Did antisocials ruin MMOs?

| Monday, November 30, 2009
I remember doing a lot more grinding and waiting in WoW. From what I've heard, other games had even more. On the surface these things are bad. After all, grinds are repetitive and who likes waiting? But there are benefits to them.

Waiting around is a time for guilds to bond. There's not much time to chit chat during raids; there are more immediate concerns to be handled. Sure, there are a few minutes before pulls while you buff and summon and all that, but are you going to be friends from talking for five minutes a couple nights a week? Are you going to feel any loyalty? I doubt it. By my own experience, that chit chat is annoying. A handful of people who knew each other before talk about stuff no one else understands and it can be alienating. It ends up being "I wish we'd start so they would shut up."

Grinding on its own isn't very social. However if a grind is long enough and based on mass killing, it encourages grouping up. You get a few DPS and maybe a healer to go commit genocide. It's low-key so you can chat and do the sort of numberless theorycraft that can do a surprising amount to open people's minds to the mechanics of the world: "What if we used shockwave when those spawn and then they'll be easier to bladestorm?" "Really, those can be stunned? I didn't know that."

The activity itself isn't much fun, but it's a time to gather and talk. Think of it as the barn-raising of MMOs. Get together and build something and eat pie while the younguns try to hook up and make more younguns. Maybe that last part of the analogy only works in Goldshire.

So what killed boring stuff in MMOs? Maybe it was the antisocial people. They couldn't have fun with people despite the activity. They wanted to log in, get their pixels, and log out without having to deal with other people any more than necessary.

But you say "Isn't this really because people like being able to get things done in a short amount of time?" Maybe. But I wonder, would people be willing to spend more time if they were with people they socialized with more? Sure, there are the log in for an hour twice a week people, but why structure everything around them? Why are all the instances short and all the grinds based on an hour of dailies here and there? I remember people farming in guild groups or waiting for PUGs to form and talking along the way. I joined my first guild while waiting for a ZF group to start.

As I was digging through screenshots to find some for GIMP to grind up into a banner, I stumbled across some very old ones. They were of a few guildies and me on my warlock in Darkwhisper Gorge. We were farming the eye of shadow. I don't recall if we were farming it for a guildy in the group or if we were just farming as a group. Either way, I can't imagine that anymore. What could we possibly need to farm that we cannot do alone?

It's all soloable. Sure, these mobs were soloable, but they were tough enough that a group was appreciated and we were still in a mindset that farming was more than just a solo activity between raids; it was part of what guilds did. I won't pretend we didn't mine solo or hunt some mobs solo, but there was much more group activity outside of raids and instances. The bugs in Silithus used to be elite. Soloable, but still tough enough that it was smart to bring help. Part of the rep included summoning outdoor mini-bosses, which we'd pull together groups for, sometimes entire PUG raids.

These days I almost laugh when people group up outside instances. LFM TFA/cit? Heh. Noobs, learn2solo. That strikes me as wrong. These are supposed to be multi-player games, MMORPGs, and yet increasingly we demand the ability to solo. We push away any hint of reliance on others. Then when we join a PUG we wonder why everyone is so unreliable. We try to raid and wonder who recruited these disloyal idiots.

The other extreme was certainly bad, waiting hours for a spawn and needing a group at almost all times. But this extreme might not be all that much better. Why play online if we're going to play it as a single-player game?

Are we too antisocial to pass the time talking? Are we in such a rush that everything must be able to be done right now? Are we replacing slow-cooking with microwaves and losing all the flavor?


LarĂ­sa said...

barn raising, that's a great picture!
I really agree about the lack of group playing these days. I had a little bit of it as I grinded for the winterspring mount, but it's really rare.

I remember in TBC how we grinded elementals together for our spellstrike and equivalent sets. Elemental Plateu was a crowded and social place those days. Oh, memories...

Dwism said...

typical larisa being burned out on the game and all!! :p
I kid, but its weird that neither of you mention the new lfg tool. thats as not-anti-social as wow has ever been.
And the olden days where very very anti-social.
If you where not in the right guild, everything was closed of from you.
I was in the right guild (and by the sound of it, so where you klep) So we did get to visit raid-instances, and farm stuff and experience wow. When all the casual players/unlucky players never got to do anything but pug 10 manned strat.
Now-a-days it is much easier to get into the guilds that raid stuff (mostly because its so much easier to raid stuff, so there are more guilds doing it) and that is the best way to even get the chance to BE social.
In fact, I would argue that the socials -if anyone- are what is ruining wow. When you worked hard you got somewhere, and that gave guilds a camaradarie, a commen goal, something that kept us tightknit. These days the same amount of work gets us... 2 weeks of killing something before everyone else maybe?
There is a reason why poaching geared players was an issue in the day, it is not anymore.

