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

    
89

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!
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Brazen Bondar

I’m way late to this discussion. Sorry, using the weekend to catch up. I have to agree with Andy on this. My prime example is from old TSW. It became difficult for new people to get picked up for a group for the nightmare dungeons, mostly due to high demand for certain kind of specs. A group of players than started something called Noobmares. It was for new people and folks who didn’t have elite specs. It was casual and friendly dungeon running. You could get a really friendly PUG through them. Every now and again, an elite who was waiting too long for a group would jump into the noobmares chat and post the stats they were looking for or wanting to do a speed run. The noobmares people were great and a chorus of comments that said “we’re not about that”…or, “you are in the wrong chat” would follow. It is possible for the community to create a better environment. But you have to (1) want it and (2) be willing to work to protect it or maintain it.

mosselyn
Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
mosselyn

I agree with most of this article, though I also think games can successfully encourage different types of behaviors.

Look at the cooperative play style of a game like GW2. Sure, there are still jerks aplenty, but the nature of the game encourages cooperative behavior and (I believe) drives off a certain type of player due to it’s lack of opportunity for competitive asshattery. End result: I found the community more pleasant in aggregate.

Similarly, I do think that some choices WoW made over the years, like the LFG tools and merged server communities, encouraged somewhat anti-social behavior and made it harder for the community police itself.

I’m not asserting Blizz made the wrong choice by implementing these things. They’re undeniably convenient and probably made the game better for any number of people. I can say, however, that my own experience of the game was seriously degraded by the introduction of LFG. Dungeons are my favorite part of any MMO, and I don’t mind pugging them, but my experience of pugging went right down the drain after LFG was introduced. It became like playing with NPCs.

I do not believe WoWC is a silver bullet. It isn’t going to change the community. But maybe, just maybe, like GW2, the environment will encourage behaviors I appreciate and drive off some of those who prefer the less social environment of retail.

Reader
Adam Russell

Ive been playing ffxiv a couple months and like it alot, however dungeon chat is extremely rare. People generally say hi at the start, and gg at the end but thats normally all there is. Occasionally someone will say they are 1st time doing it and if they are lucky someone will explain very briefly. But its not really what you could call chat.

Reader
rafael12104

Thanks Andy. Damn good article that spurred some interesting discussion.

I don’t have much to add to what has been said, other than I agree and “me too.”

BUT, I will stack one more thing which has probably already been spoken too.

An MMO may not be able to fix a broken community, but it sure as hell can break one. We have seen it time and time again, actually. Most recently I’d have to call Anthem out. But there have been much more egregious cases over the years, such as Arch Age.

In these instances, devs abdicated their responsibilities in a wide range of ways (which I will spare you) to literally break MMO communities.

So, in my view, it is a two-way street. Devs have a responsibility and so do players and each in turn impact or affect the community created.

Reader
Fred Douglas

I hate to put forth gamersriseup “we live in a society” tier analysis, but really online communities are not separate from the material reality of the societies in which gamers live. The idea that we can go back to an idealized past is a reactionary dream.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
elenie

Thank you for this article. A few points as they apply to me:

1. I played Classic back then, I’m playing it now. Then as now, if a group finder were to exist, I’d be able to jump in and do dungeons. If it does not, I simply won’t do them – I have neither time nor inclination to sit around in a city spamming for people to join, then have someone quit anyway and actually having to leave to replace them? No.
If that works for you, great, but to me this is tedium that has a terrible ratio between inconvenience and possibility of finding a new gaming friend.

2. I really dislike people dictating the “one true way”. Be it forced PvP, forced raiding, forced grouping, forced manual LFG, whichever – if you force people to do something, some may do it and resent it, some will just skip the activity completely or leave the game. Letting people use LFG does not deprive “purists” of much, it just adds more options for everyone without privileging some “one true way”.

3. I don’t want everything to push me towards being social. Making stuff like forming a group take ages so you’re “forced to chat and form bonds” is still a terrible idea. Is there no other, better way to encourage people to bond? I am happy to chat if someone wants to, and will stop questing/dungeons to do so. But if everyone just wants to get the dungeon done so they can go to bed, that’s valid too.

5. If you want to socialize, do it! Be actively nice in groups and raids, call out the assholes chewing out newbies, explain bosses, don’t ragequit, don’t enable bad behaviour just because it’s the tank, don’t blindly votekick, say hello and thank you.
Find a great guild, make as many friends as you like and let others do what works for them.

