MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) are one of the most social games you can play. You are able to login and see hundreds if not thousands of people in the same world as you. Running solo, grouping up with friends, or even complete strangers you meet along your journey, are all aspects of an MMORPG. But are these aspects slowly dwindling out like a flame on a match stick?
In older MMORPGs everything you did was either solo or social. Let’s take a look back at history and see how they made it solo or social. Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and many more, promoted the solo or social aspect of the MMORPG gaming genre. These games all had Massive Maps, Public Dungeons, Open World Events and a Social Chat System. Many modern day MMORPGs have these features as well, so let’s dissect these and narrow down the difference and see where they are lacking.
When I think of massive sized maps I think of Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC), World of Warcraft even Everquest. These worlds were one seamless map with no “zoning walls”--you could run from one end of the world to other without seeing the dreaded loading screen (unless it was a dungeon or RvR (pvp) area). This type of mapping dynamic promotes world exploration. I can’t tell you how many times I would be exploring and end up in an area that was a much higher difficulty than I was expecting and I would high-tail it out of there.
What about Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), or Guild Wars 2 (GW2)? They all have massive maps--SWTOR has entire planets you can roam. They also have plenty of loading screens. Once you loaded into the area in these games, you were locked to that area and the difficulty stayed within that range. Creating worlds that have multiple loading areas makes the world feel divided and controlled, these areas become a “Safe Zone”, you lose that sense of adventure that paranoid feeling of walking into the unknown hoping not to get smashed by a monster stronger than you.
Instanced Dungeons, are an area of modern day MMORPGs that I feel needs to be removed. Older MMORPGs had Public Dungeons. Anyone from your realm was able to load into the dungeon and solo or group up with a fellow guild member or a random stranger. The dungeons were a level range, so you could begin the dungeon at level twenty and complete farming it at level thirty-five or forty. The beginning of the dungeon had the lower level enemies and as you progressed deeper into the dungeon the difficulty would increase. It wasn’t uncommon to load into a public dungeon with the mindset of soloing for thirty minutes then go on to something else, only to receive a message from a player asking “Hey, you want to group up and go deeper into the dungeon?” That thirty minutes could then turn into several hours. Grouping with strangers for hours and getting to know them, adding them to your friend list to group again with later was common--it was part of how MMORPGs kept it social.
In modern MMORPGs we have Instanced Dungeons, places where only your current group/raid can load into. To find these groups we used to have to be semi social and use the in-game chat channels to find other players of our faction that were interested in doing a dungeon. Sure it always took a lot longer, and sometimes you would log into the game to do a specific dungeon but never actually find a group to do it--this was part of the downfall to instanced dungeons.
Now we have a common tool that most MMOs are adopting, a Looking for Group (LFG) or Looking for Raid (LFR) system. These systems take the trouble of finding groups out of the equation by providing players with an automatic group finder. This allows players to log into a game and do what they want, when they want, one of the biggest benefits to this system.
Now this system also has some major drawbacks to it. It is not intentional, but with convenience comes laziness. All the tools and chat channels still exist with the LFG/LFR system, but they are hardly used anymore. Before, when we used to build our own groups, we used the chat and discuss random topics with the members of the party, these members were also players of your server and faction so you had the chance of meeting up with them later on in the game. The LFR/LFG system WoW introduced had a feature to it that made finding groups even faster, grabbing people from a pool of players from other servers. So now when your LFG/LFR window pops up saying it has found you a group, in most cases the members of this group are from different servers. This feature makes it much easier and faster to find groups with no work of the player being required, and because of this convenience dungeons became very easy to complete. However, it has become a rarity to converse with other members of the group unless it is to discuss an issue with a player or to explain a strategy. That sense of comradery and loyalty is gone with this type of system. Because we are able to find and complete a dungeon within a very short time we have no urge or need to spend time talking to these people, chances are we’ll never see them again. SWTOR LFG system keeps it is Server Only , which is a great idea, even though it increases the wait time for certain events, it allows us to play with players from our own faction, people we will meet again and have a chance to run into them at a major city or a space station.
Open World Events are areas that require a group to complete and are out in the open world of the game. World of Warcraft had these when the game was launched, removed them, but are now slowly returning them. SWTOR has world bosses and Guild Wars 2 has Dynamic World Events.
In older MMORPGS these events were social events. Of course you would have your typical Guild-organized groups going to do these, but it wasn’t uncommon to see in your Alliance chat people looking to form a group to do one. When I would see this chat message I would tell my friend about it, who in turn would in turn tell his Alliance about it and within several moments we had people lining up to do these events. I said World of Warcraft had these but they were removed because of inactivity. There came a point when no one was attempting to kill the World Events because they served no purpose. SWTOR and in some cases Guild Wars 2 have come to this as well. They would drop loot that was outdated and it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to organize a group to do. Older MMORPGs (and now WoW) made it so the world events didn’t drop specific gear, but currency instead, which you were able to use to purchase gear upgrades, or other items that were always useful to have.
I spoke about how the Alliance chat would say they are looking to build a group for something--this is the social chat system I mentioned. The chat system in older MMOs was how most communication was done between Alliances, Guilds and Friends. Guilds would request to join an Alliance which could consist of many different guilds. So joining an alliance you had an ability to find more things to do, and the ability to be social on a much broader scale than using Guild Chat. Modern MMOs have the General, Trade and sometimes an LFG chat, but let’s face it, those chat channels are not always the easiest place to be social. Alliances were like guilds: you had to find the one that suits you, so not only were you able to be social, but you had the opportunity to be social with like-minded people.
Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) has the potential to be the light at the end of a very dark tunnel we have all been adventuring through. ESO has the ability to bring back some of the old style gaming techniques that made the MMORPG Genre so social and exciting, as well as maintaining all of the modern MMORPG features we have all become accustom too.
ESO will be re-introducing Public Dungeons as well as keeping the Instanced dungeons for certain events that will require a specific amount of people. Public Dungeons from what we know and have seen in demos will be very similar to the “Old School” style of dungeons we came to love. This one feature makes me happy--I have missed the social aspect of the public dungeon and when I first learned ESO would be bringing this back to the MMORPG Genre it made this gamer smile.
Open World Events will be included in ESO as well, from Adventure Zones to world exploration events that we will find along our journey. How they will be handling this is still unknown.
A Social Chat System and Massive Maps have yet to be determined or announced, but as I said, ESO has the potential to blend the “Old School” ways with “New School.” From everything we’ve been told thus far, they seem to be headed down the road to bringing back the Social Community that used to be in MMORPGs.