I've been a big player of MMORPG for many years. Mostly on World of Warcraft, but I tried a lot of other games too.
But now, it's been a few years that I stopped playing MMO. I try to relaunch WoW sometimes, but it's just different.
So I've been thinking a lot about that. Testing new games to understand what exactly makes them so empty compared to before.
When I try to remember the good times on WoW, what I actually remember is interactions with people. The times I spent on some guild, or people I met there. I remember some guilds I was in, in which I spent a lot of time talking with people, and it was really a great period.
But now, I can't find these interactions anywhere. They seem to have completely disappeared from the surface of the virtual worlds.
Live together, die alone
The more you go back in time, the more levelling is hard in MMORPG. Not only in terms of time, but also difficulty.
Back then, you often ended up grouping with someone near you doing the same quest so you could help each other and die less. When playing alone you died while questing. A lot. Sometimes you could even end up doing that.Grouping made this less difficult and more pleasant.
There was also a lot of group quests, which forced the players to look for other people that want to team up. These were hard, even in group.
Did you really think you could beat that thing alone ?
Then, maybe you'd add them to your friend list and play with them some other times and marry them, or maybe not. But you played with someone.
These two things don't exist anymore in most of the games. Leveling has become a matter of farming in which you just follow your map (which has become a GPS in the meantime) almost never die, and the concept of grouped quest is a forgotten relic of the ancient times.
This was good news for the players. Don't need to spend time looking for people anymore, all for the greater good
Assisted Teaming Up
Of course, not every multiplayer content in these games have been deleted. The good old dungeons and raids are still arround.
What I'd call the first "big wave" of the destruction of social interactions in MMOs is the increasing amount of assistance in the matter of teaming up.
Back in the days when you were playing WoW, it was kinda hard to find a group for a 5-players dungeon. Most of the time, you had to spam the channels for a good 30 minutes and convince people to come with you. And even then, you need to make them stay with you. You also had to walk to the dungeon with them, which could take another 30 minutes sometimes.
And you know, this is at the same time the worst and the best aspect of MMORPG. We used to hate waiting minutes or sometimes hours to be able to start a dungeon because we needed a last tank, or someone just left us. But at least we were not waiting alone. And in the end, we often had a nice time doing that because we spent most of our time getting to know new people.
Everyone remembers the Deadmines
So one day wow started to add new features for group-searching. Features that were most of the time greatly appreciated for the time they saved us. Because if you can be automatically linked to four other players and start the dungeon without having to go and look for them, why bother?
This is exactly where my point is. Why bother talking to people? As time passed during the last years, group-making became so automated that the last time I checked WoW I saw that:
Random dungeon group. It says it all.
- Most of the people don't even say "hi" to people they are grouped with
- You don't even need a guild anymore for almost all the game content except the one hardest difficulty mode.
- Most dungeons and raids are built in a way that 25 players can play together without having to talk at all.
I remember one day, when I restarted playing the game after my first stop I went to a dungeon. All those automated groups were new to me so when I came in I was like "hey what's up guys?" but just because I was trying to talk and be nice, the people of my group reacted like I was some sort of noob. This is when I understood that something is wrong.
Guilds: A mutual arrangement between 10 or 25 people
So what are guilds for nowadays?
Well they are still useful of course, but in a very different, and sad, way.
Now that everything is automated, most of the content is accessible without having to look for people. But there is still a little part of the content that needs to be played by a group.
Hang with me and my MMO
But guilds feel different now. People have gotten used to this automated way of managing social interactions in the game. And this affect their behaviour in a guild. What happens now is that guilds are just a mutual arrangement of meeting up at the same hour to do the daily raid. Nothing more.
Most of the player don't even have the idea of talking anymore. When they join a guild, it is only so they can have 9 other people to raid at the evening. There's even an automated guild finder too!
Now that's a guild finder
Another thing that killed interactions between guild members is the increasing number of ingame management tools. I remember a time when every guild had a forum, and most of the players were on it at least sometimes. Now, most of the guild don't create a forum because the players won't bother typing its adress in their browser. See the evolution?
What I saw these last years in every guild I went is an empty channel. People doing their stuff all day (why would they need to talk to their guild, as every social stuff is automated?) and just making sign of life when it's time to go on raid.
Now before someone takes it wrong: Yes, I know this is not the case of all guilds. But this is the case of most guilds players are in these days.
"Why not directly delete this group thing?"
Now some games have taken one step further. Like one big step. Like a T-rex step or something.
The most known example I have in mind is Guild Wars 2. When it was announced, everyone was really excited about its "event" feature. Quests don't exist anymore, now there's stuff happening and you go there and you hit stuff and bam you get XP and gold.
Well that's great. I mean, I played Guild Wars 2 and this event system really seems epic. Especially when the game was launched, you would see maybe 50 people jumping on a boss to save the world. (well, that's reserved to higher levels. Lower levels characters often just help chasing pigs or something in MMOs. But that's another story)
Look at those people. Epic. Right?
But when I got used to the "whoa" effect, I realised that this actually was the less social MMO I ever played. There was absolutely not a single use for grouping with people during the leveling, as XP and loots are shared no matter you're grouped or not. This was all just a big illusions of playing with people because they were hitting the same thing as you. But I actually made the whole leveling (almost. I stopped just at the last level. I don't like endings) without meeting anybody.
An army of sheeps waiting for the shephard (which is a dragon)
So I will use this post as a personal note to myself. If I ever have the chance to work on a MMO, I'd like to try to keep it social. There are a lot of ways MMORPGs have to sacrifice things to keep the gameplay addictive and make it last, but we should really try to keep people interacting with each other. I'm pretty sure the disappearance of social interactions is ont of the reasons people are leaving MMOs.