Could games do more to help us make friends?

One of my great disappointments with MMOs is that devs don’t do enough to recognise that they are social games with social elements.

But through the long history of gaming, games have primarily had a social function. Often gambling was involved, but equally the game was something that a family could play together. Games were used to teach kids about counting, games were used to break the ice at parties, games were used as hobbies and social intercourse. From the old roman games of chance, through to elaborate board games and today’s multi-player computer games, they have been tools to bring people together.

So why is it that in MMOs, it’s so easy to feel lonely even in a group?

In fact, there are a whole class of mini-games that exist to help people make friends. We call them ice breakers. And I’ve used them myself at parties or in training sessions. Their goal? To get people talking, or laughing, to help people work out their common interests, and to break down the social barriers that keep people in their shells. And they work.

Game devs even know that social bonds and social networking is one of the strongest reasons for people to keep playing MMOs, even after the novelty is gone. So why don’t we have more ice breakers in our games? Why don’t they put in extra content whose purpose is simply to get people talking, bring people of similar interests together, and maybe encourage them to continue hanging out or even to form guilds or alliances?

There was a time when a low level instance acted as those ice breakers. They weren’t designed that way, but players are (mostly) social people who will at least say hello to their group and maybe exchange a few words. Quests that required more than one person to complete acted as ice breakers, again they weren’t really designed that way but they did get people to talk to each other.

But as the player base levels up, newbies are less likely to meet other newbies in those starter instances and quests.

So what if we actually had some content that was designed deliberately as an ice breaker. Why not have ‘social party raids’ where you can guess which NPC the other players are pretending to be, or play some kind of silly IC drinking game that gets people talking and encourages them to tell jokes? I don’t mean we should force every player to be social, but for those who are interested, could this type of feature make our games more fun, more compelling, and more accessible for new playe?

Gearing, Gating, Attuning. And sometimes I miss the resistance fights …

national guardthenationalguard@flickr.com (OK, which tank has a fire resist set?)

Rohan wrote a post at Blessing of Kings which has been on my mind recently. He asked, “Was Blackwing Lair Boring?” Blackwing Lair (BWL to friends) was the second of the old 40 man raids from Vanilla WoW. It featured a large amount of dragons, and a storyline about Nefarian, the Black Dragon who was trying to breed a new strain of dragonkin. It also involved the best looking tier set in the game’s history.

And we adored it. I have very fond memories of Blackwing Lair, and even when my 40 man raid was way overgeared for the instance, people still enjoyed the weekly runs and happily signed up for them.

So I was thinking some more about how raiding in WoW has changed since then. These days, you show up on your weekly raid night/s for a few hours killing with your friends/ guildies/ random people from trade chat and then you’re done. You won’t need to farm raid food unless you are keen, someone will probably bring fish feasts which provide enough for the whole raid. Your repair bills will be handily covered by a few daily quests or dungeons. You will probably want some potions or flasks, which are easily bought, and gold in the game has never been easier to come by.

Back in the days of BWL, the raids would be the focus of your raid group for most of the week, even when you weren’t actually raiding. You would spend more time farming to cover repair bills, or for extra buff items. You might be helping your guildies to farm up some resistance gear, or quest items that they needed to build legendary weapons like Thunderfury. And if you needed any flasks … well, the only places in the game where flasks could be made were deep inside the Scholomance, or inside Blackwing Lair.

I remember getting permission to use my BWL lock (to our cleared instance) to let my friends from non-raiding guilds come in and use the alchemy table. Blackwing Lair had another bonus for crafters too, it was the only place in the game where miners could learn to Smelt Elementium, a material that was used to make legendary weapons.

Crafters were also involved in creating the resist gear that was needed for some of the fights. We had tanks in fire resist gear to tank the drake bosses. Everyone needed their own Onyxia scale cloak for the last boss also. And in that way, BWL was tied both mechanically as well as thematically to Onyxia (another black dragon boss). You HAD to kill Onyxia enough times to provide materials for cloaks for your whole raid before you could attempt Nefarian. The raid needed good crafters who had collected the right recipes – which also either dropped in raids or were bought with reputation that was collected in raids.

