Mistakes of the Past: Community and EQNext

Scribed August 16, 2013 under The Cynic Dialogues
Tier1

One of my pet peeves in MMO design has come about because of recently released games in the genre over the last decade. What is it? Titles sort of give this away but yea its community. Community is one of the hardest aspects of an MMO to track, qualify and determine its quality and cohesiveness. Its one of the most talked about aspects of MMO’s but in nearly all cases its more lipservice than substance.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, I wrote up a list of some things EverQuest Next should avoid from recent MMO “evolutions”. Heres some of the those “things” ;

 Guild Wars 2 did a lot of things right, but this one really bit my ass. If I as a player can be in multiple guilds, what loyalty do I have to any one? Combined with group finders being non-existant, the guild structure in this game became a joke. Members would hop guilds on a daily basis to look for people to play with.

Another innovation harkening back to War Hammer Online and “public quests” (also seen in GW2 to an extent). Instead of talking with players to overcome content, giant zegs of players roam a zone and finish it off. Disregarding how well the content scaled with the number of players in the area… the challenge was relatively minimal regardless.  Instead of talking, working through a problem, and finding friendship through a shared difficult encounter; players ran around sometimes through the entire game without talking to a single person. God forbid your one of those social players who plays MMOs to be social….

Posting stuff with the click of a button and logging in the next day to find your bags full of gold is certainly an attractive feature.  It makes management of your inventory trivial and the required social interaction is akin to well… playing a single player game (with a real life delay). In the old days, players were forced to sometimes spend some of their game time actually interacting with people around them and trying to negotiate or haggle prices with them. It was a sort of social excercise that online gamers of the time found engaging and the foundation for a larger community.

Fast forward to today; you have people who don’t even get the names of the people buying or selling product. Everythings trivialized and marginalized to help people who can’t afford to spend time in your game (catering to the lowest common denominator?).

One of my personal on-the-fence peeves. I’ve played games with and without group finders. GW2 is a more recent example of this feature missing in a modern MMO. Was this beneficiary towards building a community? I’d have to lean towards no.

My issue with this feature centers around the lack of needing to talk to other fellow players. You merely click a button and your off. WoW further bastardized this feature by allowing cross-realm grouping. You were literally plucked from your server community and dumped into a group with people you would likely never meet again.

Having been on the bad side of needing to find a group in GW2 and my guild being too small to form one entirely composed of  just guild members… It was admittedly frustrating to have to search for random players to join us. Yet, despite this frustrating aspect, we did pick up quite a few new guild members because of it. In a sense, not having a group finder did aid us in building our own community.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list of social gaming issues come of late; The trend is towards appealing to the casual gamer whose time in game is minimal. Unfortunately, games with this approach also tend to be games with a lackluster community. As mentioned in the beggining of this article, community is hard to quantify or qualify. Its not something I can just measure and judge a games success by. Yet one thing that does seemingly occur in games with community is that they tend to last. Or perhaps its the games that last that tend to attract a meaningful community.

One method I’ve found of determining a communitys virility is by looking at the number of blogs dedicated to the game. While by no means the only measure of a games success, a game with lots of blogs dedicated to it is a sign of a strong vocal community. One sign you can at least quantify.

World of Warcraft, with so many millions of players, has many such blogging communities with it. Why is that? The second half to this article should be; what makes communities form up? Instead, I’ll end this post on a cautionary note. EQN needs to avoid these pitfalls. The community as a whole has done well by SOE. EverQuest and EverQuest 2 are very impotant milestones in displaying the dedication a gaming company has to its community.

The key becomes making sure your game can attract AND keep those communities in the first place.

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Reddit Discussion on Mistakes of the Past: Community and EQNext

TheCodeJanitor writes...
Honestly, I think "Groupless, free form combat" is one of the most positive community building things I've seen in MMOs in a while. In older games where encounters are locked down and you're forced to group up, you still end up with plenty of antisocial people. And especially as those games age, you rarely see people group up just for normal over-world content. On top of that, you have competition, complaints about kill stealing, camping certain areas, etc.

