MMOs have changed. The kind of game we used to play more than 5 years ago is not anymore. Mainly because the players themselves have changed. MMO games have developped a much more casual side and have attracted a whole new population that would not have played the older games. Players more than 5 years ago used to be passionate gamers, and they formed very tight communities. Right now in a MMO there is a whole range of different players not looking at all for the same kind of gaming experience : casual, hardcores, PvErs, PvPers, very young players, older ones, newbies, veterans, couples or families playing together... etc. And all those kind of players don't always mesh well together, they tend to regroup with the people they already know and form smaller closed groups inside a bigger anonymous community.
I was not that long ago excited about Aion's release. Paradoxically I was less excited by the game itself, as I knew it would not be really innovative, but more by being a part of something new : a server community. On older games, people leveled together, used to know each other by chatting and then formed guilds according to their preferences and friendships that were made inside the game. Each new game starting, or new server starting was the opportunity of taking part in something new and meeting other people. There was excitement not only for the game, but also for the community aspects.
(A MMO crowd...)
Those times have changed however, and it's no more what it used to be. Now we see things that would not have made sense at all a few years ago. Guilds recruiting months before the game has even started, not even caring to know who they recruit. Guilds spamming the general chat the first evening on the pre-release to recruit anyone willing to join, just in order to grow fast. Most guildies or group of friends playing together on Teamspeak or Ventrilo totally ignoring the chat or the other players around. What used to be something really open with people eager to meet and know each other has become closed and narrow. If you form a team to complete some group quest nowadays and try to chat with other people you most of the time hit a wall. They just do not care. I'm not talking about the people who cannot write, spell or play decently, they are another issue, but even the most serious and competent players are already at the same time on Teamspeak or Ventrilo talking with their friends or their guild and will just communicate with the rest of the server in a very minimalistic way: 'Hi' and 'bye'.
That's what we can call a fragmentation of the MMO communities. Players tend to regroup with other players of the same kind (playtimes/age/PvE or PvP/old friends... etc), and avoid other interactions. It's the same thing in our modern societies, and there is absolutely nothing you can do against that. I have noticed that most of my good MMO friends also act this way : they're not really interested in meeting other people or interacting with them, they're already happy with our little group of players on Teamspeak where we have a great atmosphere. Still, I feel we miss alot.
There has been those last years such a terrible drop in the MMO communities quality, politeness, helpfulness, generosity having been totally dropped off for much lower quality behaviour standings, you cannot totally blame players for avoiding interactions with random players they do not know. Still, I think it's a mistake. The more you go in that direction, the more fragmented MMO communities become. We may all end up playing with only 2 or 3 friends when they are online, and alone when they're not, or in guilds where basically noone cares about each other, but just participate in order to get the best gear possible. Feeling alone in a crowd when noone is going to talk to you, but asking for your money, and therefore you're not going to answer to anyone, isn't it what our modern towns have become ? That's not what MMO environments used to be a few years ago, but that is what they're changing into. Anonymous crowds of players running around pursuing their own little interest, only talking to a few already known people.
(An anonymous crowd...)
That's definitely not something we can be happy with. Most of the older players have this syndrom of their 'first MMO where everything looked so shiny and magic', and that they cannot find back. Of course this can be explained as a 'first time' syndrom, that is before things used to get known by heart. And even if it's probably the main reason, it's not the only one in my opinion. Communities used to be more friendly, more eager to communicate, to share things, to experience and play together, to meet other people and make new friends. Each new start, server or game launch was a start from zero, and everything was possible. This played a large part in making the older games full of excitement and adventure, even if they had rough and flawed mechanics compared to our standards today.
I do not see a solution to this change on a global scale, and I do not think there is any. However there is always a solution on a personnal level : sometime unplug your Teamspeak, use your fingers to write, invite players you do not know to party with you and talk to them while partying. I do it often. It's disappointing a large part of the time, I will not lie to you. But for the few very good people I have met this way those last 2 or 3 years, I would do it again if I had to. I will keep on writing to other people in MMO games. Will you too ?
PS : This article was written one year ago, and was never published. Unfortunately I don't think it has become really dated in any way. I just edited a few things before publishing. And to be completely honest I must notice that this last year I've myself become a bit more anonymous and distant in MMOs with players I do not know already...