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.