It takes a world to raise a village

Lots of bloggers have been discussing MMO communities this week, with Blizzard’s recent announcement on premium services for being able to play with friends on other servers.

And I was musing on which games are ‘known’ to have better communities. Of the AAA games, LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online) is probably the game with the best community reputation, and I wonder how much of this is connected with:

  • The IP. Maybe Tolkien fans are just less likely to be smack talking fanboys
  • Minimal PvP, so little appeal for ‘killers’

We know that there are other factors affecting the quality of in game communities, such as the size of the game, and how much players are encouraged to interact. But I wonder how far the IP itself affects things. Some are likely to attract an older crowd, due to when the original IP was written/ popular, others have a reputation for just being more mature in general because of the themes involved (imagine a historical Roman Empire game compared to a Pokemon MMO.)

And some fandoms have enough of an identity in themselves that fans will come to the game expecting to find fellow fans and hobbyists. Being a Tolkien or a Star Trek fan means something; there are conventions, websites, magazines, a whole fan community out there.

And then, some types of playing style also skew older. Typically puzzle and strategy games will appeal to an older set than twitch games. Other styles are more likely to draw in a mixture of male and female players (roleplaying games, in particular) rather than skewing quite so strongly male.

My theory is that a more diverse player base probably leads to a more polite community. So an IP like LOTRO which has huge and widespread geek appeal married to a fairly chilled out game design which doesn’t skew too strongly towards hardcore achievers at the loss of the roleplaying set was always going to encourage a better community.

And I wonder what this implies for SWTOR. Star Wars is an IP with a pretty broad appeal – not as much as Tolkien but still pretty broad. But how much room will there be in their gameworld for people who just love the world itself to wander round and explore? How much for the roleplayers? We’ll have to see.

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31 thoughts on “It takes a world to raise a village

  1. It’s interesting seeing Blizzard desperately try to “communitize” their game with features like the new Looking for Guild tool and now this new “play with your friends” tool. In their own primitive way they believe that this is going to make a difference.

    I agree with your theory that diversity in communities makes for a better and more behaved community. This really reminds me of the first couple of years of EverQuest. There were people from all walks of life playing — not just the typical gamers that we see today.

    I do agree that your IP will pre-determine the audience to some extent. Great example with Lord of the Rings Online.

    • I find it simply unbelievable that 1999-2001 EQ had a more diverse playerbase than modern MMOs.

      It was very much an early adopter game. The demographic was white male technophile.

      Modern games have housewives, young children, grandparents as well as the original demographic not to mention the fact that the gaming demographic has expanded as people in their 20s and 30s in 1999 have aged but kept gaming.

      Certainly in Europe we have seen a huge rise in female representation as well as people becoming open about being LGBT.

      • And yet, my first guild in EQ was far more diverse than any of my WoW guilds. My EQ guild had men and women of nearly every race you can think of, from college students to people in their 50′s and even some kids as young as 10 (we just celebrated one finally turning 21, thus marking our community as officially “old” since it has no more kids in it).

        I think that WoW, by sheer size, probably has a great diversity, however, due to the larger spread of things to do in game, the community segregates itself. WoW might have more grandmas playing than EQ, but EQ had more grandmas in guilds with non-grandma players.

        In EQ, I was in guilds with people who identify as LGBT. In WoW, most LGBT players I know are in LGBT guilds and play less frequently with non-LGBT people.

        The diversity of a playerbase is only as important as what you experience of it.

      • I recall many professionals playing EQ back in the day. Doctors, teachers, etc. I personally feel the caliber of people was much better. MMORPGs were more social experiences than the games they have become.

        Perhaps I’m a snob but I’d rather be in a room full of people from Mensa than at a Nascar event. That’s just me though.

  2. I agree. In general. It is always difficult to make such sweeping general statements and to agree to them, but yeah.

    I found it interesting how very different various LOTRO server communities were. Or at least how they appeared to me.

    I’m talking about the German LOTRO servers in particular. Morthond, Vanyar, Belegaer, Maiar and the new post F2P servers Anduin and Gwaihir have very different communities. I know Morthond and Vanyar best. My home of choice was the probably most populated server, Morthond, which also changes community somewhat. My impression of Vanyar was that it is filled with unemployed East Germans that raid day and night. I spent my LOTRO “trial” phase there. Belegaer was full of RP Nazis – or at least I got that impression. Morthond was or is an extremely chatty and spammy server, I have heard things in the LFG channel, just incredible. Anduin and Gwaihir are new post F2P servers, and lo behold, Mithril Flakes cost 5-7x more than on Morthond where they don’t even sell anymore at all. The global LFG is a lot more silent while the overall population is high but probably not as consistent as that of the old veterans of the other servers. Can’t say much more about them, but there is active newbie live there, no idea about life at the level cap. Maiar has always been dubbed “the smallest”, most homely, familiar German LOTRO server. I only investigated this server once when I was about to decide for a server, and in the end it was between Morthond and Vanyar because of their higher population and highly pug friendly environment. Maiar is known to be the home of a German guild that runs a fantastic Website ( http://www.hdro-der-widerstand.de/ ) and has a general reputation of being a friendly server.

