Friday, March 18, 2011

Why it matters so much to us what other people play

It’s been another rather quiet week in the blogosphere. I believe the rift issue is still hanging over us as a damper.

As I said a week ago, I’m not likely to write about Rift since I don’t play it. But others have gone further, even marking their blogs as Rift free zones.

As Tobold wrote today:
“MMORPG players are an extremely territorial bunch, constantly fighting turf wars of "my game is better than yours".

This is quite true and at first sight it might look a bit silly. Why would it matter to me if another player prefers game X to game Y? I don’t go around getting annoyed over people who’d rather go the theatre than play WoW, so how does it come that the Rift vs WoW discussions immediately get so touchy and edgy, from both sides? Hey, why are we even speaking of “sides” in the first place?

Why we care
I’ve given it some further thought, and I think it’s not as if we’re fans of different football clubs, cheering for “our” game, the one we’ve sworn our loyalty to forever. After all – games come and go and I don’t think anyone expects to play one MMO their entire life.

It’s more about that we are worried about what consequences it will have to our own personal game experience if the game of our choice becomes less popular than it used to be. If our MMO stops being Massively and Multiplayer, it loses its purpose and its soul.

We want our games to be crowded. And when we’re afraid that our world won’t be as crowded in the future as it used to be, we become worried and somewhat whiny.

Sure, we complain loudly whenever there are queues or we experience server lag due to the high activity around an expansion or a major patch. But at the same time we enjoy the rush and the frenzy of it.

The opposite situation is something we fear. The thought of an empty virtual world is just as sad as a closed amusement park on a grey autumn day. It’s a ghost town. Sure you can appreciate the pretty scenery for a while, it can eve be fun to explore it on your own, as if you were paying a visit to a museum after the closing hour. But all in all - if the players are gone, it’s nothing more than facades.

It’s the players who make an MMO come alive. I can’t imagine anything lonelier than to live in a virtual world of memories and shadows, a friends list that is greyed out and a trade chat that has gone silent.

Now, I wouldn’t say that things have gone that bad in Azeroth yet, not at all. And I’m also sure it varies from server to server and from guild to guild.

I found a graph over the player activity at my own realm at Warcraft realms, and if you would believe this, people are playing as much as they did last autumn and almost as much as last spring.

I’m not sure if it’s my perception that is wrong or this graph, because the feeling I get from my realm is quite different. It’s about as quiet as it normally is during the vacation period.

When we worry about the decline on our servers, we don’t think about the whereabouts of Blizzard Activision and their shareholders. We couldn’t care less.

For most players there the social aspect is what keeps us playing WoW year after year, regardless if they just recycle content, putting new skin on old quests and raid bosses. We don’t’ care about the epics or the achievements. We care about our online friendships. And now they’re put at risk.

No wonder WoW players get a bit emotional when they see so many players leaving. No wonder Rift players urge their friends from Azeroth to come and join them.

Not the end of the world
Of course the hype around Rift isn’t the End of Azeroth, the nail in the coffin for WoW or anything like that. Even if Rift would snatch as much as couple of million players (not all that likely), there would be millions left for years to come. Blizzard can adjust accordingly, opening for server transfers, making server merges, whatever is needed to make the servers feel lively and yet not overpopulated.

Players will also adjust to the new situation. Some guilds will split, others will merge, there will be a lot moving-around in the months to come and if you want to raid, you will always be able to find a guild where you can do so, provided you’re a decent player and not too repulsive as a person.

However, if you’re a long-time player, it’s quite natural that you feel a bit discouraged at the thought of it. Sure, you could start over again, forge new friendships, find a new social context. But is it really worth it, after all those years? How much do you want to invest yourself into something that might only last a few months before the exodus from the game might force your new guild to break up and reorganize?

This is not a case of football fans talking about which club is the best. It’s about dealing with losses of friendships and about realizing that an MMO is always fluid. Like the old greeks used to say. Panta Rei. Everything flows. And as many friends you will get, as many separations will you have to get through.

Friday night toast
Either you’ve moved on to Rift or you’re still enjoying Azeroth, I hope you’d like to join me in the Friday night toast. This toast is for the friendship we find through Azeroth. And that actually – in rare cases – might last long after we’ve drifted away to different games.

