PAX East 2015: Recapping the 'Where Did Multiplayer in MMOs Go' panel

The last time I was asked where the social aspects of MMOs went, I was pretty directly snarky: They're still there. And it's true, but it's a bit heavier on the "pithy" end of the spectrum over the "explanatory" side. Ask for sound bites, receive same.

Pithy comments aside, all the participants on PAX East's Where Did Multiplayer In MMOs Go? panel Saturday agreed that there has been a large-scale shift in how MMOs handle other players and how we view our fellows. The initial discussion focused on the experience of being in a World of Warcraft garrison at max level, where you aren't talking or directly interacting with anyone. The only sign that you're in an MMO is the fact that general chat is still rolling.

With two MMO journalists, one founder of a gamer social network, one community manager, and one lead developer, you would expect that we would all be coming to different conclusions. But we were actually all of more or less the same mind, and a lot of the question of "where has the social gone" can be answered simply by looking at how players and developers look at other players.

Consider the difference between, for example, Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft. If you're running through the world of Guild Wars 2 and you see someone else fighting a monster, there's every reason to help out. You get credit for the kill, you get experience, you get money and drops. In the same situation in World of Warcraft, helping out is usually a neutral action at best; you're expending resources and time on a fight that offers no rewards. At worst, it makes your life harder because that's one fewer target for you to kill.

That's disregarding the fact that unlike, say, City of Heroes, WoW offers you no way for you to play with your lower-level friends. You can play adjacent to one another but not actually interact in a meaningful way. And that has an impact.

When you're conditioned to more or less ignore other players outside of very narrow circumstances, the rest of the game's population winds up feeling less like potential new encounters and more like a set of tools to be used when you need them.

Tools like group finders and the like haven't made games less social by themselves, but in content where you have no reason to interact with other players, you're more likely to just leave said other players alone. If boss fights are entirely self-focused affairs -- if you're just doing your steps in a dance and hoping everyone else does the same -- you don't have a reason to chat and make new connections with other people.

You have the community you encourage.Rewards for talking help. Reasons to seek out individuals help. It's not that auction houses are problematic; it's that if crafters can do nothing more meaningful than make Generic Iron Shortsword, there's no real sense of identity or unity between crafters. That's not a good thing because it diminishes the idea of specializing or being unique.

We also talked about forcing players into content and not letting players fail. Forcing players into huge groups leads to players resenting the grouping process and not wanting to associate with others outside of the "required" group content; meanwhile, making it harder for players to screw up character specializations and the like make games easier to balance but less engaging to play. If you can't be wrong, you also can't get the satisfaction of being right.

Obviously, we had to discuss out-of-game socializing as well, since that's a whole different ball of wax. On the one hand, having a stable group to socialize with definitely helps keep your immediate community together; on the other, when you have a very fixed community in place, you're less inclined to reach outside and start getting invested in experiences with people you don't already know well, which is something less than ideal.

It's important to note that we also touched on the simple reality that the MMO audience of today isn't the same as the MMO audience of years ago, nor should we necessarily be. We have jobs, we have families, we have obligations, we have concerns beyond simply sitting and raiding (or farming or whatever) for several hours. It changes the dynamic and it makes us all more prone to trying to get stuff accomplished now rather than doing the hard parts work.

And those coming into MMOs now know that as the way things are with no concept of the way things used to be.

Unfortunately, there's no way that a text piece can really convey the tone of the conversation as a whole, since there is currently no technology that allows for real-time interjections and discussion in text. (You know, aside from a chat room, but that's also a different thing.) But it was a fun conversation, and definitely still an open conversation worth having and considering.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Boston for PAX East 2015, bringing you all the best MMORPG and MMO coverage from GW2, FFXIV, Blizzard, and more!
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219 Comments on "PAX East 2015: Recapping the 'Where Did Multiplayer in MMOs Go' panel"

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syberghost
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syberghost

Morreion NobleNerd it's popular myth that when WoW came along, the MMO scene got flooded with new players and all the old guard stuck to their guns, but the fact is the folks in charge of WoW were hard core players of other MMOs, especially EverQuest, who were deliberately trying to make a game they wanted to play, without the annoyances of their previous games. We're talking guys who lead raid groups with multiple server firsts, from top guilds such as Fires of Heaven and Legacy of Steel.

Yes, it attracted millions of non-MMO gamers, but it also was wildly popular with the existing MMO gamers. Folks making new games with the old annoyances find their servers full of tumbleweeds, not happy 40-somethings gleefully reliving past glories.

