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The Social Hub: What Makes a 'Good' Community?

Column By Christina Gonzalez on February 18, 2013

It’s no secret that many of us who have been playing MMOs for a long time don’t often find anything that quite resembles the feeling and overall experience of one of our earliest games. That one when everything clicked into place – the newness of it all, the gameplay, the content, the goals, and the community. Everyone has that experience that brought personal attention to this genre. Probably central to your time there was a “good community”.  We keep coming back to the power of community. MMORPGs and the variants that have developed through the years rely on people, no matter the genre, the economic model, or the IP. So what is a “good community” and what might we be dismissing?

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Defining a “good” community can elude people because in its simplest sense, it’s just the group of people that happen to play the same game together. That’s an example of the raw basics. From a player’s perspective, one reason a definition can be so elusive is that it all depends on individual gamers’ experiences, expectations, and what they value. Some might value those that help you, will stop and rez you in a field, or heal, or who will give you a few mats when you’re trying to finish a new piece of armor. That might be the marker of a good community. Another player, more competitive, might consider a good community to consist of players that provide good competition and offer both a challenge to overcome but also good sportsmanship. For the PvP-centric player looking for an adrenaline boost, a crappy community might be one full of PvE-oriented crafters. There’s a reason why, even today, groupings from Bartle still hold water. And the way we are as people might affect our perception of good community versus bad ones.

As an aside, a bad community is also going to vary slightly in definition, but I think we can mostly agree that people who are rude, cheat, and have a consistent negative attitude are some things most dislike. Personally, a bad community tends to have a lot of PKers, killstealing, cheating, and people that are rude, resistant to communication, and otherwise immature and unwilling to help. This may differ from you if you happen to enjoy PKing. Or maybe you’re a trader, sniping others to the resources. 

A good Community...

The greater number of games across multiple subgenres available today, as opposed to 5-10 years ago, also affects the way we define our communities. For example, a game like Lord of the Rings Online, which has an RP flag, lots of emotes, a housing system, and set pieces in the world, versus a game like PlanetSide 2, which attracts an entirely different subset of gamer. Then there are games that have tried to bring players together again, albeit to two different opinions. Games like Rift and Guild Wars 2 with mechanics that encourage teamwork, but have been criticized for not going far enough. 

The League of Legends community illustrates the good versus bad community debate well. On the one hand, the LoL community has a wide range of artists and creative people that make videos, art, paintings, figures, edibles, and things like custom skins. Several organized efforts within the community exist to help mentor and play with newbies and help them into the fold. On the other hand, the community has a reputation for being full of ragers and those who will hurl slurs at other players. There’s a reason both the Tribunal, with punitive punishment and Honor, which is positive reinforcement for good sportsmanship and helpful players, exist. If you ask someone’s opinion toward the LoL community, it’s going to vary. 

No, absolute statements like “everybody knows…” don’t apply. And that’s the point. Things are almost like a language barrier between gamers, and we can choose to learn to either listen to each other or simply diverge. Much of the issue is in the fact what we think of as a good community is so personal. We’re not denying that there can be bad aspects to good communities and vice versa. None of this is black and white, only about the individual player experience. Too often, that is drowned out in noise and quick judgments.

A bad community...

For example, it’s not hard to find someone willing to call the WoW community terrible or toxic. It’s an easy target. Yet WoW has many, many players and most of them are not out there complaining. Some may even have a good group of friends they’ve met in the game. It doesn’t mean they all think positively about WoW, but on the internet, negative experiences often seem to outweigh positive ones, both in number and frequency. It pops up in discussion and in the anonymity of in-game chat too. Expectations and values, once again, will change the appeal, so perhaps we should be condemning a little less and listening to one another more. 

In this space, I will be examining community in MMOs and related games (so a game like League of Legends might pop up) – what it means, how it affects gamers and games, including topic like roleplaying, free to play versus sub games and community quality, and the role of guilds in 2013. Feel free to suggest something you might like to see covered. After all, this is about communities, and there is one right here, full of people with diverse experiences. As you might be able to tell from this piece, there’s plenty of room to explore perspective from all sides. And since no one person can be everywhere at once, if your game does something particularly awesome (or awful), let us know!

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