Changing the gaming culture #2: Habbo; and could gamification clean up virtual worlds?

I guess you could see this post as thematically related to yesterday’s, where I was talking about sexism in gaming. Last night Channel 4 News (which is a reasonably well respected outlet here) aired a piece about sexual harassment in Habbo Hotel. If you haven’t heard of Habbo it’s probably because you aren’t a teenager or don’t have a child that age.

It’s a huge F2P virtual world aimed at teens that claims 10 million unique visitors monthly, according to the devs.

I missed the report but essentially one of their reporters posed as an 11 year old girl while playing Habbo for a couple of months  and was inundated with cyber sex, porny chat, and cartoon boys following her to her room and emoting that they were having sex with her. I suspect strongly that this mostly involves teens harassing each other. It reminded me a bit of a report I read recently about teen sexting in schools, where they focussed on how teen girls in particular are subjected to a barrage of requests over social media to send pictures of themselves naked, perform sex acts, etc etc.

So this is likely more of a wider cultural issue than gaming culture per se.  Still, a game aimed at minors which sells itself on being a safe environment has to go a bit further than saying “Hey, it’s what they do at school too.”

Habbo actually have some fairly solid guides available, as well as assuring parents:

Providing a safe social environment for all players is a top priority in Habbo Hotel which is why all Habbo Hotels are staffed by trained, adult moderators who take action against wrongdoers and assist users with any questions they may have.

They also suggest parents keep an eye on what their children are doing online and make sure they keep lines of communication open so that their kids feel comfortable telling them if anything that made them feel bad happened. Which is all great advice.

I’ve also no reason to doubt that they have a process in place where players can complain of  harassment and have a moderator step in to help them either. (We don’t know if the reporter tried reporting anyone.) None of this will save them when their main investor pulls out due to bad publicity and the main retailers decide to stop stocking Habbo Hotel gift cards. Although they do also operate in a ton of other countries so there is that.

What’s more worrying for MMO operators in the teen/child space is that this starts a rush panic. Parents or investors who may have assumed that virtual worlds were more policed THAN IS FEASIBLY EVER POSSIBLE might just pull the plug.

For example, the C4 report had them playing with “a leading expert on child safety” (pro tip: any competent parent could probably also double as a leading expert on child safety) who felt that a moderator should somehow be jumping in as soon as the player received their first dodgy private message.

Asking to have every single message moderated isn’t practical. It’s barely viable to ask for every channel to be moderated.  And they do claim to do this:

"Habbo’s moderation and safeguarding procedures includes employing more than 225 moderators, tracking some 70m lines of conversation globally every day on a 24/7 basis. These moderators cover all time-zones and the multiple languages in which Habbo users converse."

That’s vastly more moderated than WoW, for example. And yet, you can log into Warcraft and the only unwanted texts you might get would be about gold selling. I think there is room to wonder about their moderation, if there really are chat rooms called ‘sexy stripclub’.

I don’t really have an answer for this one other than either watch your kids like hawks online, get them to stick to games which don’t allow free text chat, find a game that allows private servers where they can play with people they know or parents/ schools have vetted, or have them play games which aren’t dominated by teens.

It is definitely going to be worrying for Habbo though that parental expectations might be for totally impossible levels of safety.

So why are AAA MMOs not as bad as virtual worlds with respect to sex chat

The only game I can think of that was as  sex dominated as this sounds was Second Life, and even there it sounded relatively easy to get away from the cybering. So maybe there’s something about ungamified virtual worlds that just descends to the lowest common denominator.

Sad but true. I think any future ventures along these lines will have to require real names or allow private servers where the groups running the game can impose their own gatekeeping.

Or maybe there is something about gamers and gaming MMOs that focusses interactions in other directions. Maybe gamers are generally more interested in progression than what’s in your pants iRL. I also suspect that having a mix of ages in a gaming demographic tends to make a space safer rather than riskier – while there is the possibility of paedophiles, there is also the (larger)  possibility of adults who will keep an eye out for more vulnerable members of the community, plus parents who will tend to play with their kids in the game (which I think would require more fortitude than I possess for Habbo).

