MMOs Were Originally Designed to Be Shared Social Experiences

Most MMO enthusiasts have noticed a sharp decline in the quality of the WoW community of late. Cursing, nastiness, bullying and other forms of rudeness have now become endemic in Azeroth. MMO commentators and even rank and file MMO players are finally realizing how serious this problem is. I’ve been passionately waving a red flag for years now to no avail.

The fact is that MMO companies have long neglected to design the need for player interdependence into their game worlds. When players don’t need each other it breeds anti-social behavior and it results in the devaluation of other players. Players become nothing more than advanced NPCs.

For some reason, the masters of the MMO universe just assumed that the community — much like oxygen in the real world — would always be there. They were wrong.

Some people are trying to rewrite history of MMOs and asserting that requiring community as part of the design was some kind of accident. I do not agree. Community and socialization were always the entire point of MMORPGs back then. With the advent of the Internet, the transition from single-player computer game to virtual world was predicated on the assumption that players would naturally want to have shared online experiences in a group.

What happened?

We Were Meant to Play Together

Player interdependence was in fact the foundation for the entire MMO design ethos including classes, groups, guilds, encounters and more. Everything was designed around this premise. The reason that the environment was so dangerous and unforgiving in a virtual world like EverQuest is that it created a natural need for players to band together to overcome shared adversity.

Player interdependence and the socialization that resulted was the glue the elevated almost all aspects of virtual world design into a new kind of synergistic experience.

I’ve used this analogy before but as a child growing up in the frozen tundra of Canada, I would always notice when there was a major snow storm that suddenly everyone in my sleepy Ontario town would pull together and help each other.  Those not so friendly neighbors that we never spoke to would become instant good friends. People would smile at each other as we all helped each other to dig out from the snowstorm. We bonded through shared adversity. It was magical.

At one time, MMOs had the same power to create that kind of community magic.

We as humans were not created to be alone. We were made to be social. It is our mastery of social skills such as the ability to love, to nurture, to trust, to cooperate and expect reciprocity which has made us successful and helped us to conquer disease, famine and almost everything else that this world has thrown at us.

Why then have massively multi-player online games become so anti-social?

The Solo Problem

Much of the current anti-social nature of MMOs lies in the fact that the current design paradigm deems that a successful MMO should be solo friendly. MMOs are trying to cast a big net to catch all of the fish in the ocean. It wasn’t always this way.

Soloing was never actually intended in MMOs. After all, what would be the point of a person becoming part of a virtual world full of thousands of people if they had no intention of ever interacting with their fellow players?

There are both good and bad forms of emergent player behavior. This is going to get me in trouble again but here goes: soloing is an aberrant emergent behavior and I feel it’s at the root of most of the problems in today’s MMOs as companies are now actively trying to pander to these people in order to make money at the expense of the greater good.

A possible analogy to promoting socialization can be found in the college and university system. Students in their first year are encouraged to live on campus. Why? So they can partake of the social life and experience the fullness of the campus lifestyle. It’s also important for young adults to start the process of becoming independent and they need to be away from the influence of their parents and have a chance to be with their classmates.

MMOs are similar in that their original purpose was for players to experience the virtual world together. So it is perfectly natural and valid that MMO developers should be encouraging people to socialize and cooperate in online virtual worlds.

Narcissus and the God of War Syndrome

Another reason for the decline in civility is that game developers have become enthralled with their own egos. Instead of creating a stage for the players to perform on, they would have us worship their creations. They have forgotten that they are here to serve and not to be served. What do I mean by this?

A symptom of this syndrome is that today MMOs feel more and more like single player games than they do multi-player online worlds. The reason is that quest designers have been unable to resist the temptation to “tell stories” and recreate the epic story of the popular God of War video game. The result is you have MMOs being transformed into single-player games complete with phasing and cutscenes.

Since controlling the environment for a single player is far easier than managing a living, breathing virtual world quest designers have slowly but surely become little tin pot dictators. They love their new found power and are unwilling to hand it back to the players.

This new emphasis on the single player has eroded the multi-player facet of MMOs and devalued socialization. Is the trade off really worth it?

The MMO Gentleman’s Club

I am not completely unsympathetic to the person that wishes to mind her own business and be left alone in a MMO. I personally do it far more than I would like.

I’m a big fan of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series that was produced by the BBC and PBS some years ago. Every now and then both Holmes and Watson would visit Sherlock’s brother Mycroft at an exclusive gentleman’s club called the Diogenes Club.

The bizarre thing about this club was that talking was strictly prohibited. These refined British upper class gentlemen would go there to seek peace and quiet and amidst the hustle and bustle of Victorian London. It was there they were unshackled from their ordinary lives and used the respite to smoke pipes, read newspapers and even fall asleep in big leather chairs.

It occurred to me this has become what many solo gamers find appealing about MMOs. They are just places where they can go to relax, unwind and not talk with anyone.

But what happens when the majority of people in a virtual world are escaping to such a silent club?

We’ve Reached the Tipping Point

It seems to me that people who solo by choice want all the benefits of being part of a living, breathing virtual world but they don’t want to do any of the heavy lifting such as actually interacting and cooperating with fellow players or contributing to the community. Good communities take work and everyone benefits from it. Bad communities take little work and everyone suffers from it.

While I agree with the notion that virtual worlds should be open to players that like to solo, it can cause serious problems when too many players find soloing too attractive and disregard grouping altogether.

When there is no need to socialize, the ability to socialize becomes a useless skill and then soon after people themselves become increasingly marginalized. When people become devalued the result is the average anti-social MMO community. We have now reached this dangerous tipping point. We’ve withdrawn so much currency from this cache of goodwill that we are in a deficit situation.

The problem is exacerbated when this kind of gameplay is actually encouraged by MMO companies so they can attract more subscribers.

Alone Together?

We’ve all seen it: a group of teenagers in a shopping mall or waiting for a bus. All of them are either listening to their iPods or fiddling with their smart phones. Nobody is communicating with each other. Sound familiar?

MMOs and virtual worlds were supposed to connect us and promote socialization but somehow they’re becoming more anti-social all the time. We can see this trend occurring in social media as well. A recent Guardian article ponders this very question. Paul Harris mentions an upcoming book on this subject from MIT professor Sherry Turkle called Alone Together:

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

This sounds eerily similar to what the MMO community has become — a collection of self-interested and self-absorbed people all going about their business with no need of anyone else.

Ask Not What Your MMO Can Do For You…

Part of the problem is that MMO developers don’t require much of anything from players anymore. Very little is expected of them. The player pays his monthly fee and essentially shows up waiting to be entertained. Players are the victims of low expectations from the developers.

Free from any social or moral requirements in a virtual world, many players end up behaving in a mercenary fashion. They do as they please because they can. There is no social order.

If players are to truly ever take ownership of their worlds and communities than they need to be given the tools to govern. If players can vote on threads in the official WoW forums then why can’t they vote on chat privileges for players in-game?

If players were given even the slightest ability to police their own servers I wager that communities would be cleaned up in no time.

Good Design Equals Good Community

Since it’s only natural to for players to follow the path of least resistance it’s up to MMO designers to counteract this and create game mechanics that require cooperation.

Case in point: in the good old days of MMOs like EverQuest, the harshness of the environment and the need for player cooperation naturally regulated the community. Players that developed bad reputations could not join guilds and were rightly outcast. They either learned to be civil or they played a necromancer. In fact many necromancers were infamous anti-social misfits.

A good virtual world citizen should be rewarded and valued. Currently they are not, as there are few if any incentives for being a good person in a MMO. Even having some small benefit for a /wave or /smile emote used by players on other players could trigger a viral “pay it forward” revolution and help to build communities.

Design By Spreadsheet

Another problem that contributes to the current phenomena of dysfunctional MMO communities is that online worlds are crafted more by using metrics and targeting demographics than a cohesive vision for a virtual world. It’s design by spreadsheet. Content has become compartmentalized and created for specific demographics.

Instead of players having to adjust to the virtual world, virtual worlds now have to adjust to the wants and needs of players. Nobody has to conform, rise to the occasion or meet any standards; instead the MMO meets them where they are. Without a need for some kind of transformation, personal growth and investment, you have a rabble of selfish anti-social players. Ask them what they think of “community” and they probably wouldn’t even understand what it means.

Creating a good community in a MMO is actually very easy. What is lacking is courage and the will to do so. Sadly most MMO companies in their myopic lust for profits would rather have more subscribers than have a good community.

Too Many Conclusions and Not Enough Time

To quote the famous TV show Cheers: do you want to walk into a pub where everybody knows your name? Or do you want to walk into a pub and drink alone?

Part of what drives me to keep writing about MMOs and virtual worlds is that I’m on a crusade to bring back the good community experience that once existed. Almost all of my articles in some way deal with the lack of community and its ramifications. I believe that the concept of a good MMO community is one that is worth fighting for.

As I stated in an article a couple years ago, I believe that community is a commodity in a MMO. The quality of people you play with are just as important as the quality of the artwork, the sound, the story et al. It’s just a shame that the notion of community has been relegated to the so-called “endgame” in MMOs. The problem is that you can’t suddenly expect socially inept players to suddenly change once they reach level 85 and start becoming socially adept now that they need a group and guild to progress.

