Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Uncle Ben knew this would happen...

The amount of thoughts bouncing around in my head lately that pertain to video games, MMO in particular, is starting to give me a headache. I’m not joking, I’ve had a headache for 3 days and I’ve had some things weighing on my mind.

The AAA created MMO gaming community that we knew is gone and more than likely will never return. Without a doubt MMO games have become more popular than ever. Ten years ago when my friends and I were playing EverQuest none of us would have guessed that MMOs would make it to this point. EQ was something to be embarrassed about playing while growing up; now playing World of Warcraft is as socially acceptable as playing Halo. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben… smart man.

As with any business or service as the client base grows the ability to give personal customer service diminishes. Take Home Depot for example. When they first opened they were a friendly knowledgeable resource for improving your home. Now Home Depot is a faceless corporation that will literally hire anyone with mediocre qualifications. I know, I use to work there and I had no right too. Companies simply outgrow the ability to provide quality service; the quantity of their service weighs them down. Now that doesn’t mean they have bad products that just means they aren’t as personable anymore. They don’t know you.

MMO gaming communities have reached this point. A key factor is that there are simply too many people to provide for a healthy community. I don’t believe that the size of the community is the scape goat we should be pointing the finger of blame at, but it is a key factor. In the end I believe it can all comes down to the game developers attempting to appeal to the largest possible consumer base. Stay with me a little longer, because it isn’t the developers fault directly either.

Everyone has heard of John Gabriel’s “Greater Internet Dickwad Theory” in which it simply states that given anonymity a normal person will act out in a negative way towards their peers. If this were to be applied to MMO games then why didn’t some of the older games suffer from such an immature community before? Well although they did in fact have anonymity, they also had accountability. In EQ it was incredibly hard to level a character up. It literally took THOUSANDS of hours; very few people even bothered making alternate characters due to the time sink. You couldn’t change your name or your server. So let’s look at that for a second. You had hundreds or thousands of hours invested in your character and you had no way to rename or move… you couldn’t run from any reputation you had earned on your server.

What was the result? People didn’t want to risk being black flagged by their server community so they behaved. They treated others with a certain amount of respect. In order to see any end game content you had to apply to a high end raiding guild and applying to a guild of that size and prominence was like applying for a job. You filled out an application and often times had a trial period that lasted anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months.

What does all this mean? That as MMOs become more approachable for a casual gamer, the community will continue to diminish in quality. MMOs are being designed so that a person playing on a limited schedule can achieve everything, given enough time. The player is given different utilities to use as well, such as name changes, race changes, and server changes. All of these features are designed around allowing someone with a limited play schedule to achieve more. That is a good thing. However as Uncle Ben knew would happen these powers are being used for evil.

The very features which allow a casual gamer to participate in all of the games content are the same features destroying the community. The communities are what originally made MMOs great. Those are all but gone now. The only thing that remains with most new games coming out with the MMO title printed on the cover is the pricing structure. In order to regain the great communities we use to have we need less user friendly games. We need elite guilds being the gate keepers to the highest level of content. We need those gate keepers to police up their servers. None of this can be done when players can simply run from their past via server transfers or name changes.

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