Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why I rather take abuse from a living jerk than listen to the polished speech of an NPC

Would you like to play WoW as a solo-game? Many players would, according to a recent post by Tobold.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all there are many ways to play WoW and this richness of the game is probably the major reason for its success. It’s like a huge supermarket with aspects and features for every taste.

Yet I couldn’t help shaking my head in disbelief, wondering: if those guys don’t like to interact with other players, why did they start playing an MMO in the first place?

The annoyances of interaction
In his post Tobold discusses the social interaction in MMOs. He says that some kind of social interaction is necessary; if it was a pure soloing game people probably wouldn’t be prepared to pay monthly subscription fees.

But he also points out some problems connected to the socializing with other players. One is the requirement of coordinating your playtime with others. A part of your time online will always be wasted while you’re waiting for players to come online or get to the spot where you have agreed to meet up. Pick-up groups can dissolve halfway through the instance when someone suddenly leaves without any explanation.

Another issue is the player the player behaviour, or rather the lack of it. Shielded by the anonymity of Internet, people will behave much worse than they would in real life.

Indirect interaction
Based on those observations, he predicts that the future for MMO lies in what he calls “indirect social interaction”. Player economy is one example. When you’re playing the AH in one way interacting with others as you’re fighting competitors and trying to predict how to consumers will act. But you’re not talking to them, them, you don’t know or care about if they’re online at the same time as you are. Tobold also mentions achievements, which give some players a kick when they can show off in front of other players, without actually saying something about it.

According to Tobold it’s just a matter of time before we’ll see more games where players will interact without meeting each other online. They could engage into cooperative projects, such as building guild bases and they could deal with “politics”, which is a concept I don’t quite understand, but I suspect Tobold rather is referring to guild politics than to real life political ideologies.

Larísa’s point of view
So, what is Larísa’s take on this? Well, it’s quite possible that Tobold is right that this is going to happen. My knowledge about the MMO genre is very limited. It dates only back to the beginning of 2007 and it doesn’t include any other game than WoW. I'm really not the right person to question an authority as Tobold. So I can only speak from a strictly subjective perspective when I say this:

I love the direct social interaction. WoW wouldn’t be the same to me without it. Not at all.

Yes, of course I run into people that are annoying. I’ll meet them in pugs or I hear them yelling in the general chat channels in the capitals.

Yes, I too encounter asshats from time to time, people who are abusive, selfish, stupid and take actions that somehow intervene with my plans or ideas about how the game should be played.

Yes, there have been moments when I’ve been wondering what I’m doing, trying to play games with immature, annoying teenagers who I have nothing in common with and can’t be trusted for a single second.

But do you know what? If I never had to be exposed to those or to anyone else, if my gameplay was instanced in some manner and we only interacted asynchronously, I would soon grow incredibly bored.

There would be pretty sceneries and there would be NPCs to speak to, but they would be scripted and therefore completely predictable. I would surely admire it for a while, but something would be missing.

If I would be presented the choice between taking some abuse from a living jerk or listening to the polished speech of an NPC, I would pick the jerk anytime. Because there’s a real person behind it.

The potential of the unexpected
In the end, all those annoying people actually helps to bring life to Azeroth, just by being online. Either I interact with them or not – the very thing that I COULD talk to them if I wanted to adds another dimension: the potential of the unexpected. They helps me feel, they make me laugh and giggle and they make me rage sometimes, which also is a part of being human.

Visiting Ironforge or Stormwind resembles a bit of strolling around in a real life metropolis or sitting at a café watching the street life. There are voices, there are smells, and there is noise, always something interesting going on that can catch my attention. Being out in the wild of Kalimdor you won’t see as many people around, but you’re quite likely to start a conversation with the few you see. And you never know where it will take you – will you make another friend or a foe?

The MMOs haven’t yet evolved so far that there are built in sensors (imagine the day when we can play WoW as if we entered a holo deck!). But the here-and-now presence of other living players definitely adds to the illusion that I’m actually visiting a different, inhabited, virtual world and not just sitting by a computer, pressing some buttons, void of any emotions whatsoever.

I hope Spinksville is right in her recent post where she suggests that we’re still in the beginning of the MMO era and that our way of handling it will improve. Maybe in 30 years time we'll look back and laugh a bit at the problems we’re now facing.

And I sincerely hope that the solution we'll come up with isn't to construct the games in such a manner that players don’t have to interact. Call me naïve if you want to.


Elnia said...

"Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes."

/Google "Minsc" if you don't get it.

