Lately there have been some good discussions in the blogosphere lamenting the erosion of one of the key facets of MMO’s: grouping. I made a few comments on some of those sites where I called into question the role that quest directed gameplay has played in the decline of grouping. I’d like take the opportunity to amplify some of my remarks and with a deeper investigation into this recent MMO phenomenon.
Once hailed as a revolutionary new feature, quest directed gameplay seems to have become the dominant form of gameplay with today’s offering of fantasy MMO’s. Five years ago when Blizzard started doing promotional interviews for their then upcoming World of Warcraft it was very apparent that one of the main talking points was the introduction of quests which would direct the player and replace the much hated “grind” of MMO’s like EverQuest. Not only did quests in WoW give you good loot and good experience, they also allowed Blizzard to reveal more of their popular Warcraft storyline to players.
One of the key design considerations for Blizzard was giving the player the feeling that they could accomplish something significant in only a few minutes that it took the player to gather 10 axes from orcs in Redridge Mountains. A player could play for 20 minutes and feel like a hero. That was seen as a major departure for MMO’s. Contrast that with EverQuest which required the player engage in the ordeal of “camping”. Back then, camping a specific location for hours (sometimes days on end) and hoping that rare NPC’s would spawn and drop rare items was the only way to advance your character’s gear. So with the introduction of WoW onto the MMO scene, camping as the premiere mechanic for loot acquisition was all but dead.
Origins of the MMO Quest
Despite having “quest” in it’s name, the early EverQuest had a serious shortage of meaningful quests that revealed major storylines, provided good gear and that provided any semblance of experience reward. The Coldain Shawl and the Coldain Ring War were rare exceptions to the rule as they provided players with interesting storylines, epic encounters and great gear. One interesting thing I used to notice about people who did the Coldain Shaw quest, they seemed detached from their guild mates and friends. They would submerge themselves so deeply in those long quests that it seemed that they were absent from guild groups and raids for weeks on end. Most of them were so intensely focused on these special quests that they stopped speaking in guildchat altogether. It was like they were on a sabbatical from the guild.
At the time I made a mental note of my observations. I started wondering if those kinds of quests were more doing more harm then good due to the fact that they made the player start focusing on himself rather then his guild mates. Paradoxically, although those two quests were 90% soloable, the final 10% required the assistance of many members of the guild which would end up in an epic interaction with the god Brell Serillis or in the case of the Ring War — a massive battle between the Coldain Dwarves and the Frost Giants. Little did I know at the time that a behemoth MMO would arrive that would base it’s entire world on those types of quests.
Lessons Learned Early on in WoW
As soon as WoW went live, I formed a new guild with a number of my old EverQuest guild mates. After a few weeks I started noticing a trend that troubled me. People who normally wanted to group up in EverQuest suddenly were very comfortable experiencing solo quest content on their own; it seemed as if they actually preferred this new found freedom. About the only time we as a guild would organize groups was for instances like the Scarlet Monastery and Uldaman.
I also noticed that participation in guildchat seemed to dwindle. Since grouping was pretty much unnecessary in WoW, the importance of guildchat as a vehicle for social bonding and communication also waned. People that had previously been social and desired to play in groups were now quiet and even anti-social. Suddenly it seemed as if this wondrous new world of Azeroth wasn’t so wonderful after all. So what had changed from EQ to WoW that had changed the behavior of my friends? Clearly two things had changed from previous MMO’s:
- Ease of soloing – soloing became an effective way to level up your character
- Quest Directed Gameplay – questing became an effective way to level up your character as well as rewarding the player access to gear and money
Not only were these two design philosophies responsible for changing how MMO’s are played, they were also responsible for the tremendous popularity of WoW — the first truly mass market, casual friendly MMO. This article will attempt to bring to light the unintended consequences of those decisions with a particular focus on quest directed gameplay. I believe that MMO’s like WoW have lost something vital and important. But first we need to look at the root of the problem.
My experiences with my guild’s transition from EverQuest to WoW made me question human nature as it applies to gaming. The sense of community that I had fallen in love with in EverQuest had all but evaporated in WoW. I then learned an important lesson that economist Adam Smith wrote about in “The Wealth of Nations” regarding the nature of humanity: people do things out of self-interest.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.
