One of the more controversial aspects of the modern day MMORPG is group finders. On the one hand, they are one of the most convenient mechanics that have been added to make games more accessible to the masses. On the other hand, they have completely stripped the social component from gaming, to the point where you never even have to talk to another player as you grind your way from zero to hero.
One of the saddest moments in my gaming career happened over this past weekend. I was playing Final Fantasy XIV and someone in my group, put together by the convenient automatic group finder that brings people together across servers from around the world, typed into group chat, “If I don’t see you again, Merry Christmas.”
That hit me at the core of my being. MMORPGs are supposed to be social games where it’s all about the community, or at least that’s what they were supposed to be when they were originally designed. But convenience and instant gratification have evolved these games to the point where they have completely eliminated community from the equation in favor of whatever can get players from point A to point B in the most expedient fashion.
If I don’t see you again. What the hell?
Back when I was playing on Morrel Thule in EverQuest, we knew almost everyone on the server. We knew who all the guild leaders were, we knew who all of the officers of those guilds were, we congregated on the forums, we chatted in OOC while we were looking for group, we helped each other on quests, we leveled up together in various dungeons, and we came together as a community.
There’s no denying the fact that group finders are convenient and that they have done some good things for the genre in terms of making these games more accessible to the average person who doesn’t have a lot of time to play.
The flip side is that they have completely eliminated community-based gaming, and ensured that you never have to talk to or get to know another person in any of of the games you play.
Nobody has a problem setting up tabletop sessions with their friends weeks in advance, even though these very same sessions are the exact opposite of instant gratification because you will be sitting down for several hours with these people, over a series of sessions that will span weeks and months as you continue the adventures of your heroes in whatever world you’ve chosen to populate.
But why doesn’t anyone have an issue setting up tabletop sessions, even though they are the exact opposite of instant, and chew into our busy schedules? Because it’s fun to hang out with friends and share a social activity, and we’re more than happy to make time for our friends.
So why do people have an issue setting up adventuring sessions within the MMORPGs that they play? After all, they are the exact same thing as a tabletop session.
If your answer is “I don’t have time to look for group in an MMORPG”, I don’t believe you. You have time to play tabletop games. You have time to play board games. You have time to play <insert other game that requires social interaction here>.
Just because it’s an online game doesn’t change the fact that it is an environment originally designed around group-based gameplay in a social atmosphere.
“For us, community trumps convenience every day of the week.”
One of the core elements of our game is that we are building a social, community-based MMORPG. This is not a single player game with a cosmetic store that you can spend money on to make your character look pretty while you sit on the toilet and push a few buttons on your smart phone or tablet.
This is a living, breathing world populated with living, breathing human beings, every single one of whom is worthy of your time and friendship. But you, the individual, have to be willing to break out of that shell to find these friendships, to kickstart these relationships, and go from Internet stranger to conquering hero alongside other adventurers.
But despite the fact that group finders are the antithesis of social gaming, we can’t get away from the fact that they do add a certain level of convenience that is important in our busy schedules and lives. Just as much as we use smart phones and Google calendars and reminders to set up a tabletop session, we have to have some level of modernity in our game.
When we started looking at where do the vast majority of adventures start, whether it’s in a tabletop session or a novel or a television show, we kept coming back to the tavern. The tavern is a place where people go to hang out, to be social, to show off their gear, and in a fantasy setting, it’s also a place where players go to find local rumors and quests.
So for us, it made perfect sense to set the tavern as our group finding hub. Rather than have an instant group finder (which we are completely against in our game because of the social elements), we’re looking towards a bulletin board system. Players and the guilds will be able to post on the boards, and just like with our banks, everything is local, so players who want to find groups in their local environment will need to head to the tavern to check the boards and post.
While they are there, they’ll be able to mingle with their fellow adventurers. Share stories of their recent escapades. Show off the latest piece of gear they earned in the depths of a dungeon or by completing an epic quest. Roleplay. Meet new people. See old friends. Congregate. Communicate. Be social.
Or not. If you want to be the fly on the wall who hangs out in the corner in a dark colored cloak, that’s absolutely acceptable. But at some point or the other if you want to explore the world that we’ve built, you’ll have to meet other people. You’ll have to get out of your shell and take a risk on an Internet stranger. And then go out and have the adventure of a lifetime alongside people that become long-term friends and turn into the adventuring party or guild you group with on a regular basis starting the following day/week/session.
For us, community trumps convenience every day of the week. There’s a lot to be said for modernity, but we like to know the people across the table from us, to know their first names, to look them in the eye when we raise our mugs and toast to the mighty feats we just achieved as a team, and then meet up and do it all again tomorrow…and then the day after…and then the day after that.
It’s not a matter of “if” we’ll see you again. It’s a question of “when is the next time we’re setting up a session to continue the adventures?!”