MMORPGs Aren’t Dinner Parties

I recently read this Soapbox article on Massively: Of course I care what you’re doing in MMOs.

(Contains Moderate Peril also read it.)

It’s a soapbox article, so I’ll grant that it’s supposed to be controversial. Jef sets out to refute what he calls this misconception he read on a forum: “Why do you care what other players do in an MMORPG? It doesn’t affect you.” I didn’t write that, but it’s something I might have written. So I was genuinely interested in hearing the reasoning behind Jef’s belief that it’s a “misconception.”

Unfortunately, Jef never directly addresses the question. His article goes on to say (in summary), “It does affect me and everyone should care.” But he never says how or why, except with the vague idea that the genre is diminished without more socialization. If Jef was trying to convince a soloist that his gameplay would be fundamentally enhanced by interacting more with the players in the game around him, he never gave any concrete examples from any real games.

So I remain unconvinced. You might already know that I play solo most of the time. I usually don’t give a whit what people are doing around me, unless they are somehow impeding me from completing my PvE goals. I’m not oblivious to the other people, though. I try not to interfere with them while I’m going about my business in the collectively-shared virtual world. This is more-or-less how I behave in real life, too. I don’t bother other people and I expect them not to bother me. This doesn’t seem very controversial to me.

My guess is that Jef was just trying to say that the social aspects of MMORPGs are more important to the genre than the RPG parts. He doesn’t want all MMORPGs to devolve into single-player games while leveling (I imagine he is thinking of games like ESO and SWTOR).

I can understand that, and even I am glad that there are group activities available in these games, but I never, ever want to log into an MMORPG and have to find other people before I can do anything rewarding. I don’t want my MMORPG to be some kind of dinner party, where introducing myself to people and mingling and striking up conversations to be polite is the social norm. I want to choose whether to be social or not. Just like real life.

I will always come down on the side of introverts’ rights–whether in game or in real life. :)

8 thoughts on “MMORPGs Aren’t Dinner Parties”

  1. In cooperative games, what others are doing affects you relative to your elected self-sufficiency. It’s not a question of “introvert rights” so much as it is a question of design direction: do the developers want to offer a satisfying coop experience or not? If they do, if they market their MMO with terms such as ‘great group content’ etc. then it is a huge problem if half of the playerbase or more prefer to solo stuff for those who wouldn’t.

    I have written a related post a while back on the “curious case of SWTOR and LFG”, so I’ll repeat that:
    “I can clearly see a problem for grouping-friendly players in an MMO that does not enforce cooperation; I think it can be expected too that with much lower overall numbers, finding suitable players for grouping during the same playtime as your own, is taking a big hit no matter how great your initiative (which can be expected to some degree if we still assume a player of a more oldschool persuasion). Especially in a game that still clings to certain group setup.”

    This problem is extra-big on small-pop servers and in holy trinity-based MMOs.

  2. Jef’s argument wasn’t particularly well-made but his premise is sound. We do have to make some assumptions about what we do and don’t accept as “MMORPGs” but if we take some mainstream examples – WoW, EQ2, GW2 perhaps – my personal experience suggests it really would be “a misconception” to assume you could entirely discount the actions of other players. They very much DO directly affect you.

    When I played WoW, for example, I played on a PvE server and mostly I soloed or duoed. There were, nevertheless, frequent occasions when other players’ actions directly affected me: it was not uncommon for Horde players to come to Alliance zones and kill quest NPCs and Griffin Masters and on two occasions at least there were full-scale raids on Ironforge that left most of the NPCs dead. This was well into the WotLK period, not back at the start.

    In all the above games buying items from other players either directly or indirectly is a key part of a soloist’s gameplay. It is possible to play entirely self-sufficiently, never buying or selling anything other than to NPCs but I very much doubt many solo players restrict themselves to that. What other players are buying and selling directly affects your gameplay experience as a soloist. You find that out very quickly indeed if you play on a low-population server and the supply chain dries up.

    These are just a couple of obvious examples of how what other players choose to do directly affects even players who have not chosen to be “social”. Like it or not, MMORPGs are in large part collective enterprises. Even if we do play “alone together” there’s still the “together” part and there’s no getting away from it short of limiting your gameplay to a very small subset of what’s available.

