Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 09, 2011
Improving communities

Just a short poll: Which of the following measures would you implement into your MMORPG to improve community?

A) Make the game ultra-hard, to the point where only the l33t even survive the tutorial.

B) Raise the monthly subscription price to $50, and use the extra income to pay for more GMs moderating general chat.

C) Require a test of IQ, general education, and literacy before being allowed to play.

D) Other (Please state what)
I would do none of choices A through C because all of them would destroy the MMO's subscription base and lead to your favorite game being shut down as unprofitable.

Unless you're talking a really niche game, the internet community is going to include people you just don't want to have chat access. Just like when you go to the mall or any other public place, there really are people you don't want to let in.

I am however all for special chat channels where you have to do things like take an IQ test or which are moderated and you can be removed from for being a twit.
I forgot to add: I do know of one MMO that has a GM moderated chat channel and they do not charge $50 per month. If Fallen Earth can do it on the same $15 a month Blizzard charges for World of Warcraft, I don't see why Blizzard can't do it themselves.

One part of why I quit World of Warcraft was because I couldn't turn on most of the chat channels without wanting to start strangling twits.
D.) Introduce features that encourage players to work together. (Not necessarily required grouping.)
This comment has been removed by the author.
1. Hyper-aggressive forum moderation, with forum bans corresponding to in-game bans.

2. Real Id. All alts/characters linked to your real name.
1) No twinks unless you buy a second account
2) aggressive forum moderation+ (see Elitist Jerks)
3) localized game without teleports or limited server architecture without cross-server features,
4) Divers open-world content that sometimes encourages players to help each other, but does'n force them to always group (to kill giants we work together, to hunt deer we don't neccessarily)
C) Actually works. I played on a MUSH where you had to write an application to join. Not only was grammar and punctuation checked, but also your ability to adhere to the worldview. The result was a small community of intelligent (often witty) individuals who loved language and cooperative fiction.

I imagine the test would be a little different for a MMO, but you could test along the same lines - personality tests to ensure appropriate numbers of support roles etc. Intelligence, aptitude, adherence to worldview/social standards, and the ability to be removed should you eventually fall short of those standards.

Worth bearing in mind: Sadly, improving your community does not mean improving your sub numbers, if one of your core principles behind improvement relies on keeping people OUT.
Reading over my last paragraph brought to mind the fact that open PVP games like EVE and Darkfall seem to do pretty well at engendering the type of population they want through self-moderation. ie - Only sociopathic griefers fit in there, so only sociopathic griefers play there. Carebears are driven away.

If only there were some kind of inverse mechanic at play which allowed the carebears to drive the sociopathic griefers out of their chosen game.
Tale in the dessert and other games have had self policed societies. Banning people from chat and even playing in certain areas through a vote system. You could even have a referendum where people state their case, the accused responds, etc. Imagine that, a virtual courtroom.
Nice Troll Post!

But seriously there are many ways to improve communities in MMO Games. One is to make people dependent on each other by limiting solo content or making most of the content require team work to overcome.

Second thing is adding more community skills like Teleportation (you want to travel fast, talk to a teleporting wizard).

Third thing is down time. Alright in EQ it was a little too much but post-EQ it was completely eliminated. Me having tried both worls and I spent a lot of time pondering about this "feature" I think it is not given credit of how important it was. I say bring back at least 25-50% EQ down time. It gives people a chance to relax and communicate.

Fourth is stop the hand holding design approach (like the Quest Grind / Quest Driven content). Because Quest Driven System forces the player to always be on the run, they have no time to look around and communicate. "I must collect 5 mushrooms, I must kill 10 boars, I must go back to turn in the quest so I can go to the next quest hub.. no time, no time.. get out of the way!".
Nice Troll Post!

That is the sort of remark I might delete a comment for, be careful!

This blog isn't Fox News, with me only writing stuff I'm sure all of my readers agree with. The purpose of my blog posts is to get an intelligent discussion going, and that requires some degree of controversy. There is no such thing as a troll post.
I very much agree with Rohan & Nils on this one:
1. aggressive forum moderation. Works like a charm.
2. one identity per account
3. "you always meet twice": try to limit the size of the player base that is being put together by mechanics like lfg. (But of course that can cause longer queues).
If a player knows that he won't meet the people in his group ever again, or if he knows that they have no power over him, he'll behave selfishly.

