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Bringing the Social Game Back

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.

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Comments

  1. Augdawg says:

    Forced Grouping and Harsh death penalty’s are one quick way for me to never play that MMO.

    I wont be punished by death penalties when i have to group to accomplish anything and die if someone else screws up.

  2. Curious George says:

    That list fundamentally represents everything that I hated about early MMOs. It also was what everyone thought Vanguard would be and look how that turned out.

    At best anything with those principals will be a niche market game unless it is implemented as a specific server rule-set with other servers having different rules. I am all about choices in MMOs and I feel that most have never gone out of their way to accommodate more players.

    For example:
    – Required grouping to accomplish goals
    – Dangerous landscape requiring treacherous treks into the unknown
    Increase the difficulty, concentration, or coordination of mobs. I think this is something that could even be adjusted on a personal level.

    – Good players giving you the highest highs and bad players giving you the lowest lows because of needing them both
    Doesn’t that just come from being forced to group or perhaps the skill/class design could factor in heavily. Still a rule-set could change these up.

    – Death penalties being rough
    Easiest to deal with and I’ve often argues that the death penalty should be something you can personalize. Could be enforced on a special rule-set server

    – Complex and sometimes confusing scenarios forcing you to have to think or ask for help
    – Quests being actual quests… you know, journeys and undertakings of meaningful value
    Actually I am fine with this in most games. I think that the idea of questing is way overdone and that developers really should rethink what they call a quest versus a task or job. In general they should also vastly improve the quality and variety of these activities.

    – No map / crude map forcing exploration and, again, other people for help
    Eh. People will find a way, sure you could enforce it in the client but quite a few people have multiple machines and would just end up with player created maps displayed next to their main monitor.

    – Trade being done in person. No Mail. No Auction. the death penalty is the easiest
    Ugh no! I can’t stand that Aion has this already. I find seeing people set up as vendors as worse then seeing trash on the street. I did like the way SWG accomplished something like this. You had a choice there, you could use one of the terminals to buy player sold items or you could go to a players town and buy from them personally. It was the only game that I can recall in which I actively enjoyed and pursued crafting and trading.

    Sure if you made these rules server-based or personal preference people would complain that no one would ever choose the harder route but to them I say, “so be it! The market has spoken”. Still you would have a choice.

    And yes I am ignoring the reasons why developers would be resistant to implementing a system like this, for example, the cost and balance issues.

  3. I may be an outlier, but forcing interactions with strangers just seems like a mistake. I enjoy solo time, and I enjoy guild time, but I almost never enjoyed “PuG time”.

  4. I’m so glad that this was brought up since it has been one of my favorite debates on the Subcreation Gaming forum; How to create a healthy “community” in an MMO.

    The most oft example used as a good community has been Everquest simply for the dependence on others to get nearly anything done… and vicariously the eventual great lengths which people are willing to go to in order to help another person out.

    The #1 thing that has made me sick of WoW and left a sour taste in my mouth is the stunning catering to the individual. Forget the casual vs. hardcore debate… the individual vs community debate is of real importance.

  5. Steeldragoon says:

    Those role playing servers are the fix. Those servers are supposed to represent people who want that social interaction and not just entertainment.

    I don’t think making those servers have special rules that encourage anything on your list will help. As number 1 and 3 posts have mentioned, being forced to act a certain way will take away fun as well which of course is the main reason for playing the game.

  6. These are old school solutions to an age old problem. That solution worked in the past, btu today we need fresh new solutions that don’t force people together like smashing bricks together.

    I mean, thank about it. Forcing people in a room together and trying to get them to talk is sort of stupid and can just as much produce harsh negative reactions.

    While I will agree, that the social aspects of MMO’s are the most appealing aspects to many of us, You don’t drive players together and they magically become friends. Nor do I think you can magically ‘nurture’ players together in some fantasy land where people of the right compatibility somehow meet up and mesh well for some enjoyable online fun. But the second idea at least has it’s heart in the right place but if you could do that, than Match.com and eHarmony have a job for you too.

  7. “The million subscriber question is quickly becoming: How can we make a game that feels like a genuine social multiplayer roleplaying experience again?”

    I think that’s the wrong question. I don’t believe that you can get to a million subscribers using the old-school model. This is not a matter of choice, but simply because the size of the market is drastically smaller than the size of the market for accessible games. What developers need to do is accept that, adjust their development budget proposals, and move on.

    There is no shame in having a game with forced grouping and 200,000 subscribers – that’s $36 million in annual subscription revenue, plus box sales. Developers just need to get it through their heads that they’re not going to compete with WoW on quantity and production values. Drop the “we are more hardcore than you WoW noobs” bull and don’t waste your time trying to develop solo content that will only serve to distract your core market from the heart of your game, without being enough to sustain the subscriptions of players who need accessibility.

    There is plenty of room in the market for BOTH this type of game AND the accessible, solo-friendly mass market MMORPG.
    Trying to do both, even with a Blizzard-sized budget, is a very difficult task, and trying to do both on anything less is a recipe for failure.

    (P.S. The one thing we as gamers can do is stop crying over graphical eye candy. The latest graphics may look good on someone’s magazine cover, but they shrink the market by raising the system specs, and detract from the overall quality of the game by eating up more of the development budget.)