Xuerian writes...
I think the problem here is he grouped it into one thing. Freeform area progression is one issue, which is Hearts in Guild Wars 2. I think hearts, when compared to little yellow exclamation points, were a _excellent_ choice. I'm not sure if it was the best choice overall, it did make it easy to just go through areas. Groupless combat is the part where "tagging" only means that you ALSO get kill credit, not that you ONLY get kill credit. This part is completely horking amazing and I will shank whoever disagrees with me straight in the spleen. ---- On a side note, social activity is completely alive and well in Guild Wars 2, just like lore. It has _tons_ of it, but I find it somewhat ironic that a lot of people in this sub don't know. You aren't spoonfed either one. And here people complain that they don't want people spoonfed anything, but GW2 (Despite its flaws) has these, doesn't spoonfed, as is used as the figurative boogeman of a cautionary tale. Heck, even it's payment model is amenable to almost everyone here, you buy the game once, cosmetics and convenience can be bought with money (AND in-game money! Even the deluxe version of the "game box") Disclaimer: I'm also guilty of not enjoying the good parts of GW2 as much as I probably should due to not being spoonfed these things. Lots of people won't go out and really look for a good guild or good lore when they aren't forced on it by quests or needing to raid and whatnot. Or stay in that guild through slow times even if they can rep another guild. I think that the account-wide guild thing was really the problem. One guild per character wouldn't have this issue so much.

TheCodeJanitor writes...
Yeah, I think GW2 has a number of flaws/issues, but the way they built a sense of community is definitely not one.

TimoWasTaken writes...
As far as multiple guilds go, personally I don't care but it seems like a good idea. As far as everything else in that article, those are all good things. Why do you want to spend hours selling something when you could have an auction house? Why would you want to look for a group for an hour when you could use group finder? Nothing's making you use those features, but without them there's little point logging in for forty minutes...

razorxwire writes...
There are a lot of posts here saying that they would rather have things more similar to how a medieval community would run. One example that really stuck out to me was having your gold be in one bank, and you have to go back to that specific bank to retrieve your gold/items. All I could think was... wat.. Why would you want that? I couldn't imagine having 30 minutes to play, and need an item from my bank on the other side of the continent. That would completely ruin the experience, in my opinion, when I could just run to the closest bank, grab my stuff and continue playing.

Paradoxmoose writes...
It's an immersion feature. There is a pushback against convenience features, its essentially contrasting why people play arcade racing games vs why people play driving simulator games. I, and I suspect others, have started to get tired of having everything handed to the players on a silver platter.

debacol writes...
There is a distinction (though I'm sure we draw different lines) between getting stuff handed on a silver platter vs. just a big waste of timesink. I have a feeling old EQ vets might have to come to some understanding that many of the features of modern MMOs and, most likely even in EQ:N, aren't there to make the game easy. They make the mundane crap easy so you can get to playing the game.

Paradoxmoose writes...
Keep in mind that many of us EQ vets did play the subsequent MMOs too, when there are too many convenience features, it stops feeling like a virtual world, and more like a video game.

Thorncoat writes...
It's more than just immersion as well. Having an auction house has a major negative effect on the economy and community. The economy suffers because of the ability for individuals and entire guilds to control markets with very little effort. The community suffers because there is no interaction between players anymore.

razorxwire writes...
I agree with this, as standing in EC Commons Tunnel trading was one of the better opportunities I've had in any game to interact with other players. Although the banking example I gave is a bit over the top, and while it may subtlety break immersion, it has no negative impact on community interaction.. Besides, all bank vaults go to a plane where there are bank gnomes that tally your gold input, and catalog your items, right?

Paradoxmoose writes...
if they put in an AH, they shouldn't bother putting back in the EC tunnel, it will be depressing to see it empty.

razorxwire writes...
I hear ya man. I don't want an AH either.. I want GFay and EC Tunnel =P

Dileth writes...
My guild owned the market on Zebuxoruk for most of PoP, we shut down RZ and farmed the upper Planes dry, then resold the items/crafting mats for tons. This was all post bazaar, however, nobody had any way of obtaining those items until we let other guilds get flagged. My point being there are other ways to control markets and if possible people will find ways to do so.

debacol writes...
1) the economy is not the only place to interact with players. 2) having a global auction house reduces the severity of arbitrage.

