Monday, April 23, 2012

Community and Lobby-Like Gaming

In a comment to the previous post, Milady asks:
I was wondering what would you think about switching from an MMO to a game such as Diablo. You have said that D3 plays similarly to D2, yet the latter came out many years ago, when the community had not reached the stage of persistent world population, and the social ties that you could form were not as strong as in MMOs. Many people are migrating from WoW and other MMOs into D3 - would they like this step backwards into lobby-like gaming? 
Could you play without a persistent world, without a community?
There are multiple ways of looking at this question.

First, for me at least, Diablo is closer to a single-player game than a multiplayer game. Multiplayer is fun, but the first time I play any level, it will be as a single-player. You can go at your own pace, listen to all the voice-overs, experiment with different abilities, and ensure that every single barrel on the level has been broken before moving on. I suspect that the initial play-through for the majority of people will be similar, or maybe co-op with a real-life friend.

In this view, community really doesn't mean anything for a single-player game.

Second, if you play an MMO in a transient fashion, you will find that it is very similar to lobby-like gaming. You have to join the community in order to experience that sense of community. And a lot of people don't join the community. I know that I have never done so in any MMO other than WoW.[1]

So D3 would be just as persistent as my experiences in RIFT, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, etc. Of course, that may be the reason I never played for more than a few months.

However, I really think that the MMO literati gravely underestimate how many people actually play in this fashion, how many people are not part of the community.  In my opinion, what we think of the community in many of these games is actually a minority of the total playerbase.

Third, even transient games have an external community consisting of the forums and websites, where people can discuss the game, brag about stuff they done, and commiserate with others who have lost high-level hardcore characters. I suspect that the people who do end up playing Diablo for years tap into this community.

Fourth, the final view I can think of is that maybe Diablo becomes the equivalent of television for a lot of people. Log in, kill some monsters, get some loot, and log out. Maybe zerg a boss with some random people online. Mindless relaxation to unwind after work. In this view, community is really not important, and may even be detrimental as you don't really want to spend brain power and effort on that community.

Personally I don't think I could play Diablo for as long as I played WoW without the persistent world and community. But I also don't expect to play it for that long. It's a single-player game for me, with a little bit of random multiplayer after. I will probably play Diablo until the next interesting game comes along.

[1] Technically, I did join a guild in SWTOR. If I had made to the cap and started doing things with them, I might have become part of that community.


  1. Perhaps I ought to have added in my previous post that when D2 came out, I played for years. Years! This is a thing that D3 can't possibly spark in me anymore, because I've "learned" from MMOs to expect a different kind of community. Indeed, it has to be my case and that of a those who engage in communities. Nevertheless, the true experience of an MMO cannot be fully grasped until you take part in social events; until then, you are playing, as with D3, a single-player game. Which is fine, it can be an engrossing experience too, but is usually short-lived, as you attested.

  2. Rohan, maybe you should try joining a community in a non-WoW MMO. It genuinely does give you a different perspective on games, and highlights where the WoW community is particularly ossified compared to other games.

    I mean, in other games, it's not been unusual for us to have to PUG one or two people for a raid, and end up with a really well geared PUG person who hung out and helped us kill bosses and said at the end that they'd be happy to come do normal modes with us again. Can you seriously imagine that happening in WoW? No self respecting 'hardcore' raider would do it. But in other games it's not even unusual because many of the people who like raiding are also social and not overly elitist even if their main guild is on cutting edge content.

  3. As an introvert, maxed on virtually every MBTA-like test I've ever scored, I'm not overly interested in the MMO community. At least the way it is used by the more extroverted people. I can understand why it is attractive to many but I'm not engaged by relationship maintenance at that level and I'm not really interested in virtual parties. Real parties make my skin crawl; too much stimulation, and too many people. The MMO 'club scene' feels worse.

    Current MMO gaming is designed for the extrovert who want to be part of an active and engaged team. WoW does better than most in providing avenues for introverts and people with odd play times but the core of the game, going into the dungeon and beating the boss, still encourages, often requires, a functional team. You need the tank, healer, and DPS. You need to know your assignments. Someone has to do the organization and scheduling. I’m paid to do PM and SE work. It’s not something that I’d personally classify as fun. If it is for you, that’s great. The MMO community is waiting with lots of options.

    What many of us want is a game that can be played solo or co-op without the social requirements of an MMO. With D3 I can log in and solo if I want, I can join an existing open game, I can join a game with one of my friends, and I can change this as I desire. Only have three people? The enemy difficulty adjusts. Someone joins or leaves? It adjusts again. This probably will not be that appealing to the extroverted MMO player, who may beat the game on normal and not look back, but for me this is fairly close to ideal. Adding the PvP segment will close one of the few gaps.

    Will it last? If the higher difficulties are done well and the gear grind isn't MMO-easy it has a chance. What many would like to see is an updated D2 without the griefing and item cheats. If an active community develops in the forums, blogs, and web sites so much the better.

    The more interesting question for me is what this will do the LFD and LFR runs in WoW. How many of those players are going to be in D3 and just running WoW if they have the desire?