Monday, April 14, 2008

Other People

After reading some recent posts from Galoheart and Big Bear Butt Blogger, I have solidified my view that the central paradox of MMOs is:

The best thing about MMOs is that you can play with other people.

The worst thing about MMOs is that you have to play with other people.

In many ways, WoW was the first MMO to really grasp this distinction. And a huge amount of the angst and conflict at the level cap comes when the game transitions from focusing on the first style to focusing on the second style. We play this game to play with other people, yet playing with other people often causes a lot of problems.

It's amazing fun to play with other people. It's what sets this genre apart from all the other games out there. I still believe that single best thrill in WoW is downing a hard new boss with a raid of friends. A hard-fought, evenly matched Arena battle might compare. They're both the same idea: defeat a hard challenge because you worked together as a team.

Yet other people are also the worst part of MMOs. Drama, people going afk, griefing, etc. So many problems in this game aren't really problems with the game itself, but with people. And sometimes it's just simple logistics. Person A only has 20 minutes to play, so that's just not enough time to do something as a group.

There are a ton of issues where the difference comes into play. Take raiders vs casuals. Raiding demands that you play with a large number of other people, and thus places strict demands on people in order to make the playstyle reliable. Casual places fewer demands, but you often end up playing by yourself.

PvE vs PvP. The real advantage PvP has over raiding is that it involves fewer "other people". Battlegrounds you can essentially solo. Arenas involve 1 to 4 other people.

The shortage of tanks and healers. DPS "can" play with other people. Tanks and healers "have to" play with other people.

Realistically, what can a game company do? The entire point of these games is to play with other people, yet the more you force people to play together the harder it becomes to consistently enjoy the experience. I know there are other MMOs who force you to group all the time, but I also believe that is a reason they haven't achieved the success of WoW.

In the end, all I have to offer are the (paraphrased) words of the great philosopher Homer J. Simpson, "other people: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."


  1. "other people: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."

    "To alcohol! The cause of... and solution to... all of life's problems"

  2. Its a chicken and the egg paradox.

    People don't bother to group simply because they don't have to. They solo from 1 to 70, then when they HAVE to group they have no idea HOW to work as a team and treat people with respect.

    I've blogged about this extensively:

  3. "PvE vs PvP. The real advantage PvP has over raiding is that it involves fewer "other people". Battlegrounds you can essentially solo. Arenas involve 1 to 4 other people."

    I'd like to argue against this, too generalized.

    Pre-TBC, you needed a solid group of people who PVP'd daily in and out to make progress. After anything past Rank 10 or so, to beat the Honor decay without literally having to play 24 hours a day, you needed the social skills to be able to fit in with the group.

    You could have all the PVP skills in the world, if you rubbed the predominant premade group at the time and didn't have enough pull to get your own going, you were left out in the dark.

    Ontop of that, at least 2-3 people of the group needed management skills because the way the Honor system worked was that #2 and #3 spot of the week could very well add 1-2 weeks to #1 if they weren't careful with the amount of Honor they pulled in---strict organization of who gets to play when and how much they get to play was important, keeping people inline, motivated and goal oriented without being discouraged.

    I've seen poorly managed groups break up in patience and compete/harrass each other directly. To say that is solo-esque would be insane.


    In current TBC PVP (BG's and Arena), I still stand by this point (and I'll be posting something about this topic on my blog in the future). PVP and Arena doesn't all of a sudden make these social/management ties disappear just because the rank decay system is gone.

    Where do the top Arena players find their people for the brackets? They certainly don't use /2 Trade at 11:59 PM on Mondays. It's not always Guild Arena groups. The top PVP'ers on each server gravitate together after awhile even if they have different guild tags. In fact, I'd argue that if the people on your server DON'T do this you'll be hard pressed to make adjustments on your Arena teams when new strategies and counters are established during a Season's period---on my server for each of the classes, I know 2-3 people who I'd go to for either advice or possible spot on a team lineup, that's around 20+ people.

    Hell, you can take this further---BG9 is infamous over the WoW PVP Community as the cream of the crop of players when it comes to clusters for US servers. Top players for random server A and random server B often end up getting recruited and xfer to BG9 for great glory, more socialization amongst other top PVP'ers, etc.. and all the drama that can come out of trash talk, rivalries, etc..

    As for BG itself, yes I can queue solo into a BG---but I get out of it what I put in, very little as solo. It's the same when I solo a quest---sure some money and maybe an item to disenchant. The stuff that I really want? Heroics and raids which involve more people.

    Do I want to spend 7 min in this WSG or 25 min? I'll queue with people who I've PVP'd with for hours on end (to the point where I naturally know their playstyle and trust their decision making) to get the job done.

    PVP requires "other people", it's not just your 2v2/3v3/5v5 in a little vaccuum bubble of its own---not if you want to go far.

  4. megan, you are missing the difference between "can" and "have to".

    You "can" do BGs in groups, and that is a lot of fun. But if you log on at an odd time, and none of your friends are online, or if you're new to the PvP scene, or playing an odd spec, you still have the option of going solo, and earning some honor.

