Do MMOers Dislike Being Social?

Blood Elf Starting Area

WoW starting areas are now reasonably populated. The horror!

I remember the first time I ever logged into a MMO. It was 1999, the game was EverQuest and I was on a 64kb dial-up modem connected via a, get this, pay-by-the-minute ISP (cue accidental £300 phone bill). What seems old hat now seemed incredible to me then and I still recall the first few moments of stepping into Norrath and the surge of excitement I felt at bumping into my first ever MMO player. I’ll never forget jumping up out of my seat and shouting over to brother that a completely random person, a fellow Erudite in the starting city of Erudin, had said ‘hi’ to me.

Ever since then I’ve been hooked on the social aspect of MMOs, not because I’m a lonely chatterbox who seeks constant communication but because seeing, interacting and playing with other people from all over the globe makes me feel like I’m partaking in a virtual world… and not just sitting in front of my computer at home in my underwear (my selection of clothes varies). Personally, I find that MMOs make all other offline single-player games just feel lonely and deserted and there’s nothing more precious than the social aspect they bring.

So colour me surprised when I read some of the backlash against the new Cross Realm Zone feature Blizzard has been implementing in WoW. Surely, being able to play in zones that are actually, y’know, populated, is a good thing, right? Apparently a lot of people disagree and prefer their MMOs as barren and devoid of human interaction as Skyrim or any other offline RPG. Technical issues aside, I just don’t get it.

WoW Insider even recently ran a poll asking if people would opt out of the CRZ feature if they could to which a large 60% responded that they would. Indeed, it seems like the majority of WoW players dislike the notion of having to share their questing experience with others or, heaven forbid, actually encounter another living soul on their PvP server. I’m sympathetic to ganking issues, of course, but as someone who’s played a lot on PvP servers in the past, isn’t random combat the entire point of them?

I don’t want to sound to critical about those who are against the CRZ feature but I do wonder if we, MMOers and WoW players in particular, have become so accustomed to our Dungeon Finders and Battleground queues and Raid Finders that we’ve forgotten that the whole point of these games is to mingle with others. I mean, isn’t there something wrong if we’re starting to treat other players as obstacles in our path to progression rather than as opportunities for friendship and camaraderie? Are so we used to instant gratification that we’ve come to ironically dislike the entire social point of MMOs? I’d like to think not and, to me, the CRZ feature in WoW is a technological step in the right direction for making our MMO worlds bigger, better and more social.

Plus, y’know, Blizzard has already foreseen the issues surrounding competitive questing and implemented an ingenious feature called ‘grouping’, a facility that allows two or more players to form a party and complete the same quest together in half the time. Of course, such facility does usually require some form of communication, guttural grunting or otherwise.

Perish the thought.

-Gordon

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29 Comments

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Yes. No. Maybe. Depends on the time of day, mood I’m in, state of my health, phase of the moon. In 1999 I’d agree with you 100% but it’s not 1999 any more, is it?

    And your first ever character was an Erudite? Really??

  2. Carson says:

    Makes me wonder how successful a AAA big-budget “hang out in town together, adventure in small-group instances” title would be nowadays. Something like the original Guild Wars. Or like some of the Asian F2P titles (Vindictus, Continent of the 9th, etc.)

    I mean, if that’s what a lot of MMO players want, anyway.. why take on the technical and game-design challenges of making a persistent world supporting an arbitrary number of players playing in the same place?

  3. camenecium says:

    The MMO population has suffered the same declining quality with increasing numbers that turned usenet from community to (well-populated) wasteland.

  4. Bernard says:

    WoW suffers from a combination of:

    1) Emphasis on endgame as the place for new expansion content

    2) Disincentives for grouping or levelling in populated areas (competition for quest items/mobs, ganking, reduced XP in a party)

    I can’t see them radically changing the former, so the latter needs to be updated to meet the GW2 standard.

  5. Fidjit says:

    Don’t blame WoW players, blame WoW designers.

    The problem is that the nature of WoW’s questing/open world content is truly designed with the solo player mind, and by design others act as competitors (tagging mobs, ganking, gathering nodes, quest items, etc, etc). Not all of these problems are solved by grouping either, like ore/herbs and quest items/drops.