Cheers!

30 comments:

ozolin said...

I definitely want my particular server to be Massive and Multiplayer, generally speaking, but I'd love it if everyone sort of took a holiday duringany of the rare spawn times for some of the more sought-after beasts :D

As always, thanks Larisa, for sharing your thougts and opinions. I enjoy my visits to the Inn.

Kayeri said...

here, here, Larisa! ::raising glass::

Fuzzy_Magicz said...

Personally, I know only one person who has moved to Rift. I know it's anecdotal evidence but in any case the I have felt only the barest tremors of any Rift Exodus.
What you said about online relationships is too true. I've long said that WoW isn't a particularly good game by today's standards - it just has a wonderful community.

Tesh said...

A thought on the graph... perhaps it's just the noisy players who are migrating and bloviating about it. Maybe that's a reminder that bloggers and even game-hoppers aren't the bulk of the WoW playerbase. (Which again goes to show that the game isn't designed for those who are complaining most about it.)

I can't really invoke the "silent majority", since that's a fallacy, but if that graph is to be believed, perhaps plenty of people are still happy to play WoW. They are just kinda quiet about it.

Nils said...

Everybody is better of if we care. To misinterpret this care as hostile is a mistake, I think.

The majority of Rift-playing commenters also say that they are not so certain about the endgame. And everybody I read agrees that Rift is not a revolution. It is just part of a new wave of games that seem more successful than Aoc/WAR. As such they make us look more optimistic into the future.

Because even if WoW were a perfect game, we would still be better off if there were several influential MMORPGs on the market. It is called competition and it is good for business - and especially good for the consumer.

SpiritusRex said...

I'm not sure I agree with you on this one Larissa.

In your closing paragraph today (and your general tone regarding Rift this week) you've intimated an "or" proposition, as in, either WoW or Rift. I think, rather, that an "and" proposition is more appropriate - as in WoW AND Rift.

I think there is definitely room for both. In my opinion, playing more than one game increases, rather than decreases, the amount of "online" friends one has and therefor allows for more "massively, multi-player" interaction. For instance, I have my guild friends in WoW (which I play 4 nights a week) and I have different guild friends in Rift (which I play 3 nights a week). Not only does it allow me to have a greater gaming experience in terms of getting to know more people, it also allows me to keep each game fresh as I'm not slaving away every night in the same game and, ultimately, getting burned out.

Just a different perspective which seems a little more inclusive than the one I've seen trotted about as of late. In any event, I'll be enjoying my beverage by the fire - have a great weekend.

SpiritusRex said...

/WTB edit
You would think after all these years i would realize how to spell your name correctly. My apologies, LARISA.

Fail Spiritus is fail.

Fuzzy_Magicz said...

@SpiritusRex

Most people don't have the time or money for two sub MMOs. I know I wouldn't.

Redbeard said...

There's a big difference between caring and being vicious. While some people do care a lot, others can be vicious about their territoriality, and do more harm than good.

I've always believed in the maxim that when you identify yourself as part of a group, you represent your group whether you like it or not. If you behave like an ass, people will judge your group based on your behavior. It's not fair and it's not accurate, but it happens.

When people act like asshats or get out their e-peens over WoW or Rift or whatever MMO they play, people will judge that MMO accordingly. Or, perhaps worse, you get the so-called "cool people" snickering up their sleeves at the nerd rage.

Redbeard said...

@Fuzzy--

I agree. I do play a little bit of LotRO, but that's because it's (nominally) free. I don't have the time to dedicate to it, but it's still fun to play around with.

But paying for two MMO subscriptions? Um, no. I don't have the money in the budget to even add my wife --were she even interested-- much less another MMO entirely.

SpiritusRex said...

@ Fuzzy

While the economics of it may be prohibitive to some (having quit smoking a while ago the money I save from not buying cigarettes pays for my gaming (with money leftover)), I would suspect the time component is not as prohibitive to many as you suggest. I would suspect that many WoWwers are playing close to 5-7 days a week. What I merely suggest is that as a nice alternative to playing one game 5-7 days a week is playing two (economics aside) for 2-3 nights, if that is your inclination. As a personal matter, I just find the whole either/or equation a bit too restrictive for my tastes. YMMV.