Otoh: Isn't that a big part of why wow is successful? Because it offers a space where adolescent males can behave like assholes without having to fear punishment?
- Keep Responsibility high
No matter what name your character has, there is some kind of identifier that allows everyone to know who you are. Could be a Surname for example. If I choose to ignore one of your characters I ignore the Surname - basically the whole account. Ignorelist is not limited in size and shared among all my characters. After all I don't want to ignore the character, I want to ignore the person behind it. No Servertransfers or Namechanges.

- Harsher Punishment
No person I view as a valuable member of the community has ever received even the slightest form of punishment from a GM (like a 24h ban or something). Usually because "behaving like a valuable member of the community" means behaving so much above and beyond anything ban-worthy, that no matter how much you are angered you never even come close to doing something vile. That means one could step up the punishments some: What right now is an warning could become a 24-hour ban, 3-day-bans could become one-month-bans and everything beyond that means your account gets deleted. You get two 24-hour bans for behaving bad, one one-month ban as a final warning and if that doesn't cure you its time to say goodbye. And being verbally abusive ingame counts in, right now I have the feeling that is absolutely tolerated.

- Making the game unattractive for certain groups
Decreasing the speed ingame makes the game unattractive for the ADHS-XBox-Crowd and more attractive for an older, hopefully more considerate population. De-emphasizing fighting and emphasizing creating something instead of destroying strengthens that effect (and might increase the amount of females, which also can't hurt).

- Increase group-cohesion
Try to invent activities where it is positive to have a certain amount of people (about 20 maybe?), but who don't really *require exactly* that many. 20 is optimum, but you can do it with 10 and even if having more than 20 doesn't give you much of an additional advantage, it also doesn't hurt if you have 100. Another kind of happening could involve 5/15/200 instead of 10/20/100. Also, deemphasize "skill". As in: What kind of skill do you need to build a city (instead of raiding)? If those kind of activities become important instead of the you-need-exactly-10/25-people-to-raid or the you-need-exactly-x-people-for-arena/bg, real guilds and communities become possible. Allowing several guilds to band together in a guild-of-guilds or something couldn't hurt either.
C) Would definitely help.
I played EQ for the first time in years on the recent progression server and was astonished at how friendly everyone was. It was like a breath of fresh air after having played games like WoW in the interim. So I'd be inclined to say:
(1) Avoid the use of instancing, phasing, or other similar mechanics that separate people;
(2) Include plenty of group content;
(3) Make grouping as easy and painless as possible (but don't force it);
(4) Give people reasons to interact with others, like EQ's teleports and buff spells;
(5) Generally try to instill a cooperative atmosphere rather than a competitive one.

I'd also like to mention that most MMO communities I've been involved with have been very nice. WoW has always seemed like the exception, rather than the rule.
All gear is crafted by a player.

All boss drops and quest rewards are materials for use by crafters.
Community meant 2 things to me:
1) General Civility in forums and general chat to everyone
2) better performing guild/corp/clan

And clearly better chat/forum moderation is always a help.

A) IMHO it points out that, IMHO, there is a slight negative correlation between 1337 skills and good people/community skills.

B) like A, it would increase the skills of the players but necessarily the community. If you want to efficiently get it moderated, then you need to use the players; historically, Compuserve through Microsoft did well with essentially unpaid volunteers monitoring the forums. GMs just responding to player reports in chat would be more efficient than having a GM monitor each chat

I wish there was a feature where I could report someone and it gets higher GM priority; if it is clearly a bad report, it costs me say 100g; something minor is ignored and if the GM agrees with me I get say 20g and the wicked are punished. Anyone who has ever been involved in a Condo Association, especially a FLorida one with many retirees, knows that you can get people to report transgressors.

C) would do the best of the three.