  8. People seem to look back and refer to it as “putting people in a room together and forcing them to talk”, but that misrepresents how it played out. People sought out these situations on their own. Forced grouping and interdependencies among the community, outside of just your guild, were the foundation for half of the things which made/make WoW (for example) great. It’s just that the dependency is gone for everyone but the guild you’re in.

    Look at the direction games are going. They’re no longer big worlds full of people, but instances and truncated mini-adventures where 5-24 people can go inside, kill a boss, and not see each other until the lockout timer is done.

    Everything is getting more and more about having that instant action and less about earning it, working towards it, taking on the role of your character, becoming immersed in the “RPG” elements of these multiplayer games.

    We’re losing substance for the sake of accessibility. A big part of that substance is seeing another person in-game as a character, a chance for socializing, and a group mate for an adventure. By all means let there be all types of games for all types of gamers. I would never say that accessible doesn’t work for people – it even works for me sometimes – but I think we need to try and bring back the social game in some way and I fear it can’t be done without at least a glimmer of the past. Afterall, it’s the past that made today great.

  9. There’s a big difference between “forcing people together” and “creating a desirable goal that requires dependence on others”.

    The latter is the community factor but it goes one step further along what Keen is trying to describe which is that you cant give the “desirable goals” such a compartmentalized structure that you only need to rely on the same people time in and time out for anything you want to do. I think of public quests from WAR as a good example of something that wouldn’t necessarily be a guild function, but something that promoted socializing for a common goal.

  10. Gustavef says:

    I would look to Star Wars Galaxies as a good model for how to make a social game. Your list is what “forces” grouping. But what early SWG did was help create communities among the players. And it only had your “Dangerous landscape” criteria.

    Next look at EVE.

    Now in both of these games you can do quite well as a solo person and become quite powerful. But to really make your mark on the world required you to work with others. Player Cities (stations) and free flowing warfare allows players to feel like they are a part of the world.

    One Key element in both of these games (and way back to UO) was the players could modify the world they lived in. And not just with some static houses. But they could create cities.

    Darkfall had the right elements to create a social game, but poor code got in the way. I would also think that too much space early on does allows too many people to run away. Too much space (like Vanguard) early on and people will feel lost.

  11. Maladorn says:

    Always cracks me up when people talk about “bringing back the social game”. Like it’s some gaming Atlantis that was lost beneath the waves of accessibility. People game, whether socially or solo, for their own reasons. If you want to attract social gamers, give them reasons to join the game. And it doesn’t have to involve draconian death penalties or terrible maps. I’d love to actually build up buildings and cities, engage in full-fledged crafting, and develop a trade network for my goods. There isn’t a game out there that caters to that desire in the genre I want to play. And there is the problem. Creating a great social game means creating a game for a niche market. If you do it really, really well, you can expand the niche some, but it’s still not going to be huge. So, make the social game if you want, and enjoy the community it attracts. Just don’t be surprised when 1 million subs doesn’t happen.

  12. @Qpon: One just words is nicer. In reality people don’t care how you say it, they just care how it affects them. “Creating a desirable goal” or “Group to do this” mean the exact same thing: rely on others. A lot of people do not want to rely on others. That’s the biggest problem. It’s sad really and, I’ll say it again, removes substance from the game.

    @Gustavef: SWG actually had a lot more than one thing on the list I made (which isn’t my list, but Ryan Shwayder’s with a few changes from me). SWG had the interaction with other people for trade (player shops, cantinas, etc), great long quests, complex scenarios, required grouping for lots of stuff, and danger. It also had a lot more than that which made it more a social game than anything else.

  13. Keen, you are right, MMOs are nowadays designed to cater to solo players, too.

    There will never be that old MMO feeling if people do not need other players anymore, and even avoid them as this means less loot, less xp, less whatever.

    I am in favor of allowing players to solo some content. But the multiplayer component is indeed what gives MMOs longevity and “spice”. And it must not be discouraged or reduced in any way.

    The extreme split between raiding and soloplay till level cap is a problem, too.

    I would also like to second Gustavef, Ultima Online already had more options to interact with the world than many games today together.

    The contemporary quest system is especially bad. ? -> ! (follow the arrow to the objective, get quest at ?, with the quest itself being a menial task)

    We also got lazy with automaps, no penalties for anything, instant rewards and all that.

    Yeah, it is time for a MMO revolution. Not necessarily back to the roots, but fresh ideas that work.

  14. avi falafel says:

    Are you talking about EQ?
    Because it seems to me that your mentioning all the things EQ got right.

    I remember being in high school and buying the game. The first time I logged in was…epic.
    The world was HUGE. And no one told you were you needed to go.
    It was less linear than current games. Too much hand holding, too much “Please advance to the next zone in order to receive more quests” bullcrap.

    We need an extreme option on the other end. No instances or scenarios. I remember daoc, and one of the coolest things about that was being able to just casually solo some undead in a dungeon, finding a few more people and forming a group.

    I don’t understand what the obsession with MMO’s and soloing is. Call me crazy, but you aren’t supposed to solo in MMO’s. Sure, it’s a great way to kill 30 mins or so, and I like doing it too, but grouping (especially PUG’s) is where the real fun is at.
    A rag tag group of heroes, working together to thwart a common goal. One would be the tank and hold aggro, some damage dealers to actually hit the mob, and then some support people for heals/buffs/cc.

