Making MMOs Socially Sticky

Between the birth of the modern MMO and now, the trend has been toward increasing accessibility, increased convenience and less time commitment. But, as many people have said, that comes at the cost of a social fabric in modern MMOs.

At the same time, most people believe that it’s now impossible to go back – that MMO audiences simply wouldn’t tolerate the forced grouping and slow pace of yesteryear.

Psychochild wrote a fascinating blog post this weekend exploring this problem, and looking at ways that we could go forward, not back, whilst at the same time growing the social experience of the MMORPG once again:

“The biggest challenge here will be to convince players that this is in their best interests. As I said above, the problems of social overhead have lead people to believe that social interaction takes too much time. I think this is backwards, though; the social connections in MMOs meant the players often chose to spend more time in the game because they enjoyed it. As far as I know, the most active players are still playing as many hours per week as before, just that they aren’t staying as long in a particular game.

The other issue is that WoW was the first game for a lot of people. These players might not see the advantage that a focus on grouping confers. They got into WoW’s social fabric just fine, thanks, not realizing that the elements they loved in WoW can’t easily be duplicated in other games. Convincing people who were new to MMOs with WoW might require a different approach.

I think a good way to accomplish this is to purposefully have a more niche focus. For example, I think Camelot Unchained will do eventually very well because it is focused on an team vs. team niche, like GW2’s WvW gameplay. It won’t attract the breadth of players, but those who do play will find it easier to group together to fight the enemy. A more niche game will mean people will run into the same other people. I predict that the game will not be plagued with “MMO Tourists” like other games have been.”

Read the rest of M is for Multiplayer

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Game Report Roundup

Interested in trying out a new MMO? As usual, there are more options out there than anyone could have time to explore.

Here are the latest batch of reports from brave pioneers venturing into the latest, greatest, or just strangest options available in the MMOSphere…

  • Healing The Masses has been checking out Darkfall, and so far feels it has good ideas, but awful execution“This is puzzling though as this isn’t their first rodeo, they have developed and run a game,the same game previously so I just can’t understand why this version is still so lacking.”
  • Ardwulf has been taking a look at Age Of Wushu, finding it very promising if not terribly accessible” it is very significantly different from the western MMO play experience, both because it is an unconventional sandbox and because it’s from offshore”
  • The guys at Massively played the uber-sexist MMO Scarlet Blade so we don’t have to“Heck, if you really want to see your women objectified, you can play TERA for the same price of entry. At least the combat there is good.”
  • And Imperial Intelligence’s Targeter questions why he, a SWTOR blogger, isn’t very thrilled by the new SWTOR planet“I miss the galaxy-hopping. I miss the planets I visited, adventured on, and left a conquering hero (or villainous bastard).”
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Why MMOs Shouldn’t Tell Stories

Ah, the story of our favourite MMO. That’s why we play, right? To learn what happens to our favourite heroes, villains, and…

Wait, what? No?

MMOs appear to have disappeared down a “story” rabbit-hole as of 2013. From the increasing linearity of much of WoW to Guild Wars 2’s “All Trahearne, all the time” plotline, game developers appear to be convinced that what we want is to play alongside a classic fantasy epic.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m not really of that opinion. And neither, it turns out, is Syl, who writes a fantastic piece at her new site, MMO Gypsy, pointing out just why the “big plot” push of the last few years just doesn’t seem satisfying to many people:

“I honestly think the constant demand for increased “story telling” in MMORPGs is mislead. The so-called fourth pillar of game design is overrated for this genre in particular, for should not the player drive the narrative rather than being driven by it? And it would be a good thing to remember how great stories are really created and why more and more story-driven quests and events in MMOs are in fact counter-productive to the immersive experience. Worlds are immersive when they engage us and make us partake – not listen to.

Great writing is the art of not saying things. It’s the skill of knowing which things to write and which to leave out. The greatest of authors understand that it won’t do to spell out all the details, secrets and twists about a story; this is not how interesting characters or plot are created. I believe typically most writers spend the first half of their journey learning to flesh out, formulate and construct interesting, complex plot-lines. After that, they spend the other half of the time removing information and un-saying too many words. I can confirm this for my own writing journey, that it’s a struggle of learning what not to say, rather than what to say and mustering that “courage for silence” which tangentially, is also a central theme in the education of teachers (which happens to be my professional background). Didactics 101 will teach you that for greatest learning effect, impact and longevity, your audience needs to make as many steps of the journey on their own as possible. They must try unearth and unravel the story (or learning subject) by themselves. The teacher should only ever be the prompter, the one asking questions and if required the fallback plan.”

Read the rest of Why Storytelling In MMORPGs Is Overrated

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Snippets – need for revolution, Battling Bards, and What It’s Like For A Corp

Three quick links for excellent articles I found last week – or in one case the announcement of a really cool new project that I hope does really well!

