Dual Wielding: LFG Edition— sometimes a topic is just too big for a couple of bloggers on their own. That’s when we send out the call, and see who steps up to help us with the challenge. This week, in a special LFG edition of Dual Wielding, we’ve put together a four person team to tackle the question, “what can developers do to foster community?”
A few weeks ago a conversation that began with my frustration with games like Tree of Savior and Black Desert that fail to explain key gameplay elements turned into a discussion about community—what creates it, binds it, and what developers could do on their end to foster it. Sure, this burden isn’t completely on the shoulders of the professionals working on the MMOs we play, but neither should it be ignored by them during the development process. Ultimately, I think it comes down to encouraging community by greatly rewarding group play without punishing solo players. It’s that simple.
Before getting started, I need to make a confession. To some extent, I don’t really care one hoot whether a game encourages group play or not because I prefer to play solo in my MMOs. Yes, I’m one those people who insists on playing a massively multiplayer game largely on my own. That isn’t to say I never interact with other people; I enjoy running dungeons using a group finder tool, queueing for battlegrounds, and if I see someone who needs help with a mission or elite mob I’ll jump in and give them a hand. However I’m just as happy the other 90% of the time when I’m playing by myself.
Secondly, I want to address the subject that started the conversation, which is whether or not MMOs should bother explaining the intricacies of gameplay or if that should be a matter of crowdsourced information and thus a means of fostering community. To the latter I say poppycock. Yes, it’s true that when games are confusing or complicated and require relying on other people for answers that they can bring people together because of it, but that’s just lazy. If I’m playing a new MMO I expect the game itself to provide me with all the information I need to understand what it is about and how it is to be played at least for everything required in the first ten to twenty hours of gameplay. Higher level systems can be figured out by the community but fundamental gameplay should not have to be.
That said, there are other ways to create inherent difficulty within an MMO that requires people to work together in order to overcome the challenge. Take Black Desert for instance. Ignoring the fact that it’s one of the games that does a terrible job introducing new players to the intricate systems that make it such an amazing title, even once you have figured out these systems the game does not require reliance on other people. If anything, the game’s design encourages players to go it alone. For example, during my brief time with BDO I was helping out with a guild mission one evening that was meant to be accomplished by a group. The goal was to harvest a set amount of lumber as a team, however we were all in different places on the map and we all kept the wood we personally harvested. There was nothing about it that required a group, it was basically a single player mission on a larger scale.
What Pearl Abyss could have done to create difficulty and necessity in that situation would have been to turn the mission into a group effort requiring multiple roles. The mission could have read, “collect X units of lumber and place them in your guild warehouse within Y minutes.” To reap the rewards a guild would have to divide the work—one team to gather and a second team to haul the lumber to the warehouse. To make it even more interesting (and challenging) they could include a combat element, either PvP or PvE in which a third team would be required to protect the other two. The rewards for completion could benefit both the guild and the individuals involved so that everyone is encouraged to work together to meet the common goal. Here the difficulty is not poorly designed tutorials (or complete lack thereof) but an actual thought out system that rewards groups working together.
On the other hand, I do not want to see mechanics that punish solo play because most of the time that’s how I’m actually playing and I’m selfish like that. Tree of Savior is unfortunately one of those games that does just that with its “last hit receives the kill credit” mechanic. What this means is that I, as a slow damaging Cleric can bash a cluster of cute little pigs on their collective heads for several seconds only to have all XP and other rewards stolen from me by that Ranger who thought he was being helpful by using multi-shot. The incentive to group then is to avoid losing credit for a kill, but this approach, where solo players feel punished for being alone leads me to resent the game’s design, not relent and group up.
However in that same MMO, dungeons are a much better example of how it should be done. Well, almost. Once you’re able to enter the first dungeon, there is a huge XP bonus for joining a random group and a smaller one for entering the dungeon as a premade. Personally, I would have done the reverse so that people are rewarded for actually talking to one another and entering together. Considering players have to physically stand next to the entrance to use the random group finder it would be fairly easy to do. But I always ignore the cries of “looking for one more” by those forming a premade group because I know the XP is better queueing alone. Regardless, the XP buff encourages me to group up with others one way or another and if something similar were applied to grouping in the open world in place of the terrible last hit mechanic, you better believe I’d be looking to join others there as well.
I know none if this is a novel approach to solving the problem, and yet there are enough examples of MMOs that fail to encourage group play at the most fundamental level that I still think it’s worth repeating. And even as someone who isn’t always looking to turn MMOs into a social affair, I would love to see MMO developers get more creative in encouraging group play. Not the lazy kind that comes from bugs and broken systems which force community out of necessity, but intelligent and intentional gameplay decisions that reward the formation of communities while allowing solo players to have their fun as well. I won’t always be first in line to participate in those community building affairs, but I would be cheering them on all the same.