Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The limits of positive social interaction

In my previous post I doubted the ability of players to remember all the jerks they meet in pickup groups, based on the research of Robin Dunbar saying that you can't have more than 150 ongoing social relationships, due to the size of the neocortex part of the human brain. But that means that not only can you not hate over 150 people, but you also can't remember more than 150 friends. Take that, Facebook!

That struck me when I read Gordon's description of a questing group in Rift: "We didn’t need to speak. Speaking was for fools and QQ kids and players of MMOs from the first decade of the 21st century. We had surpassed speaking like the homosapien had surpassed the neanderthal. We were a new breed of gamer, distant yet close, apart yet together. It’s 2011 and this was grouping."

Now it is easy to blame the convenience of open groups and automatic LFG systems for giving us groups where players don't feel the need to speak to each other any more. But that is again the players blaming the developers for something which is mainly the players' own fault: Just remember how groups used to form in trade chat! Did you see "Looking for a nice group of chatty people!" or did you see "Looking for a group of minimum gearscore 6k!"? The players simply aren't interested in their fellow players as human beings any more. They just need the other players for their performance, so they are looking for somebody with the right class, spec, and gear; not somebody nice.

Heartwarming parables on the value of underperforming people are nice to read, but find less and less application in MMORPGs. Players in groups call each other "tank" or "mage" instead of using character names. Guilds ask for performance first, personality after. And in the part of our play sessions we actually consider as "playing", as opposed to "downtime", we don't really have time to chat anyway, because we need to focus on that last millisecond of performance improvement.

I once claimed that you couldn't do a MMORPG on a console, because it would be too hard to chat without a keyboard. I'm not so sure that actually matters any more these days. I can be stone silent with a gamepad as good as with a keyboard.
Best groups i had in Guild wars were formed while i used "Polite older Mesmer LFG" line...
The players simply aren't interested in their fellow players as human beings any more.

Do you think players have just changed, or do you think players changed by responding to the changing game?
See, I read it differently. The parable was about making best use of different people's strengths. And raids in WoW don't let you do that so much any more.

It used to be you could make sure the better players got the harder roles. Now that everynoe needs to perform, everyone needs to be equally good. But sometimes, those less uber players were the keen, regular attendees who let your raid group keep going.
Then again the daily heroic combined with LFD combines completely different people.

Pre-LFD and pre daily heroic a group consisted of people who wanted to run a dungeon. With the LFD these people are mixed with people who want their daily VP and are forced to do something they don't like (running a dungeon).

Why would we expect people who have not the same idea of fun to socialize with each other?
Did you see "Looking for a nice group of chatty people!" or did you see "Looking for a group of minimum gearscore 6k!"?

I 90% of the time agree with your articles, but for this one I have the opinion that is also a developers fault.. It is the difficulty of encounters and the unforgiving mechanics that have a result of people seeking for performance than seeking for nice players..

I quited wow in cata not because I don't have the skill to play, I am gamer 10 years now and played wow as much as I did from the beginning but because I can't play with my friends anymore..I usually now enter some hours a week..

we had an excellent guild of nice people in wotlk, all people had excellent attitude but they weren't so much good players or they didn't wanted to see it as a job and start reading elitistjerks to calculate stats and rotation e.t.c..

we also had our girlfriends in the guild and in raiding we could do the content even if 2 of ten people did mistakes and other 4-5 didn't played at max..

with cata release what we have destroyed from the very start.. most of my guild m8 stopped playing the game and either moved to other ones (lotro specifically) or they don't play anymore.

Some will say, and I heard that a lot of times, "Nice! bads are leaving from game!!"

but the truth in this story I told you is that the phrase "Looking for a group of minimum gearscore 6k" is developers faulse and not people's..
Can't argue with this post Tobold, its true and a sad state of affairs. I've played MMO's since EQ1 and I would say post vanilla WoW, the majority of these games have become about maths and performance, not people.

Its why as time goes by I find myself drifting back more to single player, where interactions with NPCs are more interesting/fun/pleasant than speaking to real people... and that is a crying shame.
Gordon's post is as spot on as it is depressing, in my opinion. I never realized how much wreckage 'gamey' features can cause to MMOs, but the trend that started on consoles is now also taking over online worlds who work in fundamentally different ways.

A good question is though, how it started. did the players adapt to a 'new' game or did entirely 'new' players change the game for everyone else?
I have a hard time saying - maybe it's a little of both.

I wrote a post on the same issue today and I dare say the discussion isn't over and won't be for a long time.
I'm seeing a lot of chatty people in Rift (when the time allows) - and I'm not talking about just in a general chat.

All of the dungeons groups I have joined have had us chatting between pulls. The only time I see no chatting is when a rift is open, there is very little time to chat. As soon as one stage is finished the next begins. It's not like a dungeon where you make the next encounter start. There is no time to chat. A quick /wave or /bow is about all you have time for (and is typically what is done).

