Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Random Shots: Heroes Killed Guild Wars, Long Live Guild Wars

  • A great post over at Massively muses on how the introduction of heroes changed how Guild Wars is played. Many people decried how heroes destroyed grouping and turned it into a single player game. The reason I bring it up is because the lessons we learned from Guild Wars highlight a problem in MMOs at large.

  • While the argument is that heroes destroyed the community, I believe that heroes just highlighted that the community had already failed. At least, the community that people want to imagine had failed and ArenaNet took steps to fill in the gaps. And they are not the only ones looking to correct the social problems posed by MMOs.

  • One of the early aberrations in the MMO field was the notion that people had to play in groups to accomplish anything in the game. The most iconic was EverQuest. People learned how to solo in very specific instances, but that style of play was entirely counter to the design of the game. Nowadays, the most notorious example is Final Fantasy XI that has no solo options, while at the same time actively discouraging informal groups from forming any cohesion.

  • The accepted wisdom among developers and players is that people have more fun when they play in groups. So to get people to play together, they designed games that required people to play together, assuming that forced grouping would somehow force them to have fun. Players reacted by forming static groups among real life friends so that they could all play together. And they banded together into guilds so that they would have a social structure that would make it easier to find groups. This obviously worked well for some people. It is these people who you see asking for greater amounts of group content to shore up the social structures that they've built.

  • But if these options worked so well, no one would have created the term "pick up group". For many people (people like myself), these games are amazing experience that they want to participate in. They just do not have the ability to easily form or integrate into these social structures. Ad-hoc groups are formed to tackle group content and then broken up when the task is accomplished because otherwise they do not get to experience the game. And everyone hates pick-up groups, so some people would rather not group at all than deal with other random players.

  • Forced grouping is a failed concept and developers have been moving away from that paradigm for years now. World of Warcraft was famous for letting anyone reach the level cap whether they group or not. But they also added the Random Dungeon tool to take the friction out of finding a group. Guild Wars launched with henchmen and heroes were just a refinement on the concept. And now Guild Wars 2 will have dynamically scaling events that allow any number of people to participate. Even Champions Online's adventure packs have embraced scaling content.

  • I can understand why people who went to all the trouble of forming guilds so that they could play games might be upset as solo options become more prevalent. But that's what it is to most people: trouble. Players just want to play their games. They don't want to spend hours getting ready to have fun. Content scaling promises to let players of all social strata partake. But if MMOs want to get out of the niche they are in, they have to embrace all kinds of players. Forced grouping is an exclusionary practice that will prevent people from playing and enjoying the games that we love.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. i played gw before heroes and i played it after. There really wasn't much difference. GW's problem was more that it was difficult to meet people since everyone, absolutely everyone, was essentially on the same server, meaning you never ran into the same person twice.

  2. I found that article pretty interesting as well. Having only briefly played the game at launch and then not paying much attention again until recently, it's interesting to see some of the design/community changes that happened.

    I'm in the same boat as you, Anjin, where forced grouping is an excellent way to get me to stop playing a game. Not just because my offline social circle doesn't include many gamers, but because having forced groups also makes it harder to accomplish anything quickly and some of my gaming sessions are of the 30 minutes or less variety.

  3. @ Hunter - That is true. That's why I did all my guild recruiting during missions. That way we already knew if they fit in with the rest of us. And if they didn't fit, I probably wouldn't see them again.

    @ Blue Kae - I agree! The rise of the solo gamer was not about people being antisocial. It was about wanting to actually play these games! When I read people pining for the old school MMOs, it makes me wonder what the heck they are thinking.

  4. That was a great post, I agree 100%. Like you an Blue, my gaming sessions can be less than an hour a night. Having to spend half or all of that time spamming zone chat for a group is not remotely fun. Developers seem to have finally realized that you screw over solo players at the peril of your bottom line. Even EQ offers NPC henchmen now. I believe FFXI is the last high visibility standout.

    Like FFA full loot PvP games, I doubt we will ever see another big budget MMO focused on forced grouping (though Square/Enix may be about to prove me wrong in the fall).

  5. @ Yeebo - I tend to agree. Between the WoW dungeon finder and GW2's dynamic events, I'm glad to see that developers are acknowledging the problem.

  6. Only the subscription model kills my interest in a game faster than forced grouping. If I want to socialize, I will. Twisting my arm just makes me walk away, not conform.

  7. Some really good comments already, and I agree with everything that's been said. Today's gamers aren't the same as the ones playing the old school games from back in the day. For the most part, they all grew up, got jobs, had families and started having responsibilities that prevented them from playing games for more than 1-2 hours a night. It's infuriating when you hit a road block in the form of forced groups. It simply takes too long to find other players or the right set-up. The average gamer today doesn't have that time to spare.