The principle of self-interest also applies to the desire of people to control their leisure time. Despite the benefits of social interaction and camaraderie that one can obtain from playing a MMO like EverQuest, in most cases players will seek the path of least resistance via soloing if it is available to them. It’s worth noting that most video gamers grow up with single-player games that focus on the individual player, so this tendency is to be expected. Players who solo in WoW do so because that is how the game was intended to be played.
If MMO developers fail to create an environment where group interdependency is required and then they provide an easy path where players can solo and group then it’s almost certain they they will avail themselves of those opportunities. Combine that reality with the individualistic nature of people and add a never ending series of quests and it results in providing a sense of legitimacy to a solo-friendly game like WoW.
The Loss of Community
As someone who’s experienced MMO’s before the release of WoW, there has been a cost resulting from the advent of quest directed gameplay. In my opinion this new type of gameplay has devalued the prime reason that people originally started playing MMO’s in the first place: interacting, co-existing and teaming up with other players and which results in feeling of part of a virtual community. The tragic thing is that many of the so-called 10 million players who subscribe to WoW have been purposely cheated out of this experience because of the solo nature of the quests that they have been spoon fed. For many of them, they have no experience with grouping as WoW is their first MMO.
In the rare case that a quest comes along that requires multiple group members, more often then not the group dissolves after the quest is done with each member going their separate ways. It’s very hard to get to know people and bond with players when groups are not needed or rarely required. By the time the player has experienced all 70 levels (soon to be 80) it’s entirely possible that they may have soloed to the level cap without ever having grouped with another player. Not only is grouping discouraged, it’s frowned upon by the new breed of archetypal player with cries of:
“What’s wrong with you? That quest is EASILY soloable!!!”
When players no longer need players then you have every man for himself. Social skills are not needed nor are they cultivated until the player transitions into grouping at the level cap or raiding at the level cap. Combine this with the anonymity of the Internet and you have the worst behaved community in the MMO world: the WoW community. As far as I’m concerned, a MMO is only as good as it’s community.
The Great To Do List
Players now log on to their WoW characters and use their quest logs like a virtual “to do list”. Completing their quests has become their main concern. Once one quest is done, then it’s time to move on to the next quest.
The spirit of adventure has been replaced by the predictability of a travel guide. Instead of players being intrepid explorers we are just self-absorbed tourists moving from one point of interest to the next. We run from quest to quest, unconcerned about those players around us because of the power of the great “to do” list. Why bother then to stop to wave or greet a fellow player when there is no advantage to do so?
The Quest Self-Help Industry
Not only can players cheat by looking up the solutions to quests on various sites on the Internet, doing quests has become so easy that there are now mods you can install that tell you exactly where to go and when. In fact this kind of philosophy is a major selling point of the official WoW strategy guides and unofficial guides. Every step you take has been optimized to maximize your return and minimize the time you spend.
When The Quests Run Out
Probably the most horrifying thing for a player today in WoW is when the quests run out. When this happens suddenly the player is aimless and lost with no AAA Trip Tik to guide her. It is in this rare moment that a player comes to terms with the shallowness of a quest directed life. As long as there is something to do all is well. Blizzard keeps players perpetually distracted to prevent them from seeing the flaws in their MMO which are partly the result of the very same quests. To ensure this rarely happens Blizzard is only too happy to provide a glut of quests. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to have a full book of quests in one’s quest book. For me the overabundance of quests cheapens the notion of a quest and makes them seem rather pedestrian.
A common theme in many complaint about WoW is the feeling that replaying WoW with an alt is very boring and tedious. One of the reasons for this is that players are going through the very same quests all over again. It’s much like watching reruns on TV — it’s never quite the same the second time around as the quest loses it’s impact due to fact that the suspense is gone. You already know the ending.
Also, when you associate a scripted quest with a particular task to retrieve items or kill a certain amount of monsters you end up associating those items and monsters to the quest NPC. The items and monsters become a means to an end — completing a quest or task. So instead of quests feeling immediate and pressing, quests take on more of a transactional feel.
There are so many quests now in WoW that I’ve noticed that I would be continually “green feeding” my way through the bottom of my quest list. I would always complete the green ones first which were usually very easy by the time they turn green. Why? I was afraid that they would go grey and I end up losing experience. With a constant supply of green quests a player never feels like they are even remotely challenged. Of course I could have skipped them but the compulsion to do them all was very strong in WoW.
