Yeah, yeah, I’m writing about this again. 🙂
We can’t get to a really better community, where all the goodwill is felt from the bottom of the heart, without the players themselves contributing to that. I still remember my first day in Everquest, where a complete stranger helped me and even gave me a magic necklace, for no gain to himself. It is hard to blame developers for the fact that such behavior has become so rare.
Designers design the social environment by commission or omission. If they ignore it altogether, then there will be an accidental mishmash of features and the result is fairly unpredictable. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that paying close attention to it is going to work well either. Players respond to the environment they are given.
A simple thought experiment would be to ponder what would happen if you removed chat. Plenty of games do. Designers put chat into MMORPGs without really thinking about it, and tend to simply imitate chat systems we have liked in previous games. Clearly, its presence and design affect the quality of the community.
Everything you do that affects the experience players have in a multiplayer environment is going to affect the formation and development of the community.
Bhagpuss replied to Tobold, saying:
MMO “Community” was a freak side-effect of the design used by early games in the genre. Can you point to design documents or press releases from Everquest that indicate the slow mana regeneration, long downtime and so on were designed with the intention of fostering community among the playerbase? Not interviews after the fact, when designers may have taken credit for that emergent behavior, either!
I can’t for EverQuest specifically, but there are piles of design materials here on this site that are exactly what he describes. Some of them are pre-release articles written about the SWG development process. Yes, designers do think about this sort of thing. Designs like the allegiance system in Asheron’s Call, the high-end game in World of Warcraft, or the economic interpendence in Eve don’t just appear without some thought going into how payers interact with one another.
Some references for the curious:
- A Community Cookbook
- Ways to make your virtual space more social
- The sequence On Trust (part 1, 2, 3)
- Small Worlds
- On Socialization and Convenience
- Star Wars Galaxies Design Process
- The panel at Worldcon in ’06 where a bunch of designers talked about socialization in WoW
Bhagpuss went on to say:
Modern MMO design allows for fluid, enjoyable gameplay without the need for a unified community. About the only remaining reason to design for community is its supposed positive effect on retention. Other than that, it’s surely easier for designers to cater to the individual than the collective.
It isn’t a “supposed positive effect.” Community ties are the single biggest predictor of retention. And in the subscription game (really, in the microtransaction game too, though the effect is more complicated), retention = money. Therefore, community ties = money. Yes, it’s easier to ignore the social aspect. But nobody said that making money was easy.