The Cart and the Horse
Posted by Azuriel
Why would someone start playing a game that was only fun with the friends you made after playing the game?
One of the criticisms of my Darkfall series of posts was that I never even tried to join a clan. This is true, and I said up-front that I was not going to try; it is why I labeled the series “Unfair Impressions” in the first place. Part of the reason I made such a decision was that I am not particularly feeling sociable at the moment. Another part is that, ironically, it didn’t seem fair to whomever’s social fabric I would be using like a dish rag; I don’t fully subscribe to Gevlon’s worldview, but getting a social benefit without returning the favor does feel like leeching to me.
The biggest reason though, is that I fundamentally believe that games (even MMOs) should be fun in of themselves first.
Think about your first MMO experience. Did you start playing alone? I walked into Azeroth with nothing, and left six years later with a half-dozen friends from across the country who still ask me to join them at the next New England meet-up. That is the sort of MMO and “virtual world” dream scenario, right? But just like any relationship, it did not develop overnight. It took time. Time spent playing the game without said friends. And at any time, that window of opportunity to convert me to long-term guild player could have closed if I didn’t feel engaged or entertained enough compared to my gaming alternatives.
I am not against a game requiring investment to play, or even a game in which the most enriching experiences are to be found in grouping. I am against a game requiring a priori buy-in to justify itself. It is not reasonable, to me, to suggest clan play makes the sort of new player experience I wrote about irrelevant. Maybe Darkfall doesn’t care about catering to new players or “hand-holding,” and that’s fine. But I feel that it is a tiny bit ridiculous to then claim the game is good (or another game is bad) when you have already committed to that position before even downloading the client.
Any game is better with friends. Requiring friends in order to have fun playing a game at all is not a strength, it’s a weakness. A deficiency. There will be thousands of players playing your game for the first time, alone. Does the game then facilitate friendships? Good. Does the game present a whole bunch of impenetrable nonsense? Bad. All your 30-minute boat rides and clever grouping schemes won’t work if the players never even make it out of what passes for a tutorial.
The longer I play something like Planetside 2, the greater the opportunity for me to get hooked into somebody’s social fabric, even if I’m kicking and screaming against it the whole way. In fact, joining an Outfit would be a sort of natural evolution to someone’s daily gameplay. But that evolution is only possible because the underlying game is fun to play, e.g. I’m playing it a lot right now, solo. With Darkfall, the consensus seems to be that the opposite is true: you have fun playing a lot only after being integrated into a social fabric woven before you actually start playing.
To me, that just sounds like putting the cart before the horse.