    In the USA, I read that Windfola has the foulest chat on the Wiki and the people of Landroval are angel-like beings, so just logging on to Landroval brings you closer to the Valar.

    But how accurate are public opinion and personal perception How about the EVE, Guild Wars, Aion, Rift, Age of Conan etc. communities? And how different are WoW communities on different servers?

    Damn, researching this could be even more interesting than playing MMORPGs these days!

      • Recently when Paragon Studios merged their NA and EU server lists some of the ones I play with on EU side created some new characters on one of the more popular NA servers – they found the community experience quite different and not in a good way.

        It is certainly a quite interesting topic; what are the influences, how much does individuals affect it, timing?

    • Cultures between servers definitely differs in some games. When I talk to people about my time playing EQ and tell them about participating in and even leading public raids, and not just some failed Pick up Raid, but successful publicly signed up for raids to the elemental planes and other place that require discipline that some claim you can only get in a guild, they look at me like I’m smoking crack because their server would never have supported a public system with all the guild shenanigans going on, racing for spawns and kill stealing.

  3. Certain design elements promote community. Wolfshead argued persuasively recently that adversity gets people out shoveling the snow together.

    In Lotro there are some very notable social elements such as the ability to compose and perform music. It is one of the most remarkable things about the game and most players witness it early on.

    Also some of the quests seem distinctly unheroic. It’s hard to feel like some trash-talking badass when you’re running around delivering pies to housewives in the Shire. I realise people tend to skim the quest text but you still absorb the gist of what your errands are.

    PvP’s absence is a big factor. PvP promotes min-maxing and trash talking. Trash talking is actively an effective tactic, it encourages opponents to make poor decisions. Highly achievement motivated pvpers utilise trash talk as part of their arsenal.

    Lastly I don’t know how optimal you have to be in Lotro. I’ve never heard of gearscore + link achievement or any equivalent. In WoW and even Rift the game’s design forces you to be tough on underachieving players. We have someone in our group in Rift a couple of days ago doing very low dps in a T2 Expert. After the second boss of 7 took 15 minutes to kill I votekicked him. Later bosses included one that drops crystals that heal him until destroyed – with this guy in the group we would not have beaten that boss, the crystals would have restored the boss to 100% health each time. That sort of hard dps check requires elitism. Even though I wasn’t comfortable doing it my options were votekick this player or fail to kill the bosses. Obviously you will have a better community if players are not pushed into this situation.

    • Another choice, a more polite one, would have been to attempt the boss once so the player could verify the group cannot kill the boss with him doing so little damage.

      And then politely ask him to leave as you need more DPS. You can always initiate a vote-kick him if he disagrees with you.

      At least he will know the exact reason of the kick and he is less likely to believe it was just a evil act from a bunch of elitist pigs.

      To me, it looks like you put more importance to saving a few minutes of your time than letting the player experience for himself why he needs to perform better. While it’s a valid choice, the pre-emptive kick was the most convenient option and not something you were forced into by the designers..

      • We would still have been forced to kick him to continue even if we’d extended him the courtesy of spending the time clearing to the boss then wiping on it.

      • And to me, it looks like this random low-DPS player puts more importance on his/her own personal amusement than the other four players he/she is demanding to be carried by. Would it have been more “polite” to demonstrate to this person they were holding the group back? Maybe. Would it have been more polite of said player to not even queued for the dungeon they were not ready for? Absolutely.

        The game design where players are A) encouraged to grind points on a daily/weekly basis, AND B) can fail through no fault of their own, is what encourages in-game elitism. Wrath had GearScore and achievement elitism not because it was necessary to complete the content, but rather because the pool of people who *could* complete the content was immense. If you went into Trade with “LF 5 DPS 10m ICC fresh run” you would get 20 replies. Given 20 replies, who wouldn’t want to pick the best five that would ensure the quickest, smoothest run even if all 20 would ultimately work? Cataclysm is like Wrath, except 15/20 of the players would torpedo the entire run, so you only end up pugging with people you know (or with people who can prove they did it already).

