Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 12, 2012
Community building

Spinks is asking whether easier content creates nicer MMO communities. I don't think the answer is that easy. While you are less likely to curse your fellow pickup group members if the dungeon is easy enough to beat, easy content does not create the same "us players together against the harsh world" feeling that extremely hard games can have. In over a decade of MMORPGs the friendliest community I experienced was in the original Everquest. If you can't even solo a standard mob of your level, your attitude towards grouping and other players is likely to change. Compare that to World of Warcraft, where people are complaining about cross-server zones, because they preferr to have a zone for themselves.

But ultimately community building is very limited in a game which is all about individual progression, where every other player is either helping you progress or perceived as the competition. As you can't "win" a MMORPG, your win criteria are necessarily based upon comparison with others. If advancing faster than others is important, it isn't in my interest to help them.

Asheron's Call had found a way around this dilemma, by creating a vassal and liege structure in which you had a stake in the progress of others. Some Asian MMORPGs also have game features where players are encouraged to help newbies by getting a reward from the achievements of the players they helped. I find it somewhat curious how little social structures in MMORPGs have evolved over the years, I think there is a lot more that could be done here.

And then there is the question whether a MMORPG necessarily has to be about challenge, about leveling, about gaining gear faster than others. You can set the bar higher or lower, but you'll always end up with people not making the cut. Real world communities don't work like that. Thus if we had games that played more like virtual worlds, with projects that require the contribution by many instead of a limited number of players, maybe then communities would be more friendly. If every player is a positive contribution to a common goal, and nobody is excluded for being below average, then there is no need for elitism.

We seem to to have observed the opposite trend in WoW; the easier and more accessible the game got, the less friendly people became.

When I first started playing WoW in late 2005, I regularly had people help me through dungeons, or escort me through horde territory for no reason at all. I did not see that sort of friendliness in the later years. Since everything is so easy, why help, right? Why run a dungeon you don't really want to when they can LFD a group up in a minute?
8 years ago things were different. Less people playing online, less bullism, more attention to general behavior. We're now in the era of "yo n00b fagg0t will kill yr mum", meaning that huge and extremely "popular" videogames tend to gather horrible and immature players.
There is also the "my team" (e.g. Gevlon's view of EVE. IMO 90% of the players don't really care about how much sovereignty their alliance has but some do.) So whether it is WvWvW or guild or alliance, you can fight for your group.
But it is so hard to keep the groups balanced.

But yes,it does seem like there could be more done where you benefit your group and vice versa. There should be some mechanisms where the group and personal interests are aligned.

OTOH, nice solo play is better than what most MMOs pass as group play - periodically forced to play with disinterested strangers who have no real costs to being jerks.

And a big hassle of group play is the inefficiency of getting a group together in the same place ready to go.

Bliz devs have talked about having to tune encounters differently for consistent groups with voice-chat versus strangers without voice chat.

I do vote that easier group content for strangers makes for a nicer community.
Worth pointing out that back in the days when WoW was harder, the community wasn't any more friendly at all.

What really happened was that the players that receive abuse now were quite simply blackballed and therefore not only barred from groups but barred from content too. You can't be abused if you don't even get to join.

If a player got past the initial stage of being invited to the group by the organiser, it would quite often be the case that other members of that group would inspect the player and demand he be removed else they themselves would leave.

Of course Blizzard seem to go out of their way to cause bad feeling amongst the community - forcing players to compete with faction-mates for mobs/loot etc hardly fosters a feeling of cooperation.

Hagu got it right when talking about the group and personal interests being aligned. That has never been the case in WoW aside from at the very cutting edge where group progress matters above all else.

That is pretty much all that Blizzard can ever hope to fix by modifying the loot system and adopting GW2's quest mob/farming node system.

In a game or even genre where the culture is based around ruthless optimisation, sub optimal players will always be made to feel unwelcome in groups - whether that be abuse within a group or being treated like a leper.

The reason that can't be fixed is that the game is based around fixed group sizes. Unlike Rifts in RIFT where any help is welcome, in fixed group size content a suboptimal player is always having a detrimental impact on their team mates game experience by occupying a spot that could otherwise be filled by an optimal player.
I don't think it has anything to do with how easy the content is..My opinion is that the newer the player is into MMO's the better his attitude in-game..

When I started playing MMOs I was more social. I was very happy just playing the game and I always trying to meet people, group with people and I was nicer..I cared less for loot and progress. I could travel for 1-2 hours to reach a dungeon (scarlet monastery) and never do that dungeon but still was happy from the journey and people I met.

The more you get burned out by MMOs the worst you attitude start care less for people around you and start care more for loots and progress.

TL;DR the game itself can do very little for community and is the people themselves that turned out to be "jerks". Of course there are features that help people to not care like LFD tools but from the other side these tools became so vital for people, that games without them tend to fail..that lead again to believe that is 99% people fault
Not directly relevant to MMOs, but worth mentioning - the Dark Souls / Demons' Souls community on Reddit at least is very helpful and supportive. And those two games are infamously, brutally hard.
Why would you be surprised at how little the social structures of MMOs have changed? Must they necessarily change? If so, why? What other genre or text has exhibited such change to establish this preconception.

In my mind, I can think of very few gaming communities where the fundamental social structures have changed in any significant way: first person shooters, chess, my local tennis club, real time strategies, DnD/Warhammer clubs.

It seems that you must have some other reason for this expectation, because it neither follows logically that change is necessary, or is the empirical common experience with other gaming communities and genres.
Daniel, the thing with those other clubs is that the underlying activity isn't objectively terrible.

That's not especially true of MMOs. The social aspect of MMOs is about it's only feature that isn't done 10x better by any number of other types of games. Aside from guilds, whatever you like about MMOs, it is done much, much better elsewhere. About the only thing worth a damn in MMO's is the community, so making that work is critical to the long term success of the genre. Otherwise you're just going to have the nice people bailing until the asshole per capita reaches some kind of tipping point and the community is unbearable.

Really comes down to the players I think. Some are generally always nice, and others are usually nasty selfish pieces of work regardless of the games difficulty.
You seem to over-estimate the effect of gameplay on community. I tend to believe that it's the changing demographic of players that shape the community at large. As mentioned in earlier comments, things were different 8 years ago: there were less people, the experience was new, and the MMO crowd was a self-selecting bunch then: gamers who enjoyed playing, and played well, with other people. The crowd is quite different now, even after accounting for the rose-tinted glasses effect.
I usually enjoyed PUGs back in the BC days. And even before that, my grouping experiences in WoW, even for simple outdoor quests, were generally fine. I have never understood what causes so many people to apparently have terrible experiences. Are they unlucky with companions? Are they intolerant themselves? "Go, go, go" is annoying, but no more so than someone who wastes time unnecessarily drinking to full after every fight. Can't people find a happy medium even if it's not perfectly in their comfort zone?

One of the comments on Spinks was that after the facerolls in Wrath, people got frustrated when dungeons got harder again in Cata. I can easily believe that even though I didn't play the latter.

So I think easier dungeons make for bad groups. And inconsistently easy dungeons make for the worst. If dungeons were easy from the start and always stayed easy, groups would probably be friendly enough, although you wouldn't find me playing that gam^^^activity.

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