The truth is that the real high level game in virtual worlds is not raiding; rather it’s the social game that makes raiding possible. The developers at Blizzard will readily admit this. It is a game that we all know how to play at its most basic level but it requires a high level of skill to absolutely master. The rewards to those that can play this game well are friendship, camaraderie, great memories and yes even character advancement; all those wonderful and seemingly intangible things that attracted me and many others to this genre in the first place.

This is perhaps why most MMOs today don’t require grouping because having even basic social skills is too much of a barrier to entry. And barriers to entry mean fewer profits.

You can only keep burning the furniture in your house to keep warm for so long; eventually there will be no house left. Likewise, you can only keep removing the need for player interdependence in your MMO before you have no MMO community left.

MMO companies need to stop worrying so much about the “game” and start focusing on building up the quality of their community. Because as it stands the bad community is starting to drive subscribers away and it’s actually costing them money to keep ignoring this festering wound.

Ultimately, virtual worlds are all about people. When you are managing the nightly participatory entertainment of 12 million people you have a tremendous responsibility to create an environment that ensures that the community is civil. You have a direct responsibility to your paying customers to ensure that their online experience is not ruined by other players.

The creator must take full responsibility for his creation. Players are that creation and are constantly being molded by the developers. In the end, MMO companies get the communities they deserve.


68 thoughts on “MMOs Were Originally Designed to Be Shared Social Experiences

  1. The harshness of group play drove a lot of people away. I get you like the old model, but I played it as well, and there are tremendous downsides:

    1. The staggering timesink. People forget how much of group-oriented MMO time spent was doing nothing but waiting for or organizing parties, or dealing with pop times. In FFXI you drove out casual players when you had 4+ hour endgame events and mobs that had 6+ hour camping times.

    2. Addiction. Oh, boy, how we forget this. A solo-friendly MMO can be easily turned off. A group one can’t. It still exists now, but they didn’t coin the term Everquest Widows for nothing. In FFXI I commonly saw players put in 8-12 hour days.

    3. Group-based games caused massive player fatigue. Part of being in a group was making it extremely hard to leave for key jobs, often needing to find reps or break up parties. You also had to play a certain way because the community policed itself, and that may mean certain jobs were useless, or you had to sink long hours farming to afford needed consummables or gear. People became weary and burned out.

    There are more reasons, but grouping is not a panacea. I think people idolize it because they haven’t done it for years. For me, my years in FFXI are still fresh in my mind, and I simply don’t have the energy or patience to go back to that style of game.

    • Dblade these are all great points and it’s easy to gloss over some of the flaws in a group based MMOs.

      Still, I think the pendulum should start swinging back the other way. MMO devs should be encouraging people to group and be social instead of forcing them to do so. If people want to log on for a few minutes and kill some boars then that is fine but give them a reason to group, give them incentives to team up.

      It’s up to the devs to establish a vision for their MMO. Then they have to actively promote that vision.

      There are many team sports that have certain rules and expectations for those that play. For example, you cant be part of a football team and just go off and do your own thing all because you “want to be alone” or are “pressed for time”.

      MMOs have gone from being a very esoteric experience enjoyed by a few to being a big tent cultural phenomena where everyone is seemingly welcome. With that wide acceptance comes many problems, the biggest being the lack of social cohesion and community.

      I really think if MMO devs start showing a bit more concern for the quality of community that more people will be happy in the long run.

      • I think the football is a bad analogy for a team sport. Honestly MMO’s in my mind are more like basketball. I can go to a park or gym and if no one is there I can shoot, do layups, or drills. If one more person is there we can play one on one or a HORSE. Add another and we can play 21, HORSE or 2 on 1. Add more and you can do 2 on 2 up to the max 5 on 5.

        The main game you want to play is 5 on 5, other stuff help you improve on that, but I can still play the game if there aren’t people even though I ultimately want to play 5 on 5.

        The problem with MMO’s is not the options but the fact that many don’t want to play with others or the games make it harder than it should be to play with others.

  2. “If players are to truly ever take ownership of their worlds and communities than they need to be given the tools to govern. If players can vote on threads in the official WoW forums then why can’t they vote on chat privileges for players in-game?

    If players were given even the slightest ability to police their own servers I wager that communities would be cleaned up in no time.”

    The greatest danger with arbitrarily handing out powers like this is that there’s more of them than us. By handing out powers such as this you have to be prepared for them to be used against you. Case in point; on a couple of occasions I’ve been kicked out of Dungeon groups for calling someone out for being abusive and rude. Scale that up to something that affects the whole game instead of just a random LFD group and pretty soon you’ll be back playing Everquest… probably alone.

    Arguably Blizzard have already taken a few steps in the right direction by promoting Guild membership and making end game content significantly harder. The “good” people sticking together is the only way you can limit your exposure to the “bad” people.

  3. I think your example of Canadians coming together to help their neighbours in the snow storm is very pertinent. It’s true that people are extraordiarily social and cooperative under adversity.

    However people don’t actually like or want adversity. Effectively you’re asking for virtual snow storms so that your neighbours with lend you a hand shoveling your drive and make you hot soup. Very few people, even Canadians, actually want snow storms even though some aspects of it are pleasant. Very few MMO players want adversity. In WoW it’s become a joke that people want things to be just hard enough so that they can do it but all the players worse than them can’t. But oh my, how they moan when things are tuned just slightly too hard for them themselves.

    If you keep banging the drum someone will produce a game that thrives on adversity and it will attract a niche following. Eve and Darkfall already offer this for pvpers although in Eve’s case there’s a significant safety net. It would be good to see an old style PvE challenge although even there I have my reservations. I rather liked running across the vast empty wastes of Tatooine in SW:G but I didn’t like the quest content – being sent to kill Bilvu Rogers who is somewhere to the West and whom you might not find for hours was horrible.

    • I agree that people don’t actively go out seeking danger or adversity but when it is thrust upon humans often great things happen. Watch those HBO series Band of Brothers of the Pacific and you see how regular people became heroes.

      I think it’s the role of game designers to the same and create a virtual world that present scenarios and situations that require people to band together to overcome adversity.

      The premise of WoW is a world at war. Every MMO has to have some kind of conflict that needs to be resolved or the result is a boring experience.

      If soloing were made a bit harder don’t you think people would actually team up a bit more and enjoy each others company?

      I think of all the friends I made in EverQuest. I know that if EverQuest was like WoW I would not have made 90% of the friends I made. In a way, a solo friendly MMO cheats players out of rich, deep relationships. That’s a real shame.

      • The problem is that people genuinely prefer the less challenging gameplay. Raph’s Theory of Fun is wrong. People don’t want to be challenged they want to win while experiencing an apparent challenge.

        If it were only newbies who preferred soloing then yes, you’d be right, there are rich deep relationships that players don’t realise they’re missing. It’s not though, most people who played UO and EQ and SWG have moved on to a more solo-friendly game. These are people who know they could foster deep friendships by playing a hardcore game like Darkfall but would rather not do so.

        It frustrates me sometimes. I used to be a hardcore WoW raider and I play now in a casual guild. When we raid after 2 or 3 wipes someone will realise they have some RL reason to log off. In the old days we would wipe all night because we understood that boss attempts are each a learning experience and everyone needs to keep looking at the fight over and over until we can all do our part well. Nowadays people simply don’t have that tenacity and WoW rather breeds it out of them.

        However WoW has been very clever at finding alternate paths to success for people who can’t hack a challenge. In TBC there was Afk Valley and its welfare epics. In WotLK there were face-rollable heroics. In Cat it seems to be arenas – we’re finding it incredibly easy to get 5 wins against random players which leads on to some of the best loot in the game.

        There is room for a niche game that doesn’t offer these quick and easy shortcuts to power. But it is niche, WoW really does serve up what its players want. I am reminded of this every time someone quits group after a death (even though they would be ressed in 5 seconds). Most people don’t want even the slightest hint that they are really being challenged, that they are less than godlike. Even pvp, which one would think would be zero sum in terms of player satisfaction, is designed so that most people leave a battleground feeling that they were awesome. (Partly because the guy farming kills in the middle uses different criteria to assess who was awesome than the druid running the flag).

        I would like to see the game you are agitating for. I don’t think it will be WoW though. In fact I think they would be mad to make WoW over to your type of game, going from 12 million players to niche. Possibly criticising WoW for being a sell-out is an effective way to keep the dream alive though. And as ever a very interesting read. Thank you.

        • Stabs, I totally agree with everything you wrote there. Many (most?) people play MMOs not to be challenged, but to boost their egos. This requires that the content appear to be challenging, but not actually be so (since, if it were, most people would fail on it.)

          I think Blizzard made a mistake by making progression information available to the public, via armory and achievements. This objective data shows most people that they aren’t anything special, ruining the illusion of heroism.

          • Is PvP challenging?

            Only 9% of WoW players are not interested in PvP. Other games, even ones with a horrible reputation for grinding and ganking such as Aion, have similar results in surveys.

            (Other regions for WoW gave almost identical results, with the most variation coming from twinking being much less popular for Russian and Spanish players.)

          • Taemojitsu: ah, but if you look at that poll, only 10% of the vote went to rated PvP. Unrated BGs are much more popular. People like a form of PvP where if they win, they can feel heroic, but if they lose, they can blame everyone else (in a large group) while reassuring themselves *they* did their part.

