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Social Interaction

Laura Genender Posted:
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Community Blog Spotlight: Social Interaction

Every Week, Community Manager Laura Genender takes a look at one or more of the entries being created in our MMORPG.com blogs. This week, she looks at Jimmy_Scythe's most recent entry, and discusses the social interaction in MMORPGs.

Jimmy_Scythe's blog, "An Onging Tribute to My Own Lameness", is rather ineptly named. There is nothing lame about the contents, and Jimmy's most recent post, dealing with (you guessed it) MMORPGs, is more thought provoking and interesting than "lame."

The blog post begins by exploring the MMORPG's undeniable relation to the MUD - and then, what is a MUD? "Imagine a series of chat rooms that are linked together in a very specific way so that you can only get to a particular room from a connecting room. The links between rooms are designed in ten directions... and each room displays a series of objects that you can interact with... Ultimately, though, MUDs are just collections of fancy chat rooms where you have to specify when you're interacting with objects or talking/emoting with another player."

Over time, the scale of multiplayer gaming has grown - some of our modern MMORPGs have several million players world wide. Players are given more social related tools, including buddy lists, guild systems, and a ton of chat channels. "Am I the only person that thinks this sounds a lot like MSN / Yahoo messager, ICQ and MYSpace?" Jimmy_Scythe questions. "This is the reason why MMORPGs hold the key to a future for the gaming industry. This is also a reason why gamers should be considered."

"It wasn't WoW that got the cover of Business Week and a write up in Time Magazine," continues Jimmy. "It was Second Life... Purely social web MMOs like Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin are making astronomical profits and headlines to boot... Up until now, MMORPGs have tacked community onto multiplayer games. In the future, it seems, multiplayer games will be tacked onto the back corners of online communities. See a problem?"

Jimmy_Scythe's predictions are worrying for our community, but I'm opting for a more optimistic view. After all, it's not long before the e-generation ends up running this world; who says that virtual environments can't play host to a variety of activities? Virtual worlds have the capacity to serve as commute-free offices, malls, meeting places, games and so much more. I don't necessarily see our industry being replaced, only expanded.

Yet Jimmy_Scythe points out a few games that have tried to combine actual gameplay and community focus, with lower subscription numbers to pay for it. A Tale in the Desert, for example, is an amazing game with under 5k subscribers. Puzzle Pirates is up in the 34,000 users range, but how does that compare to WoW and GuildWars? "The 'hardcore' gaming crowd is antisocial by nature," Jimmy explains. "Any game that incorporates social interaction as a major component of gameplay is doomed to fail with the core gaming demographic." Which, currently, is true. Your average gamer doesn't want to spend time on law, politics, art, community, etc - they want to kill mobs, and kill other players.

This is not to say that all gamers are hardcore on combat, but it seems to be a majority. Look at tradeskills in EverQuest, Lineage II or Vanguard - in these three games (and many others) it takes a great deal of effort to become a tradeskiller. In EQ and Vanguard, you have to level your skill up; in Lineage II you are confined to a certain race/class combo for most combines. Most players don't want to put in this effort, or roll a Dwarven Artisan, so they'll pay tradeskillers double or triple the cost of construction to get gear or houses or boats without tradeskilling.

More and more games today are gearing more to the solo player, cutting out the need for social interaction at all. And as Jimmy points out, even for those games where you need a group, you can use a LFG tool and have little actual interaction. Sure, the hardcore usually still join raid guilds, but is this for the companionship or because they have to? Developers have to force gamers together with the promise of l33t gear.

Part of it could also be related to technology. Coding killable creatures is easy, but NPC AI is pretty primitive. As AI technology advances, will quests and non-aggro NPC interaction become more important? I also see a linkup, here, with the MMORPG industry population. Developers have a hard time giving us truly group-centric content because it requires multiple people of the same level range, with the same goals, to be viable for players. As our industry becomes larger, will we see more community-goals, simply because we have more community?

I'm interested in hearing what other gamers think about this. What do you feel is the future of gaming?

Check out the rest of Bardoc's blog entries here.


Laura Genender