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Social Rewards in MMOs

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Editor's Note: This is a weekly column from our News Editor Garrett Fuller. Each week, Fuller will highlight new innovations in MMO gaming as well as smaller games that you may not be so familiar with.

Many of the sessions at GDC last week were very long, drawn out, two hour ordeals that put people to sleep. On Friday afternoon, I had some time to kill and decided to attend one of these ordeals. Jack Emmert of Cryptic Studios only had twenty minutes for his scheduled session. Wow, twenty minutes, what could he possibly hope to get across in twenty minutes? Jack's topic was called: To Reward or Not to Reward? How to Create a Positive Community in an MMO. Well, in the twenty minute time frame, Jack was able to present plenty of ideas to potential developers and even have time to answer a few questions. Here is a brief take on what was said.

Social groups are certainly an important aspect of MMOs. Your guild, corporation, crew, team, or whatever you call them, really help the lifespan of an MMO. Jack pointed out that many people leave MMOs because their friends leave the game. Knowing this fact, developers continue to push content and achievement type rewards for players. When what really keeps players in the game is their friends.

Jack pointed out some really good ideas to reward players for creating a better social environment in a game. People who bring in new players, found guilds, help other players level up or craft are very valuable people to an MMO. They are really driving the game play experience for others. When you build an MMO, you essentially are building a world for people to interact in. When players really give back to the game community, it is something that should be rewarded. They are helping make your world better for other players.

One of the big questions that many MMO designers struggle with is how to keep people paying the monthly fee and logging into their game. So far, many games have only used a quest/reward system or PvP system to achieve these goals. It is only up until recently that we have seen games like Vanguard issue a Diplomacy system into the game to encourage more social game play. I must admit that when my friends leave an MMO I too am very quick to follow them on to the next one. We all moved from Dark Age of Camelot to World of Warcraft back in 2004. We reformed our guild and made some new friends in the process. Many of us are playing different games now but will likely get back together again for the next big game that comes out so we can all work together on new goals in a new world.

While I enjoy solo or small group play in games, I also really do like being a part of a guild. Having run a guild for a year in Warcraft I know it is not an easy task. You constantly feel like you need to log in and help your crew. Whether it is questing or fighting or even just socializing, there is an obligation to be there. After the experience was over, I doubt I would ever run another guild in an MMO. The only reason being is time. I just do not have the time to put into a game to help others in that capacity. I certainly feel however guild leaders do deserve some kind of recognition for their efforts. It is not easy to manage a group of forty players on a raid. To calculate loot distribution and remain fair within the rules of the game world. As a player in the next game I decide to join I will happily join a guild and contribute as much as I can, with a healthy respect for people who run the show.

Jack's speech was short, yet it hit on a major topic in MMOs that I do feel developers should be looking into. Friend programs, master/apprentice systems, ways to help casual players and hardcore players work together are all great systems to implement into the social network that is your game world. There is always the debate between casual and hardcore players. Why not give them tools to work as a team and both feel like a part of something? I want to thank Jack Emmert for a short session at GDC that really made you think. In the future I hope MMOs look into the social aspect of their games much more and start thinking outside the box.