The great Raph Koster and Anyway Games' Aaron Miller have a little conversation going that inspired an interesting question for me: when it comes to MMOs, could smaller actually be better? Raph started it-- he put forth the idea that most MMOs these days are designed like theme parks-- they're designed to keep you around for as long as possible, with twisting passage ways, lots of checklists, and a certain sense of desperation: "please, please stay and grind. We've got content!" And Aaron continued the thought and suggested an MMO like a bar-- a place that you went to because it was fun to go sometimes, not that you went to because you couldn't leave.

And both of these posts point towards the same conclusion: that in a social situation like an MMO, smaller might actually be better. Currently, most games are fascinated with being as big as possible-- a "world" of content to explore, or "millions of players," all in the same space. MMOs have "expansions," and ever larger instances and battlegrounds-- the bigger the world can get, the better the selling point sounds.

But should it? Blizzard, the world's most famous MMO maker, has determined in the past year that a group of 40 doesn't work nearly as well as a group of 25, and that doesn't work as well as a group of 10. And as much as players say they want to play with their friends, just how many friends are we talking about?

So imagine this. You live in a town with about 200 people in it. You play the game within that town-- some people are crafters, some are merchants, some are law enforcement, and some are criminals. You stay in the town you start in, and eventually, you come to learn the names and personalities of everyone playing in that town with you. Instead of a gigantic world in which you continually pass people you don't know, and which there are places you haven't seen yet, you're instead placed in a world in which you can meet and know everyone, and become familiar with every inch.

Now, there would probably have to be other towns, and ways to travel between them-- not everyone likes staying in their own small town. But a smaller, forced local population builds familiarity, builds relationships, builds everything we play these "massive" online games for in the first place.

It's an interesting idea, to say the least. There will always be players who can't wait to span across the blackness of space, and there will be players who want to look far across the world to a mountaintop that they can climb to, and there will always be games for both of those groups.

But when it comes to building relationships between players and developing groups in game, smaller might actually be better.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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