    More people doesn’t mean more social when your progress is almost always hindered by others.

    Contrast this to GW2, and I have yet to see a single person complain about the presence of another player. In fact quite the opposite, people are typically very grateful for others. This is because, unlike WoW, the game’s systems have actually been designed to encourage cooperation.

  6. Pathak says:

    Echo, echo, echo…

    As Bernard and Fidjit have mentioned, sharing things is an issue in WoW, and GW2 has shown that it doesn’t have to be.

    Mind you, there is a key difference between WoW and GW2. World PvP. As with everything, there is a time and a place, and GW2 provides places for PvP, whereas with WoW, depending on your server type, it’s anywhere. I can understand tagging when it’s Alliance vs Horde, for mobs and nodes. But when it’s two people who are supposed to be on the same side, and who would normally share the XP from a mob kill if grouped, mob tagging and exclusive resources becomes quite anti social. GW2 doesn’t have to deal with tagging, because it doesn’t have world PvP in the normal play of the game.

    No point in admonishing WoW too badly. Despite the facelifts, it’s showing it’s age, and doesn’t have the design features required to achieve game style du jour (social gaming).

  7. Talyn says:

    Your title is perhaps a little misleading, as it implies you’re speaking to “MMO-ers” as a group, but really you’re just talking about a feature in WoW. “MMO-ers” are almost always (either past or currently) “WoW-ers” but the inverse is not always true.

    I do have experience with various “Instance Finders” in several MMOs (not WoW however; I haven’t played that in years) but perhaps with more and more cross-server features being added, WoW could be perceived by a certain segment of the players as becoming almost analogous to one huge open world lobby matchmaking game? You can solo or even group your way through stuff while waiting for whatever “real” content happens to be cross-server. Otherwise, there’s really no reason to ever run into any of those nasty “other players.” Just a thought.

  8. Azuriel says:

    Here is the other dimension you are neglecting: some people chose low-pop servers on purpose.

    To someone who enjoys low-pop servers, what are the benefits to CRZ? There are none. Competition for mobs, nodes, and rare spawns has increased. PvP and griefing has increased 1000x fold. And none of the potential benefits of higher-pop realms carries over, e.g. a well-oiled economy, the ability to join the guild of someone you (were forced to) grouped with, etc.

    And let’s face it, at the end of the day CRZ is not much more than half-assed server merges. If you like low-pop, you get all negatives and no positives. If you dislike low-pop, you are still stuck with a borked economy and possibly no HC endgame raiding guilds. Give everyone on a low-pop server a free transfer, and then shut these ghost-towns down and be done with it; splitting the baby satisfies no one.

  9. Ratshag says:

    “Technical issues aside, I just don’t get it”

    No, you don’t. The technical issues are not something that can be set aside. The CRZ experience for a high level character in a level zones (which my observations suggest is about 50% of the populations in these places) has been a complete bug-ridden clusterfuck. The fishing tournaments remain cancelled because Blizzard can’t figure out how to keep people from time-zone hopping and winning eight seconds after it starts. Immersion-breaking effects such as frame dropping and sun teleporting and my druid’s mysterious “that spell isn’t ready yet” when crossing boundaries. Ganking on pvp servers is far worse than it was in vanilla because it’s trivially easy now to avoid retribution. And then there’s my personal favorite: the random chance to have your mount disappear in mid-air when you get switched to another realm.

    I liked the idea of CRZ when it was first mentioned. But having to deal with this half-baked piece of crap that Blizzard rushed out the door changed my opinion real fast.

  10. Moon Monster says:

    Even with friends, sometimes being grouped is less fun than being alone. There’s more pressure to keep moving and not sit and look at which gear you just picked up is better. More responsibility to not make stupid mistakes. More effort needed to coordinate, whether it’s how to kill a boss or just who has what quest, in which direction you’re heading, or whether it’s time to sell off loot or feed the baby.

    It’s like taking a vacation. It can be fun with friends, but it can also be more work and more stress for something that’s ostensibly enjoyable. Much of the time, people might just want to participate in a larger world without having social demands placed upon them. They want to relax.

