Very interesting article from ICO Partners that follows up on (and links to, so I don’t have to) some of the other community-related discussions that have been going on in the blognet lately. Here’s the start — you’ll have to clicky the linky and visit them directly for the rest. (This is also by way of bookmarking it for myself, for further reflection.)
There have been a few very interesting blog postsin the last weeks after a IGN Vault post by our estimated former colleague Richard Weil (now Community Director for Cartoon Network’s Fusion Fall) discussing the future of the community management profession.
The debate is extremely interesting, so we just wanted to reflect on it and think out loud on where we think OCR is going in the online games industry.
Just because something is “soft” and may be difficult to define doesn’t mean it’s not important! The articles above say it much better in terms of the professional requirements than I could, so I’m going to tangent off into the player-based perception and definition of “community.”
Spinks recently asked her readers how they get their server news, which ties in to the community debate and — for me — raised the question of whether server-based communities are as vibrant as they used to be.
In the last few years I’ve found it increasingly difficult to identify with server communities and in some cases even with game communities — not that they don’t exist, but that they’re either too closed (cliqueish) or, conversely, so diffuse that it seems more like 27 mini-communities than one meta-community.
Yes, game communities tend to be made up of many smaller ones that gradually build into bigger ones — friends/guild/guild group/server/game — but it’s been my experience lately that beyond the friend/guild level it tends to devolve. Name-calling and trash-talking on forums do not a server community make; nor do popularity contests and “who’s the best killa?”-type threads. Well, they might for 17 year olds, but it’s been a long time since I passed THAT particular milestone and I really don’t give a shit who’s the best trash-talker among us. Or indeed, who’s the best anything. See, to me, community is NOT a set of leaderboards, which is what WAR started to devolve into at the time I was playing, with everyone feverishly scanning those various ranking sites to see how their guild was positionned. (Though to WAR’s credit there seems to be at least a bit of community spirit there, even if most of it lies in the “Order sucks!” — “Well, Chaos sucks more!” type of discourse.)
Is that something else we can lay at WOW’s feet? The need to be one of the top guilds because players only consider top guilds because top guilds are what do the top raids that get you the top goods so you can then move on to an even MORE top guild that will get you even better stuff?
If I sound snarky, it’s because I am. Using guilds as stepping-stones to access ever “better” (*cough* bullshit *cough*) content is community-breaking, not -building. Using guilds as nothing more than an organisational tool to access content (which is basically what guilds are purposed for by WoW’s basic design) is, at best, neutral in terms of community. I’d argue it’s a lot worse than that, but I’m trying not to rant.
Moving on — Roleplaying servers often seem to have much, much better communities than other servers. At the very least, they tend to see themselves as a distinct community, united by the “RP” flag. Which begs the rather obvious question: maybe RP (and PvP?) servers have better communities (and more solid, visible, definable communities) because the people on them actually try to interact with each other. I’m as guilty of that as most other people — in games, being talked to by a stranger is often like being talked to by the weird person on the subway: you avert your eyes, hope they don’t decide to latch on to you, and move on.
That’s a real shame. A few short years ago (and an aeon in MMO terms), when I started playing AC in 2000, I would talk to anyone and everyone, and everyone and anyone would talk to me. Sure, some of them were a little strange, and some of them were a little clingy, but most of them were great people and those pass-you-at-the-merchant interactions occasionally led to friendships. What they almost always led to was getting to know the faces (well, names) of the people who played around you, not just the people you played directly with; and that, really, is the basis of a server community. I may not know “Joe The Mighty Plumber” (yes, in AC you could have names that were more than one word /scowl) personally, but I’ve seen him around, I’ve said hi a few times, he dropped some gear on me (or vice-versa)… basically, he’s part of my server crowd.
Now, while there are a lot more people playing MMOs now, the proportion of wierdos is probably no higher than it used to be. If MMOs attract weirdos, then they were attracted in 2000 as well, so statistically… same ratio now as then. On the other hand, because there are so many more people playing, it feels like some days all I get are strange or irritating interactions, so I have become more and more protective of my personal space (speaking of which, I have such a huge pet peeve about people invading said space in games — don’t stand on me!! argh!!!).
Actually, I’m being unfair to weirdos, who really are rather few and far between still. What I do see a lot more of these days is the rude, the pushy, and the generally ignore-worthy. I detest being talked to by a complete stranger without so much as a hello, but that’s the nature of MMOs these days. “Where’d you get XYZ” is, apparently, accepted shorthand for “Hello, you don’t know me from Adam but I’m admiring your XYZ, mind telling me where you got it?”
Which leads me directly to two things we didn’t have when we were “forced” to interact in the stone-age days of MMOs: (1) examine-their-undies: though I think EQ had it, AC didn’t and if you liked something someone was wearing, you had to *gasp* ASK them what it was, and (2) global, server-wide channels. Sure, it’s good to have more chat channels than we used to… but I’m not entirely certain global channels didn’t help kill face-to-face interactions. Global channels and the … devolution, for want of a better word, of “places” in games. In Asheron’s Call, Eastham was a real place where you’d regularly see the same faces; in WoW, Stormwind seems to be nothing more than a place I go to because the bank and the auction house are conveniently close to each other (unlike stupid Darnassus); sure, it’s always crowded, but not by anyone I have any interest in getting to know. (Dancing on the fountain? Guaranteed to make me never “see” you again.)
Now, when someone collars me on an MMO street, it feels like more of an intrusion than if they simply asked in global chat. That’s just … wrong. It makes me more comfortable, but it’s still wrong as far as community creation goes. Global channels are a community building tool, or can be — but being the apes we still are, nothing beats face-time, even in MMOs. And face-time is exactly what I don’t want to give people these days, because odds are (based on past interactions) that they’re an asshat.
So if I feel a lack of community these days, maybe I have mostly myself to blame.