Thursday, August 9, 2018

What Makes an MMO Community?

When it comes to gaming communities, few are quite as interesting or unique as those belonging to the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) genre. While the details of human interactions alter depending upon which game you are playing, the fundamental feelings remain. Although difficult to describe, we’ve always found this to be a mixture of cautious altruism, sociable anonymity and kind wariness, all within the bubble of an invested and yet care-free air. Here, we’ll be taking a look at why this is and what makes the MMO community so unique.

Online: Learned Behaviour from the Internet 

The unique qualities found within the MMO community are probably partially due to the fact MMOs exist online, and therefore inherit behaviours that are usually specifically saved for the internet. 
This remains even now, when MMOs are finally coming to Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox consoles in the form of games such as GTA Online, Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny and many others. Still, the difference between console communities and the OG PC players is very much apparent. For instance, console MMO gamers communicate very differently to their PC counterparts as text chat is borderline impossible, if not exceedingly difficult and time-consuming (we’re looking at you, Elder Scrolls Online). 

So, if someone without a microphone wanted to lash out at their fellow community members, they would have to stop playing, open up the text box and fill it all in – something that very few players can actually be bothered to do. Instead, console communities make use of in-game emotes such as applauding, waving and so on to communicate, or simply bash the opponents head in if it’s possible. On PC, there’s very little stopping you from communicating exactly how you feel through text – something that anyone who has ever been on the internet is sure to know.
This isn’t the only thing that PC MMO communities are adopting from fundamentally internet-based behaviour, especially since there are now quite a few online gaming genres that sit alongside MMOs on the online gaming bench. In fact, we would go as far as to say that MMOs and their communities have been heavily influenced by one of their benchmates – specifically iGaming. You see, iGamers also play online but instead of visiting medieval fairy tale lands or war-torn provinces, they visit online casinos such as those found on Oddschecker to play slots, table games, bingo and a variety of other, what we would consider, mini-games. That isn’t the only similarity, though, as it seems either iGaming or MMO developers are certainly taking notes from the successes of their competition.

For one, anyone who has ever played online slots or visited Las Vegas will know that there’s no such thing as a discreet casino win. No, when you win the noise levels rise; there are alarms and music, sometimes there’s even confetti (either virtually or in the real world). This isn’t just to celebrate your victory, but also to alert others that they could also win and we definitely think new MMO releases are adopting this method in an attempt to further bring the community together for a common cause.
Take Star Trek Online as an example, where opening a lockbox to reveal the top prize is a community-wide celebration. This is because everyone is notified via email and there is absolutely no option to our knowledge that lets you turn this off. The motivation behind this is, of course, that the developers know that everyone else will want to get that lockbox prize now, too. Just like at a casino, the community sees one person win and is then encouraged to spend more time, money and effort achieving the same goal. Sure, some community members may feel jealousy but at the end of the day, everyone is working towards the same aim.

Similarly, while iGamers have been swapping real money for virtual cash or tokens, MMO players are now trading real-world coins for store points and in-game cash, such as in Perfect World and Neverwinter. Needless to say, this definitely makes the community even more invested than ever before, as real money is being used in-game. 
The fact that MMOs exist primarily online then seems to have a huge impact on how the community behaves, creating investment and strong social bonds.

Massive Multiplayer: Group Play

Of course, the online segment of MMOs isn’t the only crucial part of the equation; there’s also the massively multiplayer aspect. It’s impossible to count the different ways in which members of the MMO community like to play, so any good game offers an equally incalculable number of gameplay styles, all of which should allow the player to progress and receive rewards.

Still, there’s that multiplayer aspect. Yes, to many this may just mean there are hundreds of other people playing at the same time, but within the game, it can also mean co-operative. That is, players must play together in order to progress, even those individuals who much prefer to play alone. That said, considering this a fundamental element of any MMO though, chances are there aren’t that many players who absolutely refuse to play as part of a team.

Besides, teamwork within an MMO can often be the most fun part – as individuals come together with a common goal to beat the impossible odds. The popularity of these co-operative missions (usually raids, waves or dungeons) is probably what led developers to introduce public events – where anyone can join a fight to beat a boss (or maybe a bunch of mini-bosses). These events either appear at landmarked places throughout the in-game world map or can spawn randomly, and if you manage to be part of a victorious team than you and your cohorts will be richly rewarded.

The fact that there are so many opportunities to co-operate with other players means that the community must be made up of players who work well with others. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to sociable, it means that they must be helpful, altruistic or, at the very least, willing to aid others to reach a goal. You must really be part of a community in the truest sense of the word.

Games: Friends and Frustration

So far, the MMO community sounds pretty good, right? We’re invested, sociable without crossing personable boundaries and altruistic (though occasionally out of necessity). However, everything isn’t always roses, as there are a few characteristics that can often make any MMO community seem undesirable. Most of these bad habits come from one single feeling that every gamer will know well: frustration.

While solo players may get frustrated with themselves or the game, for MMO players frustration goes much deeper. For instance, when you join a team, you are often expected to fill a certain role such as head-on fighter, a healer, a spellcaster or a ranged attack. Now, those who have invested a lot of time into an MMO will know exactly what they’re doing, but say someone enters who isn’t quite as experienced. Let’s say that this one individual costs the entire team their prize; well, chances are the other players aren’t going to be very friendly. 

This probably isn’t that big of a deal in a public event, but if you’re the broken link in a five-man raid and you’ve caused the experienced members of your team to fail for the first time in a while, you’re probably in for some abuse. This is especially true if the team trial was difficult to reach or required a significant amount of time.

Usually, these small instances will be forgiven in a short while, but there are always a few bad apples in the bunch. These take the form of players who have become obnoxious due to how much time and effort they’ve put into crafting their MMO character(s). They will often forget that they were once a noob and can create toxic situations and dynamics within the MMO community. Fortunately, most MMO players are not like this and so the few bad apples can be ignored or blocked. Still, it may be this that has led some members of the MMO community to be hostile towards others.
This is our take on what makes up an MMO community, at least for now, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. What else goes into creating an MMO community, do you recognise any of the traits we’ve discussed? Let us know in the comments below. 

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