Tobold said...

they could deal with “politics”, which is a concept I don’t quite understand, but I suspect Tobold rather is referring to guild politics than to real life political ideologies

That is a feature WoW doesn't have. But there are games where players can vote in game. For example who is going to be chief of the player-run town. Or what building your guild base is going to construct next. In A Tale in the Desert players can even change the rules of the game by proposing laws.

I love the direct social interaction. WoW wouldn’t be the same to me without it. Not at all.

Don't worry, direct social interaction will always be part of the game. The question is just whether it will be mandatory. Today we laugh about the concept that in Everquest you were forced to group to gain xp. Tomorrow we might laugh at the concept that you have to group to visit a dungeon in WoW. That doesn't remove voluntary grouping from games, it only removes the mandatory part.

Zupa said...

I know I, for one, am exclusively interested in games where I directly interact with other people.

xbox, playstation, or any kind of single player game cannot hold my interest for more than one gaming session.

It has been this way for me since the original quake demo was released and online gaming became accessible to me.

Even the jerks make you appreciate the good players you come to know, the efficiency of your raid group, and for me inspire me to play better, be more friendly and considerate.... to not be like them.

People, real people, are what makes the world of warcraft go 'round.

and I wouldn't have it any other way :)

Consolea said...

But, but.. I love the part where we have to group up! It makes me feel and good and mushy inside when we manage to get a good group and do it together. Laughing, swearing, you name it. I love meeting the dickwads in WoW, they bring the rest of together i merry talks on /w. I like running into idiots in Azeroth at times. They make my day, making me feel like less of a noob. And. Just. Well. I love this game like it is now, with happy kids stealing my herbs, and angry jerks outbidding me on AH. It's charming.

Gevlon said...

Tobold is right (I can't believe I'm saying this).

Social interactions will be there but marginalized. You can chat while playing, but the playing itself will not involve other people.

The reason is simple: if you NEED other players for your goals, you need GOOD players. Such game is either ultra-HC, or failed. You cannot risk your game wealth on a PuG.

The only way to welcome non-HC players is to make sure they can cause no harm to other players. So: single player content, marginalized social interactions.

rapidresponceunit said...

Levels 1-70 are single player, well almost. One feature of Guild Wars that I appreciated was the useable NPC's. You could take your pick of them and take them out to aid you. Of course, they were nothing special and lacked qualities like insight and reactions but they got you through the low-level things quite well.
I think mmo’s should use this more often, they are risk free and the rewards match that, so if you just want to get through the section they are perfect, then if you want that something extra special you can look for a good group.

Everyone needs a break once in a while and I’m sure that even top players would appreciate the non commitment of automated helper.

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, the social interactions in wow. I could write a deep and insightful paper about the subject, but i wont!!


spinksville said...

Gevlon: "The reason is simple: if you NEED other players for your goals, you need GOOD players. Such game is either ultra-HC, or failed. You cannot risk your game wealth on a PuG."

Or you make the grouping parts easier, or relax the restriction on group sizes.

I used to lead public raids in DaoC and part of the reason they worked is that there was no upper limit to group size. So in a PUG, you took loads of people and zerged the encounter and in a more elite HC guild, you did it with the minimum number possible.

But think of it this way: if all group content in the game was hardcore, how would any of us have learned to play our characters in groups? I know I ran PUGs when I was levelling my characters and part of it was to meet people and see stuff and get loot and the other part was just to get some practice and learn how to play.

Green Armadillo said...

Would I switch to off-line WoW with all else being equal? No. Now, Tobold asked a slightly different question, namely would I switch to offline WoW with no monthly fees. In the US, that's $180 per year, which starts to become a non-zero chunk of money. I'm still not certain how I'd choose, but that starts to become more tempting.

Copernicus said...

Part of it is how people deal with social interaction. Some people are excited and engergized when they meet new people. They look forward to each new encounter and are bored or depressed when they have noone to talk to or interact with.

However, another group of people are overwhelmed by social interaction. It tires them out and makes them seek solitude. They prefer being alone or in small groups, only entering into social situations when necessary, and quickly disengaging when the task is done.

I'm sure there will be games focused on both types of people, because even the social butterflies like to be alone occasionally, and the most antisocial person appreciates a good flirty/teasing back and forth now and then.

The social people will always find ways to get people together to do things, no matter how marginalized they appear to be. Also, being the more vocal, will get things changed if there isn't enough content to keep them happy.

Fitz said...