The Erosion of Immersion
Naturally there is a certain level of suspension of disbelief that the player must engage in for virtual worlds to succeed. The problem with the quests in WoW is that they detract from the immersion because with the exception of a few class specific quests everyone can do them. How immersive is it when every time a player turns in Van Cleef’s head in Westfall, they are for a brief shining moment proclaimed “the hero of Westfall” that is until Paladindude running up behind you turns in Van Cleef’s head too? How fortunate is Van Cleef that he has a seemingly endless supply of heads available!
At least in a single-player game quests are only performed once by the player. That kind of gaming experience is custom tailored to you the player which helps build immersion. The glaring weakness of a quest driven MMO is that the story and quests are never tailored to you as a player. You line up and are served a quest much like a hamburger at McDonalds.
The Monetization of Quests
Another interesting trend in WoW is that quests have become a prime source of income for players in the form of “daily quests”. Daily quests have become like virtual jobs for players as they can be performed for a fixed amount of gold each day. These quests keep pumping in more gold into the WoW economy creating inflation. As the level of gold increases so does the buying power of that gold. Therefore many players including myself feel compelled to do these quests for fear of falling behind economically.
So instead of grouping with players we end up doing daily quests first. After all we must farm money to pay for our fun (potions and flasks for raiding). Life in WoW is reduced to a routine where we do our “work” then enjoy our “leisure” time. Daily quests become a kind of self-imposed virtual servitude to the questgiver that threatens the independence of the player. In WoW there is a quest for almost every type of activity. If it’s not involved in a quest then it’s not worth doing. The power of the virtual carrot to influence the actions of players knows no bounds.
Players Don’t Experience their Own Stories
Probably the most egregious problem that has arisen due to quest driven MMO’s is the fact that we as players have turned over our freedom for the security of scripted quests. We don’t create our own stories anymore. Instead we are actors playing a part that the Blizzard writers have created.
Where is the nobility in going through the motions and playing the hero in one of Chris Metzen’s grand storylines? Are we actors or are we adventurers? While it would be possible to experience the content of WoW without doing any quests you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would not think you are mad for deviating from the golden path so artfully laid by the Blizzard developers.
To me this is an issue of ownership of one’s own experiences. In WoW, you never truly own the experience you get from completing a quest. Back in EQ, my most cherished memory was finally acquiring a holy sword known as Ghoulbane. I spent long hours camping a named froglok in a dark damp dungeon where one wrong step would have you swarmed with angry frogloks or even worse fighting for your life while drowning in a deep pool of water. Memories like that are special because they are my own and I shared them with my friends that helped me. We had no timetable other then our own. We fought like brothers side by side. We had no guarantees. We weren’t pizza delivery guys doing the bidding of a NPC quest giver. We were daring adventurers seeking out rare treasure marching to our own drummer. More importantly the real treasure we came back with was that we created our own story and history.
WoW: The First True Single-Player MMO
Notwithstanding the PVP and PVE raid content, one thing can surely be said of WoW: it’s probably the first single-player MMO ever intentionally created. It definitely feels and plays like a single-player RPG with it’s carefully scripted quests. You feel like you are on an elaborate amusement park ride when you play WoW — and that’s not necessarily bad if that’s the kind of casual participatory entertainment that you seek. The problem is that kind of MMO gets old very fast. With Wrath of the Lich King providing players with more of the same it’s only a matter before the public tires of it completely.
Many MMO commentators are feeling the fatigue and burnout. Rob at MMOCrunch decries the current state of MMO design:
I’ve long held the belief that MMORPGs are increasingly heading in the wrong direction. They are trying to be single-player games with lots of people logged in at the same time. This is such an absurd way to design a MMO game world. Why? Because the nature of the world offers itself to being an environment where people can actually exist – Second Life, style – and should be able to do what they please.
Rob makes a very good point here. The nature of a MMO lends itself more toward creating a virtual world with all of it’s potential but that is not where Blizzard has taken WoW despite the fact that it’s clearly stated on their 10 Day Free Trial page:
IT’S NOT A GAME, IT’S A WORLD
If WoW were just another choice in a sea of viable alternatives then it would not be an issue for concern. The problem is that the dominance of WoW in the MMO market assures that it’s design philosophy will surely influence a generation of MMO’s to come. That will have the effect of taking away scarce investment dollars which could be funding alternative MMO’s that promote *radical* concepts like grouping and community. As Shalkis commented in one of my previous blog articles, MMO’s face “the danger of monoculture”.
