I was reading some Koster posts linked in a thread:
and thinking about design elements that would encourage socializing.
Except more accurately it wouldn't be about encouraging socializing generally it would be about design elements that allowed the socializer types to socialize. Explorer types can't explore if there's nothing to explore, achievers can't level if there's nothing to grind and socializers can't socialize if there's no people so how does a game give them what they want??
Or firstly why does it matter? From a game companies point of view i think it matters because socializers provide retention glue. For me personally i like there to be a lot of chatter in the cities at least. I tend to spend a lot of my game time poking round in remote corners but when i come back to the cities i like them to be buzzing.
Thinking back over my game time the most buzzing zone i can think of was Kelethin in EQ1. (There was East Commons too but i'm discounting that as it was mainly trading.)
So what made Kelethin a good social hub?
Looking at the list on the second Raph Koster link Kelethin didn't have many of the things mentioned. There was no specifically designed game elements in place to encourage socializing. And this is telling imo. Socializers don't need any encouragement to socialize. They just do it naturally. So in reality the question isn't, what should games do to encourage socializing? It's what do games do to stop socializing. Kelethin wasn't a social hub because of what the game had done but what it *hadn't* done.
Of Koster's list i think the only one Kelethin had was this:
"Gameplay patterns with “loops” to them. We often speak of games in terms of reward loops and compulsion loops. But don’t discount simple travel loops. We are used to “string of pearls” style layouts these days, where you operate inside a connected environment, then graduate out of it. But bringing people back to a base of operations, kind of Spirograph style, is a sure way to make that area into a more social one because the loop will tend to start and end there, meaning that the preparatory and mythologizing phases of the adventure will happen there."
The city was in the newbie zone.
Not only was the city in the 1-10 newbie zone but there was an 11-20 dungeon hanging off the zone too. So the city had the usual banking, merchants, repairs, crafting etc elements but it was also the centre for a lot of players levelling from 1-20. If there'd been a 20-30 dungeon / zone hanging off it as well (which there sort of was but it wasn't very popular) then it would have been even busier.
So all the game did to make Kelethin a social hub was to make it part of the newbie zone instead of separate which led it to be a hub for up to 200-ish players doing their thing in one space. Large numbers of people in the same space will attract socializers and 3-4 socializers in the same space will automatically lead to socializing.
games like the cities to be big and impressive and that leads to them being separate zones. Personally i find it annoying as you have to chase round everywhere trying to find the merchant you want plus they usually feel dead. Historically early cities were very small and jam-packed and i think that's a better model for games for numerous reasons but especially for this socializing reason.
1) I think game cities should be small and compact and built around a central market area.
2) I think they should be part of a larger zone that includes the surrounding newbie area.
3) Ideally that larger containing zone should be directly connected to an 11-20 and maybe also a 20-30 dungeon or zone so there's a constant flow of players coming and going from those dungeons to the city and all in that same single space.
(This is looking at it from an early EQ perspective where the max level was 50 and getting from 1-20 might be 20% of a character's levelling to max. I can't remember the actual percentages but the idea is basically to make the city the most convenient hub for a sizable chunk of a character's levelling time.)
I think that one small change would have a dramatic effect on socializing.