It’s many years in the rear view now because these days it’s someone else’s show, but there was a time when Choose My Adventure was frequently my jam. And back then, at one point I popped back into WildStar during the time I personally think of as the game’s long, dark tea-time of misery. I bring all of this up because I remember during that run someone mentioned to me that there was a specific way to assemble dungeon groups, which involved definitely not using the in-game dungeon finder but expected community workarounds.
This has subsequently stuck in my craw for years.
That sense of being bothered is not due to people suggesting this doing so in bad faith or anything; I genuinely believe that anyone who suggests this stuff and tries to draw attention to community-built solutions to inherent problems in an MMO genuinely loves the game and wants to present it in the best light possible. Rather, it’s a problem wherein the assumption of the community is that these systems should be in place, or they somehow ameliorate failures of the game itself to provide these solutions.
Let’s turn the clock back to the early days of the original Guild Wars. You might have played the game, and you might have noticed that the game does not have a proper auction house for selling weapons or the like if you want to trade those. To which I would have been quick to point out that it’s all right because there are third-party websites that allow you to resell items quite effectively; you just need to register and post what you want to sell and contact people who are selling what you want to buy! It’s no problem, really.
Here’s the thing, though. Younger me was not technically wrong insofar as these sites definitely existed. But I was entirely wrong to point to these things as not being a big deal in the wake of the fact that the game should have just had an auction house. This was not fixing the problem!
Don’t believe me? Then riddle me this: How, exactly, would a new player who hadn’t necessarily gotten in touch with the game’s larger community know that this thing existed? What source would they have steering them to these websites? How would you know that these sites were not shady and were, in fact, the normal way of doing business in the game?
The answer is, of course, that you wouldn’t.
My point here is not to argue that these websites were irrelevant or bad or somehow actually shady as heck; they were pretty vital to playing the game at the time. But they were also very much a community-made solution to an actual problem that the game didn’t have any serious solutions to at the time (or even now). These were solutions developed to fix real problems, but they were not actually communicated to players ahead of time, and your random new player would not have any idea that these things existed.
And therein lies the rub. If you have some other community workaround for issues within your game, your game has the issue, and it needs to be addressed at a more fundamental level.
If your game has a tool for forming groups and getting into a dungeon but everyone “knows” not to use it, your game is accepting that new players who want to do dungeons are absolutely screwed. They’re not going to know that what you’re supposed to do is log into a specific chat channel in the game and look for an open slot when the groups are recruiting; they’re going to go click on the button that says “form a group to do this dungeon,” full stop. And when that doesn’t work, they’re going to conclude either that people do not run dungeons in this game or that the game is dying.
From there, they will most likely just leave. And all of the community solutions in the world aren’t going to make a lick of difference because hey, I tried to form a party but it didn’t work! Clearly the game is dying or quite possibly already dead.
You might argue that the solution here has to do with better community advertising or community engagement, but the problem here goes further than that. No matter how much you try to advertise these things, you are not going to have nearly as much reach to players new and old as the tool built into the game. Players are going to use that because that’s what it’s there for. If that’s somehow wrong, you’re making an ask of new players that most of them are not going to engage with.
The same can be said for socialization. If you say, for example, that all of the serious players are on a lively Discord server instead of talking in-game, a new player is going to look at in-game chat and conclude the game is empty. Even if that’s not technically accurate, it’s the face that’s being put forward for the game.
Obviously, this is not somehow the fault of community members who are searching for a solution. It is entirely possible – even plausible – that with some older and poorly maintained MMOs, it is actually a much smarter solution to keep everyone in a Discord channel so that people can be talked to and communicate more effectively than would otherwise be possible through in-game means. This probably didn’t come about as an intentional means of excluding new players in the slightest.
Yet that is still the net effect. You might have not intended to create a way to block new players out of the game, but every time you’re saying “the right way to play the game is to do these things that are not in any way supported or encouraged by the game,” you are making new players wonder why they are bothering. And most often, the answer will be to not bother any more.
I mean, you can log in to World of Warcraft and just use the dungeon finder tool to find a dungeon group, you know? The tool says it’ll do a thing, and then it does it. That’s a lot more straightforward.
A player who loves a game will go to substantial lengths to facilitate playing that game, doing as much as possible to make the game work even despite the sometimes apathetic actions of developers. I have no doubt that in games that have been tacitly abandoned by their developers (RIFT springs to mind at the moment), there are communities working hard to keep the fans of the game alive and keep people energized to play and enjoy things.
But to a new player, these communities are just collections of strangers who are expecting specific actions in order to be a part of the game, and it’s not necessarily going to be something that seems worthwhile. Some new players are going to bounce right off, and a lot of them are going to have no idea about these community expectations ahead of time.
So if you’re inclined to say that there’s an active community for the game but it’s just not represented in-game… maybe that’s part of the problem.