Is it even possible? According to Ryan Shwayder (Nerfbat author, 38 Studios employee, game designer, cool guy) it is, but only if it can be done correctly. He even alluded to the “secret sauce” (method) that Copernicus will use. Ryan goes through the list of things that made games social back in the day and emphasizes that the reason why we’re no longer social is because we do not depend on each other while we play anymore. I’ve been saying the same thing for years.
Many people will look at this list and recall things from the oldschool mmorpgs that promoted the social experience — I better stop and give you a quick list before going on…
– Required grouping to accomplish goals
– Good players giving you the highest highs and bad players giving you the lowest lows because of needing them both
– Death penalties being rough
– Complex and sometimes confusing scenarios forcing you to have to think or ask for help
– No map / crude map forcing exploration and, again, other people for help
– Dangerous landscape requiring treacherous treks into the unknown
– Quests being actual quests… you know, journeys and undertakings of meaningful value
– Trade being done in person. No Mail. No Auction.
The list goes on.
Nearly every one of the points above have vanished from the face of the MMO industry. We no longer deal with harsh death penalties, complex zones, real quests, or forced grouping. Good or bad? Both sides have their proponents, but the side cheering for the demise of this way of gaming is by far the largest and the loudest. Yet, if you take a moment to look around, you’ll notice that even the people in favor of a game without the above complain about the consequences.
The million subscriber question is quickly becoming: How can we make a game that feels like a genuine social [edit: Massively] multiplayer roleplaying experience again? Ironically, designers are trying to go back to the old way in a new way. I don’t think it can be done. I truly do not think you can replicate that type of social experience and immersion in a game without at least half of those things. Ryan appears confident enough that they (38 Studios) are on to something in Copernicus.
“Social game” and “accessible” are polar opposites in MMORPGs because it’s in each of their nature to suppress the other. I think any attempt at bringing the two together will involve a deep level of theorycrafting and might lead to delusions of grandeur on the devs part. It might look good on paper, in a studio with 100 people playing, and maybe in a beta with thousands, but I fear any attempt at bridging this enormous gap in gamer mentalities by a single game could lead to a crash and burn.
Prove me wrong though, please. Bring back the social game without bringing back the above, but I don’t think you can. If you do not have to rely on other people, then you’re never going to get that same feeling back.
[Edit: As always, the comments are full of great discussion. I want to amend my original entry to include something.]
The gist of what I am trying to say here is that it’s time we figure out how these games can get the players involved with each other again. It’s not going to happen by going backwards nor will ignoring the problem ever be the solution. Although I really do believe that we’ll never get back to that same level of interaction without at least a glimmer of the past, we should be trying to come up with ideas of how we can incorporate the past in a more ‘now’ way.