This won’t be the last we hear of this story, I suspect. It’s been bubbling under for a long time, and this may be the start of a very different turn for MMOs.

[SWTOR] Quest of the day, companion chat, and when is a ban not a ban?

taris1

I’ve mentioned before that I love the graphical sides of being in cities or built up areas in SWTOR. In this screenshot, my Sith Warrior surveys the departures board (I assume) in Taris spaceport.

Taris is interesting in many ways, especially to anyone who remembers it from KOTOR when you encounter the planet before [spoiler alert] it is turned into an industrial wreck. This game takes place around 300 years later, and although Taris is mostly a swampy ruined wreck, it’s been interesting enough that both Republic and Empire have forces there and there are some alien settlements also. It’s not an especially pretty planet, but gives the Bioware artists more opportunities to show their chops on wrecked out industrial landscapes. And swamp.

What I found enthralling is that my class quest here could be boiled down to “find and kill four named republic generals.” That doesn’t sound too exciting, and mechanically it is exactly what your character is doing. And yet, due to the writing, the quest presentation, music, and pacing, it included some of my most memorable moments in the class story so far.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but one questline in particular sees you furiously racing against time to unlock a safe room inside a reactor that is about to blow up, after having unmasked a ‘fake’ general, and been jumped by republic troops who clearly have no qualms about running into a reactor that’s about to blow up just for the chance of downing a sith. The timer was down to 10s, the music was getting more exciting and intense, and a speech option came up. I said to my companion (Quinn), “Do you have any last words?” And he said, “My lord, you know how I feel about you.”

I laughed. Why can’t you ever say anything that romantic when we’re actually on the ship and don’t have 10s left to live?, I thought, although that option wasn’t actually present. I have enjoyed having Quinn around while questing. He does occasionally pitch in to suggest ideas, or comment on military plans that someone else suggested. Annoyingly, he’s always right. But that comment above came from left field, I was expecting him to have a smart suggestion.

But now I’m curious as to what other companions might have to say for themselves during quests and whether it’s comparable, or if Quinn is an outlier and the writers just liked him.

Pacing

Because I’m a) really digging the game and b) am on holiday at the moment, I’ve been online much more than I usually would. There is a risk in Bioware-type games that once hooked, you can burn through the quests very quickly because you’re just that keen to find out where the story is going. I remember feeling similarly exhausted in Cataclysm-era WoW, because the quest pacing was fast enough that you could burn through content like a three year old in a sweet shop. And it gave me the quest equivalent of a sugar rush back then too.

I am already thinking that I may play another Sith Warrior alt, and take it more slowly next time, writing up each planet or questline as I do it with commentary.

Having said that, the pacing in SWTOR is generally fine (this is on a scale where LOTRO is glacial and WoW is superfast).  It’s a bit slower than WoW because of travel time, listening to quest mobs (if you don’t spacebar through them), and zoning in and out of your ship, and although some would disagree, I find that it gives you some slow time to appreciate the scenery rather than rushing questquestquest.

I have found the difficulty generally good in the game. I’ve been upgrading my gear via quests and gear tokens (which you get for planetary quests), and using biochem to keep myself supplied with healing and buff potions. I am enjoying that I can sometimes die in quests, but that when this happens, I can try again with a bit more thought and get through it. The end of chapter 1 was a particular high point and I died about 4 times in one part before I got the hang of it. Finishing that questline and picking up my legacy name felt like that much more of an achievement.

We’ve also had a chance to run some more flashpoints, none of which have really compared to Black Talon in terms of story. Which is not to say that they haven’t been fun. Plus you may meet some old friends in Boarding Party/ The Foundry which was split into two parts so as presumably to be more manageable for players. (I don’t think either is especially long but they work fine as shorter halves.) We’re still dual tanking them, although I’m now taking on more of the single bosses/ tougher mobs.

The bans, they burn

Top ‘news’ in the game this week was that some people were temporarily banned for doing something exploity in the level 50 zone with their low level alts. (The official explanation for this is behind this link.)

