Can We Talk... Again?
A few months back I wrote about voice chat and my unwillingness to adopt it as my primary means of MMO communication. Things have changed, and even a comparative dinosaur like me can be brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century; and while we’re talking about staying up to date, there are a few things on the social and communication side I wish all MMOs would implement. Most games have some of these elements nowadays, but I have yet to see an MMO that incorporates all the social components that would make my life as a gamer easier.
I have a very large circle of MMO acquaintances; not as large as some people I know, but big enough that most of us are all playing different games at different times, and it gets increasingly difficult to stay in touch while we play. Even when we are playing the same game, chances are we’re not all on the same servers; it’s definitely an issue with a game like WoW that has a million servers, but I’ve seen people struggling to stick together on other games, like RIFT (though their free server transfer service is an excellent compromise).
So let’s talk voice chat. First off, I would love to see high-quality integrated voice chat in every game I play. A lot of games offer it, but from what I’ve seen it’s not always ideal. There are reasons for that, of course: voice chat requires bandwidth and coding and maintenance, and why should most companies bother when there are plenty of external options, like Ventrilo, already available? But Vent brings its own logistical issues: my WoW guild has its own server, but I can’t invite strangers into it willy-nilly. It is after all a guild server, not an open one.
There are cross-game social platforms like Xfire and Raptr, but I’m not terribly keen on those and not all of them offer voice chat. I really don’t care what my friends are playing at any given time, and I’m sick to death of the “X played Y for Z hours!” updates on Twitter; all I want is to be able to communicate with them when the mood strikes me. All the info on what games I play, what shinies I’m picking up and when I last scratched my butt – I really don’t care about that, and those social platforms make far too much of those (to me) irrelevant details.
And then, of course, there’s in-game text chat for the people who do play the same games as me. SOE was one of the first companies to implement cross-server chat and while it was rather unreliable at times, at least they tried. It wasn’t until they brought out the Real ID system that Blizzard attempted anything similar, and I still remember the privacy furor that caused when it came out. I’ve got a few people on my Real ID list in WoW, but I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. For one thing, I really don’t see why my Real ID buddies should be able to see all my other Real ID contacts – that’s a functionality I would love to be able to opt out of. I’m friends with Bob but I don’t actually care if Bob is friends with Charlie, whom I don’t know from Adam, and I see no reason why Charlie should be able to see my name on Bob’s list (or vice versa, for that matter).
On the bright side, Blizzard is currently implementing a way to do cross-server dungeon groups with friends on your Real ID list, which is a great idea. It bridges the gap, and it won’t matter now if Bob plays on Archimonde and I play on Icecrown. Still, you’d think that sort of thing could have been implemented oh, like 5 years ago? Of course, 5 years ago we weren’t tweeting and Facebooking and now Google+…ing nearly as much as we are now, so there was less of a bandwagon to jump on. Better late than never, and the more our out-of-game social lives creep into the games we play, the more we’re going to see features to integrate the two.
Several games have account-based friends lists (e.g. Real ID), which was also long overdue, but I do have a few issues with the mechanics. What I’d really love is the ability to opt some characters out of said list (which some games do allow, like CoX if memory serves). I’m sociable but I’m also an introvert and sometimes I just need to get away. Sometimes I need to be a hermit for a while, and it’s not a difficult feature to implement: just let me flag a character as invisible if you won’t let me take a char off the list entirely and voila, problem solved.
And while I’m asking for the moon, it would be great if games let me assign nicknames to my friends and/or account-friends. Again, I think a couple of games have implanted this though I can’t recall exactly which ones. It would be so much easier if I could assign BobTheUltimatelyMarvellous a nickname and use that when I’m sending him tells.
Many of the games I’ve played in the last 2-3 years have implemented some of these features, but none of them to my knowledge have included them all. And no, it’s not a huge deal, but sometimes it’s the simplest-seeming features that really impact one’s lasting enjoyment of a game (or of gaming in general). It’s like a game’s user interface: we don’t usually stop to think about the UI much as long as it’s passable, but there’s nothing like a bad UI (as with FFXIV, from what I’ve heard) to make you grind your teeth in frustration and wonder why you’re bothering.
But yes, I’m using Vent a lot these days, even if it’s just to talk to my guild mates in WoW. I’m sure the day will come when I adopt some sort of meta-game social platform so I can BS with my friends while I’m in WoW (or better yet, the TSW beta!) and they’re in RIFT or EVE or Hello Kitty Online, assuming I can find a platform that doesn’t bombard me with a bunch of stuff I don’t need or care about. So if any of you are experienced users of such platforms, I’ll gladly take recommendations!