As a gamer, what I really want in an MMO is to be able to hook up (for gaming :P ) with other players who are roughly as engaged in the game as I am. That’s much more important to me than how hardcore or casual they are in terms of hours played. If I care about the lore, I want to play with other people who care about the lore to about the same extent – maybe a bit more or less but not with a huge difference in approach. If I care about raiding, I want to raid with people who care roughly the same amount that I do. And so on.
Alongside this, players tend to get more engaged in a game (assuming they like it enough to keep playing) as they play, possibly reaching an apex and then either burning out or dropping to a more casual level of engagement. And some players will never be all that engaged with a game because it’s not their ‘main’ game anyway.
The games I most enjoy will tend to be the ones where I find a guild that also attracts other people who share that sort of level of engagement. The officers are likely to be more engaged and rank and file tend to be less on the whole, but people who really don’t fit will be in the minority. Add to this that some players are more engaged in some of their alts (or guilds) than others (“Oh, this is just my goofing about alt”) and really the problem of finding the right match in a player group is just becoming so huge and complex than I am amazed we can ever find a good guild in game.
So the problem is: how to find other players who are similarly engaged with the game to you, will share the same engagement curve for awhile at least, and that you are able to get along with. That is to say, players who care about it as much as you do, but not too much more or too much less.
Gearscore, for all its faults, is a kind of way to measure engagement because you usually have to put a bit of effort into the game to get better gear. But this isn’t really useful if gear can be easily bought and sold for RL cash (as in Diablo 3) because RL money spent doesn’t equate to engagement in the same way that time does.
And although I think there is an increasing drive to find a guild through out of game communication (eg. fellow bloggers, people who post on the same bboard, members of a previous guild), you cannot really KNOW how engaged a player will be with a MMO until they actually play it. So the best guild matching can only be done in game.
Is it possible to be too engaged?
Whilst it can infuriating to play with someone who genuinely doesn’t care about their character, playing well/ better, or reaching any in-game goals at all unless you’re coming from exactly the same angle, it’s also really annoying to be playing with people who just take the whole thing too darn seriously (unless you are one of them in which case it’s great.)
I have been thinking about this from a discussion I was having with Stabs in the comments to his post about Prime, which sounds like a fun game that will inevitably be dominated by people who take it too seriously for my tastes. It’s not for me, but if you enjoy playing with a hardcore take-no-prisoners crowd, then keep an eye on this one.