    Maybe this is just my jaded opinion of the gaming world and where MMO’s are headed in general.

    Either way, I miss both my Cleric from EQ and my Sorc from daoc. Those were real classes built for groups, and built for utility.

  15. OxegenUK says:

    I have to disagree with the blog on this topic. MMO’s back in the day did have harsh death penalties, grinding problems and hard work buying items etc. People don’t want to come home from work to do more work. IMO ofc.

    Evidence has shown that the more casual a game is, the wider potential market available. WoW’s a user friendly MMO, but didn’t lose subscribers over time. They instead focused their energy on listening to the masses by making the game less work and more play. Thus their playerbase become larger.

    At school and college i had plenty of time to extreme game on many multiplayer platforms. I welcomed the difficult instances, the commitment required. I think the harder i worked, the bigger reward felt from my achivements. These days i just want to logon, PvP/PvE with a few buddies and log. No more waiting for THAT class nobody likes to fill the spot, no waiting for a warband/raid. Just log on, have fun, log off.

    Oxegen

  16. EQ and the old guard of MMOs were “social” because of the lengthy downtimes and camping. You “relied” on people because the mobs were tougher than we typically have these days but then again many players spent a lot of time working up builds/gear that would let them solo.

    Being in a group does not make anyone “social” nor does soloing at any given moment make anyone “antisocial.” I’ve had plenty of antisocial players in my groups. Won’t say hi, won’t say a damn thing for that matter. Usually lucky if they’ll even play their class correctly then they leave as soon as the goal is accomplished. They “relied” (read: “used” or worst case “leeched”) the group to get what they wanted. I’ve also had very fun, very social players in my guilds or friend lists who made my time very enjoyable chatting with them but they almost never grouped.

    Notice how those examples what you people consider “social” players had a negative impact on my immediate gaming experience (the actual group activity) where the chatty but apparently antisocial guildie had zero impact on the task at hand but made the overall game experience even more worthwhile.

    Not everything has to be about killing shit in a group.

    How can we make a game that feels like a genuine social multiplayer roleplaying experience again?

    You probably just answered your own question since you conspicuously didn’t specify “massively” multiplayer…

    Honestly, we’ve become very insular as MMO gamers. We only group with our little clique of friends, or at most we’ll group up with enough guildies to raid with. That’s about it. The other players could just as well be NPCs for all we care; they’re nothing more than window dressing that we usually ignore.

    It’s liable to take a push from “regular” RPGs pushing into cooperative multiplayer experiences to give the MMO side of things a kick in the pants.

  17. @OxegenUK: What exactly do you disagree with? That we need to get back to the social game or that we can only get back to them if we have some element, even a glimmer, of the past?

    @Scott: The absence of “massively” was simply an error. I agree that people grouping together immediately constitute socializing. I totally agree with how you’ve phrased it. The majority of MMO gamers have become insular and that has led us to view other players as window dressing. That should be reason enough to get back to figuring out how we can once again get the players involved with each other.

  18. When I play I want to play, not spend more than 50% of my time looking for a group. I want to enjoy what I am paying for…

  19. You’ve missed the point entirely, Maess.

  20. Daggermaniac says:

    Questing in game’s has become a chore. It’s boring, useless in the story (why the hell would you be killing bears when Illidan needs a beating?), and just a means to the end. As much as I hate to say it… RuneScape had GREAT quests. In that shitty engine, browser game, I have had more fun than in WoW and WAR and AoC. The game was great until it went carebear for its younger members (or less educated, either one.) Ahh, the good days of RuneScape.

  21. I have to say that I agree in large part with Keen’s post – I came up as an Everquest player, experiencing many of the factors listed – but as they say, you can’t go home again. I have continued to enjoy the social playstyle brought by heavy amounts of grouping in DAOC and Everquest 2. I have to say though, that it’s very much missing in newer games. Some of it will never come back, I think. “Confusing” quests and no maps only really worked in older games because we didn’t have everything about the games posted on a wiki and several other sites to be easily viewed.

    I have nothing against soloing, it should always be a part of the mix in any game – a lot of people don’t have huge amounts of time, or just prefer it. It’s just that the soloing ideal has taken over many games, and they appear to have the goal of making grouping only done in emergencies, to handle instances or very tough tasks.

    This is definitely helped by the class design in newer games. WoW really kicked off the idea of only having a few classes, but having them really strong and be able to do multiple things, and it has been picked up by many newer games. Basically, you rarely need a group because your character, no matter what his role, can deal with nearly everything alone. Games like DAOC and EQ2 have much larger class variety, but the classes are more specialized, thus encouraging grouping. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to go from DAOC, which still has some of the most unique class designs in any MMO, to WAR, with its small number of classes and many of them being mirrors of each other.

  22. Daggermaniac says:

    As Anakh said, older games worked well with the “adventure” aspect because information, guides, how to play your own damn character wasn’t posted everywhere. Also, people made an effort to make a community. Someone above mentioned RP servers, and in many games, such as AoC, the RPPvP servers are a great way to experience the social aspect of the game. Many people go out of their way to just, have fun with the game, socially, on those servers.

  23. Ryan is clueless as hell.

    I’ve played the social MMO, Final Fantasy XI.

    Forced Grouping? Check, you simply cannot solo decently (until recent changes) for experience points or to get vital quests done. And in that game you have often had to shout for hours unless you were part of a large guild willing to help you out.

