Straight Talk: Tired of Social Rants

Important notice: This is a rant about rants, wooo! Also: I have adjusted some of my opinions on this blog over time, as some of the links provided illustrate. That’s because I am old and fickle!

One of the great MMO blogger evergreens is the (anti-)social debate; with the genre becoming ever more accessible and mainstream since its earliest beginnings, players new and old keep musing on the pros and cons of MMO gaming allowing for increased flexibility and playstyle variety. Stuff like removing role restrictions or shared loot, are dividing topics. Depending on where you stand, your “more social” is someone else’s “anti-social” and it’s very difficult to reach any kind of consensus. I hold with what I’ve said in the past, that the two approaches to MMOs can’t reasonably co-exist. A lot of this stuff is mutually exclusive and even when it isn’t, solutions are usually too complex for practical application. LFG tools in many MMOs are ‘optional’ but we all know what happens once they are introduced: they impinge on everybody.

Roger recently deliberated whether he has become a more anti-social gamer over the years. This struck a chord with me because I find myself in the company of many 35-45ish players who have at some point gone through that stage of self-evaluation. As commented in Roger’s thread, I personally do not believe he’s become more anti-social; what I believe is that MMOs have stopped enforcing planned cooperation via game design. I have made this case before at length and I still don’t buy into the whole altruism spiel, nor will I ever. Being “social” is absolutely an intrinsic quality – you either are or aren’t social. The rest is facilitated gameplay.
Then today, Eri followed up with a similar post, professing her disdain for shared loot in GW2 and the “entire shift” to self-centric gameplay in MMOs. I’m rather sure that even in my most hardcore raidleading days, I was pretty darn self-centric in pursuing my dreams of raiding and loot and whatnot. I faintly remember removing players who weren’t up to the task. But anyway, these posts made me realize something: I am so done with the (anti-)social rants. It’s like we’re stuck and never get beyond them.

darklegacy01

Year 4 in “A Decade of Love and Hate” – the natural progression of the MMO player.

I carry as much MMO nostalgia with me as the next veteran player, heck sometimes I miss the good old, bad days. They were bad a lot more than good but I am not always rational. In truth, I understand why things are different today and like so many older gamers, I need them to be different. My investment choices like anyone’s, shape what MMOs may or may not become. Inevitable fact: MMOs that are trying to survive, have to be financially viable. MMOs that introduce gatekeepers, forced grouping, fixed setups and any variation of limiting factors, are very likely not going to make as much profit on today’s saturated market. And no, don’t look at WoW – look at Wildstar or ESO instead. I am sure all of us would prefer having both: the freedom/flexibility and the social bonding experiences but it doesn’t work that way. Not in the traditional sense we are so used to anyway, where game design pushed us into talking to strangers, grouping up with strangers, cooperating with strangers longterm until they were strange no longer. Maybe in this new era we need to explore different ways, make more conscious efforts?

There’s a significant percentage of 30+ players populating MMOs today, players with bigger pockets, and they need gaming to fit around their lives, not vice versa. That’s okay! I’m not saying I like quiet party chat or mass-zerging so much either but any solution to these issues will have to either address that reality or remain fictional. If you’re against the social shift in MMOs, great! The solution however, will need to be more original than returning to what we already had. Today is not going away.

P.S. Don’t miss the full strip on “A Decade of Love and Hate” over at Dark Legacy Comics!

15 comments

  1. My feeling on this is that most of us never DID want the “social” aspects of MMORPGs to begin with. We put up with them because that’s what we had to do to get to the content that actually interested us.

    While I enjoyed my years of socializing and friend-making in EQ, DAOC and EQ2, if you’d offered me the choice back then of hot-join groups where you didn’t need to introduce yourself or talk to anyone I’d have snapped your hand off.

    I put the sea-change not with WoW (which was the sea-change for accessibility in many other ways but which still required a lot of socializing and networking) but first with Warhammer and its PQs and much more obviously with Rift.

    Playing that game in beta and for a while after launch was a revelation. It completely changed my expectations and made me realize I could have better gameplay with less stress. GW2 has taken it to another level and I firmly hope the trend continues, extends and develops.

    1. @Bhagpuss
      Hmm it sure is hard to say what most people want, but I am rather certain that at least some people prefer socialising (or maybe “heavy” socialising, if the meaning of the word is debated as well) and at least some people prefer soloing alongside others (or “light” socialising?).

      In my book the optimum would be games picking one or the other “niche” and more or less sticking with it. Personally I am with Tridus in that the move away from heavy socialising is the genre playing to its weaknesses, but I do understand that for people like Bagphuss this simply might not be true. If there truly is a demand for games where you specifically play alongside others (as opposed to solo or together-together) then this demand seems to be what public quests, lfr, etc. Is fulfilling. And judging by the numbers, this truly might be exactly what a lot of people wants, or at least what they think they want.

      I am a bit interested in whether the “actually solo”-RPG that plays a bit like an mmorpg (think DA:I, and maybe Witcher3) is going to be a growing genre. Also I would like to see someone take the full step and make a classic raiding MMO where there is (at least as an option) full-bot raiding. As in everyone else in your raid being bots/npcs.

