Do you care what other players are doing on your server?
Part of the appeal of MMOs is the whole massively multiplayer setup. Even when you are playing solo, you know there are many others online. You run past toons who are actually real people and not codebotted NPCs. You hear them chattering and arguing on world channels. Maybe you are one of the tiny minority who reads your official realm bboards to get the lowdown on the latest ninja looting scandals, or to see which raid guild is recruiting?
Maybe you get to recognise some names, some guilds, some server personalities. Is there that one guy who always organises the Wintergrasp raids, or fusses at people for not roleplaying in the trade channel (news flash: On RP servers, you do not have to RP in the trade channel!)?
Even if you never group, never utter a word on a chat channel, and never talk to anyone, the gameworld around you feels alive with real player activity. You would notice if you were on a silent game or server. You’d wonder who sucked all the life out of the world.
I think it is a huge boost to immersion in game if players have a way to keep up with the gossip, guild recruitment/ drama, raid achievements, world PvP, and other player initiated events on their server. Even if you just watch passively, it is immersive to feel the gameworld changing.
There are three sides to server news. Gathering news, reporting news, and broadcasting/ publishing the news.
Server news and RL news
It is very immersive to feel that you can do something that affects the gameworld and that other players will react to it. Conversely, most people are not all that interested in what others are doing unless it affects them personally.
We see this with the real life news also. We read the news, focus on any stories concerned with our personal interests or hobbies, gawp at anything that affects people we know, glance over news in our locale, ponder wider ranging political/ financial stories because they will also affect our lives. Anything else … is pure entertainment, only vaguely more real than fiction.
So to get people to be interested in what others are doing, the ‘news’ either needs to match one of their interests or affect them directly.
Raiders in hardcore guilds are fascinated by guild rankings, news about server first kills, lists of who killed which boss the fastest, and other sports-style statistics.
PvP junkies might like to know the current state of any player-ownable areas (eg. keeps in Warhammer), numbers of kills, writeups of any particularly exciting battles, and news about any PvP events that are being planned by their faction.
Server gossips want to know all about the guild drama. Which guild split up? Which guild just started? Who left who for who? And was there any cybering involved? What’s the big scandal of the week?
Regular players want to know about things that impact them directly. If they are looking for a guild, they want to know which guilds are recruiting. If there is an in-game public event coming up, either programmed or player organised, they want to know when and where it is (and why they ought to go).
Where current games fall short
Just going through the list above, it’s easy to see how few MMOs really provide good channels for this information in game. And yet, these represent a lot of the ways in which players can impact and interact with each other.
They could certainly start by publishing lists. And some games do post lists of top guilds, top PvP kills, and so on. But that in itself is interesting but not immersive. Posting the lists in game, attaching them to a town cryer, letting interested players subscribe to the in game ‘PvP Newsletter’ — that would be more immersive.
A lot of the time players will happily take up the job of being in game journalists, but they need the tools to help them gather information. It’s phenomenally difficult to find out about things that happened when you weren’t online unless you are very well connected or have a super information gathering network.
And yet, finding out about things that happened when they weren’t online is one of the lures that could make a game (and in particular, a social game) very compelling to people.
What do we usually get in game? A guild message of the day, restricted to a couple of sentences. And chat channels which wipe when we log off.
Finding a guild that matches your interests and playstyle is the single biggest random factor in whether many people decide to stick with a game. Given that, it’s plain crazy to me that so many games have such dreadful channels for guild recruitment.
If there was one single thing a developer could do to increase player retention, it’s making it easier for people to find guilds and make it easier for guilds to find people.
What do people do now? External websites, spamming global channels to recruit, hope to randomly bump into nice people while wandering around, wait for players to come to you?
Better in game tools for guild advertising and recruiting could help hugely. Even if it’s just a searchable list with a few sentences of description and a contact for each guild, it’s better than nothing.
In Game Gossip?
I’ve never really seen a gossip mechanic in game, but imagine if every player had a gossip rating. And they could add gossip messages to the network (number depending on rating) — maybe short twitter style messages that would time out after a few days, based on gossip rating. And then others could vote the gossip up or down depending on whether they agreed with it.
Sure, it could lead to social cliques. But servers have those anyway. What it might do is create a very dynamic, very exciting gossip mechanic that would have people excited to log on to see what happened since they were last online.
And if players did want to take on a gossip columnist role, they’d have the information they needed to do it.
And if there was demand for a more newsy channel, why not encourage players to gather news from their server? It might require a specialised mailbox (maybe people can send anonymous stories to the editor). Might need some thought on how best to publish an in game newsletter — would regular mail be too spammy? But if players have the tools, someone will take up the challenge.
To my mind, the key to keeping players interested in what others are doing is to make it entertaining, and to make it all part of the game.