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Paragus Rants

Rants, reviews, and interviews from an MMO veteran and guild leader.

Author: Paragus1

Rant: Community

Posted by Paragus1 Tuesday January 15 2008 at 11:38PM
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Rant: Community

One of the most important aspects of our experience playing an MMO, or any online game, is the community.  It is the very nature of playing games online that we get to interact with other people in these virtual worlds.  Much like a story book, our travels will introduce us to a wide variety of characters.   Some of these characters are noble, others are fools.  These encounters can often time leave us with a bad taste in our mouths by souring gameplay.



It is ironic if you think about it, that one of the most important aspects of our MMO's might be they don't have control over when designing the game......Or is it?  Me and my guild had a lengthy discussion about the various communities we have encountered in the various MMO's we have played, and I think I have found a definite link between 2 specific elements of the game design and the community you will encounter in those games. 

1) Challenge

Ever see that movie "Indepence Day" where the aliens come down and attack Earth and try to exterminate all the humans?  Imagine this scenario happening in real life as silly as it may seem.  With all the conflict and bickering that goes on the world, if a new enemy showed up out of nowhere that was devastating enough to wipe out the human race.   I think it is safe to say that we would hopefully be able to set aside our differences and work together for our collective survival.  The same thing goes for MMOs.



I think of 2 of the hardest MMOs I have ever played are EQ1 and FFXI.  These are also probably the games with 2 of the best communities I have ever seen.  Both of these games had extremely unforgiving difficulty, but as a result, the communities of these games seemed to have a mutual respect for the shared struggle to make your way in these harsh worlds.  Maybe it was the death penalty in these games.   Both games had a very harsh sting which in both cases resulted in the loss of a significant amount of exp, the possibility of level loss, and corpse recovery naked in EQ1.  It could also be attributed the fact that getting anywhere in both of these games usually required you to have friends, and in a group oriented game, your reputation was one of your most valued possessions.

In the original Everquest, it was not uncommon to be killed deep in a dungeon somewhere and wake up miles or on another continent or pane completely naked.   Your fate rests completely on your ability to find some person in the community who is willing to go out on a limb for your sake, sometimes with the promise of little or no compensation.  There were many times where I would find myself in need of a good old fashion corpse summon and the community would always produce a good soul willing to help out someone in a bad situation.



In FFXI, the community shined in a completely different way.  There are many times in the course of your FFXI career where one is forced to complete certain quests which can often times be of infuriating difficulty.  Having to do quests every 5 levels starting at 50 to raise your level limit, and trying to obtain the vital piece of your classes set armor would often time put you against horrible odds, but send you to places so far away, and so horrific that you don't even dare speak of them out loud.  To make things even more difficult, half of the people on your server speaking a different language can make getting assistance even harder.  I was completely stunned by how selfless so many people were in this game.   Complete strangers offering to help with quests without asking, and others would often times come from many zones away with no reward.  Say what you will about FFXI, but they have the most helpful community of any MMO I have played to date.



2) Complexity

Not all MMO's are created equal in terms of complexity.  Some like WoW are marketed to the newcomer to the genre.   Others like Anarchy Online have a staggering amount of depth that is certain to make even the most seasoned veteran struggle to wrap their mind around all of the ways to develop and advance your character.  I don't know if its the staggering amount of skills, the implants, the equations that make up each stat, but there is definitely something about a game with this much depth that seems to keep the idiots far away.



I suspect that people playing complex games like AO want others to enjoy the game as much as they do.  Games with this much customization can often times scare off new comers if the learning curve is too high.  From my own personal experience, the community in Anarchy Online was always able to produce a person who was willing to make sure I enjoyed the game by helping to explain to me the complexity of the options I had for character customization and navigate its massive world.

Challenge + Complexity = Community ?

When you compare these examples to a game like WoW, the contrast couldn't be larger.   I played WoW for a solid 2 years, and as a guild leader, I have crossed paths with some amazing idiots.   Now now, before you flame me, I understand everyone has a different experience, but I am writing this from my own viewpoint and experiences. 



Maybe some people out there think WoW is a collection of intellectual scholars. I personally think that the community on the servers I played on was going to inflict a permanent loss of IQ points after every log in.  But if you look at the way the game was designed, it is obvious that the game is made so that a 10 year old can play it easily.  The death penalty is virtually non-existent so there is no real shared struggle.  In fact, on many servers I found myself hating the people on my side more then the other team because of the never ending e-peen contest to see who could kill what gimmicky raid boss.

If you made it this far, I salute you!  I am curious to hear about your experiences in any of the MMOs I have mentioned here, but more importantly the ones I haven't.  I'm sure many people will flame me, but again I have made this theory based on my own adventures.  If there is some truth to this, it looks like the developers might have a bit more control over their community than they think at the design phase.



Co-Leader of Inquisition

Mitnal writes:

well said

Wed Jan 16 2008 1:01AM Report
Kedoremos writes:

There is one exception to your Challenge + Complexity = Community equation: EVE Online. Their community is just okay but the game is horribly complex and, as I'm sure you're aware, the death penalty is a very big deal.

I would ammend your equation with the following: Challenge + Complexity + Required Other Player Interaction = Community.

In EVE you're not required to group. There's always something else you can do solo in the rare event you actually need help with something. And the most important part is that your skills train by themselves - you don't actually have to do anything to keep them training (no XP gain).

Wed Jan 16 2008 7:57AM Report
Paragus1 writes:

Its ironic that you would bring that up.   We were actually discussing in guild the idea that games that are group oriented or forced grouping might also add a lot to the community.   On the one hand, it increases your need to maintain a good rep with other players, and at the same time you will often find yourself interacting with people almost every single time you need to do something.   Both EQ1 and FFXI (examples I used) are group oriented.