The Great MMO Transition: From Group to Solo
I can’t close this article without bringing up the important issue of solo vs. grouping in MMO’s. It’s very clear now that due to the success of WoW, for the most part MMO’s have transitioned from being a group form of participatory entertainment to a single player form of entertainment. To use an analogy, many people love to participate in team sports because of the social interaction and group dynamics. Yet many people enjoy competing in single person sports because of the benefits of relying solely upon yourself. While Blizzard wants WoW to be an MMO that appeals to everyone I think that ultimately both styles are incompatible and work at cross purposes to each other in the grand scheme of things.
Blizzard’s remaking of the MMO into a popular single player experience via quest directed gameplay will only further hasten the demise of grouping as a viable MMO playstyle.
I can’t help but feel that although Blizzard has taken a major step forward with WoW in terms of polish, that in the process we’ve taken a few steps backward. Once you’ve experienced the story that WoW has to offer via the quests, it’s replayability and immersion greatly diminishes. We become like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, condemned to repeat the same story over and over again. Except there is no deliverance from that insanity until the next expansion is released and then it starts all over again. Without the friendships and bonds that we make with other players, a MMO that puts all it’s eggs in quest centric gameplay quickly loses its luster.
There’s a certain loss of autonomy that comes with playing such a decidedly quest directed MMO like WoW that troubles me. Personally I’m tired of following the predictably bland carrots dangled by stiff questgivers. I really wonder what today’s players would do if confronted with a world with no NPC bestowed quests. Could they even fathom a day of freedom and independence from the oppressive yoke of the questgiver? Is it even possible now considering the success of WoW and the inevitable imitators that will surely follow?
Morninglark makes a great observation about how players are told what to do and where to go at all times:
We have seen the worlds become more linear. You are born here. You do X number of newbie quests, then are ‘encouraged by NPC’s’ to go to the next area that is level appropriate for you. In this way, the designers are herding us like cattle through the gaming environment.
She’s absolutely right. Somehow developers have decided for us that was as players aren’t interested in freedom or making choices, what we really want is the security of being put on the rails of an amusement park ride. I have news for Blizzard — there is a growing chorus of gamers that are tired of being led around on a leash like Stepford Wives. We want more freedom, independence and consequences in our virtual worlds.
While it’s doubtful that in the near future we’ll see a return to open-ended sandbox games like EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies, there has to be a way to put the power back in the hand of the players and give them control over how they experience the game world. New mechanics can and need to be created that inject a healthy dose of dynamism and immediacy back into virtual worlds. Players need to wrestle control over their avatar’s destiny from the clutches of micromanaging developers. Regrettably that will never happen until MMO companies find the courage to go beyond the WoW success formula. They need to start trusting their players with more freedom and tempered by mechanics that ensure in game accountability. We need to get beyond incentivized gameplay and move to a system that allows its participants to be more then just trained monkeys and let them take an active role in the virtual worlds they inhabit.
While I see the point that you are trying to make, here, I also see that you are overlooking a very important aspect of what WoW has done for the MMORPG sector. The fact is that WoW has become the most popular for the very reasons that you dislike. Even though the quests lead you through a carefully scripted maze and storyline, there is nothing that says that you have to do them, at all. You can start grinding from level one, making your own path, as you go. Even though I have multiple high level alts that have been through the questline, I also have one that has never done any quests, at all. I created it with the intent to never do any quests (unless it was needed: Rogue class quests).
The reality is that most of the “loot” that is received from questing is not as high as the loot you can get from random drops. There is also no need to do “dailys” because of the professions that are offered. This is one distinct area that WoW differs from most other games. Because of the professions, and the way they are set up, it’s possible to make all the gold that you need without having to “work” for it. Simply selling the things that you make or gather with your profession, in the auction house, allows you to “play” a lot more.
There are always people that will tell other about how certain quests are “easily soloable”, but those are the same people that don’t want to group and would rather do everything on their own. The person that is usually asking for help is asking because they would like to group (obviously) and have more of a group experience. I make it a point (if I have time) to drop what I’m doing and group up and help others, anytime I can.
