Fixing MMOs: The Social Problem
Posted by Azuriel
If the cornerstone of MMOs are the social aspects, then I have a question:
Why do game designers make it so absurdly complicated to find like-minded individuals?
I started playing WoW like I imagine a lot of people did: alone. And much like I imagine happens with guildless new players, I was ninja-recruited in one of the starting zones. From there, some elder player took me under their wing, helping me with that difficult final Ghostlands quest, getting me into a BG for the first time, and so on. I had a really great time.
Then… the guild imploded while I was questing in the Hinterlands. The game was no longer fun, and I abandoned my Blood Elf warlock. Since I had already paid for the WoW box and TBC at the same time, I decided I would at least try to get my money’s worth and roll a draenei on a new ‘Recommended” server. Leveled alone, twinked out a bit at levels 18-19 and 28-29 (I thought the AB boots were godly, even if you had to lose 30 games to get them). And then I ran that fateful Scarlet Monastery as a paladin tank, with three people who were friends IRL. I must have made some kind of impression because they invited me to the leveling guild they were in, named Invictus.
When I quit WoW a few months ago, I had been the GM of Invictus for over two and a half years. I saved the guild from abject destruction twice before taking the reins myself, and we graduated from leveling guild to Kara-clearing to eventually the #1 progression 10m-strict guild on the server in Wrath. For a time we had an absolutely brilliant raid roster of people that got along with each other, had similar interests, and otherwise had an ineffable chemistry which peaked in Ulduar, something that absolutely could not have happened at a better time in the game. Seriously, I still get misty-eyed looking back on the Ulduar montage I filmed (and seeing the Guild chat spam in the video after those kills almost makes me want to re-sub).
Thing is, it was completely goddamn random that any of us met at all.
To be clear, I am not referring to the general sort of Destiny vs Coincidence of my original guild imploding, my “choosing” Auchindoun over another server, or even my decision to tank Scarlet Monastery that night (and remember, this was back in TBC so Alliance characters had to be pretty damn serious about making the 15+ minute trek across three Horde-heavy zones). Anyone can talk about “what if?” until they begin to question the very nature of existence itself.
No, I talking about how Blizzard and most other MMO developers seem to rely on emergent social groups in their social MMOs.
Arising casually or unexpectedly.
When I met Sproll, Ariyal, and Duerim (now Boryenka) that night in Scarlet Monastery, none of us really knew how much we had in common. I wish I remembered what it was that led them to invite me to Invictus, although it was probably something dumb like my being guildless at the time. All three of those guys ended up being core officers of my benevolent Invictus dictatorship over the years, and I still talk with Bor to this day outside the game – we played the new Portal 2 co-op DLC a few days ago, for example.
If LFD existed back in those days, would I have met them in Scarlet Monastery? No. Would I have met them somewhere else on Auchindoun (it’s a low-pop server after all)? Maybe. But I still cannot get over the ridiculousness of the design insofar that this sort of emergent social behavior is encouraged in the most asinine way possible: randomly throwing people together and seeing what sticks. That is why you will never see me agree with the notion that LFD destroys communities. A lot of us bloggers lucked out in the Wild West fashion, but how many untold millions failed to get that pug moving and quit from boredom before the endgame? Is that really a “community” worth saving?
What I will agree with is that the current system is also dumb. The genre seems so stuck in the goddamn Dark Ages when it comes to social networking that I am genuinely surprised anyone makes something more than superficial “friends of convenience” at all. Players need to be given the tools to find like-minded individuals. There is a danger to creating insular cliques, of course, but if everyone agrees that MMOs are better with friends, this antiquated grouping design of blind coincidence needs revision.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion featuring concrete suggestions, coming (to) In An Age near you.