I wrote about how important a community could be to the feel of an MMO two years ago. I still most fondly remember those games where the server community as a whole was active and friendly. It's something I feel we are losing in many modern MMOs, to the detriment of the genre. I think the Arcadia community in The Secret World is bucking that trend somewhat (just look at all the regular server events that the community hosts, such as all the recent Halloween events).
Why is this happening though? Why are more and more players seemingly happy, and in fact prefer, to play these games as solo experiences, despite them supposedly being massively multiplayer? I think that a good proportion of the blame lies on our shoulders, and by that I mean the players. The players are constantly demanding new quality of life features from modern MMOs, that whilst making the game more convenient to play, go some way to destroying the sense of community these games should be nurturing. It is after all what makes them special.
Let's look at some examples of what I mean.
Looking for Group functionality is often an expected feature now. It's a quality of life feature that makes grouping up for instances, dungeons and raids quick and easy. In both The Old Republic and The Secret World there was quite some dissent from the community that neither game launched with a LFG feature (both have since patched one in). In older games the lack of LFG features forced communication and interaction to a much greater extent.
|Auction Houses are useful. Do they improve or harm a sense of community though?|
Auction Houses are present at launch in just about every MMO nowadays. Before WoW and EQ2 made them de rigeur however few games had such a feature. If you wanted to buy or sell something you had to communicate with the community as a whole. The tunnel in East Commonlands in Everquest became a default marketplace where people met to chat and trade. How many MMOs can boast of such a place now?
Small and more focused group and raid content might be easier to develop from a story standpoint, and easier to balance from a gameplay standpoint, but I still sometimes yearn for the days of a raid containing over 50 players. There's nothing really like it now in the PvE arena. Guild Wars 2 seemingly encourages this kind of co-operation, but only to the extent where you have a large group of people not really communicating and just zerging the content. There is no organisation or sense of community engendered by the dynamic events.
Some features that are starting to become standard (or at least requested by the players if they are not already present) include gearscore, damage meters and the like. These can actually drive division in communities, despite their usefulness to some.
Fast travel, funnelled content, and solo story instances, whilst making the games more immediate and less frustrating, all avoid opportunities for helping communities to grow.
|Features like TSW's theatre or LoTRO's music system can build community interaction|
I just think it might be interesting to see a new AAA MMO developed that has no auction house or group finder, that forces players to interact and to talk to one another. A game where you can go where you wish without funnelling of content, indeed forcing you to travel through dangerous high level areas. A game that does not set limits on raid sizes and one that contains social tools to help players interact (LoTRO and TSW have gone some way in this regard with their music system and theatre system respectively, but lets have more!).
Of course no-one would probably play it. Modern players demand more and more ease-of-use features, and the communities slowly dwindle because of them. It's out fault.