Avoiding the “Massively”

X is a problem with the community or structure of a game such that others can have a large negative effect on your gaming session. Usual recommendations: solo, bring your own friends/group, avoid potentially risky (i.e. anything involving gameplay) interactions with others.

I keep saying that if game Y is fun so long as you bring your own group of people, almost anything is fun if you are just using it as an excuse to hang out with your friends, so the game is contributing nothing. You could randomly pick any of dozens of options, and you will probably be better served by playing something other than an MMO. But most folks seem comfortable with this equilibrium in which we are contact with building gated communities within gated communities instead of pushing for pro-social game designs. This pushes me away from MMOs, because what’s the point without that first M, and into lobby-based games where we get up to 4 friends together, done.

On one hand, this is a natural consequence of the Hell that is other people. On the other, shouldn’t we expect better?

: Zubon

17 thoughts on “Avoiding the “Massively””

  1. Perhaps there’s some kind of unhealthy attraction to the notion of being “alone together”. Thus people play MMOs who have no intention of socialising with their fellow gamers. Maybe it’s as simple as having other real people present in our virtual world lends it a degree of meaning and significance that it otherwise wouldn’t have.

    Human evolution has relied on cooperative behaviour, of living and working in groups; our current society favours isolation. Virtual words provide a way of having both: in effect, we’re still safely isolated, and yet in a crowd.

    If that’s the case, WoW’s model of providing viable solo play was all that was needed to make their game so attractive.

    Just idle thoughts…

  2. You might want to check out Guild Wars 2, which is nearing the end of development and is slated for Closed Beta in November or December.

    The game was designed from the ground up to eliminate a lot of the ways that typical MMOs fail to encourage cooperation and rather foster anti-social behavior.

    Some of the ways they have addressed this are:

    1. No mob tapping or kill stealing. Everyone, grouped or not, who does a minimal percent of damage to a mob (5% to 10%) gets full XP and their own individual loot, both at the same level as if they had defeated the mob alone.

    2. Rather than traditional quests, the PVE content is mostly in the form of Dynamic Event chains that branch and cascade through out each game zone. Events scale up with more players, offering more challenge and reward. At the completion of the event, in addition to mob xp and loot, everyone gains a reward based on their level of participation vs. predetermined thresholds, adjusted for the number of participants. The rewards are issued whether players succeed or fail the event and you aren’t competing with others for a finite number of reward slots.

    3. The game does away with the “holy trinity” of class roles; tank, dps, heals. It also allows any class to fulfill any role situational, with some skill swapping mid combat. There are no dedicated healers. Group combat requires players who are good at playing various roles that their class allows and adapting continually to the ongoing situation of an encounter or series of encounters.

    No more waiting for a particular group build to tackle content. People can successfully group together, no matter what combination of classes they represent, with player ability and cooperation being much more important than class. This removes some of the barriers to grouping that other games create.

    4. The game has an advanced side-kick system. Characters are always automatically scaled down in level for content that is a lower level than they are. This makes it easier for friends of different levels to group meaningfully for content of any level. It also prevents higher level characters from going to lower level areas to trivialize content for lower level players there. There is also an active side-kick up system when grouped with a higher level friend to take on higher level content. Once again, serious barriers to cooperative play are negated.

    5. There are no targeted heals or buffs. They are proximity or area of effect based and effect other players, grouped or not. This allows active cooperation for world content with out the need for active grouping.

    6. There are no factions in Guild Wars 2. All players on the same server, regardless of race, are friendlies. There is a massive, persistent world based PVP game, called World vs. World vs. World. This is where three game servers are pitted against each other for a two week war that takes place in a large, four zone region that contains villages, mines, forts, towers and other resources that can be captured and held, along with dynamic events and other shared goals beyond racking up raw kill counts.

    The winning server earns a server wide reward at the end of the two week war and then new groupings of three servers are assigned, with the goal of grouping servers of similar prowess against each other. This builds a server wide community with a common goal, while also eliminating situations were players on the same server are in an adversarial relationship with each other.

    Everyone is auto side-kicked to level 80, though they still have their own gear and skill unlocks. A true level 80 would have a gear and skill selection advantage over a true level 30, but a skilled level 30 would still have a chance. This helps to level the playing field and greatly decrease opportunities for griefing.

    7. There are 5 man dungeons in the game, rather than raids. Though some world events scale up to handle 10 to 100 characters, providing a PVE outlet for mass combat, organized group raids don’t exist in the game. Successful completion of these dungeons requires smart game play and cooperation, rather than a particular mix of classes. A good group of any class mix can be successful, making group formation easier and more inclusive.

    Mob xp and loot work the same way as they do out in the world, full xp and loot for all. Completion of the boss encounter awards all players a token which can be traded for gear of their choice, rather than random drops of epic boss gear that place players in competition with each other and often leave some participants with out any boss level reward.

    8. All classes have self heals. All classes can rez other players (and even some npcs) with out limit. Players aren’t forced to chose a class based on a need for a healer or someone who can rez. This also takes pressure of people who prefer a support role in MMOs, as no one individual can be blamed for failure of a group because they were perceived to have failed at some niche role.

