Games like Oblivion and GTA IV may be great but I always feel kinda sad when I play them because I’m off exploring some vast world all on my lonesome. Probably one of the main reasons I love MMOs so much is because they are all communities, sometimes small or, in the case of WoW, sometimes the size of a real world country. This sense of community is everywhere and it creates a deep immersion. I get fed up wandering the world of Oblivion and never bumping into another living soul whereas, if I play a MMO, I’m constantly meeting people and that’s part of the excitement for me. I might bump into someone, form a group with them, and become great friends with them for years to come or I might bump into someone who’s a complete cock. You see, MMO communities are like a box of chocolates – sometimes you get a great buddy, sometimes you get a cock.
Everquest has an amazing community because there was no other way to play it. You just simply couldn’t play through the game without meeting and working with other people. Certainly in the early days, everything from gaining experience to travelling to selling items required a lot of social interaction and a significant investment of time. The latter point was no doubt the Achilles Heel of the EQ community – people didn’t want to spend 8 hours trying to sell their loot or wait 30mins to find someone who could port them home. The game evolved over the years and new concepts, like the auction house and Plane of Knowledge, were introduced to make people’s lives easier. Regardless of this ‘ease’ though, the game continued to have a strong community because it was still so intrinsic to EQ’s gameplay.
New MMORPGs continued down this trend of becoming more accessible but still maintaining the need for social interaction in order to accomplish things. It’s a massively difficult thing to balance and get right though – some games succeeded very well but others (*cough* Vanguard *cough*) failed miserably.
Everquest 2 is an example, to me, of a perfect balance between accessibility and community. Players can solo if they want but the carrot of grouping is always there. The sense of community is strong because people can easily communicate with others via global level chat channels – an example of accessibility aiding community. EQ2 also has a great mix of single group instanced dungeons and open world dungeons. There’s nothing more fun that taking a group for a dungeon run and spending a couple of hours there, bonding, celebrating each other’s strengths and bumping into and competing with other groups.
World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has a weaker community in my opinion. Everyone solos because it’s the easiest and quickest way to level up and it’s exacerbated by a talent system that forces people to chose between soloing or grouping. There are no open dungeons – everything is instanced to groups – and there are no global level range chat channels. Everyone just seems to solo from level 1 to 80 and then find a comfortable guild in which they never venture out of… I’ve never experienced a community so derogatory towards PUGs.
It might sound like I’m being pretty damning towards WoW and, I suppose, I am. It’s not out of hatred however, it’s out of frustration. I’m really enjoying playing World of Warcraft but my main experience has been that of a solo world with the occasional sense of community. That frustrates me because I see a great game that could be so much more with only a few tweaks such as the forthcoming dual-talent system and some more global chat channels. Feel free to correct me about anything I’ve said on it because I’m by no means a WoW guru.