If you read the comments on the RPS story about this, you’ll see how quickly some players get riled up about this. And how people are able to (with a straight face, I presume) argue that innocent players who just wanted to test the limits of what the game allowed them to do are being HURT by this evil EA attitude.

But as an experienced MMO player, I tend to assume that ultra competitive players have a propensity to be obsessive cheating gits (as shown by every exploit in WoW ever) who are not satisfied with merely finding interesting loopholes and reporting them but will then go on and exploit them as if their lives depended on it until stopped, and if that ruins the game for other people then that’s seen as an added bonus. So colour me unsurprised when RPS later posted a more nuanced explanation, and were immediately accused by their readers of pro-EA bias.

What we get from this is that the readers of RPS tend to be twats. Or maybe it’s just that most gamers are twats (present company excepted, naturally), the jury is still out.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with people playing competitively. But if something needs a fix that cannot be done immediately (ie. needs time to decide what the best way is to proceed), I have no issues with temporary bans being handed out while that happens as long as the players were given the chance to stop the offending behaviour first. Also I have no issues with people being banned for gold farming. And one of the good things about playing a sub game is that they usually have active CS teams to deal with this kind of thing, which I believe makes the game better and fairer for everyone else.

And now, here is two sith dancing (/clubdance is great)

dancing

Social Capital #2 pt2: More on how we build connections in MMOs

One thing that’s clear about the forms of interaction I discussed in the last post is that they all date back to the very earliest days of MMOs. Emotes, buffs, cooperating or competing with other players in game  all go right back to the start of the genre. It was a time when devs would throw some interesting stuff into the game and let players decide what to do with it. Now they’re present because people expect them, even if they don’t know why.

And players now use these social transactions in very different ways. You probably wouldn’t expect other players to wave at you as you were out questing somewhere unless you already knew them. It’s the players who seem to have decided that they prefer to interact less rather than more, and in more controlled, goal oriented ways. That, and the game world is that much smaller, teleports tend to be more freely available, and it’s just not that big of a deal for people to see an actual other player while they are gaming. And as I’m going to say below, I see a trend for less and less communication to take place actually in game and more and more communication to take place outside it.

I suspect part of this is because as MMOs become more game-like and less virtual world-like, the in game ‘magic circle’ which values immersiveness and inclines players to want to get to know each other as characters in game has faded out. People are likely to be more interested in players who are already part of their guild/ raid/ circle of friends and they’ll have other ways to interact with them outside the game anyway.

And the other method of interaction that I forgot to mention while talking about groups earlier is being able to invite other people to your group, or kick them if you’re sick of them. (This seems oddly relevant given that WoW are still tweaking the kick rules for random groups to try to make people think twice about it.) The power to invite someone to be part of your special group or to reject them from it is a very powerful social tool.

Direct text: Talks, Shouts, Whispers

A step up from the emotes in terms of communication is actually talking to the other player. Traditionally this has been via text. In the case of MUDs it’s because text is all that there was, and since then it’s because voice chat to strangers has never really taken off enough for any dev to experiment with flexible chat channels which automatically include anyone within range.

But for all that, text channels have always (if my memory is right) been limited by in game geographic area. A /say has a short range, a /shout (when was the last time anyone heard another player shout in game?) a little longer, and it’s also standard to offer region chat, and some form of worldwide general/ faction chat channel is also fairly common. If you want to talk to other players via text, you can do it.

And yet, how many people do regularly talk to strangers? Fact is, if you have someone chatty and friendly in your guild, they are probably already your best recruiter because if they group with a good player who is looking for a guild, they will already have made friends with them and recommended they apply by the time the group winds up. Some people are that friendly, yes :)

Others will rather queue for 20 minutes for a quest mob rather than talk to the other players in the area and ask if they want to group up. I think there is more resistance to talking to other people now than used to be in MMOs. And I suspect this is because text based conversations can drag on, it’s like an invitation to form a relationship, however brief. And one thing that a lot of modern players do not want in any way shape or form is a relationship with a strange player who they don’t know.