If we want social, and I for one do, we need to find ways to do it in games that appeal to the audience as it currently stands, not as we remember it or as we wish it to be.

Morreion
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Morreion

NobleNerd 
Good point- I think it is simply the fact that the MMO player base changed dramatically post-WoW- suddenly the smaller more community-minded 'cult' audience was swamped by millions of much-less-social players more used to FPS games.

Morreion
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Morreion

zenaphex 
This is what I like to call 'false sociality'.  Sort of like Rifts in Rift- players look like they're being social, but they might as well be interacting with other NPCs- hardly any communication ever happens.

CazCore
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CazCore

Vexia particularly liked your 1st 2 paragraphs

CazCore
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CazCore

Flamethekid Golden_Girl but those footballers gain excersize to improve health (massive benefit), AND gain real world skills that is applicable to any other physical activity.

MMOs do none of that.  all your mindless "achievements" are worthless outside of that specific games world/database, thus a poor time investment.

CazCore
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CazCore

thatchefdude Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy 
perhaps unlike GG, i respect people honing real life skills inside skill-based videogames.
but MMOs are just starting to half-heartedly toy with basing their gameplay on real life skills.

CazCore
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CazCore

thatchefdude Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy they are a special case when the "work" == sitting on your ass longer, mashing buttons mindlessly, rather than taking any real life skill,..... unlike the real world examples you gave.

Celestia
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Celestia

Good read.  Thanks.  Was this recorded?  I would love to watch/listen to this panel.

Veldan
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Veldan

zenaphex Yeah, I saw this happen enough times during my (somewhat brief) GW2 time. Player 1 is happy that someone comes to help him in a time of need, but Player 2 only tags and runs away again, and Player 1 dies anyway. Giving full rewards for a tag is not an incentive to "help out".

NerdWABS
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NerdWABS

How players look at other players, yes, (the joy of the modern internet forums, comments sections, and other places where trolls lurk has made people highly suspicious in games) but also a much-increased "socially alone" society, in general.  Smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, and the like connect people - and they also make sure that people sitting right next to each other for hours at an airport never even say hello or look at one another.  That anti-social irony has carried over into games; where people who might, a decade past, have inspected one another and chatted locally are now AFK because they are looking at their phones, or the web - or, more to the point, it simply doesn't occur to them that they might just walk up to another player and say something -- because, they surely have never thought to do that in real life.

syberghost
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syberghost

thatchefdude syberghost NobleNerd Golden_Girl you phrased that like it was intended to refute my point, but it directly supported it. :)

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

syberghost NobleNerd Golden_Girl That's not necessarily true...

There's no reason why launch EQ on March 16th 1999 could not have teleportation locations throughout Norrath like they added in PoP in 2002.... If the game designers had wanted it, it could have been there in release.

It was a conscious design choice not to have it....

It's not like they weren't able to make thing more convenient, its that they realized this would lead to a game more like WoW and less like classic EQ

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

Golden_Girl NobleNerd Yeah they progressed from EQ where less than 10% of the playerbase cared about reaching max quickly to become a raider (which was also sort of invented by EQ's endgame dungeon runners), to a culture where the majority of players are going at breakneck speed to hit 50 or whatever current cap is....

That's very healthy sure....

It took me almost 1 1/2 years to hit 50 on my EQ character, because I did not play 6-8 hrs daily, I played maybe 10-15 hrs a week as a 7-9th grader student, it was my sole MMO but I also had plenty of PS1 and PS2 games to play as well.

My point being it was a fulfilling journey spending time exploring Norrath with others for those 50 levels.....and I had absolutely less joy facing off against Lord Nagafen and Lady Vox than I did exploring Blackburrow or Unrest.....

Golden_Girl, I'm just curious, are you old enough to have actually experienced first hand the old-time MMOs like UO, EQ, AC or DAOC? Or is your perspective from a post-WOW world and you simply have no first hand knowledge of the time?

syberghost
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syberghost

NobleNerd Golden_Girl yeah, that wasn't because we liked them that way; that was because the folks making them were just learning how to do this very new thing. WoW happened because a bunch of pretty serious MMO players hated the punishment necessary to get to the fun.

We're not talking about a bunch of filthy casuals, these guys were leadership folks from Fires of Heaven and Legacy of Steel and other guilds with tons of server firsts to their names.

We don't walk uphill in the snow to school anymore; there are buses now.

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

NobleNerd Golden_Girl MMOs have progressed from the primitive early days.

