The Soapbox: There is no MMO that can fix a broken MMO community


We’ve heard again and again how the recently launched World of Warcraft: Classic was going to “fix” the MMO community by stripping away modern sensibilities and conveniences. It’s going to “fix” everything that WoW retail broke. WoWC is just most recent example that springs to mind, but we’ve heard again and again over the years that “this new game is going to make the community better because it has X feature (or doesn’t have X feature).” We pretend that, somehow, the new thing is going to magically make people be part of a real community again.

I’m sorry to say this, but that’s not how this works. Your game, no matter the features or the lack of features, is not going to fix a community that so often resorts to social media rage campaigns at the slightest provocation, that doesn’t talk in groups in spite of being presented ample opportunity to do so, that wages mod blacklist wars over streamers and rival guilds. No game or feature can cure that mentality, that just like no game or feature created that mentality. Much like the Homer Simpson quote about beer, the MMO community is the cause of, and the solution to, all of our own problems.

While MMO design may incentivize bad behaviors or anti-social behaviors, it’s really the community that decides whether to cash in on those incentives. In retail WoW, there’s nothing stopping you from taking the time to read the quest text, yet many people don’t. There’s nothing stopping you from turning off quest tracking, and yet many people don’t. There’s nothing stopping you from talking in groups, and yet many people don’t. It’s the community, not the feature, that decides whether some behavior is acceptable or not. Offering fewer options for how to play an MMO isn’t cruise control for a good community.

Heroes do actually die, but...

Some folks ardently believe that if a game forces people to do something, the community will be better for it because of the new behavior. But that’s not really the case; the community may act better, temporarily, but it isn’t actually any better; players simply have no other options, so any behavioral change is superficial. Given future opportunity to be more of an asshat either in another game or another part of the same game, some people will get right back to executing their best, fullest expression of asshattery.

Let’s take LFG/LFR tools as an example here. Some gamers lay all the perceived evils of the current state of WoW and the industry at large at the feet of LFG/LFR feature. People don’t talk, they say, only rush around without waiting for anyone; realm pride is a thing of the past. People are just as likely to votekick you as they are to say hello. All of these things do happen and are largely true – but it’s not LFG’s fault. The LFG/LFR tool created a space where people can be either anti-social, elitist, and generally insufferable or a supportive, engaged, and thriving community. It’s because the community has decided, likely unconsciously, but collectively, that all of those negative behaviors are acceptable.

There’s nothing preventing you from talking during a dungeon, just as nothing prevents someone else from responding to you. There’s nothing stopping you from asking for a slower, more enjoyable pace for your dungeon run. There’s nothing preventing you from making sure the votekick functionality isn’t abused. That’s the key: There’s nothing preventing you, the player, from doing any of these things and helping create the kind of gaming environment you want.

Let me offer up as an example Final Fantasy XIV, where dungeons are a wholly different experience from those in WoW or WoWC while being functionally almost identical. It’s customary to say hello when doing a roulette, for the tank to ask the healer about pull sizes, for first-timers in a dungeon to ask about a boss fight before starting it. People make small talk while running dungeons; they crack jokes. Someone dying or missing a mechanic or evening wiping isn’t grounds for being shouted at or told to “git gud” before the tank ragequits the group. Most often it’s regarded with a wry sense of “whoops” and you try again.

FFXIV Duty Roulette has all the same features and functionality of WoW‘s LFG – but with a vastly different outcome. And yes, before you rush off to the comment section, know that I am aware that as with any game your mileage may vary and my experience with FFXIV dungeons might not match yours. But having run hundreds of FFXIV dungeons, I feel comfortable stating my position represents a fairly typical experience in the game.

The point of all of this is to recognize that WoWC isn’t going to “fix” what ails the WoW community or the MMO community at large. It’s not even going to fix WoWC community: It just limits the options of the people playing, forcing them to go through the motions of what we loosely consider good behavior without those people actually being required to internalize that good behavior (and ideally take it forward into other games and encounters).

The community is the community. The behaviors and actions that a local or global MMO community decides are acceptable as a culture are what governs the overall behavior of that community. At the risk of being slightly melodramatic, I think about Gandhi’s maxim here: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” You don’t need WoWC to help you “find a better community” if you really love retail WoW. You can start to display the behavior you want to see from other people.

Moreover, know that when the WoWC community inevitably starts to fracture and fray (as all communities eventually do), it’s not because WoWC itself failed: It’s that the underlying cultural issue at the heart of MMO communities hasn’t changed. Only the scenery did.

I’m playing WoW right now, and every dungeon I zone in and say hi and ask people how they are doing. I get a response maybe 20% of the time. But I still do it because it’s what I want other people to do back to me. I go out of my way to help people while I’m out in the world, even when there’s no real benefit to me, because it’s what I would want people to do for me. I’ve swooped in and helped an Alliance player kill a mob where they otherwise would have died (I’m playing Horde at the moment). This isn’t a humble brag. This is just what I want to see from the community, and it’s gotta start somewhere.

It that easier said than done? Sure. And while the unspoken norms of community are one aspect, we also shouldn’t ignore that features and games can sometimes incentivize bad behavior or prevent the community from holding bad actors accountable for their bad behavior.

In WoW retail, if you get a tank whose sense of entitlement and ego wouldn’t fit inside Naxx, your options are essentially to either grimace and bear it, hoping to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, or votekick and end up waiting in queue for a new tank for longer than you would have had to deal with the bad one if you’d just stuck it out. You have no other recourse, at least not within the game. Not only do you not have a way to provide feedback to that tank that his or her behavior isn’t acceptable, you are forced into essentially reinforcing that bad behavior because doing otherwise has a drastic negative impact on your play.

I think there’s a real desire in the MMO community to make the overall community less awful. The wild clamor for old-school-leaning mechanics in WoWC comes from a good place. But we as the community can’t sit on our hands, doing the same thing over and over and expecting developers to figure out a programmatic way to reduce asshattery and antisocial behavior. While this issue is more complicated than self-policing in the community, it’s the one thing we have control over. Ultimately we can’t directly control what developers do, what features they give us, how they incentivize or don’t incentivize certain behaviors in-game. But what we can control is how we act in-game, regardless of the features present or not present in the game.

There is no MMO that can fix a broken MMO community.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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