          • Does rated PvP prevent players from blaming their teammates for failure, then? Making it feel less heroic because people are forced to concede it was their teammates’ success that caused the team to win, and not their own accomplishment?

            In any case, you seem to be saying that a 50% success rate for PvE instances is sufficient for people to have fun and “feel” challenged even if the challenge does not actually exist with such a high success rate. I think most players who are, in fact, interested in a challenge would agree that doubling the success rate for skilled play would be a vast improvement over many of the ‘grindy’ reward mechanics in many existing MMOs, and from what you are saying the bads would have no objection to this situation either.

          • I think it’s harder to blame the people you play with if they aren’t random strangers, especially if they are keeping track of your performance and throwing your mistakes right back at you.

  4. I get that you liked EQ but honestly, EQ was nothing but a bunch of guesses on the part of the designers (some worked, some didn’t), a stroke of luck at releasing at a time when people were more open to the idea of online games for a fee than they had been previously, and for the most part, everyone there was D&D/MUD geeks. It’s a horrible example to compare *that* to the totally mainstream WoW.

    Soloing was never actually intended in MMOs. After all, what would be the point of a person becoming part of a virtual world full of thousands of people if they had no intention of ever interacting with their fellow players?

    Maybe it wasn’t originally intended for EQ, but go back and read the blogs (I don’t even think they were called blogs back then) and remember all those stories how lots of players put a lot of time and effort getting just the right build and gear so that they could solo. Comparing it to real life, do each of us associate with every person on our street? Our block? Our city? No, nor do any of us want to, but we’re all playing this “massively multiplayer” game called Real Life aren’t we? We pick and choose who we associate with.

    The catch with these so-called “massively multiplayer” games is that they’re really not. A group size is 5 in Wow, 6 in almost everything else. Those aren’t “massive” numbers. The original raids in EQ may have been, I don’t remember the player cap. Otherwise, it’s small “multiplayer” groups, the only difference is there can be thousands of other players on the server all in their own small multiplayer groups. But on a “massively multiplayer” scale are we “playing together?” Not really; at best we’re just chatting.

    However, consider this spin on your “solo” argument: The single most social MMO I’ve ever played was the original SWG. Not only did it have sandbox features and meaningful crafting, but at the time you could only have one character per server, per account. No alts on the same server unless you bought another account. This plus the meaningful crafting meant we all had to interact on several levels. MMOs these days let us play so many alts that in terms of crafting, economy, and community there is very little need for that interaction anymore. Why buy parts from another player and tolerate his high prices when I could just roll an alt and craft them myself?

  5. I’m with you Wolf… but it’s a bigger problem than just MMOs… it’s a problem with our entire society and MMOs are just following the trends and cashing in on how society has conditioned the players.

    i recently watched the latest Zeitgeist movie… and it was odd how much your thoughts exactly mirror what is wrong with our society as a whole… check out … i know the movies are long and can be a bit boring at times (they cover topics ranging from genetics to technology, politics, economics, sustainability, social behavior and everything in-between) but in order to fully understand the entertainment of a society, you need to understand the society itself.

    The problem is with society and how we’re raised/brainwashed to behave in certain ways and hold certain values… people today are more selfish than humans have ever been in the entire history of humankind, and society is making them more selfish every day.

    A weak MMO community is just a reflection of a much greater problem.

    • I think the idea that people are more selfish today than in history is preposterous and indefensible. It’s just a “the kids these days” claim, and it is mostly trumpeted by people who also like to complain that *their* tax dollars are paying for programs they don’t use.

      Humanity has progressed from a bunch of isolated tribes who couldn’t care less about what happened to people in the next tribe over to a global culture where people genuinely care about the welfare of people across the world. People do care less about their neighbors than they used to, but they care more about people they’ve never met. The desire to be left alone should not be mistaken for selfishness, because it usually comes with an honest intention to not be judgmental of others.

      As Zarathustra said:
      Ye crowd around your neighbour, and have fine words for it. But I say unto you: your neighbour-love is your bad love of yourselves. Ye flee unto your neighbour from yourselves, and would fain make a virtue thereof: but I fathom your “unselfishness.”

      The furthest ones are they who pay for your love to the near ones; and when there are but five of you together, a sixth must always die.

      • i really have no answer to this… you obviously don’t live in the same world i live in… and therefor trying to argue would be pointless.

        if you honestly think people today are less selfish than people 200 years ago… then i can only shake my head in wonder at your ignorance.

        by the way… i’m 23 and very aware that i’m part of this problem (and constantly surrounded by it)… i am in no way some old fuddy duddy wistfully thinking about the good old days with my rose colored classes on.

        • Selfish? No. Individualistic? Yes.

          The distinction needs to be made because words like “greed” and “selfish” are spawned from jealousy. There is nothing wrong about caring for oneself or one’s family. Is it selfish to work toward making a lot of money so you can live a more comfortable lifestyle when there are those living without anything? No.

          Americans (like myself) are typically described as being selfish and greedy capitalists who care not for the plight of others. Yet, when you look at what countries give aid to others, we are one of the highest on the list. In fact, look at any successful “selfish” people on this planet and you’ll notice that the better off the people there are, the more they give to others. After all, you can’t help others if you can’t even support yourself.

          MMOs are a relfection of society in many ways. However, I do not draw the conclusion that “selfishness” or “greed” is what drives the communities of solo-centric MMORPGs like WoW. Even in the most player-interdependent MMORPGs, players strive for personal glory, success, and wealth.

          Is this wrong? No, because the alternative is what exactly? Striving for mediocrity? Striving to be the worst? These are not qualities of mankind, nor of animal kind, where the result of such behavior would certainly be death. This is the natural order of things.

          • Alex Taldren wrote:
            There is nothing wrong about caring for oneself or one’s family.

            Careful with absolute statements like this. What if your child were a hemovore and you had to kill an adult human once a week to take care of your child? Would you still see “nothing wrong” with that?

            Yes, sure, this is a made-up and possibly contrived example, but where do you draw the line?

            One problem is that humans, as a rule, tend to be terrible at seeing the bigger picture and how they fit within it. I was watching the documentary King Corn that talks a lot about how corn affects our food supply. (It’s a good, even if food production and farm subsidies tends to be a hot-button issue for some.) Anyway, the point is that the origin of having corn become part of a lot of American food was a “logical” change in a government subsidy that encouraged increased production. This meant that farmers were encouraged to increase their yield, but every gain comes at an expense.

            So, while you might argue there’s “nothing wrong” with a corn farmer growing crops to provide for his or her family, the farmer ultimately supports a system that can be argued to contributes to many problems. Ultimately, we need someone looking beyond themselves as an individual to make better choices.

            Is this wrong? No, because the alternative is what exactly? Striving for mediocrity? Striving to be the worst?

            The answer is to strive to bring the greatest benefit and the least problems to the widest group of people. But, it’s usually selfishness that prevents people from taking a small reduction in their own rewards to give a large boost to someone else or to provide a larger benefit down the road. I’ll stop there before I get called a dirty red communist by the ignorant. :P

          • Pfft, didn’t Twilight teach you anything, Brian? Veggie vampires, dude. :)


            Oh, and “dirty communist”!
            …that does give me pause, though. Not the political tangent, but the philosophy. As devs, we pretty much *are* fascist dictators in our game worlds. Really, look at this article by Sanya Weathers, and tell me that that’s not a “free speech” violation:


            Thing is, she’s probably right. Controlling speech with moderation or filters probably *would* make for a better community. (Cue obvious tangent from the Arizona shootings and their political hyperbolic aftermath.)

            So… we’re really not in Kansas any more. We *are* dealing with controlled situations here, by their very nature. We can’t trust those dirty players to govern themselves, obviously. So what gets controlled? Who sets the standards? The devs, surely, but if they don’t maintain a tight grip, the slavering horde will see it as a weakness and take over Goldshire.

            …tongue slightly out of cheek, I really don’t think we can apply real world rules to virtual worlds, at least, not if this “community” thing is something we want control over. You want into the club, you sign the charter and abide by it, or get kicked, no questions asked.

            A gated community will almost always be a “better” community. The question in my mind then becomes “what is best for our game design”?

          • Tesh wrote:
            As devs, we pretty much *are* fascist dictators in our game worlds.

            Yes, and now we see me go from dirty communist to heartless capitalist: MMO developers aren’t governments. There is no such thing as protected speech unless the developer has agreed to it. (Even then, they could revoke it just as easily as they grated it.)

            Honestly, this is the way it really should be. If I have one customer harassing others, I don’t want to have to stop and construct a careful argument about why they need to stop. The victims will not necessarily appreciate the finer points of why “free speech” must be protected when someone is “sorta” insulting their mothers.

            Ultimately, developers need to act in the bests interests of the playerbase. Sometimes that means doing what’s best for the community as a whole instead of what some individual players want. Again, hopefully we’ll see a good variety of games to satisfy a diverse audience.

        • Well Logan, since you are 23, I assume you have detailed knowledge of what people were like 200 year ago?