    • KLD says:

      I agree that wanting to relax while playing is something worth wanting, but to do that, there are other things to do (questing; profession training). If running dungeons solo is desired, Blizzard needs to tune the game accordingly. Otherwise I think people need to accept the social aspect of it and give others a chance. Making mistakes is a part of playing this game and learning to improve, particularly when running dungeons and raids. The players there clocking 95K dps weren’t always that good; they had to learn themselves. I find it encouraging when I see advice being given vs. offending comments and trash-talk.

  11. Milady says:

    As Fidjit said, current non-endgame WoW has progressively evolved into a solo-friendly leveling experience in which grouping is far from being incentivised, and could actually become a hindrance, some quest items having to be farmed for two people. With no elite quests or any comparable challenge, the point of grouping is completely lost.

    But you also have to take into account that these people that are being virtually merged are as strangers in LFD. They are not part of your real server community, and the chances of seeing them again after the leveling experience are very slim. What is the point of socialising with people that will disappear from your radar after the greeting? The anecdote of EQ that you brought up is indicative of a different kind of mentality that is no longer reproduced in modern MMOs, especially WoW: socialising then could lead to group activities, private chats, guild invites, dragon-slayings. It was the most important tool to success. It was done for the sake of it too, we were more naïve and hopeful of the internet strangers. Now there are too many disincentives to both grouping and socialising: why group when you’re more efficient solo, and everything dies in a breath? why socialise when this person is a guest in “your” server, when you inhabit limbo and will not cross the same gates on the way out?

  12. Dà Chéng says:

    +1 bernard, fidgit, pathak

    The WoW quest “Fatty Goatsteak” sums up everything that is antisocial in today’s WoW. This is a quest that requires you to kill mobs and collect steaks from them. The mobs spawn in herds, and all at the same time, so either there are a lot of mobs or there are none. the mobs are also quite dangerous, because as well and doing damage, they can ram you off a cliff. In peak times there are a lot of players wanting to complete this daily quest. What do you think WoW players do?

    The sensible thing would be to form groups. Everybody in the group gets all the steaks. everybody tags one or two goats, if there’s a healer or tank in the group so much the better. Even if one player might die, the group as a whole will manage to kill all the goats and everyone benefits from the rewards, including the dead player.

    What actually happens is that WoW players are so far from being sociable now that everybody tries to solo the herd by tagging them with an instant AoE. This leads to one player taking on 5-10 goats, and fighting them alone, while everybody else on the quest watches on, silently cursing the tagger for stealing all the goats, and hoping he dies before the herd does.

    Meantime, in general chat people are complaining about how hard it is to solo a herd, how poor the drop rate is, how long it takes for the mobs to respawn, how hard it is to tag the herd first with so many others on the same quest, and how it’s all Blizzard’s fault that this quest is taking them so much time.

    And in a way, it is all Blizzard’s fault that most players in WoW no longer invite each other to groups, or think about initiating grouping. But it’s interesting to compare this with GW2. Again, players don’t invite each other to groups or think about initiating grouping, but they nonetheless act as if they are allies, because GW2 automatically benefits players who help other players. Players don’t need to think about the mechanics of grouping, because the GW2 server does that for them, automatically.

    Through mechanisms such as dungeon finder, Blizzard has made obsolete the practice of manual grouping, while at the same time not fully extending automatic grouping. Now it seems many WoW players have forgotten that they can form groups. They just aren’t used to it. They automatically see other players as competitors, not allies.

  13. Dà Chéng says:

    Oops! that link was wrong: here it is again, corrected (I hope!):

    “Fatty Goatsteak”

  14. João Carlos says:

    A comment I made at tobold blog was that the MoP was to show to players how good are the systems implemented at GW2. The comments at this post are just showing this.

    GW2 give incentives to people cooperate: no node competition, no kill stealing, everyone gain full loot from mobs killed. WoW not. Simple.

    At GW2, more people at a zone is good. At WoW, more people at a zone is bad.

    Gordon, the problem are not people, it is the game.