    Good/Bad? Yeah they had that too, but what happens is that it just makes it even harder, and not fun to wipe because some clueless noob kills you.

    Rough death penalties? God he is so clueless. I lost hundred of thousands of exp leveling beastmaster solo. It got to the point where on bad days I would lose enough experience to go backwards and lose a level. Those were the most frustrating times I ever played an MMO, and it killed the game for me-after it i never sought to do much of anything because that memory of constantly being punished influenced what I did.

    All that rough penalties do is promote ultra conservative gameplay. Players aren’t stupid, they aren’t going to do your omgwtf quest if they quickly find out every time they die doing it they lose a ton of progress.

    Complex scenarioes? Read the wiki. In FFXI you read and follow it religiously. There is no seat of your pants in it, you don’t read every little aspect of what a boss can do you die. The penalties also force you not to experiment or try different approaches.

    No map. FFXI puts its maps sometimes in coffers. You cannot even get the map for a place till 75 solo many times. Guess what you do? Yay Wiki. Until you can get the map, that is.

    Quests-FFXI doesn’t really do such, they have the journey aspect, but the value isn’t there. You can’t expect people to traverse three zones and fight a pretty strong miniboss for a gun you’ll outlevel in 5 levels.

    Trade-no comment, ffxi uses mail and AH.

    I’m really tired of clueless devs. There’s a reason why WoW is so popular and everquest isn’t-a lot of the social game aspect is a horrible pain.

  24. Irongrim says:

    I, like many people, dislike most other humans and don’t wish to group with them. I look forward to Misanthrope Online, a massively multiplayer solo game, where i can travel a virtual world, suspiciously eyeing any player i come across and grumbling about them stealing “my spot”. Any game which forces me to group will be a game i don’t play long after my free month. I hated WoW dungeons, likewise Warhammer dungeons, and hope this horrific trend towards socialising is a passing one.

  25. Warhammer actually had a good idea for the forced grouping in Public Quests…but they had so many of them they ruined the idea completely.

    I would love a game based on some of these ideas…

    Harsh Death Penalty? Sure! Make people actually learn their class so that they avoid dying because it is so painful. EQ did this by making you lose EXP and having to go get your gear.

    No map for real exploration? Absolutely. I have been saying all along that the instancing of boss fights takes the true epic feel of a fantasy world out of the game.

    now it is true that a game set back in the settings of EQ now would not work. It wouldn’t be too much fun now a days going to every NPC for a “Hail” to find a quest. That would make the game old quick but you can get the game back to a more true feel of immersion which is what the industry is moving away from.

    I do think that setting a game up so you have true open world exploration and adventure is what the genre really needs. People complain that the industry is flooded with too many Fantasy MMo’s but how many of them are truly fantasy when you log in, spew Chuck Norris jokes, check the mod you have and blindly move in a choreographed dance because that’s how a website where all the big guilds do it make it fantasy?

  26. FenixStryk says:

    Reliance on others is not what should make an MMO an MMO.

  27. I know, right?

  28. - Required grouping to accomplish goals
    What are the goals? Pretty much every MMO has required grouping to accomplish some kind of goal.

    – Death penalties being rough
    Not sure about this one. A game that relies a lot on an unknown variable(players) shouldn’t punish too hard for a mistake that you didn’t make.

    – Complex and sometimes confusing scenarios forcing you to have to think or ask for help.
    Confusing probably isn’t the best word for this. When I’m confused with a game, I quit. I’m down for a little complexity, though.

    – Quests being actual quests… you know, journeys and undertakings of meaningful value
    Totally on board for this one.

    – Trade being done in person. No Mail. No Auction.
    I don’t understand this one. Mail and auction houses are convenient. Why take away something that players generally like? And how much interaction can one get out of a trade? Not to mention the potentially long travel you would have to do if the other person was in a different location than you.

  29. Proof reading failure on my part. I went back and realized that I didn’t finish a thought before giving the list. The list is of things many people will recall from the oldschool mmorpgs which promoted reliance on other players, or a more social experience, within the community.

    I didn’t mean for them to come across as a list of things I thought would be needed for a more social game.

    Also, some of them do exist in games which are very accesible. Required grouping to accomplish goals, for example, is present. However, it’s been bastardized into this idea that people group solely with people they know and rely only on a specific clique.

  30. all those dot points sound like runescape lol

  31. Gravymonkey says:

    Ehhh I never enjoyed a death penalty nor did I feel that it did anything more than punish me for grouping with people who would get me killed ORnothing worse than being punished (by being docked an hours worth of grinding) for exploring zones, or people training monsters to a zone edge etc.

    Most games seem to still require you to group and raid to do the “best of the best” end game. Even if it doesn’t take 40-100 people, it is still grouping.

    Questing in its current state sucks… but it is basically an excuse to grind things… whether its solo or group. Go kill x of x. Go collect x of x which just happen to have a bunch of goblins walking around the area. It would be great to see the quest revolutionized or perhaps reinvented (the epic quests in EQ were pretty dang cool, as were some of the pre TBC wow epic weapon quests).

    I would love to see the maps go away or the need to purchase maps to use in game rather than just discovering an area and being able to see it all. I can remember downloading maps for UO, EQ, and having to keep them next to my computer, which was as annoying as it was cool.

