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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Difficulty Playing with Friends

Posted by MikeB Saturday September 3 2011 at 1:18PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread "Why can't I play with my friends" by jezvin. In the thread, jezvin discusses how despite MMOs being inherently social experience, developers often make it difficult for gamers to play with their friends as they progress:

"Recently, like most of the people here, I've been looking for an MMO to play with the most recent game I played being Rift.

And what gets to me more than anything is how inaccessible almost every MMO is to play with someone else unless you work tireless to be the same level and only play at the same time.

In rift we leveled at slightly different paces he had more free time at first. He got about 10 levels higher than myself. We could PvP together that was OK but when it came to questing he would be done with an area and I’m not. Basically we never were able to both work on our characters together it was always someone sacrificing some form of progression to play together. we did it but it wasn't really something we wanted and if we were far too much of a level difference we basically soloed while talking on vent.

Just looking around almost every MMO suffers from this issue. There are a few that have some things that work, such as ffxi with level sync, once that was implemented my friends are I almost always were able to play together no matter what. but ffxi is an old game where that doesn’t really work for quests.

There seems to be nothing out there where if two people logged on they could do stuff together most of the time. Sandbox games it's easy to do but why not theme park games. why is endgame the only time people can do stuff together, why can't I level with friends must we all do it solo.

I've been playing vanguard which has some useful things to help people level together but I still can't just tell my friends to come join without saying o yeah you guys need to catch up a first and then we can level together.

I had this issue with WAR RIFT WOW tons of F2P games, almost every theme park mmo in existence. I just want to enjoy an MMO with my friends why is that so hard."

Starpower feels this is less of an MMO issue and more of a friend issue:

"Sounds more like a friend issue than a MMORPG issue.

The friends I play with wait. They don't level ahead. If the game is THAT good, that they can't help but to log on. They play alts or work on crafting until we are all together. That's what good friends do

This is always going to be an issue in level based games. Mentor systems seems to work but are far from perfect. Your "friends" still possibly have to go through content they are already done with."

cali59 feels Guild Wars 2 is the answer to all of jezvin's issues here:

"Guild Wars 2.

The game doesn't have quests, it has events that run all the time whether players are there or not.  It's not like quests where you have to be on the same stage, you can just decide to help out or leave any time.  People get rewarded for helping after every stage, so it doesn't matter if someone did half a dozen things before you even got there.  The game scales up in dificulty with more people who show up, so it's always challenging no matter how many people are there.

The game automatically mentors you down in power if you go do an event lower level than you (you'll be slightly stronger than the content but won't be able to grief it by 1-shotting it).  You can outlevel your friends yet still meaningfully group with them in any event or dungeon.  Or in the open world you can sidekick them up to your level.

The events run on cycles and can be repeated (or you might see new ones in an old area) so you never run out of older content.

The game is purely cooperative.  You can group to make things easier to coordinate, but you don't even have to.  Everybody gets xp and loot for helping kill a mob or participating in an event.  The game is designed around making you want to see other people and there's plenty of other aspects which support that as well.  Should be not only plenty of opportunities to play with friends, but also make a lot of new ones as well."

Murashu notes that games such as EverQuest II offered a mentoring system that helped to alleviate this issue:

"EQ2 and I'm sure there are others that have a mentoring system so that no matter what level you or your friends are, you can still have fun together. As long as you keep playing games with the restrictive class/level system you will either be forced to have an alt for every friend or wait til everyone is max level to play together and both options suck."

I feel much like the OP does, in fact, I wrote an article on just this subject with regards to Star Wars: The Old Republic (and how it will be seemingly more difficult to do this in that game). I've never liked the notion of basically playing solo from level 1 to cap and then meeting up with your friends to do endgame content. I started out playing Star Wars Galaxies, which had no levels, and my next game was City of Heroes, which offered a robust Sidekicking system that made the issue all but moot. Once I graduated from both these games and moved on to others I realized that this was a major issue prevalent in most MMOs today.

Unfortunately, if the game is designed in a "themepark" manner, it's a pretty hard to find a solution. Themepark games focus on linear quest chains and someone that is just five levels apart from you may be on a totally different quest track than you and sharing isn't often a possibility due to the chaining mechanic. Games that focus on dynamic events, such as Guild Wars 2, will be able to avoid this issue as the content is open to anyone, so this may be the future for MMOs if developers want to re-emphasize the social aspects of the genre.

What are your thoughts on the difficulty of playing with friends? Let us know in the comments below!

aspekx writes:

im going to go with Starpower on this one.  when playing with friends i *always* make an alt to muck about with when they aren't online. even just online friends i do the same for.

and again a mentoring system can help, but there are issues to be overcome in avoiding its abuse.

then again, i do wonder that perhaps we worry too much about what others are abusing or not, instead of just enjoying ourselves.

i mean if only 5% of the population abuses the system, then i frankly dont care, b/c 95% are getting real benefit out of it. 

