The Value of Interaction

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an excellent article by Jim Rossignol about the stumbling of Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) away from the pure subscription-based model. His vehicle for most of the discussion is EVE Online, a posterboy for subscription model MMO success. He also discusses the value of sandbox and themepark:

And so perhaps what we want to pay for is something we find a specific sort of value in. We want to pay for something that rewards us not with more quests, or more numbers, but with fresh modes of interaction. And, perhaps because of the surplus of quest-based MMO experiences out there, we value the rare and special service that the sandbox provides.

I like Jim’s thinking, and had much the same thoughts using different words and synapses in response to a Guild Wars 2 blog post. The knee-jerk response to sandbox vs. theme park seems to be whether the content is developer-driven or not.  One could argue that W-space is EVE’s theme park because a lot of the content is created from developers. What really matters is the interactions that take place.

In my view, successful MMOs are successful because they offer a lot of fun interactions. It is not about freshness of content, whether it’s contested sleeper sites, a rift burning through the transdimensional atmosphere, or skritt stealing cannonballs from a firing range. The criticality of MMOs is whether that content allows for various degrees of positive interaction.

I felt bad for SWTOR since the start because the producers never seemed to realize that. The interactions were either hyper-personal with personal story or forced with a variation on the trinity. There is nothing wrong with theme park style design, but creating community is what is going to pay the rent. Community can only be created by interactions.

Tonight I plan on playing another few rounds of Doomsday on Team Fortress 2. I haven’t really played any other map since Pyromania. I am sure I will experience a fresh interaction (hopefully another crocket on the launch pad).


17 thoughts on “The Value of Interaction”

  1. The SWTOR devs stated once (if I remember correctly) that they were making the rough equivalent to KOTOR 3-8. I think they should have actually *done* that instead. Single player RPGs are fundamentally different animals from MMOs.

  2. “Community can only be created by interactions.”

    What do you think that implies for GW2, cos I’ve seen beta players already discuss how you play alongside people in groups … but without interacting much.

    1. I’m not sure how to answer. If you fight the same enemy or participate in the same event you are interacting. That’s miles beyond SWTOR and the vanilla MMO quest paradigm of not interacting at all. With renown activities (like plugging holes in dams) you can do it with zero interaction.

      It is all relative… even in GW2 with WvW, PvP, and dungeons, which all require more interaction than baseline PvE. If your baseline requires none or even resists interaction, well that’s the wrong way, IMO.

      1. Not to mention multi-player skill combos, healing/buffing/supporting without holy trinity roles or having to waste time LFG, rezzing downed players, having emergent tactical team play, again without wasting time LFGing…

      2. We’ll see. I note that Warhammer Online had plenty of the sort of interaction you describe also. I don’t personally think it is a good substitute for actually talking to people, but who knows.

        1. The problem with Warhammer Online was that even with public quests, everything was a competition between you and anyone not in your party, thus it didn’t foster community interaction. That and spreading the PvP far and wide made it very difficult to just pop on and have a go(talking about the RvR the battlegrounds stuff was absolutely fabulous.)

          1. I understand what you mean, but I don’t think this is game related. I played on different servers every BWE. First BWE was the main german server, Elona Reach, where there was virtually no talking and loads of overflow servers. Second BWE was the rather small but dedicated server Drakkar Lake, where I talked with lots of people, formed lots of groups and even found some nice random guys for the dungeon. Third BWE saw the removal of Drakkar Lake and I played on Kodash. It was somewhere in between the first two servers and during the last two stress tests I had lots of nice people helping me with my ill-fated jumping puzzle attempts.

      3. I think it is also about the quality of the interactions rather than the quantity. Sure in gw2 your playing alongside but that really isn’t being social in a sense.
        I also believe people differ immensely in the type of interactions the enjoy, and what type of conversations they considered legitamate.

        1. The groups I ran with in the GW2 betas were very sociable. On numerous occasions I would run in to help someone or some group and end up grouping up with them for a couple of hours and chatting.

          ArenaNet provides the tools to interact. It is up to the player to make a bit of effort to actually engage other players. If people are social introverts it isn’t the developers fault. GW2 is one of the easiest games to group in and there should be no excuses about people finding it too hard to engage other players.

  3. One of the odd things about The Secret World is that although there’s no advertized “free grouping” mechanic such as Rift or GW2 use, everyone plays as though there is. Every day I run around solo doing missions, many of which I complete with the help of other players.

    People passing by will heal me or help me kill what I’m fighting as a matter of course and I do the same back. It’s a rare session when I don’t find myself progressing through an area, clearly on the same mission as someone else and co-operating with them to complete it, without ever grouping or even speaking. Often at the end a /bow or a “Thanks” in /say acknowledges the co-operation.

    I find this kind of gameplay both more immersive and more naturally social than formal grouping, which increasingly feels awkward, formal and old-fashioned. I think the new “all in it together” mode of co-operative play is already becoming the norm and it puzzles me now why the other version was ever invented in the first place.

  4. “There is nothing wrong with theme park style design, but creating community is what is going to pay the rent. Community can only be created by interactions.”


  5. “There is nothing wrong with theme park style design”

    I’d agree on principle — good design is good design. You can have incredible experiences in sandbox or themepark, subscription-based, or free-to-play. Guild Wars 2 is an example of a themepark that has very high-quality interactions.

    However, I’d also note that themeparks are insanely expensive to make and maintain. There is no upper ceiling on how great you can make it, but there is a restriction on your budget and release date. It’s not always a design flaw, but sometimes a money issue.

    But yes, at the end of the day, it’s as moondog548 quoted, “creating community is what is going to pay the rent.” That’s what it’s all about.

    1. Could be that sandboxes are insanely hard to design? The four “others” that Rossignol cite (Darkfall, Mortal, Wurm, Perpetuum) all haven’t spurred much more interest or discussion than A Tale in the Desert, IMO.

      So yes, less money is needed because players will fill the content gap, but smarter design is also necessary… much smarter design.

      Rossignol goes on to say devs don’t understand sandbox.. does that include the four “others”?

      Any nice comment, and btw, great blog. Sub’d. :)

  6. I would love to try a sandbox that doesn’t involve open world PVP. I do want character progression and PVE combat so something like Tale in the Desert isn’t my thing.

    Sadly to date all the even vaguely well-known sandbox games have been very heavily focused on PVP. Even upcoming games like Pathfinder Online will be as well.

    Is it *even* harder then to design a sandbox MMO that doesn’t rely on PVP combat as the main form of ‘content’?

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