Recently I listened to the Shut Up! We’re Talking #9 podcast, which had a number of good topics and discussions. One of the topics was “Do you help new players” and the discussion include that there perhaps were less people around than there were in the old days and this changed with World of Warcraft. More people playing, more bad apples to meet – but also that since one could solo all the way to the top level, there were little opportunity to actually learn how to group and behave well in a group. Brent from Virginworlds also mentioned that he had pretty much soloed all the way up to level 62 in World of Warcraft.
There are a few different items mixed in here. Community spirit is one, grouping is another.
First, I do agree that the community landscape changed around the time that World of Warcraft was released. It was the first MMOG I decided to unsubscribe to a number of the public chat channels because of all the trash talk and frankly annoying “discussions” that were prevalent. However, previous games were not totally lacking that kind of talk, they were just below the threshold what was bearable. Since then I have turned off chat channels in multiple games after that, because I have seen similar trends in other games – even those that I have played befire World of warcraft.
I do not think it is World of warcraft in itself and its soloing friendly environment that causes people to behave like this – there are just other groups of people that have been introduced to the genre and we have less homogenous crowds in the games nowadays. The forced grouping in some MMOGs may certainly have taught people how to work in a group in the game, but not fundamentally changed the social patterns. I would be more inclined to believe that the lack of options in terms of game environments may have contributed more there – with not many MMOGs around it would be more important to make sure one fit into the community or part of the community. The need to belong to a community is not less today, but there are more options and it is not the end of the world if it gets screwed up in one of them.
Looking at the grouping mechanics here, Brent’s comment about pretty much soloing all of the time in World of warcraft points to a game flaw in my opinion. It is not that the ability to solo is a flaw for grouping, but rather that the grouping mechanics themselves are flawed. If a person is no stranger to grouping in other games and many people say that grouping can be a more rewarding experience, then why would they still solo?
There are many different reasons, a few being:
- Not enough time to get into a group and play.
- No friends around or no friends in my level range
- I may have to leave the computer on short notice, due to various real life issues
- Do not want to group with strangers, too much risk of grouping with jerks or those who do not know how to play well
Group mechanics have changed very little in any significant ways, even though many other changes have taken place in game mechanics as well as the potential palyer base. The points listed above are things at least I see often as motivation why people do not group, including myself. But why are they not addressed?
Adding the ability to solo thought the game is a good thing, but that is not the way to address flaws in grouping mechanics – both grouping and solo play should be there, but one does not exclude the other. Typically in grouping mechanics today, one has a couple of common features:
- You have a group leader who is responsible for inviting people to the group or kicking them out. Inviting a person is an explicit action, often initiated by a group looking for more players to fill their needs, or a player looking for a group to fill their needs.
- You have a limited number of members, typically 5-6. If you want to have more people, you have multiple groups forming a raid.
- Different characters in a group take on certain roles, often including “the holy trinity” (tank-healer-damage dealer) plus some added support
- Only members that are part of the group gets credit for kills and can loot the corpses of their fallen victims/enemies.
So what if we challenge those features? Do we need a group leader, do we need to invite and kick out people? Do we need a max limit on group size? And do we need to get people in the group with certain roles and that they play that role thoughout the groups existance?
The first thought here might be – chaos! – no structure, and nothing will work. For the traditinal group setting, this is probably true. But this type of setting is typically a bit strict and provides a number of hurdles. Why not provide some less strict alternatives between solo and the traditional group, without the strict requirements of the group?
This is already happening in games on a regular basis, there is just no or very few mechnics to support it. If you see someone fighting a nasty monster and they seem to be in trouble, maybe you have helped by either healing the character in trouble, or helped killing the monster? This is an example of less strict grouping in my opinion. There is no formal invite, it may have a very short duration and the roles taken may depend on the situation.
Game mechanics should be expanded to provide some rewards and incentives here, but also lower the threshold for setting up and and playing in a traditional group. This may include better abilities to track status for multiple characters (similar to what is available in a traditional group) and potential for some reward or bonus – perhaps a bit less than it would have been in a traditional group, but more than nothing at all.
And traditional groups should allow more flexbility in terms of roles played, number of characters needed, level ranges (if the game has levels). And the groups should be able to set the challenge bar themselves also, since the challenge level will not be one size fits all. Encounters that may be challenging for one group may be dead easy for another and the members may want different levels of challenge as well.
Games like Warhammer Online seem to have included some elements to go beyond the traditional grouping and City of Heroes/Villains is in my opinion the game with the most flexibility within the scope of a traditional group. Tabula Rasa’s setting will enforce the less strict grouping in non-instanced areas, but remains to be seen how well this will work out in terms of the supporting game mechanics.