Are MMORPGs Getting More Antisocial?

I recently convinced my brother to give World of Warcraft a shot. Obviously he knows I’m a big MMORPG geek but he’s never felt the calling before himself. However, he was looking for something to play on his new Mac Mini and WoW seemed to fit the bill perfectly (y’know, considering it’s probably the only thing that will run on his Mac Mini).

I sent him a free trial invite and two days later I received this email from him:

“WoW is the most antisocial game ever! I get more chat in a death-match game of Call of Duty.

The players are also so…I’m not talking to you, you’re only level 5, and I’m a level 80 wank with a big mount.

Sorry, but I felt that my evenings playing was boring – run here, kill this, run back, and then make my character pretty.

Where’s all this amazing banter and camaraderie that you speak off?!”

An interesting perspective.

On one had, I think his reaction is extreme and I can’t help but wonder what he was expecting. Perhaps he assumed he would create a level 1 Night Elf Warrior, log in and then immediately be surrounded by new bosom buddies who take him dragon hunting whilst occasionally stopping along the way to sign the odd verse of “coombiyah m’lord”. Not going to happen, bro. Just like in real life it takes time to get to know people and make friends. These things will come but you need to put in a bit of effort first. Plus you’re only level 5 for God’s sake.

On the other hand though, I can see where he’s coming from. MMORPGs can be incredibly daunting to new players and there’s certainly a lot to take in and soak up. Plus, after hearing me reminisce about all of my amazing experiences with guild mates, he must have had high expectations. Logging in and discovering your just another noob to everyone else must have been quite a shock to the system.

It does all make me wonder though. Maybe it’s my drunken nostalgia talking but I remember the days in MMORPGs when random players would run up and help out newbies, giving them a bit of gold or taking the time to show them around a city. People seemed to have more time for beginners in those days and recognised the challenges they faced. Not everyone was a saint but at least there was conversation to be had and some camaraderie to be experienced. Anyone remember Orc Hill from Everquest? That’s exactly the sort of stuff I’m talking about.

Nostalgia plays tricks on the mind though and we probably shouldn’t trust it but, still, I can’t help but wonder if my poor ol’ bro is right and that MMOs today are more antisocial than ever.

Tell me what you think, I’m off to solo quests.

P.S. Apart from belonging to the Brotherhood of the Mac and dressing like a geriatric, my brother is a good guy and would make an excellent addition to any guild dumb enough to take him. If you fancy being bombarded by questions every 5 seconds, give Havenf a shout on the Khadgar server (EU), Alliance side. And no, he can’t join my guild.

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  1. Arkenor says:

    I think they are getting more antisocial.

    Most people wanting to preserve their sanity and faith in humanity turn off any global chat channels. So if you’re going to talk to someone, you’re going to do it through tells, or local. Folks tend not to even notice local. And you’re always wary of trying to talk to someone, because of how they might react. While it might just be me getting old, the average niceness of MMO players has decreased a lot since the old days.

    UO was social because local chat was all you had. When you spoke it appears above your head, and anyone nearby could see it, and figure out if you were worth talking to or not. With non-instanced housing you had real neighbours, and got to know them.

    • Arkenor says:

      Oh, also guilds have become much more important. They are sort of social, I guess, but it is an insular “Us against the world” affair.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a good point. The use of local and global channels can be really hit or miss depending on the game. I though the chat in EQ2 was generally excellent althoughi n WoW it’s pretty poor. Aion was especially terrible and just full of people comparing it to WoW and ranting about how it was better/worse.

  2. Ninjeroo says:

    Although I can understand your brother’s sentiments, I don’t think the player’s are anti-social; snobby perhaps or forgetful of their humble beginnings. I also don’t think it’s an MMO issue per se but perhaps one within a consolidated and large community. The bigger the playing field (and WoW is pretty damn big), the weaker the overall group cohesion and the easier it is to get lost.

    Another point to consider is the level of experience with online games in general. If you start a new MMO having played others previously, you’ll find there is less of a sense of ‘getting lost in numbers’ and your perception as to what constitutes a helpful community will be very different from someone who’s never touched the medium before.

