Welcome to the 2nd Edition of Lifetap
The original scratch-n-sniff daily MMO column
When it comes to social gameplay, we often fall prey to a chicken and egg scenario. I’ll let you decide which one you’d cut the head off and roast whole, and which you’d turn into an omelet.
Even though MMOs are, by their very nature, intended to be played socially or as a group experience, many prefer to play them solo. Almost like a larger or more elaborate single-player game. They get the benefits of a shared economy, optional chat channels, and a non-static game world to inhabit. At the same time, they feel zero pressure to actively or directly engage with any of the other players on their server.
This is totally OK.
If it weren’t, MMOs wouldn’t be built with the option to play solo in the first place. And as we all know, a soloable game is a more accessible game, and accessibility is what helps bring in the big bucks.
Could you imagine what vanilla WoW would have been like had Blizzard gone the route of balancing the entire game around group play like the original EQ? It still would have done incredibly well, but probably wouldn’t have become a cultural phenomenon either.
The real frustration for the soloer is that they inevitably hit a brick wall. Or maybe glass ceiling is a better way of putting it, because there will definitely come a point where they can no longer progress or will never be able to obtain the highest tiers of equipment in their current solo role.
These players then need to make a decision, and I’m telling you right now that the developer holds all the keys when it comes to which door a solo gamer passes through at the level cap.
Behind door number one, tools have been provided that help a solo gamer embrace group play. The barrier for entry is lowered as much as possible, so that gamer has plenty of options and reasons to stick around and continue playing the game.
Behind door number two resides a bottomless chasm of hardcore content tailored for established guilds. This can take the form of either PvE or PvP content interchangeably. It often even accounts for crafting – a purely solo pursuit if there ever was one – so that even unlocking the best combines is only achievable by the hardcore socializers.
Here’s the thing, though.
I’ve played through countless MMO betas over the past decade, and do you know what is the one thing consistently added at the tail end of development prior to launch (if even then)? Proper social tools. Reasons for people to form or join guilds. Rewards for playing socially. LFG tools.
Wouldn’t you think those would be some of the very first considerations given that the second M in MMO stands for Multiplayer? What we really see most of the time is more like Massively Communal Game Spaces when to cut right to the chase.
Along with the wacky notion of building proper social tools into your game before even considering calling it a "beta" client, here is a tip for game developers, and one that I’m still shocked hasn’t made its way into AAA games yet: Make gear that provides a bonus at the group level if it takes a full group to obtain.
Here is an example of how it would work.
Note to self: How the heck do vendors always have the best endgame gear, but offer total crap for lower levels? Is there an intergalactic mafia that supplies these goods wholesale, or maybe the vendors themselves are part of a major crime ring? Is Adventure Time's Choose Goose their leader? Further investigation needed.
An item – let’s say boots – drops from a specific boss that requires a full group to defeat. Or heck, maybe the boss only drops the currency or token needed to purchase the boots from a vendor who creepily has the best gear in the world, but never talks about how it was obtained.
Those boots should have a scaling bonus dependent upon how many people are in a group with the same (or an equivalent) pair of boots. This could even be a socketed item to remove the issues of people not wanting something specific to that pair of boots in terms of stats, cosmetics, or the like. Let's call them "social sockets".
We currently enter dungeons under the notion of getting friends or strangers help us obtain items for personal power growth. Sure, the more powerful the individual, the better off the group they consume content with.
But wouldn’t it be even better if group play rewarded players for grouping? That grouped gear bonus would extend beyond instanced dungeons to make it far more desirable to play a larger amount of the game socially.
There would be a lot of considerations to factor in that I haven’t outlined here, but the base concept could be taken in any number of directions. So there is my design freebie for the week: if you make gear that requires a group to obtain, give that gear a bonus for playing in a group.
And thus concludes another bone-chilling episode of Lifetap! Drop a comment below if you feel so inclined, or you can also do the whole social thing and follow my babble on Twitter and Facebook. I promise I won’t bite. Hard.
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