What I think would hurt the community was just incenting/forcing people to work together. (Disclaimer, I hate forced grouping.) If you were to change nothing in WoW but to force more grouping, then the attrition would be in the people forced to play with the Gevlons of the world, which would both lower revenue and lower the average civility when it runs off non-sociopath customers. Forcing more existing WoW players with their existing attitudes to group would not be pleasant.

There needs to be some carrots and sticks towards better community before forcing them to group.
1) Alas, it is not practical but removing player forums would be a great help for community. (3rd party sites, blogs chat & vent would allow enough M & S comments so it would not work. But I unsubscribed from EVE after some 1337 posters about the M&S and I certainly never feel as bad about WoW than when reading posts or chat.)

2) It goes against the way I play, but no alts would improve community. At least a way for you to see every toon (but no RL info ofc) associated with any chat/forum comment. And an ingame way to easily create a private note about a player. And of course my ignore list should be able to accommodate well over 10,000 people.

3) The EVE way, where you can attack anyone who says something you don't like, initially seems attractive. But anything that allows players to report or publicly rate each other (see LFD suggestions) would so quickly lead to griefing.

4) I claim the goal of good community is not low or high player skill or even IQ but rather similar capabilities of the people you interact with. 3/12 raiders are not the problem as much as 3/12 and 13/13H interacting. If there were something like "ladders" for realms; A realm where trolling and scams and NC17 chat were allowed would not be bad for the game if it were an explicit choice to be there. More importantly, your self-selected choice would set the expectations: e.g. calling someone an idiot for doing 10k DPS or dieing in fire could be acceptable on a Tier 2 realm but be a reportable offense on a Tier 5 realm.

In fact, Option A would probably work pretty well; not because it got good players but because it got similar players. (I.e. giving them a test and taking the 40 to 50 percentile would work as well as taking the 90 to 100 percentile. It's just not practical for a mass market MMO.

5) reduce the treadmill: I have seen several guild fall apart and it usually is do to organization issues. Main tank or healer leaves due to RL issues, GM is off for a couple of weeks (illness, work, w/e) and the fail-cascade starts because you have 7 days this lockout to raid and if you can't get the right 10 together you can't raid; so someone leaves so next week is harder and soon no more guild. Too much of WoW guilds is about finding and scheduling 10 people to rearrange their RL to show up for a raid. You are not going to have a great community if there is too much churn in your grouping.

6) If you want cooperation or anything in an MMO, "pay" for it. E.g. if the rewards (say valor points) you got was somewhat based upon the success of the rest of your guild as well as yourself, then the ten raiders would feel more part of a larger team. What if the causals in your guild meant the raiders needed less of a rep grind? Or if there was an increasing reward for each battlenet account in the guild that killed a raid boss this week/month.
c) with a splash of b) to bring in enough income to keep the servers alive - sell it as a higher-priced, premium product (which it would be - you could use 'u no in 4z3r0th nao' as an advertising slogan...).
Since so many people seem to like C):
I'm not sure IQ and literacy-tests would help much. Most people I meet are quite able to write, some of them just don't care. And being smart isn't connected with being nice as far as I am aware of. Emotional Intelligence is where the problem is, but I'm not sure if there are remotely reliable tests for that.
I don't think communities are bad in the MMOs I play. In fact, I'd go further - I think generally they are pretty good.

I think this is a solution looking for a problem, so I'd vote

D) Leave things pretty much as they are.
c) is absurd. The only thing it would it accomplish is checking whether people can find answers on the internet ... wait a second!
D) Implement an invite-based system.

The only way to become a player is to get an invite from an existing member of the community. Furthermore, if you screw up and get yourself banned or suspended, this will have repercussions for whoever invited you (and the people you invited).

Obviously, the game would pretty much have to use F2P model for such an approach to be viable.
Ban more aggressively, but allow players to buy their way out of a ban ... for a suitable price that escalates with the severity and repetition of infractions.

Also: public humiliation attached to bans.
Fact is, that in community discussed better players call weaker players 'morons'. Getting rid of that attitude would be a great improvement. What would make a player not call another player a moron while observing him using a non-optimal build? A couple of things:

First - he could actually be stopped from seeing the fact, that another player is using a non-optimal build.