    In line with this, your post oddly reminded me of my humble (and not long ago) beginnings on Twitter. “Where’s all this amazing banter and camaraderie that you speak off” could have come out of my mouth when I started. It’s a *social* medium after all, it couldn’t have been hard to get going in it; everytone told me it’s so easy. Alas, much like in the offline world, if you don’t have a mentor or someone on your level to rise with, you’re going to have to take the initiative in connecting to the medium and its inhabitants before they’re going to extend a helpful hand.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that people aren’t necessarily anti-social in games but more just too busy or too focused on what they’re doing to notice others. I usually just assume all low level players are alts and want to blast through quests alone to level up as quickly as possible. I don’t normally stop for chats along the way myself :)

  3. Scott says:

    MMORPG’s have been getting more and more antisocial since Everquest decided to use the DIKU mechanics and was such a big success that everyone wanted to make their own better EQ.

    DIKU uses a level system that separates us rather than bringing us together. DIKU is also much less “this is what my character can do” but rather “this is the stats my character’s gear has” which is additional segregation. When it’s all about the loot, the games become very self-serving and turn players very selfish. We only tolerate other players because we have to in order to eventually get our turn at new loot.

    There’s “chat social” but that’s something you have to bring with you, the game’s can’t force you to be chatty or not. I had the exact same opinion of WAR and I started playing on… I think Day 3 after launch? Every single chat channel was dead. Everyone just ran around doing solo quests while waiting for the next Scenario of Nordenwatch to pop. Even in the Scenarios, it was rare to see anyone actually chat unless it was name-calling.

    Everyone talks about how social UO was. Never played but old-school SWG was also incredibly social. Note that neither of those games use DIKU… (well, ok SWG does *now* and… it’s less social as well as less populated.) EQ was only social because the game was programmed for incredibly slow and difficult leveling. No rushing to level cap in under a week, and not much soloing either. Lots of downtime meant there was nothing else to do but chat.

    I’ve found my LOTRO server to be quite social, and I enjoy chatting with my kinship, too. That alone can get me through rough times when I’m stuck solo in the morning with nothing to do but reputation quests.

    Also consider that starting in the WoW era (2004-ish) MMORPG’s started focusing more on the G part of the acronym and less on the whole “immersive” (really don’t like that word) virtual world aspect. UO and SWG were worlds, first and foremost. SWG wasn’t even a very good *game* but it offered practically everything you’d want for having a virtual world with some gameplay. I’m hoping the pendulum will start swinging the other way once devs feel confident they’ve got excellent gameplay that they’ll start focusing more on putting that gameplay into an excellent virtual world that players *want* to vicariously live and adventure in.

    • Tesh says:

      I was all set to pontificate on this, but lo, I find Scott has stolen my script. Well played. ;)

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what is about newer games but I usually feel more lonesome in them than I do the older ones. I wonder if it’s either due to game design or because of the people playing it.

      I think the fact that older games didn’t have LFG facilities etc though did encourage communication and socialising as there was really no other way of putting a party together. Obviously that has it’s drawbacks but you couldn’t just queue up and run a random dungeon group in utter silence.

  4. Xenith says:

    Well I think that’s why there are people who play MMOs and people who play RPGs. There is probably quite a significant demographic of gamers who do both (like me) but overall I find that the more competitive a game becomes, the more anti-social people become. In Aion on my server, our LFG chat channel is a constant reminder of why I am no longer guilded. The anti-social bickering and flaming that goes on is ridiculous. It has turned alot of people off the game and subsequently, it has given me an opportunity to play RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 without the bickering and senseless flaming.

    I’ve since discovered that you’re either one of those gamers that enjoys the anti-social climate and therefore feeds into it or you’re the type that ignores it completely and ends up being snubbed or ignored by almost everyone else. Sometimes, that’s not as bad as it sounds. If however, you’re brand spanking new to a game, expect to be snubbed by everyone including the guy who was a n00b merely two hours before you lol. There’s also the added incentive to get your best friend, girlfriend, wife etc involved in the same MMO you play. That way you don’t even have to converse with anyone else if you don’t really want to :P

    • Gordon says:

      “overall I find that the more competitive a game becomes, the more anti-social people become”

      I’d definitely agree with this. By it’s definiton, competition excludes friendliness as people are too focused on getting something done than being your buddy.

  5. Heck yeah, Everquest! The love of my life…if it comes to PC games.
    I remind people taking me from Freeport to Rivervale since I was to silly to find the way myself. Even some people took me from Freeport to East Karana what took us at least 2 hours since I managed to die at the worst places! Still people helped me out and gave even me their level 50 loot gear which they didnt need anymore since they got better stuff!! That happened to me more than just one time!! It was amazing!! Social, helpful people for the win!! (Maybe that social because MMORPGs were total new to our world and it was new to meet people form all over the world and have fun with them…maybe because Everquest was a game which you could not play alone. It was just impossible in my opinion).