But even in LotRO, there is chatting in random groups. It may not be related to anything other than the instance itself though. In DCUO? Not so much. You can go into an instance and people never say a word to you, but many people do play that game with a gamepad controller.
I disagree that people have changed that much. The social disintegration started with the Armory. IT let the Hard core have an easy way to filter the rif raf and started the us vs them silliness. Everything the developers have done since has exacerbated that trend. Before that people had to actually play with each other to find out what they could do. That's when things were more social. LFD has proved that you can't make social easier and keep social.
As I posted that it occurred to me that many people tend to forget in these conversations that a lot of these non chatty players are 12 year old kids that don't like talking to us wierd old guys that over analyze the game they are playing.
Games have changed to allow more people with less time to play. I think that's a factor (not THE factor) in this somewhat.

WoW and Rift both are very easy to play for a short bit and get 'something' done. I think that helps breed a player that rushes through the social aspect much like you might wave away a store clerk who asks, "Can I help you with something?" when you know what you want to buy.
WoW is a very good experiment in social science. An experiment that everyone can participate in. (Note that WoW is not my only input, but what happens in WoW jibes really well with what I see occurring in the real world in general.)

By watching this experiment unfold, I have come to the realization that the average person only really cares about a very small number of people. People TALK about caring for others, and IMAGINE they do, but they really don't.

It has become very obvious by the casual disregard most WoW players display towards one another.

All of the things that make use of the LFD tool so horrible is actually humans just being human. The average person sucks, and doesn't care enough about their fellow human beings to even bother to try and be nice to them, or help them when they are obviously in need of help.

These 'social' games will always be failures due to basic human behavior. The developers are intelligent folk, but they are unrealistic.
I think the Rift culture is somewhat different from wow. It seems to be more composed of jaded wow veterans. Everyone knows the mechanics and knows roles. Chit chat is for the teens still playing wow. This is vast generalization of course with exceptions, but it reflects my experience so far.
When a guild is formed with the purpose of raiding , when people apply to it in order to raid , how is it not normal to ask for performance first? Are you implying a social "fun" guild does the same too?
The 150 relationships thing doesn't really mean anything in regards to cross-server LFG eroding the social aspect.

In a cross server LFG you are completely anonymous. There's no impetus to ever not be a jackass becuase you will never ever see any of these players again.

In a single-server LFG, people can and do build reputations if they are bad people (ninja looters or whatever else). They don't have to take up one of your "150" slots to become known for it. "Hey, everyone says BloodDragon is a terrible player" is not a stable social relationship that your neocortex has to process.
Take away all these hated "gamey" features; make WoW into the 3D social sandbox of your dreams...

...there's still another long term structural problem here, and that is that the social network has moved beyond the individual game Facebook, to Steam or XBox Live or whatever.

For us old vets who used to spend a ton of time in one (and only one) immersive MMO at a time, that MMO WAS our online social network. But Facebook and XBox Live and so on put paid to all that — now we have social networks that are designed for the optimal function of being social networks, and games that are designed for the optimal function of being games.
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All of the things that make use of the LFD tool so horrible is actually humans just being human. The average person sucks, and doesn't care enough about their fellow human beings to even bother to try and be nice to them, or help them when they are obviously in need of help.

You took a valid point and stretched it to being silly.

People are by nature a bit selfish. We are that way because we need "things" to survive and be successful in the world. So yes if people find a way to game the system, real world or game world, to thier favor they usually will. Because its to thier advantage. Its been that way for all of human history. The problem with WOW has always been that there is no consequence for bad behavior.

If you assume all people are bad because they take care of themselves and thier friends first then all societies are built on a foundation of evil. Which is silly.

If you don't have rules and positive and negative consequences that work together to reinforce good behavior then it all breaks down and you get wow or somalia. either one works as an example of life with no government to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior.
What I find interesting is that the latest "public quest" model really goes after what your quest mentioned... no real need for communication. It feels like what they are shooting for is the same interaction as kids on a playground. You run out into the park, see what other folks are doing, and jump in. A ball is being kicked around? Go kick it!
There is nothing specific to MMO's about this behavior. Go to a local gym and try to get into a pickup basketball game. If you are seven feet tall, no one will care if you are a jerk. If you are five feet tall, no one will care if you are beautiful human being on the inside.
1) FFXI.
2) Don't need a keyboard when you have voice.
3) The PS3 and Xbox 360 have integrated voice.
4) DCU on console. Not sure how it plays but its there.

And CCP is making its MMO-FPS (Dust 514) console (360?) only.
When i played rift, for the first 20 levels no one talked to me. No one invited me to a guild either. I'm not the most talkative person at the best of times but that is a lonely game.

in ffxi i got invited to social linkshell at level 10 by a complete stranger who just happened to see me and that i wasnt in a shell. And just the other my shell invited a complete stranger the leader had run into doing the same content as him.
The problem with WOW has always been that there is no consequence for bad behavior.