LandSeagull writes...
That's the problem with this pushback against convenience features. They were, for the most part, implemented to attract the people who don't have the amount of time (or feel as if their time could be better spent) required to spend thirty minutes shopping for a single piece of gear, find a group, etc. The solution is *not* retreating to the old days where these games were effectively a social club for people without jobs or who were in school. While these features, if removed, would increase social interaction to an extent, they would end up excluding certain groups from the game altogether. Far better ideas can be found that keep conveniences but allow for and promote social interaction. As far as what those solutions *are*, I don't know, but I'm not the only one in the world with a functioning brain.

GymIn26Minutes writes...
>Why do you want to spend hours selling something when you could have an auction house? Auction houses have a few problems: 1. They massively increase the rate at which the in-game economy can be destroyed by inflation 2. They open up the potential for intentional market manipulation by wealthy individuals in game that can imbalance the economy for the entire server. 3. A slight miscalculation or error on the part of the developers becomes hugely magnified when every person on the entire server can instantly exchange items across any distance

Thorncoat writes...
You left out the negative effect instancing has on the community. When you take the players out of the world, the world shrinks in population. Adding a co-op game in the midst of a MMO is never a good idea. People become less focused on the world.

atroxodisse writes...
Instancing needs to die a quick and painless death.

JDogg126 writes...
Agreed. Instanced content needs to die horribly.

ThePieWhisperer writes...
I think that the the way EQN is promising to generate content on the fly (as you dig down, for example) will go a long way towards removing the need for instancing. Very much looking forward to seeing this.

Xuerian writes...
Contrarily, it adds a larger need for it. In fact, the devs have mentioned already that specific encounters will be instanced, because otherwise after the first couple of groups you'd be running through the spawn area of a pvp minecraft server. Not immersive. Not ideal, but better than the alternative. I'm really looking forward to the non-instanced stuff though, like dynamic mob groups -> camps, etc.

Hateseeker writes...
Well, the question arises, what is an instance? If an instance is an area the game temporarily generates but that everyone can go to it while it's active, that's not so bad, but instances designed for single groups, that's not so good.

Xuerian writes...
I don't think there's a definitive answer. I would lean towards smaller groups for most instances purely by habit, but they seem to have implied they want large groups to be able to do a lot of things, so I imagine it would go both ways.

Hateseeker writes...
Well, also - are instances necessarily temporary, could they be permanent? I mean...when you knock a hole in the ground and it opens up some dungeon, was that dungeon there in its now exposed form all along?

Xuerian writes...
Again I don't think there's a solid stance right now, and this is speculation, but any storyline instances will probably resemble a lot of the standard MMO instances, if there are any. As far as world dungeons and the like, I'm hopeful there. I'm not sure if they'll say "Ok, this was discovered" and knock a better looking hole, or if the player made one will stay there. It's a really cool concept either way.

nschubach writes...
> Adding a co-op game in the midst of a MMO is never a good idea. I think you mean adding segregated instances of a co-op game ... I play my MMOs like co-op games, even in the open world and it was some of the best play experiences I've had. Buffing random people, helping out people in need...

gridpoet writes...
I'm sorry, but i completely disagree with you... this was never and issue in WoW... there were always plenty of people moving through the world and doing exterior content... and when you wanted to group with your friends and just get away you could enter an instance dungeon and tackle content that was tuned for a small group... I have played 90%+ of all MMO's to come out and WoW's community never felt less vibrant or full (until they destroyed it with group finders) than any other MMO... i can honestly say there was NOTHING more annoying to me than going into a dungeon in EQ or EQ2 and being forced to compete with my supposed allies for monster spawns... sometimes its nice to just hop on mumble with close friends and be challenged by some PVE content

drhoneybadger writes...
I have to agree with this

screelings writes...
The problem I have with instances is they tend to remove the "massively" component to Massively Multiplayer Online RPG's. If I'm in an instance, and I don't see anyone else, sure it feels a bit less crowded but it doesn't make me a part of the world. The word 'instancing' actually implies it removes you from the world. I don't see how a community can be built when your actively removing players from a world in groups of four to six (or 50 depending on raid size). Instancing is a big issue only if you consider the traditional means of loot distribution. If you remove static spawns and named spawns, the need for instancing is removed altogether. I'm not going to Lower Guk to camp for a sash if that sash is crafted and all I really need to do is go into an open world dungeon to kill frogs. In essence, their game design sort of supports a more community-emphasized game. I just hope they can find a balance of somewhere in between EQ1 medieval ages and modern day MMO conveniences mentioned in my article.