Second - he could be gruoped with players, that use build of the same level of 'optimalness'.

Third - There could be nothing like an optimal build in the game.

So, the following would be implemented:
Add1) No addons to view other player's stats. You can only recognize the strength of another player by his actions (he an kill a dragon, he withstands Flames of Uzul, spells you see him cast etc)

Add2) If players measure optimal builds and there's fuss about it, why not gruop players by the exact same criteria they are fighting over? It's a game - except for things you say on chat everything can be counted and used to put youo in a correct group.

Add3) More things to do then just combat? If there's a single goal in character building it will generate the atmosphere of deadly competition no matter how many forced grouping mechanism I implement. So instead the game of character building should have multiple branches, not just combat effectiveness.

Sorry for the analytical approach.
@Bezier: Not that I have something against your Add2, but wouldn't it be rather harsh? The implied thing happening is "Everyone plays with people like them", but I think the reality would be "Good players play with good players and bad players leave because every instance becomes a living nightmare when 100% of every group plays suboptimal". (Very) Suboptimal builds are only possible if someone else brings better than average performance to the table. The alternative would be decreasing difficulty, but then you get the opposite problem: Since good players are paired with other good players many groups will perform outstanding and content will be way to easy for them.

Plus the only positive *social* aspect would be a decrease of bad blood between optimizers and suboptimal players. In my experience (may be server or region - dependant) thats a faily minor battlefield of the big ugly picture.
Give real incentives to players to group, be social, and generally be nice to one another. One game that stands out for me in this department is, surprisingly, Atlantica Online. There was a blog post on the subject a couple of years ago called Increasing Benevolence in MMO's that didn't survive having its hosting pulled. I managed to save a Google cache of the page sans images.
I would like to get a 30+ server...

I would hope that a lot of the elitist and impatient behavior wouldn't exist on such a server.

> 2) aggressive forum moderation+ (see Elitist Jerks)

I think EJ is a very good example to show that aggressive moderation is a bad thing. The EJ forum is dead. You have a few threads with a good summary in post #1 but the rest of those threads is worthless. There is no useful discussion going on in the open forums. And you still get the troll posts, even in the daily mail, because they aren't removed. They just get a troll infraction.

That might be ok for the EJ forum, after all it's their board. But it would be a huge failure as a business model.
None of the suggestions would improve community, they might make people behave more civil as a means to getting what they want but that isn't improving community. Community must be nurtured, not forced.
The key features the hurt the overall community feel of MMOs is when players no longer had to be responsible for their actions.

1) No character name change services. You make a terrible troll name, or became known on the server as a ninja looter, you are stuck with it.

2) No Server transfer services. Once again, your name becomes infamous as a ninja looter, you dug the hole, now you have to prove you've changed.

3) No repeated server merges. The companies need to stop releasing with 50-60 servers, then act surprised when 50-70% of the players leave just like they did in last big release, and the last big release before that. The players that are going to stick around won't be bothered by one month of queues.

4) Give incentives for players to actually join up with each other. Better loot/XP/whatever.

5) Active GMs. GMs have gotten far to into the habit of replying with only copy-paste responses. They need to actually be involved in the games, as well as the game's populations.
Didn't Final Fantasy Online present the strict rules that did not allow players to create a explosive community?
IT ended up haing almost no community, so I think that restricting the existing games to produce a more positive community is a fools errand.
Game design needs to be rethought. A small thing like respawns for example. If permanent death was introduced and another way of account continuity existed it would make people respect their own characters more, and take less risks.
It's the same thing with community - I don;t know the exact solution yet, but if you take a blank board you can attempt to create a new game that will be good and will have a good community possible.
A weaker form of A, making the game not so shaply divided into solo and organized, coordinated groups.

D: regulate the community size, to ensure that anonymity doesn't become the norm. In the context of WoW this would mean people playing with their own server and perhaps limiting the size of the server.

Tobld said, "There is no such thing as a troll post."
I disagree!
less alts, actually only one.

and keep track of name-change history
The only way of having a good community is by keeping the game small which is hardly the objective of most companies out there.