I believe we're seeing the MMORPG at the best balance between catering to solo-preference players and social-preference players. You can level and experience a ton of content in this game without really interacting with others, as well as find escapes like exploring and fishing. At the same time, you cannot conquer the top-level raid content without grouping and being social.

Everquest was too deep on the social aspects, forcing people to group just to progress at all. Making everything soloable will undermine the industry and make this a slightly-better powered version of console gaming. So WoW hits that perfect balance in my opinion and any deviation from this path will likely cripple the MMORPG market.

BTW, /swoon at the idea of holodeck WoW.

Sprink of Archimonde said...

You know, for all of the 'anal' things in trade chat and yelling of stupidity that goes on in major cities, it's all made okay by the occasional intelligence of someone having a conversation with you. For example, I advertised in trade chat the other night for my professions (tailoring/enchanting) and had another tailor whisper me. We talked about selling our trade, and what patterns I had that he didn't and vise versa. All in all, I spent 15-20 minutes talking to a complete stranger about something silly, and I enjoyed it. Immensely. You can't take the people out of the equation for just a handful of stupid people. It's not worth it.

Tesh said...

Look at it in another light. If you only value direct interaction, you may as well be playing CounterStrike or Diablo 2 multiplayer. Part of what makes an MMO world more than a matchmaking lobby for multiplayer instances is that people are going about, doing their own thing, and some of those actions indirectly affect you, whether it's just their presence or something they left on the AH. They *aren't* directly interacting with you, and they may not be interested in doing so, they are just there, but the world is richer for their presence.

Their *indirect* influence on you makes the world more interesting, without any direct interaction at all.

That's what makes these *worlds* more interesting to a solo player like me. I like that people are out there, doing their thing, affecting the world, keeping it a (tiny) bit more dynamic and vital than the typical canned single player RPG, but when it comes time for me to actually play the game, more often than not, I don't want the direct interaction because I play these games my way and don't feel like bending my leisure time to cater to others.

There *are* times when I want to play with others, and there *is* content that only works for groups, and I'll never advocate getting rid of that content. Even I like it sometimes. That said, for the most part, WoW could be played offline solo without losing much fidelity. That realization is one key to why I loathe the subscription model.

Also, yes, as Green Armadillo notes, I'd definitely buy and play a single player, single charge solo offline WoW, and I'd love it.

Think about it this way: What if WoW were sold like Diablo 2 with an Auction House? You could play the bulk of the game solo offline (you can play the bulk of WoW solo); you could play in groups if you wanted to, not because you had to, by going online with a matchmaking service; and the "persistent world" indirect interaction of the Auction House could very easily just work through a secure webpage. (You really don't need to be in the game, in Ironforge to check AH listings and such; it's unnecessary overhead for the actual function of the AH.)

As my friend Chris over at I Has PC notes, there's really not much honestly massive about WoW's core experience. Even raids (instanced multiplayer pockets of the world) only require a few dozen players at most, and could function perfectly as multiplayer pieces of an offline game, again in the D2 mold.

Of course, if someone wants to play online all the time, I see no problem with that. Live and let live. It's just that the core game design of WoW doesn't really gibe with the notion of an interesting, dynamic multiplayer world. There are chat channels that any IRC could provide better service for, and multiplayer content that could work just fine as optional multiplayer sessions to an offline game. Yes, you'd lose incidental contact with random people, but it's that sort of thing that is largely *indirect* in the first place, and only occasionally direct.

It's that sort of overland incidental contact that MMOs should be leveraging if they want to justify their sub fees. At the moment, as noted, it's often little more than chat spam with the occasional nugget of greatness (again, fine with free IRC), or PUGs (again, fine with matchmaking for multiplayer online instancing). Really, how often do you just form a PUG out of complete strangers and go rolling through the countryside, picking up more merry men along the way? It happens sometimes, but far more common are the raids and location-specific PUGs (or scheduled grouping with guildmembers and/or friends) that optional online play would provide.

Also, Copernicus is right; social people will always find ways to be social. Yet, if you force the asocial people to be social, you're likely to make them leave the game.

Fish said...

Personally, I would be all for a game that removes a grouping requirement and direct player interaction. In general, interactions with other players has been in large part a dissatisfier for me. Whenever I log in, I almost immediately leave all chat channels, and PvP has caused me to contemplate leaving the game more than once. Players killing quest mobs with blatant disregard to others is another sore spot for me. I do see the AH as beneficial due to player interaction, but if Wow was a 1 player game, I frequently think I would be happier.

highlatencylife said...

I still think all you people are just constructs in my head.

Maybe I'm soloing Life, and everyone else is an NPC.

