I’m not a social MMO player. I prefer to play solo, and perhaps get together with a few friends to take on particularly challenging adventures. That said, where the hell did the social go in MMOs? Why do I feel like I’m playing a solo game among anonymous (N)PCs, no longer the intentional outsider within a community?
The social must have gone somewhere. Let’s investigate…
Old massively multiplayer games required cooperation. Man did I hate that! Most characters had to play with other characters most of the time. In Ultima Online, if you weren’t working with others, you were a ghost spouting “OOoo ooOo OoOos” at your killer. In EverQuest, if you weren’t working with others, you were looking at “Loading, please wait…” after dying. You had to work with other people, or you were screwed. What a drag.
Oh, and the death penalties. Losing skills in UO, losing levels in EQ. If that jerkwad you were forced to group with got you killed, man were you angry. You’d remember who that dummy was and never group with them again, jotting his name down on your pad of paper under “Bad Player.” If that kind person you were forced to group with saved your ass, man were you happy. You’d remember who that saint was and always group with them again, jotting her name down on your pad of paper under “Good Player” (and “Female”).
In many old games, you either had a crude map or no map at all. You’d have a binder full of poorly-scrawled maps just so you could get around. You’d be forced to shout out-of-character, asking how to get to where you wanted to go. Someone would reply, “hug the left wall and hang right when you reach the second bridge.” What a nice person. But what a pain in the butt having to navigate that way! Where were all the cartographers in this fantasy land?
If you wanted to go on a quest, you didn’t just scour the nearest quest hub and click on every lifeless NPC with a punctuation mark over his head. No, you had to WORK for it. You had to explore and find the quests on your own or, dare I say, ask other players where to find a good quest to do, and often how to do it (there wasn’t even a quest journal!).
When you wanted to buy or sell an item, you’d spam your carefully-crafted message to the world every couple minutes, or watch the chat scroll by until someone was selling what you wanted at the price you wanted. Then you had to haggle with them. Man, they didn’t even have auction houses?! No one-stop shopping, no-haggle prices?
Man, those silly games made you rely on people for every little thing you did, didn’t they?
And there’s the answer. While making MMOs more accessible, we have intentionally reduced the need to rely on others. Now, all you need is a decent guild to experience all of the content, and you don’t have to talk to a soul outside of that guild.
You can find all your quests easily. In fact, you’re actively discouraged from exploring and discovering them on your own (think about it: when was the last time you explored a cool looking area only to be sent back there to do something you already did?). Now, you don’t have to haggle with other players to get a good price on an item. You can kill anything you could possibly need with no problems, because you’re powerful enough to do it on your own.
By removing the need to deal with other players, we’ve also done a lot of damage to the social communities that used to exist in MMOs of old. Can we get social communities back without making an inaccessible game? Yes, I believe we can. How? Well, I’m not revealing any of Copernicus’ secret sauce, thank you very much.
Clarification: No, I’m not advocating harsh death penalties, no maps, forced grouping, and the removal of auction houses. What I’m saying is that the it is possible to facilitate truly social communities in MMOs while still keeping them accessible by designing with opportunities for positive socialization in mind.