MMOs are not about playing with friends

A while back i came across this quote when i read a post about Jaedia returning to Guild Wars 2:

…I love being able to play with my friends, that is the big draw of MMORPGs after all,…

Hannah Richardson-Lewis, Returning to Tyria

Hannah/Jaedia is a great blogger – i enjoy following her blog and posts on mmorpg.com and i find myself agreeing with her for the most part- but this statement is something i don’t agree with, even if i know i’m probably blowing her harmless sentence up more than i should and MMORPGs are different for all of us, it’s that statement that inspired me to draft the following post a couple of weeks back, only to edit and publish it now for Blaugust.

While you can play MMORPGs with friends, of course, and have a great time while doing so, i think that this approach is one of the things that went wrong with MMO design in the last couple of years. Questing is mostly a solo affair nowadays, dungeons are for small, casual groups either consisting of friends who know each other or total strangers bundled together by the group finder who for the most part won’t say anything to each other and won’t grow the respective friend lists.

Successful MMORPGs are hard to create because MMORPGs need to provide players with meaningful content in every situation- the big draw of MMORPGs, while being different to each of us, is possibly the fact that MMORPGs are a genre-mix that can be played in different group sizes and situations, all the while playing in a persistent world with a community to boot.

What makes MMORPGs unique and interesting is that this is the only genre where players should feel part of “something bigger” than themselves in every activity they can partake in. Whether you’re soloing, playing with a couple of friends or strangers from the group finder tool, selling to thousands of other players in an auction house / dabbling in the ingame economy or decorating your instanced house (that can be visited by more or less everyone), you should always be a part of something; mainly the ingame economy.

Sure it was!
Sure it was!

In my opinion, that’s maybe one way the genre lost it’s way. Blade and Soul, for instance, is a great game, but if it weren’t for multiplayer dungeons or world bosses, one could live without it being online at all- the same is possibly true in The Secret World and even Black Desert, which, while being a sandbox, manages to give the feeling of playing alone most of the time. In Blade and Soul you can even turn off the display of other players- my guess is they’re still there, you just can’t see them anymore.

I guess the best example of the other extreme would, again, be EVE Online. Whatever you’re doing in that game will find its way into the ingame economy, because when it comes down to it, EVE is about its economy.

But World of Warcraft does this in a good way, too, with their auction houses, useful mob drops and so on.

I don’t know about Final Fantasy XIV- i see there are very few “trash items” in that game, if any, but i haven’t dabbled with the retainers enough to know whether there is an ingame economy worth noting.

Elder Scrolls Online, in my opinion, dropped the ball on economy. I can understand their reasoning, but…well, for casuals like me, trade might just as well be nonexistent. I really hope they’re thinking about ways to improve that situation, because as they’ve said, they’re seeing less “hardcore” involvement into their game and more “on and off again” behaviour to which needing to join trade guilds/socializing for trade is counter-productive.

Anyway, what i wanted to express is that MMOs can, of course, be fun when played with a group of friends and for players, it’s a totally fine reason to play MMORPGs, just like playing solo/raiding/collecting hats are. It’s just that i think, when we turn the tables around and see this from the perspective of developers, they shouldn’t create an MMORPG with “friend play” being their main focus or goal.

6 thoughts on “MMOs are not about playing with friends

  1. Telwyn

    I can see your point and agree with it to a certain extent, especially on the trade angle. Although I mostly play MMOs cooperatively with a smaller group of friends/relatives thesedays, I do want to be able to engage with a wider playerbase and the ability to trade unwanted loot or crafted goods is a big part of that for me.

    However, I will generally make time to play with my closest friends whenever possible just because it’s not always possible with that much frequency – so if a MMO puts barriers in the way of easy grouping, or lacks interesting group content then it will limit my engagement with the game beyond the usual “solo to cap & experience storyline”. Grouping starts with coop for me, anything beyond that is a bonus.