          Regardless of your age, this kind of thinking is precisely being an old fuddy duddy wistfully thinking about the good old days. The majority of human history is actually extremely bleak. 200 years ago duelling was legal in many parts of North America! That means that as a society we thought it was acceptable to care more about a personal slight than about the life of another person. I can’t think of much more selfish than thinking it’s okay to kill someone for hurting your feelings.

          How unselfish could we have been as a society if we didn’t let anyone but white males vote? Most people probably honestly let themselves think that this was the “right” thing to do, but that’s no different than honestly thinking you should get paid more than someone else, or honestly thinking that you should get the bigger piece of cake. We substitute selfishness for reason constantly, and that kind of broad societal acceptance of oppression is selfishness to an extreme.

          Most of the time complaining about selfishness in others is just a mask for your own selfishness. When you are a narcissist it sure seems like no one else care about anything but themselves – after all, they don’t spend all their time caring about you.

          Selfishness is not evil, it is caring for a person who is deserving of being cared for – yourself. It’s just that it’s not as good as expanding your caring to other people. Today people are far more open to other people and far more likely to identify with the plight of other people, even people they haven’t met. That caring is precisely the movement away from selfishness.

  6. I’ve noticed that Cataclysm seems to have made much of the WoW playerbase mean and hostile. Be it a result of changed game-mechanics or not, it’s just not been as pleasurable to play with folks I don’t know since the expansion’s release.

    That said, even with strangers (though it’s usually with 1-2 guildmates) it’s much more enjoyable for me to run through some tasks, say Tol Barad daily quests, in a group rather than alone. There are still plenty of nice people in the game today and I hope to see a swing back to friendlier PuGs and random /waves, or buffs, or even just a “hello” as I’m roaming Azeroth and beyond.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights!

  7. “soloing is an aberrant emergent behavior”

    Is that true of “real life” as well? What exactly do you mean by “soloing”? I’d argue that participating in a world as a fully functional individual is a healthy thing. Requiring others to be able to function isn’t usually a healthy thing.

    Also, I find it funny that you’d cite college freshmen cesspits as a seedbed of independence. True independence means neither parents nor idiotic peers. You’re just shifting the dependence to another group, notably, one with less wisdom and inhibition. Is it any wonder that fraternities are more often problematic than not?

    Perhaps “interdependence” might be a better angle to come from. I’d note that such implies that individuals are competent on their own, but that there are certain things that can be done easier (or only) with help. Still, baseline individual independent competence comes first, as “interdependence” without it becomes parasitism.

    There’s also the asynchronous chronology of much of what we do that really is interdependent. I depend on the power company and water company, but I’m not out there joined at the hip with them in five man groups when the pipes bust. They do their thing, I do mine, and Smith’s Invisible Hand keeps us all tenuously interdependent, all while being able to function without direct assistance. That only works *because* we can do our own things.

    I think we do see vestiges of this in MMO markets. Puzzle Pirates has a better economy than WoW, but both tend to function only because players are off acting in their own interests, whether or not they are alone or in groups.

    That’s my trouble with saying these MMO things aren’t social. They are, most assuredly, they just aren’t all about shared adversity in smallish groups. They are more about the larger, tenuous connections of a population, both in-game and in the metagame. If anything, that’s more true to life than any game could be if it were built on an assumption that most players need to be playing together most of the time.

    And as has been noted before, you can do pretty much all of the “group” content of any MMO with 25 other people. Hardly massive, that. It’s those external *non-group, non-combat* interactions that flesh out the world, instead of just being about the group gameplay. Come on, Wolf, you agonize about the lack of worldiness in these things more than I do. Group combat is only a tiny slice of what these things really can offer, and if anything, it’s more insular than most activities.

    • It’s worth noting, though, that I agree wholly that these things really shouldn’t be about the devs’ stories. They should be stages on which players tell their own stories. It seems to me that if you rely on the players to drive the world instead of telling them to go to the back of the bus and shut up for the show, you’d see more involvement, and naturally increased sociality. Thing is, that would be an organic result of player agency, a very different beast from shared suffering. It’s positive rather than negative. When players have the ability to step up and change their own gaming experience, they are more invested in that experience. Heck, that’s why we play games in the first place instead of just watch movies.

      …of course, even that approach isn’t likely to garner more than a niche audience, as would a harsh shared suffering sort of game. Going further, get rid of achievements, levels and gear, since those are just Pavlovian Skinner mechanics. Really make a game built purely on social gameplay (even if it’s still just killing internet dragons, not some stupid Second Life chatroom), and you would probably have a solid community… but a small one.

      BBB has a great article up about some differences between tabletop RPGs and MMORPGs, by the way. You would probably like it; one thing that tabletop games still have going for them is the social factor. You have to get along with the players you play with; it’s a tight circle of reciprocation or bust.

  8. Like those who responded above, I see where you’re coming from, and I even agree that more needs to be done to *encourage* socialization and good citizenship. But going back to the insane requirements of earlier games would be a bit ridiculous, not to mention completely unfeasible.

    Complaining about the state of society, whether it’s the Real World or a virtual one, is a condition of the aging. I do it as much as anyone else my age. The “Golden Age” of MMOs you seem to be yearning for was *your* Golden Age. That Age is not for everyone, just as the present state of MMOs is not what you’d wish it to be. But condemning the present and future wholesale is just…unrealistic. Sure, there are many negative aspects of modern MMOs, as there are of modern society in the Real World. But let’ s not forget that there were just as many negative points to what’s come before – it wasn’t all candy and roses back then, either. One *could* just point a finger at all of the upcoming games and incoming players and blame them for everything one doesn’t like about our hobby, but what good does THAT do?

    Developers do respond to trends, and I think your post ignores one of the biggest trends both developers and players tend to forget – a serious shift in demographics. Most players, myself included, aren’t in college anymore. We’re not kids with limitless energy, disposable time, and some spare cash. We’re adults. With jobs, and families, and *gasp* responsibilities. The crazy timesinks to which you refer just aren’t reasonable anymore. Yes, they did a lot for socialization, in their own way. But REQUIRING socialization and ENCOURAGING socialization are two different things, and guess which game I’d rather play now that I have a mortgage and two kids? That’s right.

    Does my lack of free time mean I’m forever barred from enjoying a good community in an MMO? According to your post, it would seem that way.

    In the end, like everything else, it comes down to one of two things. One, find a middle ground or, two, find a niche. Either developers and players have to find a compromise, or they have to fill (for the developers) or find (for the players) a niche that caters to their desires. I’m not saying that the state of community in something like WoW is a good thing, or even a necessary result, but it is the byproduct of Blizzard’s decisions over the past several years.

    You can’t really go back, just like “You Can Never Go Home”. I think all we can do is find what’s working and what’s good, and put our efforts into promoting those things. The devs will follow our lead (and our money). But decrying the genre, or society, outright as “a problem” just ignores the good things that *are* happening, and if we do that, how do we move forward?

  9. Love the article. Pretty much touches on everything I believe to be true about MMORPGs.

    I started playing Xsyon yesterday. Not sure if you’ve heard of it, but it’s an indie, sandbox MMORPG with gameplay based around civilization building, terraforming, crafting, and a touch of combat.

    Anyway, this is what happened. I was trying to craft a basket to store wood in, but I didn’t have a tool called a weaver, which I needed. And, I realized that my toolcrafting skill wasn’t high enough to craft a weaver from other materials.

    So I asked in general chat if anyone had a weaver for trade. Someone did, and their response to me was “Yeah, plenty, but bring nails.”

    He needed nails and I needed a weaver. If that isn’t player interdependence at its best, I don’t know what is. And, frankly, the community is about 100% more friendly than any themepark MMO’s simply because the game encourages it.

  10. Reading through the comments, the problems with these discussions is the same as we’ve had with a lot of design topics from removing levels to permadeath. People assume we take the most popular game and make the changes directly to it. (Not surprising, because that’s how most games “evolve”.)

    Let’s be clear here, WoW today + forced grouping = stupid

    But, let’s do a little pretending. Let’s pretend that all the work that Blizzard put into making a solo-friendly game was instead poured into reducing the barriers to enjoying group content. Not just forcing people together because the content is so stupidly difficult. I did a whole blog post about this in the past, where I pointed out things that really just get in the way of grouping. What would the community be like today? Encouraging grouping (or, for me, reducing barriers to grouping) can help this tremendously according to some of us.

    Yet, people are eager to defend the status quo, so nothing changes. I think most of us will agree that the WoW community is terrible, so what can a game designer do to work against it for future projects?

    • You definitely need to reduce barriers, not force behavior. There’s a world of difference between the two.

      Even so, if all those barriers were gone, and human nature still saw players most often happy to solo, would we then blame the game or realize we’re misunderstanding humans?

  11. Tesh wrote:
    You definitely need to reduce barriers, not force behavior. There’s a world of difference between the two.

    Eh, not so sure that difference is as wide as you believe. I think it’s a thinner line between encouraging certain behaviors and forcing them. Taking EQ1 as an example, the game didn’t strictly enforce grouping, it was just the more reasonable option for most of the playerbase. As Scott points out above, some people went out of their way to be able to solo the game effectively. But, people still refer to EQ as a “forced grouping” game.

    Even so, if all those barriers were gone, and human nature still saw players most often happy to solo, would we then blame the game or realize we’re misunderstanding humans?

