Monday, February 25, 2013

Being Social

This rarely happens, but the subject from Wildstar I'm going to cover today transitions so perfectly from my life. Today was my girlfriend's birthday. Last night there was some (read: lots of) drinking and some loud partying -- by nerd standards. There were arguments about which Sci-fi series depict a Utopian future and which are Dystopian, followed by a prolonged debate on what those words really mean...followed by a demand to watch Johnny Mnemonic. There was a long discussion on where the Wolf Pack from Twilight puts their pants, by then I had escaped. This led to a noon breakfast today followed by a trip to her parent's house for dinner and card games.Weight room was locked by the time we got home.

I was being social, so I did not get to stick to my plans for the day. Hopfully I can sweat some of this cake off tomorrow before my Tuesday weigh in. I still want to be sub 220 by the 1st.

The blog entries that I am looking at are the Uplink Analysis on Social Features followed by the Blog entry about Social Features. I may bet a little wordy.

I think the best place to start is with the Uplink question: What "social" features are a necessary in an MMO? Which features aren't absolutely needed but are still just as enjoyable? Feel free to explain what you believe a "social feature" means to you as well!

The very core of an MMO is social dynamics. The core game play is not what engages players for hundreds of hours, it's hanging out with friends, guild members and other players allied or opposed. providing a solid foundation of social tools is critical.

A robust chat system with multiple channels is default. Local (/say), emotes, map chat, trade chat, looking for group, guild chat, private messaging. pretty obvious and standard features. What could improve it? Having a spell check would be neat. A slick interface with the ability to separate out conversations into their own temporary window as needed. A solid MMO chat interface needs to be everything an IRC channel, a chat room, and an Instant Messageing program is all in one. No small challenge.

Guilds, while I think capital city general chat turns into the core social hub of most games I'd still like to thing that Guilds are the engine that run the social machine of MMO games. They need more than a chat channel to operate these days. Guild banks, Guild rosters with tracking systems for contributions made, such as gold donations, item deposit logs, guild experience earned (if a progression system is included) Time spented logged in, time since last log in, ect. Tools guild leaders need to operate their guilds and raid teams. Attendance, performance notes, ect. Also a calendar of events. Not to be missed, guilds need something to do, maybe something beyond raiding. Perhaps part of guild participation could build a resource pool from doing in game things and that resource could be spent to provide limited buffs to the guild members or create special events that could be scheduled, portals to special guild only areas, special guild versus guild PVP challenges. Something fun, and limited. Not something you'd want to be able to trigger every day, and a variety with different types of rewards.

A powerful friends list. An interface that allows you to be friends with characters, or players, allowing you to communicate with good friends even when they are not logged into your faction or even your server, including mobile device integration allowing for communication with players who are not even online. Being able to throw out an LFG that populate to Twitter or even SMS with trusted friends would be great. If able to build a custom application for iOS and Android there could be great opportunities for guild alerts to be sent out, LFGs or help requests with the ability to respond through the application back to the player in game. Smartphones are almost universal now, it is really time that games start leveraging their power.

A powerful looking for group tool, an automated one. As much as players insist that Looking for Group tools weaken the server community I can't agree. I don't see what is so much more social about standing in the capital city pressing CTRL-V on a block of text like "LFG for <instance>, <class> <role> <level/gearscore>" For this tool to work there has to be a level of content that can be accomplished with a non-organized group, and this needs to be fun and rewarding. I am veering off a bit, but it's important to this social feature. There should be a high level of difficulty for both small group and large group play that reward either more consistently or in some way faster, but not in a way that invalidates the content accessible by the Looking for Group tool, otherwise it won't get used. If the content is too hard it won't get used, and if the content is not part of a progression path it will not get used. Tricky!

A feature that isn't needed would be voice chat. Everyone tries to make it work but in the end advanced players use outside programs because they work better and then even if the novice player is using the in game system none of the advanced players can hear them or talk back. Turns into a lot of wasted effort.

One last comment on social interaction. The reason I continue to play Guild Wars 2 and have stepped away from World of Warcraft is the feeling I get when I see another player. When I see another player in World of Warcraft I'm irritated. Here is some jerk who is going to tag my mobs, loot my ground spawns and steal my resource nodes. I don't want to group with him because then if we get a cool drop and he wins the roll I'm going to be mad that I wasn't alone. Meanwhile, when playing guild wars I don't get that feeling, other players are fun to encounter, we silently move together and kill monsters and mine shared resource nodes knowing that we are benefiting each others' play and not hindering it. I'd like to see that design but still have some competition, particularly with opposing factions, something that doesn't exist in the PVE game of Guild Wars 2. Maybe faction tagged mobs, even faction tagged resources. Build that rivalry and enmity for the red names, but keep the bond with green names, not just blue or gold ones.

There were some great ideas that came up in the blog entry. I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on these things. Social issues are a big part of MMO's

The next entry was a message from Victoria Dollbaum, who is the Social Systems Designer for Wildstar. This was an interesting read even though there wasn't much in the way of specifics. She mostly focused on some of the fun things she has played for integrating housing with the primary game.

One statement caught my interest and gave me cause to worry. "I formed my guild in Final Fantasy XI almost 10 years ago, and since then, there hasn't been a game that has facilitated the significant social connections like the ones I made in that community." She goes on to say, "there's a lot of nostalgia surrounding the older MMOs because the social systems they offered, provided, and forced upon players were vastly different than the systems found in current MMORPGs." She continues to explain how older MMO's brought out more emotion and social systems in current games have been simplified and don't do that anymore.

So here's the thing. While recognizing that gamers fall into a nostalgia trap when they think back to their early games, she walks right into a nostalgia trap. The systems that old games had in place were archaic, rudimentary, and draconian. It wasn't just waiting 2 hours for a boss to spawn, it was waiting 2 weeks, 2 hours was the time you spent looking for a group to grind xp. Developing a social network in FFXI or Everquest was the only way to get anything done.This was frustrating and the reason that 100,000 players was a good mark back then. Two things happened over the last decade that changed the social dynamic in MMO's. First, solo progression to max level became the standard. Modern players will not accept the concept of post level 1-10 tutorial that they will need a group to accomplish anything. Secondly players started to get more sophisticated. Back in EQ and FFXI all guild interaction was done in game, in chat. Buy World of Warcraft bigger, more serious guilds had forums where members could make plans and discuss issues and answer questions. Within a few years guild forums were for everyone and there were free services all over that facilitated them, this was a fad that quickly faded and was replaced with Voice chat, Wiki pages and YouTube Strategy videos. Players didn't need to ask questions in a guild forum anymore because most questions could be answered by a Google search. Forums still exist, but they are combined communities.

I am consoled by the fact that Victoria Dollbaum recognizes that in the past MMO's were punishing, and she seems to want to develop more robust systems.

Modern MMOs are more fun, that is for sure. Providing incentive to be social is a tricky task. I don't know that I would accept the heavy handed methods of the past. The inability to do anything, I'd probably just go play another game, there are literally dozens of them to choose from. The social aspects need to be fun and emotionally rewarding instead of the alternative being not fun and emotionally scaring.

I've been playing MMO's seriously since FFXI too, my opinions on this run pretty deep, I could probably go on for pages. I'm going to cut it hear and I'd be happy to banter in comments with anyone of agrees or doesn't.

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