This may be because they’re just chilling out and don’t have any energy to spend in being nice to people, they might be scared of talking to strangers, or it might be because they think all random players are losers. Whatever it is, I think people are shunning forming these relationships in game with people they have actually met in game. It seems rarer and rarer that I read of people in WoW who met up with a random stranger, hit it off, and ended up levelling together. (Partly because you don’t need other people to level with and phasing actually makes it tricky anyway.)

Whispers, as another option, let you have a more or less private conversation with another player. Mischannels, or comments which were meant as private whispers but accidentally broadcast over the guild channel instead have always been a prime source of in game amusement.

Guild chat and other private channels

The beauty of private chat channels is that you can control who else is listening. So if you don’t want to expose your personal thoughts on Garrosh’s hygiene to the wiles of general trade chat, you don’t have to. And you don’t need to be grouped with them or even playing in the same zone.

It’s a way to talk to a group of people anywhere in the game, and the group is free to set its own rules on what they want to talk about and how they want to do it (eg. no swearing, or conversely we have a private raid channel just for trash talk to keep it out of raid chat).

What this also means is that you can never really be sure how many conversations another player is having at the same time. Or in fact if they’re bad talking you to their mates in a private channel you don’t know about. MMOs are a paranoids dream in that respect. In fact, I recall past guilds in which some officers had a private bitching channel alongside the normal officer channel – a recipe for crazy amounts of  guild drama.

Still, a private chat channel goes a long way towards making the game feel like a private space just for you and your guild/ friends. Being invited to someone’s private chat channel means not only that you made it to being part of their group, but also that they want you to be privy to their conversations.

I’d go as far as guessing that as far as relationships between players (and I mean anything from a professional raider/ raid leader relationship, to friends, or anything closer) the majority form after exposure to chats on guild or private channels. I think of guild chat as the equivalent to sitting in a coffee shop, you can get to know the regulars without having to commit yourself.

But the trouble with text based chat is that you can’t actually do it while playing the game (ie. fighting mobs or other players), unless you are a very fast typist, use lots of macros  or are slacking in group. This is one of the reasons why RPers got a reputation as bad players. Too much typing, not enough healing. When there was plenty of downtime or people hung out in groups to camp spawns and had to wait for respawns, there was plenty of time to chat. In the faster paced atmosphere of the modern MMO, a lot of players just want to get on.

Voice chat, on the other hand, doesn’t interfere with keystrokes but does need everyone to have headsets and be careful not to talk over each other.

Economic Transactions

The in game economy definitely follows the general trend of requiring less personal interaction between players. From a time when players had to bark their wares over a general channel and then arrange to meet up in order to exchange goods, now most players will use some variant on an auction house to buy and sell.

But still, there’s no reason players can’t trade directly, give gifts of gold or equipment, or help new guildies out with bags (the traditional gift that keeps on giving!) or money towards mounts. In fact, guilds giving some kind of joining gift to new players used to be more common than it is now, probably because games are getting more accessible so new players are more likely to have all the resources that they need already.

The downside of this is begging, less common than it once was, but still rife in a lot of games. This is where new or low level characters whine pitifully to be given stuff for free. (In WoW they’re probably more likely to beg for powerlevelling, another form of group transaction.)

At the same time, I’ve noticed in my WoW guild that guildies have really enjoyed contributing to some of the achievements that required us to gather various amounts of fish or herbs as a guild. Collecting and gifting items towards a joint goal is clearly something very meaningful as far as feeling part of the group goes.

Helping other members of the group in general is another way in which players seem to enjoy showing their group credentials. In my guild, being a sensible bunch, officers emphasise that people who ask should accept no as an answer, and that no one should feel they are bound to do anything they don’t want. (I think it’s more associated with needy newbies these days to throw themselves into a new guild and want to do everything for everyone even if they really don’t want to, and then burn out and get really upset.)

Information (wants to be free)

Gathering and exchanging information with other players in game is another traditional way for people to both improve their own game skills and to help the rest of their group or guild.

Where this might once have been done through trial and error, or listening to someone other more hardcore player who was in your group and passing their comments on, now most of the best information is easily available via blogs, bboards, and external websites.

