My Chars

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Social MMOs

Keen has an interesting post about Bringing the Social Game Back. I had some comments but they became too long, hence this post :)

There are two main ways for players to interact with each other in an MMO: either by competing or by cooperating. Note that these don't map directly to PvP and PvE since you still have cooperation in PvP (your side's team) and competition in PvE (no direct example comes to mind but I could imagine a scenario or two).
There are also more minor forms of interaction, such as trade, crafting and chat.

I don't think Keen is right that the way to make MMOs more social are things like forced groupings, harsher death penalties or more "meaningful quests". The first only relates to PvE content and in any case anything which forces players to do something will end up alienating some part of the player base. The second is too negative - too much stick, not enough carrot. The third has nothing to do with social - you can have epic solo quests as easily as grouped ones. One suggestion I especially didn't like is the "No map / crude map" one. I'm sorry but it is never a good idea to make a technically worse game in order to force your players to work around those limitations. Some will. Most will leave for greener pastures, and with good reason.

But I agree that more social MMOs would be a good thing. How to achieve that?

* Provide strong incentives for player cooperation, without making it too much "stick" or too much "carrot". Examples could include better XP while grouped for leveling; easier game mechanisms (than WoW's - I don't know what other games have) for forming groups for group quests/instances/raids; a strong guild system with benefits for players the longer they stay in the guild; etc.

* Provide equally strong and interesting game features for players who prefer competition. This can take the form of PvP, RvR, PvPvE, or even competition-based PvE.

* Trade, crafting and chat (as well as other social tools such as ingame voice) can all enhance the social aspect without having artificial limitations (e.g. no auction house as Keen suggested). In a game focused more on PvE and PvP these will probably be minor, but there is plenty you could do even in such a game: special crafting mats which require groups to get; recipes which require active (same-time, no alts) cooperation between players with different professions to produce; The "carrot" to offset these limitation would be that the items produced from such cooperative efforts would be better than average.

I think a game which would combine all the above in a strong and polished way would be even more successful than WoW :)

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