      • Most players in WoW (and possibly other MMOs too, aside from guild leaders to some extent) puts more importance on their personal amusement than anyone else.

      • @Stabs
        As I said, you valued your time more than giving him an opportunity to learn something. It’s a valid choice – and the easy choice for most when using the LFG cross realm tool – but it was your choice, not something you were pushed into by the developers.

        @Azuriel said “If you went into Trade with “LF 5 DPS 10m ICC fresh run” you would get 20 replies. Given 20 replies, who wouldn’t want to pick the best five that would ensure the quickest, smoothest run even if all 20 would ultimately work?”

        It’s funny you write that because a month ago I organized a Karazhan run for level 68 and 69 only. I wanted an undermanned group as is my preference and decided to run with 1 tank, 1 healer, and as few DPS as possible (I wanted the group to be slightly above 3000 DPS).

        Too many players showed interest and I chose to bring into my group all the players who had never seen the content, regardless of their gear or performance. We ended up with 4 DPS (~3150 starting DPS for the group) and except for the protection paladin and myself, no one had ever stepped into Karazhan.

        We cleared it over two evenings – we did suffer a couple of wipes because I did not explain the fight mechanisms clearly enough – but everyone had fun and showed up for the second evening.

        Depending which blogs you read, you would know this is typical of me because I run level appropriate content with undermanned and/or undergeared groups. The possibility of failure is what makes it interesting to me.

    • Speaking as someone who has played LotRO from lasunch until Rift seduced me away – the game is much less prone to the gearscore disease, not least because the game doesn’t have the gear progression that WoW does. There have been long periods of LotRO history where crafted armour is better than any (or almost any) drops, and the stats on the top tier raid set are not significantly higher than on the set you can get from the Moria level 60 6-man dungeons. While it’s nice to have the rasid sets to show that you’ve been there, there’s not a lot of reason to exclude a player from your group because he DOESN’T Have that set.

      LotRO has some pretty difficult content – but the difficulty tends to be a challenge in playing your character well, not so much about having the highest numbers on your character sheet. That might make a difference because again, it makes stat elitism pretty silly.

      And last but not least – I wonder how much difference having 6 man groups instead of 5 makes. It’s not just having an extra person to talk to – there’s that bit more flexibility in the group make-up, and that bit more ability to bring along a player who is less experienced (or a nice guy but just not so fast with his fingers).

  4. I don’t think it’s diversity that matters so much as maturity. Movies not withstanding, the potential LotRO community is a bunch of people who read books… And books aimed at a fairly high reading comprehension level to boot. That’s a significant filter on the community.

    SWTOR doesn’t have the same filter. Not just because the source material is movies instead of books, but because it’s so pervasive. Pretty much EVERYONE is a Star Wars fan to sone extent.

  5. I like the gaming community via twitter, blogs etc but I prefer to game alone. This is why I’m more console than pc or mac.

    The older one gets the higher the likelihood that gaming solo has more appeal than multiplayer or MMO. Either I’m a reclusive gamer or conflicted…

    • I don’t think this makes you a recluse.
      Right now I prefer to be Geralt in “The Witcher 2″ and give a damn about multiplaying. It is not your or my or everyone else’s failure that solo gaming is more attractive to them when multiplaying does not have more appeal.

      • My recent experience with Brink has really turned me off FPS multiplayer situ’s. And I kinda like an end or at least a full-stop to my gaming experiences which stops MMOs and the like being attractive.

  6. At first I was in total agreement with Stab’s analysis and the role of game design in “promoting” elitism and that sort of behavior… and then I thought back to WoW during Wrath. Difficulty in Wrath was a joke, outside of the totally optional “hard mode” encounters. Yet Wrath was practically defined by the gearscore/achievement check non-sense in its later phases. You couldn’t even sniff an ICC pug without already having ICC gear and the achievement for clearing the place.

    • I don’t think you played most of Wrath, Arocos. Not all difficulty outside of hardmodes was a joke. The Oculus, Halls of Reflection and many encounters in Ulduar and ICC. Not to mention, not all the questing was solo’ble, especially in Ice Crown. Granted there was a lot of ridiculously easy stuff too and Wrath was in general was “easier” than TBC before it. But I keep hearing this “Wrath was a joke” strawman from the hardcore set, one which myself and other gamers I know didn’t experience.

      Though I agree with you gearscore/achievement check non-sense. But that hasn’t necessarily disappeared in Cataclysm. The game’s own built iLevel check and Recount, it’s replacements, are still there making it miserable for those of us who wish to progeress ahead.

