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Bringing Back the Community Through WAR

Updated Thu, Dec 17, 2009 by B. de la Durantaye

A Journey Through Community Development in MMOGs
Benjamin J. de la Durantaye - Managing Editor, Community Sites


The definition of a massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) is pretty simple. It’s a game that has a massive amount of people playing at the same time in the same virtual world. It’s the application of the definition where you will find large differences though, as each gamer’s, and in turn, each developer’s idea of a MMOG can differ greatly. But how important is community within these games? Do we need others to enjoy a game, or can we have just as much fun playing alone? Is a gaming community a thing of the past ? There is one game on the horizon that says “No! Communities are still alive and just as important as ever.” First though, let’s take a brief trip through the past, present and future of MMOGing.

The Past

EverQuest relies on communities.

I experienced my first MMOG in 1999 with EverQuest (EQ).While neither the game’s graphics blew me away nor did the gameplay particularly captivate me, it still did not take me long to become obsessed with the game. I would log in day or night, often neglecting my social life, and at times even my *ahem* romantic life. But why? What was so addicting about this game?

It was the interaction with people that drew me to EQ . Everywhere I journeyed with my virtual dwarf, I would meet other players. And, as the game’s design was an early one, there was little you could do if you were the type of player to shy away from others. You needed to group up in the game to accomplish goals, to get experience and to advance your character. Soloing was not an option for most, if not all players.

This kind of system did have its benefits. I learned that in order to progress, I needed to make friends and allies, and I needed a good reputation if I wanted to get into hunting groups. The community on the Tunare server that I played on was small enough that one’s reputation preceded him . If you acted like a jerk, people wouldn’t group with you. If you were a team player and were known as such, it wouldn’t take long before you’d get a message from another player asking if you’d like to join her in some hunting or questing.

The game was community driven. There were consequences for your actions, but there were also huge rewards for them as well. I have friends from EQ that have become dear friends in my life outside of the gaming world. I can honestly say some of these people will be close friends for the rest of my life. That’s not just a game – that’s a life experience.

World of Warcraft allows solo play.

The Present
A lot has happened in the MMOG industry since 1999. We’ve seen a lot of new titles launch; some were successful, some not. Perhaps the most important year in the era was 2004 with the launch of World of Warcraft (WoW).

Blizzard Entertainment knew the potential of MMOGs and launched their own flagship, World of Warcraft. The game was lauded tremendously as hundreds of thousands of players started playing, many of whom were experiencing a MMOG for the first time. The game did exceedingly well, and a few short years later millions upon millions of players worldwide are fighting their way through Azeroth today.

But what about the community? There’s no denying that there are many communities within the game. Players have formed guilds and friendships like any other MMOG, but something was very different. For the first time, players no longer needed to rely on others to reach maximum level. In fact, if desired, it had become not only possible, but quite common, to level up without ever forming a group with another player. While for a lot of players this was a god-send as they no longer had to waste valuable time trying to find a group during their play sessions, it had also changed the way players play MMOGs and what they’ve come to expect from them.

Being a single name among millions, and never having to interact with other players had given players a sort of immunity. They no longer had to rely on their reputation to advance in the game, and coupled with the anonymity of the internet some viewed this as a license to act any way they want without repercussion or fear of reprisal. Reputation suddenly was only associated with the larger guild names, and not the individual players.

The Result
People, by nature, are a selfish lot. We’ll find the easiest and quickest means to get what we want. In worldly society, we see this daily, but we have consequences we have to face. If we were to walk into a supermarket and push aside an elderly lady in front of us so we could get to the checkout quicker, we’d be met with some pretty stern fallout. This isn’t necessarily the case in MMOGs. In a game that promotes solo play, it’s only natural that we become very focused on our own progression, and we ignore others while we work towards our goal. What’s more is that there’s very little that can be done when we feel someone has wronged us in game by “pushing ahead” of us, or by killing monsters we were going after, or even when we’re being verbally abused by other players. While there are steps that can be taken, in all but the most severe cases there are often very little, if any consequences to people who choose to act in such a way.

Games with this sort of play style mechanic have now become the “norm” and the “expected.” Many players would rather be able to work independently than have to spend time integrating into a community. The developers know this, and if they want a successful game, they know they have to include features where group play is not mandatory.

The Future

Warhammer Online brings back the community.

So where does this all leave us now? Is this the end of the road for community-spirited players? A year ago I would have said “probably.” But today my hopes are renewed that the community spirit is not lost. In fact, it is being rekindled and perfected in ways that have never before been explored.

I’m talking, of course, about Warhammer Online (WAR). I’ve had a chance to play the game over the past month or so, and I’m very excited about not just this title alone, but also because of what it could mean for the future of MMOGs.

Mythic Entertainment realizes the importance of community and has done an incredible job at bringing that dynamic back into our games. While it is still possible to level up without interaction, you’re going to find it pretty hard to do so. The beauty here, though, is that this does not equate to forced grouping. You can still solo through the entire game if you like, but you will be part of the community while you do it. How is this possible?

Public Quests and Realm vs. Realm (RvR) combat. As you progress through your questing chains, you’ll be directed towards areas that are set up with public quests. You may not know it until you get there, but when you do get there you’ll recognize it immediately. This will happen so frequently that you’ll start to recognize the faces you see in the public quests and the RvR content, and will very likely make friends while you do the content. Allow me to illustrate.

When I first created my dwarf Ironbreaker character, admittedly, I wasn’t all that impressed. The game started off as many other MMOGs do with some quests around you and a point and click combat interface. It wasn’t hard to figure out what to do, but I was a bit disappointed as at that point it just seemed like any other MMOG I had played over the past nine years.

Then I got a quest to kill some specific goblins. I located the goblins on the map and headed over to the area. I was taken aback as I entered the area, though, as a new quest popped up automatically on my screen and outlined goals I needed to do. I took a quick look at the goals which consisted of killing 20 orcs and goblins. As I looked at my surroundings a bit more, I saw more dwarfs in the area fighting and killing. As they were doing so, the quest goals updated. Every kill another dwarf completed added to the quest tally. I recognized this as a public quest, which was just that – a quest that the entire public could partake of and work together to complete.

I soon forgot about my original quest that had brought me to the area, and started swinging my axe to help my kinsmen. Orcs were dropping and dwarven steel was singing. The public quest updated to the next stage, and then the next, and then climaxed into a final battle. A gigantic orc came out onto the playfield, yelled curses at us and began swinging its weapon. My dwarf allies countered and I found myself, though a solo player, fighting with a dozen fellow dwarfs for a common goal – to behead the orc leader. We worked as a team, though we hadn’t said a word to each other. Eventually my comrades and I prevailed, the orc leader fell, and we were all automatically entered into the lottery for the spoils of war.

I was addicted at that point. I did the quest over and over and started talking to some of the other players on the quest. I soon made several friends - friends who I would find myself fighting with side by side in future public quests and on the RvR battlefields. The wonderful part here is that I hadn’t set out to make friends at all. I had only logged in to do a couple of quick quests by myself to get a feel for the game. I logged out reliving the battles in my mind, with a smile on my face, knowing I would see my new friends again the next day and create even more tales to tell.

This, dear readers, is why I believe Warhammer Online is going to set a new standard. Games come and go, but communities and friendships last much longer. It looks like Mythic has indeed brought back the community through WAR.

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Ten Ton Hammer network or staff.
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