    Trading and auctioning pre AH days were just spam fests, I prefer the AH, I really love AIONS express mail feature, wouldn’t mind seeing more things like that added.

    The MMO genre needs a major upgrade in gameplay… Im not sure what it is that needs to happen, but something does, thats for sure.

  32. These are issues I have also wrestled with as a game developer. I think the continued dilution of death penalties is a HUGE mistake. Death has become a teleport spell rather than something to avoid.

    Regarding quests, I wrote an article about that here:

    New Grind, Just like the Old Grind: Quest Heavy Advancement
    http://www.brighthub.com/video-games/mmo/articles/29399.aspx

    The word “quest” itself has been horribly watered down. A quest used to be meaningful. Now it is nothing but a pissant task you perform for some peon, which makes your character an even more insignificant peon. Ugh.

    -Michael Hartman
    http://www.muckbeast.com

  33. Coppertopper says:

    I don’t know Keen…no map? Finding quest objectives from vague quest text directions? This all leads to frustration in my experience. What we’ll see instead of more immersion is /global chat:”What are the coords of Lady of the Lake step 4!!!”.

    But yes, it is nice to see a studio not trying to reinvent WoW and recognizing what current AAA mmos are getting wrong. Just hope Darkfall or Mortal Online doesn’t scratch that itch or they may find themselves trying to woo there target audience away fro
    games that fill that niche.

  34. @Dblade

    Indeed Final Fantasy XI is the game that hits all the bullet points of the list in question. These games are not for everyone, but in fact this is what type of game that is going to fit the bill in a “Social” environment. I have played War, WoW, AoC, EQ(2), Lotro and lastly FFXI and would love to say that FFXI is the only one of those games where I found an immediate social community.

    When I left FFXI for WoW the first thing I realized is that the Social atmosphere was just not there. In recent months the aspects that were in WoW have gone by the wayside as Blizzard moves closer and closer to making the game “accessible”. As a game becomes more accessible, the achievements within the game become trivial and not real achievements.

    I truly hope that the proposed FFXIV has every point on that list. The downfalls of such a game come down to frustration. Frustration with waiting long periods to find a group. Frustration that failure means something. But with frustration brings a real sense of wonder and achievment when you hit a milestone.

  35. moonmonster says:

    What is required to encourage grouping is to make it easier to find the type of person you want to group with.

    Unfortunately that’s not easy. But imagine if, when you hit the LFG screen, it was prefiltered for your particular playstyle/personality/history/habits. If you’re a chatty grinder, you find mostly chatty grinders. If you’re an RPing quester, that’s what you find. If a game could do that, I’d group all day. (And yes I am aware it is difficult to the point of impractability. But they do have scads of data on how you play, and some self-assessment forms combined with a feedback system to prevent lies…)

  36. Sooner or later your gonna have to accept that the lines are drawn, there are different kinds of people.

    The kind of mmo you want, and parts of it in my ideal mmo, will never be a commercial success. Big company’s just won’t do it cause it doesn’t = money there is no reason for them to do it cause most people don’t want that and you have to rely on indie small company’s

    So till a indie company pulls a rabbit out there hat making the mmo they want and it not be buggy as hell and have what they claimed it will have, while also you accepting that it will never have the population of a mainstream title you will never be happy with mmo’s.

    i have….

  37. I agree with Keen but I hope that future games can find a middle road.I have nothing against solo play but most recent games were solo till max level.

    The backfire is people don`t know how to play their respective class in group thus “PUG” getting a bad name.

  38. “- 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.”

    Sounds allot like Everquest again to me, infact that’s pretty much exactly EQ. Half of that is actually destroyed by sites like Allak/wowhead ect though, when you know where you’re going and what to kill for quests/gear it’s pretty much moot point and that’s the only thing that designers don’t have control over.

  39. I don’t think we need to encourage socialising and group by enforcing penalities like harsh death mechanics and no map etc.

    What we should be doing is encouraging group by rewarding people and making it a viable alternative to soloing. Keep in the solo content, keep in the ease of play but give decent, attractive rewards for grouping.

    Make dungeons huge, open crawling dungeons with great loot. Make the exp excellent. Make the loot bind-on-pickup and really decent. Great epic quests that need groups to complete.

    The worst thing WoW ever did was make solo questing the easiest option to level up with.

  40. MMOs have become more accessible over time because companies want to make more money. That’s pretty obvious and fair I’d say since they are running a business and putting out a product they want to sell. However you see so many failed MMOs of what would seem like a system that shouldn’t fail (I’ll bet Mythic felt pretty confident about WAR). A company could release a game that has some of the old roots included as well as some new innovative methods for putting the MM back in MMORPG and they would make as much money or more than most MMOs.

    People would call it a niche game, but when even the supposedly standardized popular MMOs fail it leaves a lot of room open. What I would love is a polished game. Something that it’s clear the developers spent time on. If they spent time on a game like Keen is suggesting then it would sell and be successful. It’s just about execution.

    Also agree with Spitfires. Group questing should be at least as viable if not more so than solo questing. Solo questing should be possible, yet difficult. Another point is that in a game focused around grouping with others to complete tasks you’ll have a much easier time finding a group than in a traditional MMO. Presumably a system would be in place to make grouping easy too.

