Sunday, September 28, 2008

Warhammer Online:The Chat Box

If you play Warhammer Online, you'll soon notice some odd behavior, at least compared to other MMOs: No one talks on the public chat channels.

It's very weird, everything being so silent. There are plenty of other players around. And it's so unlike the other MMOs I've played. In WoW, you can't get people to shut up, especially in the Barrens. Even Age of Conan, people talked a lot, if only to complain that their systems couldn't handle the game. But people are always chatting or complaining about quests or classes or Chuck Norris, and it's extremely disconcerting not to have that. Heck, there's more talking in Wizard 101, and that game was trying to prevent conversation.

I think the problem resides solely with Mythic's implementation of the WAR chatbox. There are three main reasons why it fails:

1. The font is too large, and the box is too small

A large font means that less information can be conveyed. It means that fewer lines of text can be shown, and a smaller history of the conversation is preserved. It also means that a lot of messages which should only take up one line wrap into two lines, further wasting the limited chat space.

2. Too many useless messages

In particular, the NPCs talk a lot, and quite frankly spam your chat box. This is very annoying, especially those which have long speechs, or multiple NPCs interacting. I think you can turn this off, but it was a mistake to include it in the default settings.

(As a complete aside, ever notice that text in the NPC speech bubbles has quotation marks? That seems weird and redundant to me.)

The other big contributor to this problem is transaction messages when buying or selling items. Again, multiple lines are taken up with each item, making harder to have a conversation with people.

The golden rule of chat boxes is that chat boxes should be reserved for communicating with other players. If at all possible, messages from the game to the player should be handled by the rest of the UI. Only messages that absolutely have to be in the chat box history should show up. Otherwise players will quickly learn to ignore the chatbox, as nothing useful ever shows up.

A further problem here is that general chat appears to be the same colour as game messages, making it even easier to ignore.

3. Lack of feedback when changing channels

Load up WoW, and type "/1 " (with the space). See what happens? The chat channel immediately changes to General, so you know what channel you are sending your message to.

Do the same thing in WAR. Notice that nothing happens. There's no indication that you are sending your message to the right channel. If you keep typing, "/1 test", that will send the message "test" out on the general channel. But the lack of feedback, I think hampers people from figuring out how to talk, makes it less intuitive, especially since no one else is talking.

To my mind, this whole issue indicates the importance of the small stuff. The three concerns I've outlined are minor. The default chat box certainly looks functional on paper. But I think these small issues have kept people from talking, and have made the experience very different from other MMOs. As well, I think this silence is negative. We play MMOs to play with other people, and it's nice to see people talking. Many people have called MMOs "glorified chatrooms", and I think that's a part of their appeal.

17 comments:

Lyris said...

While certain elements of the WAR ui, including the chatbox, do need improvement, I don't think it's the reason for the lack of chatter.

If you look at the size of chat zones, you'll notice they are ridiculously tiny. There are so very few people that it's often not worth attempting to use a general channel outside a hub area.

Also, the game is much busier than previous MMOs. You can fight almost constantly with very little downtime, when running you need to avoid mobs sometimes even on the roads, and even when I am running in a relatively safe area I'm always looking for clickable things. For me, I always chatted mostly during downtime. Long flights, sitting after fights, and so on.

No downtime + small zones = little chat.

Dimitris said...

The main reason why noone is chatting in WAR is because you cannot chat and move/fight at the same time.
If u try to talk/chat you cannot control your character. If u try to control your character while you are writing a sentence, then you have to reclick the chat after you have turned right for instance, and so on and so forth...
Most probably the change of focus is intentional, to avoid 12311113333 situations, but I think what they came up with is antisocial.

Pr said...

So far (lvl 9) I have only seen 2 people chat, one asked a question about a quest and another complained about the lack of healing in a scenario.

I thought maybe my chat was broken but i guess it's just very quiet

Anonymous said...

Wow, a game with no chuck norris jokes or references to ANAL (fill in the talent)? You just might convince me to try warhammer.

Grumpy Misanthrope said...

I could do a month of WAR if noone was chatting. That's my biggest complaint about the social part of WOW. Too many people won't shut up and you only have so many ignore slots.

pidge said...

Great points! I've been talking about some of the same things (http://bravepidge.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/putting-the-polish-on-war/) and made sure to link your post (http://bravepidge.wordpress.com/2008/09/29/blessingsofkingswarchat/). Mythic has said that they're watching the community to see what issues are out there; hopefully they'll see your suggestions.

Rorik said...

I got tired of NPC chat filling up my Chat tab, so I made a new one and filtered NPC chat for that tab and turned it off for the default Chat tab. It's really easy to do and the filters are great. I still don't know how to filter out transaction events though.

I also agree with Lyris, chat zones are very small and it seems pointless to ask for help where only 2 people may get the message. Maybe there's a chat channel for the entire zone?

kadaan said...

Heh, I never figured out how to chat in general and didn't bother looking it up. Thanks for teaching me :).

Some messages aren't in the filter list. I don't remember which, I think some loot and mail messages? I made a new window with everything unchecked but it was still showing a few messages.

