Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 24, 2015
Player interaction

Ravious and Bhagpuss kicked of an interesting series of discussions about player interactions in MMORPGs. Bhagpuss states "There's nothing amazing any more in joining with dozens of people of all ages and races and genders and religions separated by thousands of miles and an infinity of experiences, coming together to imagine killing a giant dragon or a destroying a titanic spacecraft. Happens all the time.", while Ravious thinks we prefer to play alone, but in a crowd.

While I do think that Bhagpuss is onto something when he thinks that familiarity breeds contempt, I do wonder in how far game design is to blame for our desire to play alone rather than with other people in a MMORPG or other online world. To me it appears as if most game design inadvertently makes us hate our fellow players. Either because that other player is actively trying to kill us, or because cooperative play is designed in a way that a weak player can ruin our experience. As I mentioned previously, I haven't been running dungeons in the current expansion of WoW; I mean, who needs the hassle? Even if many runs might just end up being totally silent and anonymous, there is a too high chance of getting grouped with somebody really annoying. The chance of a real bad experience ruins multiplayer for me. But I totally realize that in most of these cases the other player didn't ruin the fun for everybody on purpose, but is a victim himself of game design. The system puts together players with different goals, strengths, and attitudes in a challenge that would only work if the group was far more homogeneous in purpose and strength.

On the other hand I'm frequently in the so-called premade groups in WoW. They nearly always work well, because the purpose is more narrowly defined, and the design is in a way that adding another player is always helpful, even if he isn't superman. But premade groups have a short duration. I wished that guilds would work more like a permanent form of a premade group than like a permanent form of a dungeon group. It would be better game designs if guild members could contribute on a daily basis to the progress of the guild, regardless of playstyle and strength, instead of the guild purpose being so narrowly defined by raiding, or reduced to a chat channel.

I must say that the best player interaction I experienced, with and without guilds, was in A Tale in the Desert. And that was through game design, with people being able to cooperate, and everybody being able to contribute. I also think that the original Asheron's Call had a superior social system with new players being vassals to veteran players, with each contributing to the success of the other. Unfortunately I didn't play that at the time, and much later it becomes difficult to join any social system. There is a reason why ATITD resets every now and then and starts over fresh.

Anyhow I do think that new MMORPGs should experiment more with social structures. There was more variety a decade ago, with games like Star Wars Galaxies and others I mentioned. Today there is only the raiding guild model left, and that is a shame.

I don't think it is just a question of familiarity breeding contempt. Engaging socially with people all over the world on the internet has not fallen out of fashion it is just that the majority of people have chosen to do it in a different fashion than through mmorpgs. facebook is the real WOW killer and always has been.
"It would be better game designs if guild members could contribute on a daily basis to the progress of the guild"

There is a problem with that: there is no such thing as "progress of the guild". MMOs are focused on personal character progression, the players progress, not the guilds. The only exception is maybe EVE Online with Sov holding where a weaker player is useless at worst, but not harmful (unless purposeful spy).

This is a systematic problem. If the goal is personal and not team, the other player is not a teammember, merely a tool or an obstacle.
Speaking from a perspective of someone who has "retired" from things like raiding and PvP, and now plays in the single player parts of your favorite MMO:

You're on to something when you say game design influences whether or not I want to see other toons while playing. Right now, those other toons are simply competition. They steal my mobs, they steal my nodes. After more than a decade of this competition I have very little sense of humor about it.

True story: I didn't come back for Panderia because I heard about Cross Realm Zones. I'm like "wait, you're making a feature that makes the competition WORSE?!?"

If you want more socialization, make it so that other players are a GOOD thing.
I think there is an issue that only a few players really want to group all the time, or solo all the time. I think most want to be able to group sometimes (particularly when their friends are on), and to solo sometimes (when none of their friends are on and they don't feel like dealing with strangers).

But these games are about progression more than anything, and so these gameplay modes can't just be available, they need to offer the ability to make meaningful progress. This is where I think WoW leveling holds up (soloing and running dungeons offer comparable xp), but the end game does not (nothing outside of raiding/grouping offers meaningful rewards).
WoWs leveling game is an endless row of short quests. The time you might save by grouping is lost due to different reading speeds/needs. The only way it works is if both players don't read any quest text at all, otherwise one of them is always irritated.