Raiding wasn’t just about killing bosses and getting loot. (Just mostly.) It was about completing raid instances in the right order and learning how to use drops from one raid to help complete a puzzle in another. The raid game back then was designed to be able to focus people’s attention completely.

Overcoming Barriers Together

wallclimb athenius22@flickr.com

No one will deny that being forced to collect resistance gear could be tedious, time consuming and annoying. I don’t think many people enjoyed it and I doubt anyone was sorry to see the resistance fights disappear. But often, the rest of the raid group would chip in and help.

I remember in TBC that our raid group helped to collect the materials to craft frost and nature resist gear for our tanks on Hydross (a boss which required one tank with frost resist gear and one with nature resist gear). It was a way for people who had more time and energy to contribute to the raid effort, even if they didn’t raid so often themselves. (We were more casual back then.)

In many ways, I think Blizzard has been toying for a long time with the notion of letting crafters and non-raiders be a part of the raid effort. They’ve just not found a successful model yet.

In Wrath, BoE raid drops (ie. runed orbs, crusader orbs etc) can be used by crafters to make some extremely nice and desirable gear, all of which is BoE and can be freely traded and sold. In Ulduar, recipes were random and rare drops from bosses. In TotC, the recipes were still random drops, but were much more common and also BoE so can be found on the auction house. A rich crafter could quietly buy them up. And in ICC, the recipes are no longer random drops. They are bought with frost emblems (indirectly, they’re actually bought with primordial saronite which can be bought with frost emblems).

So it’s never been easier for a non-raiding crafter to make those raid items.

The other side to resistance fights was the sense that the whole guild/ raid was working together on an ongoing basis to achieve a goal. Barriers are annoying, that’s their whole point. To annoy you until you overcome them. But the sense of working together on a common goal doesn’t apply to PUG raids in the same way.

If your pick up raid needs a tank with frost resist, you won’t be motivated to help them to gear up. It’s much easier to just shout in trade chat, “LF1M tank for raid X. Need achievement, gearscore, and frost resist gear check before invite.”

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I don’t miss the annoyance and frustration of resistance fights. I don’t miss the feeling that I was letting the side down if I had been unlucky with nature resist drops, or didn’t have enough time to farm my primals on that particular week. But I do miss the feeling that my raid was a team that was working together on overcoming obstacles, and that team included crafters and non-raiding members too.

And I have high hopes that Blizzard’s plans for guilds in Cataclysm will bring that feeling back.

* Picture notes. I wanted images that showed people helping each other to wear protective clothing and overcome obstacles. I know these ones are (semi-)military but the alternatives were pictures of kids at camp and I was uncomfortable using those, even when they had a creative commons licence.

** PS. Screw you, Princess Huhuran and your nature resist grind. But damn did it feel good to get you down.

Thought of the Day: Why random dungeons won’t kill guilds

I’ve decided that I don’t really enjoy tanking in random dungeons. Between the gogogo raid geared nutters who will die of an aneurysm if the run takes even a minute longer than necessary and the sub-900 dps death knights (sorry, death knights, I know you aren’t all like that), it’s just a little too …. random. Yes, the vast majority of groups are perfectly fine but it hits me harder when I’m tanking if they aren’t.

But if I take at least one guildie along, the chances of my group being fine increase astronomically (or at least I’ll have moral support if I do decide I want to boot someone). So my standard procedure now on Spinks is to log in and immediately ask on guild chat if anyone is interested in coming along to a heroic as moral support.

It improves my enjoyment of the new tool hugely, it’s great for them because they get a fast instance also, and probably good for the rest of the group too. Guilds aren’t going to die.

(I have also decided that I don’t really mind if the group gets bouncy and people pull extra adds as long as they’re putting out enough damage to deal with it. Once I adjusted, it’s actually quite fun. I just won’t encourage it deliberately.)

The changing role of guilds in WoW

Tipa joins the ranks of players who are having buckets of fun with the new WoW random dungeon tool, and she comments that she no longer needs a guild to have fun grouping in WoW. I don’t see this as a sign that guilds will die out in the game or that people will stop playing with their friends. We already know that Cataclysm will bring with it a surge of new guild related content, after all.