LyamOfCrydee writes...
There are plenty of ways to make open area content without having to compete for mobs.

debacol writes...
Multiple guilds, at least in my experience, has been more of a boon than a curse. You can find a few active guilds that specialize in different types of gameplay. Like in GW2, I'm involved in a WvW guild that is mostly about WvW. When I feel like doing WvW, I represent that guild and jump into their mumble server. I also am in a PvE guild that runs high level fractals and dungeons. I rep that guild and find groups for dungeons when thats what I want to do. This is much more flexible and efficient than my previous experiences with guilds in games like WoW where you find the perfect guild only to have it slowly fade away and you either have to try and get more members, or search for another guilld, but searching for a guild in the first place is much more difficult and time consuming in a game that only allows you to be in one guild.

Sentrus writes...
You only build community by pushing people. Gamers are lazy and antisocial on average and if you give them a choice to solo and ignore other players while not being penalized for doing so, they will do it, almost exclusively. Look at all the games with very lively communities: They have a significant encouragement to actively (not passively) group up to take on tasks that cannot be accomplished solo, and rewards groups not only for grouping up, but for working well together. (Example: EQ, EVE, WoW pre-LFR/DungeonFinder era.) Look at all the MMOs with lonely communities: They are by and large solo games or Queues-R-Us games where the social interactions you DO take part in are incredibly impersonal and do not reward good cohesion. (Example: WoW LFR/DungeonFinder era, SWTOR, EQ2 to a lesser extent. It's kind of in between) WoW was solo-friendly even at launch, but there were a lot of group quests in each zone that you'd save up and knock out with a group together before you left. EVE only gets fun when you're doing small gang or fleet ops. EQ was of course practically grouping-required. Yes, there is a certain inconvenience factor, but this merciless pursuit of convenience has absolutely demolished community in an MMO. It's time to draw a line in the sand and say that MMOs **don't** have to be as accessible as sitting down for a few Call of Duty matches. Auction houses? That's fine. That didn't really kill community, in fact it enhanced the economy and added a new metagame. You could do the same thing with player owned merchants and stuff. SWG economy was fun. Instances? In moderation, sure. Dungeon finder? No. Raid finder? Hell no. STRONG encouragement to group at every level of the game? Hell yes. This is even more important in a sandbox because other players are the main source of content.

goratoar writes...
Considering the EQ1 pioneered the rudimentary forms of two of these four points (LFG tool and the Bazaar), these are not things I am terribly worried about. I don't really want a global auction house unless it's an actual physical (virtually speaking) market, but I understand the limitations of having a zone chock full of people (mostly AFK). If the world is robust enough, and there are enough cities, I would be most happy with local markets whether through a dealer or not, which would create the drive for a goods and materials transportation networks. Multiple guilds is just silly. In a vast world, an LFG tool will be completely necessary to, you know, find other people in the world. Not everyone will want to haul their ass into town and sit around at a tavern until a group forms up. I support having some sort of movement assistance towards people found in your area. I would personally be happy with a just a /find trail towards groups who are looking for players, but I wouldn't be too miffed if there was some kind of fast-travel mechanic over local distances so people don't get lost in the terrain. This is, of course, contingent on the use of maps. As for zerging. I don't really see it as being an issue. I doubt the game will have enough pvp elements for it to make sense and for people going about and razing the countryside of all enemies? It won't benefit them individually. The biggest problem with Warhammer, and why these zergs were formed, was because no matter how many people were involved in taking an objective or castle, you got the same amount of pvp xp. This caused both factions to avoid each other's zergs and just follow each other around capturing what was left behind, because them getting in a battle would slow down the xp grind. That was a simple problem with a simple solution that never seemed to dawn on the developers to fix, and it heavily assisted in destroying that game.

screelings writes...
I've got quite a few articles pending in drafts. Posted this story up because just reading and rereading a lot of the community out there is very enlightening as to the attitudes of players towards EQN thus far. Everyone has opinions on what the game should include or shouldnt. This article takes a look at certain modern MMO "features" in relation to Group Finders, Guild Membership, Auction Houses and even how Combat can potentially ruin or hamper the growth of the community surrounding a game. On a side note, I'm a bit disappointed that this subreddit only has 4700 subscribers. I would of thought that would be considerably higher at this point. Heres to hoping PAX/GamesCon can drag that number higher.