      I would suspect a standalone game like that wouldnt do well, but I would think if it was to be introduced as a mode in f.ex. Wow akin to LFR that it would be immensely popular.

      Is the reason people play LFR that they really just want to solo raids? Or is there intrinsic value in the other players being actual people, even if you only rarely need them to be/see it?

      Personally i lean towards raiding as a premade group, or solo. I would love a solo-mode for raids, for when I do not have time for organized raiding (which i never do these years). I very close to hate the “sociality” that is large groups of people working together without communication.

      Ok that got ranty, sorry bout that.

      Shandren out

    2. I felt that way too after I finally quit WoW and spent some time in Rift. I think many did but the old nostalgia, especially the first-MMO nostalgia, is very pink. I *do* miss the intensity of some of those old friendships – or rather let’s call them cooperations. I understand why you keep looking for that once you had it, but I can never forget the toll I paid for that in terms of sheer time and nerves, either. It was dearly paid.
      That’s why I keep saying you can’t have both. However, you can definitely create social contacts in new, more casual ways and that need not be inferior. I think many players just don’t want to make the effort in games like GW2.

  2. People are still talking about it because it’s still a problem the genre has to solve to really progress. As I’ve written before, MMOs that are mostly solo games are just not that good. They don’t do ANYTHING better than a true single player game does it, and they do that inferiority at a drastically higher development cost.

    It was all those people running around with you also doing things that gave MMOs their magic in the first place. That’s the thing they can do better than any other genre. When the developers in the genre run away from that to instead make solo games where the other players are mostly in the way except when you randomly get paired up with people you’ll never see again and thus have no particular motivation to speak with, they’re running away from their strengths and trying to build based on their weaknesses. I mean, if it’s me and four silent other characters, why pay for all the server infrastructure? You could replace them with NPCs and if they were competent, many people would never notice.

    It’s not a coincidence that the genre as a whole is stagnant. We managed to paint ourselves into a corner in which games focus on doing the thing they’re worst at doing, to the detriment of what they’re best at doing. Until someone figures out how to get out of that without chasing too many players off, things can’t really progress.

    1. I agree that the coop factor is one thing that sets MMOs apart, although nowadays many online games really do also offer great teamplay experiences. Still, if the trend is what it is, you have to realize that it caters to a big audience that does not want to play MMOs the old, more time-intense way. MMOs didn’t just change over night, many of the changes are due to trying to accommodate more players; these changes *are* solutions devs came up with in the past to a real problem.
      You can absolutely be against all this, I just don’t see the point in the denial of some critics – I mean, just look at this comment thread where several bloggers prefer the way things are now. One can fight this or move forward and try look at new ways of playing MMOs and even new ways of forming friendships: not in the old hammer-and anvil way, but a new way.

      1. Yes, each step along this road was in response to a real problem. They were done with the best of intentions, and most of them did solve their respective problem.

        Collectively? They’ve combined to create a different problem.

        I mean, if this is really what players want, why is the genre as a whole stagnating? Why are players game hopping so often and so many of them so unhappy? Why are fewer games being made? Why is it virtually impossible to get most MMO players to pay a dime for a game that isn’t WoW?

        Fallout 4 comes out next week, at a premium price. It will sell millions of copies in a week. Multiple other single player RPGs come out successfully every year. When was the last year that an MMO with a price higher than $0 was successful?

        That’s not the sign of a healthy market. If what’s being delivered is just an inferior version of something else, the market is going to value it appropriately and that is exactly what seems to be happening.

        (There’s also the issue of how “sticky” a game is. For a sub game to work, people have to want to keep playing it even when the content runs thin, as players tend to use content faster than it can be created. Game hopping and “content locusts” are such a thing now simply because without the social glue, when people run out of content there’s no particular reason to stick around. That problem works just fine in single player games, as they’re expected to end. MMOs require ongoing revenue to pay for all the infrastructure and more development, and having people just leave after a month doesn’t work very well.)

  3. I’m gonna repeat what I said on my blog. I don’t get it. I just don’t. I have played MUDs since 1997. There are pretty much the same opportunities to be social in all online games ever since. I don’t have to be beaten with a stick of “forced grouping to progress” in order to *gasp* brave the horrors of socializing. Even for a grumpy hermit like moi.

    The main difference is that a) I had more time way back when to sit online for 12-18 hours and b) the games back then were designed more to put text chat front and center, rather than a teeny corner of the screen.

    Do more of a) and naturally, you have more opportunities to socialize. If you play for 30mins in this modern day and age, then duh.

    Regarding b), I was socializing in 2012 just as intently in my old MUD in A Tale in the Desert. Text communication is stressed in both, you have a small population that you see often and end up getting familiar with names, the game actually gives you time to type, voila, socializing.

    Every MMO, I have the opportunity to meet people. Oftentimes, they’ll start the conversation because I’m introverted that way and busy with whatever I’m doing, but all I have to do is respond. Some connections work out, some don’t, that’s how friendships and socializing goes, no?

