If story is the 4th pillar of MMORPGs, then it has been posited that community is the 5th pillar. If you haven’t read that article yet, you may want to. It’s some very good stuff. This post isn’t going to so much elaborate on that theory. I strongly agree with the premise that a good community can be a great force within a game, and a bad one can be a terrible force. Both can affect wide-scale changes on both the game developers, the game itself, and everyone who plays or wants to play it. Instead, I’m going to go into detail about how many of the common mechanics can lead to great deal amounts of frustration and in many ways create the bad elements of the community that nobody wants. And of course I’m going to say why I think GW2 has the right ideas on these issues 😉
Call it elitism, snobbery, or (pardon my internet slang) e-peen. There are many causes for this, and very few solutions. The longer a game is out the more likely it is to develop as the veteran players get better and the less skilled, the more casual or the newer players just get further and further behind relatively speaking. These issues are especially prevalent in high-end PvE content and PvP content. Basically, this elitism creates an insurmountable barrier where the only way to get better is to get in with other elite players, but the only way to get into an elite group is to have the elite equipment, builds, whatever. It’s a circular problem. Worse, not only does it feed itself but there aren’t many things that developers can do to prevent it to some degree.
Fortunately in GW1 there wasn’t a gear treadmill where only the top level of players have the top stats on gear. That alone helps a lot for both PvP and PvE. In my not-so-humble opinion, gear score is one of the worst things that has ever been added to a co-operative game. For those unfamiliar, there are add-on programs that you can use in various games (most notably WoW) that will assign a numerical score to the gear a person is wearing. If there is an easier way to create elitism than having something that says “My gear score is over 9000!”, I haven’t seen one. GW2 has also been noted to have a gear cap that is not that difficult to attain so that you don’t have a player base separated by something as ridiculous as gear score. GW1 did fall on its face a bit with the PvE-only skills that were based off of titles. “R10 Ursan req” sound familiar to any GW players? I’m pretty sure they learned that lesson fortunately.
Narrow build requirements
This issue ties into the Holy Trinity, but in general it exists in most MMOs in multiple ways. Requiring a certain number of specific professions and builds in order to be competent creates huge community issues. Anyone ever sit there saying “GLF 2 monks, 1 war, NO SINS!” in a mission town? I don’t blame you, but it sure makes you not want to play a lot of professions when you know that only a few are really wanted. Not only is it not fun to wait for 45 minutes to be able to finish forming your group, but it definitely sucks to have to wait 2 hours because nobody wants your profession. Even worse than those situations is when not only are a couple professions needed but their builds needing to be so specific. If you don’t have that build, you’re just screwed. Don’t like playing that version of the profession? Too bad. Really, this issue leads into elitism in a sense because only the best or most dedicated players know the meta. There is literally scorn towards some professions.
Fortunately, not only is there no Holy Trinity, but every profession is viable. In theory, any combination of professions should be able to work just fine, they just need to play differently. By not having dedicated healers and tanks, any set of players should be able to work together. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this works quite well. Having read several accounts from the GW2 Fanday, the Ascalon dungeon was completed by groups ranging from 4 Elementalists and an Engineer to a more “balanced” set of Warrior, Elementalist, Guardian and 2 others. Not only did all of the groups manage to complete the dungeon, they all managed to finish it in roughly the same amount of time. That’s absolutely astounding. It should go a long ways towards making everyone feel welcome and useful.
Tagging mobs, loot tables and Need/Greed
In many (most) MMOs, experience and loot are based on who started killing the enemy, who actually killed it, who did the most damage, or many other conditions. Further the rewards are either not shared or are reduced to undesired levels. The net effect is that people don’t want to see other people. They don’t want to fight with other people because they will get less or no experience, less loot, etc. That’s about as antisocial as it gets. To make matters worse, high level gear is often rolled off between the players with something like a Need/Greed system. For those who don’t know about it, there might be one rare item dropped by a boss. Everyone taking part in the fight can say if they need the item or if they just want it but don’t need it (greed). If nobody needs it, it goes to a roll off among the greed votes. Here’s the problem: not only is there a rare chance that it even drops, there then becomes an even more rare chance that you get it. Further, there is nothing to say whether you should put need or greed… so dishonest (or frustrated) players can just need it and screw anyone who honestly put in greed. Basically, it is a system that rewards being a jackass and penalizes the honest or the unlucky. A smaller subset of this problem is with collection nodes. Crafting requires materials that must be collected from nodes but in most MMOs, the node disappears for everyone if anyone mines it. This leads to people running for a distance to get to a node only to be outrun or simply out-pathed or unlucky. This doesn’t even take into consideration farming bots which many MMOs have to deal with.
How does GW2 deal with these issues? Luckily there are a lot of ways to help. The first is the loot/exp system in general. Anyone that helps kill the monster gets the full experience and their own roll on the loot table. What that means for the player is that it is always helpful to fight with other players. You won’t deny them experience, gold or loot, you will just both be rewarded fully. It is literally impossible to be a loot-ninja a-hole. In regard to collection nodes, they are instanced per player. When you collect iron ore, everyone else can collect from the same node. There are no more races for materials. Bots can become an economic problem, but at least they won’t prevent other people from getting things. I think that’s all that needs to be said really.
Open world pvp/ganks
Nothing kills your mood like getting your corpse camped over and over and over and over again. Open world PvP is fun to many, but it really encourages behavior that is detrimental to the rest of the community. Sure, most games with open PvP have separate servers for it, but just because you signed up for it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have fun getting ruined until you rage quit. Even worse are games where you have certain areas where you must be to progress in PvE that are open PvP on every server. Aion’s abyss was one such zone. The best loot was there and the most advanced PvP were there and there were times where the enemy had pushed so overwhelmingly that you couldn’t take 5 steps before getting ganked. This is especially bad when the enemy out gears or out levels you have literally no chance of victory, just crushing crushing defeat.
Guild Wars 2 not only has no open PvP, the competitive PvP areas force level and gear equality. You have special gear that is only available there that you will be able to use freely, and you will all be at the same level regardless of your level in PvE. If you have played GW1 it essentially works like being able to toggle your PvE character into a PvP character while in the battle isles.
What about social features instead of fixing the anti-social ones?
At this point ANet has been pretty tight-lipped about their social features like guilds and chat. They have made vague promises that GW2 will feature a huge library of excellent social interaction features, on par with or beyond any other MMO. It’s pretty hard to speculate, but my hope is that more than anything they have customization. Custom channels for chat, customizable guild rank systems (for member tiers), customizable guild halls, alliance structures, mobile media interaction and more. They have indicated that there is a mobile app division at the company and they have spoken about the map app and guild chat app allowing players to communicate with mobile users.
But how can we deal with the D-Bags?
Honestly, you never can. Jerks will be jerks regardless of the medium. Fortunately GW2 is doing all the right things in making their systems not encourage that kind of behavior. I’m hoping for a much lower jerk ratio 😉