice points for running a level 85 dungeon on normal, then why not give him points when he lowers his level to run an older dungeon on normal with some leveling friends?

Of course one could say that all these tricks of social engineering that make people be nicer to each other are somewhat creating a fake niceness. Veterans aren't really helping new players because they like them, but because it gives them an ingame benefit. But of course that is the best we can hope for as long as we demand that the improvements to the community come from the developers. We can't get to a really better community, where all the goodwill is felt from the bottom of the heart, without the players themselves contributing to that. I still remember my first day in Everquest, where a complete stranger helped me and even gave me a magic necklace, for no gain to himself. It is hard to blame developers for the fact that such behavior has become so rare.
Comments:
Having a lot of small servers is actually not a bad idea for games that can't have as large of a world as WoW. To get around the problem of people griefing and transferring you could have names be permanent across all servers and not allow name changes with transfers. Using the first/last name system would allow for enough unique names as well?

Do you think that would be enough to foster tighter communities though?
 
How about the developers do something about the huge alt dependency out there? It's hard to have any meaningful community when every player has 6 alts with different names. Games with one character-policy tend to be much better community-wise as people get to know each other.

Also, the Dungeon Finder. When you interact with people outside your world that you'll never meet again, that is a huge community killer as well. A world (the server) is it's own little entity where the communities can prosper.

And how about enforcing grouping without forcing anyone to do it? Yeah, that would be nice. We have enough solo games 'till max level, then we are forced to raid in groups. Interaction should happen from the get-go, not only at the end of the game.
 
Name changes shouldn't exist imho. You pick your name once and everything beyond that is just trying to avoid responsibility. And to just fix one small problem: When I ignore one player, why don't I automatically ignore his whole account? After all its not his character who annoyed me, its the person behind it. I think people would behave somewhat better if they knew they are not only dimishing this characters reputation but all their characters.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
One character per server is a key to creating a better community. All the games where I feel the community is really strong have that feature.

Another community building feature is player housing. It makes you feel that the server you play on is not just a place you visit but a place you inhabit.
 
I think the biggest problem with today’s MMORPG communities is that we’re all infighting. These games always advertise hatred between two factions, but you end up with more animosity towards your own allies because you’re all fighting over the same resources. Having gear as a specific tangible goal means that everybody has to compete for it, and therefore compare themselves to everyone else. There aren’t personal goals, or faction-based goals, just comparisons to your allies who will either get in your way or raise the bar of greatness over your head. It ends up as a shallow struggle against the people who you are forced to group with to get anything done. Nobody cares for each other because everyone is simply using everyone else for their own ends. And then it gets frustrating because at least you can kill the other faction, whereas in your own you have to accept that it’s just a giant arms race.

Now this isn’t completely the community’s fault in WoW. The developers have designed it, whether on purpose or not, so that you fight your allies more than your enemies. Even though there are two warring factions, the ultimate goal has nothing to do with that war; it’s all about forcing you into a glorified dick waving contest in which there are no sides. And because there are no sides, your most immediate enemy is going to be the one directly competing with you for your precious gear. In WoW, this behavior is in a large way caused by the design because if you don’t succumb to the flow you will probably crash and burn. If you don’t perform well then you are stopping people from getting their precious gear and they’ll hate you for it. If you try and opt out of collecting gear you will be callously overrun and left behind. Enemy Alliance tend to show me more respect than Horde with a higher gearscore do.

I think a big part of creating a good community is economic interdependencies and personally open ended or faction specific goals. Gear and forced grouping used solely to get said gear for yourself does not create a community of people who trust each other.
 
Provide guild-housing, player housing to lessen the need for "Numbers"

Active name-policy by the company itself to create a higher standard will increase the chances of a self-regulating community.

Indeed less alts... 1-2 should be enough.

And increase idle-time. not as harsh as the 15min manabreaks, but now you can zone in instantly, kill, leave instantly for repairs, zone back in instantly etc.
 
ah, and a proper user-economy ofcourse.
 
Tobold's post hit the mark in the sense that a "good community" is frequently at odds with "game success". For example, cross-realm BGs and the LFD tool are very successful but they have certainly eroded the sense of community. If real-life is used as an example, compare living in big cities with smaller country towns.

