WTB Community, PST!

Back when I was a youngin’, I knew every one of my neighbors. I used to walk the mile to school every day, although contrary to the traditional story I wore shoes and it wasn’t uphill either way. I used to hang out with my friends down the street without my parents having to worry about me. Ah, good memories of that community. Lest you think this was some Utopia or small town, I should point out that I grew up on the south side of Chicago. Today, I couldn’t name the first name of one of my neighbors, despite living in the same house for nearly ten years. I don’t trust my kids to be 3 houses away without supervision.

What’s your point, Granpa Oz, you say? Things change, move on? Hang on there you whippersnapper; I’ve got an analogy coming. When I used to play EQ, it was for the community. I knew all of my virtual “neighbors”, and they knew me. Gear was frequently passed up and down on the basis of friendliness. People would help you just because. Many years later, that community is all but gone, and the game soured for me. One of my final rants against the Powers That Be was about a lack of “community focus” in my guild’s actions, which was shrugged off. The community was gone, leaving only a bunch of “me”s. Playing WoW, I fail to see any community at all, and I wonder if any of the newer games dawning on the horizon have even given it a thought.

You can’t program humans. If you could, my day job would be much easier, but it just doesn’t work out. Also that whole Evil Emperor of the World plan would move much more smoothly. Given time, even the most determined follower will rebel. In Real Life(tm), you wouldn’t strip naked and sit in a kiddie pool on your front lawn. Well, most people wouldn’t. Why? Well, besides the fact it’d be a tad chilly, you’d get in trouble for it. There’s repercussions. Your neighbors would call the police to stop scaring their kids. Online, you can hide behind an avatar. No one need know your true face. Male, female, androgynous – the avatar can be whatever you like. Introverts can be outgoing. Dogs and cats living together. Truly, you can be a complete jerk, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. If you really go way out, you might, and it’s a big might, get in trouble from the Game Overlords, but this is rare.

Flashing back to my early days in EQ, there was a strong set of community. In fact, I remember there was one person determined to be a jerk. Used to train the giants to the pier in Oasis, for those who know the game. Some of you people who haven’t played EQ for forever may wonder why we would hunt in Oasis – it was a great exp zone back in the Old Days. You know, when they used to carve the code in stone slabs. Anyhoo, this player was ostracized by the community. People would go out of their way to defend others against him. Eventually he left, simply because it was impossible for him to get a group to progress. The server’s community had shunned him. When he came back months later, they jumped right back on him. Self-policing, you could say.

Why do I mention this? It’s one example of the way that the community enhanced the game. There was no code to reward people for working together against this player. They received no gold, no experience, no quest reward, no title. Had they done nothing, the game would continue, unchanged. The same drops would happen, the same mobs would spawn. People enjoyed belonging to the community, which only existed in the minds of the players. It became the reason to play the game, not a side effect of it. It was a hook. To be financially blunt, people having fun playing with other people enhanced subscription numbers, and enlarged that bottom line.

Let’s look at WoW’s community event that is most popular – AQ War Effort. You turn in 10 of an item from a tradeskill of some sort and get a box. The box will have a random magic item and a buff scroll. Also you got some faction tokens. The number of the tradeskilled item that the server needs to collect to open the expansion decreases. This is called a community event. Did you feel involved in the community? I turned in items so I could make a profit, and it worked out well. I didn’t benefit anyone else. Take any communication that Blizzard sends out and replace “community” with “install base” and you’ll have the true meaning. There really isn’t a “community”, but you might have a tight knit guild. Although, in WoW, guilds are changed as often as socks, but that’s a discussion for another time. There’s no hook. It’s one of those immaterial things that kept EQ on top of the anthill for so long.

But how do you, as a game designer generate it? Ah, dear reader, that is the crux of it. Require too much player interaction and you’ll hear cries from those that wish to solo. Enable solo play and hear those decry your game as an RPG in a chat room. How do you generate a community that’s only advantage is itself? Is that even possible anymore? Or have they gone the way of the Orange Julius and all but faded from memory?

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Oz

Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

6 thoughts on “WTB Community, PST!”

  1. Pingback: Aeropause
  2. I don’t think you can have a mainstream MMO with this kind of community. But if your goal isn’t to extract money from milllions of people? Definately possible.

    Make the players actions matter inside the world. Imagine a game that takes place after some destructive event. Imagine a world where you build the roads: trails are simply areas that people walk across often, but to have an acutal road requires resources. Building a road gives you a speed advantage and allows hiring NPC guards to patrol it. None of this is enough to encourage a single player to do it, but a commnity? How about (re)building a city? Imagine the cooperation required to build up a bustling town into a full-fledge hub for commerce and adventure. Now make the whole world player responsive: players can wipe out the high level monsters near their town, finding them replaced with lowel level ones that the city guards can handle.

    Let the players run things: they research the new techs and items, they run the cities, they become the tradeskill masters that others have to seek out, they post bounties for that critter that keeps killing them, they hire out themselves to escort the herbalist into the Swamp of Evil Things for that rare herb.

    In short, give the players a world where they matter, and I’m sure you’ll find a community there.