    That's the difference between "can" and "have to". Imagine what the game would be like if you had to queue up for a BG as a full group.

    As for all the Arena stuff, sure, you "can" play at that level. Or you can just grab 1 to 4 of your friends and try your best. You'll probably be less successful, but sometimes it's more important to be doing something with friends, rather than to be the best.

    The single most popular Arena is 2v2. I suggest that the reason it's the most popular has nothing to do with specs or classes or game mechanics, but simply because it is the Arena a couple, or a pair of buddies, can play together.

  5. Rohan has a point.Its a hard transition. I don't think he was "bashin teh pvpsss" just saying that being able to play with 5 people in what is for that play style "the endgame" has its advantages for reduction in drama. The one nice thing about games where you have to group while leveling is that more people know how to socially interact before they can affect the lives of 20+ people. all in all good piece and interesting point.

    As for Megan's point. we are no longer in a pre TBC world. and even if you do need to know and network with more than 4 other people to be top notched in the arena, you DON'T need them all to be there at one time, and they don't all need to get along with each other

    just the few cp of a dwarf pally

  6. While Blizzard understood this well, they also placed many limitations on *how* people group.

    Smaller instances require 5 or 10 people and often require exactly that number and no more or less if you are to progress within the game (to complete quests, get gear, etc.). This defeats the nature of a social guild where you might have 4 or 12 people, but not necessarily for the full duration of 1-4 hours.

    Battlegrounds can be daunting with such a focus on gear and twinks. Unless you are at the maximum level with maximum gear / enchants / potions / etc., it can be extremely difficult to match them.

    Reaching new content or matching twinks for casual play places an incredible demand on the amount of time required for mind-numbing and otherwise useless grinding (vs. skill).

    The XP distribution model for how characters at a certain level receive experience discourages people from recieving help since they're penalized with XP loss by having someone more than 2-3 levels above them help. It would be great to provide the option of temporarily downgrading character's abilities to prevent stealing all of their XP.

    Another serious restriction is built in to both the friend's list and guild system. With several million people playing the game, I meet a lot of people. Why on earth can't i have a larger friend's list? Similarly, casual grouping of people between guilds can be somewhat difficult and largely has to occur outside the game through forums, websites and email. Participating in only one guild at a time also places a restriction on the social aspect of the game. A multi-guild or faction based system would better reflect the nature of social networks.

  7. As a casual gamer with time limitations I totally agree.

    With all respect to ppl felling PvP being bashed on I can still have a good time in arena with my buddies (we suck at 1400 rating somewhere, barely managed to play 10 games a week etc) but I will not ever see the inside of Gruuls lair. Khara I have visited on a cpl of occations but thats about it.

    I'd like to adress the problem described as:

    So many problems in this game aren't really problems with the game itself, but with people. And sometimes it's just simple logistics. Person A only has 20 minutes to play, so that's just not enough time to do something as a group.

    This is where I am. My IRL friends play more than me and every time we group up they outgear me with a big margin.

    That makes most friends play a mercy mission for them. Not that much fun when gaming isn't challenging for them at all.

    The paradox is that, without bragging, I am as good at playing as them. But since they can spend more time it doesn't help since WoW is pretty gear orientated.

  8. And it pisses me off that I still have to rely on other people to win in battlegrounds/arena, particularly as a Ret paladin. It's extremely hard for me to get an arena team that takes me seriously outside of my guild, and yelling at people to push forward and kill Vanndar instead of focusing on Belinda just gets my blood pressure rising.

    This game makes me rage.

  9. And another thing: The "logistics" issue is absolutely right. I'm on crunch time in my semester. Yeah, it's stupid that I'm crying about not being able to play Warcraft when studying, but even if I can take a small break, there is nothing significant I can do except for dailies or a battleground or two after I hit 70. Most progression is reserved for weekends where I get to sit and rage at people not running away from Solarian when they're made the bomb or rage at people when they're not recapping Iceblood tower.

    This game makes me rage far too much.

  10. I think WoW is actually three games in one, not two:

    1. Level 1-70: one can solo, group and have fun enjoying the lore and the quests, knowing that there's always going to be a quest that will bring another update. If a boss is too strong, just return a few levels later.

    2. Level 70, five mans/heroics/Kara: not too much lore here. Running five mans and heroics will greatly improve class skill and gear. Even if unguilded, one tends to meet the same people again and again.

    3. Level 70, 25 man raids: this is where other people really become a factor. Especially if they don't prepare, use mods, go AFK, all that Jazz. If one runs with a group that is focused and goal oriented, the game becomes fun and rewarding even without any phat lootz, at least for me - it's just fun to see new content and new bosses. Downed, too.

    Note that I left out the PvP aspect. One can pretty much PvP at any time, depending on the individual frustration threshold, especially on the Alliance side. Yes, IBGY *is* important now. Yes, riding to the RH flag and fighting there will be better than getting wiped out between the E and W FWT. ;)

  11. Well, I believe that Homer J. Simpson synthesized his quote from a great French existentialist by the name of Jean-Paul Sarte.
    He said simply: "Hell is other people"