    Sociology and Psychology point strongly to humans (generally) being social animals. Of course, the type of people attracted to playing these types of games might tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.

    Personally, I think many people do want to group together and I think that the MMO experience would be healthier if people were encouraged to group together more in a meaningful way. But, most games have put up all sorts of artificial barriers to people cooperating, so it’s still wild speculation at this point how people would react to such a game.

    • I think the question still stands, though it might be better phrased as “If people don’t play the way we want to, do we blame the people or our assumptions and goals?” We run into this all the time in game testing, and the answer isn’t always “educate those idiot players”.

      …and more to the point, how do we make the most money? By understanding our audience and catering to them or by trying to make them conform to the way we think they should play? Standing on game design principle is all well and good for labors of love, but when games go commercial, at some point, we have to make the game people will pay for or be happy with an ideological niche. Neither is what I’d call “wrong”, but we do have to pay attention to the realities of a market.

      • I think the question still stands, though it might be better phrased as “If people don’t play the way we want to, do we blame the people or our assumptions and goals?” We run into this all the time in game testing, and the answer isn’t always “educate those idiot players”.

        What the player wants isn’t always the best thing. I’m reminded of a Dilbert strip where the PHB said they were going to give customers exactly what they want, and Dilbert quips, “Our customers want better products for free.”

        We’ve seen a lot of companies and games fail as the designers try to give the players “what they want” in the form of a WoW-clone. That hasn’t worked at all. We need to look at the problem from another angle instead of circling back around on the answer that hasn’t worked in all these years.

        …and more to the point, how do we make the most money?

        You’ve probably seen it before, but you might enjoy watching Malcom Gladwell talk about spaghetti sauce: If anyone hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend it; it’s a very lively and engrossing 18 minutes and very relevant to this discussion.

        The lesson here is twofold: First, offering an objectively superior product doesn’t automatically give you success. Second, our customers don’t always know what they want, or more precisely, how to ask for what they want.

        It seems obvious to me that if all we offer is MMOs with stupid mechanics that punish groups, then people are going to shun groups. We need to figure out what the “chunky” version of MMOs is. Or, to put it another way, instead of wondering what the perfect MMO is, we need to look at what the perfect MMOs would be.

  12. I have been thinking a lot about community, and its impact on my gaming as well lately.

    I am a natural solo ist. I tend to avoid social groups both in game and in real life, but I readily admit that when you have a good group your experiences are enhanced.

    I think you have presented a balanced view on the issue of grouping in MMO’s. Games will continue to be solo friendly for all the reasons you mentioned, but I agree that this will decrease the quality of the community as a whole. This will, in turn, decrease the ability of players to enjoy the game except the most solo of circumstances including turning off general chat and completely isolating themselves in game. Who wants to play with, or listen to the anti social element in game?

    When I’m enjoying a pint in my local, be it alone with the paper, or with a group of friends, and a group of rowdey’s who don’t usually frequent the place come in, how do I feel? Annoyed, put out, and generally intruded upon.

    It’s not whether games should, or should not, be solo friendly because the larger titles will continue to do so. It also isn’t about whether this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I feel that the point is the general community in most games is deteriorating and that, of course, is because we have stopped interacting and listening to each other. Co operation and mutual need is a social glue. That deterioration has an impact on me weather I am playing solo or looking for a group.

    I am following (and playing) a small, niche game called Xsyon which is designed around player inter dependence and co operation. I’m not plugging the game as god knows it has a lot of flaws, but of interest to me is what kind of world will the players choose to create?

    No NPC’s of any kind, open world PVP (combat is horrible though), and designer included penalties for ‘evil’ players are some of the features. Essentially the world is blank and the players must build, and create everything. The game is going to be an interesting look at what choices players will make when given the freedom to do so. Will the community be better because the necessary crafting is designed to be interdependent?

    Games that provide this opportunity are rare. Ultimately, as consumers, players will have to choose what they want, and what they are willing to put up with. If the game I enjoy gets overrun with players who are rude, abrasive, or abusive I can always move on. It’s a shame but we do have options.

    Communities, families, and society have changed and will continue to do so. I won’t bore you with sociological theories on the impact of the Industrial Revolution on family, and community, or (more recently) the impact of technology and how it actually keeps us apart. I also remember when communities pulled together in rural Canada and can remember the stories of my Great-grandparents who pioneered these lands. With winter temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, isolated communities/families, and no cars in the very beginning…you couldn’t afford to go solo because lives were literally on the line.

    This year we had (have) record snow fall and bone chilling temperatures but I’ve only spoken to my neighbors a few times. Life, and perhaps games, have moved on, for better or, in the case of games with ‘bad’ communities, for worse. We can lament, and even do our best to bring those values back, but we have to accept that some things, and people, will never change.

  13. I have played WoW for 5 years and even though I love the game, I agree that the WoW community is exceptionally rude and antisocial. I am not sure I agree completely with the reasons you presented, however. Recently I took a few months off from WoW and tried out LOTRO when it went free to play. The shock of going from WoW to the LOTRO social landscape was nothing short of staggering. For example, in LOTRO it was routine to see top-level players hanging around the low level zones, offering help to the new people, or politely answering questions in general chat. Friendly social groups would meet in the pubs to just hang out together – tell stories, play music, or just kick back and talk. The LOTRO community is much renowned for being friendly, helpful, and social, and I personally found this was 100% merited.

    At first I found this new social environment baffling, but eventually decided it was largely the result of three factors:

    • No PvP. LOTRO has no real PvP – it goes against the original lore for the people of Middle-Earth to be battling against each other. They have “Monster Play,” where you can create a separate character who is a monster (an ogre, for example), but even that is fairly well restricted. So overall, the entire player base is on the *same side.* This sets up a very cooperative system whereby everything that helps you, also helps me. Every buff you get, every new skill level or gear upgrade, has the possibility of helping my game, because we’re fighting together against a common enemy. Not against each other. A more PvP-oriented game, on the other hand, works the other way: every time something helps you, it has the potential to *hurt* me. Even members of the same faction meet as enemies in arena, where your brand new sword is going to be slicing through my armor. We are all potential enemies of each other.

    • Crafting interdependence. The LOTRO crafting system is extremely interwoven. Everybody gets three professions – two of which will more or less “match up” (like a skill to gather wood, and another to craft items made with wood), and an extra that doesn’t, like farming. In order to advance your trades, you find you will need a lot of things created by others, and in turn you are able to supply others with the materials they need, especially with your “extra” profession. Many guilds are centered around this very interdependence, to freely trade materials and crafts with people who support each other in this way. This is just one example of how the game of LOTRO encourages people to get along and work together, but it’s one that most stood out to me.

    • No anonymous, cross-server LFG tool. I know we were crazy about this system when it was rolled out in WoW, but I think overall it’s done more to harm the social environment here than it has helped. In WoW, it is no longer necessary to form relationships with others, or even be familiar with basic courtesy, in order to participate in 5-man groups. Gone are the days when people would try to be friendly in groups, and after a successful run would add each other to their friends list in order to play with them again. Nowadays you don’t have to speak to another player once, not to form the group, or even while running the group. The other people in the dungeon with you may as well be NPC escorts, not fellow human beings at all. Furthermore, there is zero repercussion for bad behavior. How many of us have been “ganked” by tanks who rush in, gather up a room full of mobs, then quit the group in order to wipe us in the first few moments of the dungeon? How many of us have been grouped with “leet” dps who spam recount after every pull, insulting the other players for not keeping up? The fact is that this kind of behavior persists in WoW because there is no incentive to behave. In a small, friendly LOTRO community, you guard your reputation because it’s going to get you invited back to groups. In WoW, there is almost no chance that you will ever have to see your group mates again.

    I love WoW, and it is still my “main” game. But there are other MMOs where the community really *is* a great deal more civil, and LOTRO is a prime example of one that (mostly) gets it right.

  14. “When players don’t need each other it breeds anti-social behavior and it results in the devaluation of other players. Players become nothing more than advanced NPCs.”

    Not true at all. Guild Wars has an amazing community, despite the fact that if you have the third campaign (Nightfall) or the xpac (Eye of the North), you effectively don’t need people at all, except in PvP.

    There are player organised events, supported by ArenaNet. Most recently, Pink Day in LA:

    They set out with a goal to raise US$1337 for the Canadian Cancer society. They ended up with US$11,000. A totally player-organised event, for something outside of the game, which ArenaNet supported by introducing a totally new dye colour.
    Official site here:

    And here is my take on Pink Day in LA 2010:

    (Please note, I’m not affiliated with these guys in any way. I was just lucky enough to catch the event by chance, and I thought the whole thing just rocked.)

    There are a wealth of other player-organised events, and during ArenaNet’s festive events, especially Canthan New Year, guilds and/or alliances team up to ‘sponsor’ districts, so that everyone has a very good chance of getting prizes. Sponsorship can involve playing minigames, or collecting scavenger hunt items and handing them to NPCs, etc. Sponsorship is totally free. People do it because they want to. Because they enjoy it. I took part in helping my guild/alliance with sponsorship this Canthan New Year, and I really liked it.

    It’s not a unique thing. It’s not something done because people NEED each other. It’s done because people simply want other people to be happy in a game they enjoy.

    For a game where you can play 95% of the PvE content without ever grouping with another human, Guild Wars has a damn good community.