But still, not everyone has the same hunger to find all this information and put it into a neatly available form. So the people who do can help their guilds by posting links and summaries to their own private forums.

There is a point at the bleeding hardcore end of the game in which players will prefer not to share their information and tactics. But other than that, the trend is towards more and more accessible information. Guilds are proud of their kill videos which usually now contain full strategies on new bosses.

Providing good information earns the respect of other players, and in many ways this has become the new hardcore currency, even more than downing bosses (since more people care about good strategy sites  on ‘how to play your death knight’ than about who got the world 3rd kill on some boss they may not have heard of yet.)

For this to be a way of community building, there has to be a lot of hidden information inside the MMO (or as part of the mechanics) which are not obvious to players. Players from around the world can then put their heads together and work out any optimal strategies. And information seeking players from servers and guilds (again all over the world) can then disseminate it, building stronger links for their guilds in the process.

And then it continues. Once you have read something on your guild board (eg. a good heroic boss strategy), you can pass it on to people in random groups, and so on.

Unlike the various forms of direct communication, information sharing goes from strength to strength in each new game and patch that is released. Players evidently love this side of MMO gaming, from the theorycrafters and hardcore raiders right down to the guy who passes on to randoms what he heard on his guild channel. It has in many ways become the new currency of MMO status.

Bulletin boards, facebook, battle.net and out of game communication

A lot of players have no interest at all in communicating about the game when they aren’t playing it, probably the majority. They log in, play a bit, maybe try an instance or a battleground, and then log off again.

More than anything, this is what separates the true casuals from the more hardcore players (and I use hardcore in the widest sense of the word). If you regularly read blogs, bboards, gaming news sites, and/or your guild board, then there is a limit to how casual a player you really are.

But also, out of game communications have always been a part of MMOs. Even in DaoC, we had guild boards, unofficial server boards (which were VERY busy and well used), and IRC channels. They’re an important way to schedule discussions with players who are not all logged in at the same time. This asynchronous type of forum has always been sorely lacking in MMOs themselves, aside from the odd message of the day which everyone probably ignores anyway.

And in many ways, the out of game communications cement any relationships which are formed in game. You can chat at length on a bboard, without worrying about how you are going to heal the next pull and omg he just pulled1111!!!1111

Like information sharing in general, I think out of game communications have increased to take up the slack where in game communications has slown down. The rise of the blogosphere and social networking in general is one sign of that. And devs are still uncertain about how to harness this new interconnectedness to try to build better links between players whilst still keeping them stuck to the game. With out of game comms, there’s always a danger that the entire player group will up and move to a new game …

Sharing achievements, showing off gear(score)

The one new form of interactions in games is being able to more easily prove what you have accomplished in game. Players in WoW and LOTRO at least can easily share information about their titles, achievements, and gear with other players.

Interestingly whereas in WoW this has led to the gearscore culture where sassy players refuse to get out of bed in the morning if their team mates don’t yet have kills on the hardest heroic mode raid boss in the expansion, in LOTRO no one ever seemed very bothered, and people were more interested in sharing their cool looking cosmetic gear.

Still, sharing achievements at all is an indication of how achievement based, rather than interaction based, the MMOs have been becoming. In an achievement world, the only reason to bother making connections with other players is so that they can help you get more achievements.

Or is it? Some people certainly are that narcissistic, and yet as I’ve mentioned above, I have seen players in my guild really enjoy cooperating on guild goals. And it wasn’t just so that the guild could get some achievement, it was because they enjoyed cooperating with the rest of the group, with people they’ve come to know via guild chat and guild bboards and guild meets over the years.

Somehow somewhere in there is the secrets of building communities and however much modern game designers try to make this harder by designing around the assumptions that players hate forming relationships and will do anything to avoid it, people are still people, and humans are social animals.

Conclusions

So next week I want to talk more about building long term communities in games, but it should be already clear that this is less and less likely to happen. Already people are preferring to minimise their in game interactions with anyone they don’t feel that they need to know. The game is not so much a meeting place as something to do after you have met people. And yet only wanting to play with people you already know has other gameplay implications, not least that games need to offer ways for players of different skill levels to play together.

