Making an MMORPG: Community

Senior Staff Writer Chris "Pwyff" Tom decided to go in-depth with what he thinks makes for the perfect MMORPG. In this article, he explores the role that community plays in making a great game.

"What makes a good MMORPG?"

I've decided to devote a bit of my time and a few articles to exploring this. In my last pieces, I wrote about PvP interactions, character progression, gameplay mechanics and combat and story and premise. Today I'll talk about something I believe is what makes MMORPGs so special: Community.


MMORPG Communities

A rare moment of honesty here: does anyone actually believe that MMORPGs are amazing games on their own? Would you, for example, purchase World of Warcraft: the offline RPG? How about playing through Guild Wars with just mercenaries? I know that there are some League of Legends players out there who just want to farm items by themselves (a little joke for those of you who play) but, generally speaking, MMORPGs are great fun because their communities make them fun. Don’t get me wrong here, strong game mechanics are very important for attracting players, but I would be lying if I said that this was the main thing that kept me attached to my favorite MMOs.

I used to be a fairly devoted MMORPG player because I loved to be involved in my MMO communities. Yes, this was during my high school and university years, so I had some spare time to be involved, but I don’t think I’d be far off if I said that MMORPGs back then were focused far more heavily on community than our current generation’s offerings. I believe a large reason for this is our desire to cater to the perceived “casual gamer” demographic that is so important to company profit margins.

Now, you might be rolling your eyes at my reference to “casual gamers” ruining my MMORPGs, but let me explain: there’s a difference between a casual gamer and a “casual gamer” with the quotes. To me, a casual gamer (no quotes here) is simply someone who is interested in the game and the community, but they believe they don’t have the time to really get into it. To marketers around the world, however, the term “casual gamer” has become a buzzword to signify someone who wants to play a game but doesn’t want to be a part of the community. This is an important defining trait that has really influenced the way many MMORPGs are being developed.

Take, for example, World of Warcraft’s dungeon finder system. In it, players are simply tossed together into groups of five, where they can then blitz through a dungeon with little to no communication. If someone is being rude, they might get kicked out, but they’ll be almost instantly replaced with a new unknown face. While this process is fantastic for getting results (I spent a number of hours grinding from 70 to 75 watching movies while running dungeons as a tank), it was disconcerting how alone I felt throughout the entire process. You might be able to coerce the friendlier players into doing multiple runs, but at the end of the day, chances were very high that you would never see that player again in your travels.

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A few thoughts on this thread.
# Sep 11 2011 at 8:11 AM Rating: Decent
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Group play and community is a balance issue more than anything else.

Opinion on Grouping as an Element of Community Building:
I believe that the solo grind should be somewhat of a drag and that the group grind should be far more efficient and happiness inducing.

Observation:
Unfortunately, the gates have been opened up and the time investment that is considered reasonable for certain activities in games has changed. Mini games on smart phones and pad devices with low personal investment and a high level of engagement now exist. I think this mindset has modified the more traditional idea of a communal game and it shows.

Opinion on Community Building:
It is important and the focus should be on the mechanism for the creation of community. The trick is to make group game play more "interesting" or "reasonably more advantageous" for those competitive animals. It is the structured interaction that is "evolved" in each generation of "group play mechanics" sprinkled with "revolutionary" elements in new MMORPGs that is important.
Strong Community misconceptions
# Sep 07 2011 at 9:53 AM Rating: Good
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The key to a small but great community is Forced Grouping.
They key to a pretty large, great community is encouraged grouping, but not forced.
Enforced grouping is a blessing and a curse. It make players rely on each other. And relying on one another builds bonds. However, relying on others for everything or being forced to socialize. Makes progression feel like work. This ideal applies to real life as well go figure.

For a game to have a huge playerbase and a pretty good community. Grouping should have incentives and make you feel grouping is more fun and better for the individual's mind. No matter what the type of content is.
But give the individual the options to step off the social road, and not feel like he is being burnt at the stake.
Unique varieties between contents with deep systems stimulate the grander process of learning alone and together.

That's my opinion at least.
The true answer
# Sep 07 2011 at 2:55 AM Rating: Default
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The shortest and easiest answers are usually the best. Hence i can put the answer to what all MMORPG's need to succeed into one single word:

Catgirls

And that is all.
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A double-edged sword
# Sep 06 2011 at 11:55 AM Rating: Excellent
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I understand a lot of Chris's points, but the fact is that most MMOs can't survive on community alone. Creating a strong community can be a double-edged sword for a game. As mentioned in the article, FFXI's strong point was its incredibly strong community. Heck, that's what got me started on ZAM several years ago, as I needed to meet up with people and learn more about the game. Due to the way the game worked, with leveling necessary after the beginning levels, forming close bonds to other people was the only good way to get through the game.

But this was also its major drawback. If you couldn't play a few hours each day, you couldn't become a strong part of the community, and your progress through the game would be extremely hindered. And if you got the community turned against you (even through rumor or slander, which was not unheard of), you were blacklisted and effectively screwed.

More recently I've seen the debate about community in Earth Eternal Reborn. When the game went down in 2010, the primary reason offered by the bankrupt company was that the community had been labeled at large as a "furry" community, catering to a niche audience of animal-lovers (pun not intended). The community was very strong, and those on the inside loved EE, but outsiders were turned off by the sub-culture and stereotypes. As a result, EE couldn't gather enough players to remain profitable.