When a game just launches or is niche, usually the community is made of like minded individuals without significative difference in goals. This tends to allow for better relations since the reputation still counts for something and usually the first adherents or niche players didn't join any bandwagon and know exactly what the game is and what they can expect of it.

It's only when the community grows beyond a certain point that the problems start. Larger communities are more anonymous and also you start having more variety of goals within that community. This is also caused by the game which becomes more generalistic in order to attract many different player types.

So IMHO a "bad community" is unavoidable past a certain number of individuals in said community. That is why most Anarchy (political system) experiments worked in small communities like villages but would be a disaster to run a country as such.
D.) Eliminate anonymity.

Its well known that people are typically more rude and unforgiving in (auto) traffic, but are typically polite and understanding when encountered walking around a neighborhood park.

The problem is of course *how* to accomplish this and sill have a successful game with paying customers and reasonable and stable server populations.

To remove anonymity (and I don't mean exposing your real life persona), I'd remove the concept of multiple alts on the same server entirely -- but allow for mechanisms to change (over time) virtually any aspect of your character.

The game would keep track of your history, and your interactions with others in the form of a "permanent record". You might "leave" the server through long enough period of inactivity, or voluntarily, but characters that had left a server wouldn't be "deleted", nor would they be allowed to join another server. Even if you have a character that has "left" or "been removed" from a server, you can't create another character on that server ever. Your character for that server is unique and permanent and might be allowed back on the server if there is room, and you can get enough active players on that server to invite you back.

So basically, your identity on a server is your identity. You can never escape your past, nor can you create a new identity. You could create one on a new server, but that would be a separate identity entirely.

Note: Server merges could still happen if necessary, but you wouldn't lose your identity. The server merge would be implemented as some sort of refugees-fleeing-from-a-ruined-world sort of event -- and you'd still keep all of your history from the previous server.
I would support B regardless of it’s impact on the rest of the communities social behavior. I just want to play on a server like what SoE did with EQ where they had constant GM events, unique items, etc. That alone would be fun. I think it would weed out a lot of the under 18 crowd, or those who don’t actually pay for the sub themselves, but I don’t think it would necessarily create a healthier community.

I agree with Nils on everything else too. The problem is 4 lends it’s self to a developers interpretation. They could “think” they created that situation where in fact they haven’t. Extremely strict forum rules, only 1 character per account, dependency on others to succeed.
Reduce the reliance on any one person's contribution to the success of the group. A person's failure that limits the damage done only to himself and less to the group as a whole will breed less animosity between players.
F): Limit size of community/game to be small.

Reality is full of jerks, idiots people lacking social graces etc. A large population in the game will naturally have a large amount of jerks who you will see all the time. If you want a nicer community than you have to limit population, which frankly kind of defeats the purpose of an MMO.

So perhaps accept the fact that the better and more popular an MMO gets, the worse the community gets. It has less to do with game mechanics.
Since the community is only allowed to communicate via fora, chat, and vent, it seems reasonable that policing these media would solve the problem. Pre-approving community members might help but doesn't solve the problem of hacks or "I'm playing my dad's account."

Isn't this the idea behind guilds? and /ignore for everyone else.

Other games have instituted such features as auto-chat which disables chat and only allows specific pre-formed phrases relevant to the game. I dislike this solution since it robs the player of a lot of freedom.

As a side note, most MMO communities are pretty good. Wow seems to be the exception rather than the norm.
1. Figure out what kind of community you want to foster in your game.

2. Design a proper incentive system that promotes the kind of community you desire.

3. Make sure every design decision is measured against your design manifesto. Does it fit with the intent?

We can sit here and argue semantics all day. But at the end of the day, I believe that the WoW community today is borne of; ease of access plus anonymity.

What do I mean? Well I'm sure people more versed in socio-anthropology can explain this better. But basically I think that we made it convenient for people to be asses, perhaps even desirable. The game world doesn't not exist independently of the real world; maybe we just created an outlet for expressions not promoted in the real world?
Answer: B. But I don't think the subscription rate would have to be as high as $50.