    9. There is no real death penalty in the game. No debuffs or XP loss. Upon death, players can teleport to a nearby way point (which are liberally scattered across each zone) or wait for another character to rez them. This minimizes the negative aspects of group wipes, as well as griefing opportunities in World vs. World.

    These are the main design features that have specifically been implemented to address MMO game design flaws that in other games tend to discourage cooperation or encourage griefing.

    If the game is successful, hopefully other future games will learn from GW2’s innovative game design, duplicating these features or coming up with their own solutions to the many community and cooperative play issues that result from standard MMO design.

    1. Just to play Devil’s Advocate:

      1. This encourages twinking unless the XP and loot are scaled to the your level instead of the mobs.

      2. The event system has to scale to VERY few numbers to avoid the problem Warhammer Online and Rift ran into: noone else around. Ironically, having multiple ways to achieve the event actually discourages grouping.

      3. Removing the roles means you are no longer “forced” to bring anyone along. Players will find or invent some metric of player skill and use that to determine who they will bring. Generally, the new players will be left out.

      4. Same point as number 1. Sidekick-up encourages twinking characters (particularly alts) and has power problems (Do I get all the skills I would have at that level? Is my gear just as good as a character at that level? If all this scales perfectly, gear and skillsets tend to be boring.) Sidekicking-down also causes power issues (maybe I have a unique effect that you can’t get until higher level/better gear; do I keep that effect?).

      5. This encourages grouping only with those that bring a different buff. This is the reasoning behind Blizzard’s “bring the player, not the class” changes to allow multiple characters to have the same buff/debuff. If buffs are interesting and unique, you will be shunned if someone else in the ground already has that role. If they are fulfilled by multiple roles, then they feel boring.

      6. Sidekicking issues are only magnified in a PvP environment. Not having the full toolset because you aren’t actually level 80 has much the same implications as joing a battleground in WoW on the low side of the level range.

      7. The higher a demand for player skill (as opposed to character power), the more likely groups will be selective of who they bring along.

      8. Support roles will still get blamed for not bringing enough support, unless they do as much dps as the dps classes. In which case, why bring a pure dps class? If everyone has some kind of utility, the “non-optimal” utilities will be thrown out.

      9. This encourages griefing via suicide in group runs (look at the MOBA games for what happens when there’s no significant death penalty).

      Every design decision has downsides. I’m glad that Arena.net have taken the time to think about the issues the current market has, I just hope the playerbase doesn’t spend too much time looking for ways to break it.

      1. “I just hope the playerbase doesn’t spend too much time looking for ways to break it.”

        Two chances of this happening: fat and slim. Expect wikis dedicated to breaking the system before the game even goes live.

        1. You win one (1) Internet, in your choice of colours: Love That Pink, Blase Apricot, or Persian Melon.

          If you void where prohibited by law, stoop and scoop.

        2. It’s funny and sad that we’ve seen this same roller coaster many times before. I remember the same exact hype from players for Warhammer Online and the Public Quest system, and then again for Rift. How is it that a game the vast majority of us haven’t played can do no wrong?

          (Just as a disclaimer, I’m looking forward to playing GW2. But I’ve been here too many times to get super hyped about it.)

          1. “How is it that a game the vast majority of us haven’t played can do no wrong?”

            Precisely *because* the vast majority of us haven’t played it. Once people actually get their hands on it, the game’s flaws will become readily apparent; as long as it only exists as hype it can remain perfect, like an airbrushed model in a magazine.

  3. I’d like to add that when you are auto scaled down for content, you still earn xp and loot close to the level you would receive doing on level content.

    The game world is very dynamic as a result of the branching, cascading Dynamic Event Chains. Some event results produce obvious and persistent changes to the game world. Buildings and structures may be destroyed, or built; npc vendors may appear or disappear; mob distribution through out the zone will change; also, some DEs may open up areas of the map, underground caverns or other content that can not be accessed otherwise.

    This means that every time you revisit a zone, the state of the zone and the content available may be very different than your last run through. This further negates the negatives for someone scaling down in level to join a friend for lower level content.

    (There is even some dynamism to Dungeons, with DEs and even random events having the ability to alter each play through).

    1. For your killer summary of GW2, you win the internet!

      On topic: Sometimes, I think we have this influx of “massively single-player” because it’s simply more profitable.

      Transients who would rather not commit to a structured length of time far outnumber those willing to. Building social relationships requires repeated contact with the same people over time, and accountability. Bottom line, it takes time and patience.

      1. As odd as it is – I think EQ had this down – forced grouping – impossible to solo most times – and vast public shared dungeons.

        All of these things forced the players to form communities – and even if you didn’t guild with the others players you got to know them – especially with the enforced downtime which left you time to socialize instead of ‘gogogogogo’

        Many things they did were negative (kill stealing – stupid long camps for no real reason etc.) however I think players on the whole blamed the symptoms (3 days of camping one spot (in rotation) for a cleric epic… wtf) and perhaps as a result design tossed the baby out with the bathwater.

        I’m thinking instanced content is great – but there is a large amount of room for more ‘public dungeons’ that get people together and force people to actually get to know each other – that is untapped.