I will argue that community building requires people to be invested in the game, and that we’re less invested in general these days. But also that we can’t go back to the days of offering punishing group content, painful death penalties, and forced downtime and expect a community to magically grow. That was then, and this is now.

Thought of the Day: On elitism and speed runs

Melmoth suggested yesterday in comments that dungeon runs might be smoother if the LFD tool had an option for fast (gogogo speed run) vs slow (time to chat).

I’m wondering if there’s any way that the slower runs could become more elitist or if it’s inevitable that speed is always better. Maybe some kind of social scoring scheme based on (useful and grammatically correct) forum posts and votes from previous groupees, and some extra cosmetic rewards and titles …

BEP and the Goldshire Conundrum

bloodelf

Tobold stirred up the blog community last week with a post asking why there aren’t more porn oriented games and MMOs. After all, the core audience for both has traditionally been similar. So surely adding porn to MMOs would be a sure fire winner, right? He concludes that it’s probably much cheaper to pay an actress than to create a game engine with good enough models and animation.

Psychochild followed up with a post which looked at attempts to do exactly this (porn MMOs) and why they failed.

r u hot?

It’s obviously not true that people don’t want sex in their MMOs. How else can you explain Second Life? (This is a post about sex in Second Life, probably not safe for work. It is an interesting article though, she discusses the difference between porn and cybering.) They may not want porn per se – games are all about interactivity and it isn’t clear whether people want to interact with porn in that way even if the NPCs were pixel perfect. But talking dirty to real people? That’s hot.

So is being able to roleplay through scenes in a game that aren’t possible in real life, either because it involves some fantasy kink or even just because the people involved are miles away from each other. It shouldn’t be surprising that virtual environments have been popular with furries and with some parts of the BDSM community – they are mostly safe places to play.

From my experience with MUDs et al, I have formulated a new internet rule:

Spinks’ Rule: If it is possible for people to cyber in any medium, then they will.

This has been true for every MMO I have ever played. It was also true of Usenet, IRC, MUD, MUSH, livejournal, SMS, and I assume people are cybering on Facebook and twitter as well.

But it is ironic that Blizzard announced the intent to police Goldshire on one of the US servers, due to complaints about people cybering there in public, in the same week bloggers were arguing that sex in an MMO could never work.  And if you don’t play WoW then don’t worry, they’re doing it in your game too!

Iiiit’s Timmy!

I said this weekend that I pitied the GMs who were stuck with patrolling Goldshire. Especially when there’s a game full of players who would probably happily play at being the cyber patrol for free.

This story reminded me of back when I was involved in running a Vampire MUSH. I may have mentioned this before, the game was based on second edition V:tM and was set in London, and most of the players had vampire characters. The specific game/edition is important here because part of the background was that Vampires didn’t have sex drives or sex at all, in general. In the words of one of my co-staffers who was writing this up for the in game theme news:

You’re dead. Look down. It is too.

Another part of the lore was that some vampires could become invisible. We had code to mimic this ability so people could wander around stealthed. We also had a staff mailing list for that game, to help us communicate over the various time zones. Players who had roleplayed dramatic scenes of which they were especially proud could send us the logs in text form and if we were impressed by the standard of RP, we’d give out XP awards.

You can probably see where this is leading. Add Spinks’ Law (if people can cyber, then they will) to stealthy player characters and what you get is …  Timmy, the soi-disant morality patrol.

Every couple of weeks a big fat text file would land squarely in the staff mailing list. It would be from a player whose character was called Timmy. He was a stealther. His hobby was being a virtual voyeur. And he sent staff any evidence he found that people were breaking the theme of the game by RPing sex on their vampires. Morally, it was an odd situation for us. What he was doing was perfectly in character. What the cyber crowd was doing was generally not, and doors were lockable in the game if people really wanted to make sure no stealthers could sneak in to their bedrooms.

But more importantly, having to read through a ton of badly written semi-porn would ruin anyone’s day. As to what staff could do, we posted up information reminding people that doors could be locked. We tried to give Timmy some different plot hooks. We also posted some general info reminding people that this wasn’t the game for RPing torrid sex.