I actually like the concept of creating a harsh environment so that players need to cooperate to survive. But that would probably not happen for WoW since the players are already accustomed otherwise. But maybe that can happen for their next-gen MMORPG (Titan)?
 
I'm definitely not sure that "small server = better community". From what I've seen: big city = "lots of strangers", small village = "everyone knows everyone". I've seen a lot of stupidity in the general chat on WoW, but nothing compares to the sheer nastyness (aimed and personal), I've seen on smaller MMOs.

@Hobonicus: I disagree that players fight over the same resources (as in "gear"). Stuff is unlimited in MMOs, so you never compete with another player, depriving him of something. If you ninja-loot, the same loot will be there next time, if you dig up some resource, it'll respawn fast enough.
 
@Helistar

I didn’t mean they literally fight over finite resources. Everything revolves around gear, and a piece of gear’s worth is dependent on how it compares with gear other players wear. The endgame is designed in a way that causes players to only care about their gear, which means the ultimate adversary is the community they’re evaluated against.

Imagine a spoiled child who lives a comfortable life but can never be quite satisfied because he always sees something that someone else has but he doesn’t. He’ll cooperate with his parents in order to get it, but ultimately that cooperation is just a shallow falsification to get what he personally wants, and he only wants it because someone else has it. In WoW, grouping is never done as a means of survival, and rarely done to help anyone but yourself. People in MMORPGs live comfortable lives with instanced danger and generally only group because they’re forced to cooperate in order to get the gear they need to fit in.
 
You worry about kae niceness, but psychology studies show that we have an in built desire to be consistent (just one link http://www.takebackyourbrain.com/2007/the-psychology-of-persuasion-consistency/ loads of examples if you google 'psychology consistency'). This means that if you give people incentives to behave nicely and pretend to like lower level players then there is a higher likelihood they will actually be nicer and like those players, which may carry on once the incentive is gone.
 
I mostly agree with Hobonicus. So I do not need to repeat that. A fun (and contentious) question in this context is, whether 'fear' can form a better community.

In my case, I already have a completely insured real life. Except for terrible diseases and accidents, that I could hardly do something about, my real life is about as safe as WoW. What I like in RPGs is that I can be part of a dangerous world. And experience the kind of community that external danger can create. Of course, I also value the possibility to log out whenever I want and try again.

PS: I love Minecraft! ;)
 
The "good community" and the "harsh environment" are unseparable. One is nice with the other one because he needs him/her. If I don't need someone, he is BY DEFINITION "useless".

In a game where you can reach anything solo or with anonymous grouping, the other player is just obstacle, or "landscape decoration" at best.
 
I think the Internet, forums particularly, has gotten more and more vitriolic since it began. Add to that a greater saturation of younger players and that sense of community is impossible, particularly in the numbers playing WOW. It's all about creating smaller communities in WOW (as in RL) such as guilds, smaller forums etc.
 
I think community is synonymous with audience in online gaming. Maybe I'm looking at things through rose-tinted glasses but I remember classic WoW having a much better community than it has today - without mentioning various features that seem to actively discourage community (like the dungeon finder) I think this is down to the explosion of popularity.

People who pre-ordered or bought WoW in the first year or so of release did so on the most part because they enjoyed either Blizzard games or the MMO/RPG genre(s). Since then, I'd hazard a guess that a lot of, if not most, sign ups are because it's a game you can play with your friends: people you already know outside of the game.

Back then when I grouped with people I knew we had at least one key thing in common, which was the enthusiasm for the game. These days when I group with someone I know it's just some disconnected guy I most likely have to reason to converse with. The shift towards a more casual audience has even blurred the line where this difference occurs - even in top raiding guilds, a lot of people are just there because they like playing with their friends from school, work, wherever.
 
Tobold, you were talking about the harsh environment of Everquest, and said "I still remember my first day in Everquest, where a complete stranger helped me and even gave me a magic necklace, for no gain to himself."

I had a similar experience in Darkfall Online, a game famous for its harsh environment. A complete stranger gave me a full set of armour, just out of kindness. In fact in Darkfall, veteran players have set up a clan (called 'NEW') specifically to help new players. I must say, I was very impressed by the quality of the Darkfall community (which is something you would not ever have guessed at, if your only means of estimating it was to read the trash-talking drivel in Forumfall)!

