Monday, June 22, 2009

Fostering Community Growth

The last two MMORPGs I have tried were Darkfall and (currently) EVE Online. I was on the roller coasters for quite a few years and wanted to see what the other side of the genre was like.

I've made observations about sandbox games, particularly in the newbie areas since I haven't played either game for more than a few weeks. I will say that as complicated as EVE is, it does a much better job than Darkfall at weening the rookie off the training wheels and getting players doing at least something. Maybe it's because EVE has been around for 6 times as long as Darkfall. Or maybe not.

But there is a major fault in both these games that I want to address--namely how the player goes about becoming part of a community. Finding a joining a guild in a sandbox is very much a chore and takes initiative on the players' part (like all things in a sandbox). There are in-game and out-of-game recruitment channels, but there are no accidental recruitment channels. In theme-park MMOs, you put together a questing or experience party, you are meeting potential members for your guild. You think "hey, this guy is fun and knows how to play; I'll invite him to my guild." Done. Easy for the recruitment officers. Easy for the potential members.

In EVE and Darkfall, there is no native trial-run environment. Although there were a few spontaneous parties created around the goblin camps in Darkfall, everyone in the party was still seen as a potential enemy, not a potential comrade.

The solution is pretty simple: create co-operative environments where both guildless and guilded players can come to let their guards down long enough to get to know other players. Where players see others as potential friends and companions rather than potential backstabbers.

I know this sounds very artificial and against the open-world, anything-goes mentality of sandboxes. But with a subgenre so heavily focused on communities and relying on those communities to generate the fun ships for the players, you'd think that it would be less of a chore to get into one of these guilds.


Anonymous said...

Eve sort of does that with Factional Warfare, although I haven't participated because lol roleplayers etc, but it seems like a decent way to be thrown into the mix with a random assortment of people who you don't have to worry are going to gank you the second you turn your back.

motstandet said...

I've been playing EVE for close to 2 weeks, and I didn't know that environment existed in FW. That sort of thing should be advertised.

Psychochild said...

Well, one big problem with PvP-focused games is that you have to worry about betrayal. This is one of the things I saw in Meridian 59, where people were hesitant to trust newbies because they could be moles from an enemy guild. This meant that true newbies were shunned if not outright hunted on suspicion of being another player. I got around this in M59 by adding a string to the player's description if they were a "new soul" to the world, but there was still a level of distrust.

Also, PvP games can be brutal. I decided to try out EVE recently, using the 21 day trial. On my second day of playing, someone destroyed my newbie ship and podded me. I assume just to be an asshole, because the few thousand ISK worth of stuff (and quest blueprint *sigh*) I was carrying didn't gain the player much. But, as a player, I decided I was done with the game because I simply didn't want to have to deal with that. I didn't feel that I had made a decision to get involved in PvP; I was running the newbie missions and flew to a station 6 jumps away from the newbie area to buy some supplies the quest demanded. I didn't feel this should be a dangerous task, and the fact that I was killed (and podded!) meant that the game was going to be more aggravating than fun for the rest of my trial. (Yeah, lol, I R N00B SCRUBZ!)

The irony here is that this would have been less of an issue if I were in a corp that could refit and protect me. But, I'm not looking to get into a guild on my second day of playing the game, so it was easier for me to leave rather than get into the game and then the community.

So, given that your two games are heavily PvP-focused, I think there are additional barriers to community formation than not running into other people in gameplay situations.

evizaer said...

I have been playing EVE for 14 days and have only seen one person suicide ganked in high-sec space.

I think you just got unlucky. Perhaps your autopilot was set to "fastest route" instead of "safest", which could cause you to dip into a 0.4 sec system for one jump.

Also, relying on autopilot for navigation isn't always a good idea. You can almost imperviously (unless there are people actually camping the gate you're jumping to) travel around in EVE if you have a relatively fast ship, like a frigate or a higher tech version of a frigate, and you manually warp to within 0 KM of gates and then jump right after you slow down. You can even warp before you're uncloaked after jumping.

So, I don't feel like ganking is a big problem in EVE. If you play smart you might get unlucky and get whooped by a jerk, but I don't think that's much worse than how people would chain mobs on you in earlier MMOs. If you're going into space lower than 0.5-sec or if you're carrying around high value cargo, you've got to know what you're in for and play it smart.

I don't think that one (relatively freak) occurrence shows that the community building is weak in EVE, I think that it shows that player can get unlucky in a game that doesn't have much of a safety net allowing people to get away with dumb play or preventing people from being jerks.

Psychochild said...

Perhaps it was a freak occurrence, but it was an occurrence. In a game as large as EVE, I didn't expect a few jumps to take me into "PvP enhanced" space. Just as I wouldn't expect Wintergrasp to be right a few zones away from Stormwind and be able to accidentally wander into it as a level 10 character.

Sure, I could have dropped the mission and picked it up again. And, the tutorial had me take out the biggest insurance policy, so I could have gotten a chunk of change to get back up to speed, etc. But, that one event set me off the game. If danger was that close, the game tutorial should have given some warning, in my opinion.

Anyway, as for community building, you brushed against the important bit here: "...preventing people from being jerks."

You cannot prevent people from being jerks. But, you can work to prevent people from doing jerk things. I got ganked (perhaps in an unlucky turn of events) and it stopped me from joining the larger community. Perhaps everyone else in the game is sunshine and light, but I won't know. I got killed and frustrated and I left. This directly works against community building in games. And it's one of the reasons why games like EVE (and Meridian 59) can feel even more unfriendly to players.

motstandet said...

Newbies need their hands held and their heads protected. The first 30 minutes of play are probably the most important in any game; I'm always worried about the newbie when evizaer and I have our discussions. Your experience, Psychochild, proves this.

Sandbox or no sandbox, the player needs to be eased into the game and presented with simple concepts to get his feet wet. Not ganked and having his quest items stolen. EVE does a better job at this than Darkfall (you'd be doing the first quest, get killed, and have all your axes stolen), but I still think some more protection needs to be in place. Else players like Psychochild, who are willing to give the game a shot, will leave.

Eugene Conniff said...

"I know this sounds very artificial and against the open-world, anything-goes mentality of sandboxes."

I think it's that VERY mentality which holds sandboxes back. I look around at these games and I constantly see community-related game features that aren't mechanics at all; they're weakly enforceable "contracts" at best. Which are worthless! There's this idea in the heads of players and designers of sandbox MMOs that the player-to-player interaction needs to be "real" with no definition or understanding of what they mean by "real" in the first place. Everything becomes a "will you take our word for it?" game of chance where nobody trusts anyone else, because the answer to that question is always "no!"

This can lead to huge imbalances in groups once larger intergame guilds show up and sweep everyone who still cares somehow.

Without, yes, ARTIFICIAL game mechanics both enforcing rulesets and guiding communication between guilds and new players in-game with, yes, SAFE PLACES *gasp* where players can be tested without threat of PVP outside the starter zone, you can pretty much kiss any hope of a strong community goodbye.

Trying to cater to the wishes of player killers a foolish thing for designers to fall for anyway. These are the same players who are ultimately going to be happier player team fortress or COD or Halo. You're not actually doing them any favors by stringing them along with a game that nobody else is going to enjoy. Because once those players realize that for themselves, they aren't going to enjoy it either.