Smeagul writes...
A lot of people are probably playing their games and not necessarily paying attention to upcoming stuff. Or they notice think "oh, cool. maybe I'll play that when it comes out" and never give it a second thought.

DraslinHDF writes...
Yes, I agree. Give us tools to make interaction more rewarding and intuitive, not random pugfinders that have about as much chances of turning out OK as booking a date on craigslist without reading the ad.

BobSmith1954 writes...
Agree 100%.

Konbad writes...
Group Finders are only Viable when they search for people on your current server, the multiserver solutions are community breaking

vrava writes...
When I have 30 minutes to play and I want to run a quick dungeon, I am very thankful to have gw2lfg to quickly get me going. How this hurts the community is beyond me. I've made great friends from PUGs.

Smeagul writes...
I don't mind an LFG that builds the group. I do mind when it's cross server, and I'd prefer it didn't port you to the dungeon.

vrava writes...
Just have GW2 to judge by, which doesn't port you to the dungeon unless you're in the same map, but why does cross server matter? Makes finding a group easier...

Smeagul writes...
Because the chance of actually meeting anyone on another server is miniscule. Nobody gives a shit about anyone else, they just plow through the dungeon in silence and leave. If someone is slowing you down, kick em. Not like you'll ever see them again, and you can just replace them.

vrava writes...
Hmm. I just haven't had this problem, but it may be because GW2 doesn't actually have a built-in LFG tool. You actually have to use a website. We always form our own groups with the note that we welcome everyone. We usually end up with quite good and friendly groups. Perhaps it's our unique set of circumstances that enables this good luck.

Smeagul writes...
No, that seems like a good setup. The game I play currently has a built in LFG, but it very bad at building groups so everyone hand builds instead. Being in a guild is very important because it means you're much more likely to get a powerful player to help you. If you meet a good tank or healer in a group, then you add them to your friends list in case you need a healer or a tank later and can't find one. People are just so much more friendly when there's no LFG, and especially no cross server LFG.

vrava writes...
I think it may be less about the server issue and more about giving the player some say over the "type" of group they join. If people can choose whether they want a "speed-run" group , an "all-are-welcome" group, or a "role-playing" group for instance, they may be happier. Throwing all of those people together automatically into the same group simply because they happen to want to run the same dungeon at the same time won't make for a harmonious experience. GW2 is adding in a LFG tool soon, so we'll see how that works out. People do have the concern that if the groups are too easy to build, anyone who makes a mistake will be booted. I think having different queues for different types of players will go a long way in assuaging that fear.

Smeagul writes...
Hm, yes, but cross server means you won't see any of the people again, so why bother being nice? Your actions will never reflect back on you.

vrava writes...
Well, again just from GW2, half of my friends and guild mates are from other servers. We run a guild that allows people from smaller guilds to run content they otherwise wouldn't be able to run. We accept people from all servers. Just three days ago we ran in to one of them from a different server in a random dungeon run. And we do make friends running PUGs from other servers. We may not run into them in the open world, but when we see them online we see if they want to run a dungeon with us. Ultimately, making the LFG tool cross-server greatly expands the pool of people to make dungeon groups from, thus reducing the amount of time to form a group (especially for less popular dungeons.) And it's certainly possible, at least in GW2, to develop a friends list of people from many different servers. I think the benefits to cross-server LFG tools outweigh the drawbacks.

Gerolux writes...
eh, for the auction house.. I dont mind it. But I also wouldnt mind something akin to a hybrid system. Something like an item finder via search window, and then pointing me to the player made NPC selling the item. Allows me to get more ineraction with crafters if need be.

DraslinHDF writes...
Make auction commissions huge and create a market for the barter/haggle types to operate where they can turn a bigger profit and consumers can pay lower prices. Reward the hard work that goes into being a merchant, rather than a pump and dump Bazaar crafter.

drhoneybadger writes...
I think these guidelines are the guidelines anybody making an MMO should follow.

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