What makes a good in-game hangout?

You know how some nights you’re not really in the mood to run instances or PvP or do anything remotely stressful?

You don’t have anything scheduled in game and you don’t feel like organising anything. You just want to chill out and chat to people. Maybe you have something you can be doing while you chat – like some light farming, or sorting out tradeskills, or playing a minigame. Maybe you’ll run a few battlegrounds/ scenarios without putting too much effort into it. Or you could just pick an in-game hangout and sit yourself there while you chat.

Then again, if you just want to chat to friends online, do you need to log into the game at all? You could just mess around with twitter and your favourite bulletin board, or sit on your guild’s TS server and chat while you do something else out of game.

I love in-game hangouts but I don’t use them a great deal in MMOs, and these are the reasons why:

  • I can always find something better to do than sit around, even when I’m only chatting. Even if it’s just mining or farming for food buffs.
  • Lag. There’s a reason that Dalaran is known as Lagaran.
  • Increasingly, I have other ways to chat to my gaming friends than by using an MMO as a chatroom.
  • I don’t have any special reason to go to a hangout. They aren’t where I meet people, which is one of the reasons to go to hangouts iRL. They’re just places to dump your toon while you do something else. (Like chat or work on a draft for your next blog post)

It’s a very different environment to a roleplaying MU* where you really do go to hangouts to chat and meet people. In fact, you spend a lot of your character’s ‘life’ hanging around in bars, to the point of ridicule.

Somewhere, there must be a happy medium. Because chilling out in an in game hangout is not only a pleasant way to spend downtime or take a break inbetween bursts of killing stuff but is also good for immersion and (maybe) getting players to socialise. So if devs could find ways to encourage this behaviour, it would be good for our virtual worlds.

So why would anyone go to a hangout?

First question to ask is, why would you go to a hangout instead of doing any of the other things you can do in game? It shouldn’t just be a negative reason, ie. didn’t feel like doing anything else.

Here’s some possible reasons:

  • You need to meet up with another player and the hangout is the easiest place to meet. eg. maybe you need someone to enchant an item for you in WoW.
  • You’re in a roleplaying guild/server and it’s the best place to meet other roleplayers. The Prancing Pony in Bree in LOTRO is very popular as a hangout in RP servers because it’s large, very atmospheric, is very easy to get to, and everyone likes pub RP because it’s easy. Plus it’s a hangout in the books the game is based on.
  • There is an in game advantage from spending your downtime in a hangout. In Star Wars Galaxies, players could benefit from sitting in a hangout and watching entertainers. ie. they had to be online while sitting there, as opposed to gaining rested xp whilst logged out.
  • The hangout contains other game utility (eg. cheap repairs, daily questgiver, auction house)
  • The hangout contains other fun minigames. Maybe even a casino. But if you’re going to chat to people, they need to not be too overwhelming/ spammy. OR there needs to be a way for players who want to chat to cut out the minigame spam.
  • The hangout is a travel nexus. It’s very quick to get to your raid/ instance/ guildhouse from the hangout, so it’s a convenient place to wait for people.
  • You know that you have friends who will often be in the hangout (aka Cheers)
  • It’s a good place to catch up with server news/ gossip. Maybe there are special bboards you can access there.
  • The hangout is a good place to show off your latest gear/ pet because other people will be there who also want to show off their gear/ pets. ie. you need to be where other people can not only chat to you but also /see/ your character.
  • The hangout is cool. It’s where the cool people are.
  • It’s your hangout and you run it (a la Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca), or you are a staff member. So being there to keep things running smoothly is what you DO in game.

This last item (letting players run their own hangouts) is something that is very appealing in virtual worlds. If players could own, decorate, and run their own hangouts, then it would be their job to try to attract other players to hang out there and build up a regular clientele.

Unsurprisingly, running a successful hangout has been a pretty big deal in Second Life which has a much more freeform approach. It also worked well for us in MUSHes, but with some caveats.

A player-run hangout is only active when that player is online. So there are timezone issues. These can be gotten around with coded NPCs and/or recruiting other players to help. When a player gets bored of the game and leaves, the hangout often dies. Sure, someone might offer to take it over, but people who want to run these places often prefer to create their own from scratch.

Still, I’d love to see MMO devs experimenting more with player run hangouts. Especially if it’s possible for players to design their own minigames so that the hangout could have some unique content. (Again, in MUSHes or Second Life it was easy to slot in some player created content to provide another draw to the hangout. I’m still impressed at the MUSH player who coded a working chess game for hers, MUSH code is kind of a bitch for that sort of thing.)

Conversation Booths in Hangouts

Argh, why has no game implemented these yet?

The idea is that you can sit at a virtual table and automatically join the tablechat. No one outside the table can hear it. You can still hear the hangout chat and any other chat channels which you might be on (unless you choose to turn them off).

It’s the perfect way for people to be in a busy hangout and still have their own private conversations. And it was a very very popular piece of code in MUSHes.

In any case, I think that a MMO hangout can be more than just a virtual chatroom. So why aren’t they? And what would it take to get you to hang out?