  3. You and I have similar philosophies. I’m also an introvert who enjoys the idea of playing solo in a world that’s inhabited by other players. I don’t bug people, though I do help out if I see someone in need of something and I have the ability to do so. But, I don’t want to be forced into grouping to make progress.

    Just because I’m not big on forced grouping doesn’t mean I’m completely anti-social and I don’t build community in other ways. For example, I’m a guild leader who is working to recruit and rebuild our guild in FFXIV. This means I’m quite often in the middle of a social environment, but one that has nothing to do with grouping, dungeons, or raids (unless I choose it to). I’m still primarily a soloist even if I’m social in a guild context.

    I really think those who want that interaction with other players will always reach out to get that social support in some form or another. It just might seem more rare than it used to because the forced aspect is no longer there in some games. I don’t see that as a bad thing. But that might just be the introvert in me talking. :)

  4. there is a little psychology behind it too showing that our expectations become for more mutable and reactive based after reading, or being subject to others criticism

  5. Syl: Not having enough people doing group content is a great example of an argument that should have been in that Massively article, and that makes perfect sense to me. For myself, the fundamental problem is that the barrier to entry for group content is much, much higher than for solo content, which is why I tend to stick with solo content. It’s not that I don’t like the group content, it’s just so tedious and time-consuming to get into it (unless you have a static group already, of course). One of the greatest advancements in MMO history in my mind was the concept of the Public Quest that Warhammer popularized and most games have stolen since. It’s awesome to just walk into an area and start working together with other people to meet a goal.

    Bhagpuss: Point taken, and I completely agree.

    Aywren: I’ve always wanted to start a guild but I’ve never had the nerve to try it, so my hat’s off to you. :) (Ages ago I sort-of ran a Quake clan for a couple of months, and I still have scars from that little bit of work.)

    (Hmm… maybe I should turn on threaded comments.)

    1. Thanks! It’s a lot of work and can be a time investment, so don’t start it unless you are willing to give up your own game time to do administrative stuff. It’s fun in its own way, but can be stressful, too, if things are jivving in a guild.

      I always find it best to start with a group of friends, if possible, that way it’s not a solo guild effort. You know you have people you can trust to back you up and help run a guild that way, too.

      Oh, and on the topic of Warhammer’s public quests – loved them, too! I’m a shy gamer, and grouping is tough because of that. So when I discovered that concept, I really loved the idea of swooping in and becoming a part of a group without needing an invite. As you said, barrier to entry was low and it made the group content quick and easy to do.

      I might rag on some things in GW2, but I’m glad they took from the public quest idea and made it a central part of the leveling experience.

  6. I hate The Soapbox articles on Massively. Typically, they seem controversial for controversy’s sake rather than for a well-argued point. This seems like no exception.

    Personally, I do fall into the camp that believe it very much matters what others do and don’t do in my MMORPGs. I favor group content, though I don’t necessarily need overly difficult, long, or large-scale encounters/dungeons. I am also an introvert, but in my MMOs, I expect and hope for a sense of spontaneous socialization that seems to be lost the older the genre gets. I think The Soapbox article in question was likely a response to that.

    For example, I used to enjoy grouping up and grinding out levels with others. That behavior, however, is far less efficient and a lot more frustrating in current games outside of repeatedly running dungeons. Credit for quests doesn’t always reward everyone in group, looting items for a quest can be subject to RNG, etc. Though I understand why the genre has moved away from having a much heavier group-focus, I think it has gone too far.

    In my last journey through Azeroth, I found it exponentially more difficult to find a guild without blindly joining. Cross-server grouping and guilds have diminished the local server communities as well as increased in the number of guilds you can join by a lot (increased noise). Given that leveling is done almost exclusively solo (or at least most effectively), my only real opportunities to meet other players are through the game’s various queues. There, most players are silent, and of the few that do talk, the entire dungeon run is over so quickly that there’s little time to bond or meet and greet.

    TL;DR I don’t necessarily want less solo friendly MMOs, but the scales have tipped to far in the favor of not having to be social to satisfy my own personal preferences.

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