Reader
Robert Mann

Where you have points, that incentive is exactly what killed any need to care about other players. If a game incentivizes you to treat other people more like they don’t exist whenever possible, rather than anything else, most people will go for the reward for ignoring other people.

There are people for whom this is really what they want, because they do not wish to engage others. I don’t personally understand this alone-together thing, but more power to them. On the other hand, if games don’t incentivize this, but instead offer rewards across a spectrum including social experience… that would be very interesting to see. What we have seen is basically a “Poke people you really don’t know to get random gifts sent back and forth” as about the deepest level of reward outside things like raiding (which is more about performing your job alone, together, honestly, than being social in any way).

I’ll compare this to housing. Some people are happy without housing (offline games). Some just want to have housing where they can abuse others with it (see some survival games, and anything where people can grief others by blocking resources or even newbie spawns). Others are happy with it just existing, but not really having any purpose (alone-together). Yet others get far more interested when something with it has purpose, is done well, offers more freedom to decorate as we wish, etc. (rewards that are rare in MMO space). The position you have is essentially “Well, just because you build such systems doesn’t mean that the people who are in groups 1-3 here will participate.” To which I say “Well DUH!” The entire idea is that there are quite a few people who would appreciate something other than what we have… underserved markets so to speak. It’s not just about social play, but so many other things that are ignored in the genre.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

I’m one of the people “for whom this is really what they want”. I do wish to engage others when I feel like it and not be forced to when I don’t feel like it. This is simply about having choice. If I didn’t want to engage with others I’d play single player games only.

Reader
Michael18

You give this example for good, community-building behavior:

“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).”

But for this behavior to have the desired positive effect on community spirit in the game, you rely on the Alliance player to be in need of help in the first place (immediate threat of dying, in this case). But if a game is designed to make all open-world content soloable and to avoid frustrations for the player as far as possible, you won’t often see others in need of help.

And this extends far beyond combat: if players have ample inventory space from the start you won’t have the opportunity to spread some love by handing out 6 slot bags to random newbs in the starting zone; if players can teleport freely from every point in the world to pretty much every other point, you won’t have the opportunity to share tales of your adventures while waiting for the ship. And so on …

Of course, there will always be ways for very social players to reach out and find like-minded others, even in highly streamlined, hop-in / hop-out games. But the whole point of the discussion on modern vs. old school mechanics/features is that in modern, streamlined games you will have FAR fewer opportunities for the good, community-building behavior you are promoting or at least for such behavior to have an actual impact.

Reader
Anton Mochalin

All more or less popular MMORPGs now have raids and other forms of group content and they usually give better rewards and not soloable. Modern MMOs just give players the choice of different activities to do solo or in a group or as a part of a guild – and that’s a very positive thing.

cambruin
Reader
cambruin

Sure there is; WoWC. At least to me it is. As I said in a previous entry on a previous topic, this is what MMOs should strive to be again. People having to walk to dungeons to meet up, or people having to organize a summons. People having to wait at zeppelins. People having to group up for boss kills.

All of this is inconvenient. It downright sucks to just stand there. So how do you make this necessary evil… bearable? Fun even? You talk. You chat. You help eachother out, you share quests, you show interest in other players.

Every MMO inconveniences players. Luckily they have these lovely ingame stores where you can buy all sorts of goodies to bypass said inconveniences. How benevolent these companies are! And then they inconvenience us more. But no worries, they have our backs. They’ll introduce even more ‘convenience’ into their charitable stores.

And now shut up and leave me be please. I have an xp timer I bought in the store and it’s close to running out, so I’d like to solo these few quests and possibly get an extra lvl from the boost.

Reader
rosieposie

Content shapes people’s behavior and attitude. The easy, brainless and streamlined spoon-fed content of retail is contrary to cooperation. I only have to talk to people in mythic keystone or heroic raiding. Even leveling in classic forces you to cooperate. It’s not the purpose of an MMO to re-educate shitty human beings, of which there have always been a plenty. But the way an MMO is structured can certainly make them behave in completely different ways. Refusing to acknowledge that is just silly and disingenuous.

Reader
Skoryy

And yet Andy gets plenty of chatter doing duty roulettes which also aren’t all that hard at all. Maybe the problem isn’t the “easy, brainless and streamlined spoon-fed content,” maybe you’re just turning people off with that attitude to begin with?