Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'd rather play with a living moron than with a dead NPC

Tobold has a tongue-in-cheek post today where he pictures WoW in 2020. By then it has reached huge success turning into a solo game. Instead of grouping up with annoying people, you can clear all of the content, including soloing raid bosses, assisted by AI controlled NPCs.

Is this a crazy fantasy, something taken out of the blue? Well, although a little bit exaggerated, I think he has a point. Without having any scientific data as support, I have the feeling that many players have become less and less interested in the social aspect of WoW during the four years I’ve been playing it.

A waste of time?
Judging not only from what I see on the forums, but also from many blog posts, we tend more and more to regard other players as obstacles and annoyances rather than as potential friends, people you might like to get to know and hang around with. People are annoying, they’re clueless, they’re morons, slackers and above all: they’re not you.

If we socialize, we tend to do it with people we already know. I feel truthfully sorry for new players who enter the game on their own, like I did once upon a time. My impression is that you’d better have some real life friends joining at the same time, or you might end up lonely and alienated. It seems to me as if people don’t have the time for small talk they used to have once upon a time. It’s all about efficiency and return on investment of time. Get your achievements done. Gear up. Get your ranking. Accomplish. Don’t waste your time on strangers!

Or as Tobold remarked:
“I bet that over half of the people reading this post think "I want to play that!" instead of considering it as something bad. One day you will need to realize that you are part of a shrinking minority that actually wants player interaction in a multiplayer game.”

The word “social”
Adam at The Noisy Rogue is also talking about this in a post, where he rightfully puts up a different meaning to the word “social”, which seems to have become a bit of a dirty word in the gaming world. He points out that the social aspect is the only thing that makes an MMO different from a single player game – the ability to log on at any time and encounter people playing the same game:
“You can see them, you can talk to them. I remember the first time that I logged onto an MMO virtual world and another player walked past me, and I realised that I had just seen another person playing the same game that I was. It was mind blowing.”

Exactly. It was mind blowing at that point – and it still is. The thought that someone sitting in Italy is seeing and fighting the same ugly dragon as I am and that we could talk to each other any second, just a click away, fills me with wonder.

Playing with NPCs
Currently I’m finishing Twilight Highlands and the other night I ended up doing exactly what Tobold predicted could be standard procedure in a future WoW. I grouped up with a squad of NPCs and we worked our way towards Grim Batol, fighting off ambushing mobs on our way. I tossed away a scorch here and there, since it seemed to be the best way to make the NPC soldiers understand that they were supposed to kill stuff. (To be honest they were kind of dumb for being artificial intelligences).

And all this time, as we fought in the canyon, I thought about how much more fun it would have been if the squad had consisted of real players instead. Even a complete moron makes better company than an ever so skilled and polite NPC, void of anything that remotely could be regarded as a personality.

Annoying or not – every time you team up with another player you bring something from it. You may not get a new person on your friends list, but you may gain an insight, a laugh or a good story to share in your blog.

I’m not a horrible person to be around, but I would absolutely hate to play an MMO where I was left out to only have company with myself. I hope sincerely that Tobold’s vision of the future online gaming won’t come true.

24 comments:

Copra said...

That future is already there, though you do not control your silent henchmen in the instances. LFD groups - at least while levelling - are really silent and as social as if there were only AI NPC's playing with you. The social aspect has gone down the drain and unless you happen to be the lucky one and find yourself a perfect guild to match your personality and play style, you are out of the MMO part of the game.

WoW lost the RPG way back when already.

C out

Saga said...

I admittedly mainly play with friends/guildies. On occasion I might do a random dungeon alone (very very seldom now that I'm dps admittedly, mainly due to the insanely long queue times) and most of the time people are really quiet.

Every now and then though, you do find that nice group with people who actually talk - and it can be quite fun.

I still prefer playing with the people I know, and admittedly the way I meet the most people/friends are through the guild. To me the guild is my social aspect of the game and I really enjoy doing dungeons with them, questing and raiding.

If one doesn't join a guild though, I suspect the game might be a lot less of a social atmosphere - and I think that's a shame.

Masith said...

I actually don't agree copra that a silent group is as social as if there were only AI NPC's playing with you. The fact that I know these people are real people already makes it infinitely more interesting to me even if we don't communicate. I'm yet to come across an AI that learns and reacts to the challenges of group work in such fascinating and endlessly different ways to real people.

Nils said...

If you wanted to model LFD groups with NPCs, the hardest part would be to make them as anti-social as they are today.