  15. vortalism says:

    I haven’t posted here in a while. Although I haven’t been in Azeroth in a while….(Guild Wars 2 and Dishonoured being the obvious reasons) I definitely agree with what everyone is saying. There is 0% in modern WoW for grouping during the leveling, process. It’s encouraged to solo. Also imagine the mentality of your modern player compared to 1999 where this was relatively new. Players of ages past had to adapt to the game’s lack of player matching features and constantly looked for groups to kill the mobs, finish the dungeon and enact revenge upon a certain b@st@rd. Now players no longer have the dilemma, they can do whatever dungeons they want, fight whatever battleground they want, and avoid others like the plague because quests are design to be for the “forever-alone” types apparently. It would be correct to assume modern players no longer have any patience for the kinds of grouping that happened “back in the day”, even more so with the game actively endorsing it.

    CRZ actually sounded like a really good idea to me, then I thought: “If they wanted to create a community based on player cooperation and teamwork, why didn’t they design the game to do that?” then I thought, “Why did Arena.net do that without players speaking so much as a word?” This is the travesty of current-gen MMOs a great and fantastical world ripe for exploration, with no one talking to each other. Why? Because there is no point.

    Besides raiding. Yeah….raiding you need to talk.

  16. NetherLands says:

    As others have pointed out, the main issue is basically that they first ’streamlined’ away anything and everything that might make it helpful to team-up, also made it an increasingly solo experience with vehicle Quests and Phasing and what not – and then introduced a truckload of competitors with CRZ , making already neutered and thoroughly boring content an even bigger source of irritation.

    Just because WoW is a themepark MMORPG doesn’t mean they had to add lines to all the ‘rides’ .

  17. Kazikame says:

    I’ve been reading the comments above about how WoW discourages you from grouping and that they make you compete for tags. I think it’s the opposite and Blizzard actively encourage you to group, at least for level appropriate content. The tank gathering 5 mobs a time for drops might be able to kill 5 mobs in 30 seconds but with a DPSer in the group it might take 10 seconds to kill them, saving time for both overall. If the tank prefers to go it alone then he pays the price in time taken. I see plenty of people asking to group up for Golden Lotus dailies and the reward is getting through the dailies quicker. 5 people can kill the Behemoth at the start of the GL dailies approximately 5 times quicker than 1 person could.

    CRZ is an extension of this, more competition for mobs means it makes more sense to group. More grouping means more chances for social interaction, social interaction leads to social bonds and can and does lead to long term retention of players for Blizzard.

    Contrast this to GW2 where fighting a champion out in the world theoretically takes the same amount of time whether there is 1 person or 10 due to the scaling (if I have understood the scaling mechanics correctly). The presence of other people wailing on the champion makes very little difference to me other than that I can get some additional effects from their auras. It actually diminishes my contribution to the kill, if I’m on my own and manage to pull off a sweet rotation to increase my damage by 10% then this is effectively only a 1% increase if there are 9 other people attacking the champion.

    I don’t think the WoW system is perfect but I prefer it to the GW2 system. The whole time I played GW2 I never talked to anyone as there was no need to. No social interaction means no long term retention, at least nor for me.

  18. Fidjit says:

    @Kazikame

    Not to turn this into a GW2 debate, but if you *wanted* to talk to others… why didn’t you? Isn’t that reason enough? I’ve had some great talking and social interactions in GW2 with strangers, some of which have led to more people on the friends list and repeat play-sessions together.

    All I did was start talking.

  19. Kazikame says:

    @Fidjit

    I play MMOs for the content, not for social interaction per se. Social interaction is a welcome by-product of wanting to progress in the game and is ultimately what leads me to stick around. I don’t *want* to talk to random passer-bys in GW2 or WoW, just like I don’t want to talk to random people when I go watch a football game, even though we’re all sharing a common experience there too. Put me in a group with like-minded people though and we have shared goals, we have to discuss ways forward and from there social interaction can follow.

    To each their own but to me GW2 was too much of a single player game in which other people were playing at the same time.

  20. Hudson says:

    One thing I hate about low population MMO’s is the lack of grouping. I am not one that likes to “solo” in an MMO and act like its some single player game. That is the stupidest excuse for lazy in an MMO I always hear. Players that suck and can’t figure out their class or how a game works like to solo. Those that don’t suck group, learn, level and later raid. The key is watching a solo’er group and seeing how bad they are.

