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Reloading... Accessible vs. Social Gaming

Posted Wed, Sep 14, 2011 by Sardu

Welcome back to the 75th edition of Reloading...! 

Accessibility continues to factor into the alchemy of MMO design at an increasingly steady pace. And while that means we have more people playing a single title than there were 10 or 12 years ago, an interesting byproduct is that online gaming seems to be trending away from truly social gameplay as a result.

One example is the new Raid Finder being added to World of Warcraft. The idea behind it is to provide a means for more casual players to be able to experience raid content without the hassle of adhering to strict raid schedules, or the demands of an overbearing raid or guild leader on a regular basis. As a cross-realm service, it also means you have better chances of finding a raid to join even if you’re on a low population server.

Those might sound like great concepts on paper, and for some players I’m absolutely certain they will prove to be in practice as well. However, to make a tool like the raid finder really work, social gameplay will once again become the sacrificial lamb all in the name of greater accessibility to content.

Many moons ago I was a fairly competitive gamer, and still tend to enjoy PvP systems in any MMO that offers them. And while there were many flaws in the original honor system in WoW, the fact that you were facing off against and grouping up with people on your own server in each match helped promote a strong social bond with your fellow gamers between matches. Sure, you typically had longer queue times for battlegrounds back then, but that also helped raise the stakes in each match and cause your team to play smarter more often than not.

The introduction of cross-realm battlegrounds may have shortened the queue times considerably, but you were also thrown into transitory groups that had no real reason to connect on any social levels. You stopped finding great groups of players to team up with or invite to your guild between matches, and battlegrounds became about as enjoyable on a social level as joining random FPS teams on Xbox Live.

The same trend continued with the Dungeon Finder. Once again, layers of social interaction amongst players on your own server took a hit for the sake of shorter queue times. Instead of finding a solid core group that you could run dungeons with on a casual basis, you’re right back to a scenario where transitory PUGs have no real reason to socialize. Never mind that the “massively multiplayer” component of MMORPG used to mean a persistent, shared online gaming experience with a set group of players on a single server.

For what it’s worth, I see the raid finder as the third nail in social gaming’s coffin, even while it introduces greater accessibility to one of the only other core endgame activities in WoW. Don’t get me wrong, there are also plenty of potential pros to the raid finder. For a closer look at both the pros and cons, be sure to check out Byron’s fittingly titled Raid Finder: Pros and Cons.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve also become less and less interested in raiding over the years. It amazes me that no developers have taken the concept of EQII’s Heroic Opportunity system and applied it to raids. Imagine how much more social depth there would be to raiding if the skills players used during a raid could be interwoven to such a degree that proper coordination could have its own reward system. Instead, we have raids where I’m absolutely convinced that the content designers are hell bent on turning players into another layer of AI scripting.

If you think about it, the “don’t stand in the fire” approach to raid design does exactly that. Successful groups figure out the scripted pattern of skill rotations, movement, and tanking priorities and execute it flawlessly, just like their AI opponents. While I could easily ramble about that aspect of raiding and how it’s another area where I wish social gameplay were a more rewarding experience, I’ll leave it at that for now to avoid derailing my original topic any further!

Reuben "Sardu" Waters
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