Well met, crusaders!
Today I welcome you to a special guest. They have traveled from the frontlines of the battlefield where they lay witness to the struggles this genre has been facing. Our guest goes by the name Wolfshead. Wolfshead is a passionate video game designer, a MMORPG player and a crusader. Today Wolfshead has come to answer questions regarding MMORPGs and Social Interaction.
Let us give a warm welcome and salute to Wolfshead.
Why is Social Interaction important in MMORPGs?
When humans are together – even as characters in a fantasy virtual world — it is only natural that we expect to realize some kind of synergy when we as players leverage our social skills and our fellow humans to achieve objectives within that virtual world. The good MMORPG designer knows this and creates appropriate challenges that have the effect of bringing players together with complementary skills to fight shared adversity. You can’t simply create a utopian virtual world and expect socialization to occur without giving players conflicts and challenges to solve and overcome. This was tried by Second Life and largely failed. Therefore, most successful MMORPGs end up being based on the premise that the world is in trouble and only you and your friends can save it!
Social interaction cannot be expected to result on its own just because people are involved. Take a ride on any subway system in America in rush hour and you’ll little if any social interaction despite many people being crammed together. (An alternate view of the subway ride could be that there is an unseen social interaction and imperative as everyone is being quiet so the goal of getting from point A to B is as efficient and stress free as possible). Fantasy virtual worlds and MMORPGs are different in that the creators have to make a conscious effort to simulate adversity and conflict to make their worlds interesting and challenging. In order to address these challenges players naturally band together to pool their talents and resources. So we see that socialization is a byproduct of a virtual world just as it is the real world.
Social interaction is the unique feature that differentiates MMORPGs from single player RPGs as social interaction is impossible in a single-player RPG.
Since the advent of the Internet in the mid 1990’s suddenly it was technologically possible to bring players together from distant locations to play together. So it was only natural that the inventors of MMORPGS like Ultima and Online would take advantage of this technology to bring people together to adventure in virtual worlds via their computers and the Internet.
Do you feel that MMORPGs current mechanics have driven away Social Interaction?
Current MMORPG mechanics have done much to destroy the need for socialization. The ability to easily solo to the level cap in most MMORPGs and the ability to organize groups and fight more powerful adversaries without using any social interaction skills via features such as a dungeon finder have created this problem. This kind of design ethos that places player convenience over mechanics that promote player interdependencey is misguided and bad for the long-term health of the MMO and the industry. The result is that content (which is terribly expensive to create) is less challenging, consumed far too fast and rewards are given far too frequently.
Most MMORPGs today are designed with monetization and customer retention as the ultimate goal. Gameplay always takes a backseat to this design ethos which is enslaved to the tyranny of metrics. Anything that drives away subscribers or customers is seen as a negative and removed or played down in importance. This is why video games have become dumbed down over the years. Anything that retains customers is seen as virtue. I shudder to think what the result would be if today’s game developers were tasked with designing venerable board games such as chess or card games such as poker. Those old games were created with good gameplay being the highest virtue not profits. In a perfect world profit would not be a factor in designing a game.
Do you believe that older MMORPGs were more social then current MMORPGs?
The older MMORPGS were much difficult to survive in and therefore they were more social as a result. Additionally there was much more player autonomy and self-determination allowed by the devs and less interference and hand holding either via GMs or features that restricted freedom. This was all by design. In MMORPGs like EverQuest you could not progress your character unless you formed a group with other players. Player interdependence was the order of the day. Socialization skills were highly valued and players behaved more civilly to each other because the ability to cooperate with others was necessary for groups to form.
The pacing of the older MMORPG was much slower –at least between battles — which allowed for players to get to know each other and form bonds and often long lasting friendships. The deepness of the socialization created a large degree of player retention as players felt bonded to their fellow adventurers far more than is the case in today’s convenience solo-friendly MMORPGs.
If you had to express and define what MMORPGs are, what would it be?
The fantasy virtual world I would love to see is where player choices actually impact the world. Each server would have its own destiny to be forged by the collective actions or inactions of its players. Socialization and player interdependence would be critical to advancement. I’d like to see a virtual world that has NPCs that actually have needs and wants similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. SOE’s upcoming EverQuest Next has made some promises in this area so I’m excited about the possibilities of my dreams coming true.
Finally, language matters. I prefer to call MMORPGs virtual worlds. When you talk about a creating a virtual world rather than a game, suddenly more possibilities open up. The duties of a virtual world designer becomes more than just about creating “fun” and become more of a sacred vocation where the designer has to consider the complexity and interactions of an entire world not just pandering to the wants and needs of the player.
With the current mechanics, MMORPGs have become less of a multiplayer game. As Wolfshead has stated, older MMORPGs were much more difficult. This difficulty caused players to interact with each other in order to complete goals.With the ease of current mechanics, MMORPG players can now complete challenges without any help from other players. This causes the Social Interaction to decline and eventually disappear if not carefully designed.
Interested in what Wolfshead has to say? Check out Wolfshead for more information about video game design.
It is up to us crusaders to spread the word! Ask yourselves: What can be done to increase Social Interaction in MMORPGs?
The truth is in the design!
Join my crusade and together we can find the truth!
For those that have just joined, I go by the name Raistmere. Just like you, I am a MMORPG player. My passion lies in the design of MMORPGs. As a student of video game design, I seek to bring back the roots of what MMORPGs were design for.