MMO future: Social baseline

At the time of its release, WoW was criticized for not bringing much to the MMO genre, and simply being a refined EverQuest. Refining someone else’s idea was, after all, how Blizzard made a name for themselves originally. In 2004, it was a valid complaint.

By 2013 standards, not so much, considering what Rift, SW:TOR, or GW2 have brought to the market. And while it is certainly true that today’s MMO player is not as easily entertained as the average player was back in 2004 (where simply logging into a server and seeing others run around was a new thing for many), current offerings are also not even bringing to the table what WoW did in 2004, and the retention rates reflect that.

As I previously mentioned, a game generating enough interest/hype that ‘everyone’ wants to play day one is a huge factor in getting the social ball rolling for your title, and those social hooks are a major retention tool. At the same time, your game has to be different-enough that once everyone arrives, they stick around past the normal 3-month drop-off.

WoW certainly had that, in no small part because leveling to the then-cap of 60 was at least 3 months of gameplay (the insanity of viewing that as a problem to fix has never made sense to me). The longer you play one title, especially in a social setting, the more time the hooks have to develop, and the more likely you are to get involved in some form of end-game. One of the not-so-hidden dangers of being ‘accessible’ and letting everyone level to the cap solo is you deny people the natural social evolution of your game, and no matter how awesome your one-and-done content is, an MMO ultimately lives or dies by its repeatable content, be it dungeons, instances, PvP, etc.

That repeatable content is, overall, not amazing stuff. Its degree of fun can vary, but it can’t compete straight up with one-off stuff for the most part. The reason players stick around for months/years to run it is mostly due to the social hooks. A dungeon might not be amazing the 50th time through, but if you are doing it with a fun group that you meet in that game, its enjoyable-enough to keep going, especially if you are working together to advance to bigger and better things.

There is absolutely no better example of this than EVE and the ‘action’ of null-sec. Waiting HOURS to form up a giant fleet only to shoot at a structure and then head home is likely not on anyone’s top list of awesome things to do in an MMO, yet year after year EVE retains and grows while pilots in null-sec continue to do what they do. Why? Because sometimes that fleet will result in a massive, epic battle. But just as important; because shooting that structure and winning advances your alliance forward, and that’s important in EVE. The players are invested because of the social hooks, and those social hooks don’t magically appear at the level cap.

The next big MMO needs to find that sweet spot of fostering and encouraging the social aspect while not falling into the ‘forced grouping’ trap. It also needs to contain enough quality new stuff to keep people interested long enough for those hooks to develop. Those are both easy to describe but difficult to execute items, but if we are to see an MMO ‘work’ anywhere close to the level of a WoW or an EVE, it will contain them and perform them well.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EVE Online, MMO design, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to MMO future: Social baseline

  1. Jenks says:

    What game has fallen into the ‘forced grouping’ trap in the last 10 years? I’m wondering because I want to go play it right now.

    • SynCaine says:

      FFXI/EQ1 are the original examples, have their been any others more recently? (Too many MMOs now to even track most, let alone play them)

      • bhagpuss says:

        FFXIV is forced grouping to a significant degree.

      • Jenks says:

        Yes, and I still play EQ1. I would also include Eve on the list – you can technically solo, but not much more than you can in EQ1. That trap happens to be the core of the very best MMOs, and it’s no coincidence that abolishing it has created a decade of turds.

        • SynCaine says:

          I’ll have to give this some thought.

          I think there should always be SOMETHING to do solo at all times so you don’t just log out when people are not around, but yea, maybe that should be so limited that its basically ‘forced grouping’…

        • Rynnik says:

          I think there is actually a ton of quality, time eating solo EVE gameplay. And it isn’t just the ‘leet pvp’ solo aspect: you have to consider the solo level 4 carebear, the exploration pver, the miner, the NPC FW pilot etc.

          I would be very cautious about considering EVE on any list for ‘forced grouping MMOs’ – there are huge segments of the game that definitely aren’t while specific activities like the Nullsec bloc, incursion running etc definitely are.

