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The staff of MMORPG.com gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

Author: staffblog

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!