The Daily Grind: Do MMOs need ‘friction’ for social bonding?

    
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Not quite a year ago, World of Warcraft Game Director Ion Hazzikostas sat for a Wired interview in which he discusses social bonding in MMOs, effectively arguing that “friction” was an essential component of old-school MMOs. “There’s an inverse relationship between friction and the strength of bonds that are formed as a result of that friction or to overcome that friction,” he said.

Our commenters were… not impressed, but I think it’s worth exploring in more detail since it’s an idea developers and gamers have been kicking around for as long as I can remember there being MMORPGs. And I’m not entirely sure the sentiment is wrong. Humans do bond over harrowing experiences. Any soldier would agree with this.

But humans bond over pretty much everything else. They bond over movie fandoms, sports, politics, music, children, on and on and on. This is why you likely have friends in your MMOs and guilds who’ve been around a long time but didn’t necessarily spend weeks camping jboots with you or fighting the long war in spreadsheets online. It’s always seemed to me like “friction” – be it PvP or PvP – is the MMO way of fast-tracking a specific type of community that also drives potential community out the door. Or as MOP’s Chris once put it, “Equating an inherent need to put up with people long enough to get through something isn’t a bond; it’s basic survival instinct, and it’s not how a community should form.”

Where do you stand on it all? Do MMOs need “friction” for social bonding?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Nephele
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Nephele

My opinion: I wouldn’t say it’s friction that’s important. I think it’s having shared objectives and needing other players (and in turn being needed by them) to achieve those objectives. Social value.

This should be true whether we’re talking about cooperative adventuring content, any form of PvP, or even non-combat gameplay like crafting, research, diplomacy, etc. If you give players reasons to work together and need each other – and don’t anonymize the whole thing with random queuing systems in the name of “accessibility” – they will naturally form bonds around those reasons.

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Roger Edwards

I think social gaming would improve massively if we went back to a formal system that required letters of introduction.

I also think that we should use people titles when addressing them in chat. Mr. Mrs. or in my case Archdeacon.

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Stormwaltz

If you’re talking about pick up groups, “friction” just adds social pressure to mechanical pressure. Anyone who’s played – or simply watched – a round of a MOBA will be aware that toxicity also comes from your own peers screaming “lern 2 play.”

I am not the greatest “twitch” player, but even restricting myself to low-tier co-op, I’ve had random teammates in World of Warships spend the entire game screaming at me for “playing wrong.”

If you’re talking about permanent groups (guilds, raiders), “friction” makes a game more difficult for new players to enter into. There’s a reason EVE has tried multiple times to revamp its newbie experience, and each time come away with modest results.

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Robert Mann

What matters is not friction, but that the other person is important. This can happen through a large variety of impetus, including personal attitudes and just getting along well… but in general it DOES happen most when the game supports it.

Sadly, game developers have almost exclusively gone the friction route, via group combat or PvP, in social development with MMOs. There’s dozens of non-MMO titles that show social bonding without that, so the lack in MMOs is merely a lack.

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Bruno Brito

“There’s an inverse relationship between friction and the strength of bonds that are formed as a result of that friction or to overcome that friction,” he said.

I mean, yeah, we were not impressed. Take from a hardcore raider to think that bonds are only formed around repetitive challenge.

Ion should NEVER be a lead dev for anything. Make a raid team and shove him there.

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Munchmeat2

If he was responsible for M+, then he can GTFO of WoW as lead developer. I’ve never seen a more crappy system ever introduced into a MMO.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Bryan Correll pointed it out below, but now that he did I can’t unsee it. An inverse relationship would mean that the more friction there is, the *weaker* the social bonds. He wanted to throw out big words, and seems to have negated his own argument. Derp!

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Or maybe he knew all along that friction frays social bonds, and that’s really what these people creating games lately have been purposely doing? (Food for thought at least.)

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else, and as someone who prefers to solo on a site that mostly reports on MMO related news I don’t assume I’m even slightly representative.

But to me, the descriptions of “Old Everquest” where you had to spend hours waiting for a boat to get from zone to zone, and possibly entire weekends camping for magic boots to run faster? Yeah, that sounds completely hellish. Doubly so because both mechanics required you to be actually paying attention instead of just present or you’d miss the boat / get skipped by the next person in line waiting for the stupid boots.

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Bryan Correll

Our commenters were… not impressed

By his misuse of the word ‘inverse,’ making his statement the exact opposite of what he intended?

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Arktouros

The inherent problem when discussing any group of people this large (the millions of people who play MMOs) is you’re going to have greatly varying cases and reasons for why people do anything. If you told me there was a case where two best friends met because they were wearing matching outfits in game and suddenly became bros for life it would not surprise me at all.

Anecdotally speaking I can say the bonds I formed prior to games like WOW were extremely strong because they had to be. In those early days where games had FFA PvP environments and you had “a war of all against all” having a good, strong guild was pretty much mandatory for existence. The friction of the consequences from dying were often times extremely high. However by WOW those consequences had fallen off entirely and without that friction a lot of groups ripped themselves apart. I remember my guild trying to run itself as a PvP group in WOW and it just didn’t work. An “all call” that sent you traveling down to Gadgetzan only to find the fight was gone just annoyed people. Efforts to pool resources like greens or crafting materials was just met with frustration.

So while all that is “technically” correct I think it’s misleading because it doesn’t talk about the other side of the coin which is that a lot of people just don’t want to participate the more friction there is. MMO games went from thousands to millions of players with WOW so reducing friction drives up player involvement.

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Toanstation

I agree. It completely dismisses community bonds and efforts that do not depend on friction. Some examples that I can think of off the top of my head are:

  • The Signal Cartel in EVE Online – a non-combat organization of explorers and angels of mercy in a game defined by its friction. They don’t fight, they don’t get involved in conflicts, but most wormhole explorers/exploiters know who they are, if only because of their pod/ship-saving caches of probe launchers and probes found throughout wormhole space.
  • Weatherstock in Lord of the Rings Online – an annual, weekend-long, server-crushing live in-game music festival hosted by the Lonely Mountain Band of the Landroval server. Dozens of musical groups, performing for hundreds of players live from the summit of Weathertop.
  • The game that was Glitch – an MMO that didn’t involve conflict and people definitely bonded over it before bonding over its passing.
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Brazen Bondar

Glitch is a great example. That community was super bonded and so much fun. No shooting, no dungeons…just fun.

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Ken from Chicago

It … (Say it with me, people) … depends.

What do you mean by “friction”? Without a specific definition, people assume the worst. If there’s a “good” definition for friction then that needs to be stated explicitly–because there are a ton of negative ones.

Without that clear definition then this turns into the same ole old school mmo’s were better then new ones with LFG, and solo ability, and not needing to grind for days to maybe get the gear to raid the endgame dungeons. Or nerfing characters so they can’t survive solo forcing you to spend hours in chat to get a group to have the right time available to adventure.

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Dug From The Earth

Game friction… sure, it can help bring people together.

The problem with WoW is that the friction exists between players, not the game.