        • Jenks says:

          I wasn’t saying there’s no soloing in Eve, just that there’s about the same as there was in EQ. Druid and wizard quad kiting, necros, magicians, beastlords, shaman could solo as well. To do anything worthwhile you needed to group though, and in my limited experience the same holds true for Eve.

  2. sid6.7 says:

    You had me up until ‘forced grouping’… I think games need a compelling reason to group and an easy way to make this happen.

    For example, DFUW has very obvious and compelling reasons to group. In fact, it’s so important that it’s practically impossible to enjoy the game as a solo player. This lead to a suggestion I posted in beta that AV should improve the in-game clan browser and extend the tutorial through “using the clan browser and applying for a clan”.

    Anything the dev can do to make it easier to group should be encouraged. I think that’s the basic problem that such things that “dungeon finders” and the like to try to solve.

    However, the issue that stems from such tools is not that grouping is forced, but that there isn’t an incentive or compelling reason to form a lasting group or community that spans multiple gaming sessions.

    And here is where we come back full circle to what I feel is the true reason MMOs are failing. Gamers have been trained to take enjoyment out of games in short bursts. If they can’t get small rewards every 15 minutes and big rewards every 60-90 minutes, they don’t have the attention span to continue playing the game.

    On the one hand, it makes sense that Devs do this — tapping into the pleasure center these rewards provides can form an addiction. The problem is that like any other addiction, people find the more accustomed they become, the more often they need the stimuli.

    Games like EVE where the “social circle” provides the stimuli are the rarity. It certainly wasn’t enough for me to keep playing the game – I simply find it it too boring.

    I also think this player is a bit of a different breed. We had a hardcore EVE player in our clan during beta. He would spend hours and hours and hours in voice comms chatting away. And I don’t think he ever got about 20k prowess.

  3. Asmiroth says:

    I’m trying to cover this topic on my blog through a series of posts on Social Economies. The basic gist is that most games assume that these are by products of good games when in reality, good games are by products of strong social economies. If you’re logging on to shoot stuff rather than logging on to be social and shoot stuff, then you’re missing the point of an MMO.

  4. Even without forced grouping, the journey to level cap used to be a big part of the MMO experience and, I suspect, the main aspect of the game for a lot of people. With that trivialized an MMO is at the mercy of its end game.

    I remember being in EverQuest II quite a few weeks after launch when we were all around level 30 and we ran into somebody at level 50, which was then the level cap. The comment from our guild leader at the time was one of pity for “the loneliest person in the game.” He had out leveled most of us and now had nobody to play with.

    Of course, once you get to expansions and increases in the level cap and the trivialization of old gear/content, and things start to get out of hand and new players to the game face a gulf between them and the new (and thus presumably best) content.

    The first expansion can be good. After that, things get strange if the game sticks to a single vertical advancement axis.

  5. “””WoW certainly had that, in no small part because leveling to the then-cap of 60 was at least 3 months of gameplay (the insanity of viewing that as a problem to fix has never made sense to me).”””

    My problem with all these games these days is (and why I disagree with your view of it as insanity) –

    Almost nothing you do leveling from 1-60 in these games is really useful or helpful to learning your “job” at max level.

    The slow trickle of abilities that you don’t even need to master or use for weeks or months of tedious not challenging “leveling”? Not fun or useful to your mastery of the game.

    Wow itself was boring as hell from 1-30 until I switched to a pvp server and learned to pvp/gank other people my level.

    The low skill of these tabtarget games combined with the fact that questing is simply not relevant to what you do in the endgame makes the entire experience awful.

    • kalex716 says:

      You could be right. It could be a huge waste of development time to build a progression model that doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with your actual compulsion hooks for your game.

      EVE doesn’t really make you do a level grind, and while you are certainly limited via trained skills in what you can do as a new player, you can largely jump “right to endgame” in targeted ways by prioritizing your first week or two of training.

  6. TierlessTime says:

    It’s such a weird genre. I mean, it was producing far better games 10 years ago. Mayhaps going…back to the future, it the key? I mean, back to the past.

  7. Eve only grows for 3 reasons.
    1) World population growth
    2) There is NO good space game for now
    3) It’s a company supported collector for filth and scum, liars and other generally bad people.