In an effort to change this, EER was recently released into beta and cut down the "furry" races by a whopping 10 (out of previously 22), and the models were edited to be more humanoid and less animalistic. There's a strict policy of absolutely no sexual language at all. While the new owners hope this will entice new players without having the furry stereotype, the old community has said that this kills the one niche demographic that actually loved the game. As a result, many of the older players have left.

As said, it's a double-edged sword. Community can make the MMO; but it can just as easily break it. It's a fine line to walk.
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Author's definition of community...
# Sep 06 2011 at 10:54 AM Rating: Decent
6 posts
I disagree with this article on a lot of points. First off, I think that any destructive effect that the Looking for Dungeon tool had on World of Warcraft wasn't that it it destroyed 'communities' on a server, but instead intensified the necessity of cutting through content quickly (and the ability to go through the leveling/gearing up in radically different ways) which the game designers weren't able to keep up with.

The disparity of methods to reach 'endgame' content has allowed for a wide berth of different sub-communities to exist in WoW, as players wind up being isolated from others who are interested in different aspects in the game... and they love to bicker between themselves. To say that the community has gone bad or is nonexistant isn't really right, it's still there, but it allowed itself to be specialized in so many angles of the game that you have to look around to find that sweet spot of a guild or server that has an attitude that you like. You can head to Proudmoore-US, for example, if you'd like to hang out on a server that has low tolerance of hatespeech in trade chat. You can head to Wyrmrest Accord if you're a lore nut. You can pack off to Ysera or Sen'jin if you're looking for an intense Raiding community. And you'll probably find guilds on some of the servers that are interested in participating in all aspects of the game.

WoW aside... I also take issue to think that FF14's problems were due to them trying to bring in a core of solo'ers. The inefficient leveling and quest system, horrible interface and server issues thanks to Japan's earthquake and tsunami back in March are to blame for the problems FF14's 'community' problems.... because the people who probably would like to sit down and participate within the communities within the game weren't just able to tolerate such a poorly-delivered product.

However, to expect a good community to spontaneously appear days in response to what you described in FF11 -- that I'd like to call the "tribe is required" phenomenon (which I have personally encountered when I started playing MMOs back in 2003 with Ragnarok Online) -- just is no longer a financially safe design tactic for game companies these days. The consumer base for MMOs have expanded beyond those who were okay with spending weeks making items with much intense involvement in finding specialized crafters with rare recipes, or spending months getting to max level by grinding elites with a party of five that you spent hours trying to assemble. Granted, you are likely to get a community out of small specialized games that have that kind of environment, but game developers need to eat; or worse, they need to appease a corporate parent company with stock holders. They have to invest in a game design that won't cause potentially hundreds of thousands of people away because they don't want to kill Pecos for 15 levels for a week's worth of effort.

The most important thing that a game designer can do to help build a community is to not make a terrible game. If the game is good, people will come and participate with other players. There will ALWAYS be that kind of casual that you dread -- the player who doesn't want to get in a guild or chat on forums or take part in player-started social events -- because you can't force people who don't want to interact with others into interacting with others without there being a nasty side effect on those who just simply want to have the ability to do something on their own without it being a giant federal emergency.
Author's definition of community...
# Sep 08 2011 at 11:39 AM Rating: Decent
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Contay wrote:
First off, I think that any destructive effect that the Looking for Dungeon tool had on World of Warcraft wasn't that it it destroyed 'communities' on a server, but instead intensified the necessity of cutting through content quickly (and the ability to go through the leveling/gearing up in radically different ways) which the game designers weren't able to keep up with.

I want to latch onto this because I think it is completely wrong. The first strike to WoW server communities was the cross-realm battlegrounds and the dungeon finder was the final, and fatal, blow that diluted the server communities to nothingness.

I remember the pre-cross-realm battlegrounds era with great fondness. We had a very nice community on our server with much friendly rivalry between the two factions. Once cross-realm BGs came, though, the queue times were heavily cut as was promised but the BG experience was ruined. Instead of bitter fights to the end (hey, the pride of the horde had to be upheld!), "let them win" became a common phrase uttered in BG chat. Our fields of glory were invaded by legions of losers and botters and the server community started to wane. Nowadays there are no more server-wide communities, only isolated guilds.

Edited, Sep 8th 2011 1:39pm by Omena

Edited, Sep 8th 2011 1:40pm by Omena
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Author's definition of community...
# Sep 07 2011 at 1:20 PM Rating: Good
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Contay wrote:
However, to expect a good community to spontaneously appear days in response to what you described in FF11 -- that I'd like to call the "tribe is required" phenomenon (which I have personally encountered when I started playing MMOs back in 2003 with Ragnarok Online) -- just is no longer a financially safe design tactic for game companies these days. The consumer base for MMOs have expanded beyond those who were okay with spending weeks making items with much intense involvement in finding specialized crafters with rare recipes, or spending months getting to max level by grinding elites with a party of five that you spent hours trying to assemble. Granted, you are likely to get a community out of small specialized games that have that kind of environment, but game developers need to eat


So, in other words, marketing toward "casual gamers" has contributed to the killing of a community. I don't think you disagree with the points made in the article as much as you think you do. :P

(As a side note, I myself quite liked it.)
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