Saturday, December 6, 2008

Social Networks

I've gone over some mechanics, and I think I will go back to them in another post, but I felt the need to go over some ideas about how people interact in an ideal MMORPG. This is something that's very important to me and I think it's probably the most important concept in any MMO. People will overlook any mechanical, design, or art issues with a game if their friends are playing it and they are having fun playing with their friends. I know that I am not a fan of medieval games, but I played DAoC and World of Warcraft because of the people I played with.

WoW has the most hamfisted and poor approach to social networking of any game I have played. There are no alliances. You are either a member of a guild, or you are not. You are either playing with a group of people, or you are not. The meager options available cajole people into choosing between a guild with friends, or a guild designed to raid. A guild (and a player) can not serve to masters (or sets of friends). DAoC had alliances which helped quite a bit. People could join a guild of friends, and join an alliance with a larger goal that leveraged different guilds with different goals into a single unit. Warhammer Online is aiming for this by everything I have seen of it. But, even with alliances, does it really represent how people play the game? How they interact? Does a person really have to be limited to a single set of friends?

One of the largest issues to repair with modern MMORPG's is to help quantify and advertise guilds to people. Unless someone can provide me with sound reasoning otherwise, I am pretty certain that most people playing WoW, for example, do not join a guild. And if they do, it's a leveling guild and they have no idea what a guild will help them with, or what the guild expects from them. So, why not take the concept of joining a guild and making it part of the game experience for everyone? EVE Online does a good job of this since you must belong to a "guild" and all new characters start in an NPC guild. Right off the bat, people are exposed to a guild channel and it's pro's and cons. This means people are developing an idea of what they want in a guild. Even if it helps teach them what they do not want, it's getting them prepared and to think about it. So, expose players to the idea of a guild right off the bat, and get them thinking about it as a part of the game ... which it is. If your game requires getting five or more people together to kill bosses, you owe it to your players to help get them in touch with a group of people who have the same mindset on how to play the game you have provided.

Another idea that I think would be a huge positive is in-game guild advertising. Give guilds chances to recruit in the game in a way that isn't just someone spamming a "looking for guild" channel. Players should be able to walk their character into a major city, stroll over to the guild recruiting office, and see lists of guilds that explain what their guild is about, who they are, and what kind of people they would love to have join their group. This would also provide a good place for people to see what guilds are doing in the game. Are they raiding? Are they leveling? Are they the biggest guild on the server? Or maybe a small guild of friends? This place should let people fill out guild applications and see if they are accepted or rejected for membership. Why force guilds to fabricate all of this outside of your game, with their own time and money? This provides something that helps builds communities and gets more people into the "guild game". Let's face it, /ginvite is not a good basis for guild building.

I'm not convinced this is the best solution, but I propose a system where a person can join multiple guilds. People are not members of only one social group. Many people join multiple groups of people in their weekly lives to have fun or accomplish goals. The same applies for people who are playing MMORPGs. An individual could be a member of a social guild with their friends who play rarely, and a member of a serious raiding guild, and a member of a PvP defense guild, etc, etc. The idea here is to get people to build communities beyond just their most important needs. No more leaving your friends because you want to raid seriously. Now you can operate in both circles and not be relegated to isolating yourself from your old guilds chat. This would also go a long way into absolving the nightmare of people changing their game goals. Guilds can be designed to suit a wider range of demands. Short term guilds for defeating content. Long term guilds for social interactions. It could be complicated for people to operate with three or four guild chats going, but is it better to have more options than shoehorn everyone into the confining single guild system? No one would have to join multiple guilds.

Overall, without matching the in-game tools to how people socialize in the game, nothing but strife will be the result.

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