Wed Jan 16 2008 8:02AM Report
Kyleran writes:

I concur, the games you mentioned had better communities due to the forced grouping aspect of them.  When I played DAOC back in the early days you just had to group to progress, and it fostered a very helpful community.  My first character was an Infiltrator (stealther) and although my usefulness in group was much less than other characters, I frequently found kind souls who would take me in their groups.  

You mentioned EVE, and it had a great community out in the 0.0 section of space, where people really rely on each other for survival.  But back in Empire where most people solo, it pretty much is obnoxious just like most other solo friendly games.


Wed Jan 16 2008 9:15AM Report
Paragus1 writes:

DAOC did have a pretty good community.   I think it has a big part to do with the shared mutual struggle against the other 2 teams, something that WoW really failed to capture.   It could be the fact that there were capturable objectives that made a difference for your realm, or the fact in many cases a certain team was vastly outnumbered.   That kind of environment leaves very little room for squabbling among the people on your team who would ultimately fighting besides you in PvP.

Wed Jan 16 2008 10:00AM Report
Jaradiel writes:

As someone once said, "Humans, when presented with enogh choices, will tend to limit themselves to an inefficient subset or none at all" seems to apply as well. The more complex a game is and the more choices you have to make during the game would tend to keep the less intellectually endowed away as they are unable to grasp what to do. Since the game would then be comprised of fewer (for lack of a better word) fools, conversations usually become more polite and this invites providing help to people who ask for it. I know I'd never help anyone blurting out "u hlp me" but I'd go out of my way if someone asked "Could you please provide some assitance with ....?".

Wed Jan 16 2008 11:33AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

I will completely agree that the more people solo in a game, the worse the community.  But I would draw a distinction between the ability to solo and the attractiveness of soloing.

CoH had a pretty good community for a long time, but it has begun to deteriorate.  It's not a forced-grouping game, but until recently it was a very team-friendly game, meaning it was (and still is) easy to find, create, and join up with impromptu teams, and there were (but are no longer) some very compelling reasons to team up.

So I'd say "group-encouraging" is sufficient.  Too many players balk at the idea of "forced grouping."

The death penalty in CoH is fairly middle-of-the-road.  It doesn't make you less effective (there's no equipment to lose), but the XP debt can  add up fast.

One thing that makes people want to work together in CoH is the interdependence of archetypes (classes).  All of them can solo, but missions and XP gain can take an eternity for many classes.  Everything goes much faster in teams, and even better in a balanced team.  Also, a lot of the very best powers in CoH are team-oriented, and it seems like such a shame never to get to use them, thus teams are more attractive.

So maybe add "class interdependence" as a corollary to "group friendly game mechanics"?

Wed Jan 16 2008 1:14PM Report
Litchfield writes:

Rant on friend, good read

Wed Jan 16 2008 3:01PM Report
JB47394 writes:

Consider formulas using two other parameters:

1. World size.  In a small world, players bump into each other.  They have opportunities to interact.  In a large world, players don't even see each other unless they have a reason to take the effort to interact.

2. Individual versus community goals.  In a game with individual goals, players focus on their own goals and ignore others if they can.  In a game with community goals, all players are working to achieve the same ends.  As you say, challenge is one way to introduce community goals.

EverQuest was a small world with individual goals (leveling).  The community goals came about as you describe them, but the primary focus was on individual goals.

World of Warcraft is a large world with individual goals (leveling).  In some ways, it is a reaction to all the things people complained about in EverQuest.  They took out the forced grouping and nasty death penalty because they annoyed players.  But they didn't replace them with something that would naturally bring players together.  Emphasis on 'naturally'.

In my opinion, an ideal game would localize players and give them something in common to do.  There may be individual goals mixed in there, but the lion's share should be community goals.  This doesn't require grouping.  Formal grouping is used so that individual goals can be respected.  How else can we know who gets what?

There's a lot to be said in favor of the complexity argument as a means of encouraging community.  I could say more, but I don't want to make my comment as long as your article  :)

Wed Jan 16 2008 7:24PM Report
Paragus1 writes:

LOL, thanks for contributing none-the-less JB.   I always thought the world of FFXI, especially at this point was rather large.  Anarchy Online and EQ1 also have a pretty decent size world, but I suppose the fact that much of it is empty most of the time due to gathering hubs plays a role.

WoW actually seems to me to further divide its community at the end game by sending people to instances to raid.   The fact that tey are instanced means that most of the time you will be interacting with your guild and not outsiders.   It isn't like FFXI or EQ where you can wander into an epic area or a dungeon and see other people roaming around.

A death penalty should annoy players.  It is the worst possible thing that can happen to your character in an MMO.   I elaborate on this in a previous rant focused on the topic, but a weak death penalty marginalizes the games challenge.   This leads to a community lacking a shared common struggle against harsh odds.

Good ideas though so far, keep them coming!

Wed Jan 16 2008 9:47PM Report
JB47394 writes:

Paragus1, your instincts match my own in this area.

My comments about a large world are fundamentally about the frequency with which players find themselves interacting.  A geographically large world is just a more intuitive way to understand that notion.  In a game, there are many factors that contribute to this interaction frequency.  I've never played Final Fantasy XI, but I'm sure there's something in the game that ensures that players find themselves faced with interactions pretty frequently.

Instance raiding has its good and bad points.  Yes, it isolates groups, but at least they are groups.  It is taking a page from EverQuest by requiring grouping.

After reading your article on death penalties, I see that we diverge dramatically there.  I also wrote on it, so I invite you to read that.

Thu Jan 17 2008 9:47AM Report writes:
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