I Was A Conquest Point Prostitute aka Why Community Doesn’t Matter

The arena. Where success in life is measured by a single number.

The arena. The ultimate challenge for geekery and finger dexterity.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve not been playing WoW for the past few days. Oh I’ll go back (already started thinking about a Paladin alt) but I just needed some time out, y’know? Aside from the fact that I’d hit a bit of a brick wall at level 85 and didn’t fancy the PvE item grind circus much I was getting fed up with PvP. I’d collected every piece of Honour Point armour possible and was getting in deep with the arena crowd. In fact, I’d made “friends” with a few peeps who wanted to get up the arena ladder and I ended up being their go to guy. Eventually I started to realise something though. As much as I was looking for fun and camaraderie, they were just looking for someone to help advance their own characters. Yep, I’d become a little Conquest Point prostitute.

I’m by no means a PvP pro but I know my way around keyboard shortcuts with fingers so nimble they make my wife giggle in delight and when combined with 3.1k Resilience and an overpowered Arms spec, my Warrior was a furious force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. I learned fast and killed faster, never dropping my smile or good humour even when we lost. It’s part of the fun, I said. It’s just a game, I said. Making friends with folk is more important, I said. But my words fell on deaf ears as my companions were only interested in one thing – getting more gear. And oh how that become apparent as we were matched up against tougher and tougher opponents every night. Turns out a sense of community doesn’t matter so long as every individual is getting their progression fix.

And it’s everywhere. The guy who abandons his old guild to join a new one because he wants to raid more. The person who runs PUGs and never speaks, completely uninterested in those players he’s forced to group with. The annoying fellow who shouts and moans and complains during battlegrounds because everyone else is supposedly a noob in one form or another. Those folk aren’t interested in creating community, they’re just interested in progressing individually.

So I need to disagree with Raph (note to self: Raph not Ralph) here when he says that “community ties are the single biggest predictor of retention” in MMOs. If WoW wasn’t on the scene then I might have been inclined to agree but right now, I don’t think building a strong community is really the top agenda for any MMORPG. Micro-achievements are the new tyrant that we are enslaved too, the constant need for us to complete those silly little goals and feel that momentary and utterly fake sense of worth. That is the thing that retains players, that is the thing that builds a huge audience, that is the thing that makes a MMO money. Not community.

But this isn’t the say that I don’t believe in a better (virtual) world. I know we can create it. It’s simple social engineering really. Take away the driving urge to constantly progress and achieve and instead replace it with… nothing. Make things take longer, make them tougher, make them require team work and cooperation. Let the game, y’know, the massively multiplayer game, be all about interaction and collaboration with others instead of individual advancement. These things will build character, I promise, both literally and metaphorically.

And it’s that it’s not that I mean to pick on the WoW community nor infer that it’s all absolutely terrible (I swear I’ve been in at least two groups where someone took the split-second to look at the UI and refer to me by name instead of simply as “tank”) and I wouldn’t play if I didn’t enjoy it but it does make for a very good crucible in which to discuss theoretical topics. Plus I got to analogize myself to a prostitute which isn’t something that happens very often.

Anyway, I gotta get back to farming my Conquest Points.

-Gordon

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29 Comments

  1. Ttrinity says:

    Aye. Individual advancement seems to be the trick for most who play for gear in WoW. Hence the boredom that comes when gear has been acquired…or stalled…and guild hopping, etc.

    You said “Micro-achievements are the new tyrant that we are enslaved too, the constant need for us to complete those silly little goals and feel that momentary and utterly fake sense of worth. That is the thing that retains players, that is the thing that builds a huge audience, that is the thing that makes a MMO money. Not community.”

    I will take this one step FURTHER. Blizzard bastardized the new guild system by making it about micro achieves for the individual as well. We work together to get individual boosts in honor, leveling alts, reputation for individuals.” Almost all levels in guild benefit an individual. (gear for leveling alts, a pet, a mount) They are taking the community of guilds and prostituting it to themselves. A more brilliant and actual community view would be achieves that only benefit a guild not the person.

    But shhhhh, don’t say anything. Guild achieves are ‘for the guild’ right? Riiiight.

    • Tesh says:

      Agreed. Excellent post, Gordon, and yes, the new guild rep and shinies are just more treadmill candy.