I think what WoW needs is more group quests at the end of solo chains. WotLK had some nice group quests in Icecrown, when it was current content you could get a group without too much trouble. Of course phasing back than was shittier than now, could be solved easily by putting everyone into the phase of the group leader like garrisons. Just tune it so that you need 5 dudes when current content but months after you only need one friend with a bit better gear.

Ring of Blood and the other group quests in old Nagrand are other great examples of group quest done right as was the Ring of Blood in Twilight Highlands. Every questing zone should have a couple of these as optional content.
Oh, I'm sure I'm going to be in here all day commenting on this... after I read the two linked articles. But let me start with this:

"I haven't been running dungeons in the current expansion of WoW; I mean, who needs the hassle?"

I agree. It's annoying as hell, mostly, it's toxic players who think they're the best DPS ever and expect the rest of the group to maintain the dungeon clear rate they're accustomed to.

At the same time, grouping people by ability / gear score, etc. is equally bad. You still have the toxic players, only now they're doubly annoyed. What random dungeons need are people like me, competent healers that play cooperatively and don't yell at others. At least, from my point of view.

What you need is a "Small town community." (I just made that up! But i like it!) in a tiny game with only a few hundred active players, you have that by default. You basically know everyone. In WoW, no way. And cross realm makes it worse. If you know someone, and know that they probably know other people known to you... you're less likely to fall into the "John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory" trap. Guilds in WoW are a start, but you need to be able to belong to more than one of them, and guilds need to be charter specific... "Raiding Guild" specifically raids content the leader says to raid, "Social Guild" is more elastic, but with many more players... and linked into the looking for raid and group buttons. (Check box for "group only" for each group you belong to.) Of course, you should be able to join multiple groups. "My raid group meets 2 nights a week, but I do random dungeons / lfr with my social group when I feel like it." The "Social Guild", then is simply a community group that polices itself. If you're a dick, you'll get reported to the leadership and possibly kicked out.

If you don't like that community... they all suck at playing or do dungeons too slow, you go look for an elitist asshole group to join. Or perhaps slum with the un named ones, those with no group.

The internet will of course step up with sites that list and rank player social groups.

I think you're on to something Tobold. As one of those players who I am sure makes life miserable for others in groups....I played a warrior in WoW but didn't group much and focused on DPS entirely; my two-three efforts at learning to tank failed in utter misery, I did not have the ability to plow through dozens of shitty game sessions (made shittier by my poor tanking skills) with players telling me to go jump off a cliff because I didn't know how --i.e. the learning curve in tanking was so abrupt in WoW that because I hadn't done so years prior the odds of learning later in the game's cycle was far steeper than I had time or patience for.

I play Destiny and TESO almost exclusively now, and while TESO is a slow, long single-player process so far for me (takes forever at my pace so I still haven't seen pvp), Destiny is an amazing game.....but you know why? I suck at the pvp.....every time I join the Crucible I am essentially a handicap to my side (which is almost always 33-34 light gear guys to my 27) and if I make second-to-last place I consider that a win. BUT! The co-op events are amazing, and I am damned good at them, usually being the guy who pulls the other players out of the fire. So naturally I love Destiny for this reason. This does suggest to me that one of the problems with a lot of contemporary MMOs isn't just a "this is no longer novel" sense.....but one in which you have a mixture of newb players competing with a very seasoned and jaded force of MMO players who have been there and done that. How does a game today balance out an experience that can welcome a new guy and help him learn to play the game as intended while still entertaining and holding the interest of the jaded pro?
Nicholas Bergquist:

I've been in heroic dungeons many times with noob tanks (As my normal role of healer.) And I have to say... the noob tank is never the problem. We just go slower, that's all. The problem tanks are always the ones that are over geared, experienced, and think they are soloing the place.

WoW requires specific skills learned to the muscle memory level to play past the 50% DPS line (Average DPS in whatever venue you are measuring.) The gating skills are targeting, spell chaining (casting spells in series with no dead time, different from spell rotation.), and incoming damage avoidance. You can only learn these skill to the muscle memory level by practicing them. Tanks have all that, PLUS the responsibility of being the sole damage sink separating success from wipe.

All that is really needed to make noob tanks (Or healers, or DPS) feel more comfortable is a smaller community that is more patient. And you can't get that with a fully random player base.
"Anyhow I do think that new MMORPGs should experiment more with social structures. There was more variety a decade ago, with games like Star Wars Galaxies and others I mentioned. Today there is only the raiding guild model left, and that is a shame."

