by Chris Logel
[Editor’s note: Today we welcome Staff Writer Chris Logel to the CRR team. Chris discusses the importance of fostering social interactions between players and explains why he is hopeful that SWTOR will be a good environment for socializing.]
The MMO game genre is unlike any other in that a large number of people come together to simultaneously play in the same game space. This is naturally a very social gaming experience. Unfortunately, developers have not been very good at nurturing this inherently social space in MMOs. Their solution has typically been to do nothing and let social behaviors grow organically as an emergent result of the game’s inherently social features.
More “Creating a Sociable Game Space” and Comments after the jump.
More recently, not only have developers completely ignored designing elements which enhance the social aspect of their games, they have added features which detract from the social experience. World of Warcraft (WoW) provides us with the most obvious and well known example of this, in the infamous dungeon finder. WoW features many instanced dungeons which can be cleared for experience and gear. Prior to the implementation of the dungeon finder system, players formed groups by communicating with each other via the in-game channels. Since the implementation of the dungeon finder, this is largely unnecessary as players can simply queue up in the dungeon finder and be teleported to their group.
The problem with this system is that is incredibly impersonal. All of the emphasis is placed upon clearing content as quickly as possible rather than on the interactions between players. When groups form like this, there is a tendency for players to be far more rude and less committed to the group than they otherwise would be. After all, it is a lot easier to be a jerk to someone with whom you have had no substantive contact (see: driver’s behavior if you need any proof of this). Furthermore, without any conversation or search leading up to the formation of a group, players often turn to cold and inaccurate measurements such as gear scores to size up their fellow group mates, rather than giving them a chance or heaven forbid, talking to them. Many might say, “The community of WoW is crappy – I do not want to interact with them, I prefer to have the computer remove that headache for me.” To a degree, they might have a point, but I would argue that the community of WoW is so dismal precisely because there is no emphasis placed upon creating a quality community by the development team!
The developers at BioWare have not spent a great deal of time promoting the more social aspects of SWTOR. But this understandable, they are just trying to get people hyped up about the game prior to release. And quite frankly, lightsabers and spaceships are significantly more exciting than social game design. Nonetheless, there are systems which have been included (and excluded) which will help develop a great community in SWTOR.
1. No cross-server dungeon finder
The noticeable absence of a cross-server dungeon finder system is far and away the most important social design decision for SWTOR. As noted above, the dungeon finder destroys a large social part of MMOs. Not only does it destroy grouping for dungeons, but it results in other widespread emergent social problems (such as the use of gear scores). A developer has confirmed (right here in an interview on Corellian Run Radio) that there will be no cross-server dungeon finders.
2. Emphasis on story
BioWare has placed a great deal of emphasis on story as the so-called “fourth pillar” of the MMO genre (the other three being exploration, combat and progression). Story is obviously an end unto itself, but it also brings with it the added social benefit of slowing down gameplay. By this I do not mean that the combat will be slower. Rather, the point I wish to make is that by placing an emphasis on the story, the developers are creating another level of immersion and enjoyment through which players cannot rush. A slower-paced game in this sense is also a game where people will take the time to actually speak with one another and be sociable rather than just racing to the endgame at breakneck speeds. Furthermore, the fact that there will be many story quests that are also group quests means that many players who want to get the full story out of the game will end up grouping.
Although not much has yet been released about the crafting system in SWTOR from what we do know, it will be a robust and useful source of items. A properly implemented crafting system is an inherently social system because it promotes trading amongst players.
In SWTOR, two encouraging key points have been made about the crafting system. In the first place, BioWare has promised that crafted items will be in the same league as items found via raid drops. If this turns out to be true, then crafting will be a relevant gear pipeline. In many other MMOs crafted items are nearly irrelevant because they are strictly inferior to items dropped by mobs. Furthermore, BioWare has told the community that rare schematics will be exceedingly rare, increasing their value and promoting interaction with master crafters. Due to the paucity of information that has been officially released on the subject, it is difficult to gauge at this time just exactly how much of an impact the crafting system will have on the social nature of SWTOR, but there is good reason to be optimistic.
Of course even after release BioWare will continue to add new features and content to the game. The developers have stated that they have all but ruled out minigames such as Pazaak for release, but left the possibility of adding them after the game launches. In my opinion, BioWare should strongly consider adding social mini-games. One of the biggest draws of SWTOR is of course the fact that it takes place in the Star Wars galaxy. Adding social features to the game just for their own sake is a worthwhile endeavor, especially for a game with such a rich backstory and world behind it.