Akycha said...

I think the reason some people are talking about "rift exodus" has to do with the reason these are multplayer. Once enough people switch to Rift in a social group it gains momentum.

I know in my social network it started with two people switching to Rift because they were unhappy with endgame in Cataclysm, both have said they'll probably come back after they have exhausted Rift.

That was just the catalyst though. Next thing you know, enough people have left WoW for Rift to play with their friends that the people left behind feel like no one is around. Especially since a few of the people who left were heart and soul of the guild.

With the last of my family members and yet another friend switch to Rift I find myself in the position to make a tough choice. Right now I'm playing both and my enjoyment of WoW has gone up tramendously as a result.

I'm going to have to make a choice when my free month of Rift comes up though cause I can't afford both and I'm not looking forward to making it. It doesn't help that everyone is assuming I'm going to choose RIFT.

Reala said...

Hey Larísa, appreciate the link! It's sent a bit of criticism my way from people who don't appreciate the light-hearted nature of, well, everything I say but such is the nature of these things, and I've had some nice comments too.

I completely agree that those who have been personally affected by friends and guildies leaving for Rift are more vocal about their frustrations with it.

I hold absolutely no disdain for the game, I love games, I love it when good games get backing and do well because that can be a feat in itself when so many great games don't get to see the light of day.

Nor do I blame Rift for my guildies leaving and tearing the guild apart, they were disillusioned already by then, it could have been *any* new shiny thing, they were done with WoW but there wasn't anything new for them to get excited over so they logged in like they always have, until Rift.

I think it's a discussion well worth having, and hugely interesting to hear people's stories, but I feel a put put off by WoW blogs turning in to 'today in Rift I did this'.

I digress. "This toast is for the friendship we find through Azeroth. " Cheers.

~Reala

Anonymous said...

Well at least you are honest about it mattering. Most WoW-fans just try to deride the game itself (Rift that is) or the people leaving WoW for Rift.

Bristal said...

I think MMO's are like parties. If I've just gotten to a party, and a lot of people seem to be having a great time, I don't really want to sit and chat with the people who aren't having fun, or that want to talk about how much better the party COULD BE.

I want to get swept up in it and let it take me away.

Right now Tobold is the intellectual, edgy guy sitting outside the party dissecting it and predicting how and when it will fail.

After a few hours and a few too many drinks and when I get tired of pretending to have fun at yet another soulless party, I'm going to migrate to Tobold and enjoy a meaningful conversation about how best to throw parties.

It's all about timing.

Tobold is very likely right about Rift, and certainly the lack of meaningful MMO development, but it's also no surprise that the party people are taunting him. It's not about who's game is "better" or "best", it's about what we're playing "now".

Leah said...

I would agree with one stipulation. its not just MMO players. its single player games to - ther's a separation between console vs PC, genres, even specific games within genre. I think it relates to your idea that players want other players to play with. Even when you play a single player game, a lot of people don't play in a vacuum. they join official forums, they write fan fiction or create fun art - and they want others to share their enjoyment with. so the more people prefer THEIR game of choice, their character of choice? the better :)

we humans are very social creatures, we like to belong :)

DannyFlorida said...

Larisa said, "For most players there the social aspect is what keeps us playing WoW year after year..."

I question that this is the primary motivation that keeps most players playing WoW.

Look at the new poll on the WoW official website. This week’s poll asks: How often do you play with others? [http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/2494680#blog]

Of the seven possible choices, so far the choice receiving the most votes is "...playing solo." In fact, if you combine playing solo with the choice, "...playing in pick-up groups with players I hadn’t previously known," then most people, by far, are voting for mostly non-social gameplay.

Personally, I solo most of the time, which is all right with me because I love World of Warcraft, especially its rich lore. Really, the part of WoW that I don't like much is the other players. That's a little tongue-in-cheek, but not far from the truth. Annoying players are everywhere in this game, but even with players I do like, it's too difficult to schedule convenient times to do things together, or, because of varied interests and play styles, it's too difficult to find something we want to do together.

