In my last post I ranted at length about how Guild Wars 2 launched without any conversation starters. Now I don’t mean ‘talking points’, such as how the low-level armour for casters was a little off-putting (I mean really, you want my bad-ass Norn to wear frilly knickers?) What I’m referring to is the lack of ‘social nudges’. I pondered on this topic a little bit in the Guild Wars 2 specific post, but it’s obviously still on my mind. I love to converse with my friends, especially in person. I used to enjoy gaming with friends, but for whatever reason that isn’t a current part of my play style.
It appears to me, from my outsider perspective, that game designers often talk about how to solve the social problems in MMOs. How do you solve griefing? You remove the points of competition, except in arenas where it is appropriate for there to be player vs player conflict. How do you get players to cooperate? You provide benefits for aiding in a kill, you enable the joining of groups automatically or with a few clicks. Or you remove the concept of ‘grouping’ entirely.
So players play ‘together’. Yet they don’t often talk. It is the act of conversing that enables a situation to form where a more permanent bond can form. Without conversation, the exchange of text and ideas and emotion, you do not get the creation of persistent networks. Think about how lonely guild chat gets. It is those networks that create ‘social stickiness’ within a game.
While Warcraft has all the hallmarks of convenience these days, it certainly started out with a lot of dialogue surrounding the very act of creating a group. Whatever the game looks like now, it started out with many more conversations inherent in the way players interacted with each other. I must point out that this was absolutely not unique in the MMO genre at the time, so I’m not saying this is why WoW is successful. I’m just pointing out that this was a condition inherent in it’s formative years. Along with griefing, and bugs, and 40 man raids, and many other things that seem antiquated and inconvenient now. While Warcraft’s massive popularity was certainly not due to this creation of dialogue in the player base, the fact that there was conversation is one that has helped to result in the general ‘stickiness’ of the player base.
People like me dabble in other games, but WoW hangs at the back of our minds because so many of our friends are there. Or they still have connections there.
Games these days are launching with less nudges for clunky text exchanges. They’re launching with no need to converse over forming a group, even if in the ‘old world’ prior to LFG systems this would have been a short hand trade channel advert.
Words have power, and when your gaming experience lacks either the written word or the verbal one, it becomes inherently less social. Yes, playing together does not inherently need communication - Journey and various other games show us that. But for those other characters on the screen to become more than NPCs to us, the players behind need to communicate. Otherwise other players are simply ‘there’.
Now, I don’t always want to talk to anyone in my games. Games shouldn’t HAVE to involve awkward social situations after all. Yet, I feel this is an avenue which is neglected. Fan-made works – art, videos, podcasts, blogs, and social networks spread the stickiness of the game because it creates dialogue between players and fans outside the game. Perhaps we need to look more at how conversations are facilitated and created within games.