My last post exploring a phenomenon I saw in Rift created a swath of great comments that cross a broad spectrum of ideals. The issue was how evidential of, well, anything is the post-event public group scatter. My favorite was from coppertopper who said that the phenomenon was like “a comedic aside on a system that works so well, the only thing to pick on is no one stays around for a group hug after the event is finished.”
There is an interesting prejudice with what is required to “be social” in an MMO. “Social” at its base is activity in a group. Driving a car on a crowded freeway is a social activity. I can’t selfishly do what I want. I have to respond to other people. It doesn’t seem social since all the other people are hidden behind a ton of metal and plastic, but we are all acting as a group. We know that if we all follow the rules and remain within set social boundaries, we will all get to work more efficiently.
Public grouping is very similar. Players all have a task at hand, like closing a rift from another dimension. They know the rules. They know the goal. If the players all work together as a transient community, they all get rewarded. And, everybody is hidden behind an avatar, which poorly conveys many personal interactions. In Rift, Trion Worlds created a system to allow for what could be considered one of the most basic social activities in MMOs, simply acting together.
Communication can elevate the experience. In Warhammer Online, the best public groups I entered had group members join in for voice communication. Of course in a PvP-oriented game, the team with better communication means and skills has significant advantage with information flow. In a PvE-oriented game, the need for higher order communication is not as necessary. There is also a trade off because communication requires more time and energy, which is not always paid off with any useful results.
This past weekend, I embraced these lowest kernels of social interaction. Hartsman had long ago said that Rift was filled with shades of social interaction, and I realized that I was looking at “being social” in the wrong way. In my first public group, where I took down a minor rift with one other player, I noticed that our being social was far greater than the minimal because we were acting in concert. I didn’t need to target the same creature or use our pets to tank-swap, but it helped. At the end in a practically unfathomable display of social generosity, I targeted the player and nodded. She nodded back. Only a few minutes later we ran in to each other again tracking down a mobile invasion group. This time there was no superfluous communication.
Another rift, that I opened and was determined to complete, had an elite mob as the boss in the 6th stage. I was grouped with one other, slightly less skilled, rogue. No matter what tactic we tried we could not take down this elite boss that chewed through our pets and our armor. After the second death, I knew that the rogue was similarly determined. We ended up standing near the rift in silence waiting for other players to be drawn to the rift. Would communication have helped? Sure, but this social experience was definitely satisfying after finally downing the boss.
Finally, I don’t know if it was because of population surge or tweaking, but I took part in three Gloamwood invasions. The only raid chat I saw in one of the invasions was a linked word notifying the raid where the boss would appear. We took down the boss, received our rare tokens, and scattered. Yet, this time I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that we ignored the potential of greater social interaction. I reveled in it.
In the same post as coppertopper’s comment, SynCaine also wrote in his usually abrasive way that if someone is finding the social interaction of Rift’s public grouping events poor, there are other options. Dungeons groups, guilds, or roving quest groups can all give something more satisfying, if such a thing is desired. Without this personal need, just like World of Warcraft’s LFG tool, all Trion Worlds did was streamline social interaction to a point where verbal (erroneously read: meaningful) communication was not required. Guild Wars 2 might take that point further where players are grouped in hours-long event chains without even so much as a gratifying emote to a fellow player. Still a returned nod goes a long way in reinforcing the fact that social interaction was had.