Stabs said...

First off I don't think the design changes are driven by antisocial impulses.

They are driven by sensible observations to difficult or unpleasant elements of games.

Humans are wired to solve problems and one of the most effective methods of solving problems is communication. So if I can't kill Sapphiron because I can't avoid standing in fire but I can communicate successfully that standing in fires is something players should not be punished for I win.

That's how people work, we solve problems.

Now games are a set of artificial problems you don't actually have to do at all. They are invented problems that amuse us.

However we can't just turn off our problem solving natures very easily.

Eventually we do which is why many sophisticated or veteran gamers prefer harder games or even very hardcore mechanics like exp debt and permadeath.

However a game like WoW has a huge audience of people who aren't sophisticated gamers. To keep its clients happy it's reduced problems selectively. Waiting 5 minutes for a zeppelin is a very unpopular problem that could be reduced without drastically effecting the game and was probably a good cut.

However once you eliminate too many you don't actually have much of a game left (a game being defined as a set of problems).

Without problems there's less need for people to socialise. A lot of socialising which we remember fondly as joking and friendship was actually simple things like "when did the last zeppelin leave" "is there any other way to get to Undercity that doesn't involve waiting around" and so on.

A key part of MMO socialising is designing your game to give them stuff they need to talk about. If Hogger is a challenge a lot of people talk about him in Elwynn general chat. Or brag that they soloed him, etc. If he is a non-elite cakewalk no one talks about him.

That's where your socialisation has gone, people no longer need to cooperate to overcome challenge or even discuss the challenges as they've become less interesting.

Klepsacovic said...

@Larisa: Perhaps I should suggest to Blizzard that they add guild barns instead of guild housing.

@Dw-redux: I don't feel like I was in 'the right guild.' I was in a guild. I don't recall a grueling interview process or having to have connections. It was hardly hardcore. In fact, when I joined I had the GM on ignore because I'd not realized it was the same guild that he was spamming trade chat about. That's right, my MC guild was one of the "super social happy friend we had vent" guilds from trade channel.

I must admit that I don't understand the second half of your post.

@Stabs: I suppose you could call that problem solving, but it seems almost like cheating. Something is a challenge and you entirely bypass it, not with creativity "I can't get behind iceblocks so I use DS or guardian spirit" but with complaining until the challenge is gone.

I don't mind the loss of annoyances like super-slow zeppelins or single-flight FPs. But sometimes, it's the annoyance that gives meaning. Dark Iron ore is one example: smelting that stuff was not totally trivial and as a result it was that much more special. It would be so boring if we made Dark Iron gear at the regular old forge in Orgrimmar.

Stabs said...

"I suppose you could call that problem solving, but it seems almost like cheating"

I'm really talking more about the way people are wired rather than choices we consciously make.

If I can never move out of fires but can handle most other elements of the game I may come to see the fires mechanic as an arbitrary and frustrating mechanic that gates content I "deserve" to see.

Just as people started to see that requiring 39 well-geared friends who raided every night for months and never left your guild was an arbitrary and frustrating mechanic that gated content we deserved to see. (I was in the top guild on my server at the time of Naxx 40 and we never got a boss down simply because we'd had too much churn just before Naxx and the server couldn't offer adequate replacements).

The bar can be any height, the behaviour of people who can't get over it is the same. And not really cheating, more an instinctive reaction to a problem they can't solve just by playing.

Not perhaps what players should do but very much what players do do.

Klepsacovic said...

I suppose you're right. Still makes me nerd rage a little.

Thistlefizz said...

During Pilgrims Bounty I hopped in trade and said, "LFG holiday boss." I got a response from some 'helpful' fellow saying, "You know you can solo that right? I totally just did it on my Boomkin." Normally I ignore whispers like that, but this time it bugged me a little and I replied, "I'm well aware of that. However, I'm looking for a group so I can do something with other people. Some of us actually like being social."

It bothers me when people instantly respond with 'soloable' 'lolnoob learn2play' or variations thereupon. Yes, most group quests can be done alone, but sometimes it's way more fun with friends along.

Klepsacovic said...

@Thistlefizz: I must admit that I am sometimes one of the "learn2solo" people. It's not that I think you should reject others, but that sometimes by not soloing you remove challenge.

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