It may well be that it is harshness that brings kindness. Knowing that a fellow human being is suffering, and that you can help, may be what makes us kind to strangers. Where there is no real hardship, perhaps we don't feel so inclined to help. I certainly know that in WoW, when somebody asks an ignorant question in trade chat (such as "where is the forge in Darnassus"), I will check their level to see if they are a new player who really needs the help, or just a lazy player who can't be bothered doing the research for himself.
 
Using the first/last name system would allow for enough unique names as well?

I remember there was a game (Tabula Rasa???) where you chose an unique family name, and all your alts had that family name, but different first names. Chat was based on family name, so you always knew you were talking to the same guy, whatever alt he was on. Brilliant!

you end up with more animosity towards your own allies because you’re all fighting over the same resources

I agree in part. When the resource is e.g. a mineral ore node, you compete with both factions. But only the guy from your side will roll need on the same item you wanted in that dungeon run.

Provide guild-housing, player housing to lessen the need for "Numbers"

I don't see how player housing helps community building, at least not when player housing is instanced. Open world player housing has problems of a lack of space, and believability of players building a house between the orc camp and the ogre camp.
 
I wonder if it wouldn't help to have a way stronger GM presence on the realms. Not only as guardians and polices, but doing such as arranging player-events, as I've heard of in other games. I realize it's probably too expensive to make happen, but I can't help thinking that game atmosphere and community is built on other things than just design decisons and social engineering.
 
Unfortunately, the average human thrives on drama - social issues contrived or real. The drama must fill one or more more primitive urges, probably deeply tied into perceived social status and competition for dominance.

There is no escape from it, and people will usually go out of their way to create it.

Anonymity allows it to go unchecked.

Pretty sure that the higher-level game producers, like TV producers, know people are drawn to drama, and will not go out of their way to squelch it.
 
It is hard to understand but easy content makes players expect victory, demand victory and whine over small things.
Where hard content makes players expect hickups like wipes and other dificulties. Hard content makes players help each other almost like they need each other.
it is also harder to feel any kind of goodwill towards a guy you will never meet again.
With such fast progressed content players will have alot of alts that will scatter relationships. Like you may know a guy who make some potions you need, but since he is on an alt alot you will go to the AH instead.
Or you might know a guy who has high dps and who knows how to CC but since he is on an alt you wont group up.

Has WoW slowly become a singlerplayer mmorpg? All anyone ever does is "grind" the next reward. Achievements, gear, guild lvl, guild rep, crafting skill.

Things like que time seems to be a problem.

Does it even matter how fast you can join a "boring", indifferent heroic dungeon when all you get is a reward?

Are mmorpgs really about showing of to your freinds instead of playing with them?
 
You're flogging a dead horse if you think the toxic community in WoW will ever improve. It hasn't and will never get better. And after the endless waves of dumbing down how much help does a new player really need now anyway?
 
MMO "Community" was a freak side-effect of the design used by early games in the genre. Can you point to design documents or press releases from Everquest that indicate the slow mana regeneration, long downtime and so on were designed with the intention of fostering community among the playerbase? Not interviews after the fact, when designers may have taken credit for that emergent behavior, either!

Modern MMO design allows for fluid, enjoyable gameplay without the need for a unified community. About the only remaining reason to design for community is its supposed positive effect on retention. Other than that, it's surely easier for designers to cater to the individual than the collective.
 
@Hobonicus: ok, what you describe is not competition for resources, it's a desire to feel superior to your neighbor.

I'm not sure you can code this out of an MMO (or ANY other activity which involves a competition of any kind). Not only current MMO design encourages the rat race, but the vocal part of the community is also only the one which is engaging in the rat race (people who log just to have fun don't have blogs about optimization/AH/etc.). So I get the feeling that whatever the changes, the community will more or less look like today's.
 
You're flogging a dead horse if you think the toxic community in WoW will ever improve. It hasn't and will never get better. And after the endless waves of dumbing down how much help does a new player really need now anyway?

Funny enough it is *exactly* people making comments like these that I think off when I need an example of a "toxic community". The most toxic people in the community are the elitist jerks which are able in the same breath to claim that WoW has been "dumbed down", and complain that the majority of players in a pickup group are morons and slackers.

If WoW was so easy that a new player would need absolutely no help, then why do pickup groups still wipe so often? I am pretty sure that the performance of bad players in a group would dramatically improve if the more experienced player would take an hour or two to show the new player what he should do in a group.

