Should MMOs encourage grouping? How about helping you make in-game friends?

I’ve been having quite an interesting discussion on google buzz this week with Chris@Levelcapped on his latest post about unsocial MMOs.

Rather than lifting the entire conversation (which is cool and all but a bit rambling, and also I’d want to get permission from everyone before posting it), I thought I’d sum up here, because I do think that devs should be looking to encourage socialisation in MMOs. And if a bunch of hardcore soloers decide to get wound up by this (is it possible to encourage socialisation without making soloing less optimal in comparison?) then it’s unfortunate, but you can’t please everyone.

Here is the problem. MMOs are designed as social games, so a proportion of players will join with the expectation of being able to play with others. But unlike a board game, an MMO box does not say on the side, “You will need to bring 4-6 players.” There is an assumption that you can jump in and find other players in game.

Soloers obviously won’t care about this, so bung them some solo content and let them go. That’s fine. Most people spend a lot of time soloing, it’s standard for more social players too because very few people group 100% of the time. Having lots of solo options is a good thing.

But how should a new player who is social find other people to hang out with? Especially in an older, more stratified game, where a lot of more experienced players already have a circle of friends and aren’t interested in newbies? Joining a random tradechat guild is as likely to be a bad experience as a good one, but these games have thousands (in WoW’s case millions) of players … there must be some people out there who’d be a better fit than random trade chat advertiser guild.

Once you understand that a lot of people view gaming as a hobby and like MMOs for the opportunity to meet and play with fellow gamers online (much as you’d make friends via any other hobby) then you can see how badly game designers have failed this group.

How much help do most games really give you in finding a compatible guild? (It doesn’t have to be perfect, just give a better chance of meeting compatible gamers – and that means compatible gaming styles as much as personalities – than not being in it.)

LFD and being able to quickly find 10 minute instance groups is the tip of the iceberg. Giving players reasons to cooperate and interact with strangers in game is another good starting point. Long term gaming friendships is part of the rest of the picture. And inbetween there is a whole spectrum of people who like to socialise on their own terms, or those who mostly solo but like participating in big public raids (CoH catered quite well to this crowd), and devs have tended to leave the player base to its own devices with catering to any of them, which is why it’s such a pot luck.

And this does affect soloers also. The goal of a social game is that every player who is interested in being social should be able to do that, which means that every player should also be encouraged to pick social content over solo content where possible. Because socialness needs a pool of willing players, the larger the pool the better the chances that any individual can find others with compatible goals/ personalities. We see this with LFD – if you queue at an offpeak time of day, you have to wait longer. If you want fast queues, then you also want as much of the playerbase as possible to be queueing.

But it isn’t because we hate soloers and want to sabotage their game.

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19 thoughts on “Should MMOs encourage grouping? How about helping you make in-game friends?

  1. More devs should look at the EQ2 LFG (that’s Looking for Guild, not Group) function, then steal it wholesale. Hit ‘g’ on an un-guilded character and up pops a list of guilds that are currently recruiting, sortable by category/focus (crafting, RP, social, raiding, PvP, etc.). Each listing has space for a little blurb about the guild and a link to send a tell directly to somebody in the guild who is a) on-line and b) has guild recruiting privileges (if you’re a recruiter there’s a flag you can toggle for “Currently recruiting/Not currently recruiting” – if it’s toggled off, you – and your guild, if you’re the only recruiter on-line – don’t show up on the list).

  2. There’s some pressure on the EQ2 boards to introduce LFD and I really hope they don’t.

    At the moment in EQ2 is at a nice stage vis-a-vis the effort it takes to get a group together and get to an instance. It’s like WoW before Meeting Stones but with much faster overland travel.

    The Meeting Stones had an unfortunate side-effect of people slacking at the AH waiting for someone else to go. LFD has had the even more unfortunate side-effect of commoditising the group experience to the extent you don’t care who you’re with.

    I like the old school gameplay style of talking to people to get them to come along, of chatting in the run and of thanking people afterwards. I’d rather have 5 friendly runs than 10 efficient ones – the gear is just meaningless numbers.

  3. I do not think the EQ checkbox LFG feature has any value. STO has the same, it is not really helpful to find guilds and clicking checkboxes says often not anything about the true state of the guild, what it really does and you get to know nothing about the people in the guild. People will have to talk and play with each other to find a guild, a shocking revelation! :)

    A “social” person is able to talk to other people, something inevitably necessary. Those who are socially inept can always play WoW and follow ! and -> till they get bored and start to whine about the bad community they did not give a damn about. This said, pre-LFD/Dungeon Finder people who were able to talk and lead were the motors of grouping. I wonder if that got lost through the dungeon finder? I did not play WoW for ages.