Imagine a group of nice players, controlled by AI. Not credible! Humans wouldn't be so nice in such a situation! ;)

Blizzards PoV: Wouldn't it be nice to make a single player game and have 12mio subscribers that pay monthly for our 'services' ? :)

In my opinion 2020 will look dramatically different. We will have some games like WoW. And then we will have some Virtual Worlds. Maybe not as financially successful as WoW. But made by developers who cared about the virtual world more than about the revenue - and got revenue by the way.

And maybe, just maybe, the first MMORPG based on Minecraft technology is already out :)

Redbeard said...

Considering what passes for "social interaction" in your average pug, that's not a big surprise that well built AI would be more desirable.

Linedan's post a while back about people who roll toons on RP servers without any intention of RP-ing hits home, because for a decent subset of the WoW-verse, griefing and harassment are a way of life.

If WoW --or MMOs in general-- migrate away from the social interactions and toward NPC driven material, we the players have only ourselves to blame. Taking out which is AI and which is human interaction, if you give people the opportunity to play a game where you don't have: griefing, spamming trade chat, gold hawkers, 'lol l2p noob' crap, ding and drop players, and all sorts of other things, they'll take it. There are only two ways to do that right now: play a primarily AI/NPC driven game, or spend a boatload of money on admins to enforce the rules. The second way isn't perfect either, because people can be so ingenious in circumventing the system.

That doesn't mean that all is lost, but it's really all on us to take the MMO genre back.

Kattiara said...

You know what I realized I was missing, as I leveled up through the Cata content? Group quests. There aren't any (semi-exception for Crucible of Carnage, but that's it). Yeah, there are still long chains with a big bad to fight at the end, but you'll either get an item that shrinks them down, a buff that pumps you up, or a squad of npcs to help.

I remember when leveling up in Wrath, general chat would be FILLED with people grouping up for various elites across the different zones. Or even when done leveling, spamming for 'Chillimanders' for the Argent Tourney dailies. That's totally gone now, and it just makes the zones seem a bit emptier..

Copernicus said...

Redbeard said: "Taking out which is AI and which is human interaction, if you give people the opportunity to play a game where you don't have: griefing, spamming trade chat, gold hawkers, 'lol l2p noob' crap, ding and drop players, and all sorts of other things, they'll take it."

This rings true for me. People tend to take the path of least resistance, or in this case, the path of least aggravation. Also, people like to mingle with people that have generally the same interests/skill/sense of humor that they do.

Another blogger posted something about having more settings for LFD, along the lines of hardcore, friendly, or still learning, then matching them with others with the same settings. I'm not really sure how well it would work, seeing that queue lines are already huge for DPS, and it would thin out the already thin tank and healer corps. I think people would end up signing up for whatever was the shortest wait.

Syl said...

Playing with an NPC or a moron hmmmmm, seems like a really poor choice imo - I wanna play with neither TBH!! =D

Grainger said...

This goes back to my thoughts that the game is what you make of it. If you want a social atmosphere, you should have no problem finding it. Particularly if you take it upon yourself to initiate.

As in life, some people are hesitant to start conversations, etc, while others are the life of the party. If *you* want the game more social, then *you* need to be more social. Sure some people will still be silent, some will still be jerks, but I honestly believe it's something that a little effort can change your experience.

My guild is comprised of people all connected IRL in some way, but prior to that I was in a few other guilds where I knew nobody and that is where the social aspect really is involved.

Would I prefer PuGs to be more talkative - yes and no. A little friendly chat is okay, but I've also seen wipes because people are making comments when they should be doing something else. I'd say 50% of my PuGs (I run randoms a lot) are okay. 25% are people yelling at each other and 25% are completely silent. I am okay with that.

And as far as General/Trade chat. I would prefer that to be a little less social. Constantly seeing walls of text that would make a sailor blush hinders real social discourse/commerce.

Leah said...

he might sorta have something there.

people love being social. not all of us but a lot of us need the social interaction with other people playing the same game as we are, someone to talk to, to bounce ideas of, to crack jokes and share inside humor or references. but its so much more relaxed in my experience when you don't actually have to rely on each other to pass the game, when you chat for the sake of chatting, not because you're forced to cooperate. some of my most fun interactions with people in WoW were when we were all doing our own thing and just joking in vent (or gchat) with each other, talking about everything and nothing.

I've been mostly playing solo player games lately. but I have an option of chatting via STEAM community. I've been hanging out on the forums dedicated to the games I play and chatting with people there. console players are now all connected to the internet and chat with each other as they play..even if they might not be playing the same game.

The game doesn't have to be cooperative to be a social experience and to be honest, I'm starting to prefer it that way :/

Anonymous said...

Two comments:

Horde gets the Gob Squad for those quests in Twilight Highlands, and everyone loves the Gob Squad!