      Skinner machines are the hook, not social ties. Social ties are nice, but we’re mercenaries, not socialites. *Because that’s how the game is designed.*

    • Gordon says:

      It’s achievement overload and you end up playing because you feel compelled to get the next little sparkly bar flash up on the screen. I’m starting to lose interest in that sort of achievement driven culture :(

  2. Jason says:

    I agree with Raph on this one, as community has been the driving force behind my staying or leaving just about every MMO I’ve ever played:

    FFXI – This was what really hooked me in; I fell in with a great group of folks, and spent 400 days over two years playing, up until the point that the smaller, elitist, prickish sect that had evolved following the US PC launch, and later the US PS2 launch.

    SWG – This one is a bit weird, but ultimately it was the community that caused me to leave, but for different reasons: The people I started playing the game with left, due to SOE’s decisions regarding the design. Not many folks really liked the direction, and it too fell by the wayside

    WoW – I’ve played WoW off and on since it launched, and while I might start playing again down the road, I really doubt it. As you point out, the folks who are in it more for themselves are becoming prevalent(something that isn’t unexpected, to be honest), and finding the folks who are interested in genuinely building a community within WoW are rapidly falling by the wayside. However, you have to keep in mind what happens to these people: They quit. I know this, because I’m one of them. I’ve watched dozens of folks I’ve met in-game leave for much the same reasons, and while my evidence is equally anecdotal, I’d wager that if you were to look at WoW’s turnover, you’d find that it’s growing as time wears on, precisely due to the fact that Blizzard is seemingly taking an active role in hindering the social aspect, the community aspect of the game.

    As to games I’m playing now, STO(Lifer), LotRO(Wish I was a lifer, but this game *still* has one of the best communities out there, F2P influx or not) and EVE, which probably has *the* best community out there, bar none. EVE University stands as a testament to that, I think.

    • Gordon says:

      I think community certainly has a huge appeal to a lot of gamers but I don’t think it’s what brings in millions of subscribers. I think games like WoW work because they appeal to the Call of Duty type gamer who just want to do quick battlegrounds/dungeons and bang through a dozen achievements every night.

  3. Klepsacovic says:

    This is a really depressing post.

  4. [...] Raph notes, retention is sometimes strongly rooted in social ties (though Gordon rightly disagrees, pointing to the Skinner Box mechanics), and as I’ve noted before, the people really are the best part of these things… but [...]

  5. SlothBear says:

    While I agree with your analysis, I am not aware of any MMOs that emphasize community ties as much as games like WoW push individual achievements so I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison.

  6. You’re only partially right, Gordon. You are, indeed, a whore.

    Er, I meant about community. Community matters, but it’s not the only thing. WoW has shown that it might not even be quite as important as we first thought, at least for some types of games. Raph is right in that community participation usually indicated how long someone would be around. For example, people in guilds tend to stick around games longer than people without guilds.

    WoW isn’t immune to this, but as you point out, there seem to be other aspects driving the game. The solo-friendly nature of the game means that Blizzard chose to put a lot less emphasis on the community portions of the game. Blizzard makes very compelling games, so they know how to dangle that achievement carrot in front of Achievers (in the Bartle sense) and keep them going better than anyone else. So, yeah, WoW has a lesser community but still manages to retain a lot of people.

    However, I think there are still some community aspects at work here. WoW is seen as more acceptable than other games because a lot of people play it; that’s still an indirect community aspect. Knowing that going to work and bragging about your Paladin’s exploits at the water cooler means that people might keep playing WoW longer than they might otherwise. WoW seems to exploit these indirect community bonds more since they have designed the requirement for direct community bonds out of the game.

    Over here in the real world, most of us don’t design compelling gameplay quite as well as Blizzard does. So, we look at how to keep players engaged with the community to keep them playing.

    Another perspective.

  7. Logan says:

    i think you hit the nail on the head Gordon..

    and another great example is a game like Call of Duty… there is basically zero community, yet i have multiple friends that spend as much, if not more time playing CoD than i spend playing MMOs..

    i think in “virtual worlds” community is definitely the most important thing in determining retention… but i wouldn’t really call WoW or any other modern MMO a “virtual world”… they’re more like a CoD for those with slow reflexes and more patience.

  8. Epiny says:

    Someone in our guild was trying to rally enough people together to get a raid going. Someone logged on and asked how the raid group was progressing. The guy forming the raid said, “Kind of hard without people, want to come?” The guy who logged on said “No I have to run my daily heroic and raise my rep.”

    You can say all you want about how everyone should play the game how they want, fine. I just don’t want to be in a guild or on a server with you. I want to play with people who pay to play with the community regardless of the gain they get out of it.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed. I know I’ve played WoW for a couple of years now and still have never managed to find a decent guild. I can’t understand why it’s so difficult…

    • UncleG says:

      Epiny states a fine example of the eventual lack of community around the high end game.

