Of Social and Themepark MMOs

If you spend any time in the MMO community, you will inevitably see discussions of how these games can be made more social, how can they can be designed to foster more player interaction. Given my famously antisocial nature, it may surprise you to know that I am entirely in favour of this. These are social games, and building bigger and better online communities can only be a good thing.

A random group of players wait for a world quest objective to spawn in World of WarcraftBut I do take issue with a lot of the ideas that get bandied around for how to make MMOs more social. Most of them are the sort of punitive design that will drive me away, rather than make me want to reach out to other players. It’s mostly people who are already social trying to find ways to force solo players to be like them. We don’t hear from soloists what would make them want to reach out.

It’s an issue I tackle in a new article for MMO Bro, where I speculate on how to build a social MMO for the solo player. I can’t say for certain my suggestions will apply for everyone, but I know these are the steps that would help me become more social.

While I’m pontificating on MMO design, I also have an article on why themepark MMOs work. Hopefully this isn’t taken as a knock against sandboxes; while some comparisons are necessary, it wasn’t really meant to be about what genre is better. It’s just an analysis of what makes the themepark such an enduring formula.

3 thoughts on “Of Social and Themepark MMOs

  1. I’m waiting for MMOs to rediscover ideas used (accidentally or on purpose) in older games for the purposes of building more social environments, such as:

    1) A Tale in the Desert – multiple chat tabs that persist even after logging off – they basically act like a hybrid between message boards/mini forums and messenger chat apps in-game, depending on how many people use it and how frequently they talk.

    Also great for leaving individuals messages or holding asynchronous conversations over time, even if the two individuals never log on at the same time.

    2) Less gogogo action combat, or non-WASD first or third person movement control schemes, or worse case scenario down times like crafting where people stop to do valuable things but stay logged on and can do them by mouse clicking,

    I dunno, but I found games like ATITD, Glitch, Kingdom of Loathing far more chatty and sociable than most standard MMOs. I suspect this is simply because people have both hands busy on WASD and mouse and can’t be bothered to lift them to talk by typing when they are trying to get personal stuff done, like fight and quest and dodge and not die. If they’re standing around clicking on a bunch of machines, petting animals, farming, decorating their house or doing other stuff with micro downtime in between activities, it makes far more sense to chatter to fill in the gaps.

    3) Already-assigned organizations/guilds with chat channels based on character creation (with options to leave them later, of course). I’m thinking back to old MUDs where you might already be in a guild or chat channel with other people playing that class – ask your fellow mages mage-specific questions, for example. Or given a race chat to bond with your fellow dark elves or orcs.

    It’s a psychological gimmick, but it works. You are now part of a secret in-group of likeminded people who happen to be the same class/race/faction/whatever as yourself. Ta da, instant social bond opportunity.

    Also, it’s an option for multiple social networks to form, since the subset of people who are clerics are not necessarily the same subset of people who are dwarves. (Multiple guilds or multiple global chat channels also fall within similar lines of this idea.)

    There are probably more such ideas as yet unmilked by MMOs. Sadly, it seems most of them have just decided the future is in third-party voice chat and people bringing their existing friends to play together, rather than bother to socially connect strangers in their game. :/

  2. I’ve had it in mind to write a post on this subject for a week or so now, after something Syl said at MMOGypsy. Not sure I have the energy to go into it properly though – it would be a lengthy piece.

    The gist is that, in the same way Achievers by their very nature have tended to dictate the direction the genre has taken, so Socializers, by their nature, have tended to dictate the narrative that explains the genre to the wider world. Thus MMOs have been presented as highly social environments by a highly social and articulate subgroup that does not, in fact, accurately represent the broad mass of players that has formed the silent majority for most of the genre’s existence.

    I think the true future of MMOs as social environments lies with precisely the kind of auto-join (Rift, GW2, WoW Legion Invasions) and automated group-building processes we’ve seen sweep through the genre over the past few years. These are the mechanics that get players, in fact, to play together. Had we had those mechanics available in EQ or Vanilla WoW, does anyone really believe they would have been shunned in favor of /lfg channels and hanging around outside dungeon entrances hoping for an invite?

    (I think my comments are going into your spam folder again? Happening on a few WP blogs but not all of them. No idea why.)

    • Not spam, but I did have to approve it, which usually doesn’t happen with people who’ve commented on my blog before. I don’t why, either.

      I’m a big fan of “auto-join” socializing as you put it, though I’m not entirely sure it’s the silver bullet for MMO socialization. At least when it comes to the big open world zergs as you see in GW2 and the like. I enjoy those things (a lot), but I also grant that I generally don’t have a lot of in-depth interactions with other players that way, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are forming lasting bonds via zergs. I think they’re a very valuable part of the MMO formula, but there is still a place for more organized socialization.

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