I haven't really played an MMO in years.
Yes, I've played WoW and SWTOR and LOTRO, but for many years now I've associated with the same group of players and we all tend to play the same games. We regularly start characters together and tend to keep them about the same level in functional teams. Of course we also begin other characters that aren't bound by that sort of social pressure, but as likely as not if one is playing on a particular faction and level and server, others will join in our Ventrilo server and tend to naturally group up.
It may be that I'm lucky in this regard, because for the first few years I didn't have this social support, and MMOs can be very lonely when you are a solitary player. However, I wonder if this isn't how the games are designed to operate. This is the model that the guild concept has been trying to replicate in WoW for a long time: a group of friends coming together when necessary but maintaining the freedom to spin off and do their own things in between.
I've been in guilds of all sizes and I've usually been the most lonely in the largest guilds. Felt more isolated than when I wasn't in a guild at all. At least when you are unguilded, you don't have the expectation of any social support. When I'm in a massive guild, it's been an uncomfortable sensation of being surrounded by many players none of whom know you or interact with you.
In my experience, when there are 75 people in guild chat most players are less likely to say anything or respond as compared to when there are 7. When there are seven, players seem more likely to speak casually, to engage in conversation or toss in a comment or quip; to simply be themselves with more freedom. When I'm in a guild of 400, it's like rats in a warehouse, huddled around the edges. What's really happening is the 400 are usually subdividing themselves into smaller groups.
Guilds are too quiet. In an effort to avoid pressuring anyone, to be welcoming and encourage people to stay, guilds tend not to place expectations on new recruits. I wonder if the opposite approach wouldn't work better, get that new recruit into a group and break the ice right away. Could it be better to have 7 genuinely cooperating and interacting players than to have 75 players who are silent?
Bigger isn't Better
I guess I'm just feeling that for me, larger groups aren't always better. Larger raids, bigger battles, just sheer numbers, don't equate to greater enjoyment. There's a lot of rose-colored nostalgia recently for 40-player Molten Core raids, and massive pvp battles between Southshore and Tarren Mill, and they are monuments to a time when the game really was played in huge assemblies. But for me the recollection of MC is much more fun than the actual exercise: standing around for an hour waiting for everyone to show up, the uncertainty of wondering if you would be chosen to be included, the stress of constantly having your dps performance monitored to see if you were worthy of continued participation, the frustration of never seeming to make the loot process work for you, the terror of putting a foot wrong and wiping all 40 players in your raid by accidentally pulling something at an inopportune time, who then had to run back from the other continent, apparently. Good times! but much more fun as a recollection.
It takes work to keep our little social group together. It takes a subtle re-adjustment of expectations, as well. People become more flexible and less goal driven, knowing that they will achieve much more with the group then individually. We tend to be group focused as well, sharing crafting and resources among the group equally, and are much more likely to do that then to deal with people outside our group.
I guess what's happened is that I've mostly stopped interacting with the thousands on my server, and tended to deal with those immediately around me. I've come to realize that it doesn't matter to me if I have 6.8 million playing my game or 200,000; when the most I interact with are the several dozen at my particular location. In fact, until I started playing GW2, those dozen around me were more likely to be my direct competitors than something that was enhancing my gaming experience. I would rather play a game with less than 500,000 others who were
genuinely interested in what it offered, than try to play something that
wanted to be all things to all players and ended up being mediocre at
What I have wanted, personally, would best be described as an NMO, Narrowly multiplayer online game because frankly that is how I play now. I'd like a game that targeted the small group and designed content around that reality, rather than one that promised that all the best experiences would be reserved for groups of 25. So in response, I've started using the label MORPG. I find that I can leave the massively out of the name and retain the same meaning. And at the same time re-emphasize to myself the RPG part of the name, which can sometimes be lost in all the fury.
This is the Thirtieth entry in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.