Seriously, if I could solo level-appropriate dungeons and raids (perhaps with an NPC group), I'd be in heaven. Yes, I know WoW is an MMORPG, but being massively-multiplayer is a secondary feature for me. Actually, in a list of reasons I play WoW, being an MMO would rank pretty low. Nonetheless, I do agree with your statement, "It’s the players who make an MMO come alive." Just like for most of us in the real world, though, I just go about my business, merrily ignoring the masses for the most part.

Fuzzy_Magicz said...

@Bristal

That's such a great analogy. Personally, I'd rather be someone who gets caught up in the party and has a good time - which is kind of a contradiction because it's our duty as bloggers to try and suggest our opinions on improving the party. The problem is, when you start listing ways the party could be better, the party becomes much less fun. A balance is needed.

spinksville said...

I think it's very much the normal cycle of game playing that an MMO waxes and wanes in popularity and eventually people tend to drift away - either away from the hobby, to other games, to other consoles or whatever.

(ie. if you think this is bad, wait until SWTOR comes out.)

Redbeard said...

@Spinks--

You're right about SWTOR; if there's one company that can knock Blizzard off it's perch in terms of sheer quality, Bioware is it.

Angry Gamer said...

Larisa I'm afraid it is the end of Azeroth.

I know I know dramatic but bear with me.

Imagine an organization going full bore to create a virtual environment that is dynamic as say a Hollywood action movie.

They developed a technology platform that is so entertaining that it SHIFTS consumers future expectations of the entertainment they buy.

Example: Have you compared Superman filmed in 1978 to Superman 2006? I believe that most movie goers today could barely sit through the 1978 version. Why? Cheap CGI effects make it look OLD.

Today in our online game space we have the same fundamental shift... it's subtle but most likely the MMO market will not be the same.

I the near near future games will be expected to deploy high quality dynamic content on demand in a cost effective manner (that is have a technology game platform that supports this).

More to the point... Imagine games where that 3d game field we know is sitting on our hard drive as a STATIC graphic is NOT STATIC anymore... it moves it changes it LIVES.

In other worlds our future virtual worlds are LIVING EVOLVING game spaces...

This is what that now famous Wow competitor is bringing to the marketplace... and that is what the market is reacting to.

Hold on to your hat folks this is gonna be BIG!

DannyFlorida said...

I think many bloggers, blog commenters and forum posters are in a "can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees" syndrome.

Back up a minute, change your perspective and see reality:

WoW is far from declining. In my opinion, it has yet to reach its zenith in quality and popularity. I recently created a character in one of the "new players" realms. The human starting zone was crowded beyond belief, and it was 1:00 a.m. server time. I whispered a couple dozen level 1-7 player-characters, and 80% of the players were brand new to WoW, many were brand new to the MMORPG genre. I think that for as many old veteran, tired-of-WoW players who are leaving the game, more are starting for the first time.

Among my five real-life friends who also play WoW, only one has even heard of Rift, and none of them care about it. None of them read WoW related forums or blogs or websites. (I'm the only one in our social circle who does that.) They just play the game. For the *vast* majority of players, I believe this represents reality.

While some bloggers, blog commenters, and forum posters (which, keep in mind, represent a *very* tiny fraction of the player base) opine about the decline of WoW, most players are happily still playing the game and having tons of fun -- and will for many years to come.

Mhorgrim said...

Larisa,
You bring up alot of interesting points. Obviously the graph on your server shows relevant and reasonably high activity. But hwere did everyone go? You speak of the social aspects of the game.

For me, enjoying my friends in guild is my social aspect. I can take or leave solo work. Sometimes when I find new lore story arcs I read every single thing out there. If I've been through the quests or story arcs I try to burn through it quickly.

One thing that has made servers a little more quiet is the cross server PuG qeue. I'm not bagging on it, matter of fact it allows for alot more loot to be had and progression through the standard instances to get done with. BUT, one side effect is that you don't see as active trade or city chats. Things are getting streamlined where there is less interaction outside of a guild needed for cooperative play. This I think especially happens on PVE servers where you really don't need to worry about survival beyond your questline.

Back in the vanilla and BC days, we really needed to latch onto groups even if random to knock out quests or to run instances. At this point, and it IS NOT a lament, guilds have become a tighter focus with the guild xp etc going on. I think it isnt bad, just a change. Random interaction outside of guilds seem to lessen to some degree.
Lively trade chat debates have cut back significantly as well. It is the evolution based upon new game criteria and framework.