  41. Let me once again clarify here that I was not listing off things that should be in a game or stating how I want games to be made in reference to that list. I simply listed things that Ryan Shwayder mentions in his post and things which I recall from the oldschool days of when MMORPGs were more social.

    What I am saying is that MMORPGs need to encourage players to rely on each other again if they want to have a social game again with a community capable of sustaining their game long-term as well as add substance where it has been sorely lacking over the past few years.

    I definitely believe that a game can be both social and accessible, but I do not believe it can be done without many of the old things people seem to have abandoned. They need to be reintroduced and adapted for today’s gamer mentality.

  42. I do agree with a few things, harsher death penalties created a form of excitement and real punishment for doing poorly, I’m not talking EQ death penalties, or delvling, but wow’s system frustrates me, I have to waste several minutes running to my body or sit there with “rez sickness”, annoying in the extreme, xp loss or other such things were better I think.

    There is nothing wrong for requiring grouping to accomplish certain tasks, this is a good thing I think, FFXI does this alot, and while it has alot of flaws, finishing story line missions and difficult fights with your group can be EXTREMELY satisfying.

    Quest systems need to be improved, everything is a quest, even the most menial task, very few quests feel very “epic” anymore, but I have no idea how to fix that, so eh.

    Dangerous landscapes + dangerous treks are something I miss, and were alot of fun… impossible in WoW because everything runs faster than you and agros from miles away, at least I had a sprint button in DAoC or agro avoidance in FFXI.

    These are old things that I think have been lost nowadays, with streamlining and leading people by the hand, that is FINE, but sometimes it feels that they went just a little too far. Exploration and a thrill of danger/challenge for going off the beaten path, and requiring friends to accomplish tasks, these things should be reintroduced, yes everyone wants to be part of their own “individual” epic story, but they can play a single player game if they want that. MMO’s are about getting friends together and relying on each other, FFXI is probably the best at this despite all it’s faults, just look up some of the amazing cut scenes you get from winning fights or progressing in stories, they are amazing (except for the crystalline prophecy mini-expansion, terrible).

  43. I don’t want to give up my mail, AH, or minimap. And in any reasonably popular MMO these days you’ll be able to find all the info you need somewhere on the internet.

    Everything else I would like to see reverted. Small group stuff that is actually worth doing relative to soloing during leveling is a good start.

    There might be 3x the casual market for soloing as there is for a more hardcore game that encourages grouping, but right now there are NO pro-grouping games with great polish (maybe Aion?) If you make soloing the core of your game then you better make it more polished than WoW.

  44. Well, I guess I’ll put my two cents in.

    “- Required grouping to accomplish goals”

    I agree here. But WoW already does this, you don’t solo instances unless you are much, much higher level than the content.

    “- Good players giving you the highest highs and bad players giving you the lowest lows because of needing them both”

    I think this is already in place in WoW and many other MMORPGs already. Also, you do not want to make the lows so low that players quit over them. Without a good population it does not matter how good your game is otherwise, people don’t play ghost towns.

    “- Death penalties being rough”

    Somewhat agree. Death is too forgiving in some instances. But the problem I see here is that even with fixed death penalties the harshness of death is largely contextual. A raid wipe is a big pain in the ass even in WoW, because of how much time it adds to the raid. In EQ dieing out in the open was much different than dieing deep in a dungeon. Sometimes WoWs death penalty was plenty harsh, other times it was a quick teleport. That variability is inherent in any death penalty. In making a death penalty harsh in even the mildest of contexts you might be making it too harsh in other contexts.

    “- Complex and sometimes confusing scenarios forcing you to have to think or ask for help”

    There is a balance to strike here. You want to make it easy enough to figure out that you don’t have players alt-tabbing out to look at wikis and such. I think many of the bosses in WoWs 5-man instances struck the balance well. They had tricks, but you could still compensate when you did not know what to expect. Have the boss go stealth at some point in the fight and sneak attack someone for high damage. Have them call in reinforcements that need to be killed while kited, etc.

    “- No map / crude map forcing exploration and, again, other people for help”

    Disagree here, people will just use websites. Have easter-eggs and semi-hidden but unimportant places. Players who want to explore will seek such things out. I remember swimming up empty coast lines in WoW just to see if there was anything up there. I found stuff too, an old abandoned house, a elven ruin, etc. But there should be no reason to go other than to just see places like that, if you put goals and things in those places they stop being secret places, or special places. They just become something everyone knows about because the game made them go there for that cool sword or whatever.

    “- Dangerous landscape requiring treacherous treks into the unknown”

    I can agree here. But you need areas that are not dangerous too, or there is no contrast.

    “- Quests being actual quests… you know, journeys and undertakings of meaningful value”

    Not sure if I agree. I think there should be plenty of simple tasks to do to get exp and equipment while leveling up. I think that grinding quests is better than just straight grinding because it forces players to seek out different areas and explore, instead of just camping one spot for hours. But I think there should be big, epic quests too. Think of the Tiron Fordring quest line in the eastern plaguelands in WoW, I want to see stuff like that in more MMOs.

    “- Trade being done in person. No Mail. No Auction.”

    I disagree here. While promoting social interaction is good I think you need to make sure that it is meaningful social interaction. Being forced to sell stuff by shouting in a trade channel does not count, IMO.