    You could, however, argue that GW is an outlier. That its gaming structure so unique within the MMOverse, very much like EVE and ATitD, so much so that the normal rules don’t apply. I’m not sure if that’s so, but I do allow that it’s possible.

    Cynical nugget writes stuff praising human nature, whoda thunk! =)

    • I still think that it’s precisely *because* you don’t need other people that it’s as civil as it is. People group up and do things together because they want to, not because they have to.

      Also, riffing off of Psychochild’s great article on punishing grouping, it’s *easier* to group up in GW, since you can just fill out a party with NPC henchmen/heroes and go play with any players who want to. Duo, four-man, eight-man, whatever. The barrier of “must have X players to play” has been smashed in GW, and it facilitates play together, even as it facilitates soloing.

      It just flat out facilitates *play*, whatever the flavor. That’s a Good Thing.

      • I found the community in GW to be less than friendly as well. It wasn’t as bad on the PVE side of things but I did run into a lot of elitist jerks who would drop you from groups with little to no explanation.

        The pvp side was even worse- I had to turn off general chat almost constantly due to team-mates being abusive.

        That said once I found a good group it was the most (social) fun I have managed to have in an MMO with both PVE and PVP guilds.

      • Maybe one gets out of a game what one puts into it after all, hm? Anecdotally, I’ve also very rarely run into jerks even in WoW. I’m polite and quick to say hello even in Dungeon Finder runs, so maybe that sets a good tone. A little courtesy and humor go a long way, I find.

        (I’ve only run into two real jerks amid maybe 50 dungeon runs, and those were just two adolescents squabbling in the same run. The vast majority of players I’ve played with were either silent or congenial.)

      • Chat in Kamadan/Lion’s Arch/Eye of the North gives about as much indication about the quality of the community as general WoW trade chat.

        FWIW, I always did rather like the riffing on murlocs and Chuck Norris, and I found the rest of the stuff that some people tend to find incredibly annoying rather funny. You can all point at me and laff at my juvenile sense of humour now. ;)

        However, chat in Kamadan/LA/EotN is spammy *precisely* because it’s tradechat. Imagine it more as a massive bazaar area than a hang-out area, and you’ll get a much better feel for what’s going on there. There’s very little abuse. It’s all trade – all business. With occasional people asking for price-checks (because lacking an AH there’s no real easy in-game way to know prices other than experience), and others answering them. Civilly. Without trolling, most of the time.

        Additionally, only Kamadan is a ‘noob’ area. Lion’s Arch, Kaineng and EotN are later in their storylines. They’re less likely to be the first thing you experience.

        Shing Jea Monastery and Ascalon have helpful people quite often. Shing Jea Monastery has more conversation, and less trade, but in both areas, if you’re new and ask a question, you’ll usually get a civil, informative answer. I’ve seen people in Ascalon giving out newbie weapons on multiple occasions, for free.

        I am *assuming* of course, by ‘global chat’, you mean the local area chat in the aforementioned cities – Kamadan, Lion’s Arch, Eye of the North, (Kaineng is pretty dead). You can turn off trade chat by simply unchecking the trade chat box. *poof* spam gone.

        And if you’re at any of those cities during festival time, it’s people talking and being silly, generally without a hint of meanness. Just people enjoying the festivals.

        If you ask for help in the less inhabited outposts *assuming there are people around*, and by ask for help, I mean ask politely, not spam it… You’ll often get help.

        This is all from my own personal experience, of course. But I feel that to judge the GW community by local chat in the major cities, which also function as bazaars, presumably without turning off trade chat and emotes (ugh emotes are horribly handled text-wise, definitely), is unjust.

        We see what we want to see, as always. However, it is worth pointing out that when I moved to Guild Wars after quitting WoW back in ’08, I never expected to fall in love with GW. It was just something a friend had told me about a long time ago, so why not.

        Fast forward 2 years, hey it’s not LegendMUD, it’s not my first sweetheart I’ll love forever, but I do think it’s in many ways, the perfect MMO for me – and one that seems to break many of the ‘rules’. Or perhaps because it breaks many of the rules. =)


    • I read that article and it’s so absurd and sensational that I can’t help but think it’s sarcasm. I mean, the argument being made is just flat-out idiotic to me.

      He expects everyone to leave him alone and do what he wants them to do in a game environment where he has an indirect or direct impact on them as much as they do on him.

      It’s a childish and ignorant mentality from start to finish.

      • I think you should go back and read that article again and ask yourself whether he might actually represent the majority of players.

        How many people, when they are in a group, silently do wish the other group members were well coded AIs who would just do their job so he could get his reward for finishing the group content?

    • The author displays the kind of attitude that I think is harming the MMO genre:

      He is, in fact, saying that the community is bad.

      The solution he presents can be analyzed separately, and objectively.

  15. Hey there Wolfshead,

    Long time reader, first time commenter here.

    I’m going to start things off by saying that I agree with you in the sense that the WoW social scene has degraded to a pretty low point and that people are essentially running around and acting like baboons at this point.

    However, I’m not sure that making the game group based or more dependent on others from the start was the right course of action.

    I worry about games like the previous installments of “Final Fantasy” and other examples of MMOs where you could do nothing or were severely limited in what you could do without a group. If you are coming into a game where you already know people, this may not be too bad. But if you’re new and know nobody, it all comes down to luck. If I can’t get lucky and find people willing to help and skilled enough to do so, I get nothing done. It would be the modern equivalent to using the Dungeon Finder just to quest.

    It would be accept quest, open Dungeon Finder, choose role, wait. Waiting to do a dungeon that way and participating in one like that can be painful enough. Having to roll the dice just to get the most basic tasks done or to even quest would be even worse. So while I agree that something should be done to make the game more group friendly, I think a balance would need to exist to still make it so you’re not bored to tears or feeling like you’re getting nothing done because you have nobody to rely on or do certain things with.

    TL; DR: You shouldn’t be able to do everything alone, but you shouldn’t need a group or others to get things done, either. There would definitely need to be some balance.

    Thanks for listening and take care.


    • This was a problem I had with Final Fantasy years ago. I’d go online and spend hours trying to get into a group. After a week of getting owned by low levels mobs and really not progressing anywhere, I gave up and simply never logged in anymore.

      The solo and small group content was long time coming; things to do without wasting hours or possibly days waiting on a group.

      I got around this problem in DAOC, which still ranks my all time favorite, by leveling a bot along with my main, had a small group of RL friends playing and my GF, now wife, playing with me at most times. All those things allowed me to experience the game, meet other people, play with other people etc….

      I just think a lot of people, even the old guard mmo gamers have slowly moved towards more easily accessible MMOs. Time commitment in a group dependent game is only really doable when we’re younger, have more time and or haven’t yet moved up the career ladder.

      It was inevitable but not necessarily the only way it should happen. Personally I find EQ2 and LOTRO to blend solo/group play rather well. You can solo relatively easily but grouping up will allow you to progress in a way that is more all around rewarding. And the communities in these 2 examples are pretty darn good by today’s standards; with LOTRO being close to the old community days.

  16. I think a big issue i’m not immediately spotting is the defitinion of a “solo player” really? What is “solo content” ?

    Simple example : Crafting items = Solo Content [as in you will do it by yourself up to a point] , BUT if the world was designed to have a functional ECONOMY, requiring all the “solo contents” to become inter-dependent..BAM you have “GROUP content” . So i believe, just like in a game like EVE, where you as player do alot of things “by yourself” , does not mean the purpose is to “solo” .

    I’d almost go as far as saying a “virtual world” should consist of “interdependent content” . This does not mean every single thing you do MUST be done with 4 other players in your face! I don’t sit at work with co-workers in my face while i do my work do i? Yet we all depend on each other to do their bit…

    Now in the flipside, look at WoW’s Dungeon Finder. This is not the exact opposite of what i’m saying here. It’s sold as “GROUP content” [because you are with 4 other players right?] . However , no one is talking, no one is coordinating, and the reward is of a PERSONAL nature [not of a group nature] . So everyone grinding those Heroics with the DF is solo’ing! There’s no “interdependence” there? Hell it’s totally ANONYMOUS now, there’s no “community” in that sort of gameplay?

    Long story short: I think we should be less concerned about content “that can be done alone” vs. content “that needs random other players with you” …but instead be concerned about how the content itself allows for socializing and interaction.

    As it is, it’s all themepark, we’re all reading the same book, watching the same movie, just because i watch the movie at home and you are watching it in a cinema with 100 other people does not mean i’m any more “solo’ing” than the person in the cinema…

    What we need is content that not only rewards YOU, but the community as a whole..or at least the group. Even in a game like Warhammer i could “feel” the content was brushing against that sense that “everything i do, be it alone or with someone, adds to a bigger purpose…”. I could see players actively feeling the need to get together, coordinate and communicate… . Too bad WAR failed to capitalize on this and turned it into themepark mini-games instead…but maybe one day.

  17. Okay, I get that you miss EQ. I get that you’ve sworn blood vengeance on WoW and everything it represents. But really… Nostalgia glasses, anyone? Your glasses to the past are so rose-colored you could make your SO happy on Monday just by giving them.