I don't know how people imagine that somebody who for example reached level 85 as a warrior without pressing the Taunt button even once is supposed to miraculously transform into a good tank.
 
I don't know how people imagine that somebody who for example reached level 85 as a warrior without pressing the Taunt button even once is supposed to miraculously transform into a good tank.

And many people don't understand how Blizzard imagines that. Look, Blizzard doesn't care much about community. Please think about this sentence before you deny it.
If Blizzard cared, that would mean that they are ridiculously bad at it.

Blizzard looks at statstics that tell a simple story: Most people always soloed to endgame content. And, thus, they make the solo experience even better. Logical, isn't it? Well it even works for some time.

In my opinion, the reason for this behaviour is a lack of long term vision (other than maximizing customers). In the first place, they don't want to make an awsome game. That is why they use their statistics instead of their (non-existent) vision. They actually don't know that they know what would make WoW great, so they think they can get this kind of information from the statistics.

The problem I have with this is that statistics aren't everything. They are important, yes. They are probably better than customer feedback, but they don't replace a vision.

Streamlining isn't everything. As people sometimes say for lack of better words: Blizzard destroyed the soul of WoW, but treating it like a statistics problem.

Developers should listen to their customers in the short run, listen to their statistics in the medium run and follow their vision in the long run.
 
And many people don't understand how Blizzard imagines that. Look, Blizzard doesn't care much about community.

Looks like a non sequitur to me. Yes, there is a problem in having a solo leveling game and a group end game. Yes, sometimes people behave like jerks. But how exactly do you get from one to the other?

If for example Blizzard invented some sort of solo training program at higher levels using NPCs, which would do an excellent job on teaching people how to play their roles in a group situation better, how exactly would that improve the community? You could even say that such a move would *diminish* the need for players to cooperate and teach each other, and ultimately even remove the need for guilds.
 
How about guild-wide/faction-wide Archaeology projects, like a Tale in the Desert?

You work together to assemble large artefacts with a generous fluff reward.
 
Social engineering a better community isn't about faking niceness but rather about creating an environment where it's normal and natural. It's been proven in studies that we respond to our surroundings and behave in an appropriate way. For instance, in Scotland they had a lot of problems with some poor communities and they found that by moving people out of the dilapidated tower blocks they lived in into nice houses in nicer surroundings residents forged a new community and behaved more respectably.

It's my opinion that a game like WoW is too focused on personal, short term achievements and thus has bred an achievement culture of doing anything one wants without consideration for others. I've written about this a lot and had a lot of responses by players basically saying that they have no inclination to behave nicely in a PUG because no one else does. Perfect example of how surroundings are important.

In contrast to this, Everquest had a strong emphasis on progression through cooperation and thus it embedded this ethos in its player base. Hence why you found that players helped you for no other reason than they could.
 
There's 2 ways to get people to cooperate. Either offer them a reward or lead them to believe cooperating is better for them (it's more optimal and/or less detrimental) .

In most people fake niceness will create real niceness. Whatever preconceptions someone has, real people are mostly just the same as us and alikeness forges bonds. Humans being naturally social animals this process happens of its own accord.

There's no perfect solution because the more you force players to behave in certain ways the more will take exception to that control and stop playing. If you give players the freedom to choose it's liable to turn into a dog eat dog world/arms race type affair.
 
The rules of any society can shape the behavior of its citizens. If there are (properly working) incentives for becoming 1st, people act competitively. If there are (properly working) incentives for helping each other, people will do that. Sociological evidence and game theory both prove this, and it's not rocket science. What is, is when you need to find the properly working incentives.

I think Blizzard has been doing an extremely poor job in setting up social rules ingame.

A few obvious examples of this bad social engineering have been mentioned in this thread:

No identity of players across alts. Name changes. Rolling on loot...

Setting up rules that foster good community would work. It's by no means easy, but it would be well worthwile.

Would it feel "artificial"? No, rules that work as intended feel perfectly natural. Only those that don't feel unnatural.
 
Your idea of mentorning won't work. In Asia people have a different culture then in America. People are more communal and less individual there.

In America all that would happen is everyone would try to be a vet to get best rewards possible, and most would be a bad vet at that.

Just remember, in any system, people will do their best to exploit it as much as possible, its human nature
 
If WoW was so easy that a new player would need absolutely no help, then why do pickup groups still wipe so often?