Maybe there is a spoon, and it's in a pint of Ben and Jerry's.

But I digress.

Bristal said...

Why would anyone want to play solo in an MMORPG?

It's like this. I want to eat at a restaurant. By myself. I'm hungry now, I don't want call friends to see who wants to go out. I just want to eat something good.

I see two restaurants. One is empty. The other is mostly full. I choose the full one. Even though I don't want to chat, or meet people. Just eat. But I still don't want to sit in an empty restaurant.

I had only played console adventure games and FPS's when I found WoW. I never looked back. And it was nearly a year before I grouped an instance. I never even accepted Duel offers.

It's just comforting somehow knowing that there are people connected to the other end of all those folks running around. I'll never forget the first time I walked around IronForge. There were SO MANY PEOPLE. It was like a party.

But I don't necessarily need to chat with them or get to know them. I just want to play the game. With them there. Is that so wrong?

FYI I'm now guilded and have gotten to know a few players (very superficially). But I "get" solo gaming in the MMO milieu.

spinksville said...

"Also, Copernicus is right; social people will always find ways to be social. Yet, if you force the asocial people to be social, you're likely to make them leave the game."

No, if you make it difficult for social players to be social then they will find another game that makes it easier, or socialise somewhere else.

Larísa said...

@Elnia… Hmmm… Googled, but don’t quite get it. Are you implying that I’ve been hit in the head, turned retarded and now see hamsters that don’t exist? Should I be insulted?

Why am I feeling so stupid? Aww…. Right, I’ve been hit in my head. Just forgot.

@Tobold: nice to hear that there are more of us that see the charm of the interaction with some morons. Well, freedom of choice is always a nice thing. But at the same time, we sometimes can need a little push to dare try something new, getting out of our comfort zone, finding that it wasn’t as bad as we thought. So a little bit of forcing incentives can be a good thing. You think grouping seems scary, the gearing up and levelling mechanics could force you to try it anyway and you’ll find out it rocked…

@Zupa: Actually I didn’t think about it before you said it, but absolutely, you’re right – the jerks may you appreciate the good players so much more. So there’s a place for them too. Glad you’re on my side!

@Consolea: charming is the word. Actually I can’t help wondering if it would be as charming if there were ONLY wonderful, nice, skilled, good mannered people around. We need a little bit of salt sometimes, don’t we?

@Gevlon: It’s possible that you and Tobold are right in your predictions. But if Wow REALLY turned into a glorified chatroom – which it isn’t today, no matter what people say, I don’t think I’d stay in it. On the other hand I’m just one player of 11 million. The market will decide. As always.

@Rapidresonceunit: hmm… Doesn’t that already exist in the form of a hunter’s pet? But then you’d add some scriped conversation or what?
I’ve never played a hunter, but when I’ve felt lonely I’ve always brought out a non combat pet for company. I really wouldn’t mind if I could interact with it. But it would in no way replace the anything-can-happen quality of a real human fellow player.

@Cack: You if anyone would be the perfect author for such a paper. You’ve spent countless hours doing field studies at the bridge of IF. I’d really appreciate if you’d share some of your insights. Whenever you feel like it you could give me a lecture in game and I could turn it into a post.

@Spinksville: I think the problem with the reasoning of Gevlon is that it’s so black and white. I don’t think you’re either good or bad. I definitely know that I have moments of noobness and that I suck terribly some days. And then there are others when I’m perfectly OK to play with. There’s also the development aspect. The HC godsent super players were beginners once upon a time too, even if they sometimes forget it. I guess we only have to find out some motivation for them to stand mixing with the slightly worse players… Some achievement award for great veteran teachers?

@Green Armadillo: True, there was the fee factor in the reasoning of Tobold. I shortened it a bit, probably because WoW really isn’t expensive at all to me, a middle classed full-time employed person. What is expensive to me is the time and the strain it puts on my relationship to my family. The hardware is also a big investment, not the least the effort it takes to make it all work. But the monthly fee… nah. Not a big deal, nothing that would matter to me if I had a choice to play it on my own.

@Copernicus: I think we’re not either of those categories. I think we’re both. Of course there are nights when I’m perfectly fine farming or questing on my own, listening to the game music or a podcast. And then there are other nights, when I really want to see that there are human beings around. So dividing the playerbase into either social or lonewolfs is to make it a little bit too simplified, I think.

Larísa said...

@Fitz: /agree. I like the balance and that’s why Tobolds prophecies makes me a little bit sad. About holo deck, it’s been in my mind for a while. I’ve been fantasizing a bit about what it would be like. Maybe something to write about at some point in a post. But I’m not quite there yet.

