For all of the features that we can roll out in our games, all of the content we promise and all of the space we can explore, none of it is half as fun unless other players are present. To say that the players of an MMOG are the game's blood is an understatement -- they are the heart, mind, and mouth of your game. MMOGs were originally founded on player interaction and cooperation, back in the day when game design that required grouping and tedious amounts of travel were the norm.
Today's game design, however, loves to focus on the solo player. The lone wolf who stalks his prey, takes the solo quests and avoids instances like the plague is the target audience while guilds seem to get the back seat when it comes to core content. The idea is that a single man can get through the entire game up until the level cap, but it takes a guild to successfully conquer the "end game."
Now, I'm not trying to insinuate that there's something wrong with that design, nor am I trying to say that forced grouping is the way of the future. What I am saying is that perhaps the developers might want to keep a game's community features in their minds at all times and even go so far as to promote that their games have good communities. Long gone are the days where "online world populated with thousands of players" sells as a marketing slogan.
The community at large, however, has the uncanny abilily to improve or degrade both the content and the "fun factor" of any online world. If that's not something that should have a place on the back of the box, then I don't know what is. It's the community that keeps games like Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online clinging desperately to life, pushes games like Anarchy Online and Ultima Online into the realm of "still playable after all these years" and even provides the base of the game, like the case of EVE Online.
Communities can also take people away from the game. How many times have you heard of a guild breaking up due to drama and strife, a player being forced out of the game due to harassment or a bad decision, and having a sour taste in your mouth after the same player camps your corpse for hours on end just to ruin your relaxation time with your favorite game.
Even with all that in mind, take the following into consideration. I've run dungeons up and down the continents of World of Warcraft multiple times, I've killed great monsters in Final Fantasy XI and clawed my way up in rank in the Merovingian organization of Matrix Online, but nothing comes close to my experience of running Old Hillsbrad with my guildmates in the Empire.
Sure, Old Hillsbrad is a good and solid instance, but what made it so much fun for me was the fact that I was doing it with my friends and everyone was reacting to what happened around us. We cheered with the orcs as we torched all of the internment camp buildings in Durnholde Keep, we saluted Thrall as we released him from his cage, and everyone tensed up and slowly drew their blades as the booming voice of the great dragon of the Infinite Dragonflight beckoned us to come out of the Tarren Mill inn and "meet our fate at his hands."
I'm certain that all of you have your stories about your casual guild kicking back and running some content for the fun of it, your raiding guild breaking through a boss that keep you stuck for a week and the happiness that resounded over Ventrilo as his corpse fell to the floor, and the excitement of a PvP arena team or PvP guild as you claw your way up the rankings in your quest to be the best.
There is a very good reason we come together -- we want to have fun and share our experiences with one another. We find like minded individuals to talk with, laugh with, and fight with because it makes the game deeper, ever changing, and, as if I couldn't state this enough, more fun. It doesn't matter what type of guild you are apart of or how you derive enjoyment from your game, what matters is that you understand how much the community can impact you.
Naysayers can keep saying, "It's just a game, it's not real," all they like, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who know that the friendships and unity forged during these games are very real and long lasting indeed. It's not taking the game seriously, it's taking the game out for a test drive of fun and friendship. If friendships are serious business, then I guess I'm guilty as charged.
As Warcraft's Uther Lightbringer once said, "A hero is not valued because of the things he accomplished; he is valued for the people he inspired."
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who's gives huge props to Aerana and the rest of Twilight Empire of Ravenholdt-A. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to message him, you can do so in Second Life (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.