If you assume all people are bad because they take care of themselves and thier friends first then all societies are built on a foundation of evil. Which is silly.

So which is it? Is being selfish and taking care of yourself and your friends first bad behavior - evil - or not?

The point is that the current crop of MMO's are like the first Matrix - the one that didn't work. The dev's expect players to behave in idealized ways that are contrary to actual human behavior - but the players can't because human behavior doesn't allow them to.
You need a better guild.

My guild recruitment messages always stressed the importance of that balancing act of maturity and humour; an easy-going attitude and patience with wipes.

Unsurprisingly, the respondents who met the above criteria also turned out to be highly intelligent individuals, fully capable of understanding raid metrics and applying theoretical strategies for improved performance.

...Go figure.

It's not all bad. Back when I used to play WoW, I tanked. There are carebears out there like me who will see that a player was in a blue or green gearscore and ask, "Who's up for chaining these heroics?"

Heck, especially in RIFT now, I find that it's startlingly common for folks who help out others in a jam (like if they're getting reamed by an elite or half a dozen normal mobs) will usually stick around til the recipient of their charity completes their quest. And if it's not an hour-long time-sink, probably help them with the remaining group-requiring steps of the chain.

More often than not.
I actually think this "new" behavior is an inevitable result of making MMOs friendly to single-player gamers. My guild has been dead aside from 3-4 people for weeks now... and I'm fine with that. I still do Arenas with them once a week, I jump into every TB game I can, I do BGs, play the AH, and so on. If being social was absolutely required to do anything, e.g. Farmville (from what I hear), I would have moved on for lack of progress. Instead, I am enjoying myself still. We aren't raiding, which sucks, but when we were raiding earlier, fights like Maloriak and Chimaeron left me with a bad taste in my mouth anyway... so no big loss.

That Rift story was only made possible because speaking wasn't necessary for the group. Imagine a game where you actually had to coordinate attacks with someone for the mob to die. It would force more interaction, but neither player would have probably bothered to even play that far into the game. I'm all for social interaction in MMOs, but I don't believe that means talking to every random person you meet.
I wish that WoW had good, default, in game chat. By good I mean, well, usable. And by default I mean "its on by default".

So if you get a group with the LFD, you port into the dungeon and are automatically in a voice channel with your dungeon mates.

I am a fast typer, but I HATE chatting in dungeons. It means that I have to move my hand from my logitech to my keyboard, and then if I miss heal and someone dies...

So just put us in a voice chat, maybe give us a nice easy to use "mute" control. BUT, you have to click mute at the start of every dungeon. It defaults to un muted.

That way we can talk and even strategize! (is that even a word?)
I don't like voice chat. It's exhausting, especially if you're not a native of the server language. And it breaks immersion.
Current MMO design is to get players to emulate "intelligent" bots and just grind for thier gear. That's the problem. Maybe it was inevitable in a Genre that is only about getting your stuff so you can move on to the next level
I tend to get annoyed at the better guild / better groups comments. About half the players, what used to be 6.5 million people, are in below average guilds. About half the players are below average players.

If a game company makes it so that they run off the "bottom" (as judged by the l2p forum champions) 20% of their customers, it will never end. 1000 becomes 800 becomes 640 becomes 512 ... An accurate and efficient ELO ranking system would seem to be the death knell of MMO subscriptions. You need some 1337 kids to provide the buzz; but the profits come from players considered "bad" by the former.

And yes pervasive voice chat in consoles and MMOs seems to get around the chat situation.
During LFG dungeon runs, I prefer silence during combat (and even in-between combat) because that is the time at which we all need to focus our attention. Just like being players on a sports team out on the baseball field (or basketball court, or soccer field) while the action is happening, no one is talking during those times either. Everyone knows their roles and executes them. And this is the way it will be for team sports, which dungeon running and raiding share a lot of similarities to.

Conversely, if someone says "hello" at the beginning of a dungeon run, I make a point of responding to them. Or if they ask a question, even if I don't have an answer, I will speak up if no one does. People need to be acknowledged at some level. But once combat begins, we need to focus.

Interesting topic. I think that interaction of some kind is critical within groups, especially if they want to work effectively as a team. This interaction or communication doesn't have to be verbal though. Military squads use hand signals to communicate to one another. Even more so, they've trained with one another repeatedly to think like a single unit (i.e. situational awareness / shared mental model), so they don't even need to talk sometimes because their actions are completely symbiotic.

So with regards to running something like heroics, if the events are pretty much scripted, people probably don't have to say that much. If, however, the event is highly variable then you really need some form of communication / interaction, even if it isn't verbal. For example, CC symbols can be used spontaneously during a highly variable encounter to help keep the group focused on the primary target, all without speaking a single word.

So, yes, interaction is critical, especially for highly variable encounters but verbal communications can be non-essential as long as you have the means to interact in other ways.
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