I try not to bag on other games though, I think they are healthy competetion that makes Blizz evolve in different directions to keep things different and fresh. I've played more than a few other MMOs and even Single person games as well.

But here is to Azeroth and it's many different flavors *hold's his tankard up high*. *Guzzle!!!!*

Syl said...

There are still plenty, plenty enough people who will be playing wow, for years to come I'd wager. the thing with MMOs is (and very wow-centric gamers might forget): you don't need millions of players to play the same MMO for it to be meaningful. blizzard has generated silly numbers if you compare it with what most MMOs have. even an MMO with 100'000 subscribers is meaningful enough - how many people do you need per server? not nearly as many and there aren't that many anyway. how many more frequent 'co-players', buddies or guildmates do you 'need' for fun gameplay? even less. if I think back on vanilla wow, one of the main fun aspects was that we all felt our server was a bit of a 'town' really where people crossed each others paths frequently. this was lost more and more with things like server-wide lfg and battlegroups. quantity can be harmful to the gaming experience, especially in games that live off social factors.

I've played MMOs with significantly less subscribers and servers were fine - it's not about quantity. and blizzard is still miles ahead anyway. people who call Rift a wow-killer are imo just as wrong as people who bash Rift as wow-clone. neither is true and both is silly fanboy talk.

Larísa said...

@Ozolin: Oh yes… there are moments when you wouldn’t mind being alone on the server. 

@Keyeri: cheers!

@Fuzzy Magicz: I definitely know more – in game as well as in the blogosphere. But yes, all those assumptions are always from a very personal point of view.

@Tesh: I agree on that. The circles where I hang around aren’t necessarily representative of the playerbase a whole. This said though, it doesn’t really change my experience of it. It’s not as easy as to just replace the friends that have left with some random person from the silent majority…

@Nils: I don’t doubt that. I’m just trying to explain why we might appear a bit irrational in this, getting emotional. Regardless of the good for the genre as a whole, mass exodus will definitely hurt our personal gaming experience.

@SpiritusRex: Well… speaking for myself I don’t want to spend more time playing online games, rather less. So I don’t think there’s room for both. And judging from the effects Rift has had on the blogging community as well as on what I’ve seen in game, I’m not the only one who feel that way.

@Redbeard: To be fair I wouldn’t say that most of what I’ve seen written in the blogosphere has been vicious. But I can imagine the forums have a bit of that.

@Akycha: Yes, I think it’s a bit of a snowball effect. There is a tipping point when enough people have jumped the WoW ship to make it feel if not abandoned, at least… quiet. Affected. We might be approaching that point.

@Reala: Good lord, what feedback you got over that label! Actually I said PPI was a rift-free zone the week before, but that wasn’t provocative enough to make people go nuts over it. (I don’t envoy you!)

In the end it’s not such a bit deal I guess. Blogs you used to read since they were about WoW are nowadays about Rift and you don’t want to read them anymore. Life changes and we move on. But for some of those ex-WoW, nowadays Rift-bloggers it seems to be a very big deal if we’re not too interested about their new game… Hm. I guess it will calm down eventually. People stop blogging about WoW. New WoW bloggers will appear. That’s how the blogosphere is. A living creature.

@Anonymous: thanks. You seem to have gotten my point.

@Bristal: Nice comparison. To be honest I’ve never been much of a party person. I think I’ll join Tobold in his corner. I actually feel more at home with edgy intellectual edgy guys.

@Leah: Well… sort of. I think there can be a value in being a complete nerd/geek, taking interest in something extremely small, that very few people understand to value. But that’s only nice when you have a small, stable community with long-term connections. When there’s a sudden dive from big to smaller, it’s not that fun.

@DannyFlorida: I disagree. Even if we treat WoW as a solo game I think we want to be ”alone together” so to say. You want to see other people playing solo, side by side with you. A living world, inhabited by players and not only NPCs. But I guess we’re both making huge generalizations from our own preferences.

@Spinksville: yeah. I didn’t expect it to come this quick though. I had thought it would come with the next expansion. Not this early into Cataclysm. So I’m a bit taken by surprise.

