If we’re going to lean in the direction of players being content in MMOs, and if we’re going to try to incentivize that with kickbacks, discounts or perks, we should probably get rid of levels and other barriers to playing together… and actually let the players generate content in a dynamic world, in addition to facilitating their ability to play together.
Incidentally, Whirled does this pretty well, though under a *gasp* free-to-play system that lets players generate their own content that can then generate revenue. Weird, I know… but another illustration of how the fantasy-steeped level-then-raid two-game paradigm isn’t the One True Path to MMO design.
Of course, since people can also sometimes be the worst part of MMOs, and many aren’t all that interested in good game design, there are dark sides to opening the floodgates. Still, if the goal is to encourage player interaction, even going so far as to bribe them, that would probably work best if the moment to moment play of the game supported such a goal.
Oh, and this is a good excuse to bring out one of my favorite MMO developer quotes again.
Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates being their incredible flagship) as quoted by the Penny Arcade guys:
Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.
Edited to add:
Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion raging over on the Escapist forums about Valve’s theorizing that kicked this discussion off.
This comment stuck out to me:
I kinda like the idea, maybe I’m a little impartial because I have a really magnetic personality and general can get a dead silent server to chatting like best friends in 10 minutes. But I would definitely love to get benefits for just being myself in games.
What about the intangibles of being social and liking what you’re doing? As in so many other things, if you try to engineer good behavior with extrinsic rewards, you might get it, but the rewards have to keep coming and even get better. The gravy train can’t stop or you get withdrawal and bad behavior. People aren’t doing the right thing because it’s right, they are doing it because it benefits them. Once again, it’s a selfish motivation, not a selfless one, a completely mercenary approach to socializing. That’s one of the big problems with forced grouping in MMOs, by the way.
Syp wrote nicely about this over thisaway: