Gaming for the Gabby
by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Socializing in an MMO is just an understood concept (for most people anyways), but how much sociliazation is necessary, and how much is too much? From the days of EverQuest 1, I can remember seeing groups of people sitting in a semi-circle chatting. Of course, you couldn't TELL they were speaking, so it was creepy, weird, and disturbing. You were always hopeful they weren't all meditating, or having a sit in to protest free porting for players.
Ok we've acknowledged that it's important to socialize, because honestly we won't be able to have important interaction. How else will we hear about so and so who left Uber Guild after trash talking the guild leader, or who's spreading around ugly rumors about the moderators? One of the "M's" in MMO is for multiplayer, which denotes that there are other people in this fantasy world, who may want to talk to you so much you want to gnaw off your own ear. Not that I've ever met anyone like that....seriously. Can an entire MMO be built of problem solving and social cooperation? Eh....well no.
We all saw that the MMO Seed tanked. I'll admit, I enjoy problem solving and exploration as much as the next person, but when I want that I'll reach over and install Myst again. Yeah, yeah I see you pointing at Second Life, but the main goal in that seems to be acquisition, so I think it's on a different level. Why is it on a different level and why won't social interaction games work? I'm so glad you asked! There are two main reasons I don't believe a social interaction/heavy roleplay MMO will ever see the light of day.
First, most successful MMO's provide mechanics for a sense of accomplishment. Whether it be a +12 Uber Sword O Flaming Monkey Death, 200 levels and skills, or more money than the Gross National Product of Argentina, everyone is given a feeling they have "earned" with their character. Yes, I know this could work in a cooperative social environment to a point, because you could give out titles, and toys to run around with, but let's be honest, in all societies you have people looking to ruin things. Do I need to reminisce about the Sims Online and how well that did? This was an environment of building, but mainly for social interaction/cyber. I've heard horror stories, and the moral of it was "For crying out loud, use MSN Messenger already!"
There is a sizable portion of MMO playerbases who don't want to socialize. They are there to accomplish things on their own, because they don't like or trust people, or want to work with the best to conquer everything. I've seen many people who validate themselves in life based on their skill in an MMO. I pity them....then ridicule them. Ok, I don't really...much.
Why else won't a social interaction/roleplay MMO work? It boils down to three words: World of Warcraft. Screw you Blizzard! Ok, I feel better now (I don't loathe the game, just it's dominance). WoW has taken the competition, shredded it, mixed it with water to make paper mache, and built floats to have parades about how much money they are making. There is nothing right now that is going to make a serious dent in the market. Seed was trying the equivalent of building a new Operating System, and I don't think Microsoft was real worried.
The market has shifted from the EverQuest 1 days of yore, where roleplayers flourished, and little uber raiders cut their teeth. We're in a day and age, where casual players have been woo'd over increasing the number of people who play MMO's, but at a cost to those traditionalists who miss the old days. So where do we go from here? The battles done, and WoW's kinda won, and sounds it's victory cheer. Tell me, where do we go from here? For now, nowhere. You continue to play Mahjong and Checkers while chatting on Yahoo. You continue to find like minded people who enjoy talking (but please make SURE they enjoy talking), and form guilds of talkers.
Oh, and just a unrelated side note, should you ever find yourself in this particular situation. If you are a chatter (or someone who likes to poke at people like me), raids are not usually the most appropriate time to be social. Apparently, ridiculing the raid leader for typing in all caps, or explaining the term "about weekly" doesn't make sense, doesn't quite fit the social paradigm for a serious raid. If you're a chatter, don't lose hope, you have a voice too! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go apologize to a raid leader.