@Sprink of Archimonde: exactly! Those random meetings really brightens up the game. They don’t come every gaming session, but you never know when you’ll run into them and that’s just so charming. It’s just like any epic world drop. Take this randomness factor out of the game and let the players interact indirectly instead, and I’ll really lose my interest.

@Tesh: Well, it seems like we’re at a crossroad here. I would rather see the game go in another direction, if possible somehow improving the direct interaction, making it more interesting. As I and some other commenters have stated above, the incidental contacts really brings a lot of charm into the game.

I don’t categorize myself as social, probably people look at me as rather shy and quiet in the game. But I still appreciate the presence of other people. One day I may step down from the flower-on-the-wall position. You never know.

@Fish: I don’t think I’ve ever left a chat channel… And I haven’t got anyone on my ignore list… But wow players really come in all shapes.

@Highlatencylife: as long as you don’t realize the truth, that you’re the only participant in the Higlatencylife Show put up for you, with a whole world watching….

@Bristal: empty restaurants are depressing. And I know exactly what you mean about the comfort of having other people around you. Strangely enough it’s also still a thrilling thought to me that another player is viewing the same happenings as I am, just from another angle, sharing the same virtual room. Even after more than two years of playing.

Copernicus said...

"So dividing the playerbase into either social or lonewolfs is to make it a little bit too simplified, I think." -Larisa

Agreed, it is more a spectrum than a duality, but I have a tendency to ramble on if I don't try to keep things simple.

While not a psychologist, I find personality theory fascinating and studied it as a hobby for a number of years.

Tesh said...

Spinks, there's a difference between *facilitating* sociality and *forcing* it.

I'll never advocate making it hard to socialize, and I'll readily concede that W101 and Free Realms need help in that department. These games need robust communication features or there's little point in playing them with other people. That's pretty obvious. It's also not what I'm talking about when I complain about forced grouping.

You're right, social players need the tools to socialize. That's entirely different from forcing players to group up to actually *play* the game, though.

Elnia said...

@Larisa. Lol. No, that's not what I meant at all. My point was that one of the reasons you may prefer real people over "polished" NPCs is because the characterization of most NPCs is simply terrible. In other words, don't judge NPC characterization by what you see in WoW. There are some single player games that have superb, indeed almost life like, NPCs. Minsc is one such example.

There are some people who argue quite cogently that Baldur's Gate, and Minsc in particular, single handedly saved the computer fantasy RPG just as it was dying out. Certainly that one character made Bioware famous.

Do not underestimate the power of a well-designed NPC.

Kromus said...

Totally agree. I have to be multiplayer. I dont play console games for that reason.

Maybe i feel lonely in the depth of my soul? maybe- all i know is that if im on a single player game i have to be on MSN to counter place that lonelyness...

I like to be alone in wow, fishing- but the possiblity of interuption keeps things real.

Lantana said...

I’m with you Larisa. The direct is itself entertaining. So maybe, partly, we play games like WoW for more than yet another piece of gear or bigger and badder kills? Maybe the challenge is actually the social itself? I mean, who could design a game more challenging than the game of trying to heard the 25 cats into a coherent raid?

I think about my guild leaders, who are all maxed out on gear, expect for maybe a few Ulduar pieces. Yet they still run those of us who need it through Naxx, do heroics, etc. Why in the world would they do that? It's got to be boring to kill the same baddies over and over.

I think they do it because they enjoy the challenge of coordinating the groups socially. They are *good* leaders, and I like to think they enjoy the leading.

So it is for me. I confess, when I hit 80 I suddenly had this feeling of, "uggh, now I have to go get gear gear gear again. Who cares about another piece of gear!" Of course, I still squeal like a little girl when I get a really good piece, but... what keeps me coming back is the social. Not even specific friends – I’m new in my current guild, so I’m just getting to know this crowd, but just the potential for social interaction, as you say, Larisa.

What makes me sad is when people sacrifice those social moments because of the difficulties. They are horrible to other players because the group wiped, or because someone made a mistake. But to me, that’s part of the fun! I mean, come on. We would get pretty bored pretty fast if every time we did a raid it was just smooth, mechanical, and never had any problems…

Averna said...

It's funny - whenever I run into the bank or something (and no, I'm not on an RP server), I always kind of cringe when I hear someone talking in /say about random things un-wow related.

But at the same time, it's kind of cool, like you said, knowing there's a person behind that character.