    Star citizen if successful will take out 100% of highsec miners and mission runners. This is will be a most successful gank in history. And then EvE will die.

    • Kryss says:

      You forget that all 500k accounts played by one person, who does not pay for the game becouse he pay with PLEX.

      • sid6.7 says:

        A half-truth, but PLEX does play a big part in the success of EVE. It’s a good implementation, perhaps the best, of real money transactions in a game. It also leads to an increased number of subscriptions — which is not a bad thing.

        EVE actually employs an Economist to help manage the in-game economy. In-game economies are the life blood of an MMO, so it’s surprising more game devs don’t do this as well.

        But the role of the Economist takes on additional significance when you consider that “game time” in the form of PLEX is actually part of the economy that the Economist is managing.

    • Rieth Mhide says:

      just so very interesting how EVE is pretty much the only game that can show a continous growth for the past 10 (TEN) years, and coincidentally this is also the only one being influenced by “world population growth”

      best regards
      one of the filth & scum that does PLEX two accounts

      have popcorn + soda ready for SC epic fail – I fully expect swtor levels of hilarity

      • I was only referring to growth.
        But Don’t you agree that eve mostly have bigger percentage of bad people (who can’t do it in real life) and if you want to scam and extract tears eve is the only place.

        • Kryss says:

          Actually no, you can grief scam and extract tears in everything “online”.

        • I did not say you cant kryss

          But ink doubling awoxing reverse safari etc etc – eve is a magnet for filth and smegma which is good because they make other games better vacuuming scammers from other games into the new Eden.

    • reformedgamer claimed that
      2) There is NO good space game for now
      of course, this all depends on what you think is “good”. I won’t get into that, since it’s so subjective. But Star Citizen is a PvE game, and there already exists a PvE space game: Star Trek Online. SW:TOR is also a PvE game set in a sci-fi milieu, though you might claim it isn’t a proper space game if you can’t fly spaceships.

      In any case, Star Citizen might be the best thing since sliced bread, or it might be worse than the aforementioned games. We only have hype to go on for now

    • dachengsgravatar says:

      reformedgamer claimed that
      2) There is NO good space game for now
      of course, this all depends on what you think is “good”. I won’t get into that, since it’s so subjective. But Star Citizen is a PvE game, and there already exists a PvE space game: Star Trek Online. SW:TOR is also a PvE game set in a sci-fi milieu, though you might claim it isn’t a proper space game if you can’t fly spaceships.

      In any case, Star Citizen might be the best thing since sliced bread, or it might be worse than the aforementioned games. We only have hype to go on for now

      PS: Syncaine, could you do me a favour? Any time I link my gravatar to my website, akismet (your spam filter) puts my post in your spam folder. Would you go in and mark my posts as not spam? thanks!

    • kalex716 says:

      I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Star Citizen is a pipe dream.

      All videogames sound amazingly awesome during the infancy of pre-production when they have all kinds of cool designs on paper. However, by the time it ships, they cut most of it due to all kinds of failure reasons, and what you are left with is whatever is simple and most like some other game already out + a couple of new hooks that made it through the hells of production.

      The only difference between those projects, and SC, is SC collected money from everyone for stuff thats never going to see the light of day already.

  8. Jack says:

    Vanilla wow’s leveling grind was quite interesting due to the total lack of being able to grind. I PvPed 60-80% of the time. Questing was just something you did while you waited for a rogue to attack you. Once the population of the lower levels dried up as people leveled up is when leveling in WOW became very boring.

    And your quite right about early wow, it was all about the social aspects. Once I was 60 spent every day hanging out with friends and PvPing with people in between farming this item or that item and running an an instance from time to time. I played the game more before raiding came out than I play after raiding came out. As raiding caused your to hate your guild mates more than the other side. In the early days we had an oral history of our wow server that ever knew and everyone knew everyone. It was wonderful.

    If there’s something that MMO’s really need, it’s a dynamic system to feed people into zones to create high PvE value/heavy PvP zones, medium PvE value/medium PvP zones, and low PvE value/low PvP population zones. When wow was created the tech didn’t exist for it. Today they can balance zone populations without much trouble and I’d love to see a grinding MMO based on this balancing concept.

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