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Matt Miller: Newbies

Column By Matthew Miller on July 09, 2013

Everyone comes from somewhere. Practically every single player in an MMO was, at one point in time, a Newbie. They were brand new to the game, didn’t understand how anything worked and stumbled from quest to quest learning how to use their character and deciding if that character was even right for them. It’s one of the most difficult things for MMOs to overcome, and that is making a player feel comfortable with the game almost immediately. If the game can grab the attention of the player and not make them feel like they are lost in a sea of minutia then there is a good chance that game will be one that the player sticks with.

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But it’s not just the game developers that need to tread carefully in terms of catering to new players. Experienced players can make or break a game for people who are just starting out. They have significant power in this arena. Veterans can make themselves available to answer questions about the game’s interface or rules, and make the game that much more understandable to new players, or they can mock, berate, and insult new players to the point where they don’t want to log in anymore. Guess which one of these is key to the success and survival of your favorite MMO?

I can tell you with certainty that if the community of City of Heroes wasn’t as friendly and inclusive as they were, there is no way we would have ever gotten past City of Villains in development. CoH players were the best kind of players, constantly helping one another out, answering questions, giving out Influence (the common currency in CoH) to help new players gear up, and even grouping up with low level characters and helping them accomplish their missions.

When I played Star Wars: The Old Republic I was usually the one answering newbies’ questions on the Rebel Fleet; telling them where the skill respec NPC can be found, or what gathering skills went with what professions. A lot of times however, players would simply tell the person asking to “look it up” or be even ruder in their replies. I know when I am just starting out playing a game (especially if it’s been around awhile and it seems like everyone is a veteran) that I am wary of asking “newbie” questions for fear of getting the rude answers. I usually wait to see if someone else gets a polite response before I chime in with my own questions. I wish this didn’t have to be the case.

Remember, we all came to a game and didn’t know anything about how to play it at one point. For you it might have been launch, or even beta, or if you were lucky the “Friends & Family Alpha”. Doesn’t matter, at one point you had no idea how some things might have worked. Now you might have figured it out all on your own, which is awesome. Go forth and spread the knowledge that you learned so that others may benefit from your experience. If you feel the need to be a jackhole in your answer to a newbie’s question, just stop. Ask yourself what benefit comes from you responding in such a manner? Likely, you’ll get put on an /ignore list and there might be a point in the future where the person you insulted is looking for a group to do some content you are interested in and you can’t figure out why he isn’t responding to your /tells.

Now ask yourself what benefit can come out of answering politely and correctly? Well, you might just find new blood willing to join your guild and do content with you and your friends. You might get someone who can have your back in PVP zones. Heck it might be as simple as just making someone’s day a little less crappy than it had been up to that point. The choice is yours.

The other day I was watching over someone’s shoulder as he played his very first real game of League of Legends ever. He played the tutorial and was now in the lobby with 4 other people picking champions to go against 5 AI controlled Bots. I told him to let them know it was his first game and he was paranoid that they would belittle him. This is the culture that we as gamers have created. The word Noob is even seen as a slur, spoken in the same breath and sentences as other hurt-words. This is something I would love to see change before my son gets exposed to this type of behavior. I want to raise him thinking MMOs are a good and healthy outlet for expression and making new friends, and I think that can be possible with a little extra effort on our parts.

I’d love to hear your own “newbie” stories from games you’ve played, both the good experiences and the bad ones. Did you ever make a lasting friendship with someone who randomly helped you? Were you ever insulted when asking a simple question? Feel free to answer in the comments below, and hopefully we can see some positive examples of how helping out new players benefits everyone.

Matt Miller / Matt Miller is a 22 year veteran of the computer game industry and columnist for MMORPG.com. He was Lead Designer for City of Heroes over five years, and has "seen it all" when it comes to MMOs (but still learns something new every day). You can always reach him on twitter @MMODesigner


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