World of Warcraft contains a lot of things that can be done by individuals, but they also created so much “group” content, it feels to me like there’s a lot of balance from each. People’s real-life schedules also have a lot to do with the popularity of the quest-driven, “do-it-yourself” aspect. Grabbing an hour of gameplay, here and there can be done, and things that require groups can be scheduled. What I’ve seen in my guild is that when it comes to organizing a group for an instance or raid, the scheduling can get pretty hard to do when everybody has real-life jobs, school, etc.
You said “Once you’ve experienced the story that WoW has to offer via the quests, it’s replayability and immersion greatly diminishes.” I honestly thing that because of this, it becomes “more” important to develop bonds and friendships.
Honestly, if you want a world without quests, there’s one called Second Life (which was mentioned in a quote by Rob at MMOCrunch, that you gave). While SL isn’t even a “game” in the true sense of the word, and only offers the bonds and relationships. The total opposite of WoW, yet failing, miserably. Why? People need to be led through a maze of quests. They need to have “something to do”. Most people want that sense of “completion”, and through a series of never-ending quests, they can get that, over and over, whether doing them by themselves or with a group of friends.
One more point to add:
Broken Looking For Group Tool
People dont use the tool, either because they dont know how to use it or they know it doesnt work. There needs to be a a better way to find groups.
I suppose the bigger problem is the penalty for grouping–divided exp and money. I guess if they made grouping “worth” it and added a fun compenent like group combo points or spells. If they simply said, “50% more exp while grouping”, you’d get more groups. Dare I say you could say 25% or 10% more exp while grouping… More people might reroll at one of these break points.
More points concerning path of least resistance:
Once you find out there are no groups to gear up in 5 man dungeons, the path of least resistance to epics is to PvP battlegrounds.
Battlegrounds, yet another [broken] solo experience as there’s no incentive to work together. No incenetive to maximize your damage or healing. The rewards for winning are nearly as good as losing. The hardest part is having the mental fortitude to AFK through a hundred or so matches for the honor and tokens.
Another great thought provoking post!
I wonder how WAR’s public quests will change this landscape in the near future.
Grouping to me always seemed one of those game mechanics that didn’t make much sense when taken out of context of the MMO, it is exclusionary and also tends to lend itself more to groups with different classes or abilities. Woe to you if both you and your friend want to play fighters. If prest/healer classes weren’t needed for most group content would anyone actually play them? So the idea of an event happening in an area where your actions in combination with the actions of other players in the area have an impact on the outcome seems like a great way to remove the artificial construct of the group while at the same time fostering community behaviour, or at least behaviour that considers/impacts the local community.
Personally I tend to equate WoW with Dungeons and Dragons in the pen and paper rpg industry. Both are gateway games. The majority of players have the game as their first experience and many stick to it for the rest of their gaming life in that genre, it satisfies what they want and provides the entertainment and feelings of accomplishment that they crave. A subset, though, get the ‘bug’ and start looking for new experiences – in p ‘n’ p rpg terms they may move on to things like Call of Cthulhu, Traveller or The World of Darkness games as these offer different experiences and game styles with an emphasis on different aspects. Some players will then stop there sticking with known publishers games, once again though a smaller subset will crave even more varied experiences and start delving into indy games like Burning Wheel, Shock, Dogs in the Vinyard. Each of these offer a different type of gameplay with different goals and focus. The problem is that in the MMO industry we don’t really have too many of these alternatives. Eve and Second Life both offer different gameplay styles but the majority of other MMO’s offer exactly the same levelling/questing/grinding/crafting gameplay style as all of the others.
I see this changing in the near to mid term as WoW has raised the profile of MMO’s to such an extent that now every man and his dog is making one. Indies are starting to step up to the plate and people such as yourself are asking questions and pointing out issues with design choices in existing MMO’s. These different experiences will probably never be mainstream but will attract small subsets of players who crave these different experiences.
Honestly I think it would be very hard for a person to go against the grain and fight the systemic inertia of a MMO that is completely designed around the notion of soloing and quests. Finding people that feel the same way in a MMO like WoW would be very difficult if not impossible.
The problem is that people play this game with the understanding that content is soloable. Grouping (before the level cap) is seen as a form of weakness and is the exception rather then the rule. There is significant public pressure out there that discourages grouping and even ridicules people that want to group.
I’m not denying that there is a significant percentage of content that is created for groups. The issue is that that is usually phase 2 content with phase 1 being the solo experience from levels 1-70. By the time the player gets to phase 2 the player is already been imprinted with a set of expectations about the game.