  3. Hehe. You managed to post something I was working on a few days earlier than me =P.

    At any rate, that’s what AO has now for me: Community. Time and time again the AO community has had to come together in order to progress in the game, to have fun, to do lots of things. The community is tightly-knit. Sure, there are those who are ostracized and alienated – every community has those wierdos – but as a whole, you know one another.

    Yes, AO is a dying game. Therefore, it’s a lot smaller than it once was. But regardless of it’s existence, or lack thereof, status the community is always there. And it’s not just the players coming together. The Developers themselves are well-known to players. And, yes, we hate them for not listening, for having broken mechanics time and time again, they are listening to somethings and working with us. The community has grown and thrived as a result of interaction.

    I’ve been in WoW. I stayed about 6-7 months trying to stay away from AO. Time and time again I’d peruse the forums and see nothing but whining and flames. No friendly cajoling or mindless banter like AO and EQ2 have. It was pure animosity.

    Given the proper nuture and care (TLC if you will) the community of an MMO will most likely come together and police the game themselves. We just need the drive to do it. Content will be experienced together, black lists will form, all of that. All the players need is motivation. What motivation is there in WoW? You and six million other people are there. You can be a complete idiot and you’ll still be a face in the crowd regardless.

    What AO, the old days of EQ, and EQ2 have is a bond that is forged from a need to work together. When that bond is destroyed, when you know that no matter what happens you’ll still be able to participate, what need is there to try and be congenial with your fellow players?

  4. Whoops, sorry Fat =)

    AO having a strong community is a good example though. There’s really no reason, if I recall correctly, to need the community. i.e. you can survive without it. It adds an additional dimension to the game found in no code, and to me adds a personal tie-in to the game that makes you keep coming back. WoW definately doesn’t have that. Besides the few people I speak with more or less on a daily basis, I don’t have any vested interest in the greater population of my server. Even the most uber of uber guilds on there has little to no impact on the community, besides unlocking/finishing events that have a small trickle down to the rest of us. However, the game doesn’t seem built for community or even for long term play. Considering how easy it is to level, it’s more like a quick burn. I don’t think you can have both of those at the same time.

  5. City/World building definitely gives a sense of community – SWG used to do it very well. WoW fails to deliver on the community front for several reasons IMO.

    Firstly, the lack of any community tools, such as player dwellings, player cities or suchlike. The adventuring population of Azeroth are largely itinerants without a place to call home or a place to come back to. Major cities are social centres, true, but only because that’s where the auction houses are.

    Secondly, the sheer numbers required for high end raids demands that guilds themselves have high numbers of players. This in turn means that guilds will have to recruit anybody just to make up those numbers and “getting to know” new guild members takes a back seat to “how often do they come on raids”.

    As for new games? Well, Age of Conan is making player cities a central feature and putting a lot of emphasis on guilds as far as PvP and PvE sieges go so hopefully it will all encourage community. And failing all that, it has drunken tavern brawling so it can’t be all bad.

  6. I am the leader of a guild within World of Warcraft myself…but to be honest, the type of thing you describe here is precisely why the word “community” has in recent years become a particularly reviled expletive in my vocabulary.

    With regards to my guild, I believe very strongly in individuals co-operating with each other, helping each other perform various activities, and exchanging items within the game context. You and I probably are not at odds on those points at all.

    Where you and I definitely disagree is where you apparently speak with some pride about the large scale ostracision of a certain individual. Aside from anything else, such a practice is entirely unnecessary. Within World of Warcraft at least, a mechanism exists which players can use to screen out another player entirely at an individual level, such that they can in no way be communicated with.

    Note, however, that I mentioned that this mechanism works on an *individual* basis. I begin to suspect, however, that you are the type of individual who greatly values being able to manipulate group dynamics in such a way that a group of people will engage in the ostracision of someone else purely because you have dictated that they do so, and not, perhaps, because *all* of them on an individual basis have grievances with the person being ostracised. Your lamenting the fact that humans are not programmable in fact reveals your tendencies towards aspirant despotism in a particularly striking way.

    What in fact is being described, then, is not community in any genuinely positive sense, but rather what is customarily referred to as a cult. A cult is a group of individuals who have been “programmed” (to refer to your lamentation that programming humans is not possible…sadly, it is indeed very possible, and is widely practiced in contemporary society) to unquestioningly obey the dictates of a singular leader. It is also customary within a cult for ostracision or banishment to actually be one of the primary forms of punishment to be used with any person who deviates from the dictates of the leader.

    Sadly, I know of another “community” in particular which adheres to the cultic dynamics outlined above; the Linux “community.” Within that community, individuals are dictated to on a number of issues by a man named Richard Stallman, who you may have heard of. Stallman also advocates a number of other cultic forms of behaviour, such as extreme polarisation of opinion. (“Either you’re with me, or you’re with ‘the enemy.'”) He also makes the assumption that anybody using Linux is somehow answerable to him by default, whether or not individual Linux users have any desire to be.

    As I said, both this example and yours above are not examples of anything which I anyway consider positive or valuable. They are quite simply examples of informal fascism, which are perhaps euphemistically described.

    To me the only form of really valuable community is one in which individuals make their own decisions about what it is that they will do…any scenario where a single individual unquestioningly makes decisions for a larger group is entirely irredeemable in my own opinion. You might consider fascism to be a good thing…you’re not alone if you do. I for one however, do not…and I also believe that fascism *is* what you are describing here.

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