The social dynamics have always been a byproduct of MMOs. However, few online games give direct rewards for being social. In fact, there was a time shortly after the Combat Upgrade when Star Wars Galaxies actually punished players for grouping up by giving less XP. Perhaps the reasoning was that the larger the group, the more mobs players could kill in the same amount of time, but at the time the solo XP far outweighed the loss in group XP. Thankfully, that was eventually fixed.
In my recent venture into the SWTOR beta, I noticed several different social activities for which the game rewards players. Follow me past the cut and we will discuss them.
Should we start with the good news or the bad news? I think I will go with the bad news first.
In June, BioWare released a game features video outlining the important pieces of the game. Most likely this video was created to reaffirm to the pre-game audience that SWTOR was, in fact, an MMO, and there were all the things to prove it. Buried in this video were a couple of clips of people dancing and dueling in social hubs. Although these things happen in social hubs, we can't forget that gathering for instances and raids happen here, too. Of course, auction house (or as TOR puts it, Galactic Trade Network) trading seems to be the primary focal point of social hubs now. In Ultima Online, didn't we all gather at the bank for some reason? Banks, or item storage, are very important to social hubs, too
I mentioned last week when talking to Gary Gannon of Gamebreaker.TV that there are multiple places throughout the galaxy that could be considered social hubs. However, I'm not sure how many of them will actually be used -- for example, the starter worlds of Ord Mantell and Tython. When you're questing on these planets, the Jedi temple and Republic fort act as a type of hub. After all, the trainers are there, your primary storylines are based there, and frankly, all the quest lines lead there in one way or another. However, once you're done with the starter worlds, you have no compelling reason to go back there. Granted, I did see some people come back. For instance, I recall a Jedi Knight making his way around to the side quests of Ord Mantell. He was about level 18 or 19. Perhaps he felt he needed to level some more after leaving Coruscant. However, that was a rare occurrence.
After leaving the starter worlds, all Republic classes depart for Carrick Space Station. This giant beast of a structure houses just about everything a Republic warrior would need. Within its walls, you'll find class trainers (even Advanced Class trainers), vendors for everything, and even a cantina area. Some people say that the Galactic Trade Network is there, too, but I didn't see it. A friend of mine in beta says there has been a big discussion about its absence. Hopefully, if it's not there, it will be soon. If you are looking for the Stormwind of Star Wars: The Old Republic, this is it. (Viken Station would be the Orgrimmar of TOR.)
Surprisingly, I would not consider Coruscant the hub of activity as I had originally thought. Coruscant is the capital of the Republic. In lore, the coordinates of Coruscant are 0,0,0. This should be the center of activity, right? Well, in some ways it is. Your Advanced Class and Crew Skills trainers are there, vendors line the Senate building marketplace, and even your bank and the GTN find a home there. The issue arises when you think about endgame activity. On Coruscant, there is no direct way to access Flashpoints nor Operations (raids). Carrick Station owns all of those junctions. My biggest hope is that your ship does not carry the same weight as this station -- no one would ever leave his ship. That kind of ruins the social element, if you ask me.
Now for the good news.
Just after PAX East, I spoke to many developers about what defines an MMO. One of those devs was the Creative Director for TOR, James Ohlen. We spoke extensively about the social aspects of an MMO. Ohlen said in that interview that "what defines an MMO is when you have thousands of players in a game at the same time engaging in social activities together. If you want to be successful -- and we want to be successful -- you have to have that social glue that holds people together and keeps them coming back month after month." This idea perhaps propelled the Social Points idea.
It makes me chuckle to think that, just like you can with combat and crafting, you can level up socially in TOR. We know that if you do world quests with a group, you gain the same amount of XP from the quest giver as if you had done the quest solo, and from what I can tell there is only a nominal difference between killing a mob solo and killing it in a group. On top of this, if you speak to a quest giver in a group and there are dialogue choices within the conversation, you gain Social Points. Obviously, you gain more points if you win the dialogue roll. After so many points, you actually gain a social level. With each level comes different perks, like social clothing and other cosmetic items.
What is important to you socially in an MMO? What do you think about what TOR has to offer? What can be done differently? Will you try to gain as many Social Points as you can? Let me know in the comments.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!