Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 07, 2017
Why I can live without other players in my games

I fully agree with Gevlon that we moved from a game design where people depended on other players to a game design where you either play solo, or your interaction with other players is deliberately limited in some ways, e.g. by not allowing chat. Gevlon thinks that this ruins games. I am quite happy with the new way. So why is that? Is Gevlon a friendly, social character, while I am a natural hermit?

To get to the bottom of that, we need to look at the kind of interaction between players that was most prevalent in the games that Gevlon is missing today. Consider this thought experiment: You take a big computer and feed it with all the blog posts ever made about MMORPGs. You search for all the occurrences of the word "guild". And then you make a histogram or word cloud of the word coming right after each occurrence of the word "guild". I don't have the means to actually perform the experiment, but I would bet that the most frequent word you would find after "guild" in all MMORPG blogs would be "drama".

Just look at Gevlon's blog itself. How does he describe the other players he is missing so much now? He calls them "morons & slackers". Even I, who spent most of his time in WoW in a social guild, have experienced my share of guild drama. Guilds were never designed for positive social interaction, they were always a means to an end of individual character progress. You *needed* those other people to get the most powerful gear in the game. And the way there wasn't exactly a constant stream of friendship and happiness. Look at what MMORPG blog posts have been mostly about when talking about their guilds: First people complain if others aren't investing as much as they do and become a hindrance to killing raid bosses, and then when the raid boss is finally dead they complain that somebody else got the loot.

I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons for 35 years, and never ever did I have a group in which we needed a complicated "DKP" points system to distribute loot. If friends are people who help you move your furniture, and good friends are people who help you move the body, then where do online friends rank on that scale? Way below, I would say, without wanting to express any disrespect to my online friends. I have met a lot of nice people over my years in various games, but I would never want to have to rely on them. They all moved on over time to other games or other activities.

I find it curious that the people most loudly complaining about the lack of other players being forced to play with them are the kind of people with the most predatory play styles. If you want to make millions in virtual currency from auction house manipulations, or be a renowned player killer in PvP, that works best if you have a large supply of potential victims. If you give the sheep the choice of playing other games in which they aren't being griefed or exploited by the wolves, the sheep wander off and the wolves complain about the "lack of community".

I do think that the genre of virtual world games has failed to provide better positive social interactions, better ways to collaborate between players in which each contribution is valuable and appreciated by other players. As it is, the people who cause you the most problems in a multiplayer game are the people on your team. Games turning chat possibilities off is because that chat was too frequently used for hurling insults. No wonder the majority of players these days prefer games with limited or no interaction with other players. It is because these games didn't live up to the promise of positive social interaction, real friends, and real communities. What is there to miss?

The first video games - because of technical limitations - were solo games. Then came games with the ability to multiplay via hot seat or serial cable. Then games that allowed multiplay on LAN. Only then came internet multiplay games.

I don't think that mankind was nicer 1-2 decades ago. So if we accept that social interaction is negative, then the first (clumsy, laggy, buggy) MMOs should have been a disaster and players should have played with single player or local multiplayer games. Yet WoW was a success unmatched by any game before and remained the biggest moneymaker.

Even today the tide didn't turn to single player games, it remained internet multiplayer. WoW is still the top moneymaker game and it's still "massive". What changed is not sociality, but difficulty: players still raid like in the old times, just in LFD "difficulty".
My best time in WoW was during Cataclysm when the guild was me and my two brothers (and for awhile my nephew) and several of our very best friends in game, folks we'd known in some cases since the beginning of our time in WoW.

When our paladin healer quit, everything got worse. It turned out he was very good - which we knew - and was propping up the other healers - which we hadn't been aware of.

We trialed multiple healers but never found a very best fit again. My one brother went from tanking back to healing, but found he'd lost the taste for it. When Cataclysm ended, he quit and has not returned.

We found a new, skilled tank that most of the guild got along with, but this tank enjoyed using cooldowns on trash and ripping threat from my brother who continued to play, because it frustrated my brother. As a result, my brother quit tanking.

Just before my brother quit tanking, we'd gotten stuck on a heroic boss, something like 100 pulls without real progress. It turned out that our healer lead at the time was - again - propping up the other healers, but wasn't really addressing the issue, either with us or with the other healers. As a result, we lost two of our healers and had to start recruiting again.

