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The Meaning of Community

Jessica Cook Posted:
Columns Tales from the Neighborhood 0

One word that comes up over and over again in relation to MMOs is community. But does “community” mean much anymore to modern MMO players and developers?

It’s certainly a subjective term. Community is often lauded as one of the best features of MMOs, and veterans of the genre will talk about the “good old days” when we all had to rely on each other for crafting and grinding mobs and walking uphill in the snow. However almost equally as often you can hear someone say they’re avoiding a game because of its infamous community. It’s a double-edged sword that can retain players or push them away.

Developers too seem to be searching for the happy medium between too much community and too little. Just a few years ago shared resource nodes and mob tapping were considered part of a vibrant community, whereas nowadays any MMO that doesn’t support shared quest credit is facing an uphill battle of public opinion. WoW launched with guilds and friend lists, but new games come with additional community structures like circles or linkshells.

One interesting modern twist is that we no longer have to be in virtual worlds to find a community of like-minded gamers. Back in the days of Everquest, Asheron’s Call, and other classic titles there was motivation to form bonds with your fellow players because there weren’t many other places to do so online. Nowadays, though, the internet is one huge collection of communities. Perhaps we don’t have to log on every night to see our gaming friends because we can just Tweet them, or share animated gifs on Slack, or Like their status updates on Facebook.

In the loosest meanings of the words, any social networking site is massive, multi-player, and online. Arguably as social networks gain in popularity, MMOs are experiencing a minor identity crisis. If we don’t need MMOs to connect to online friends, to form virtual communities, then what do they provide that other online games don’t? Bloggers have been debating this topic for a while now, and there haven’t been any easy answers.

The definition of community, in MMOs or elsewhere, varies from person to person. Perhaps to you it means your guild, or your fellow bloggers, or the people from around the world that you can meet while playing. Maybe the word makes you think of particularly toxic moments in competition with your fellow players, or brings back fond memories of your first MMO.

What does community mean to you?

Highlights from the Blogosphere

Clockwork writes about Nintendo’s decision to omit in-game voice communication from their new FPS title Splatoon. Removing all ability to voice chat will definitely avoid the toxic chatter that can make other online games unpleasant for some players, but Clockwork notes that it definitely makes Splatoon less viable for serious, competitive play. An opt-in system would potentially suit every kind of player, but Nintendo has chosen a different route for Splatoon and there is something to be said for letting developers try different things and seeing how they work out in practice.

Publisher En Masse recently recanted a bit on their policy of blocking entire continents from playing colourful MMO TERA: Rising, and the change has blogger Joseph Skyrim wondering whether region locking is a good idea at all. To be fair, region locks are often applied to prevent distant players from having a sub-par, laggy game experience. While that’s an understandable development decision, Joseph writes that he’s had the pleasure of meeting people from around the world during his MMO travels and it’s a shame when locks prevent global experiences.

Last week Activision Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft lost roughly 3 million subscriptions, dropping the game to 7 million subscriptions worldwide. While 7 million subscribers is still a number that most other MMOs would love to have, and certainly WoW is in no fear of dying, fans of the game are wondering why the drop occurred and what can be done to keep current players invested until the next expansion hype cycle.

The blog Honor’s Code writes their thoughts on the issues in a post titled, “Why Am I Still Playing WoW?” While they say that the answer is simply, “I’m still enjoying the game”, the blogger also points out that the WoW Token makes it easier on one’s budget to stay subscribed in lean times, and the social aspects of being in a friendly, active guild are hard to give up.

Blogger Marathal definitely agrees with the latter point. He reviews his history as a WoW player since 2009, and concludes that he’s still driven by the same goals now as he was then: he wants to create a fun virtual place where people can make friends, have fun, and play how they want to play. If WoW fans want to keep their game healthy and thriving, then they need to work together to keep a sense of community and make Azeroth a positive place for everyone, newbie or experienced player, lowbie leveller or serious raider.

If you’re thinking about starting an MMO blog for May’s Newbie Blogger Initiative, Murf’s “NBI Story” post is a great place to find inspiration. In it he shares his evolution as a blogger, from verbose college student to his current role as a mentor in this year’s NBI. As he says, “the NBI teaches silent voices that there is a place where they can be heard and they should be heard”.

And that’s the news from the blogosphere for this week! As always if you see a blog post that you think should be highlighted here, leave a link in the comments or let me know on Twitter at @Liores.


Jessica Cook

Jessica "Liores" Cook is a longtime MMO blogger, fan, aficionado, and community goodwill ambassador. She hosts the MMO podcast Game On, and writes the weekly column: Tales from the Neighborhood. You can read more at www.lioreblog.com.