      • Actually based on Vanilla and TBC timelines – wrath was harder on all accounts for raiding – with the exception of Naxx – which was harder than Molten Core was in Vanilla.

        That is to say – hardcore guilds ‘beat’ the endgame faster in previous expansions faster. I’d say that some of the ‘blocks’ that were done (only one attempt at hardmode Starman per week for example) helped this along a bit.

        Wrath though – was *not* easymode – no matter how many people want to repeat this over and over.

        The leveling was harder – the talent tree choices were tougher – and the raids were more demanding – and in some cases the 10 mans were brutally more challenging than the 20 mans.

        Wow’s community went down the crapper the second gearscore was released and people could put a number over your head . Anyone lower than you is/was a ‘bad’ and everyone over than you was ‘lucky with the drops’.

    • I organised a few pugs in WotLK that took anyone and we couldn’t beat the bosses. One raid collapsed after wiping on the first drake in Sarth.

      • @ Delurum sorry that’s nonsense. Naxx for example was cleared in the first week. TK: The Eye wasn’t cleared at all until after it was superceded by Tier 6.
        I believe WoWwiki has the dates.

      • My experience matches Stabs’. I’ve been in both kinds of PUGs, and the ones with bad gear have a lot of trouble.

        This is really annoying from Ulduar on, because a lot of groups would beat the first boss but then hit a wall with the second or third boss. So not only do you not get to see bosses go down, you are locked and can’t even try again for a week.

      • Comparing Nax and TK? TK was the same tier as Ulduar. Try comparing Nax to Mag and Gruul.

        Simple fact is – content was cleared and the only block in Outlands was the release date. For an example just look at how long it took China to clear out Black Temple.

        Full expansion clear when the guild was wearing mostly (vanilla) nax gear within what… 3 months of BC releasing in china?

        That’s not hard… it would have been faster if there weren’t so many keys involved.

        Compare that BT kill with Icecrown. Which didn’t go down until the buff started to kick in.

        It’s easy to think of BC as hard but most of that was due to flagging/key requirements, and lack of content. If a guild in most pre expansion gear could clear BT through the end boss then it wasn’t gear checks that were in the way.

        Everyone seems to think that was was ‘teh hardcore’ though so /meh – I’ll take EQ’s old Rathe encounter that had to have someone do the math and explain to the devs there was *no mathmatical way to beat the encounter as the game stood* forcing a nerf before it went down as one of the more ‘hardcore’ – not sure why that’s some kind of standard though – would you really enjoy the game more if the encounters were set ‘unbeatable’ and then nerfed until just 1-2 guilds per server could take them out until the next expac?

      • “TK was the same tier as Ulduar.”

        You really really don’t know what you’re talking about. Please go read wowwiki. TK wasn’t even from the same expansion.

      • http://www.mmo-champion.com/threads/622884-WotLK-raids-vs-BC-raids

        “With TBC we had three tiers:
        Tier 4 containing Karazhan, Magtheridon and Gruul’s Lair
        Tier 5 containing Tempest Keep and SSC
        Tier 6 with Mount Hyjal and Black Temple.
        Zul’Aman and Sunwell Plateau were also added in content patches.”

        So…

        Mag/Gruul = Nax/Malygos (first tier)
        TK and SSC = Ulduar (second tier

        In terms of actual raid loot tiers – that’s how it lines up – this conversation was about comparing BC and WoTLK – I’m at a loss as to how it’s confusing.

  7. Pingback: Name Two Things That Build A Better Community – Go. | MMO Melting Pot

  8. Back on the subject of IP’s, I think they have a substantial effect on how the community forms, but the formation of it all is really a melting pot of different things.

    The IP, such as LOTRO, determines the demographic of people attracted to the game. This is taken from the demographic of people attracted to that type of game, in this case MMORPGs. Sometimes it pulls in people who might not have thought of playing an MMO as well, but I’d say that’s far smaller.

    LOTRO tends to attract an older audience and, though it is not always the case, older typically means more mature.

    As is discussed above, game features also play into that. However, I’d argue the difficulty of content tends to breed hostility as well. I currently play City of Heroes, and most of the content (Incarnate trials non-withstanding) is laughably easy, and I believe because of that the community is more laid back, and less interested in min-maxing and more interested in playing what they enjoy.

  9. I spend my time on three servers in Lotro, and all of them have very mellow players.

    Truthfully, one of the main bulwarks that keeps LOTRO inviting, is the respectful armor designs for the female characters. This is one of the few games that eschews sexism prevalent in most games.

    Anyway I never feel as if the game is actively trying to push female gamers away. Generally the more women in any group means the group is calmer on the whole.

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