  45. Niwaar-

    I’m burned out on it myself. The community aspect works in negative ways as well as positive ways. Good luck trying to get anyone but your friends to experience in a less popular exp spot, or to help you out when its a mission or NM that offers no reward but to you.

    People like to talk about it in the abstract, but its not a sense of achievement, its more a sense of “thank god that’s over” once you get beyond a certain point. You wake up and realize that a piece of gear is simply not worth the hassle. Forced grouping seems fun until you realize you’ve been seeking without invite for a week or two with no tanks or healers, and once your initial 75 is done, there’s no upside to that.

    I do like the idea of grouping encouraged but not forced, and I really wish that more MMO designers would enable real choice for players in that, so that all jobs and builds can contribute. In FFXI you level a job for merits, and for endgame. It doesn’t matter what you like or not, what matters is that you need to have job A to gain merits in a group, and job B to get accepted in an endgame linkshell or you stagnate.

  46. Take wow’s evolution.

    40man raid turning into 25man and 10man, 10man dugeons into 5man, 3 and 5 man quests into 1man. Content keeps getting easier and easier. They are taking away the challeng for us “gamers”,and giving us achievements(if you can even call them that). I think they are doing so to attrackt the “gamer’s” family. Wow wants to be for everyone.

    It’s kind of social that everyone can play the same game but that’s not what you meant.

    Unfortunately these new players dont really comunicate. Maybe, if they had to they would, but if they really had to they probably would not play your game, they would play wow.

    You can’t bring back that social game feeling, if you are trying to attackt players that dont comunicate, as in discuss tactics.

    So how can everyone be happy, 1 game 1 type of players.

    Problem is that the more players you can get, the more money you can make.

    I agree that you cant mix the two.

    Developers should be asking themselves “who is going to play my game?” rather than “what type of game do players want?”

  47. Accessibility is a noble goal, but the easiest way to be accessible is to remove / sacrifice gameplay. This really is a gameplay discussion, group gameplay specifically.

    It’s about priorities.

    If accessibility trumps gameplay, the whole game waters down, especially from the multiplayer perspective, because single player experiences are far easier to guide (in respect to being accessible).

    Gameplay should be top priority. It’s a game right, not MySpace or Facebook. =P

    I don’t think grouping needs to be enforced. It just needs to be fun / compelling. In that regard, I think competition between players is as big a detriment as accessibility. It’s related though, because the competition is encouraged (WoW especially) to push players to keep climbing the ladders.

    Players solo a lot because they don’t want the baggage of groups. If groups were more cooperative and less competitive, that would certainly help. How many of us groan at the idea of PUG’ing now?

    I guess it could be argued that the games haven’t become more accessible, they’ve just moved the accessibility away from where it’s hard to balance (groups) onto where it’s easier (solo) for the developers.

    The shame is, from player perspective, people often assume this is just how it should work. You’ll see people knee-jerk in defence of solo play, as if it were a debate against their freedom to solo. It’s not really about that, these games don’t need to remove / hamper solo gameplay any more than they’ve already reduced group gameplay.

  48. I think FFXI’s combination of auction houses and characters being able to host personal sales was a good answer to help personalizing the buying experience.

    I remember playing NwN on a highly populated server where auction fairs were hosted. Regretfully this was probably three or so years ago. Sadly events like this are more difficult to organize in modern day MMOs. (the server even banned the use of a trading forum.. in support of in game auctions).

    I don’t support the use of de-leveling when dying, but I do support more of a death penalty than.. walking to your corpse as a spirit ala wow or whatever other games are doing these days.

    I’ve written about this subject in the past. More the lack of communities in games like WoW outside of guilds. Even in guilds .. new players have an incredibly difficult time.. getting to know other players(at least I did compared to other games), especially if they already have the gear to raid or.. hell don’t even really need their guild to help them do heroics. This lack of really _needing_ your guild outside of raids I think hinders a larger community from forming.

    I’ve just never felt connected to other players compared to when I the other games I used to play. There are times when I don’t miss this sense of being connected to the players online .. other times I feel happy that games these days don’t offer it as much because it certainly does take away from other things. (real life anyone?)

  49. silverfly says:

    I think the main problem has been the MMO industry has been trying to cash-in on the ballooning player base that WOW was so perfectly positioned for.

    I will come out straight away and say I loved the magic and anguish of EQ the best, with WOW classic just a step behind. WOW in it’s current iteration just makes me have a sad.

    Now we all know that there are at least 80% that will never be hardcore MMO gamers, and those gamers in my opinion are diametrically opposed to what the hardcore gamer wants. Which is fine.. we just need ONE game that caters to the other 20%

    Just give me a game with lots of classes that are inter-dependent, with more stats, not less. make it non-pvp if it needs to be. here is where WOW went really wrong.. for instance making all magic damage one stat… RIDICULOUS.. and then pladins.. tank/dps/or healer. BLEH! great for an intro MMO, terrible for real gamers

    off the list… Dangerous landscape requiring treacherous treks into the unknown. This is what made EQ so special. You could just die so many different ways… I loved it.

    Just those 2 things would make a huge difference for me.