Blizzard does a terrible job of transitioning people from the solo game to the group game to the raiding game. Blizzard even admits that raiding is their “core” game which makes it all the more inexplicable as to why players are never taught to group let alone taught to raid. Strangely enough the success of WoW is not because of their core game (raiding) rather it’s because of the casual friendly solo game.
I agree that WoW has definitely been a victory for casual gamers as it allows them to log on and play the game solo whenever they want without being subservient to the scheduling demands of groups and raids. My issue with WoW is that it provides a “on rails” MMO experience that shoehorns the player into a particular storyline. A player is never really allowed to create their own unique identity in WoW. Most players end up wearing the same gear, have the same titles and have gone through the same quests.
Yet it’s very hard to develop those bonds and friendships when they are not really necessary in order for a character to progress. A player must take it upon themselves to actively seek out people to group with via general chat and/or whispering people. If WoW had more group content spread out across many levels then naturally people would have a reason to group. The trend for WoW has been the elimination of group content from the level 1-70 experience as evidenced by the removal of the “elite” status of many of the outside world mobs.
I don’t play Second Life because of the fact there is no premise to the world nor is there any game aspect. Of course there needs to be some backstory to any MMO but Blizzard has taken it to the extreme where everything is scripted.
Obviously for many people, the idea that they can log into a MMO like WoW and essentially play the role of a “hero” at their own convenience is a wonderful thing. For me, any time I want to feel like a hero I can play God of War or other single player games. Over the years I’ve always appreciated and praised Blizzard for what they’ve accomplished with WoW. All I’m saying is that WoW has grown very tedious for me — I’m hungry for a much deeper, more personal and dynamic MMO experience.
This is a very good point. Grouping should be made as effortless as possible. Instead it’s been made very difficult and the LFG tool doesn’t produce results. Everytime I use this tool I never seem to get anyone to join. I have yet to see it actually work.
Blizzard needs to start finding ways to incentivize grouping. After all this *is* a massively multi-player online game. Here’s are a few suggestions:
– They could make unique rare mobs that only spawn when players are grouped that drop loot from a special group only loot table.
– Special questgivers could spawn only when a group has been together for a certain period of time and give special quests with unique and personalized storylines that last for a fixed amount of time
Blizzard could be doing so much more to promote grouping. The problem is a lack of will to do so. They’ve created a solo MMO culture and they seem prepared to defend it to the bitter end.
Agreed. Battlegrounds have been a disgraceful failure. The PVP system has provided an easy alternative to grouping for gear. That’s why there’s such a shortage of tanks around these days — most of them have respecced to DPS talent builds.
Big Bear Butt brought this up in a roundabout way a few weeks ago. He was lamenting the trouble with people not knowing how to play as cogs in a group in the end game, precisely because they didn’t group up on the 1-70 treadmill.
There, I mentioned that the “the game starts at 70” mentality is a very dangerous one. He took that and ran with it in a different direction than I intended, but it was a very good one. He suggested a new expansion for the game, giving a parallel adventure track to the existing content, from levels 1-40. Part of that would be more group quests and content created for grouping, even if it was just 5-player quests/raids/instances/dog-and-pony shows.
Me, I’m a solo player, through and through. I’m interested in WoW because of the online persistent world, full of interesting things to explore. Other people tend to bother me most of the time. Still, I’m not against grouping for content that’s designed for it. I’ve had some great experiences with “groups” that weren’t even mechanical “groups”. I just helped a few people that happened to be prowling the cave I was in, pointed them in the right direction for a quest or two, and fell into a default “caster-tank” mode, purely through informal play.
Random acts of kindness are fun, too; my favorite memory to date is playing through the Hunter pet training quests, looking for a cat to train. They were pretty elusive, until I found one chasing a panicked gnome. I grabbed aggro on it, and started training it. The gnome realized what was happening, wandered back, tossed out a quick “lol”, and we both went on our way, happy with the random encounter.
You make your own fun in this sort of sandbox game. I’m totally up there with you on the idea of more group content through the whole gamut of content. I’d call for that in addition to the existing content, though, since I do love me a good solo casual play session. Forced grouping is the quickest way to get me to leave your game. I may group on occasion, but it’s because I choose to.
Very well said! When you look at WoW this way it’s not such a bad MMO despite all of the sophomoric aspects of the game and of course the banality of the community which is definitely teen to young adult.