    MMO communities are cesspits. They have been since the very beginning. Sure, it was nice for your little group of friends, and yes, you needed them. But what happened when you came across another group looking for the same mob you were? Did you band together, happily combining your efforts to crush the forces of evil?

    Maybe you did, but for most of us, that’s not what happened. It was camping, and kill-stealing, and dumping trains on people.

    Pretty much every modern MMO has been less interactive than the one that came before it, from UO on. Not because people inherently want to solo, but because the “community” MAKES THEM WANT TO SOLO. I spent some time as a guide in EQ, and pretty much every minute of my online work time was dealing with harassment – verbal, training, stalking, you name it.

    Maybe your community experience truly was as awesome as you remember it, but I’d bet a lot more on nostalgia than actual quality. Your seeming inability to do anything but rave at WoW and how horrible it was and how great everything used to be may find a lot of fans in WoW-bashing, but it’s not connected to reality. Rewriting history to support your crusade just doesn’t work.

    • The article mentions a decline in the quality of MMO communities, and WoW in particular. It does not discuss the community of original WoW.

      If there are a bunch of great players in a guild and they only interact with each other, that guild may be a great community but it does nothing for the quality of the game’s community, which new players will be exposed to, and this is aspect which lately has come under discussion for commentators criticizing WoW. But again, this is the present. Regarding the past:

      Buhallin said:
      >MMO communities are cesspits. They have been since the very beginning.

      Did MMOs previous to WoW have communities that produced videos that had hundreds of thousands, or even millions of views? Does the CURRENT WoW community still produce videos that are of the same quality, or popularity as what was created before? A cursory reminder of a couple of these :-
      Tales of the Past III (2.3 million views, 1.5 hours length)
      The Craft of War: BLIND (2.1 million views)

  18. @Buhallin

    The problem with your response is that while you acknowledge that his experiences might have been positive… you also dismiss it as “rose-colored glasses” because you didn’t experience it that way. You’re being no more tolerant of his view of the way MMO communities used to be than you describe him of being about WoW.

    You also seem to put up a bit of a strawman in your response. I don’t recall anyone, including Wolfshead, ever saying old communities were “perfect” or all great or all wonderful. Of course they had their idiots in them. Of course they had their misfits that no one could stand.

    However, what those communities also had was *accountability* among the players. As Wolfshead has stated before, people tended to weed out and ostracize the idiots among them. There was personal accountability in those games, you could be a jackass, sure… but you would eventually pay the cost for it as your reputation spread.

    I saw the same thing happen in early Lineage 2. I saw the same thing happen in FFXI. I saw the same thing in AC2. A-holes tended to dig themselves a really deep hole over time that no one was interested in helping them out of.

    That’s the difference between the communities of games like EQ1 and and its contemporaries, and the free-for-all, no accountability solo-fest that is newer MMOs like WoW.

    Nowadays, idiots are running rampant freely with nothing to keep them in check. There is no accountability. Reputation means little, if anything at all. Anonymity is a free ticket for people to act as asinine, spoiled, juvenile, bigoted, disrespectful, vile and overall despicably as they wish… there is zero consequence for it. There is no reason for them not to act that way.

    In that way, the older communities were absolutely superior to the sorry excuse we see for them today.

    • Seems to me that the *size* of a community naturally spawns trouble. The larger it is, the more dark recesses can be found. (Not that the percentage of good/bad changes much, just that as sheer numbers rise, they do so in both groups.)

      Anonymity might spawn jerks, but it also insulates from prejudice. Remember the RealID kerfluffle?

      • If you bump into someone in the street and knock them over, you are anonymous, even tho they know what you look like.

        If you (um… example~) spend a 12-hour plane ride sitting next to someone you are not anonymous, even if they don’t know your name.

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  20. WH, always dreaming of the good old days, *sigh. You’ve indicated in some of your other blogposts that you thought the good old days were gone for good, a new breed of players being raised on WoW. You were right then, the “tipping point” is long past. Game developers’ ultimate responsibility is to the company shareholders and whatever makes money is what will drive game design. The developers are not in the business of social engineering and behavior modification. I predict the mechanisms for developing a “good community” in an MMORPG will come from outside the particular game itself, maybe as outgrowths of other social networking communities like facebook or linkedin.

  21. I’m reading these responses regarding community in MMOs and I keep seeing people dragging “real life” and “how people were 200 years ago” into it.

    Umm… we’re not talking about real people in real life locations, dealing with real life situations in real life with real consequences that really affect them in real ways. We’re talking about people sharing a virtual online world, in virtual locations partaking in virtual activities for virtual gain.

    I don’t think it’s far fetched to say that many people behave *entirely* different online than they do in real life. They say things, do things and generally act in ways they never would in real life. Why? Because they can get away with it. No one gets hurt. There’s no repercussions for it. So, right there, the whole “how people are in real life” argument loses steam.

    Also, the rebuttal that people who miss the more community-centric days of MMOs are “just being nostalgic” or “seeing through rose-colored glasses” has to go as well. Sorry, but I have personally experienced those things that I remember quite well; some like they were yesterday. I can tell you that, compared to those games back then, and many games these days… there’s a stark contrast in the way people behave.

    MMOs used to be designed very much with “We” in mind. Now they’re designed very much with “Me” in mind. Trying to wrap it up in all these deep philosophical theories or contemplation about “how people are in the real world” is moot…

    You simply don’t need to look that deeply and, in my opinion, you’re looking in the wrong place if “real life” is the model you use to base a virtual fantasy world.

  22. I enjoyed your article and found it very thought provoking. My only observation is that your are using a great deal of supposition when you are analyzing current MMO’s. You indicated current communities are bad as opposed to the way they used to be. What data are you using to make this conclusion or is it just more of a hypothesis?

    I think what we might be missing is the evolution of the mmo gaming community. I do agree that the overall the community at large is probably not as closely knit as it once was. This is partially due to the fact the the player base for something WOW is into the millions. You can’t really compare your neighbors digging out of a snowstorm to millions of people using dungeon finder every day.

    I think there are still strong communities on WOW and in other mmo’s. I think communities are more exclusive then they used to be. Large guilds are probably one part as they are more intersted in serving themselves and being a exclusive place for top players.

    Overall I think the online community is probably just as fracutuous, weird, fun, and interesting as any real city or town with a similiar population.

    I guess my bottom line is that I still enjoy meeting a up with my friends and running instances and raids. I might not be adding back to my online community but I am having fun.

  23. Wolf: I think you need to go back and look at MUDs to see that it is incorrect to say “Soloing was never actually intended in MMOs.” Soloing has always been intended. MMOs have put better emphasis and rewards on grouping in the past, but soloing has ALWAYS been a part of the MMO development paradigm.

    • Hi Muckbeast, I admit that I don’t have much personal experience playing MUDS so I defer to your obvious expertise here. Given the limitations of a text based game I can imagine it would be difficult to create a convincing and workable group or even a raid combat experience. However, once MUDS morphed into 3D worlds (MMOs) where you can actually see other players, health bars, enemies, etc. it would seem to be to be more natural to have that experience group-based.

      While it may be incorrect to say that soloing was never intended in MUDs, I think it is entirely plausible to state that soloing was never intended in MMOs. In fact the original EQ devs saw soloing as an aberrant behavior. Classes that managed to solo such as necromancers, druids, mages were often looked down upon by SOE personnel on the forums. Remember the “this is not intended” terminology that SOE reps would often use? If you played those classes you felt that somehow you were breaking the rules and considered an outlaw during the first year of EQ. Then as soloing became more viable SOE realized they could no longer oppose it.

      I believe that MMO designers need to clearly state the way their MMOs are to be played. Sure players can play however they wish and develop emergent playstyles but I feel its important to establish a vision and expectation for players so they know what they are getting into. Having a strong vision influences every aspect of game design.

  24. I agree with this article. I played EQ for over 4 years and i kept playing because of the people I played with. It was the community of EQ that made it such a great game. In EQ people would actually help you and if you were a good person you would get groups and then guild invites. A good reputation in EQ was more important than gear or even game knowledge. you can get gear you can be taught how to play but an asshole is just and asshole. I miss EQ and I am searching for another game that was as hard and adult like. The only one i have found so far is Eve but I miss the fantasy stuff. If anyone hears of an MMO that isn’t dumbed down for 10 year olds let me know. BTW all the old school EQ players did all our raids and grouping and talking with a keyboard hell I learned how to type thanks to EQ wow can blow me.

  25. @Wolfshead
    Have you correctly identified the root cause of the problem?

    The deterioration of “good manners” in MMO communities in general is not directly tied to whether or not there is a hard “trinity” in the game, and certainly not dependant upon the interdependancy of players.

    This problem stems from inherent design flaws in the game mechanics and systems commonly used in MMOs. For example; you see a “node” you would like to harvest for materials to be used in crafting, or to sell on auction, but before you can reach the node and start harvesting it, another player beats you to it and “steals it” from you. This is just one of many, many similar types of examples that could be sited where the players of a game are actively pitted against one another in a manner that ensures antagonistic feelings will result.

    Puppies don’t start out as pit fighters… even a breed like Pitbulls that has natural tendancies bred into it only turn into pit fighters after they are horribly abused and pitted against other dogs repeatedly until the fight response to the presence of any other dog becomes reflexive.

