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New Experiences Reveal Social Gameplay

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This is a "sort-of" continuation of my Conflicted Kinsman post. I've realized that I'm currently having considerably more fun with Massive Hobbits than on my main. I decided to stop and consider why that might be and I've come up with a couple reasons.

First, Jaxom is at the end-game and yet is not participating in much of the end-game content. For example, he's currently off deed grinding out Trolls, Giants, and Bears in the Misty Mountains. That's pretty much a solo affair for a level 60, but not a very fast activity either. In other words, somewhat boring. Now, you may argue here that I could indeed participate in the Moria content if I wanted. And you'd be right, to an extent. But more on that in a bit.

Second, my play with Massive Hobbits is structured differently than my play with Jaxom. In fact, I'd consider it an opposite style of play. With Massive Hobbits, the premiere front running activity are the group nights. The activity in the mean time is to prepare for those (or crafting, as Kabbage has been preoccupied). With Jaxom, there is no set schedule of activity, and he mostly solos and will group when the opportunity arises. It's all spur of the moment.

Back to the argument that Jaxom could be having more fun. I think the overarching theme with that is missed opportunities. When I was leveling Jaxom, I was also going to school and was mostly lagging behind my kinship. Real Life (TM) got in the way. Oddly enough, it was the same case with going from 50 to 60 - except there was no excuse, per se, for me to not play as much or level as fast. I just didn't. Essentially, I missed the opportunity, largely, for playing in a more structured environment with Jaxom. Kabbage, on the other hand, got lucky and found structure that fits my play style.

None of this is to say that I cannot change my behavior with Jaxom. I could very well insert some structure into my play, and even a bit into the kinship. Perhaps I've never felt the need, or maybe the freedom to do so. Now, getting a second wind in LOTRO, and with a slightly different style, I do.

The point of all this is to do more that exhort my experiences, but also address the intangible, yet all-too-real social aspects of MMOs. The biggest difference, beyond the superficial play-style, between Kabbage and Jaxom is the social experience. This is not to say I'm more or less social with one or the other, but by the unique nature of individuals, the group is different. There's different personalities, there's different dynamics, and this leads to a new experience. It's purely a result of the people involved. Add a different dozen plus people and you will get a different experience.

Deeper than the alternate structure and play style is the social fabric of the group. It's ultimately this that will decide if a person will stay with an MMO or not. Sure we will use legitimate excuses like "combat is repetitive", "quests are poorly written", etc, but these only get in the way of the social game. MMOs have a greater challenge to not only get the game mechanics right for their own sake, but also for keeping their players within their created social circles.

It's perhaps easier to see this by looking at the opposite of an MMO - a single-player game. Let's take Oblivion, a fantasy RPG - something that can be argued as a good comparison to LOTRO. Both are strong on story, with the edge going to Oblivion because of it's single-player nature (a statement I ask you to take as granted because arguing it here would be tangential and make this post overlong), both are fantasy RPGs, etc, etc. There is no social gameplay in Oblivion. Replayability is in exploring different classes, perhaps different content. On the whole, not bad for a story-driven game. LOTRO does have social gameplay which essentially adds another dimension to the game.

Think of the potential to stick with a game as one would consider three-dimensional space. A point would give you one "unit of gameplay". You play it, you're done. Absolutely nothing new a second time. A line would give you, for the sake of argument and easy math, 10 units of gameplay. You can replay it ten times with there being a bit of new content, but you're still experiencing a lot of the same thing. A coordinate illustrates this well with one number always being the same on the line (0,0); (0,1); (0,2); ...

Let's move into two dimensions with an x and a y axis. Now your coordinates change in both numbers, but many times you see the same numbers for either coordinate. This is like adding more replayablity, more options. Instead of 10 units of gameplay, we now have 100. How about three dimensional space with an x, y, and z? We're looking at 10,000 units of gameplay - exponential growth. That's like adding the social game into the mix of other game mechanics. What's the difference between 10,000 and 100? It's gives us so much more gameplay that the only way the other game mechanics can factor is if they destroy the social experience.

Alright, let's take a step back from the esoteric. Simply put, the social experience rules an MMO. Where I once was experiencing burn-out, I'm now very much into the game. I'm doing all the same content and yet I'm finding new adventure. Why? Because it's a new group of people. Plain and simple.

3 Responses to "New Experiences Reveal Social Gameplay"

Victor Stillwater Says:

Great post.

I was going to touch on this in my third barriers to MMO entry article, but you basically summarized the points I wanted to make rather well. :)

Hope you play Jaxom every once and a while. I'd love to talk with you online sometime. :)

Jaxom92 Says:

Glad you like the post. It's good to know I'm not completely nuts and other people think at least somewhat the same thing. Hehe.

Don't let me stop you from posting about social gameplay. Anything about people means there's a never ending supply of comment worthy material. People are complicated.

Yeah, I don't plan on abandoning Jaxom. He is my namesake after all. Or rather, visa-versa. I think it'll just take a little more effort. And when the "Choose My Adventure" finishes in LOTRO, I'll switch priorities to him.

A. Says:

i have recently had a somewhat similar problem, my old kin were awesome and some of them will probably always be my best in-game friends, but the way we played wasnt fun to me. And it came down to; do i leave the game, or try to find a new challenge. I have joined a new kinship and am discovering why i liked the game again.

I think in the end it comes down to where you are enjoying spending your time. This is a game after all :P