    The first time I played Wow (that was 2 years ago) I was total lonesome. I didnt need any help since all the quest were solo able and there was no need to chat…maybe some general chat comments which nobody seemed to be interest in. But all of a sudden I got a tell of a person who needed my help! It was a total shock for me! A high level toon (70ish) was in need of my help, the lvl 15 shammy noob I was. Alright, I told him that I had no clue at all about the game and I was total useless in any situation but I would try my best, He told me that he just wanted to group up to do a special quest or something. (So no help needed anyhow beside grouping up with him) Well, I was quite happy that I didnt have to do anything else because I would have been quite a mess! :) However, I randomly asked him if he was ok with the quest and so a conversation started up! He found out that I really was/am noobish so he told me a lot about the game even he shared the loot of his mobs with me! It was amazing!
    So I thought people in WoW are for sure a lot of fun to play with but I had to find out that beside that person I never met any helpful/friendly/chatty dude…what is quite sad.

    All in all: I guess there are still some people out there who love to help out noobs with advices and loot but in my opinion there are a lot more selfish guys out there who do not want to see that they were all noobs one day and cant remember who tough it was to handle the world out there on your own…

  6. Longasc says:

    The “no talking” is also there in the late/end game or completely new games like STO. Wolfshead complained about the “deafening silence” in team chat, Spinks reported PUGs where nobody talked at all. Personally I experienced people in LOTRO who did not react to me talking to them in normal chat when I was standing right before them in a quest area. Some even did not react after a whisper. Some I even reported as bots, which they were not in the end, or were semi afk or something like that.

    I blame it on voicechat (people only talk to their buddies there on their private TS server and cannot be arsed to type anything) and questhelpers. People only seem to have arrows and objectives in mind, especially those powerlevelling a new char.

    There is also a certain trend that nobody wants to explain a boss encounter – obvious, if it is lengthy. They usually ask if everyone knows the encounter, nobody says anything obviously means everyone knows everything then… ;)
    But not helping newbies? I cannot help, sometimes it feels as we are so much absorbed in our single player world mindset that we only care for others if we need them.

    I remember that I liked UO’s “local chat” as Arkenor called it. We used the global guild chat and ICQ to spread news over the world, it indeed made people more talkative when they meant someone.

    But I think he must enjoy the game as it is. The guys I talked the most with actually rarely played an instance or quests with me in LOTRO, it was mostly a solo experience till I came to Moria where more pick up groups formed spontaneously. And even on more active WoW servers where there might be more than a few players in the same low level area grouping is rather rare. Why should people group, everyone has different interests and quest progress and everything has been made solo friendly. Even WoW after release was not that different, I and another Paladin were forming a team and had an extended team consisting of a rogue and a mage who both envied us our free level 40 mounts. Level 40 took almost a month in that time, a month of nonstop gaming, btw. ;)

    My advice for your brother is to enjoy the game for himself, if he finds an interesting person to chat with, it is by accident all the time. Even rarer is finding people you still chat with after one or both quit playing the game. You cannot force that and because the game is supposedly like that does not mean you go out in the world and suddenly have 4 friends to form an everlasting party to level 80.

    Unfortunately he is right in a way, nostalgia aside, people were more talkative and helpful in the early days of the MMO. I guess the chatty and helpful types and roleplayers got extinct along with the Playerkiller and replaced by the gamer crowd that Blizzard tapped for WoW, strategy/RTS and shooter players and basically everyone else. The pioneers of the genre were quite often geeks, and while there were minmaxers from the very beginning, MMOs attracted geeks and not Joe Average.

    Which leads me to the conclusion that geeks are just better than average human beings.

    • Gordon says:

      I think voice chat has certainly had a big impact on the amount of in-game chat that goes on. I remember grouping with quite a few guild mates in EQ2 who were always silent and then I found out it was because they were so busy chatting over Ventrillo to type in game :)

      I kinda wish voice chat either went away or became more mainstream but it’s in a real grey area at the moment where some people have it but use it to only chat amongst themselves and the other don’t use it and think the world is empty and silent.

    • Xenith says:

      @Longasc – Yup, recently discovered in Aion that Ventrilo is not used for chatting… not at all. In my last guild, everyone was told by the guild leader “If you don’t shut the fck up, I am going to mute you all”… and he did, he muted everyone that talked. I never spoke in guild chat because I just felt that even if I did have something valid to say, I’d still get muted. In the end I got so sick of listening to him telling ppl to shut up, I left the guild.

