I'll be blunt -- I hate grouping. Nothing pains me more than grouping up with four of the "internet's finest" and going into a dungeon to kill some monsters. 95% of the time, it seems I'm doomed to find 4chan (NSFW) rejects or screaming 10-year-old kids (NSFW). Of course, these are the parties that take an hour and a half to assemble and only last two rooms into the dungeon. Someone inevitably screws up and gets six mobs on them, and then they instantly turn around and blame the priest for "not being able to heal properly". Of course they don't actually say "not being able to heal properly"; it comes out more like "u suck n00b priest".
But, the last 5% of the time usually results in the stories I tell to other people about my adventures in any given online world. I finally find someone who has an IQ above or around 120, and is actually not only interesting to talk to but also decent at playing the game. These are the people who don't lose their cool when the chips are down, who are fun to group with, and who understand that a game is supposed to be fun.
Community is just as important to a game as game design, stats, items, and content. It's also the one thing that everyone seems to simultaneously neglect when they pick up a game's retail box. Never on the back do you read "Awesome community filled with awesome people!" in the features column. You'll hear about how much content they have, or how well constructed their PvP is instead. Killing monsters and doing quests is only one very small part of the game. The bulk of it is centered around playing with others, adventuring, exploring, and forging friendships while you smite evil with a huge hammer.
Community drives almost every single feature in an MMO. You can't do five man dungeons or 40 man raids without the other four or 39 other people. Auction houses would be barren if it weren't for other players filling it up with goodies. Player vs. Player combat would, well, simply not exist. And the fun of experiencing content with others would just immediately stand up and die.
The community of an MMO can drive that MMO to success or failure.
My last wonderful experience with an MMO community also lead to my worst experience with an MMO community. The Matrix Online was my game of choice for a good long time. I'm a fan of the movies, so I was immediately sucked in by the concept of being able to continue the story of the Matrix in an online setting. In that world, I got to meet some really intelligent people, some great roleplayers/writers, amazing graphic artists, and a bunch of people I called friends. I shared with them the evolving story of the Matrix, and got to walk side by side with my new friends and story characters as we carved out history.
Then my character, Lady Return, made the front page of The Sentinel, The Matrix Online newspaper. I was marked as a terrorist for aiding and abetting a vampire program. That event was not only my greatest triumph in any game (I was only level 25 at the time, when level 50s were easily present) but it also marked my worst nightmare. Due to fame, people enjoyed turning on me. I got wrapped up in MMO drama and I got to see exactly how cruel some people could be. A game I had bought to be a fun experience quickly turned into a nightmare. I stuck with the game out of sheer love for it, but by the end I was paying 15 bucks a month to be spit on by others.
Games are created to be fun. They're not created to be work, they're not created to be a venue to harass others, and they're not created to be hellholes of drama.
Remember that you, the player, can have the same amount of impact that a developer has when it comes to keeping players playing with you. Screaming at the priest every time you die is not a good way to show others that the game is fun. On the other hand, demoting guild-mates just because they didn't show up to a raid due to a family emergency is also not a good way to keep people around.
So what can you do to help out the community and make some new friends and have more fun with your game? It's pretty simple actually:
- Take time to help others out. If you see a new player in chat who just may not be fully understanding something, go to them and help them out. Show them the ropes, and have a fun time with it. Maybe even pull out one of your alts and go adventuring with the person? You're not wasting time when you're forging a new friendship. The newbie of today is the expert player of tomorrow.
- Consider running an event. If you have loads of cash laying around and need something to do, consider organizing an event. Races, hide and go seek, tag (with shotguns), fist fights, roleplaying events, and more can be at your disposal. Go ahead, be imaginative! You might just start a new tradition.
- Be respectful in parties. Don't scream at a player just because he's not doing his job right -- try to help them out instead. Remember it's just a game, and death isn't the end. Power level a man through an instance, and he'll get drops for a day. Teach a man to instance, and he'll get epic loot for life.
- Open your mouth and chat. Laugh, talk, tell jokes, be social! There are few things worse than people who can't lighten up when playing a game. Get to know the other people in the party while you're destroying crusaders in Scarlet Monastery. Maybe you'll share something in common besides the game!
- Focus on the game, but don't completely focus on it. This goes hand in hand with being social. Some of the best experience parties I've ever been in were the ones who were able to separate game tactics and social chatter. They were the ones who could loosen up and realize that they were there to have a fun time and not just press buttons and grind for 4 hours. If people in Final Fantasy XI can lighten up (the game that's stricter than Catholic school nuns) then you can lighten up in your game too. Our party laughed about the Galka race laying eggs as their main method of reproduction while taking down Gigases in Qufim Island.
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who wants people to have fun in their games. What a novel concept! When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to meet Colin and yell at him, you can do so in Second Life during his office hours of 12 PM - 2 PM EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.