Leveling group quests only work when you have enough people around to do them. How many group quests do you finish in Outland these days, for example?

Anonymous said...

Humans don't enjoy each other indiscriminately. We connect with some people and not others. In large populations, we create in-groups and out-groups and act in ways to reinforce in-group membership. Cliques form for a reason. Often this means demonizing the out-group; in WoW this looks like enjoying our guildies and friends while bitching about morons -- who aren't like us. As the player population has grown, this tendency to draw social boundaries has predictably increased.

Much of the QQ about the death of social interaction has to do with Blizzard failing to match the grouping tools in the game with the social needs for inclusion and exclusion. This doesn't mean that the future of the game is single player. It just means that we need better social filtering so that I can play the game with the sorts of people I like and you can play the game with the people you enjoy. And a new player needs to be able to easily discover people they might like.

Social interaction isn't dead in WoW. It's just never been as all-inclusive as some people seem to assume.

Tesh said...

Seems to me that NPC henchmen for dungeon running would be a Good Thing. It would let players who are just there for the shinies (or the solo challenge) do their own thing, and maybe, just maybe, make the Dungeon Finder *more* likely to pull together a group that wants to actually *play* together rather than use each other for loot, since all those dirty soloists aren't in the system any more. (To get rid of sociopaths, though, that would require something more like Melmoth's player rating system.)

Arguably, Hunters (or is that Huntards?) are already their own little group, with a quirky subset of Hunters dedicated to soloing group content by hiding behind their tanking pet NPC. The playstyle is already there, in other words. Guild Wars might be the forerunner of such in the MMO space, but it really could be a good thing for WoW.

Pascal said...

It is inevitable. The game design dehumanises it and focusses players on their own, personal gain. It is inevitable when the game design is focussed on loot.

Perdissa said...

Strangely, this reminds me of my very first experience in WOW, which is pretty unrelated to this story.

I had started a human and was in Northshire(?). I had just finished off a bunch of wolves and kobolds, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Lo and behold, I was asked to cross a little river to get some casks of wine back for a lady. As I got across, some humanoid started attacking me. I was flabbergasted. I believed that this defias person here was another player who was attacking me for no reason. After all, its a massively multiplayer game right?

I typed "Hey! Stop that!" "Why are you attacking me?"

Alas, the defias NPC wasn't in the mood for small talk and I soon experienced my very first corpse run.

Red Skies said...

dbl

We Fly Spitfires said...

Hehe, loved the post title :)

Unfortunately I see little difference between a lot of players and NPCs now. I mean, if a player doesn't utter a word in a PUG does he/she even truly exist? They could just be some sort of NPC AI that we've never noticed before :)

Larísa said...

@Copra: I don’t do solo levelling at the moment so I can’t tell from my own experience really, but yeah, I’ve got the feeling that being guildless can be a very, very lonely experience at the moment. I haven’t done a random dungeon for ages. The queues for dps are kind of daunting. I wouldn’t go as far as to call those silent players NPC like though. Communication isn’t only about what you say. It’s about what you do.

@Saga: Yeah, once you’re in a guild/community it’s fine. But what if you aren’t? How enter? I suspect that the barrier can be high for newcomers.

@Masith: Yep, agree.

@Nils: It’s funny though that we’re talking about an ANTI-social trend, why every gaming company out there are looking at the social media and wondering how to make gaming fit into that, leading to a nice profit… Are we going more social than ever, but yet more of loners at the same time?

@Redbeard: I would really like to see stronger GM presence on the realms, not only as police forces, but as event makers for instance. I think that could improve the community, which I commented on recently at Tobold’s blog. But yes, it would probably be too expensive.

@Kattiara: I miss them too! I think the major reason for why we don’t have them anymore is because of all the phasing. Finishing Icecrown was a nightmare if you wanted to do it later, missing out the “wave”. And Cataclysm is nothing but a big phasing devise. That’s why they had to cut them out. I think.

@Copernicus: I’ve been into those thoughts as well, but I’m not sure either it would work. For all our proud declarations about how we think the road is more important than the destination and how we want a nice groop rather than shiny loot, in the end we’ve only got so much time that we can spend on wow and we need those valor points asap. It’s really sad to think of.

@Syl: What about both? A moronic NPC?

@Grainger: Well I’m not so sure it’s the pugs that is the biggest problem. But how often do you make new friends as you’re questing, levelling up a toon these days? I have the feeling it was way easier when I started to play four years ago.

@Leah: The question is how to get there? How do you find those amazing people to hang out with on vent if you don’t know anyone who games from the start?

@Anonymous: Aye. I try not to idealize group quests either. They could stay in your quest log annoyingly long. However it was thanks to a group q in Terokkar that I found my way to my first raiding guild, where I stayed and thrived for about 9 months. It sure helps socializing.

