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Bring Real Socialization Back Into MMOs Or Else!

Socially massive games are here. They've been here for a while sure, but the explosion of newcomers to social networking and thusly, social games, means we'll be seeing more and more online + socialization + game. This model sound familiar to anyone?

Here's the thing.  Adults, let's say for the purposes of this writing that we mean males and females between 35-49, are playing MMO's and many many other massively social games.

But  this is also the audience that played early MMO's to begin with, if you think about it.

Way back when, MMO's were social engines wrapped around the role playing game metaphor.  It isn't that this was the design, this was combining what was 'easy', online social interactions via text, with what was the 'evolution line' of the process, the suspension of disbelief.

The presentation of fantasy to the player was always the tough part and in most cases the part of the experience that recieved the most attention of development.

Unfortunately, as we evolved from these early games to graphical, a couple things happened.

 First, just having graphics in your MMO meant an entire new culture of players, players who were never at the 'console' or familiar with older internet protocols & services.

Secondly,  going graphical gave the players eyecandy, sure, but it immediately also decoupled the direct social interaction to a degree.  In early MMO's, people would augment thier social interactions with emotes to more completely express the visual of what was happening.  This mimicing of the games presentation via social context interactions was core to the MMO experience, and created a level of personal realism that we've not seen since.

 So between these two things, a growing audience with no previous experience and a decoupling of the social focus within most MMO's and here we are today really not that many years later.

 You should not have to force people into social situations in an MMO, and please, Raid groups and 'Guilds' are not social situations in the MMO's today.  There is no difference, typically, in these social interactions and those you would find in your typical IM conversation or Facebook thread.

The conversation, and the interaction, relates to the immersive experience only inasmuch as it portrays to the players game context e.g. 'this lewt' or 'that pvp'r'.

I'm certainly not saying that if the talk isn't full of 'thee's and thou's' that it somehow betrays the very nature of the medium.   

 But I am saying the decoupling and audience explosion have created a pathway away from social interaction, social reward  if you will, in modern MMO's.

 Ok, so theres the problem.  How do you fix it?  It's actually kind of easy and frankly the approach can sometimes be the byproduct of minor design flaws such as missing backstory elements or underdocumented features.

But mostly it relates to creating drivers for player social interactions that seem natural to the games context.

Creating a tavern you go to because 'thats where the x vendor is' or, because a quest starts there basically accomplishes one thing.  A room where social interaction doesnt' ever occur because its really just a traffic flow point.  Goal?  Go in, do something, get something, go.

 In real life, this would kill all hope of genuine 'conversation' or interaction between groups.

Don't make areas you'd like to see players congregate in major traffic hubs.

 Passive skills are a great way to encourage social interaction.  Recalling EQ's language learning and Dragonrealms 'Teaching', these systems  drew players together to use passive skills, but during this time they would also interact.  Because the reason for this interaction was fully contained within the games context, players were more likely to approach it as a avatar character, rather than the avatar's player.

 Reward systems are another great way to gently nudge players towards social interaction that is improved in quality and quantity.  Players able to reward themselves and each other for social actions within the game will do the trick and the idea is extensible enough to apply to many game mechanics. 

It could be that the leader of hunting groups that uses battlecalls, assists and encourages other players recieves bonuses to leading groups that only actually leading the group can earn.   You end up with 'leaders' roleplaying the 'leader' in a game relevant and social way.

You'll notice that most of the ladder and reward trinkets in massively social games have not to do with number of kills (though this is certainly a factor in some), but rather number of 'minions' recruited, size of group sort of thing.  In MMO's this work's well too, but it must be compartmentalized in order avoid simply generating massive  blobs of people who group up  just to have the largest 'group'.

Size of groups should also not be the main focus of fame or reward, for one, because they no longer have to be.  Easily in todays MMO you could reward groups & guilds and rank them based on how cooperative or collaborative they are, how often x % of them or more congregate in certain areas, etc.

Get more serious about encouraging role play.  This might seem like a unrealistic concept because who wants to do that right?

 Don't forget that the  original driver for the MMO was role play and that arguably the only reason MMO's truly exist is to foster that suspension of disbelief that people love; the one that makes then 'be' the orc or the detective, or the space ship captain.

People no longer need MMO's for a 'game where people are', social networks and games within that context are serving those need now in a non RP, very close to real life conversation kind of way. 

 I say, it's time someone return MMO's to the root of it all, the immersive role play experience.  I'll know its here when I'm in a game where the character simply means too much to me personally to ever get rid of.  Of course, it's anyone's guess if that is even possible anymore.

 Sound like a challenge?  It is.

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