NobleNerd
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NobleNerd

Golden_Girl NobleNerd There use to be a time when MMO players actually played only one MMO and put a lot of those terms into it: Patience because the mechanics and depth of the game required you to spend time and learn the game, Endurance because it wasn't easy to progress... no face-palming the keyboard, and Perseverance because you didn't get to max level in a few months.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

Golden_Girl Sorenthaz  Well yeah, it's already being done with many big-name titles.  There's either online "competitive" multiplayer stuff, online co-operative multiplayer stuff, or both.

Loyheta
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Loyheta

stiqy Loyheta I can see what you are saying and agree with you for the most part. However my main question is how to you get people to be openly cooperative with each other in general. I know you can make a game so hard that you dare not venture outside the city unless in a group. I can see a game doing that. However, how do you make the typical mmo group and social friendly without being hamfisted.

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

Golden_Girl thatchefdude Cramit kalex716 skoryy Are videogames some special protected class or something lol?

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

thatchefdude Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy Those aren't video games.

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

Golden_Girl thatchefdude Cramit kalex716 skoryy So someone who works harder on anything else in life outside of the workplace is not deserving of more rewards as a result?

Someone who trains harder on the field isn't entitled to developing a better shot with his foot in soccer?

Someone who takes the time to really carefully set up his photography equipment for his hobby isn't entitled to a better quality shot than the guy who just rushes through it?

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

thatchefdude Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy These are video games, not work.

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

imperialpanda In fact, in EQ one of my fave task was just helping people sub-lvl 10 find the drops for their crafting class armors

thatchefdude
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thatchefdude

Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy Really, do you also believe that someone who busts his/her ass working 50-60hrs at their job to try and earn money or a better position is not deserving of more than the person who works 35-40hrs???

If their quality of work is comparable, then yes, the person putting in extra time and dedication certainly deserves higher rewards than the other one....

kalex716
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kalex716

Golden_Girl kalex716 So you can define whats not fun. Grind. Too easy.

I specifically asked for the opposite. Lets explore what you think is the underlying types of engaging and satisfying experiences offered in MMO's that's compelling players to choose to spend their time there in a way that isn't grind? I think thats a much more interesting discussion to have.

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

Flamethekid Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy I belong where I am ;-)

Flamethekid
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Flamethekid

Golden_Girl Cramit kalex716 skoryy go play hello kitty online or tetris thats sounds like where you belong

Flamethekid
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Flamethekid

Golden_Girl Flamethekid football is a recreational pastime too and you definitely see people not working hard or training to get stronger and faster to do 

yup

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

Cramit kalex716 Golden_Girl skoryy You can put in as many hours as you like to a game - the key thing is that it shouldn't be rewarded more.

Flamethekid
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Flamethekid

thatchefdude you missed it

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

kalex716 Golden_Girl The definition of grind is quite simple - it's the requirement to repeat any bit of content more than once.

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

Flamethekid Golden_Girl "Work"? Gaming is a recreational passtime.

Golden_Girl
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Golden_Girl

Sorenthaz Golden_Girl This is going to continue too, until the majority of games have online co-op elements.

Flamethekid
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Flamethekid

Golden_Girl I don't like grinding as much as the next person but if you put no work into your character whats so satisfying about that?

thats like saying oh imma play skyrim but imma just console command all the enemies dead and go their is no satisfying feeling in that you did nothing no hard work nothing to earn your power 

if its grinding like tera then hell no nobody wants that but something like mabinogi grinding which is known as training where you can level up your skills from practicing it like healing another player to max your healing skills or using barrier to cover your team thats grinding but it doesn't feel like grinding 

grinding will always be around in real life and in games nothing can possibly ever change that 

killing stuff to get your levels is a grind no matter what but you have to build up your character somehow but it seems like you just want the impossible you satisfy your casual lifestyle which is what is killing the mmo of today and turning them into basically what Lotro is an empty barren wasteland where you never see or talk to anyone unless they are not doing something

apprently the only mmo you should be playing should be hello kitties online or just go play tetris

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

CistaCista ManastuUtakata 
Figured you where just trolling, so the feeling is mutual. /shrug

jgauthier45
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jgauthier45

So for those of us that missed out, where can we go to view this panel recorded?