@Anonymous: Hmm. Food for thought. We’ve discussed having choices in what kind of PuG you’d like to enter. But do you have any other suggestions for tools that would help me find friends in the game?

@Tesh: Throw out the soloists and let the socializing people enjoy their own game style. I wonder how many would become soloists in such a situation, given that it was equally balanced.

@Pascal: But is it inevitable that it gets worse over time? To me it appears as if there has been an evolution.

@Perdissa: Oh, I’m all with you! I tried to start conversations with NPCs as well. And click on players… It took me quite a while before I safely could distinguish one from the other.

@We Fly Spitfires: Thanks. :)
Silent pugs are creepy and can have a quite shallow feeling to them. Still I think that sometimes you don’t need to be wordy to communicate. If you “click” with someone and find that you think the same way and can cooperate perfectly well, it can give you an experience of team work and friendship, even if it’s not put into words.

Michael said...

That canyon quest was interesting. Imagine it was a group quest? Only two words for you: LFG Crucible. I'll repeat these two words for about 20 minutes, then get a few others wanting to join in. 20 minutes later, I'll still be spamming 'looking for tank, crucible'. 45 minutes to an hour after getting to the quest, I'll actually be able to do it.

Apply this to the canyon quest. I rush to the front of the canyon, having just pushed back the enemy's attack, and now we're going to charge! We're going to push through the canyon, to their lair! These highlands will be ours! But wait, maybe you should sit around for an hour first, make sure you have a good tank and healer. Don't worry, we have lots of time, go mine or herb or something. Or come back tomorrow, when there are more people around to help you out.

I'm quite happy with npc peeps. They don't destroy the pacing by making you wait around all day.

Tesh said...

Oh, sure, you could throw out all solo content, but you'd decimate your population, and you'd still get soloists anyway. So long as that's an acceptable side effect, sure, it would be interesting to see a dev try to really push the grouping side of the coin.

Copra said...

I don't quite understand your view about communication not being only what you say: in MMO it's next to impossible to communicate by any other means than the chat. There is no body language, and the performance in the instance is a sum of knowing your class and adapting to others: nothing to do with communication.

You cannot 'click' with anyone under the circumstances when the 'communication' is based on speed and flow of a silent group instance. It doesn't help knowing, either, that even if you find someone you 'click' with you cannot be connected after that one run.

Sadly, I couldn't make a difference between a NPC or PC currently. Both would perform splendidly in the WoW Turing test of Dungeon Finder group.

C out

Larísa said...

@Copra: You've never experienced coooperating wtih a player from the opposite faction doing something, even if you couldn't talk to each other?

Communication IS possible. Without using words. At least in my world.

Copra said...

No, but I've heard of it. And it's communication through emotes, which is lacking from the silent runs completely.

save from the /rude every now and then.

Neither of them is actually building community or leading to any deeper relationship, which might lead to knowing a fabulous player and spending time with same kind of people. That is what I'm trying to say.

But I see your point, haven't experienced it even though I have tried and try every now and then, given the chance.

Maybe it's just me.

C out

nugget said...

There's another side to the AI thing though.

As a Guild Wars player, I would say that. XD

But no, really, it's not just about avoiding failure, about not having to care whether your teammates are (probably) mediocre or (possibly) good players. It goes beyond all that.

It goes back to CRPGs like Wizardry.

Where you could craft your entire party. Where your entire party was your weapon.

For me, ignoring all the stuff above about quality of play - that is the difference when I run with AI in Guild Wars, and when I run with people. When I run with my AI, I'm wielding my party. When I run with my character alone, with some humans, I'm wielding my character. When we split evenly - Me +3 of my AI, them +3 of their AI, we're both wielding mini-parties, and we coordinate.

I don't think that giving the AI option in any way reduces the richness of the game. In fact, I think it adds to it.

However, I do hear your statement about newbies. I've come to theorise lately that the only people who actually play with humans in Guild Wars anymore, in PvE (PvP is all humans =) ), are 'midbies'. Newbies probably won't because we're all such an intimidating scary bunch. ~_o And veterans don't play with humans except for friends because... well, sometimes - or is that a lot of the time - we just want to get in, do our stuff, have fun while doing it, and get out. Strange humans are not a necessary part of this equation. And if you like your guild/alliance, you can always get human contact / social contact that way.

In fact, one of the things I was very much homesick for, when I was playing Cataclysm, was my own sense of independence. Of only grouping with people when I felt social. Of not NEEDING anyone for anything, and therefore feeling free to group only when I WANTED to.

Two (rambly as usual) nugget cents. =)