Will We Ever Find A New Home?

There’s no shortage of new MMOs rushing out to meet us these days, it would seem. Neverwinter, Defiance, Firefall, and the list goes on.

But will any of them ever achieve permanence? Will the community of roaming MMO players ever settle on a single game as they did on WoW, so many years ago?

Syl’s not sure if they will – and she explores this new, wierd MMO malaise in a new article:

“If we accept this as the future of MMOs, what does it mean for the social factor of the genre? How will bonds be formed within a community of game “grazers” – will they shift to other social media, without specific games retaining their own dedicated community? Or will the experience of playing with and inside an established player base simply disappear?

There have always been MMO players happy to solo and mind their own business, no matter what games they play. And then there are those still looking for the social gaming experience, scrutinizing new games for grouping and guild mechanics. Only – social and cooperative game design matters very little when games can’t retain that player base which would rather be inter-railing between virtual worlds. It seems to me this issue matters a great deal more right now than social game design, great group content, guild incentives and whatnot.”

Read the rest of Launch Fever Detachment

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WoW Levelling As Its Own Game

Yesterday we highlighted Tobold’s idea to strip raiding away from WoW and have it as its own solo/multiplayer game. Well, you’re not getting the full scope of Tobold’s idea if you only get the half we ran yesterday, as it was only half Tobold’s brainwave. Today he’s posted up the other side concerning making WoW’s levelling game an entity of its own.

Tobold says the basic problem is that reaching the level cap and going into heroics/raids isn’t an end to levelling, just that levels start being measured in terms of gear. Once you realise that raiding and levelling are both ‘levelling’ games (it’s called progression for a reason), Tobold says, you can approach each as a means to itself. Levelling then becomes the end-game: your goal. He has a lot of ideas how to make it work to keep us engaged.

The same principle would also serve to create a flexible social game. It would be possible to solo, but the efficiency in experience points per hour would be relatively low. Group, and you advance faster. And you wouldn’t need a full group for that, as a group with 2 or 3 members would simply advance faster than a solo player, but slower than a full group. Thus given the possibility to temporarily adjust your level for a group, and a flexible group size, you would always be able to form a group with whoever of your friends is online…

Tobold says there needs to be enough levelling content to keep players entertained, and being able to change your level would keep things fresh and sociable. He points out this would have impacts on game mechanics from guilds to taking pride in your levelling gear, and everything in between. The only thing I’m not sure on is Tobold’s logic of how this would affect peoples’ role choices.

Go, read. What do you think – would a pure-levelling version of WoW mean people were more sociable and took up roles they didn’t like, or would it skew it too much towards social (or even casual), and fail to satisfy you?

_Quote taken directly from Tobold’s post

You can find Tobold’s MMORPG Blog homepage here_

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MMOs: Not As Social As They’re Meant To Be

MMOs have reached a critical point, according to Wolfshead. Some of you know Wolfshead says things like this an awful lot and his relationships with MMOs are patchy affairs (and if you didn’t – well, you do now). I take his articles with a pinch of salt. But I found his latest offering simply fascinating. It’s all about the current balance between multiplaying and soloing in MMOs and how that balance is waaaaaay off.

When there is no need to socialize, the ability to socialize becomes a useless skill and then soon after people themselves become increasingly marginalized. When people become devalued the result is the average anti-social MMO community. We have now reached this dangerous tipping point. We’ve withdrawn so much currency from this cache of goodwill that we are in a deficit situation.

The problem is exacerbated when this kind of gameplay is actually encouraged by MMO companies so they can attract more subscribers.

Wolfshead’s not pulling any punches. His article’s lengthy and passionate as he goes through what he thinks the major problems with MMOs are, starting with how they’ve become far too much a solo pursuit, where so many of us go to escape life and not talk to the mullions of people we’re playing alongside. Wolfshead also lists developer greed as a major cause of quality, saying that developers are milking a solo-player story driven world for the power and wealth that leverages them.

I said it’s fascinating. It is. I don’t agree entirely with Wolfshead, first and foremost because he rarely takes any games into account except Everquest2 and WoW. Though I believe him when he says he’s on a crusade to bring back good communities, and his views are what he’s got to work with. Even so, his commenters so far have brought up some interesting counterpoints. I’m hoping to see more discussion both ways.

So what do you think – are MMO communities being killed off by greedy companies and “I want” mindset spreading through players, or is it more complicated than this – or even different for different games?

_Quote taken directly from Wolfshead’s article

You can find Wolfshead Online here_

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Thought for the day – why can’t we friend people in the Dungeon Finder?

Rather than a full-fledged editorial today, I thought I’d post something that’s been bugging me as more of a topic for discussion – I really want to see what the opinion of the blogosphere is.

Why, oh why, doesn’t Blizzard seem to have any interest in including a “friend” or “favourite” function in the Dungeon Finder? You can ignore idiots, but you can’t say “yay” to great people.

That means that you can’t use the DF for the positive experience of building a social circle. It makes the experience center more on avoiding idiots than finding awesome people. It prevents strong social bonds forming, bonds that would make Blizz lots of money as we come back to WoW for our friends.

Why doesn’t that seem to be something that’s even being discussed?

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The best way yet to deal with morons on LFD

I’ve discovered the best method yet for reducing the impact of morons on my MMO group play.

The problem, of course, is not that everyone who joins a PUG is a asshole, whether through the LFD tool in WoW, recruitment in DDO, or presumably some kind of spreadsheet-based market arbitrage in EVE. Clearly, the vast majority of players in WoW are varying degrees of OK. Maybe more competent, maybe less, but basically OK.