    I would like to quote Stabs, “I like the old school gameplay style of talking to people to get them to come along, of chatting in the run and of thanking people afterwards.”
    Could not agree more.

    I think MMO design can make socialization easier. I always found LOTRO’s chat to be appalling:
    Very short range of the normal “say” talk,
    it ends in people spamming global user created channels for LFG, small talk and everything while the new players who do not know about this wonder about the extreme silence in LOTRO. -> bad for communication, and my personal pet peeve with LOTRO that people stand around each other in silence and if not in the same group its a whisper whisper whisper BS as nobody uses “say” anymore.

    Then there is group unfriendly design. Nothing better than people within a group competing for drops they could get much easier if they would do it solo, right? This is why most MMOs drop quest items for every party member, which was not always the case. STO also has some bad missions that are designed in a way that makes it horrible to play together with other players if not outright impossible.

    There are many MMOs nowadays that outright punish grouping: Less drops, less XP, no group needed anyways. So people won’t bother grouping while levelling unless the game *forces* them to do so. Because they need a group to progress. This is just bad. But this has become an unfortunate state of mind in many games, people won’t bother grouping unless they have no other choice as it comes with a lot of drawbacks.

    And this is something where most MMOs nowadays fail. They make it harder for people to socialize. There is no point in punishing people who want to solo, but there is also no point in catering to a single player style exclusively, it is even dangerous for the community. It might even drive some of the more “social” players away.

    P.S. I wonder if Cataclysm gives people incentives to team up in groups larger than 2. I am sure you will keep us updated! :)

  4. Good post as I am finding myself in the situation of having come back to WoW, re-geared my Troll Shaman to a half decent level but have no guild. I am understandbly wary of the Trade Chat recruitment but would like a guild where I have the opportunity to get into some RP if I want to but also participate in some raiding too. There just isn’t an easy way for me to find out the kind of place I’m going to fit in and then get my foot in the door.

  5. I don’t know what devs could do to improve the socialization in MMOs. The problem is a lot of people are just antisocial and rude. I play mostly solo, but belong to a guild made up mostly of people I’ve played various games with since 1999 in WoW. I socialize through guild chat. That said I do the occasional LFD and if someone sends me a group invite while we are questing/hunting in the same area, I’ll accept it. 99% of those people don’t say a word. I’ll say “Hi” and they’ll ignore me. So I usually just leave the group when they run off in some random direction expecting me to follow them. I’ve been in LFD groups where no one says a word — not even the tank to say what he’s pulling. How are the devs going to encourage people to socialize? They can make you group to optimize game play, but they can’t make you actually speak to other players.

    Note: This is in WoW, I’ve found people in LOTRO quite a bit more socialable and EQ2 somewhere in the middle.

    • Actually there’s a lot you can do with design to encourage people to talk.

      Most of what can be done comes down to this: make it harder.

      If people simply can’t beat a dungeon by zerging in and AOEing everything then they have to cooperate to come up with a plan. That was how WoW used to work in 2004-7.

      Think of a game like Football. You have to talk to each other, sometimes warn team mates you’re going for the same ball, discuss strategy at half time.

      WoW is like a game of Football where if anyone simply kicks the ball as hard as they can you win. (Much of WoW, not arena or complex raiding). If Football worked like that no one would talk either. But it doesn’t so people talk to each other.

      I actually don’t see it as a problem that WoW has developed on these lines – it’s clearly what a lot of players wanted. But I don’t want the other dikus to get swept along. Let’s have WoW for the people who basically want a fruit machine and EQ2 and Lotro for people who want to collaborate to beat a challenge.

  6. if you can join a random group with little effort, then forced grouping is fine. If joining a group is a pain in the arse, then I am against it.
    It has been typical of Blizzard to have solo quest chains that suddenly turn into group quests. I hate those with a passion.

    I don’t want to beg guildies to ‘come help me kill Lord Snaggle in Shadowmoon pls’, or have to resort to ‘Anyone need to kill Snaggle?’ in General Chat when I am on an alt in an empty zone.

    I think it’s fine to have LFD for instances, but in open world, all quests should be soloable.

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  8. comments = tl;dr

    One thought is to do what they did in EQ2 for Guilds and apply that for characters.