/shrug

Sat Sep 03 2011 2:02PM Report
joeri123 writes:

How can it be a friend issue? Everyone is diffrent. I usually have more time than my friends but I don't want to level alts or do stuff I don't like to just *wait* for them to log on....

If there is one thing to blame its the game(mechanics) itself.

I feel that GW2, if all works out well, will set a new standard in the social aspect (&more ofc).

Sat Sep 03 2011 6:00PM Report
Dengar writes:

The problem is the theme-parks IMO. Honestly, I've never had this issue in sandboxes. "End game" for sandboxes doesn't make a lot of sense since, for the most part, what you do when you start the game is what you're doing 1 mont, 2 months, 3 years from now, but with different contexts and tools. For example, in Asheron's Call 1, I was running dungeons for cool looking armor and monthly events. Before I finally quit, again, I was running dungeons for cool looking armor and monthly events.

In WoW's latest expantion, I did quests so I could reach max level and do heroics and RBGs. Quests are code for "grind," but at least there's a vague sense of story. RBGs are essentially a ladder match grind- there's nothing like it when you're leveling since even losers in the regular BGs get rewards, while losers in RBGs just get screwed. There's a big disconnect between the leveling experience and end game that just doesn't feel right to me still, even after playing theme-parks for years. 

Sat Sep 03 2011 9:06PM Report
VoxTrooper writes:
 I gave up on leveling with friends.
I am too efficient they are too slow.
I keep marching music they listen to youtube videos.
I don't return to town until all jobs are done they make frequent trips.
They bitch about lack of DPS while i level in tank spec for the fighting fun.
 
 Its both the game and us. I am always miles ahead of my friends because there is no reason for us to level together, it slows both of us down, he always feels like he’s being rushed(like a rabbit telling a snail top keep up), and trying to level together just makes things too difficult. Leveling is just grinding; i am good at fighting past the grind but bringing a friend pretty much throws a wrench on my plan of blasting through to 80 like no ones business. I honestly feel that’s how it is setup. Most themeparks indirectly punish teamwork on the leveling field in order to keep you playing longer and consequently subbed longer. That’s one of the reasons most people play it like a SP game. Because otherwise you are just holding yourself back.
 
  It’s odd because at the rate I level compared to my Elvish friends (and manlings) you would hardly think that streak killing shit across the countryside was a Dwarf.
Sat Sep 03 2011 10:09PM Report
Khalathwyr writes:

I agree. It is an iherent design flaw in level-based themepark MMOs. It is was fostered the "group for this quest and then disband" mentality that further drew a wedge between MMOs and their socializing aspects.

 

And as mentioned you don't really have this issue with sandbox type MMOs. That said, if grouping and more menaingful socilization is to make it's way back into MMO gaming then the sandbox design should play a significant role in it. It is more flexible, more <gasp> accessible for gamers with friends than themeparks.

Sun Sep 04 2011 4:17AM Report
Stormwind writes:

I always make an alt .. for one it lets me try a new character and if I really like one type I will make another of the same so that I get to play them all the time. 

I always wait for my friends to come online before using that character with them.  it is Like an old friend is just waiting for them in the wings to show up at the house ..

They come on say hello and I say one minute let me log in our hunting partner and off we go .. most the time I have played the content before so I am able to point out pitfalls and help move things along faster .. I never spoil the surprises though ..

EQ2 was the most single character friendly game I have played.  I could level just one character and then mentor down when my friends would show up .. 

I guess I would say if you have that much more free time to game then your friends do the least you can do for them is make double characters and play one with them when they are able to play.   You are the mentor ... you are the one.

Peace and game ON.

Sun Sep 04 2011 10:01AM Report
Blackbrrd writes:

The Secret World that's coming in April 2012 won't have levels, with a lot of horizontal progression (more skills available) and gear for vertical progression. Seems like it should handle this close to issue perfectly.

Sun Sep 04 2011 11:09AM Report
SaphFeathers writes:

I've learned to create an alt dedicated to levelling with my friend, generally a class I don't much like the look of. It's hard though, especially when I played WoW and was more or less out of character slots. Now in Rift I have a rogue (who I thought I wouldn't like) for levelling with my extremely slow friend. It turns out I do like rogues, so I'll be playing a second rogue as well.

An added problem with themeparks though is how repetitive they get. At least in WoW there are plenty of different zones, so you don't have to level via exactly the same quests (at least not until you hit lvl60). But in WoW 80-85, and Rift from the start, you are really tightly chained. Which doesn't encourage alts. You'd think the companies would want to fix this, given that the more alts people can role, the longer they're likely to keep playing.

Sun Sep 04 2011 1:13PM Report
Terranah writes:

that's why I liked the sandboxy atmosphere of precu swg...it was all about community and doing things with friends and when I logged on I just jumped into whatever folks were doing.  With the themepark, my friends are either behind or infront of me in terms of quest...so we end up soloing or pugging it.