Answer: D. Age-based servers, for example, only 21+. Although, this would, by no means, solve all the problems of bad community, I believe it would help. I would gladly join a server restricted to those aged 40+.
Let's pretend that an MMO is like an elementary school playground (which it certainly is IMO), and consider your suggestions:

A) Allowing only athletic, intelligent, and competitive children to play would certainly improve the quality of play, but would they play nicer together? This is essentially elite "all-star" youth sports. Elitest and discriminitory.

B) Charge kids for entry, and pay playground monitors to enforce good behavior. This is essentially what they do while school is in session. Enforcing consequences certainly improves behavior theoretically, but obviously doesn't eliminate bad behavior.

C) The playgrounds of Montessori schools or other private schools with strict admission requirements have the brightest children. Is this the closest to the ideal? Maybe, but clearly elitest and discriminitory.

D) The real answer to improving community in MMO's is improving what is almost absent in an MMO. The elementary school playground is in fact already the ideal model. For the most part, left to their own, children play creatively, resolve conflict and build communities beautifully.

What's absent? The ability to communicate emotions instantly with body language, facial expressions, and verbal tone.

Get in a random group IRL, and you instantly size up your team. You'd have to be pretty hardened to flame the skinny girl tanking as you can see she's trying as hard as she can. A single look with another frustrated player and the frustration is diffused with a silent facepalm.

Improving communication in MMO's is clearly a challenge, but in my 3+ years of playing WoW I've seen NO attempts at improvement, other than RealID, which was savaged.
I disagree with incentivising, that will ultimately lead to even worse behavior as players will come to expect incentives as standard - take Call To Arms as an example, short-term gains always lead to long-term problems, any software designer/developer will tell you that.

Additionally, if you take a game such as WoW, which undoubtedly has 'community issues', and attempt to analyse what has led to the poor community you will get a myriad of different suggested reasons and will probably not reach a common agreement, so attempting to solve the problem in reverse is very probably impossible. Having said that if we assume that intolerance leads to communities breaking down then maybe the cause of that intolerance would be a good starting point.

Then I'd go play something else and anytime someone pulled elitist crap in that game I'd tell them to go play A) instead.
I choose B.

Its for selfish reasons as I presume that a more expensive game will attract players with other responsibilities -- like full time jobs. Better still, raise it to $100 a month for the "premium servers."
The problem with almost all of these "solutions" has been alluded to by a few commenters, but I thought I'd state it plainly. Several of these ideas would successfully advance the goal of creating a more friendly community. However they would also have the effect of creating a smaller community. And that means fewer paying customers. Gaming companies are not charities. They and their investors expect to make money. Add to that the problem that everyone developing an MMO these days has Blizzard in mind and thinks they can create the next gold mine.

So while many of these ideas are good, and interesting, and might even prove successful if attempted, they won't BE attempted because it would kill the developer's bottom line.
Facebook Raid!

After a raid or even during one you'd be able to mark someone with a '+' for good behaviour or a '-' for bad behaviour. Or not mark anyone at all if you don't feel like it. People with more '+' would be grouped toghether as well as the badass '-' people. Of course the aglorithm should be more complex then that, but I can see that work. And yeah - people who mark everyone with '-' would probably get a '-' from everyone in the raid and hence would never play with anyone from that raid again.
Allow membership of multiple guilds, in the style of ATitD, so you don't have to choose between the people you joined the game with, your friends from RL, and your raiding ambitions.
I posted my comments on my blog, as they were quite long.
I just don't understand the desire to willingly give up moderation powers to some greater entity.

D) Give us the ability to self-moderate beyond in-game channels with "IGNORE" ability in the forums (as someone else suggested, at the account level, not the character level). That alone is perfectly sufficient.

Trolls generally shut up when they realize no one is listening.
@Kring: EJ used to have lots of posts. The problem is that the game has become so transparent and easy to optimize that there is no point in discussing it anymore. Every piece of gear of the same ilvl has the same bonus to the primary stat. Primary stats are the best, so gem for those. Basically you just need to know whether crit, mastery or haste is better and whether to match it in your gem sockets.

I participated in very good conversations on those forums and the moderation was what made them possible. There just isn't anything to discuss anymore.
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