    If you’re a social type of gamer that likes to group to do some outdoor quests (even though it’s less efficient than just soloing in most cases), then you set that flag. If you’re the kind that likes to duel, turn on that flag. If you just want to solo and not be bothered with group invites and duels? Turn off those flags.

    If you like doing dungeons, turn those on. If you don’t, turn those off. That would help define how people group.

    If you just want to grind or chat while gathering or something, maybe there is a flag for that.

    You’d need a mechanism to tie all that together too. Think of it as almost being a dating service.

    The technology is there, no one is really using it.

  9. I understand the point of what you are trying to say here, but I a a little on the fence here.

    First, I think MMOs do provide ample opportunity for you to group. Perhaps that word is a poor choice. MMOs provide ample reasons to group. Specifically talking about WoW, You have five-man dungeons, 10, 20, 25 and 40 man raids, 10, 15, 20 and 40 man battlegrounds, 2, 3, and 5-man arenas, groups quests, guilds, RP, you name it. There are enough mechanics in the game that force you to group and interact with other players.

    “Once you understand that a lot of people view gaming as a hobby and like MMOs for the opportunity to meet and play with fellow gamers online (much as you’d make friends via any other hobby) then you can see how badly game designers have failed this group.”

    This is the part where I had some trouble agreeing with what you said. If we are to look at MMOs as a “hobby” with you expect to make friends, it must be said that you make those friends by doing the personal physical effort of interacting with them. The hobby in question only provides the platform. In a social gathering, say where a group largely comprising of strangers with few common friends gets together for a night of Taboo. Taboo gives you the social platform, it si a great group game to play and it provides you with a logical reason for interacting. How much you choose to interact and/or take it past the Taboo stage is entirely up to you. (I am a little high on cough syrup, so this may be a little hazy here).

    Similarly in MMO’s, all the reasons I listed above provide the platform, but it is up to the players to use that platform to their advantage and get where they want. I don’t think the developers need to force it any further. I absolutely agree that they need to encourage it by providing activities that are a lot more fun to do in groups.

    Third, You also raised the point about being placed with a group of similar-minded individuals. This is very tricky. We largely make fun of these compatibility websites like eHarmony.com, because software cannot assess your compatibility with a group, no matter how many character traits and variable you feed it. Partially because you will never find the “perfect” guild, there will always be some problem (big or small), and partly because there is no scientific way to replace intuition, gut-feeling and just the natural feeling of belonging to a certain group or idea.

    Sorry that if this turned into a rant :(

  10. Very Interesting question and something that has been bothering me personally for quite some time, I have played EQ2 since 2006 and in that time seen the game go from a MMO where you could easily find a group and go to a shared dungeon and have fun and level to a game where it is soloing (very few does the shared dungeons nowadays) all the way to 90, and at 90 you MAY be able to get a group for an instance.

    I play MMOs for the social grouping aspect and I have nothing to do in EQ2 anymore, as the game I wanted to play is gone. I am in a great guild with great people but they do not group outside their tight group that they have leveled to 90 with (and they have of course done all the instances umpteen times and does not want to do them again, understandably so).

    The EQ2 developers have talked about an updated LFG tool with more options and a better search tool but it is unlikely it will ever be implemented but the ideas posted where nice (something as per the EQ2 Guild finder tool).

    The trends of MMOS today are several, but there are few games out there that actually offers anything to people that wants to group and advance at a decent pace, games where you can find people to group with if you are late into the game.

    It is a social issue too in EQ2 if you get and instance and gives proof that you have never done it before you usually are in for trouble, most players does not want to spend extra time showing a new player the ropes as it is much more efficient to run 3 instances in one hour than to run 1 instance for one hour and have several wipes. This has lead to a situation where you barely dare to do anything anymore, many have tried PUGs for the instances where you actually only recruit new people, this can be fun if you can stand the taunting in the public channels.

    Currently me and my wife are unsubbed from EQ2 but if anyone has any tips on a game where you can go out and get a group, play for some hours and have fun, even if you are not A Leet, B Maxlevel, C on your 15th run through the dungeon please let me know

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  13. I think guilds are a harmful invention, actually. If you want people to socialize, why do you let them lock themselves away in rooms talking only in guild chat? EQOA didn’t have guilds, and there was a ton of socializing as people gathered around stables to PUG for experience parties, and towns for roleplay events.

    Get everyone talking in the world, and I think general socialization would be better.

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