This is the great hope that many of us share. I remember that Brad McQuaid used to talk extensively about how he felt that eventually people would tire of a “pretzels and beer” MMO like WoW and gravitate to a more serious offering like Vanguard. As you say, what we really need to see is alternative MMO’s out there that can provide a niche experience for gamers who are tired of McMMO’s like WoW.
Blizzard is really pushing this game begins at 70 philosophy. I do think we need an infusion of horizontal content. It reminds me one of the EverQuest expansion called “The Legacy of Ykesha”. It added lots of new mid-level content to the game and it was one of my favorite expansions. Another EQ expansion called “Lost Dungeons of Norrath” was very good at getting players interested back into the classic areas of EQ.
I see no reason why Blizzard couldn’t do the same and charge money for it. It would really help to revitalize WoW and increase it’s longevity by giving players a reason to roll new characters just to experience the new content.
All very valid points. I too enjoy the random acts of kindness approach. I’m a firm believer in the “pay it forward” way of life. Even /waving at players, buffing them and helping them seems to shock them. It’s very easy to lament the current problems of community in MMO’s, that said I find it’s much more effective to lead by example and perform those acts of unexpected kindness.
As far as grouping, nothing should be forced. Grouping should be something that people want to do. The job of game designers is to provide incentives for people to socialize and have fun at the same time. This is one area where Blizzard has fallen short. They certainly could be doing so much more.
Y’know, in my playtime in lowbie zones, and even into the first major cities, I’ll often get random buffs from passers by. When that first happened to my Tauren Shaman, I thought someone was pulling a PvP prank on me… despite being on a PvE server. Once I noticed that they just cast a buff on me, I decided that I’d go ahead and do the same sort of random drive by buffing. I’ve maintained the habit through my Hunter, Paladin and Druid play. Likewise, I’ve received random buffs, most notably from Priests and Warriors. I think the “help others” mentality is alive and well, it’s just at a lower, looser level than mechanical grouping.
Likewise, almost every time I hit a cave or enemy encampment looking for quest goodies, there are a few other players around. We settle into an informal tank/caster relationship just because of the way our classes play. When I have healing spells, I use them on whomever is nearby who needs them. More than half the time, there’s not even chat to set up this sort of play, it just happens. I’ve only ever been in one real “group” (a couple asked me for a little more firepower to take down a cave boss), and that dissolved after we left the cave.
I’m not sure if that was because the players behind the low level characters were experienced players working on a low level alt. Maybe they were acting reflexively on group tendencies they use in the endgame. I’m idly curious whether or not that’s the case, and whether or not a new player would pick up on that. I certainly did once I was the beneficiary of random buffing. I also picked up the tank/caster dynamic pretty quickly, and while I love me a good ranged Hunter, I fill the caster/healer role pretty reflexively. Some of that comes from actually diving into the WoWWiki, but most of it’s just common sense. I need that meat shield, so it’s in my best interests to keep him alive and happy. I think the game design is stellar inasmuch as it encourages that sort of simple cooperation.
I’ve never actually subbed, so I’ve only ever played the ten day demo, and the highest level I’ve hit was 15. Perhaps the community mentality breaks down in the midgame, but for lowbie areas, I’ve actually had pretty pleasant experiences, both social and solo.
Big old wall of text over on my shiny new blog. I touch on the “living persistent dynamic” world theme, in preparation for more digging later. It all starts with an apple.
Wolf, you may find some of it interesting, but it really is a preliminary sort of essay; I’ll dig around a bit more later. Reading your blog entries and those of the Big Bear Butt made me think that I wanted to get some of my own stuff written and collected… at least partially so I don’t crush your pages with lots of words. 😉
Very nice first article Tesh! Some excellent food for thought there for designers to consider. Quite a lot to digest there. I hope to be able make some comments soon.
I feel a lot like Tesh does about soloing. I prefer to solo in an mmo, and this is for various reason:
1. I have a family and work and school, thus it is usually very difficult for me to schedule in-game events, especially more than once or twice per week. Even more important is when grouping and I have to go AFK because my wife wants to tell me something or my kids are out of bed, etc. Most people without these responsibilities have no clue why I have to leave the keyboard for a short while and they get angry.
2. I like to do things at my own pace. Sometimes I want to complete a bunch of quests quickly, other times I want to farm skins or ore for a while. Either way, solo I can complete these things at my leisure, while in a group I am at the mercy of….well…the group.
