Pyschochild wrote a post on social fabric and multiplayer that has been bouncing around the blogosphere. His thesis is that "MMOs need to focus back to the multiplayer foundation", in order to improve the social fabric that binds people to these games. He feels that the lack of social fabric is what keeps modern MMOs as "three-monthers", where people come in, play for a bit, and then fall away.
I am not entirely convinced of his argument. But let us say that it is correct. What can games do to improve their social fabric?
Let's start from the basics. What is social fabric, at least in games?
I would define social fabric as: Social fabric is the bonds created by repeated, positive interactions between the same set of people.
Key elements here are repeated, positive, interactions, and same set of people. After all, the various group finder activities are repeated and positive, but they don't create social fabric because you never see the people in them again.
My first thought is that the best and most useful element to build social fabric around is the guild. But guilds are very optional in the modern MMO. I think the first step in strengthening the social fabric is to make guilds more central to the player experience.
Consider the following changes:
- Players can only group with people in their guild.
- Players can only trade with people in their guild.
- Guilds are limited to 100 unique accounts.
What this does is create a very small subset of people that you can interact with. This means that all your group interactions occur within the guild, with the same people. It makes joining and belonging to a good guild a meaningful affair. There is a cap on guild membership so that you are interacting with the same set of people, and to prevent the formation of mega-guilds.
Now, of course, this is very restrictive. It is not very convenient. But rather than allowing players to form very transitory bonds through dungeon finders, local chat, or an auction house, it focuses all those interactions on the same small set of people.
If a game wants to create a strong social fabric, I think it must necessarily limit the scope of player interactions. I think limiting the scope of interactions to the small guild level is the best path for creating the strong fabric that a lot of older MMO players desire.
Edit: This just came to me, how to explain my thoughts in a different fashion. Whenever this topic comes up, a lot of people say that people need to interact more. They need to group more, to trade more, have more interactions in general. I think that we don't necessarily need to have more interactions, we need to have what interactions we do have with fewer people, in order to create more repetition, and stronger bonds when we do end up interacting.