Let’s assume that none of us are tragic cases of social maladjustment, and we don’t believe we’re the few shining lights in a sea of idiocy.

However, it’s equally undeniable that we’re going to epically fail to get on with some of the WoW-playing world. Whether it’s the PvP player who starts shouting abuse because we use the “big letters and dots” when talking, or the elitist asshole who starts the run with “tank haz 4.3k gs lol ur gear sux”, they’ve got the ability to ruin a run. And sometimes it seems like they fill the WoW world.

(The “big letters and dots” thing is a true story – one PUGger apparently found the use of capital letters and full stops deeply offensive.).

Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. Say we’ve got 15%, approximately 1 in 7, of the WoW playing world who are really going to get on our nerves. And when we run an LFD, we’re grouped with 4 other random people. That makes it almost 5050 (47.5%, if you want exact figures) that we’re going to end up with a tool in the group. Sometimes we’ll end up with more than one.

And thanks to a couple of well-documented flaws in human memory retention, not helped by the lack of reward or permanent record for meeting good players, that’s going to mean we end up feeling like all our groups are filled with idiots.

However.

The number of people we’d need to eliminate from the system is actually pretty small. If we can take out 23 of the morons somehow, or stop them from affecting our play, we’re suddenly looking at better than 4 in 5 chances that our groups will basically be OK. And cognitively, that’s a much nicer place to be.

The System

As soon as you decide anyone in your group is saying things which annoy you, say in party or raid chat “I’m putting PLAYERNAME on ignore, for REASON. Please let me know if he/she says anything I need to know about”.

Then, stick ’em on ignore.

That’s it.

I guarantee 70% increased peace of mind on runs, or your money back.

So the question is – why does it work? It’s a bit of a psychological trick, combining the best bits of votekicking and /ignore without comment.

Votekicking is the ultimate sanction, of course, short of using a RealID exploit to find the other guy’s name and going round to his house with a bat. But it’s got a few problems. For starters, it needs concensus, and that’s scary – if you try to votekick someone and it doesn’t work, it feels, conciously or subconciously, like the group’s just sided with them rather than you. And it’s a pretty major step, too – you’re removing the guy’s chance of completing the dungeon, having a pretty significant effect on his day, and if you’ve got any kind of empathy, that means you’ll not do it unless something feels really serious.

And the problem is that humans are also infamously bad at estimating actual effects of stimuli on their happiness. Small things, particularly interpersonal conflict, have a huge effect (see also Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance on the importance of fixing dripping taps). So we grit our teeth and put up with the guy who keeps making gay jokes, when we’d be much happier just to rub him out of our minds.

Finally, of course, you’ve got the problem that if you votekick a moron, there’s no guarantee the next guy won’t be worse. Hence we put up with the guy who’s only sort of pissing us off, because the next one might be a total nightmare. Another well-documented cognitive fail there, and the reason why it’s possible to make money on the stock market to boot.

Ignoring, meanwhile, doesn’t get used all that much, again for fairly understandable psychological reasons. Firstly, it introduces a wierd and unnatural social situation into the group. You can’t hear someone, but no-one else knows that, and it’s possible to conjure up all sorts of negative consequences from that. Silent ostracism, not fully participating in the group, is fairly seriously taboo in most societies, and so we find it hard to do.

At the same time, ignoring someone doesn’t allow us an important component of what our psyche needs after we’ve been upset or offended by something. We don’t get to express our anger. It’s silent, inoffensive, doesn’t have an impact on the person who’s upset us. If we’ve just been stung by something, our brains are crying out to say something. So we don’t use /ignore because on some deep level, it doesn’t satisfy our needs.

We could argue back, of course, start slinging insults ourselves. Let’s face it, we all know that doesn’t work very well. As any good self-defence instructor will tell you, argument mostly just leads to escalation, and that’s how we end up with the DPS who runs into the next four groups and wipes the dungeon, or the shouting match that leaves us feeling bad for the rest of the day. Plus, everyone else has to listen to or engage with the argument, which sucks the fun for the entire group.

Hence, annouce and ignore – The System. It prevents most of the problems of arguing – it allows us to express our anger, but avoids the possibility of engaging with a response, thus effectively de-escalating the situation. It brings the situation to the attention of the group, removing the silent ostracism stigma. And it removes the idiot from our conciousness; it’s hard to explain the effect that has, but I’ve tried it a couple of times with a friend also in the group who wasn’t using The System, and the difference between our moods at the end of the run was pretty startling.

Of course, sometimes other solutions are still needed. It seems to be pretty well accepted by now that if a DPS runs ahead and pulls, he or she deserves a swift votekick. Overaggroing DPS can, 90% of the time, be solved by letting them get on with the tanking – either they’ll stop overaggroing, they’ll deal with it themselves, or they’ll leave.

But the dripping tap of WoW is party chat. Unless it’s really egregious, insulting, abusive or just annoying conversation is a major drain on fun, and I’m really happy to have found a way to sort it out.

Concluding, though, something occurs to me here. Blizzard have put a hell of a lot of time into giving us tools to deal with assholes – ignores, votekicks, the new escalating cooldown on votekicking. But how much effort has been put into allowing us to celebrate, reward, and stay in touch with good players? No tools there at all.

I wonder why not?

And do you have any even better ways to reduce the impact of idiots or otherwise improve your playtime?

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