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Ask Massively: Emergency soccer practice


Today's Ask Massively question comes to us from a reader named Chris, who has had it up to here with you quitters! Yes, you, guy who just AFKed out of Warsong Gulch!
After playing my fifth consecutive round of SMITE with an AFK player, I am fed up. AFKer, quitters, or whatever you want to call them -- they suck. Why is it unreasonable to expect gamers to commit to finishing a simple (even possibly enjoyable) 30-minute activity? Why can't they stay in their seat and just freakin' click some buttons? Leaving doesn't cost the quitter anything, but it certainly sucks for the team you leave short-handed. If this were a little league baseball game, we wouldn't say, "It's just a game, so you go ahead and eat pizza with your buddies instead of playing with us." And why can't game companies find a way to make this problem go away? Reporting systems are just a small step away from absolutely useless!

I know that real-world stuff happens. The doorbell rings, the power goes out, or the kids set the kitchen on fire. But AFK rates seem way too high for just that. Gamers seem to conveniently forget what it really means to finish what they started. And if you can't do it for a simple game, how in the hell will you do it when it is something truly hard?
Unfortunately, I know this problem well. In my guild, we call it "emergency soccer practice," an actual reason someone once gave us for quitting a dungeon group.

But that was an MMORPG, not a MOBA. There's nothing inherently bad about MOBAs, of course, but approaching MOBAs the same way you'd approach a far more socially organized MMO is simply setting yourself up for disappointment. It might be inconvenient, but we can't expect commitment out of MOBAs unless we're on pre-made teams. Think of a random MOBA match as the shoddiest MMO group-finder pick-up-group ever. It's not your family or your coworkers. It's not your guildies. It's not your friends. It's not your alliance or your server mates or even your faction. It's definitely not little league with all the kids going out for ice cream every Saturday after the game with the parents who all know each other from the PTA.

Instead of little league, compare it to a random pick-up soccer game you stumble into in a park. Everyone is essentially anonymous, there voluntarily, on his or her own schedule. No one really owes the other participants anything. There's a loosely shared goal -- play soccer -- but there's no formal plan or agreement on how to achieve it. It's just a bit of fun, and people leave when they want to. If you go into that pick-up game intent on playing a league-standard length of time and Crushing The Enemy, then you're playing on a different level than everyone else. No one is wrong to prefer lazy fun to competition or vice versa, but the wildly different goals and expectations of random people are bound to collide, and you're going to be the frustrated one.

Many gamers, especially young gamers with no responsibilities and older gamers with tons of them, look at matches that way. They aren't thinking about how they might be inconveniencing someone else by quitting because the playing itself is such a trivial thing to them, so they can't imagine it's not likewise trivial to you. They play MOBAs the way you might play a mobile game while standing in a boring line. Inconsiderate? Probably. Malicious? Nah.

MMORPGs are a bit different because they're usually intended to be more social than competitive, although instanced battlegrounds and dungeons with queuing systems can be just as frustrating. How many times have you zoned into a losing Arathi Basin and realized that you have better things to do with your time than waste it in a dead-end game where you're getting steamrolled? How many times do you have to wipe on a LFG raid before you say, forget it -- I'd rather just log out than continue beating my head against a wall? Eventually, your personal need for sanity is more important than any tenuous pseudo-obligations you have to anonymous people with whom you were randomly playing a video game. It is, after all, a game in the unpaid hobby sense, not major surgery or finals week or an e-sports championship.

Guild Wars taught me new terminology for people who quit teams: leavers. Leaving a team mid-mission was considered particularly rude there because the game provided no way to port in replacements, random or otherwise, which means that leavers could actually cause the entire mission to fail, and boy did that ever suck. Plus there was essentially no way to punish someone who screwed over a group that way. As Chris noted, game developers rarely prepare for this problem; sure, quitting might hurt your personal rating or lock you out of new matches for a set time period, but not every developer considers intervention and punishment a priority. They're usually more interested in getting people to play, not trying to lock them out.

But here's the flipside of this issue: Some gamers are so worried about not wanting to be seen as leavers that they never become joiners in the first place. Old school MMO players are forever lamenting the fact that everyone loves to solo in massively multiplayer games, but for the most part, people enjoy soloing specifically because it renders them free to come and go as they please. If they solo, they aren't disappointing or imposing on anyone if they have to log out in a hurry because they're bored or the baby pooped her diaper or their wife fell out of a treehouse (another actual quit excuse given to a group I was once in). It's not fair for the genre to tell people they have to group to be "playing MMOs right" but then berate them because now they're not grouping seriously enough. That just reinforces their suspicion that soloing was better all along.

So here's what I think you should do. You cannot control what other people do or how they approach their gaming, but you can control yourself, and you can control whom you game with. If you want to play hardcore, you've got to play with likeminded people. Play MOBAs in leagues. Own battlegrounds in pre-mades. Run raids with guildies. Play with serious people who take the game as seriously as you do. Don't play games that force you to group with randoms or put you at the mercy of people who don't care about the game and won't commit the way you want them to.

That's my take, anyway. It's hard to top more colorful explanations of this phenomenon.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!

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