The developers of Star Wars Galaxies made many mistakes before and after the game’s launch. One thing they did get right was the inclusion of social classes. Social classes were neither combat nor trade centered. Instead, social classes were primarily centered around mechanics that applied only to other players. For example, there was a special kind of damage that could only be healed by player entertainers in cantinas, and politicians used their skills to enhance player-run cities. Now, I am not suggesting that BioWare add social classes, but they should at least continue to add and/or update features that foster the social Star Wars experience. That is to say social features specifically centered around Star Wars themes.
Are there any social features that you would like to see added to the game? Let us know in the comments section of this page or on the Corellian Run Radio forums.
while i understand what your saying the fact is some times you need to use things like recount or gearscore to tell if a person should be where you are while the most skilled person in the world could likly make a 333item level person do 13k dps 90% of people are not going to do that with 333 gear most of them are going to be in the 10k area or less and 10k is fine with me for 5 mans but if i am looking for a raid i am not taking a person in 333 gear i dont care how nice they are or even how skilled they are
also you have a LOT of people in MMORPG’s that simply dont know how to play there class anyone in the 350-370 item range should be doing atleast 13k min and upwards of 17k in a good fight but i see over and over again people doing 6k or 8k those people just dont belong in a 5 man they are bringing the group down again it really does not mater if they are nice people or what ever else they are holding the group back
we can only hope some form of recount gets in to SWTOR soon after its made because with out it we are going to have real problems finding who the problem people are if nothing else we need to know who is lacking so we can help them
wow nice article
Well Icelord, there are definitely a lot of people who agree with you. I have a couple more thoughts on the issue.
In the first place, as I said, I don’t think there is a great deal of correlation between gearscore and player skill. Good players can have bad gearscores and bad players can have good gearscores. You make a point of noting that a player with high skill requires a decent gearscore to be good. And while this is true, the inverse is equally true — a player with a high gearscore needs a decent skill level to be good.
But regardless, I really do think that the whole conversation about gearscores misses the point entirely even if they held some sort of empirical correlation to player effectiveness. I think we’ve gone astray in the normative structure of what an MMORPG should be about if we value gearscores that highly. In my opinion, MMORPG players — particularly those in WoW — seem far too focused on clearling content as quickly and decisively as possible rather than focusing on having fun with other players.
As for last point about recount, I don’t think you need to worry. Even though most indications point to no add-ons for launch, we’ve already had it confirmed that the combat dialogue is completely parsable with external third-party programs so we can determine who is “lacking” in a group setting. I know this might require us to copy/paste and minimize our SWTOR window, thus slowing down the rate of play — but is that such a bad thing?
Gearscore was never a necessary, useful, or helpful addition to WoW. It added nothing and detracted substantially from the determination of skill level of other players. It became the one and only determining factor as to whether someone was up to par or not. Someone with a higher gearscore could in fact have gear that is functionally inferior to someone with a lower gearscore (although I think WoW changed the way in which itemization worked such that items scale linerally with the exact same stats which is really stupid).
DPS meters were usually helpful, but it’s also worth remembering that (especially in games that haven’t completely blended all classes together like WoW) some classes bring OTHER things to the table besides DPS, which makes DPS meters an ineffective method of determining contribution. It’s also worth noting that any reasonably intelligent individual can determine WITHOUT THE USE OF A DPS METER if someone in the group isn’t contributing the way they ought to be. Same applies to healing meters and threat meters.
I completely agree with point 1) in the main article, but point 2) is not necessarily something that I agree with. While playing the first time through will be dramatically better if there is a definitive and engaging storyline, playing through subsequent times will most likely be hindered by the fact that playing through the exact same storyline will *not* be entertaining nor engaging. While this could be alleviated by altering the storyline in some way in different play throughs, the best solution for this would be to make it essentially unfeasible to level another character (I’m not sure how the class system of SWTOR works) which may or may not be a reasonable option.
David — Good thoughts/comments. I think that you’ll be happy to know that in SWTOR, each class has a signifcantly different storyline. Certainly there are segments of the story which are shared (surrounded the story of a particular planet for instance), but BioWare has stated that a very, very large part of each character’s story is there class story. Hopefully that will decrease repeated content. But yes, you have a poimt.