At this point I didn't want to lead the raids anymore, so I asked a relatively recent recruit, a warlock, to take over leading the raids. He did a good job, from my perspective, but we lost another healer and a dps over his raid leading style. My second brother quit about this time to focus on schooling.

Then Blizzard made the announcement that there would be normal, heroic, and mythic difficulties for the final raid of Pandaria, and I took that opportunity to cut ties that that guild, because I wanted to raid the hardest content, if not the first day, then certainly before it was deprecated.

Everything since then has been one battle after another to find - what I will never again find, that guild with my two brothers and our very best WoW friends.

I used to make friends by having to find groups in town to run content. You'd friend the good ones, and run with them again the same time the next week or day. Or at the end of BC, we would just run endless heroics, because those badges gave gear that was too good unless you were raiding SWP - which I never got to do. Made some good friends that way, and solidified previously existing friendships too.

I don't know how to make friends in game anymore, other than to get into a guild and run with them. But every guild, there are some I like more and less than others. Often I'll afk for dinner, or start an activity on my own, pug or solo, and about five or ten minutes in someone will announce they want to put together a group to run mythic+ dungeons, so of course I miss a lot of that. Sometimes my wife's schedule (work or otherwise) changes so I have to change raid nights, and that usually means changing guilds.

TL;DR - if I could raid mythics without relying on other players, I sure would, because between scheduling and personalities, it is hard to focus on the part I really like - killing the bad mans and equipping new purple pixels. I think I'm agreeing with you, Mr. Stoutfoot.
"What is there to miss?"


Players provide the best AI you will ever see. Not the best AI there ever could be, no doubt, but certainly the best it will ever be deemed economic and commercially appropriate to include in a video game.

The entire thesis of your argument, that the only players demanding players to play with are predators, is false. I can only assume it's based either on your experiences in the MMOs you have played or your apprehensions around those you have not. In the MMOs I play, many in PvE settings which do not allow any PvP at all, others where PvP is strictly limited or consensual, there is no demand for "prey".

What there is a demand and a desire for companionship, collective responsibility or strength in numbers. People want to play with other people because having other people around makes playing more fun. In many of those MMOs most, if not all the content, is available solo b ut people prefer to do it with others because that way they can share an experience, laugh and joke about it and remember it later with a degree of human fondness that feels appropriate and complete.

As for the supposed toxicity of chat channels in MMOs, this is and has always been hugely overblown. Having played upwards of 150 MMORPGs over the last decade and a half I would say I've only seen in-game channels that were, reliably, truly toxic a handful of times. Of these, by far, the worst were in WoW. If that's the benchmark you use then I'm not surprised you have such a negative view.

In most other MMOs, however, I have by and large found open chat channels to be amusing, witty, funny, informative and helpful. Being able to chat, joke and share ideas with many people while playing is a huge part of the attraction of plying MMOs rather than single-player games. If this hasn't been your experience then I'm sorry for you but I would suggest that it has and continues to be the experience of many others.

I would still play MMO-style games in a single player context because I love the mechanics and the gameplay but given a choice I would always prefer to play them with other people because the experience that way is fuller, more complex and endlessly surprising.

I find it curious that the people most loudly complaining about the lack of other players being forced to play with them are the kind of people with the most predatory play styles.

These people are not predatory out of malice, or because they are twisted people. They simply like the aspect of competition over everything else. AI offers little to no challenge, and they have to turn against their fellow players by default, because it's either that or they quit.

And I think you are underestimating on how many of these players exist. They are the majority, in a lot of cases. Most large game releases today are either heavily focused on the multiplayer component (CoD and clones with 2-3 hour single player campaigns and multiplayer season passes), or they are strictly online multiplayer only. Even within PvE rulesets, people will seek other people to compete with, for example in wealth, items, character levels, leaderboard positions or the most beautiful residence.

And this is what people are missing now more than ever.
"Is Gevlon a friendly, social character"

Not friendly or enjoyable to be around (see: TEST scammed/kicked him), but he is 100% a social. Why else would someone play an asian import MMO they admit to not enjoying just for the page views of a social blog? Gevlon is blogging's instagram girl who spends hours getting the right 'natural' picture to post online and then sits around counting all her 'likes'. So yes, he needs MMOs where the social aspect is strong, otherwise he can't get the 'likes' he desperately needs to justify spending the majority of his time in front of a computer (see: his LoL 18hr marathons of zero progress).