Then we left it and hoped for the best.

What about games designed around sex?

Back in the MUD/ MUSH days there were games which were unashamedly adult in theme. Many of them were also furry and/or BDSM in theme, I, being sadly vanilla, was happy with my vampires and never had much interest, but I did hang out on a bboard for MU* Admin where people sometimes discussed the seedier side of the hobby.

One particular game was known for the ‘anything goes’ theme. You could go create any type of character you could imagine and then … do adult themed stuff with it. And some players took this as a challenge – there were centipede men with 1000 pairs of legs (and presumably the other bits to go with it), there was a woman/ icecream van hybrid (don’t ask), and several people played historical characters and apparently roleplayed them very well. (I know this because people posted the more way out or amusing character descriptions on one of the MU* Admin threads to amuse everyone else.)

And apparently, when they weren’t all having bizarro sex, the general level of RP and discussion on the game was very high. I always found that quite curious, although it makes sense that sex is a social activity so a sex game would tend to turn into a social game.

The type of design which would make a game amenable for cyber would also be good for other types of roleplayer. Lots of private spaces. Ability to dress up your character. Some kind of character matching to help people find others with similar interests. Engaging hangouts with activities that encourage people to chat and get to know each other. You don’t need to design the porn into the game, just let players set the scene and RP out their own fantasies.

Spinks’ law will take care of the rest.

Can Goldshire be contained?

One of the biggest issues standing between MMOs and the mainstream right now is whether it is possible to clean up the real time chat channels. Granny may be happy to come and kill kobolds on her paladin, but what’s she going to say when she hears trade chat for the first time? Or when some jerk in LFD talks smack to her in an instance? And before she does any of those things, she will have to brave Goldshire. (For the sake of hyperbole, let’s ignore that Granny probably knows more about sex than all the inhabitants of Goldshire put together.)

As an aside, I sometimes wonder if an influx of older female players would have a good effect on manners in game. I’m sure a few people like my mother in law (a retired teacher) would soon have trade chat sorted out with its Ps and Qs and teach it grammatical English at the same time.

But the general issue isn’t going to go away. The cyber crowd can be chased out of Goldshire (they’ll go somewhere else) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t want to go to a specialist game. They want WoW … and the cybering is something to do in downtime.

Can a massively multiplayer game ever be really controlled unless you ban chat channels altogether? Or would an army of nosey stealthers set to embarrass people in public do the trick?

How did you find your current guild/s?

I’m planning to write a longer post this week on different ways to find guilds in games. One of the things that stands out to me is that you may need to search in different ways, depending on what you want from your guild.

For example, WoW offers recruitment forums on the official boards. But at least 90% of the guilds who use those forums are looking for raiders to take on hard mode ICC. So if that wasn’t what you wanted, there’s no point searching those forums even if they were widely publicised (which they aren’t). And  there’s also no easy way to filter out the guilds which are on awkward schedules for you, even if you were a hard mode raider looking for a home. Other websites attempt to plug these gaps, but that still leaves the potential recruit with a lot of work to do. Recommendations from a friend is another time-honoured way to find a guild, especially if you know people who raid on multiple servers/ characters.

I’m hoping that someday, some enterprising guild or game takes the Facebook approach and lets people recommend guilds to their friends. (This would actually be a useful battle.net feature but I don’t think that Blizzard is socially savvy enough to do it.)

Another way is via other communities. For example, maybe you are a member of a bulletin board or group of bloggers who decide to start a guild and you join it because you want to play with them.

Listening to recruitment chat in games is yet another way. People disparage the guilds who recruit madly via game chat, but it’s one way to meet people. And just because a guild recruits publically doesn’t mean that they might not be good company.

Running lots of random groups is another time honored way to meet people in games. If you find yourself frequently in a PUG with people from the same guild and you like them, asking if they are recruiting is a natural next step.

And the most traditional way of all, although maybe the hardest – is to start your own.

So how did you find your current guild/s? And do you think the same method would work for a new player starting now?