  • Keen argues that MMOs desperately need a counter-revolution – a move backward in game design“MMOs were once achieving certain things, progressing (EQ/AC to DAoC to SWG, etc) but MMOs today are going down a path which leads them in a direction where it’s impossible to become better.”
  • Stabs gives us a description of what life in an EVE Online corporation is like“Pretty much every large nullsec entity in Eve has some pretty appalling characteristics including hazing of newbies, casual use of hate speech and an appetite for griefing outsiders, especially those in high sec. There’s also a lot of fun to be had there if you don’t let that bother you. “
  • And Syl and Syp have teamed up for a great new project – a podcast called “Battle Bards” that focuses on MMO music

And a quick reminder – I’m still crazy busy with other work, so if you see a great article that you think we should feature, let us know! You can email me at mmomeltingpot AT gmail or use our Twitter Feed

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Why do MMOs have more of a community than pen-and-paper RPGs?

Tobold wrote a fascinating article last week on a topic I’d never really thought about – why is it that MMOs at least appear to have a far bigger community online than pen-and-paper games?

Obviously, MMOs are a larger phenomenon in society. And equally, Tobold’s better known as an MMO blogger than a tabletop blogger. But beyond that, he’s got some interesting thoughts on the difference he sees when he blogs on the two subjects:

“Two groups of players playing the same adventure with the same set of rules will end up having two very different experiences. On the one side that is the force of pen & paper roleplaying, the infinite variety and freedom. The most linear pen & paper adventure has more freedom than the most sandboxy MMORPG. On the other side that is a weakness, because without a common experience there is not much of a community. The community in a pen & paper game is limited to the people sitting around the table, who do have a common experience of the game. But anything you can write about that is only of very limited relevance to anybody who wasn’t there.”

Read the rest of Lack Of Community

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Will you regret gaming on your deathbed?

“I can’t believe I spent all that time playing WoW.”

If you haven’t heard those words from an evangelical ex-WoW player, you’re quite unusual. Gaming seems, for a lot of people, to occupy the same mental space as smoking – a shameful habit that provides endless fodder for self-congratulation if avoided. But unlike smoking, is that actually a reasonable way to look at games?

I’d imagine most of us would say not – but why? For that we have to turn to Syl’s excellent dissection of the subject, in which she recounts an encounter with an evangelical ex-WoWer, and just why she felt he was so very wrong:

“Sometimes I still wonder, in a brief moment of desperate frustration, how long is it gonna take? How much more established do videogames need to become in contemporary, western culture to be regarded just as any other hobby out there that isn’t necessarily making “financial profit”(?) That isn’t productive on a first-glance or physically tangible level (tangible on many other levels though). Heck, some hobbies are actually downright detrimental to your health and wellbeing and even those are more accepted than gaming. It’s nuts.

Read the rest of The Deathbed Fallacy.

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Developer Appreciation Week is back!

Yes, once again this year Scary is running his Developer Appreciation Week – a week of blogging in support and praise of the people who make our games happen.

Previous years have been fantastic, and I’m sure we’ll see some great posts this year. So this is just a call to bloggers – remember Developer Appreciation Week and write a post if you can!

Personally, this year I’m particularly appreciative of non-MMO developers (or at least, not-yet-MMO-Developers) Mojang, who make Minecraft. I bought the game for 15 Euros, and so far I’ve played it longer than most MMOs. Their commitment to openness, their very cool attitude to mods and licensing, their massive development rate, and everything else make them the developer of the year for me.

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Crazed Bloggers Play 10 MMOs in 10 Days

In one of the coolest and craziest blogging projects I’ve heard of for a while, Syp, Jeromai and other bloggers are taking on the ultimate MMO challenge:

10 days. 10 MMOs they’ve never played before.

Will they love ’em? Will they find a new favourite? Will they even manage to get past the installer?

It’s only day 2 of the challenge, and already Runescape, Aion, and several other MMOs have gone under the microscope:

  • Syp’s the originator of the idea, and has already tested out Runescape and Aion, with more to come“At the very worst, I’ll get a bunch of new stories and posts out of it, and at the very best, an MMO might surprise me and hook me in.”
  • Jeromai has leaped on the project with gusto, and has so far tested Maple Story and Mabinogi“I chucked in a baker’s dozen instead of ten, as I’m really not sure some offer free trials. If they don’t, they’re off the list.”
  • And Nerdy Bookahs has only tested out The Missing Ink so far, but gives a thorough writeup“it doesn’t get a bad review from me, because me not liking the style does not mean the game is bad. It just means “not for me””
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New And Exciting In the MMO World

To round off this week, we’ve got a bit of a grab-bag of coolness. Yes, it seems that the MMOsphere is starting to recover from its release-stupor, and there are all sorts of new things starting to look shiny on the horizon – or here already…

See you next week!

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Should We Blame The EU For Lack Of Darkfall?

Is the political instability in Greece and the European Union the reason for Darkfall: Unholy Wars’ delay?

That’s the theory Tobold advanced a day or so ago – and whilst it might sound a bit crazy, there’s more to it than you’d think:

“Why this hypothesis? Because it very nicely explains the rather long periods of being vaporware that Darkfall has gone through, and is yet again in. To make money from subscribers, you need a game that runs. To make money from well-meaning bureaucrats, you only need a PROJECT of a game that might one day run. Not running the game is actually cheaper, and thus more profitable, than having all that cost for servers, bandwidth, and customer service.”

Read the rest of Tobold’s argument here

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