As for your search of 'guild' and 'drama', while I no doubt that's true, its mostly true because people don't often post "everything is mine, same as yesterday" on blogs, while even the most minor of drama is often 'blog worthy' to many. Also when drama post do pop up, how often are they about one member or a few, where everyone else in the group is still fine? I've had to kick many people from my gaming group over the years, be it in EVE or CoC, but that doesn't mean the core group that has been playing for years together don't enjoy it, or consider each other friends (in that online "we have never meet" way).

In short, MMOs with systems that support and encourage stronger social ties have traditionally done better than more solo-focused games (vanilla WoW vs current WoW, EVE/FFXIV vs basically anything not WoW), so financially the model is more viable. And its more viable because people stick around longer, which from my perspective is also a key enjoyment factor for an MMO. An MMO I can 'finish' in a few months isn't a very good MMO IMO, and its not one I'm going to hype to my gaming group to come and play, and that's sadly the case with far too many sRPG MMOs today.

There is also another group who wants forced grouping: people who, for whatever reason, just suck at the game. "Casual guilds" that don't have raiding standards are full of these people.

All of the various social metas are at odds with each other in some way. There is a common denominating factor, though, and that is loot. Everyone wants loot, and they want loot that is better than the loot they already have. People that suck see their guildmates getting loot in raids, and say "I want to get loot!" Carebears say "Sure! Come raid with us!", while the overly competitives are thinking "Crap, there goes our chance at the good loot."

Ok. That sets the stage for my point. And that is that "Games like WoW are too hard." Yes, that's a laughable assertion at face value. But it relies on one of the few remaining "religious dogmas" of game design: And that is "Performance should be rewarded with unique rewards not available to those that don't perform."

When WoW came out, it destroyed all competition for two reasons: Blizzard's attention to detail, and the lack of serious penalty for failing. You didn't lose exp for dying, which allowed you to explore and take chances you would have refrained from doing if you were spanked back a level for trying. It specifically DID NOT force grouping like Everquest did. You could solo WoW through leveling content. "The Death Penalty" was an entrenched religious dogma in game design at the time, The prevailing dogma was "Actions have to have consequences." That was taken literally for both good and bad consequences, WoW turned that on it's head with it's asymmetric approach, "Good" results had far higher rewards than "bad" results had consequences.

Back to "WoW is too hard." WoW is balanced towards the 20 man Mythic raid teams, the cream of the crop... then the difficulty drops precipitously for the lower tiers of performance. With a few limited exceptions (Legendaries and weekly quests with freakishly good rewards.), there is no legit way to get the higher level tier gear without actually participating in the higher tier activities, something more and more people are locked out of as the tiers go up. This is a result of that "religious dogma" mentioned earlier. Of course, you can just open your wallet. I saw a web site offering MYTHIC RUNS the other day for cold hard USD.

However, the previous problem of "Everybody wants gear" still exists. Human beings are not an enlightened species, most of us lack the discipline to be happy with what we have when the guy next to us is getting a better one. Once a casual group reaches their equilibrium point where their aggregate lack of skill prevents their progression, they start auto generating drama, the poor players want to do harder content out of a "Dunning Krueger effect" lack of comprehension as to how much they're actually being carried already while the better players want to quit the team so they can find a better team that can do that harder content.

The solution is to reject the "religious dogma" preventing better gear at these stagnation points, something that could be solved as easily as micro-upgrades to gear that will slowly raise it all the way to Mythic levels if you do the lower tiers enough times. The difference is, the really good players in a good team just get there faster. That would be easy to implement. The gear is all the same, just at a higher iLevel in higher tiers.

Is it really worth burning people at the stake because they can get the same gear you killed yourself to get quickly? You still got it "first." All you're doing is creating drama and pushing people to cheat through web sites that offer Mythic runs for USD.
I gave up raiding when I realized that for the past year all I've looted were the things that bind to you when you pick it up. The raid guild was taking almost all the money and the tradeable / saleable / craftable / barter item extras systematically from all the raiders. I'm really not interested in online slavery.

When I see someone in all raid gear now, I shake my head, knowing what kind of hell they went through to get it. It isn't worth it. Anyone with skill can be just as powerful as a raider in gear. Raid gear just makes the game easy mode and does so at the cost of your very soul. The cynicism that results from realizing that you've been systematically robbed is not worth any benefits in gear.
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