The Best MMO Mechanic: People

We’ve had some great discussions over the past few days in our comments section about MMOs and how mechanics have changed over the years.  Throughout the discussion one theme kept rising to the top: Relying on others.  Whether it be for survival, advancement, accomplishment, or social edification, the human component has slowly disappeared. Grab a drink and relax.  It’s story time.

Once upon a time…

The worlds we played in were dangerous and unforgiving places.  We used to huddle around light sources in the middle of camps so that we could see at night and at least know that death was coming.  Finding another player evoked almost this ‘I want to hold on to you for safety and follow you just because…’ kind’a feeling.

Grouping with others usually increased your chances of survival.  It may have decreased your experience per kill or slowed you down, but even the chance of dying once wasn’t worth it.  Grouping meant you could do and see more amazing things.  Solo play was incredibly effective, but grouping gave options.

People used to talk in groups.  That annoying thing in the bottom left corner of the screen with all the words in it — we used that to communicate.  Over days, weeks, and months of grouping people gained real reputations.  We knew the people on our server.  Tim the Enchanter was a day trader; Marvin the Wizard was a veterinarian; Doug the Necromancer was in middle-school.  We discussed the world, each other, and built relationships.

And lest you think this tale is solely about grouping, solo players and those wandering the world relied on each other as well. Happening across another player who could increase your run speed or mana regeneration changed your life.  Stumbling upon someone who could resurrect your corpse made your cry tears of joy. When lost in a dungeon and filled with despair knowing you are going to die and potentially lose your corpse just as a hand reaches out from the darkness and guides you to safety is a feeling beyond my ability to relate with words.

People.  People are a mechanic I want to see more of in MMORPGs.  I want that human interaction.  I want the unpredictability.  Other people are the truest form of ‘dynamic gameplay’ we will ever see.  People are the greatest tool a developer can use to leverage the world they’ve created. In the end, I don’t care how it’s done.  Old school or new, I just want the results.

  • I’ll take new school, thanks.

    Oldschool keeps reminding me of how extroverts LOVE to get everyone together, all the time, because that’s the way they recharge their batteries and can’t figure out why introverts are getting more and more drained, plastering fake smiles on the faces to be polite and slowly going out of their minds inside… Solution: Make them meet MORE friends! Party! Dance! All the time!

    We’ll come out of our caves in our time, at our own choosing, thank you, and maybe when you stumble wounded across the wilderness and fall down in front of the hermit, he’s there to pick you up again. And might just decide to help you out, Obi-Wan Kenobe-style. Or visit the town to interact with people and sell whatever they’ve picked up in the wilderness – esoteric knowledge, herbs, skins, whatever.

    Okay, the analogy’s running thin here, I better stop.

  • Agree 100%, Keen.

    I have MANY more great memories from pre-WoW MMOs because those games had communities and people, in all of their glorious variety, are indispensible for these games. Sure, you can have memories of that time you soloed a few mobs and survived in a recent MMO, but that’s much less interesting to me.

    It’s funny, the same arguments are used by PvP fans- that fighting other players is much more interesting than fighting AI. I think the same can apply to PvE cooperation as well.

    And I’m not against soloing. DAoC had a solo class in each of the 3 Realms and that worked out great, because there was a wider community all around to interact with.

    I’m afraid that the ‘mainstreaming’ of MMOs has led to a player base that by and large doesn’t value community. This makes for a much less interesting MMO scene- a seemingly endless string of 3-monthers. Let’s hope that Kickstarter can come up with some community-friendly niche games!

  • Unfortunately, while other people usually make the best content, they are selfish and unreliable and won’t come out and provide content for me when I want it, preferably between 8-9:30pm PST on most weeknights.

    For every time I get logged on for an op in EVE Online and get to shoot something fun (as happened last night), there are a few ops where we just sit on the titan and nothing happens, or we get there too late, or the hostiles can’t get/don’t have sufficient pilots so run away, or we go shoot a structure in hopes of provoking a response and nobody comes out to play.

    Unpredictability is there, but not always in a form you appreciate.

  • People is a tricky one, cause a good group of people can enhance the play experience a great deal. But a bad group of people can make the play experience toxic. In my experience the smaller more niche games have tended to have better communities in general, the larger and more popular the game the more toxic players it seems to attract. Probably cause its easier for them to hide from the consequences of their actions in a larger game.

  • @Morreion Totally agree that the mainstream mentality of noncooperation is ruining or at the minimal total changed recent MMOs. The, “If I don’t get an exp bonus or loot bonus for grouping, screw it” mentality is quite sad. This stems from the lack of a true need to rely on others.

    In past MMOs I would befriend neighbors, because they could help gain skills, trade items, and warn of pks. I would always try to be friendly in groups to get an invite back the next day. But now, there is no need for this with an auction house to buy all my stuff, with crafting on every character, and a nifty little LFG button where I just sit back and have a beer waiting for a que pop.

    I also have hope that a few kickstarters or indies will gain traction and show that true interaction amongst players is what makes MMOs special. Not fancy epic loots or cool boss fights.

    Sure LFG is nice that first day or two, but very boring a few days later.

  • I miss those days. Community bonding because you have to. Social consequences.