Sun Sep 04 2011 4:33PM Report
Mavek writes:

honestly you cant blame this entirely on the game.  Sure the game doesn't have a solution to the problem but is it hard enough to work with your friend to arrange times to play together?  Is it also too hard for you to make friends with other players in game at your same level?  Socialization has been completely dismantled from these mmo's now that everything is soloable up to max level.  I understand you want to play with your real life friends but if they have a different schedule/agenda then why not wait until max level to play with them and make some new friends along the way?

Sun Sep 04 2011 7:49PM Report
HurricanePip writes:

I always though CoH had it right with their sidekick system.  You could follow story arcs or you could just play with friends and do quests in any order.

As a few people said above, a game ... MMOs need a purpose, but the genre has trended too far towards the heavy handed, limited player choice model.  I don't want a sandbox environment.  I have the real world for that, but newer MMOs do nned to allow more freedom and somehow provide a story and purpose, while still allowing people to play together.

GW2 seems to recognize this and I have high hopes for it given the generally good reputation the first game has.  TOR, on the other hand, seems to be heading in the other direction.  Maybe the box price will be worth it, but I have yet to see anything that would make me stay beyond that.

Sun Sep 04 2011 8:03PM Report
TheCrow2k writes:

if you make ana alt/alts to play in the time your friends arent online then this isnt a problem.

Alt'ing has been standard practice for a long time.

Sun Sep 04 2011 10:51PM Report
someforumguy writes:

I always think that any lvlbased MMO should have an apprentice/mentoring system. Or even better, also making your toons lvl automatically scale down to content lvl  like in GW2. Because this kills 2 birds with one stone. It deals with the ridiculous high lvl players 1 shotting low lvl content, and it lets friends play together.

Creating alts for this is a poor compromise. Why should you play an alt if you would prefer to play your main?

If SWTOR wont have an apprentice system, I wont play it.

Mon Sep 05 2011 3:15AM Report
someforumguy writes:

I cant seem to edit my last comment, so Ill add it here.

EQ2 has a nice system, where you cant only mentor a lower lvl player, but it also gives an exp/AA reward for doing so. So it is possible in a themepark MMO. 

Mon Sep 05 2011 3:19AM Report
Amaranthar writes:

As well as the Sandbox design, I think a good game needs to have community efforts that don't require simultanious play, such as building cities (or even adding onto Keeps, Castles, Holds). Community efforts can range from gathering large amounts of resources, to clearing lands, to searching for specific things (rare recipies or secrets or locations), to almost anything "to help the guild". Enhance it by design.

Mon Sep 05 2011 5:23AM Report
nobottters writes:

I have a friend who may play occassionaly but never does because he cant keep up regularly, He don't bother, if he could hop in and be helpful in the quest in the few moments he does, we could have loads of fun..

The answer is simple.. The developer that learns to build a MMORPG, without levels, but uses loot and itemization to complete quests and allows all areas to be explored based on requirements not dependent on time spent will be the next financially successful WoW Clone. Until then, everything will be mediocre same old shit

 

For example. Player one has a key to the red fortress, player 2 has part of a dragons heart required to get to the secret dungoen, and player 3 has the other half, they meet up at the pub and start on the quest since they have the required parts.. The quest allows up to 4 players so they bring one more party member with them. They have loads of fun and it had nothing to do with mage being level 50, and this guy being 50.. The did the lore research, found the objects and completed the amazing adventure, if adventures were modular new content added all the time and the game becomes infamous and never a bore and a community that requires one another.. Just a all around win scenario.

Mon Sep 05 2011 10:48PM Report
saluk writes:

Yeah, this is a general design flaw with the games. With the way WoW implements quests, and the switch from sustainable, group-focused content to consumable, solo-focused content, they lost something in the process. Back when we had to grind mobs, it didn't feel as wrong for a high level player to come grind with a lower level friend and help them get up to his level. In fact it was often quite fun to do so. But with quests, it feels more like you are repeating content you have already done (perhaps multiple times, if you have had alts) and feels a bit of a waste of time. It's not that you can eliminate the grind entirely, but to get friends to be able to play together, you need ways to hide the grind better and make both the player with the advantage as well as the player who is handicapped both feel like they are accomplishing something and that their time is better spent together than apart.

I don't know if level-bumping is really the answer - repeating content is repeating content, and you really should ask about the rewards rather than just the challenge. Designing some quests that are meant for high level and low level players to take part in is one idea I have thought about. You have some tougher mobs for the higher level to deal with while the lower level can fight off the weaker adds. You would have higher level players actually WANTING to go through the low level zones and find players to team up with.

More scalable and dynamic content would be a plus as well. Make the content work for my group of friends, rather than trying to force us all to play at the same level.

Tue Sep 06 2011 1:35AM Report

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