That is a function of the game's interaction mechanics, not the guild structure. Guilds themselves have been essentially the same... you can be in only one. Sure, there may be esoteric differences, like the founding of player towns in SWG Player Associations, or the assignment of "roles" in Eve Corporations. But that does nothing to build communities past the specific function of that guild.

When you start a MMORPG, you are by default in the largest of the player groups, the "All players" group. It has no name... but it has functionality, a local chat channel, a trade chat channel... etc. and the ability to group up with other players through the various "looking for group" features. What it does not have is any kind of command or management structure.

Players need to be able to then join one or more player groups that mesh with their temperament and play style. A group that is larger than a specific purpose guild, but smaller than "all players." A group that has a leadership run by players that can enforce it's minimal rule set. And you should be able to join several of them. Another person will appear to you with a color tagged name indicating that they're in one of the groups you're in, and you should be able to filter your chat and looking for group tools to only include the groups you choose. (Or the default "all players", of course.)
Final Fantasy XI had multiple linkshells on launch and it came out 2 years before WoW...
Guilds themselves have been essentially the same

That's exactly my point: The guild structure is so much the same in so many games that you aren't even aware that there are other forms around. Nick already mentioned that FFXI and other games have the option to be in several guilds at once. In ATITD there are guilds for local projects, like building a pyramid. AC had a feudal system of vassals and lieges. There are a lot of other social structures possible other than a guild to go raiding with exactly X members with.
@Smokeman that does sound of the reasons I had tried learning to tank back in 2005 when I started WoW, I think I'd have had an easier time learning it. That was also unfortunately that last time I was involved with a decent guild with patient souls.
Someone has some REAL numbers on the "toxic dungeon runs", because my experience is way less than 10%, which I consider pretty much low/insignificant.
I always get the feeling that people considering the experience so toxic:
- have selective memory and only count the bad ones, forgetting all the rest
- ARE the problem, i.e. if you are obnoxious, don't be surprised if your run is toxic.

Yeah Helistar, I run a lot of 5men and really toxic behaviour is very seldom. But there are some things that irritate me:

- DD pulling. I have zero tolerance for that, I ask them to stop twice and leave the instance on third offense. I do pull as fast as possible so noone needs to help me. I do sometimes tolerate a healer pulling if he knows what he's doing.
- Players being afk. Also zero tolerance, I rather leave than tank for afk. Important to identify at the start of the instance when they still are somewhat there to read my complaining.

I have a bit of tolerance for trash talk in chat, but nowadays it's very seldom that anyone talks at all. Tanking I really don't have the time anyway. If someone makes mistakes and gets shouted at I always tell the shouter that criticism is OK but can he please be constructive and tell what the player did wrong and not just go "you retard" or whatever. This really goes a long way to take toxic behaviour out, also adressing players by their character names instead of just "hey mage" is good.

I think most people complaining about toxic behaviour are either not doing anything to prevent it or are the problem themselves but don't know it.
Yeah, I've never got that. Granted I stopped playing in Wrath, but I never found toxic companions a serious issue, and I played lots of dungeons - including many PUGs, which were often very enjoyable and a good way to make new friends. By Wrath there was some degeneration setting in, with PUGs starting to be silent and expecting to faceroll through everything. Maybe the people who want to play like that are oversensitive to anything that causes an issue, and between themselves, incompetents and trolls they make everyone miserable.

In any case, there's not much point in running dungeons with random people if they're going to make you angry.

Maybe some people expect too much 'adult' behaviour. For me WoW always felt a lot like an escape back to the children's playground at school, so I was never too put out by childish idiocy around me!
I've been running a lot more Wow dungeons in this expansion than I have in the last two.

For the most part, everyone has been friendly. A wipe here and there doesn't pull any outrageous, angry behavior or mass quitting. Everyone goes on.

But the very few times I've experienced a bad group (counted on one hand that's how rare), they have been very bad. Bad enough that if a player didn't have a lot of patience, it would put them off from grouping for a long time.

I don't think there is a way to stop this behavior. It's human nature. Some people just don't grow up. Of course there could be more game innovations to contain them. But that would not change them.
It's the communal feel of bringing down World Bosses and other zone wide community events that brought me back from WOW/Eve/Others to GW2 again. GuildWars2 has that "lets work together' feel. I can explore, hunt, team, save someone's virtual ass etc. Fun stuff indeed. Lots of chocies in MMOs nowadays.
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