    MMO players have been abused and constantly, repeatedly pitted against one another so frequently for so long that it’s a wonder there are any of us left who aren’t pit fighters.

    You sited original EQ as an example of how strong interdependancy among players fostered a community with good manners. I played EQ for many years myself, and on the whole enjoyed the experience, but I have to tell you that your assertion regarding it’s community is patently wrong. It’s always possible to become associated with a segment of a community (like a good guild for example) that effectively “shields” you from the worse of the community as a whole, and could thus, inaccurately color your recollections of that community, but I assure you, there were “bad manners” present in EQ’s early communities as well… the difference is that it wasn’t as prevalent, but it was there, and it was growing even then in that early game because the true cause of the problem was already present… kill stealing, spawn stealing, griefing… most of the design flaws associated with every MMO I’ve played (EQ, EQII, WOW, Vanguard, Warhammer, etc.) were already present in EQ… the only difference was the length of time that the players had been subjected to them.

    MMO players are systematically being “turned mean” and they don’t even realize it. Certainly some are mature enough to resist the process, but it still impacts them significantly.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the “trinity” class system or with the inherent interdependancies of the players or lack thereof. It is simply the result of constantly, repeatedly being pitted against others in a manner that is inherently antagonistic and abusive.

    The ONLY game I’ve seen on the horizon that bucks this trend of perpetuating these terrible design flaws is GW2 (which also endorses considerable player independence btw) No kill stealing, everyone can harvest resource nodes (even if someone harvested it for themselves mere seconds before you got there it will still be accesible to you), and the sidekicking system combined with the scaling of encounters should mitigate, if not completely eliminate, griefing by higher level characters in lower level areas. No open world PvP ensures that there will be no ganking, but they have provided a truly robust PvP specific area that could result in some of the most interesting, strategic and tactical PvP we’ve seen in any MMO to date.

    So, No… handcuffing players together whether they want to play together or not was never the solution, because interdependancy was never the source of the problem.

    Ya know… they used to believe Malaria was caused by “bad (mal) air (aria)” but it was really the insidious little insects that were always the cause of so many problems.

    • Well you’re right about the design that pitted player against player in a PVE environ but I do not believe it is signifigant in and of itself. Personally I’ve never liked the implementation of (for example) resource nodes, even if I like the idea of them. They were intention designed in that way to force control on resource as well as create player to player competition. The reality is, it doesn’t really help anything to do this. It just creates player to player animosity.

      But that’s not to say these “resource” issues weren’t a problem. Like you said, they were present in some form in the older games as well, yet, I saw more players being able to manage that in civilised manners than in the newer games, EQ2 and LOTRO, again (imo), showing how “good” communities can form even with these systems in place in 2cnd gen mmos.

      Rift, is pretty horrible in the way players stake claim to things, generally disregard queues for quest items, quest mobs etc, even with 5 second respawn times (often, even faster). In fact, very few things in Rift are scarce, yet players can be quite rude about things.

      These things are just features. There is something more overarching that makes players from GW or LOTRO or EQ2 react differently from players in WoW and Rift; and I’m fairly sure, many of these guys from the other games have played WoW before at some point. Yet the communities are different.

      It really does point to a shared interdependency creating a better environment for community. LOTRO and EQ2, while you can solo, is a much more enjoyable game when you group and you experience much more. Games like WoW and Rift, are generally easy games to solo. You can really not ever group and experience most of the game (apart from end game). Missing the dungeons on my first Rift toon was not a big deal. there’s no real penalty and in most cases, toons are equipped to deal with tough encounters solo.

      It is that You vs Me that the completely untethered environment forments. Everyone else i sjust in the way. The interdependency is gone (there has to be some). Maybe it’s a weak argument, but I find it far stronger and easier to believe than simply blaming individual design features for it. Blaming the design features is inconsistent with why one game can have the exact same features and yet still develop a more robust, socially acceptable community than from another game of the same featureset; because let’s face it, they are pretty much all the same when it comes down to it. the only differences are (1) lore/story, (2) physical game mechanic and (3) focus of the game.

      • It’s not “one” game mechanic… I was merely giving the resource nodes as an example of the many, many game mechanics in current (and past) MMOs that subtley pit players against one another in a manner that ensures animosity.

        As you noted, in earlier games the overall level of this animosity was lower but, as I pointed out, this was primarily due to the fact that this insidious dynamic had not been at work for very long. As time has passed, and this sort of extremely poor design has been perpetuated, the problems resulting from these design failures have been exacerbated.

        You also seem to think that each of these games have a “different” community, when in fact, these communities share players in common that have simply migrated from one game to the next, and my point was that it was the cummulative effect of the subtle abuse from these numerous desgin flaws found in each of these games that is primarily responsible for the “bad manners” more commonly seen now.

        Psychological programming can be horribly subtle and insidious, and make no mistake about it, the antagonistic “design flaws” of MMOs have been at work now for over a decade… we are merely seeing the result of that at this time.

  26. The idea that the problem has come because these features have been in play for such a long period of time really doesn’t work for only one reason. WoW has added about 10 million subscribers to the genre. There are about 10 million people who played WoW as their first “MMO” and thus, that puts WoW’s community on par with EQ’s community after three years, which by your own theory means WoW should have a much better community.

    Personally, I think the best community I have run into in modern MMOs was Ultima Online which was known for grief play because of its faily open system. In fact, I think the community was so good BECAUSE of the adversity that was there in that game, far more than most others that have come since because of the griefers and gankers that were there. Because players were pitted against each other.

    In fact, thinking on it, I always found those PvP games tended to be by far better communities than PvE games, and those that forced grouping to be better communities than those that were just basically solo games online (like WoW).

    The node design certainly has its problems, but it (and other things like it) are not the reason that communities are so terrible now adays. People’s reaction to it is more a symptom of the larger problem. People are more self-entitled because they expect they can do everything without interference from anyone else because they given everything as if they aren’t playing in online game. Thus, someone is stealing “their” node, it must be “their” node because they can do everything else by themselves, why can’t they do this thing. It is similar to the idea of raiding in general. I remember hearing a lot of complaints about WoW because raiding required grouping and that was bad. People wanted what raiders got from raiding without raiding.

  27. Coming from a older generation of gamers, I found MMORPGs to be a great sociology experiment. I gleaned great insights into human psychology on collaboration and teamwork vs. venture capitalist attitudes.

    I find that even if you make teamwork mandatory, there are still going to be folks who will “hack” the system via other methods to gain an advantage. Teamwork and alliances are founded either by more permanent attributes such as “shared temperaments” and “like-mindedness” vs. temporary coddling to gain exploitation. Reputation is one of those things that can be exploited both ways for good and for selfishness.

    It’s hard to say: While I am apt to say that selfishness happens because of the need for teamwork (hence the backstabbing and false alliances); that in the old days of 8-bit consoles, teamwork is greater because precisely the game CAN be played solo as an option…. Looking back, I find that there have been cases of idiots who selfishly take all the power-ups (even if they have maxed out) in a 2-player “old school” arcade game.

    I guess it’s a matter of smart gaming (collaborating players which maximize fun) vs. low self-esteem players who want to be a mini god.

    Even back in the days of street fighter 2, it is very easy to find both. I remember an arcade center which was teeming with (fair playing and respected) challengers quickly became empty after 2 weeks when a troll and douchebag monopolized with trash behavior (including turning off the machine if he loses).

    And while it is easy to avoid such individuals by making a choice not to participate in such a game, an MMORPG universe has much more players. I find it just takes a few to spoil the community and if enough people stop playing, the MMORPG starts to take alternate measures in an effort to keep players in the game.
    Afterall, participating players = continual income and $. Unlike the old days where a cartridge sale is pretty much the end of the sales process (minus books and collectable cards, etc)

  28. You bring up interesting points, but I think you do yourself no favors by downplaying the dark sides of grouping. Just look at the entire MOBA genre for a type of gameplay where the game mechanics that forces people to work together and as a result those games are among the most popular games but also amongst the most mean spirited cesspools where everybody always blames everybody else for losing and is constantly a bad sport.

    Somebody else brought up tabletop RPGs, but as great as they can be, entire epics could be written about those player types that are insufferable, about being forced to play with that guy you secretly hate because you just want to play that game, about the game breaking apart because people can’t find a common appointment, about old friends slowly growing to loathe each other over time over these kind of scheduling issues or sworn in group of friends being mean and unwelcoming to newcomers.

    Your idea that you should just hand over these decisions to the players and that would fix everything seems a tad bit blue eyed. Or let’s put it this way, of course a dictator remembers the good old days of dictatorship fondly, but do all of the unwashed masses?

    None of these are reasons why MMOs shouldn’t design to be more social, but we have to be honest and acknowledge that with more socialness there are separate, new sets of problems and would have to be addressed in the design. Because a world of peer pressured Lord of Flies enforced conformity doesn’t sound appealing to everybody.

    You speak of a world where magically the most social people rise to the top, but how realistic is this? In every social situation there are advantages to people who are bossy and in an MMO in particular advantage goes to the person who spends the most time and hence has the most free time in real life. But this paradigm maybe worked when most players were still teenagers who all roughly had equal amounts of time. But now those teenagers have grown up, have jobs and families and less real time, but are still mixing the current crop of teenagers who still have the free time.

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