      You really gotta wonder what’s going on when everyone in your vent channel is silent… o_O

  7. Stabs says:

    I can understand that your brother maybe can’t join your guild but I do think you could make a bit more effort to play with him.

    Make an alt, encourage some of your uber elite guildies to play with him, get on voice comms (even the in-game one is better than nothing).

    Otherwise there’s no way any rational person would want to slog through 80 levels of WoW just to get to the stage where people will talk to you enough to tell you your gearscore sucks and you gemmed wrong.

    • Tesh says:

      Antisocial or asocial? They are different, but I do think we’re seeing a little of both. I consider the difference critical, though, since asociality is fine in my book, but antisociality is bad. (In other words, give players the tools to get together and have fun, but don’t force them to cooperate *or* compete. Just let them choose what they want to do.)

      It also depends considerably on the player expectations. As a confirmed soloist, I like it quiet. The jerks dinking around at the level cap may as well be obnoxious NPCs, the way I play.

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, I’m sure he’s loved the fact that you said I should play with him more :) I was jesting about the guild situation and I’m sure mine would take him without a hitch. I bet he’ll tell everyone embarassing stories about me though :(

  8. Kiseran says:

    I’d say get him into some nice little social/casual guild, but it takes some serious research to distinguish between those and “I wanna be a guild leader and will invite everything that moves” – guilds. I’ve meant to place one of my twinks in such a guild for quite some time just to test the waters, but even from the outside those guilds look so nice and shiny that I can’t bring myself to join halfassed with some toon I play perhaps 3 hours a week. I rather stay out altogether then.

  9. Guthammer says:

    If you’re bringing someone into the game for the first time you have to get them into guild.

    And yes, starting out level 1 in a game as mature and solo friendly as WoW is largely anti-social.

    Guild for casual talk, and finally 15 for LFD groups–but that doesn’t help a lot.

  10. Sharon says:

    In MUDs (yes, here we go with me being an old lady again), it was common for a group of experienced players to become “newbie helpers.” They’d maybe get a special rank or title, have access to the newbie channel and would welcome new players logging on for the first time. I’ve often wondered why most modern MMOs don’t find ways to put mentors and new players together. EVE has its newbie corp and Warhammer’s new player experience now puts people into a newbie guild. FE drops new players into the global help channel moderated by GMs. Too bad WoW just has general and the trade channel both of which I pretty much keep off all the time. Hopefully, your brother will find a guild soon.

    Now… I’m wondering what your brother wears that you consider “geriatric.” ;)

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe. Well he’s only 32 but he dresses like an old man. Hard to describe really… but just imagine a young version of your grandfather :)

    • nugget says:

      Writing as one of those (MUD) newbie helpers (I was one for over 5 years), I will say that there is no graphical game, and especially no MMO, that I am playing right now that I would be willing to ever fill such a role for.

      I don’t love any of them enough.

      I don’t feel a personal stake in whether or not they prosper. They’re there for me to enjoy because I paid / am paying for them.

      I am very, very fond of Guild Wars. I am in no way, shape, or form fond of it enough to ever take on a newbie helping role in it.

      Makes me a bit sad.

  11. Elleseven says:

    I remember my first toon in WoW. There was about 15-20 lvl 1-4’s running around Northshire Abbey. It was paradise for a chatty person. You were pretty much guilded by level 2. And there were over 60 ppl in your guild all under lvl 12 and the guild leader was level 40 and we were all in awe of his mount. We even grouped at that level just because the game was so new. 5 man posse burning down Kobolds with candles.
    That just doesn’t’ exist anymore. Too many experienced players now. Too many people not wanting to share the XP with a group for the sake of a chatty conversation. Do lowbies even duel anymore in Goldshire? Unfortunately the game is so old unless you start up with real life friends,you will find WoW being a cold lonely place.

    • Gordon says:

      I think the age of a game probably has an impact on it’s social scene. When players are all starting out in the same boat together, there’s a lot more comradarie and spirit of adventure than when someone is just grinding up another alt to level 80.

  12. Zach Sebag says:

    @ Gordon

    I definitely agree with you that the age of the game has a big affect on it, however I also believe that the nature of games as they are evolving tend to lend themselves towards antisocial.

    Ex: In EQ you grouped ALOT, as you are leveling in WoW, you don’t group near as much. When you group with players you begin talking, conversing, making friends, and building up your friends list.

    I believe this is a big part of it!