  50. Zebarmy says:

    Considering you fell out of love with Darkfall, and feel free to argue against, please…

    – Required grouping to accomplish goals – Darkfall, yep
    – Good players giving you the highest highs and bad players giving you the lowest lows because of needing them both – Game can’t survive without both, Darkfall is moving in the right direction, but went through a low point – see expansion
    – Death penalties being rough – Full loot loss. Yup
    – Complex and sometimes confusing scenarios forcing you to have to think or ask for help – Doesn’t really do this, other than strategy in battle.
    – No map / crude map forcing exploration and, again, other people for help – I think it does this, towns aren’t even marked.
    – Dangerous landscape requiring treacherous treks into the unknown – Yep
    – Quests being actual quests… you know, journeys and undertakings of meaningful value – Darkfall does quests quite, well, SWG did it better.
    – Trade being done in person. No Mail. No Auction. – Yep

    Maybe you should take another look? :)

  51. With respect, Zebarmy, I think you need to reread the blog entry. ;)

  52. I think going forward there’s little room in the MMO market for a forced grouping game..

    What I’d like to see though is a game that offered meaningful, multiple paths of advancement. The biggest flaw of WoW’s levelling game for me was that there’s really no option of what to do when you log in – you go to your quest hub, get quests and do quests. Grouping options were provided along the way (instances) but they were for the same advancement path (exp + loot) that you were pursuing solo, so the question of whether to do them came down to determining which was the more efficient way of advancing and inevitably grouping lost out.

    WoW’s 80 game has far more options of what to do when you log in, at least initially, but there all based upon the same activity (killing) and mostly solo.

    I’d like to a see a system where you would log in and actively think about which advancement path you want to pursue, some of which would require groups and some would be solo but ultimately they’d lead to different goals.

    Vanguard sort of tried something like this with it’s three spheres, but ultimately two of them weren’t as fully fleshed out and fun as the third (adventuring).

    The answer could lie in dynamic content, if you could get X players together in a group and the game would generate a quest for you tailored to that number of players then it takes a lot of the obstacles out that lie in a traditional quest based game e.g. “I can’t come because I’m on the next stage of the quest” or whatever. These quests would then reward you with fame or something separate than the sort of rewards you get for solo killing wolves in the forest around a village. The trick is of course generating dynamic content that’s compelling beyond a random assortment of same tiled rooms stuck together in a random sequence.

    If someone can nail that I reckon they’d be onto a winner.

  53. Morreion says:

    There’s a reason why people game-hop and new MMO releases lose lots of their population in a few months. Games that cater to the casual experience are bloodless and easy; there’s no real reason to stick around without social bonds, which used to keep players in games for years. No adversity to overcome? Why bother?

  54. @Morreion: That is, in a nutshell, exactly what I am trying to say.

  55. Argonic says:

    @Morreion

    WoW would seem to contradict that statement. It retains a majority of it’s population when new MMOs release and is widely considered to cater to a casual experience.

  56. @Argonic

    Because it was the first of the “new” mmos, so people go back to whats familiar, much like how people went “back” to EQ in the earlier days. People try something new, dont like it or its too easy or whatever, and go back to what they already know and where they already have bonds, which is wow for alot of people.

  57. Argonic says:

    @Danath

    If that is true then Morreion’s contention:

    “Games that cater to the casual experience are bloodless and easy; there’s no real reason to stick around without social bonds, which used to keep players in games for years.”

    Would seem to be false. It would be more about who has the first competent execution of a new paradigm. I would agree with this.

  58. Argonic says:

    Actually, I just mean the “bloodless and easy” part, not the part about social bonds.

  59. There are hardcore players and casual players.Theres NO way to make a game AND please em both, right?

    Actually there is a way.It is plausible? No it isnt.

    Talking with my friends and others we ve concluded that our best experience in rpg was with D&D pen and paper.Why ? coz u must have A LIVE GM to play a session.Its 70% a good gm and 30% a good plot/story etc.A good gm can adjust the game according to the players demands.He will adjust the encounters/rewards etc so the small group of the players will enjoy the session.

    Can u do that in an mmo ? Ofc not coz you cannot hire a gm for a dozen of players in each server, right?So there CANT be a game that will please em all , only a game that will please the most , at the moment this game is wow like it or not.

  60. I don’t think you have to change any game in a fundamental way to make it more social. Just give the players some more social tools. It might not be popular but a facebook like friends update stream would be nice. A list of players in the area and what they are doing. WAR does this somewhat with open parties but it doesn’t go far enough.

  61. This really brings back good memories of having to form traveling parties in early ultima online or risk getting ambushed by player killers, and exploring the world using a laminated paper map that came with the game and if you got lost, trying to find familiar territories, also hiring body guards sometimes as well. Those days were so fun.

    Now mmorpgs really feel like single player games and should be called MSORPG instead of MMORPG except for the PVP aspect. Those days the risk made it all the more exciting. Now its just boring since you get almost purely solo leveling, instant travel from point A to point B with no fun risky exploration, easy quest access that point the directions, and crafting that doesn’t have much mystery and length of achievement as well as crafting generally not being much of a great thing.

    Kind of sad that we end up having to pay monthly fees for the single player portion of the game. Every time I hear players mention this phrase: “Wait till end game, that’s when the good part begins”, I end up smacking my face, Well duh because end game is pvp “WITH PLAYERS” or dungeon crawling “WITH PLAYERS”, unlike the solo single player on mmorpgs which is almost always “WITHOUT PLAYERS” only on rare instances do players party together as modern msorpgs(Yes it should be MSORPG) tend to give penalties for players that want to party together.