Larísa said...

@Angry Gamer: You might be right. The thing with that kind of changes is that it’s not as easy as you might think to see when they happen, that you’re in the middle of it. Or how quick it will happen. It’s just a bit painful when it’s not just a change of technology, like when you replaced a mimeograph with a copy machine. It involves people as well. The loss of a community. That’s why it’s easy to get a bit emo.

@DannyFlorida: That’s true also, and worth mentioning. The thing is that I’ve without noticing apparently have turned into one of the veterans, who can’t really be arsed to get to know those brand new players. It’s a new generation and they need to find their own ways. Sooner or later I’ll have to move on when all I see around me are new, unknown faces.

@Mhorgrim: I guess I’ve been very guild oriented for quite a while, so I think that colours my perspective a lot as well. While we still manage to pull off our raid nights, which is quite an achievement, there’s very little activity in between. And as you say the game design currently doesn’t provide that much incentives to get to know new people on the server.

@Syl: I don’t doubt that. I think the people who have played EvE for instance have been very happy doing that, regardless of the smaller numbers. But the period of downscaling can be quite negative for some of us. If you have a long history of gaming and belong to a non-game-specific gamer community, which I know you do, I guess it’s a lot easier to adapt. I for my part don't look forward to the decline of WoW and the decisions I have to make whether I want to play with strangers in the future since the people I used to play with have. What I'm trying to say is that this isn't about being right or wrong. It's a very personal thing.

Belghast said...

I've gone the opposite of making my blog a rift free zone.... i've started a series on Aggronaut called "Why You Should Be Playing Rift" heh.

For every Rift player that cannot now imagine going back, there is a WoW player that cannot imagine why the heck anyone would leave in the first place. Can't we all just get along? I know I've lost a good number of twitter followers over my allegiance change. It seems like the "I only play wow, and can only understand ever playing wow" mindset is unique to that game. Most of us jumping over to rift were gamers long before WoW came out, and will be gamers after it has become stale too.

Bronte said...

Cheers!

"Of course the hype around Rift isn’t the End of Azeroth, the nail in the coffin for WoW or anything like that. Even if Rift would snatch as much as couple of million players (not all that likely), there would be millions left for years to come. Blizzard can adjust accordingly, opening for server transfers, making server merges, whatever is needed to make the servers feel lively and yet not overpopulated."

I think you meant underpopulated here, and second, I don't think any amount of successful MMOs will be the end of WoW. They may dent the subscription numbers, hell Diablo 3 and the upcoming "Titan" project from Blizzard itself will likely do that, but I sincerely doubt any of these things will actually shut WoW down.

Mhorgrim said...

Larisa,
Points well taken. I think sometimes it's ok to have a social guild to compliment your raiding guild. Same server perhaps, but something for kicks, not for raiding. Keep your raid guild with your main there. Do what has to be done there, but maybe have an alt on the side where you are able to socialize and have the friendly chats while you are gathering or whatever needed to maintain your Raiding toon. This way you get that social aspect and when it's down to business time, you get the raiding progression you enjoy as well.

Look, as a guy, I'm all about solutions and I know you'll do what's best for you. But here is one possible thing you could use to bring back the spark and fun. It could allow you to go out and have the friends and socials while still giving you all that raiding fun you like as well. VACATION WOW STYLE lol. Have a great day!

Townes said...

I would join in that toast. WoW has been fun in large part because of the people.

Anecdotally, graphs aside, the people have gone away in my WoW world. My guild is still there, but enough people have left for raiding guilds or left the game that we haven't been able to get 10 people together to down a raid boss yet. And I do see a lot of burnout. Personally, I am tired of most of the game except the guild runs that aren't happening. I don't want to do archaeology or level another alt in my sleep.

So I'm playing Rift. But Rift is no threat to WoW, as you point out. Only a small fraction of the WoW players I know is playing Rift, and almost all of them are still playing WoW. The threat to WoW is people being burned out and leaving. It doesn't matter if they go to Rift or if they go read a book. I don't know if it's the changes in Cataclysm or just being bored after 5 years, but in my little section of the WoW world, a lot of people have been leaving for a couple of years. They are replaced in numbers, but things aren't quite the same.