I also get triple message spam from auctions. When someone buys an item of mine on the auction, I get the notification three times -.-

TheBolshevik said...

I'm glad that a lot of other people have noticed this as well. When I first started playing WAR I thought that the game was in the process of tanking due to the almost overwhelming silence, or perhaps I was just losing my mind. I like WAR a lot, but do miss the chattiness of WoW a lot. It makes the world seem alive even if it is stupid jokes.

I think another big part of this aside from the already stated reasons are the terrible default chat colors. All the social interactions are the same shade of brown which causes everything to be overwhelmed by the incessant NPC chatter.

Mythic did a lot right with WAR, but the NPC chatter is something they got very, very wrong. I guess it was an attempt to make the world feel packed full of people and alive. Instead it's god awful annoying, and since it drowns out the chatter of real people it makes the world feel desolate and empty.

Dracon said...

The reason why War seems so quiet is that there is no channel for serverwide chat. I personally do not like serverwide chat, because it encourages a kind of childish chat that is a deterrent to playing games.

Everyone knows the Trade channel is nearly a serverwide chat channel in WoW. Every childish commentator on a server gravitates to that channel so their nonsense can be spread to a wider audience. No one chats like that in the General channel because it is limited to a small zone of the server. In WoW, I have the feeling some people sit in a major city and chat for hours. Sometimes the chat gets so annoying I opt out of the Trade channel.

War is like playing WoW without a Trade channel. Personally, I like it better that way. But I enjoy playing the game, no matter what the game is.

wilhelm2451 said...

The font thing is driving me a bit nuts. You can change the font size. In fact, you can change to a different font, from a list they have available. But none of them seem very suitable to the task at hand.

Big enough to be legible means too little information is visible. Small enough to not worry about wrapping simple exchanges ends up with teeny-tiny-eye-strain-o-vision.

I have never thought, in playing WoW, about changing the font or size of the font for chat. It is just right. In WAR, it is just wrong and I cannot find a right.

Anonymous said...

Another big problem are the gold spammers, they constantly bombard you and unlike WOW, you can't right click on name to either report or ignore. You have to manually type in the name to ignore(No report button I can find) but it appears that if you ignore one, a new gold spammer takes their place almost immediately.

Loonyx said...

God, i just googled: "warhammer online general chat" cause i don't understand how come no one is talking. great article i figured i got stuck on some sad server haha. Guess it just sux. I mean if people don't chat, then how do you get groups for quests? i've tried inviting people without asking, but i usually get rejected or people are lvling with friends, it sux. I miss wow. Wow is much more colorful and happy. Warhammer is real looking. But still cheesy. I think wow did the write thing if you're going to make something look real but can't make it really fantastical. In this however your characters are a bad version of reality. They're not multi-dimensional like they are in Half-Life which portrays real people very accurately. anywho just my two cents!

Anonymous said...

"But people are always chatting or complaining about quests or classes or Chuck Norris, and it's extremely disconcerting not to have that."

Lack of idiotic Chuck Norris jokes is disconcerting? It's one of the aspects of WAR I like most. People chat in /say more than anything. Or guild chat, or scenario chat, or warband chat..or.. etc etc

The only thing you can't filter (or at least, that I haven't been able to filter) is that "You get 35 brass coins" line. Everything else is filterable.

If you don't like NPC Chat, filter it out!

Anonymous said...

I could care less about the NPC spamming. I just don't read it and am a happy camper. However, the lack of a serverwide chat and inability to see what local chat you're in is killing me. I tried talking in the /1 chat - and no feedback of whether or not I was in the channel left me thinking I wasn't even it it.

The open party system was a good idea, but so far for me, it's failing miserably. I don't want to spend 3 hours sitting near a PQ with an open party tab, hoping somone joins it. And with some of the PQs taking 5-6 people on part III or IV makes it worthless.

Also, the lack of a serverwide general makes guild-forming impossible. I have been trying to get 5 people to group with me to do it for about 2 weeks now. And nothing.

I realize all the idle banter and childish rants in WoW general are a drawback, but the positives are just too great to do without.

Toady (BO Karag Orrud) said...

I think people are too much focussed on what WoW did or didn't do. WAR has a lot more pace, fast respawn the middle of kill quests and multiple approaches (PQ, open RvR, Scenario, quests) to the game means people are never stuck for something to do. Open parties aren't way of starting groups, the new region chat channel might help with that.

Usually when I zone I queue all scenarios, check out quest log & map, ask on /1 if there is any open RvR action and then have a quick look to see what open parties are in PQs or open RvR. While questing I migth come across a party or a PQ with something on. If I find an empty PQ near the end of Stage 1 I'll shout it out on /1.

All-in-all loads to do and mix it up. In fact sometimes I have to find a safe rock to stand on while I do a quick scenario and while waiting for my PQ group to turn up. Phew, I'm knackered.

Anonymous said...

Something else to consider is that people that regularly group togheter usually get a voice communication program that allows them to totally ignore chat. I know I use it.