PUGs are wiping so often because we are at the beginning of a new expansion and Blizzard need to keep players interested (paying) for a good while. However, the nerf bat will inevitably hit. So... levelling, questing, travel, talents/talent trees, 'epic' mobs, and eventually heroics and raids bosses are all much much easier. The game is broken, the community is horrible and nothing will change that until WoW is replaced. I realise that the end of WoW is clearly going to be very painful for you but it's going to happen, and for some of us that can't come quick enough. I wish you would discuss some other games.
 
A bit off-topic, but I imagine Blizzard expects tanks and healers who aren't taught by other people to develop through using the Dungeon Finder at low levels, i.e. before you really have to worry about the degree of investment or decision-making involved in having gems, enchants, 40 or so talent points, glyphs, an entirely new set of gear, and lots of abilities.
 
I realise that the end of WoW is clearly going to be very painful for you but it's going to happen, and for some of us that can't come quick enough.

Care to bet on that? Say any timeframe you want, and I bet you that World of Warcraft will still be around, and with over a million players, longer than that.

Clearly the one for who this is going to be painful is you, and it will be a looooooong agony. Enjoy! :)
 
Good post & ideas; ty.

I worry about the community, although tbh what I find in the game is not near as toxic as I find in the forums and blogs.

I really don't like forced grouping. And most systems are not nuanced enough; I concede the richness of player interaction, I prefer there to be solo activity when I can do when I am being interrupted; whether dinner or TV or expecting call/visit. While grouping is good, all grouping all the time is not fun for me.

And yes the responsibility does fall to Blizzard; while there are many things people should do, in game and out, changing the incentives in an MMO is far easier than fundamentally changing human nature.

I am not sure how the new WoW guild experiment will go. Temporarily, (until they hit 25) there is an incentive to have a very large (i.e. well over the Dunbar number ) guild, at least until guild level 25. Are many HC 10 man raiding guilds using a private chat channel and inviting several hundred other players in just to get to guild level 25? Will reducing guild hopping (at least for people who are revered / exalted with the guild ) change the dynamics? Everyone says they join guilds for the people. I believe when the friendly people are in a level7 guild and the Walmart guild is level 25 (go compare the guild perks), the behavior may be different. I am not quite sure of the goals or results of the cata guild changes but guess they will be more significant than some people do.

But it is hard to see much progress being made in a world of anonymous posters and alts.

There is always the MLM (multi-level marketing like Amway or Tupperware). You get a limited number of mentors and you get a bonus (from Blizz not them) of a tiny % some of their "goodies" ( e.g. looted gold, achievement points, HK XP w/e) and a tinier % of their mentors and perhaps one level deeper. So you have an incentive for your mentor to do well.

I really disagree with @Mingdi. It's simpler for me to just get 1-84 as solo. And even when i were to take my shadow priest into a level 40 instance, how is that relevant to disc @ 85? Or if you want to be Holy pally at 85, a common way now to level is as prot spec with ret gear choices. Dual spec doesn't solve the offspec gear issue. Less so with tanks, but I do not think it is that unusual for the first time a healer heals an instance is at 85.
 
ATiTD also is the western example of a social MMORPG, and even if you would believe that people behave there ... the amount of drama can't be topped
 
Care to bet on that? Say any timeframe you want, and I bet you that World of Warcraft will still be around, and with over a million players, longer than that.

OK, 20 years ;)

Now how about discussing some other games?
 
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@Hagu

I think you've missed my point. I was suggesting that a new player could start to learn how to heal or tank by queuing up in the Dungeon Finder *as a tank or healer* in the low levels, before, as I said, things like gems, enchants, talent points and gear stats really take over your character build.

@almondo

Not before 20 years have passed and we know the results of the bet!
 
MMO's solved the community problem a long time ago. Since my main experience is with WoW, the solution is:

the GUILD.


Play with who you like, when you like, and how you like. The rest of the WoW-space is just noise.


And @almondo, unless you're one of the 1%-ers who demolish PVE content just days/weeks after release or you routinely win the Arena mounts and titles, stfu.
 
I also have to agree with Hobonicus. The problem is there are no community goals. You do raids for a shot at individual loot, not because killing a boss has any impact at all on the "community" or server. You only care about Tol Barad for the honor points, and for the daily quests. Everything in the game is designed like this.