        I also think that (while EQ was perhaps too much) there is room for forced downtime which encourages people to talk. WoW *used* to have this – in very small amounts – requiring eating and drinking after almost every encounter. These days in almost every game I play it’s keep going they’ll catch up – because no one *has* to wait.

  4. The MMO community has changed so much since I first started with The Realm in 1995, that I no longer wish to deal with these people at all. My experiences have taught me that MMOs are social nightmares — havens for the mentally ill to hide their diseases from society. (I wish I was joking.)

    Yes, the way these games are designed has a lot to do with it. DAoC’s RvR, and by extension, WAR’s similar system encouraged people to band together, regardless of gear/level/experience. This is what “massively” should mean, not elite guilds, cliques, or soloing questlines.

    That having been said, I’ve grouped exactly once in SWTOR beta. While it was not an unpleasant experience, the holy trinity pretty system much guarantees that I won’t be doing that again very often, if at all. And once I’m done with my chosen class’ storyline, I’m out, only to resub when they add more storyline content. In beta, I’m playing the Imperial side so as to not spoil any Republic for launch, because, while yes, the main storylines are different for each class, there is quest overlap on the same side.

    I play LotRO the same way, now that they have made the main questline soloable. You can bitch and complain all you want that making quests soloable ruined the MMO, but it was the way the community treats itself that did that, sorry.

  5. You know, I live in a large metropolitan area because of the opportunities it offers, not because I want to hang out with strangers all the time. Guess what, when I go out in real life, I go out with my friends as well. I don’t go to a bar or a concert and join a random group of people to hang out with. I might occasionally meet somebody who becomes a friend… but I do that in MMOs as well. It is rare, but it happens.

    Complaining that people don’t socialize enough in MMOs is like complaining that people always buy the same thing at the grocery store. I like that our local grocery store has a large selection. It is there if I want it. But the shopping list always has milk, mayonnaise, ground beef, and so on, and that is all I want most days.

    But complaining as though people are letting down the team because they don’t dive in and play with whoever happens to be standing next to them is like complaining that I should buy that new chocolate chipotle glaze to help keep the store diverse. I’m there to serve my needs, not those of the game or the store.

    “if you are just using it as an excuse to hang out with your friends, so the game is contributing nothing. You could randomly pick any of dozens of options, and you will probably be better served by playing something other than an MMO”

    Wow, huge, baseless assumption there.

    Unless, of course, we all happen to like MMOs and live in three different time zones. Some of my friends are friends because we met playing MMOs or MUDs. Would I be thus better served playing gin rummy on Yahoo games?

    This sort of thing smacks of some of my early experience in MUDs, where the devs would get mad at the players for not playing the game right.

    1. You have the complaint backwards. It’s not that you are not playing with others. It’s that the others can and will make the game an unplayable experience, and that the game incentives this rather than discouraging it. See Gina’s comment for some lucid examples.

      I want a game where playing with the person next to you could be a good thing, with better odds than inviting the person next to you on the subway to lunch.

      1. If griefers and trolls are intrinsic to the Massively part of MMO, and they have a disproportionate affect on the playerbase, why go massive? That seems to be a question that needs answering, on both the developer and player side.

        1. I’m frankly a little surprised there hasn’t been (literally) a single-player subscription model yet, though I suppose the move to microtransaction schemes probably ended that possibility. The idea of a story-based game (pick any BioWare title) that -significantly- updated its main story every month just seems like a natural progression that has yet to be explored.

          Certainly, single-player RPGs offer DLC, but they’re usually very small “lateral” things, rather than serialized continuations of the main story. What I like most about subscription MMOs is the way they regularly balance and update. If a single-player RPG offered that (but with updated storylines instead of new raids and pvp scenarios), I’d pay a monthly fee without a second thought.

  6. I still think the problem isn’t so much the “other people” as it is the inherent design flaws of the games.

    Old paradigm MMOs (especially ones with trinity-based class systems) almost without exception incorporate basic, fundamental desgin flaws that naturally create friction between players if not outright antagonsim.

    The reason most MMO players are only interested in playing with the “known” quantity of a group of friends is because you actually have to “swim upstream” against the natural pull of these design flaws in order to play cooperatively and harmoniously with others, and friends are the only ones you can trust to make that attempt. Sure, occasionally you will luck out with a complete stranger, but that is a relatively rare occurence because these flawed games actually provide incentives AGAINST harmonious, cooperative play.

    Trinity-based class systems only guarantee co-dependency… not teamwork. If you’re lucky you’ll find a group of players who will at least attempt to insert teamwork into the gameplay but, the only reason they are even trying to is because of the co-dependency (which is an inherently unhealthy form of interaction.)

    The only MMO on the horizon that I see attempting to provide even the possibility of relief from this is GW2. Whether it will succeed in that attempt or not is matter for speculative debate until it is actually released, however, all indications so far are that it will be the first MMO to truly break away from some of the worst of the desgin flaws that seem systemic to the genre, and the ease and fuidity of players’ efforts just naturally reinforcing each other, without even having to be in formal groups together, certainly bodes well for fostering a more positive social environment also.

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