    If I get antsy and lonely, I start combing through forums and apply for a guild to try my luck. Some work out better than others, that’s luck too. But you make the luck by being open to and investing the effort to begin with.

    1. Yep. You can socialize with people in any online game, but I think what nostalgic players are missing is the pressure and the hard times that almost automatically created bonds for them. It is by far the more time intense (and aggravating) way but it’s driven by gamedesign and there’s no denying it can form powerful friendships through shared ‘hardship’.
      The new way doesn’t do it for you. You get more freedom and independence but you also have to make entirely different efforts and think of new ways to engage people. In a way it’s almost more challenging. I absolutely don’t buy that people don’t want to be social anymore in newer games – they just don’t “need” to be. Isn’t that the more genuine situation?

      1. I guess I’ve played my games way too independently. I just refuse to ever undergo this ‘hard times’ pressure, because I find it a really insincere way of making friends or socialising.

        “Sorry, wasn’t really interested in you beyond you helping me to CR? Kill a raid boss? Heal me and keep me upright?”

        Even way back when during my MUD days, the friendship making and socializing came first before the hardcore elitism craze. T’was because I had friends who were happy to do the big raids that I got introduced to them, not the other way around.

        I’d CR with alts, or with a player who specifically marked themselves as a Newbie Helper, rather than feel like I was burdening or beholden to someone I had to be dependent on.

        I’m more likely to quit a game if there is too much forced dependency than try to get through it by making so-called friends.

  4. I’m finding it hard to really respond to this post, Syl.

    I could point to my own lack of guild involvement in MMOs as something that proves your point. That, however, is my natural reluctance to immerse myself back in guilds after having seen one guild rather spectacularly implode and another guild whittle away to nothing.*

    But if you see me play in some games, such as SWTOR or Age of Conan, I participate in Gen Chat a lot. The discussions in Gen Chat in those games –outside of the Fleet and Capital Cities, that is– is a lot more interesting than the constant stream of ugliness you find in other games.

    I guess it’s a whole lot of “it depends”. It depends on your level of involvement with the game, your interest in the community, and your desire to make contact with others. Just because you don’t have the time commitment to raid in a guild doesn’t mean you prefer isolation, and likewise some of the greatest asshats I’ve known in MMOs were high level guild personnel.

    It takes all sorts, I suppose.

    *I’ve been told that the old Alliance guild has had a revival of sorts in Warlords, but it’s hard to say whether that will last long term.

    1. Heh well, I think we agree then. :) You can still be involved in guilds and play with others in today’s MMOs, it’s a matter of what you want and have time for. What has changed is that you’re not forced to do it in order to y’know, beat the game or something.

  5. You call that a rant, you need some lessons in the dark side =p

    And I’d hardly call Wildstar and ESO proving that point. Maybe Wildstar pushed a little harder with social mechanics but the major issue with ESO was it’s single player questing. I honestly don’t think taking the safe route, and making less social mmo’s is the key you to more profit either. We have seen a pattern from 3 mothers to maybe a month if they’re lucky. That has to be indicative of something.

    Personally I think there is room for both if don’t well, and looking at the major hype around supposed sandboxes like archeage and black desert (which got the theme park makeover) tells me there’s a larger audience out there waiting for something like that than you might think. The problem is its all speculation, we won’t know until someone tries – although we do know what’s being done now isn’t working too well either.

    1. Haha you’re right – my rants have become too civil and reasonable over the years. I’m just not angry enough anymore. ;)
      And I also believe it can be done, just not in the same game. Niche MMOs are a good thing for this, although it’s hard to know how successful they can be. As for the few mainstream MMOs that are still around and try cater to everyone, they have to respond to a changing demographic the best way they can. Am not saying the current solution is perfect, not at all…..but it is a seriously difficult situation.

  6. It’s probably just my own insecurities, but it sometimes feels as if we’re not supposed to talk these days. LFR doesn’t need much coordination. A tank will talk to another about who is pulling and that’s about it. Nothing is explained, or expected to be explained, since we’ve all been playing this expansion for five years and know everything already. No one needs to drink for mana. Nothing needs to be marked. None of the pauses exist anymore. It’s just pulling followed by more pulling. Typing is taking from critical pressing hotkeys time.

    Saying “join a guild” is like saying “go make friends”. Friends don’t magically fall from the sky. Nor do good guilds. They take time, luck, and more than a bit of wasting time with horrible people. In the meantime, you can click on your garrison followers and pretend they aren’t just repeating canned responses for every other “General”.

    1. I agree. It’s easier to make friends under duress, because you ‘need’ them. From that PoV, MMOs today present the bigger social challenge. It takes different effort to get to know anyone. But believing that this is the way it must be because otherwise, people don’t act socially, is equal to saying that we’re really opportunists that only ever care to cooperate when FORCED to. That is a pretty sad statement and far from altruistic in my mind.

      As for the talking – as you said, big part of that is that we’ve become specialists in MMOing. The other part is that game design makes it easier too.

      Long time no seeing you on my blog btw. ;)

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