Series: choosing MMOs – group play

This is the latest in a series of posts where I build up an updated scorecard for MMOs to rate them against five core elements. The original post explaining the inspiration for this series is here. I nickname this element the “Friends & Family” factor, it’s certainly an important aspect of playing a game longer-term. This blog is focused almost exclusively on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs or MMOs for short). I personally am most interested in this genre of PC gaming because of the Massively Multiplayer aspect – the chance to play with so many other players, especially friends or relations, in a shared environment.

Group play can mean a lot of different things if you look at the games out there. Instanced dungeons are the most common modern group activity.  But there are also other kinds such as open world boss fights, guild quests or missions, the rifts from Rifts, public quests such as those in Warhammer Online or Guild Wars 2. Such group activities might be for a single group of 4-6 players, or it might be for multiple groups – usually referred to as a ‘raid’.

This topic as the last of the five is dealing with very nebulous elements, areas of MMOs which are very subjective. As always rather than just think which game does X best, I’m trying to backtrack from such bias and think what general approach to these features is worst or best.

Grouping tools

Grouping tools is more than just whether a game has an automated dungeon finder. To cater for different playstyles and different content a game should have a number of tools for encouraging grouping (encouraging but not requiring!). So the dungeon finder is one tool worth having *if* the game has instanced group content and fractured populations. There are other ways of doing this, DDOs group panel offers an interesting alternative.  In any case all games need a system to in addition to an ‘official Looking For Group’ chat channel. Beyond grouping tools there are also the basic tools of friends list and ignore list. The game should support right-click menu access to adding players to both lists from the chat window, from the highlighted character portrait etc -i.e. make it as easy as possible to manage these lists without having to type in names anywhere!

Group friendly content

I have often been disappointed by how group unfriendly PVE content is becoming in well established MMOs. It’s as though the developers only ever have new content tested by solo testers or something? The more complex and varied questing becomes with ‘vehicle quests’ or puzzles or phasing, the less likely you can actually roam around with a friend or two to do that content *together*.  This isn’t a comment against solo-content, but I do think content should be possible in small groups even if that makes it very easy.

Guild support

Guilds are important to the social makeup of most MMOs. Having activities for guilds to do together is a current topic, I do think it’s a good idea to encourage guilds to play together. Too many of them end up being collections of solo players, not necessarily because they just have that culture, often the game doesn’t offer anything that smaller guilds can actually do together! Beyond actual content guilds need to have some basic facilities; shared storage, tiered-ranks and permissions. If a game appears biased towards large guilds or progression guilds then there is something wrong with that game. Any MMO should be able to support guilds of all sizes and types to have a healthy and inclusive  community. Guilds ideally should have social tools supported by the game, whether it’s housing, competitions between guilds (not necessarily PVP combat, could be races for instance) or other non-combat activities.

As usual here’s the scorecard for these elements of group play:

Score
(1 low; 5 high)
1 2 3 4 5
Group tools Official looking for group channel. Automated group system and looking for group channel Multiple grouping tools available Multiple grouping tools; content encourages grouping Multiple grouping tools; content encourages grouping and clear communication about group playstyles
Group content Solo or fixed-size group content only Some  content works in groups Most  content works in groups Content  designed to work for groups Content scales in difficulty for group size
Guild support Basic guild concept (glorified chat channel) Guilds have chat and hierarchy Guilds have shared storage Guilds have storage, guild  actvities Guilds have storage, activities and social tools (e.g. housing)

Now that the whole series of scorecards has been built-up, the next and final post will be a test of the scoring system by considering the MMOs I’m currently playing against these criteria.

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