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.