But I do think that the success of the new dungeon tool will make people ask themselves what they want out of a guild. Guilds are not actually gatekeepers to 5 man instance runs in WoW, although it can seem like that if you run solo. Still, for those players who felt forced to join a guild because they wanted to have people to run group content with — they’ll be free to leave.

It won’t matter any more if the other people in your guild have a very different playing style. You’ll be easily able to find other people to play the instance game with. I think that in Cataclysm we will see the rise of two different types of guild; the social guild made up of people who have some interests in common, and the hardcore guild of raiders who want to focus on hard mode raiding. The inbetween guilds, the social guilds that feel that they have to act more and more hardcore, the ineffective subhardcore guilds where people only stick around because they need the group access … those will probably dissolve.

I think it will lead to a healthier guild scene in the long run. People who don’t want to be attached to a guild won’t have to do that, they can still get their game in using the dungeon and raid finding tools (anyone not think that Blizzard will expand the raid finding tool across servers?). People who want to be part of a friendly guild but get frustrated at being with less hardcore players will be able to hop into hard mode groups easily and still socialise with their guild friends. People who want the full hardcore experience will still be able to do it, and will be able to pick up random groups for their alts or in off hours easily too.

Unshackling the social side of guilds from the group game may be one of the most long sighted advances any MMO of this generation has accomplished.

Link hard, with a vengeance

  1. Tarsus explains why we should always blame the tanks and gives a reason for just about every situation.
  2. Blizzard’s new petshop has inspired KIASA to sing. Katy Perry had nothing on this.
  3. We’ve seen a lot of other blog reactions to the petstore. The majority accept that the pets aren’t a big deal, but there’s a pervasive sense of sadness – as if we’d seen the future and people aren’t sure if they like it (ultimately if it’s more profitable for devs to make social games and sell pretty pets than make big expansive virtual worlds with complex teamplay, then well …). Green Armadillo sums this up, asking if RMT is the third Trammel. Copra also expresses sadness at how the game is changing, philosophically.
  4. The Rampant Coyote wonders if too much choice is a good thing in games. Or is it too easy to get lost or distracted and actually miss the game’s goal. I’ve recently started playing both Uncharted 2 and Dragon Age Origins and sometimes being on tracks is awesome fun as long as the view (and, more importantly, the gameplay) is that good.
  5. Naissa (welcome back, by the way) has extensive lists of things she misses about WoW from times gone by, but also things she loves about the new content.
  6. Speaking of Uncharted 2, Kotaku posts an interview with one of the designers, discussing how achievements (trophies) can actually add to the gameplay of a game and how they deliberately structure them. It’s so much more directed than the random ‘lets make an achievement out of everything’ scattergun approach we see in MMOs.
  7. It’s not just zillions of people in the western world who are hooked on farmville. Farming Games are extraordinarily popular in China too (probably where Zynga nicked the idea from).
  8. Game By Night analyses some of the problems with guilds as a concept, especially in games which have levels. And suggests some possible solutions.
  9. It’s much easier for people interested in WoW raiding these days to just run a PUG for the Coliseum. Altadin discusses the problems this raises for raid guilds – if you ask someone to be on reserve for your raid, you’re actually asking them to save their locks and not to even go grab some badges in a PUG. Matticus takes another angle and notes that it’s much easier to recruit and gear up a newbie now, so why not widen the recruitment net?
  10. So your guild is breaking up, everyone is all out of enthusiasm, and even the officers are wishing they could just quit. Ferrel discusses how to neatly put the guild to sleep – not a situation anyone likes but these things happen.

And my wtf of the week is wow.com’s post this morning about paladins which notes:

paladins are forced to pay the hybrid tax three times over — because they can do it all without limiting themselves, they can’t do anything as well as other classes

Does anyone seriously think that paladins can’t heal or tank as well as other classes (hint: they’re probably ahead on both right now).? Or that their dps is way behind … e.g. warriors? It’s not. Everyone whines, but that was a silly thing to say with any editorial weight behind it.

Also, I’ve seen a lot of rather tedious tank and healer questionnaires going around? Who the hell cares what your favourite spell is? *facepalm* It’s the whole package you should be looking at and how they fit together.

But for the record, my favourite tank type to team up with are bears. Warrior/druid is just a nice combo with a lot of finesse, I find. Or maybe I just know good bear tanks.