A Tale in the Desert is the only game I can think of that has meaningful community goals. They have the university system, and a lot of other projects which bring players together.
 
"The most toxic people in the community are the elitist jerks which are able in the same breath to claim that WoW has been "dumbed down", and complain that the majority of players in a pickup group are morons and slackers."

How often do you really run into these people in the actual game? Most groups I am in don't have anyone like this. I would argue they are more a problem on forums and blogs. In-game, they are simply too few to blame the poor community on.


"I am pretty sure that the performance of bad players in a group would dramatically improve if the more experienced player would take an hour or two to show the new player what he should do in a group."

If they are making one critical mistake (standing in the fire, etc), I will take a few seconds to point it out. But taking 1 to 2 hours to teach this person how to play their class?

I have to partially agree with Gevlon that many of these people refuse to improve. You can tell them what they are doing wrong, and they will only take that as an insult, and will respond with insults (or quitting).

My biggest issue is that there's nothing I can tell them which they won't find better info in a 5 second Google search. Say what you will about Elitist Jerks, but anyone can read their forums, and it only takes 10 minutes to read the post on your class/spec.

You are asking me to invest my time when they have already demonstrated that they will not do so. That is like blaming a professor for a failing student who has never shown up for class.
 
When I think of good communities, I do think of Everquest, but I think of early Everquest when there were no teleport stones, and all players had to travel through many of the same zones to get where they were going. I do not believe a community is better by forcing interaction, whether it be the need to group, or for some sort of mentoring system. The game should be created so that players of all levels are frequently in the same vicinity by their own choice. The players will have more conversations and give each other help more if they are near each other. Remember in early EQ how players of high and low level had to go through Nektulos Forest, whether it be to get to East Commonlands, Lavastorm Mountains, or Sol A/B. You got to lvl 50ish Guk by going through lvl 1-10 Innothule Swamp. Steamfont Mts. through Butcherblock, etc. Players of all levels gathered around the EC tunnel, had to cross the same bridges, take the same boats. Seeing each other in the city is not the same thing as while you are out adventuring. EQ veered away from this design and WoW started far and kept getting further.
 
The problem with the MMOs released since 2003 is the fact that they are fast paced, solo-able, easy, quest-driven, filled with instances and give players fast rewards.

When you slow down the progress, combat, down time and travel time you'd end up with a player who's at ease and give them an excuse to socialize instead of making everything around him happen just too fast.

You distract players with Quest Driven system. They will never pay attention to the world because a quest always tells them to go to Point B and they are never free to look around.

Why would anyone care about the community when they can always:

1. Solo all the way to the maximum level.
2. Spawn a copy of the instance for themselves whenever they want to.
3. Content is too easy to make players depend on each other.
4. No hard consequences or community skills needed(like needing a rez for death penalty, needing a corpse summon for falling in lava, or needing a tracker for a roaming NPC, Asking for teleportaion with a friendly wizard/druid as examples).
 
People talk about the alternative being everquest but really ffxi, being slightly newer. is in the middle between eq in wow.

Another way wow restricts community is restricting you to a single guild.

with the linkshells in ffxi people usually have different shells for different things. In this way you get to know and mix with other people from other social communities.

There's no substitute for remembering who people are from having only one name.
 
Everquest 2 added the ability to lower your level and explore odd content profitably. I think WoW is one of the only games that doesnt do this.And they dont allow paid class changes which make me think their goal is to have people starting new charecter rather than recycling old ones..I guess they feel this maintains more players.
 
@almondo

If WoW lasts another 20 years, we will almost certainly still be talking about it constantly 'til then.

For comparison, 1991 was the year that brought us Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog.
 
Posted a week or so ago about this issue in WoW, and I don't agree its not in the designers best interest (money or otherwise) to continue the trend.
http://www.raiders-guild.org/2011/01/policing-the-mmo-community/

Fact is, the game had millions of customers and was still growing before server transfers and name changes came around. Even after they did, they cool down on those features was long enough to keep server communities stable. That they went with the most extreme implementation of the feature of the years just shows a lack of foresight and understanding of how their development decisions impact the quality of their game. And quality is something that has made it possible for this company to be the behemoth that it is. It is in their best interest to remember that if they want to preserve customers.
 
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