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a good point. The way MMORPGs are designed and played are definitely changing, along with the audience they appeal to. I guess WoW, for instance, is seen more as a video game than a niche MMO that EQ was and thus the people who play it and the way that they play it is different.

  13. Wolfshead says:

    I completely agree that MMOs have become more anti-social. The conduct on general chat channels can get very boorish and stupid. To remedy this many people just leave public chat channels entirely or they just associate with their select group of friends.

    The problem here is this: there is no value to being social anymore. In the good old days, you needed to be friendly, polite and have some semblance of social skills — you know like that odd place we call the “real world” in order to succeed and get groups, apply to a guild all which gets you the gear and advances your character. (See that’s what is called cohesion).

    Now you don’t have to have any social skills at all to survive in a MMO. Just click on the Dungeon Finder button and you can get a group, clear a dungeon without ever uttered a single solitary world.

    Is this progress? I think not.

    You think it’s bad now, what will the average MMO be like in 2 years? Wasn’t a sense of community the whole reason that *online* games were so special compared to single-player games?

    I don’t like the direction that convenience driven MMOs and virtual worlds are heading. We are slouching toward a impersonal, meaningless future of slacker MMOs served up like so many billions of hamburgers.

  14. Gareth says:

    I’m surprised you are encouraging people to play WoW when you’ve experienced EQ2 :) At least on my server (Runnyeye a UK one) its fairly social at lower levels, although since the world is large the population is spread out so you will solo a fair bit.

    Ah I read he’s using a Mac… But then again what about EQ1 Mac edition? :D

    Seriously though, I’ve found WoW much less social then EQ2, I think the problem is that you need to group up properly to become social, and to group up you need challenges that make you think. EQ2 definitely does it for me (WoW used to do it with TBC).

    Here WoW has even made the dungeons a sort of solo grind of trivial content, last time I played it outside of my guild WoW felt like a MMOG which could have been any other FPS (I’ve chatted with people more in Planetside recently then I did in the WoW dungeon finder!). In the guild though and raiding and it was social and fun, just got burnt out though on the one raid to do or get extremely bored gameplay model :P

  15. Nyuu says:

    *sigh* I remember the old days when MMORPGs were just starting to pop out. There was quite a larger sense of community back then for some reason. I remember logging into games for the first time and getting greeted by a player only a couple minutes afterward. Now, in the newer MMOs and sometimes the older MMOs that are still alive, I can play a game for a month or so and not have a single person even notice that I’m there. In fact I decided to see how long I could go in 5 different MMOs without a single person talking to me(other then the friend that was playing them with me). The results? No one ever talked to us within a month and we decided to quit out of boredom,etc.

    Why do I think online MMORPG communities have been destroyed? My guess would actually be that the influx of people who have started to play MMORPGs because MMORPG makers decided to start free to play servers, which didn’t really exist at first. These free to play servers made a lot of people look into MMORPGs, including immature people who like to think “0mgZ 1s t3h int3rn7Z i c4n b3 4n 455″. These immature people got into the community, started splitting people up into groups that hated immature people, groups that liked them, etc, eventually leading to groups similar to high school cliques, but it’s a lot harder to make cliques on the internet because it’s harder to base things on appearance, actions, etc, so people started drifting further and further apart until they’re left in a group of maybe one or two friends.

    Ok… Well that probably isn’t the reason for the downfall of online communities, but I’m just so annoyed on how far MMORPGs have fallen. They used to be a lot more fun, now I’m starting to wonder “What’s the point of playing an MMORPG if I’m playing solo or with only one or two other people?”

    Well, it’s time to get back to my search for a good MMORPG… I’ll probably end up playing Diablo II or some similar game again.

    PS: Can’t wait for Diablo III! (I hope it decides to come sometime this year >_>)

  16. Cordell says:

    A little late to the party, but I felt I must add my voice to the camp which has been complaining about the deterioration of the multiplayer/social aspect of WoW.

    In short, I completely agree with your brother – WoW has indeed become anti-social, because over the years the social incentives (features which drive people to interact with eachother) have been systematically removed from just about every major part of the game:

    Removal of group quests, cross-realm pvp, cross-realm instancing, dungeon finder press-a-button instant grouping, phased quests separating you from other players (of which there’s even more in Cataclysm), excessively informative map eliminating the need to ask others for directions – just to mention the most important ones.

    All of the above turns the entire game leading up to the endgame raiding into one big, parallel singleplayer grindfest. By RPG standards, WoW would make an extremely shallow and boring singleplayer game, yet it has nearly completed its metamorphosis into one – this will be its downfall.

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