    1. Mersault

      Gaming is a great way to stay in touch, and MMORPGs are a good genre for that, as they’re slow enough to allow talking or chatting about something else than the game. I have a friend who isn’t an MMO player, or even what you might consider a gamer- but from time to time, we’d spend an evening of playing Civilization, chat and hang out.
      There’s nothing wrong with players approaching MMORPGs from this angle- it’s just one of many, in my opinion.
      One could argue, maybe, that there are better genres for the coop experience- ARPGs like Diablo 3, for instance, or pseudo MMOs like Destiny, The Division, The Crew, cRPGs like Divinity:Original Sin (especially part 2 which will be offering 4-person-coop) or survival crafting games, but that’d be moot and after all, everyone should approach games they enjoy in the way they want.
      From the design perspective, i think MMORPGs need to go beyond “coop”, but i also think there’d be a market for something non-persistent that offered the “dungeon experience” of MMORPGs for a coop party (i think “Forced” tried to do something like that?!?).

  2. Shintar

    Nice clickbaity title! 😀

    I agree with it, though I’m not sure I’d necessarily rate the in-game economy as that important. Personally I would say that, more generally speaking, MMOs are about facilitating connections between people, even if they are temporary, and people going in with a fixed group of friends while ignoring everything else is almost the antithesis of that. It certainly seems to be a common thread among bloggers with MMO malaise that they don’t care about making new connections and just want to play with their existing friends – who can never agree on a single MMO, which is why none of them ever seem to stick.

    1. Mersault

      Hehe i know, right? It sounds so…controversial, while being totally harmless on the inside.
      I tend to agree with you- as i thought more about the topic today, i had the idea for a post titled “MMOs are about playing with friends”, concentrating on the point you’ve just made that you can make new friends ingame. Maybe i’ll get to it this month as i have a lot of writing to do 😉
      I mentioned the economy because it’s something lasting and “bigger”, it’s an important part of persistence in a genre that’s actually more static than persistent, if you take a look at the worlds.
      On your last point, that might be, but first, i’ve seen that behaviour in normal players as well (they think everyone else is evil, stealing mobs/gathering nodes, being an asshat in a dungeon etc.) and secondly, i’ve joined Aywren’s FC in FFXIV and retried FFXIV just for this, so…new connections are being made. Although, since we already had a connection, maybe that’s “playing with friends”, i don’t know.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    There are two things to consider here.

    First, people who want to play with others, it’s important to find other people interested in playing with others. If you’re a solo player who doesn’t mind occasionally grouping with people, then you’re fine. But, if you score high on the Bartle Socializer motivation, then not being able to find other people can really hurt a game. And it takes a lot more than clicking on the LFG panel and running a dungeon as fast as possible to satisfy the Socializer need.

    The other thing is that developers like me really do want to encourage interaction between players. The social fabric is vitally important to the longevity of a game. Even WoW, which had a huge focus on soloing, cheated in a way by importing the social fabric from previous games; they recruited a lot of top guilds from EQ, which gave the game an instant social fabric they didn’t need to build. I think a lot of the reason why the masses of WoW clones failed was because they ignored this element.

    I’m not saying it has to be all grouping all the time. But, An MMO really needs some places where people overcome their inertia and interact with each other if the game is going to last any significant length of time.

    1. Mersault

      Totally agree with this, although i didn’t know about WoW recruiting raid guilds from EQ- how did they do this- was it the list of features or was it more of an active effort on their side?

      I think WoW is as successful as it is because it captured a bigger audience than MMO players, or maybe even gamers. My wife, for instance, doesn’t really play games, but once a year the WoW bug will get her and she’ll play a character to the cap. There are lots of people like her playing WoW- and expansion after expansion, many of those people you got to meet through MMOs will be returning for a short while, and they’ll carry others with them.

      I think in terms of grouping options, Guild Wars 2 has done it nicely with the scaling open world events, but the character design is detrimental, because in essence, everyone is a dps, making it feel less like grouping and more like…well, zerging? I don’t know about the new zones, though.

      Interdependancy is an important part of group content and i think “streamlining” and “balancing” classes has hurt their uniqueness in some ways. And lastly, i don’t think instanced group content is the answer, either.

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