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.
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.