Flamethekid
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Flamethekid

Golden_Girl NobleNerd not everyone is a casual like you

sports like baseball and football is gaming too but they aren't very relaxing are they?

its the tensity and the adrenaline that makes people love it gaming too

the challenge and the fun of slaying a powerful enemy is a good feeling 
doing so with friends is even more so

CistaCista
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CistaCista

ManastuUtakata CistaCista Ah, so instead of explaining yourself, you refrain from making a point entirely. See you around.

stiqy
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stiqy

EatCandy Where is that farm simulator channel!? Could really scratch my farming itch during these winter months... :-)

Cramit
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Cramit

kalex716 Golden_Girl skoryy Yea, it seems that she just wants everyone to play the casual style and attempt to "shame" anyone who can put in more hours than her.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

Golden_Girl Sorenthaz  That's kind of obvious.  More singleplayer games have been going with online multiplayer and are adding in MMO-like features for it, while more MMOs are making their games soloable and focused on the individual player.   Destiny and Dragon Ball Xenoverse are two examples of singleplayer titles with online multiplayer components and basic systems akin to an MMO (Destiny and XV both let you team up with other players to tackle the equivalent of instanced PvE content and whatnot).   SWTOR, WoW, GW2, and most other themeparks are all examples of MMOs becoming more singleplayer-focused.

Cramit
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Cramit

Golden_Girl NobleNerd That is completely subjective.  Actually they probably should be in the context of gaming since most folks these days can't raise their children or even themselves with these attributes but then again, thats subjective in itself.

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

thatchefdude Sorenthaz  I juggle maybe 2-5 games at any given point, yeah. And that's been a number of titles that have accumulated over the past ~5 years or so and has steadily slowed down.   I'm not saying that every single one is something I want to play, but there are numerous online and single player options available to me now.  And it's difficult to focus on just one, especially if it's a very time-demanding game like Skyrim or an MMO.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

skoryy 
One of the things I always liked about CoH. You can start out on to solo a certain instances, but half way through you realized you joined with 5 or more others and wonder, "How did this happen?" Both the beauty and irony of being in a game of not having to group as always an option, I end up grouping there more than any other game percentage wise to date. It funny how it happens that way. <3

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

CistaCista ManastuUtakata 
*My pigtails senses a goal post being moved around on this*
I think you do. Though it doesn't appear you like the answer or where I am going with it.
Just to recap my original OP though: I am glad there is discussion on other ways to get players to socialize without forcing them together to do something. You can read into that and/or take away from it whatever you wish.

stiqy
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stiqy

Loyheta The incentive is to make the world hard to live in. IMO too many MMO worlds are no-fail, can't lose anything, solo leveling rides. No death penalty, no item destruction or item wear, no direction except up up up for your character virtually no matter what you do. Just log in and do anything and xp, loot, coins, points... something always accumulates to your credit. They are practically  smartphone games.

As soon as you have a chance to go backward instead of forward in a play session, there is an incentive for cooperating with other players to avoid that loss. When items wear out, or can be destroyed, an economy is required to replace them.

kalex716
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kalex716

Golden_Girl How do you specifically define an engaging and satisfying experience without some sort of gameplay compulsion that comes along with it though?

One persons "fun", is another persons grind. It helps the discussion by narrowing in more on these design fundamentals.

kalex716
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kalex716

Golden_Girl skoryy Are you advocating variety? Or do you just want everybody to like the same kind of games you do?

FeveredDreamer
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FeveredDreamer

Definitely surprisingly good points made throughout this article.  I think part of the issue is in our definitions, there's these lines in the sand that people draw in the continued refusal to let the MMO genre grow/change in any way shape or form.  Do some people prefer to play solo? Obviously... but that doesn't mean that the genre has become less social, unless we go with the assumption that "social play" is equated to group quests, dungeon crawls and raiding.

I play my games socially for sure, that doesn't mean I'm always in a group, it doesn't mean I always play with guildmates and it certainly doesn't mean I've any remaining interest in a 3-5 hour raid.  There's plenty of room for social behavior in MMOs and some games (like Guild Wars 2) have supported those social aspects of play by things like.... *not punishing players for being around each other* a mind-blowingly novel concept I know.  I'm back to playing ESO at the moment and every time someone loots a nearby chest that I was fighting my way toward I can't help but think "how is this still a thing?"

FeveredDreamer
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FeveredDreamer

mbbrazen Its funny that you bring up the Mumble/Vent issue, I definitely think it contributes in the same ways that guilds, raids and exclusivity do the the challenge of this subject.  If the multiplayer in MMOs "went" somewhere, it is at least in part because our reasons for playing went somewhere as well.  It was much easier to devote a day to helping some random underleveled friend, or to wandering aimlessly around the virtual world back when the gear ladder wasn't the end all be all definition of the genre.

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