Jeff Woleslagle here, while your favorite Reloading... writer and mine is on business.
Let's start, as usual, with a little bit of YouTube sunshine:
SWTOR began Phase II of its pre-launch guild recruiting program yesterday. Guild leaders will now be able to invite their members via email and, in an interesting twist, set allies and adversary guilds. Doing so will increase the chances that a guild will be placed on the same server as its allied and adversary guilds. This, much like the first phase (guild recruiting), is a step in the right direction. And a step long overdue in MMORPGs.
For years, MMORPGs have been in identity crisis mode, trying to cross-genrefy themselves in a frantic attempt to escape WoW's shadow. We've had action MMOs, MMOBAs, mobile MMOs, MMOFPSs. MMORPGs have copied match play from online shooters with battlegrounds and scenarios, breadcrumbing and "red circles" from single-player RPGs, cutscenes from heavily scripted game-on-a-rail titles, and more. In short, MMOGs have tried to be everything but MMOGs , moving miles away from the promise and potential that could come from scores of gamers interacting in the same virtual world.
Why have an overarching sense of community and large-scale cooperation and competition become relegated to niche games like EVE Online and A Tale in the Desert? There are a bunch of reasons, and not all of them have something to do with Azeroth. For one, it's hard. It's really hard. No one's denying that. To grow a community, any community, you have to have a reasonably stable population, and it's hard to have stability when MMOGs rise and fall in the space of three months. Not only that, but the idea of at-will server transfers, character renames, and other microtransaction marketing-oriented services have given players an easy out, an excuse to prevent players from putting roots down on any given server. And, whether we're talking trees or guilds, roots help you get through the storms, the guild drama and other eventualities of living and gaming with a large number of other people.
Also, the stock of that polarizing phrase, "virtual world," has fallen through the floor in the years since since Second Life had its big media hurrah. Nowadays, evokes hyper-escapist types exploring their deviancy under the umbrella of anonymity, and that's a far cry from the early days of the MMORPG, when it was a thrill to discover you have interests in common with someone across the continent or the globe.
But this isn't yet another cry for the good ol' days of MMORPGs. I wouldn't be writing about MMOGs if I didn't feel like more good days were either here or around the corner. RIFT continued WAR's brilliant innovation of public quests, giving me hope that the dream of large-scale cooperation is far from dead. And SWTOR is on the right track - making community a pre-launch priority. Hopefully, SWTOR, Guild Wars 2, and the next wave of MMORPGs will offer scores of guildleader tools, guild achievements, and other greater good gotchas that will make MMORPGs more of a unifying concept than a glorified chat room.
How else can MMOGs improve their sense of community? Feel free to contact me:
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Jeff's interest in online games stretches back to organizing neighborhood Unreal tournaments as a teenager, but when a college roommate introduced him to EverQuest, an interest became an obsession. Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game since.