MMO Development Lesson #46

Remember than an MMO is social. This lesson goes hand-in-hand with Lesson #45. Massively multiplayer games are multiplayer, and they should be social. Unfortunately, a lot of games tend to fail in the social realm in many ways, and the genre needs to make strides to get back to its social roots.

Let me be clear here: I am not saying that you shouldn’t make solo content in an MMO. It is absolutely vital to accommodate solo play, and in most MMOs it is going to make up the majority of your content. However, soloable content is completely different from solo-only content.

Let’s use World of Warcraft as an example. If you have a quest to Kill 10 Rats in a cave and there are two other players around with the same quest, what goes through your mind? For me, it’s generally something like, “argh, I’m gonna have to compete for these quest updates.” That is the exact opposite reaction that players should have when they see someone else. The presence of other players should help you do your quest faster, not make it go slower and cause minor frustration.

There are many other examples in games of inherently–though usually unintentionally–antisocial features. This might get me crucified, but the Dungeon Finder in WoW is one of the biggest violators when it comes to discouraging socialization. I will admit that I use it repeatedly (to my own detriment; if I haven’t explained that in a previous post, it’ll probably be my next MMO Rant subject), but it allows people to group up with no socialization, do an entire dungeon without speaking with each other (or connecting afterward because they’re on different servers), and allows trolls be held unaccountable for their actions. Great idea for a feature, but its negative social implications are pretty profound.

To drill down to my actual point: consider the social implications of everything you do in an MMO. Create features and content specifically intended to encourage positive socialization. Create, foster, and encourage communities to develop in and outside of your game. Look back at some of the older MMOs for ideas and come up with new ones. A focus on the social aspect of MMOs will help create a healthy community and will significantly reinforce player retention, but it takes a backseat in developers’ minds all too often.

6 Responses to "MMO Development Lesson #46"

  1. R

    Question! If all these rules are clearly understood why do we keep getting bad MMO after bad MMO?

  2. Not all these rules are clearly understood by everyone working on an MMO, and not all of them are as easy to do as they may seem. Sometimes–like in the case of keeping MMOs social–the goals of a lesson are superseded by the goals of a particular game. Some games value instant fun and gameplay so far above socialization that it gets trumped frequently and the game doesn’t deliver a properly social experience. In other cases, people just disagree with me. I’m not always right!

    Also, making MMOs is hard.

  3. Leger

    I’ve been playing DC Online for a few days and I have no idea what this whole “social” thing is that you keep talking about.

  4. Trevel

    I’m somewhat pleased that, from the looks of it, Arena.Net has learned this lesson. Playing the GW2 beta, I’m generally HAPPY when I see another player. After years of other MMOs, this boggles the mind. The beta has even messed me up for other games — when I see someone else fighting something, I *want* to join in and be helpful now, despite years of WoW and especially LOTRO training me that I shouldn’t. (LOTRO actually punishes people for being helped by other players.)

    Modern and past MMOs seem to be based heavily on the idea of Competition between players.

  5. Garumoo

    Ryan, are there any notable MMOs which have social goals being the crux of the game (vs personal advancement) ?

  6. Garumoo: Any currently-released games in which social goals shine through? Perhaps EVE Online–the politics of that game are more important than anything, and politics are social. Most other current MMOs don’t do social as well as I feel they should. Many of them do some things well or clearly tried to create social systems that didn’t work terribly well, but a lot of them fall short. I think we’re going to start seeing more of a shift back toward encouraged (not necessarily required) social play as the genre evolves, and I think that’s a good thing.

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