      What’s funny is that I (maybe most people) began playing the game because a friend played. We were introduced to a guild and we did things together. A year later, people just log on to play musical chairs for positions in a raid. Eight people online? Not enough. Twelve? You two can’t come.

      Wish I could get back that sense of fun I had running from skeletons in East Commonlands, casting spells and chatting with friends.

  9. While WoW has done a lot to improve the MMO genre as a whole, dear god, the day cannot come soon enough that something new comes along and shakes off the rust which has been building in recent years. I do not want another WoW clone, and I get annoyed when games turn out to be an half-assed copy of it. You cannot duplicate 6+ years of live and all the work that came before anyway, and then I just end up playing the original thing, because it is currently “the best”. Bah :(

    Maybe I am looking in the wrong places though, or getting my expectations wrong. But when recently faced with either playing WoW or EVE, due to time constraints, I picked the latter, because the community – ironic, for a game that allows spying, scamming and backstabbing – won over the polish and superb quality of design. And it is becoming a trend, now more than ever. At least I am not alone in it :)

  10. Longasc says:

    Excellent points you make.

    It is an interesting development that MMOs become not only solo-friendly but all about soloing and personal progress in various achievement, reputation, playerscore and other tracks. Basically they retain the old EQ-mechanics, mod them somewhat to be solo-friendly and lose the social side of the game. Maybe that’s why WoW got so popular, not everyone got into MMOs like UO and EQ years ago.

    MMOs still manage to create social ties and even friendships. Despite being more and more designed in a way that is totally counter-productive to that.

    But if you are looking for that, you are totally playing the wrong “MMO”.

  11. shane says:

    I agree with you about the community thing.While a good community IS very important(especially in an MMO),friendly players won’t help you if your game sucks.I’ve met tons of great people in several MMO’s that i’ve played throughout the years but i always stop playing the game when i stop enjoying it.I never once kept paying my subscription simply because i had friends that still played.

  12. Bhagpuss says:

    I’m really atypical in this, I think. I’m in favor of community in MMOs in that I like to know other characters by name and I like to chat a lot while I play. But I can’t stand guilds and I’m not keen on “friends lists”.

    I love meeeting new people and chatting in games. I like to be on nodding acquaintance with them thereafter. I do not like getting tells saying “‘Sup! What you doing?” as an inevitable prelude to an attempt to get me to do something I wasn’t planning on doing or just alleviating someone else’s ennui.

    I’ve never stayed in an MMO for a day longer than I wanted to just because I knew people there, but I’ve left several because of people I wanted to avoid. I’ve also changed characters or servers in MMOs so as to lose contact with people whose presence was diminishing my enjoyment.

    As for account retention, my EQ sub is getting on for 11 years old and I haven’t known anyone that plays there for half of that time. It’s always the games that I’m loyal to, and my characters, of course.

    I don’t want to see MMOs turn into solo-online games, but neither do I want to become enmeshed in some kind of high-fantasy kibbutz. I want something like the neighborhood in a large city, where I see the same people often and maybe know one or two things about them, but where my responsibilities to them are extremely limited. Fortunately, the direction of travel for MMOs looks as though it may be heading roughly where i want to go.

    • Gordon says:

      Interesting take, Bhagpus and I do agree. I like the sense of a neighbourhood myself and it’s one of the things that tools like cross-server dungeons/PvP destroys. Ultimately you end up never playing with the same person twice. I always liked how in games like EQ or EQ2 I saw familar faces and kind of knew people even if I never really played with them. It made the games feel more like real worlds.

  13. vortal says:

    I find that in WoW if I don’t have people to socialize with I get really, really bored and decide to stop playing and probably just go finish painting my Dreadnought. Well this usually applies for ME at least in the endgame stages and sometimes in the mid-game as well.

    I don’t know how to explain it properly but it is the whole social aspect of the game that keeps me excited not the stupid micro achievements. I’m all for doing some quests for some reputation (well sometimes), but no way am I going to a raid or dungeon just for the single purpose of getting a trinket. I go there for the fun it gives me and sense of teamwork and accomplishment, yet getting some rewards in the form of gear is also pretty good too.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I can’t see the point of playing by myself, especially when I’m doing activities like Archaeology or grinding gear. Ultimately it’s pointless and I won’t even get the satisfaction of completing the game from it…

  14. Yetian says:

    For me community is still a key part of any mmo I play. I will happily go off questing or exploring with my guild or random pickups if I get on with the players.

    My guild is the best part of mmos for me and we have had various real life meets too, expanding the community outside ofthe games we play.

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