    There are some that are anti elitist in a lot of MMO’s and may get mad at the last few sentences. I am by far not an elitist but I also hate entitled casuals that solo to level cap and then whine when they can’t hack it in raids and see all the content. I hit 50 in Rift and was fully purpled up and had many raid achievements within 3 weeks and was also in a great guild. While I may pop in from time to time I want to do that again in something that has a little more UMPH. I do NOT want to return to World of Warcraft just because of the player base.

    WoW ruined everything that was social about MMO’s and we have been suffering ever since 2004. I have managed to lead or be a part of a few good guilds in the span but it is very rare.

  21. Chatmay says:

    As someone who has played WOW since 2004, I get pretty upset thinking about how huge the social atmosphere has changed since then. I even realized the other day that this is the first expansion that I quested alone all the way to max level alone (except one guildie who helped me the first day).
    I used to also sometimes recruit for my guild by whispering players asking if they were looking for a guild. Usually I would get a yes or no. Now, I don’t even get replies.
    Just really sad.

  22. Spherix says:

    To try to put what others have already said, (and said well) as short as possible: The goals in MMOs have changed from being primarily social, to being primarily competitive.

    This shift in attitudes isn’t just restricted to MMOs, however. All of gaming has shifted away from exploration, developing a skill, or really just “having fun” to competing and completing. Checking off boxes. Beating games as fast as possible. Getting all the achievements. Competing with others.

    When you reward a behavior, people often shift their focus to the reward, even if they previously enjoyed the behavior for its own sake.

  23. Beetlezombie says:

    After reading your article I kinda wonder if you are:

    - a freak of nature currently playing WOW
    - even playing the same game as me

    A recent quote from Ghostcrawler:

    “Mists of Pandaria daily quests have shown that competing with other players for mob tagging and such is not fun. You should be excited when there are other players around, not grumpy! Blizzard is still actively looking for a solution to make it a nice thing to have other people around.”

    There you have it. They are still actively looking for a solution to make it a nice thing to have other people around. Are you freakin’ kidding me?

    Like so many others here have pointed out, everything in this game is designed to make you an antisocial grumpy bastard.

    Blizzard (GC) is so out of touch with their playerbase at the moment, it’s actually kind of embarrasing. After years and expansions of making everything instant gratification / instanced, they now (MoP) suddenly saw the light and decided it would be totally awesome to have people out in the world, only to see that hey, people actually don’t want to be out in the world socializing with each other. Do note the socializing part there.

    I’m not advocating to go back to classic WOW, where one had to advertise 45m for a group in tradechat, simply because I don’t have the time for it anymore (kid, work, life all that jazz). But it did have its charme. It did build a community. AND it thought you patience. It thought you had to put effort and work into getting something done. It thought you a lot of things.

    If there’s one thing I wish current WOW had more, it would be patience. And no Blizzard, making every freaking panda in Pandaria say ‘Slow down’ is NOT what I mean.

  24. KLD says:

    Patience would be nice! Most dungeon runs I make are a race; there’s little to no time to get set, figure out what’s coming, pick up quests, etc. Then people get pissed off when someone makes a mistake. Really? I wonder why.

    I think it’s great that people have progressed so well in WOW, but it’s worth giving others a break along the way. But therein lies the issue – if WOW is to be at least social when completing something, group interaction would be filled with advice and tips, & the chance to pick yourself up after making a mistake.

  25. Rathor says:

    Funny how people think MMO=Grouping. I have been playing MMO games since UO beta and in some games have belonged to guilds, others not. I enjoy the choice of being able to play the game solo or with friends.

    Honestly most groups I have been in lately, have made me look for solo content based games even more. Name changing, server transfer, and lack of accountability have ruined grouping for me. Back in the early EQ days your reputation was everything, grief players or cause to many problems and you would find yourself kicked from your guild, continue and no guilds or groups would take you in. Today’s world loot stealing, camp crashing, and just being an jerk are commonly excepted.

    Go to far, and piss off your guild, no problem switch names or transfer servers. With these attitudes I would rather play with my close friends or solo.

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  27. mmorpg says:

    I think the Fidjit is right. I agree that WoW has progressively evolved into a solo-friendly leveling experience. Now I play Taern.

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