27 December 2011

Alone in a Crowded Room

And we're back!  I hope that everyone is enjoying their holiday season and shunning family obligations to indulge in vast amounts of gaming. ;)  Ok, well maybe not the last part, depending on how obnoxious your family can be.  There are a couple of topics I'd like to discuss today, and as promised they are somewhat less focused simply on Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Although ironically, the reason I have time to write this post is that they are in extended maintenance this afternoon and I have nothing better to do at the moment.  But at least I can claim that I am being efficient, right?  Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The first thing on my mind is actually a bit of giving credit where credit is due.  This occurred to me while I was playing SW:TOR yesterday.  My last major MMO was RIFT.  Now this game was the ultimate definition of the "WoW clone."  It really brought nothing new to the table in terms of gameplay, mechanics, etc.  It was a nice game, but very dry, and very small.  The lack of content really hurt that game despite the frenzied patching schedule that Trion maintained for its first six months of existence.  But there was something that RIFT did that I really enjoyed.  I wouldn't exactly call it an "innovation" in the strict sense of the word, but it was the thing I liked most about the game and actually miss as I play SW:TOR.

RIFT employed chat channels for the various level "bands" as well as for the level cap (level 50.)  As you progressed through the game, you were part of a common chat channel relative to your level.  There was one for each ten levels and for level 50 characters.  This channel was universal in the sense that you were a part of it no matter where you were in the game... any zone, any city, or any instance.  This had practical uses in that it helped you find other people of similar level for group content.  But it also had social and community functions as well, especially for people at the level cap.  It allowed you to be a part of a common "conversation" without being tied to a single location in the game.

This was one of my biggest complaints with World of Warcraft was that people would just sit around in the "common" areas like Stormwind or Orgrimmar and not spend any time out in the world.  Part of the reason for this was the prevalence of the dungeon finder (a topic for another day) but another part of it was that these were the only locations with a common chat channel that people could access.  In WoW this was typically "Trade chat."  RIFT solved this with the level chat channels.  "50 chat" in RIFT created a sense of community.  Not only could you find groups for the daily raid rifts or other things, but you could participate in a broader conversation with people on your server.  Yes some people abused this, but that's what the /ignore command is for.  Overall I think this was one of RIFT's greatest features and I find myself really missing it in SW:TOR.  It would be great to be able to advertise for instance groups without having to always fly back to the fleet hub.  And it would be great to converse with people on my server without being fixed to a single location.

Which brings me to the other topic on my mind this week, and this is something I've touched on in other posts, but I am finding it to be true as I spend more time in SW:TOR.  I find the people playing MMO's today has simply changed.  People are less... I'm not quite sure what the right word for it is.  Friendly?  I don't know.  When I first started playing WoW, conversations in zone chat channels were common.  Guilds were generally welcoming.  People were interested in what other players were doing and would help if it were convenient for them to do so.  Perhaps this is my "rose colored glasses," but I find things far different today.

Even being in the first "wave" of players in SW:TOR, I find the planet chat channels mostly silent.  Random conversation is minimal.  Assistance for quests is hard to come by.  Guild recruitment and advertisements are almost non-existent.  I've given up on doing heroic (group) quests on the various planets as interest in them is so low.  But you look at the social window and you can see all the people on the various planets with you, but they may as well be NPC's for as much as they interact with you.

What is the point of an MMO if you just want to play by yourself?  I can very easily play Dragon Age or Skyrim by myself if I want to do that.  I don't need to pay a $15 sub fee for that.  So why are so many people determined to be "alone in a crowded room?"  Does having an audience simply make them feel better?  Is Skyrim not as much fun because no one else can "see" your accomplishments?  Speaking just for me, I play these games because I want to interact with others.  I want to talk with them, accomplish things with them, and share my experiences with them.  I don't just see other players as my audience.  I see them as my teammates.  But maybe I'm the one that's "weird."

It will probably be after New Year's before I get back to a regular posting schedule, but I will pop on when I can.


  1. Hello Xintia!
    I’ve recently discovered your blog and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. What better post to comment on than one about being alone!

    So, I’m not actually playing SW:TOR but I’ve played WoW and RIFT and I know a few friends that play MMOs solo and...I don’t really get it either so maybe we’re both weird! Although I prefer to journey through the early game solo, I like to join a ‘guild’ asap and instance with friends. I recall when RIFT came out I was struck by how friendly most people were. It reminded me of early WoW and I put it down to the fact that we were all new together and those dreaded ‘elitest’ attitudes hadn’t had time to ferment. So it is strange to me why you aren’t experiencing the friendly banter in SW:TOR. Have the devs been TOO successful in creating an individuated experience, perhaps? Is there simply no real advantage to group and too many other things to do? Does the Star Wars genre appeal to a predominantly solo (ahem) bunch? So in fact, I’ve no answers at all...not much help.

    But have a good New Years anyway. =)

  2. @Play:

    Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you are enjoying the blog. I think you may be right in that Bioware did TOO good of a job of incorporating story and creating a meaningful individual experience. Several times I have found myself pushing through quests because I was so engaged in my personal story. It's odd because in the beta testing weekends, general banter was much easier to come by and assistance with heroic quests was easy to get. Eh, maybe I just picked a "bad" server. Wouldn't be the first time. :P


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