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

    
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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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Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
CazCore

Vexia particularly liked your 1st 2 paragraphs

CazCore
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
Celestia

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

Veldan
Guest
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
Guest
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.