3. Somewhat related to the above reasons, I prefer soloing because I have nobody to blame when I die. Yep, it happens to the best of us. My playing time is limited, thus it is very frustrating when running a pug and dying repeatedly on a boss or even worse, trash mobs. From my experience (two 70’s and a 60), pugs are just awful 95% of the time in a game like WoW. I attribute this to a lower age bracket of players, and to people that just have no clue as to how and play in a group. I remember running Stockades with 2 of my friends, and we picked up 2 pug rogues for the run. One of them kept aggroing everything in sight and then got mad at our healer when he kept dying. He then proceeded to aggro everything in the instance on us and then he left the group. Then he whispered me to have fun dying and that I suck at playing my class. It was a very frustrating moment for me, and since then I avoid pugs at all costs. Incidentally, that was not the first time I had problems with pugs in WoW.
In any case, I prefer soloing for the above reasons. I find it annoying in a group when someone feels the need to return back to the questgiver each time to turn in a quest, rather than just complete a bunch of them at once before turning them in. Perhaps it is my playstyle, but I guess that is how it is for me.
We have a debate on this very topic every several weeks at the office. There is a pretty diverse background of people that play various MMOs and it can get pretty heated. I have been playing longer than any of the others and am the only one that played EQ1. I can tell you that they hate it when I mention that there seemed to be more “community” in EQ1 than in any other game I have played. I spent months camping some mobs in EQ1, or who can forget learning languages at the docks in Freeport while you waited for that 30min boat ride. It was the little things that you did to pass the time you weren’t grinding that made the game.
I hate to say it but I think that the raid interface has added to a lack of commitment from the players. By keeping group sizes in check in EQ1 and making content that required large amounts of players while only giving credit to a small amount of them drove your desire to help. You knew that eventually you were going to want to get credit for dropping Sleeper’s Tomb so you put your time in helping others and in turn they would help you as well.
Now, the whole group can undertake the content once and all get credit. Where is the drive to help others? By making the game easier for the masses to get into it also seems to have killed some of the elements that created the long standing players. I am not a “power player”. I am not sitting around for 16 hours a day in game so that I can be in some uber-guild. I have played my fair share of MMOs, for a good long time. I will from time to time break from the quest grinding to go do some dumb stuff to see some new content.
I think that some of this break in community is just unavoidable since the masses have joined. Face it, you had to be of a certain caliber to play EQ1. It was new. The game was not noob friendly. Content was almost impossible to enjoy solo. All great things for developing community. Now anyone with a computer and some time thinks that they are “l337” because they took out some quests and a daily and got some purple gear.
NOTHING BEATS THE PLANE OF HATE FOR MY SHAMMY GEAR!!!! Rawr! Hehe.
You failed to realize that most people ‘run’ through the levels to start raiding. I too have guides that help me level faster (with no down time) and grouping for me feels like a waist of time specially with all wiping that occur when doing instances with newcomers to the game.
For me the game doesn’t start until I hit the level cap and I have to start doing raids and in my case arenas (which can only be accomplish in group).
One thing I like to mention is that: I think increasing the level cap is going to make the game less and less attractive to newcomers. Now in days you don’t see anyone leveling anymore (specially level below 60), you cannot find enough people for instances (I bet people dont even know that dead mines is).
I hope Blizzard finds a way to keep the game interesting without having to keep increasing the level cap.
I can’t believe I digested that entire article…
I’m glad you wrote this, this has been in the back of my head for who knows how long. Finally someone said it!
This has some good insights. I think MMOs definitely lost sight of their USP – social gameplay in a persistent world – in the chase after that apparently huge (though as we’ve subsequently seen, not actually that huge) that WoW apparently (though as we’ve subsequently seen, didn’t really) reveal.
Going after the solo crowd was a huge mistake developers made. Granted that the aim was to attract casual players, what developers should have done was take heed of what City of Heroes did: make instanced PUG-ing enjoyable and rewarding. If developers had gone down this route, instead of the quest/solo route, I think they could have still attracted casual players, but retained the social element of MMOs at the same time.
Another subtle but huge mistake that some developers made was going after more action-oriented gameplay. It seems like a good idea, but what it does is tie up player inputs with combat, leaving less freedom for chatting. Point-and-click/tab targeting combat pretty much HAS to be the style of gameplay for a social game, because it gives the freedom to chat while playing.