    Now I’m on AA Alpha and I try avoid people as much as I can knowing they could any time plunge a knife right into my back eventhough we’re heading to the same goal. yeah, the whole AH thing doesn’t help. What’s the death penalty now a day? just lost of times.

    I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to that again…

  • I’m kind of with you and kind of with Jeromai. In the high days of Everquest, when I grouped far more often than I soloed for a few years, knew a ton of people, had dozens of in-game “friends” and spent most of every night typing like a demon, chatting, joking and bantering, I did NOT know that “Tim the Enchanter was a day trader; Marvin the Wizard was a veterinarian; Doug the Necromancer was in middle-school”.

    I *never* asked. I never gave personal information. Most people didn’t offer any. We talked about our characters, the game and what we were doing and hoped to do within it. Some personal information leaked in by osmosis, inevitably, but most of that went on in private channels or tells.

    Back then I came to MMOs to enter into virtual worlds; to live many vicarious lives as fantastical creatures and beings. The last thing I wanted to do was chat about my job, my family, movies, sports, any of the things I’d spent most of my workday chatting to colleagues about and would be talking to personal friends about in the pub on other nights.

    Yes, people are important in MMOs but in context. I want plenty of them around and I want to communicate, hang out and fight along with them. Anything beyond that would be very much on a case-by-case basis.

  • Actually, those people need to be logged in 8-930 CST. So, when the @#5 are those selfish @#%@s playing?

  • I think the commodity that are gamers has changed over decades.

    Back then I used to think of MMO players as one step to the side of pen and paper D&D’ers.

    Now I think of MMO players as FPS powerlevelers.

    I think the idea of world immersion has been replaced by near absolute emphasis on a reward-based Skinner Box token economies.

    A virtual world is likely to impersonal when other players are primarily viewed as objects to enhance the amount of experience points they gain per hour.

  • *A virtual world is likely feel to impersonal

    Sorry Keen, unfortunately you are the edit button! 😉

  • @Gankatron

    “Back then I used to think of MMO players as one step to the side of pen and paper D&D’ers.

    Now I think of MMO players as FPS powerlevelers.”

    I’m afraid you’re right.

  • Totally agree with the post. Player interdependence is all but gone these days.

    While yes the players make the best mechanics, we cannot forget that it’s the type of player as well. The rpg nerds and like minded geeks are now in the minority. This is why i no longer read chat and rarely communicate in game anymore. All of that is handled with players i know over TS/Vent.

    It’s really sad that its devolved into this but i now assume anyone i don’t know in an MMO is some rage inducing drama whore jackass that i want nothing to do with. It didn’t used to be this way and won’t ever be this way until accountability and reputation matter again. They won’t matter again until leveling is made into a long process while at the same time eliminating server transfers and name changes.

    I used to know everyone on my server a decade ago. All the best healers and tanks were known. We didn’t lock ourselves away in our guild and ignore everyone else. Nowadays, everyone outside your guild on your server doesn’t matter and that’s a problem. That needs to change.

  • @malahide: Indeed welcome to most MMOS circa 1995-2003.

    @Ald: Your last paragraph is a post I’m writing (and a subject I’ve written many posts on in the past).

  • All the above examples come from player scarcity though.

    The more players there are in the area, there were a lot less people around and meeting one of those in the more difficult zones indeed brought that feeling.

    Current triple A mmos are geared to more inclusive experiences that have a lot of people. To recapture that sense of happiness of meeting another soul in your area and the help it brought, I think you need to look to more niche titles than the ones you are looking at now.

    This post and the previous post give me the impression you are looking for a lighter populated, very difficult mmo with a very slow, specialized and grindy progression.

    The idea of this type of game appeals to me immensily, but even then I know I won’t play since I don’t have the time to invest that I had during EQ, UO, WoW Vanilla days. You said earlier you had 3-4 hours a week to play ESO, and that that was a good time investment. Would that not lock you out of your own ideal game?

  • Agree. Keep waiting for these devs to go, “hrmm maybe we should try for more than a 3 monther. But they don’t seem to care or just don’t get it.

  • Tonight in Eso in my guild a call went out for help healing the last 2 bosses in a dungeon…it turned into a 90 minute journey through 3 dungeons where 4 of us had a blast and who knows maybe even became friends.

    Community defines mmorpg’s and sadly one of Eso’s problems, much like sw:tor, is that they do a poor job of marketing the great multi-player content that exists in their games.

  • @jim: yeah.. marketing multiplayer content can be a magnet draw for the “OMG NOOO me hatez forced grouping” crowd

  • Players used to have repuatations and these mattered more than anything. It was a combination of forced gouping, long levelling through grinding and consequences mattering. The second the death penalty became trivial, people began behaving like douches.

  • @Jeromai

    The games you are looking for as an introvert are, surprisingly, called single-player. Your position is completely valid for those types of games. No one will force anything on you.

    But in a gaming genre DEFINED by the term -Massively Multiplayer, you can’t really expect the system to be geared toward introverts. Which is the problem, because more and more they in fact are. Hence Keen’s post.

  • Ahh rose tinted glasses putting a positive spin on the extreme punishments of dying in early MMO’s. Nostalgia of the awesomeness of having your MMORPG virginity taken can make anything seems positive about the good old days.