There's 3 things needed for a community to interact: Downtime, Reason to Interact, and Tools for Interaction...( By the way, every time I think about community interaction, my mind always go back to the many elements that attempts to promote player interaction in City of Heroes a.k.a. COH . So I’m going to be using examples from City of Heroes a lot.)
1) Downtime - Mainly due to the fact that the mainstream population type on keyboards to communicate, downtime allows players time to communicate.
Good Example: I’m going to use examples in Ragnarok Online and City of Heroes. During those times when the characters need to sit down and rest to replenish mana or hp, players talk to each other. In Ragnarok Online, when players are not already in parties or teams, that’s most of the time how a player finds one. When they’re sitting down resting, they have to wait, so they type and talk about the game world (such as graphics, lore, places, cool bosses, items, wants, whatever…). This helps build a connection between players and the community.
Bad Example: I’ll use Guild Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons Online (even though this happens in City of Heroes too). In these games, generally, there’s a lot of rushing. In Guild Wars, there’s really no need to stop and rest, so players just keep moving and killing mobs after mobs until they finish the instance that takes 1 or 2 hours (hardly any communication in this game). In DDO, the instance dungeons are static. Well, people do stop from mob to mob sometime to prepare or wait for the rest of the time. And there are designated rest shrines, where players can rest. However, because of the static dungeon, when there’re team members that have done the dungeon before, they just rush through it, and there’s hardly any communication between players when that happens.
I also want to talk about limitations, as it relates to downtime. Imagine being in a group, with everyone working together to try and find secret locations/objects/etc. Wouldn’t that be great? I think this is what City of Heroes tried to do with some things like with the finding the plaques. Finding the plaques can give players titles and some hp or endurance boost. However, players are freely able to do it at any time. So when they do it, because it’s more efficient to do it all at one time and because there’s a website that shows where they’re located. Players choose the efficient way, because a choice is forced upon them: what is in their mind is generally “Do it all at once and save time” or “Do a little at a time and I may regret wasting more time than I would otherwise”. Even though, most would enjoy it more doing only a little at a time so that it wouldn’t get repetitive and boring. So, basically, having the players think this, is putting a lose-lose situation on them. Therefore, this is where I think limitations need to come into play. Limit the amount that players can search for at any one time (for example, a mission that tells them to find only 1 or a few secret/hidden stuff…). This is only assuming it’s repetitive stuff; it’s a totally different story if they’re searching for hidden dungeons or something of that sort, because they’re not searching for hundreds of things all at once, but rather only a few and they do the dungeon once they find it. In the case of websites revealing the answers, assuming the task isn’t too difficult, and players only does a little of it at a time, then they are less inclined to look up the answers. Otherwise, there needs to be a random element, so that the answers on the websites wouldn’t be correct.
2) Reason to Interact – It can vary greatly: born out of necessity, social wants, or many other things. Solving puzzles, or interesting lore, npc character, boss, item, etc., all contributes to player communication and interaction.
Good Example: I’m going to use Dofus. This game has many puzzles that require more than 1 person to stand on tiles and solve it to open secret entrances. Once they reach the end, they are rewarded with an emoticon that they can use. It was great, random people just joined together to do the puzzles, and people would talk to each other, about either how to solve the puzzle or explain what it was for. This example is great, because even if a player has already done it, they still need to communicate with others to let them know, what they need to do also.
Bad Example: I’m just going to use DDO again with the same situation. A static dungeon, where everything spawns and acts exactly the same every time it is done, really causes problems. When someone does it a second time, they just rush through and there’s no communication, because they know how to do everything already and have no reason to communicate.
Now, I want to talk about COH again. I don’t remember which zone, but there’s one zone where random buildings get put on fire, and players can put it out (comparable to random spawn of boss monsters). The thing is, players in a group will work together to search for boss. But, in the case of the building on fire, it’s a one time thing. If the developers just wanted a subtle thing, where if the players see it they put it out otherwise they don’t seek it, then it works perfectly. However, if the developers want players to work together to search for it, then there obviously needs to be a greater reward. (The reason I bring this up, is because I was thinking about, “wouldn’t it be great,” if groups of players could be hunting around a zone, but also be searching for something at certain locations, which would make them think and decide strategically where they want to move towards or around while battling… So one situation may be like, “if I want boison berries, I’ll persuade my team to go this way, but if I want green crystals, I’ll ask them to go that way, all the while we can still kill giant zombies for other materials, or whatever…”)
3) Tools for Interaction - Anything that supports interaction: tools for group searching, animation, emotes, and anything that others can see or hear.
Good Example: The intuitive tool to search for groups in COH; display of dropped loot into a picture in Ragnarok Online; healing of strangers, who needs healing, etc…
Bad Example: (too obvious)