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.

What would it take for you to boot someone from a group?

I’m finding the most difficult part of running instances with the new random LFG tool isn’t necessarily in handling other players of varying skill and experience. No, it’s deciding what to do when someone else puts up a vote to boot someone.

Or even worse, being in a situation where I wonder if I ought to kick off the proceedings. The vast majority of my groups have been great. But I did run one heroic which threw up the amazing combination of a rogue who put out 800 dps and a mouthy death knight (1200 dps) who insisted on pulling every group in sight because apparently that’s what dps do on his server. Hint for the clueless: If you do pull massive amounts of extra trash, make sure you have the nukage capacity in group to kill them in a reasonable amount of time. That run would undoubtedly have been a lot more successful if I’d actually booted at least one of those players. As it was, we wiped twice on Loken and then I left to go play with some guildies instead.

Like most players, I’m not fond of drama. If I’m running an instance, I want a nice fast smooth run with friendly people. I don’t want a shouting match, I don’t want to have to share virtual space with people who offend my soul, and I really don’t want to be the person to tell Ms 800 dps that she isn’t good enough to group with me.

But I wouldn’t hesitate in a moment to boot someone for sexism or homophobia (for example). I’d even mock them as I did it.

I’m not sure why the idea of booting someone for not being a good enough player bothers me so much, but I have no problem with booting them for being a twat. Surely if the group will fail if they are there, that’s good enough reason to find a replacement. The needs of the many, etc.

I can only conclude that it’s a form of geek social fallacy: ostracisers are evil – I wouldn’t like it if I was thrown out of a group just for not being good enough, so I don’t like doing that to other people.

How about you? What would you boot players for? Or in fact, what have you already booted them for, and why?

Rudeness? Stupid name? Didn’t want the competition for a drop? Poor play? Poor gear?