Long time no see, here I’m again to shred some light on whatever I've had in my mind for a while. After all these years I still post things here, no idea why. But today I want to share with you a personal storyline and ways to improve your approach to playing and even making online based games.
More than 13 years ago I got into online world. The internet was way different from what it is right now and there things like local forums, hubs, IRC communities and other small sites were the main medium for communication and finding like-minded people. There was no facebook or millions of players online on a given game or smart matchmaking systems as we know today.
Most things used to be extremely local and had maybe a hundred or a few users. Going back to games I remember my WC3 experience: a chat room alone honestly used to be already mind blowing enough, but there were things like clans with all their local humor, authorities and style. Friends, enemies, practice partners - not a vast amount of players, but enough. A month in such a community made you a greeted member, a friend, an enemy and a practice partner. Sometimes I’d login just to hang out with the boys so to speak.
After my WC3 I got into one of the best gaming experiences in my life - Lineage 2. In short, this is a korean grind based MMO game that sucks you in completely and destroys your life, similar to dota, but way worse. Would absolutely not recommend.
I used to play on the best and therefore the most competitive and populated server available. Online cap is around 5000 players. The world is not that big but obviously I wasn’t interacting with each and every person. Even after a year of playing most of the players were strangers to me. However, by design, I was a part of a local 9 members group, which was a part of a bigger 4 parties raid group which was a part of a bigger ~12 parties clan, which was a part of a several clans alliance (Rise of Abyss). I’m going to leave all the specifics out, but I have to paint a picture.
Over the years we fought against a few alliances as well. Things were transforming over time like on organism: people come and go, dramas all around, reformations, local memes, friends, enemies, practice partners etc etc and every change is VERY noticeable because it’s so local and all the news spread quick. It’s like a mini-life experience.
WATCH THIS TO GET THE FEELS
So let’s think about it, how many people were involved in this? Less than a thousand. I didn’t know everybody, however I would recognize famous or unique individuals and a lot of groups. Every person, group or clan has its strengths, weaknesses and a general feel - a face. Encountering them again and again would make it a personal matter which adds this entire new layer of excitement to PvP, adds personal metagame plays you have to account for improving the whole experience overall.
Ever played with a friend where you start to expect from each other particular style/plays and playing around that? Adjusting not because of the game - it's still the same game - but because you have established a contextual metagame between each other. You can't do the same build every single game anymore like you do in your regular matchmaking games!
I’m sure every person who has experienced “personalized encounters” will support this notion. However it requires from you to be a part of a tight community in general.
The high-end community by definition is about top 0.01 - 1% and IS tight which makes these top players encounter each other all the time, be it matchmaking or scrims or inhouses or your typical mmorpg top-tier content, where this personalized layer comes into play. Not only it adds contextual metagame plays, more importantly it brings in the human factor. You are no longer in a pub with random forgettable faceless players - you are among the people you somewhat know. It’s different. It’s different in a sense there are colors to the picture: stakes are higher, ego gaming runs rampant and you can post a video of your ownage on some local forum. An extremely tight community emerges with its friends, enemies and practice partners. With its humor, authorities and style. You see?
People is the main source of fun. Game is a medium.
Personalized experience is not exclusive to top-tier players. In my L2 days there would be groups that are so far below our progress we’d just never saw them like ever. Real life works the same if you think about it. However who said you can’t compete at your level? It’s like classes, castes, levels or thresholds - name as you wish it’s all the same. Contemporary matchmaking allows you to compete at exactly your skill level, however because it pulls opponents from a huge pool of people it’s pretty much never personalized and is solely for mindless practice. Could've been bots.
Home Story Cup / The Summit tournament format is absolutely loved. The Town. EU Qualifiers Dota Hub. All these gatherings are a delight to watch because you see, you actually get to know the PEOPLE behind their nicknames. It’s no longer faceless, but personalities with their strengths, weaknesses and style. It’s human.
A few humans
PUBG pre-game madness as well the 100 players limit is beneficial to the game exactly because it somewhat adds personality to players as shotgunning the kid in a pink tshirt who shouted “TAIWAN #1” in the face now allows you to teach him a lesson - China NUMBA 1!!!!!
I’m putting random ass somewhat relevant pictures because people like pictures
Yes, the initial player base is generated via clever game design tricks by the devs (and the game being okay), but as for retention a huge factor is its communities. I’d like to see the number difference that compares player retention between solo playing newcomers and players who got sucked into a community. Sometimes I'd be running circles around a capital city in a mmo for no other reason but talking to people in chats.
Think of EVE Online. You see same traders, same scammers, same Alliance tags, same people in faction and local chats, same systems populated with expected clans and the world feels alive - it feels like a village where everybody knows everybody. Everything has this familiar feel to it and you just kind of want to come back, because we as humans are social and being connected to a community is super important and feels nice. EVE devs are smart and you basically start as a part of several default communities. Mind you, EVE’s online is like 30k, not 500k or 5m.
People lagging as hell and enjoying the unplayable mess together
Lineage 2 has a 5k server cap and it’s more than enough believe me. Soloing in this game is extremely disadvantageous and heavily discouraged by all gameplay means imaginable: you basically can’t do anything if you’re not a part of a party-clan-alliance group beyond your tutorial phase. It’s honestly beautifully designed in this regard and I’m yet to see its mechanics in other MMOs which is weird because it’s been 15 years.
Tons of MMOs encourage solo play allowing a lone player to be a factor at all, which is counter-intuitive for an mmo in my opinion, losing the whole social level and beauty.
A solo player is hooked, but is not necessarily invested.
W3Arena (WC3 server) has around 1k.
Your typical dota inhouse league would be about 100-300 players.
Your high-school whatever club can be like 20 people.
You don’t need millions of people to enjoy something together. A tight group provides a much more satisfying experience than thousands of faceless random strangers.
So the takeaways would be these:
A. Increase the potential individuality of a player as much as possible by all mean: be it cosmetics, avatars, customization, unique stuff, a unique staff, colors, affiliations, flags - whatever. A memorable player is automatically more human.
- Dota2 profile has “featured heroes”, which is at least something.
- People love personal configs files (CS) and UI (WoW).
- WC3/EVE have this beautiful thing: “BIO” - a field where you can write in whatever.
- In L2 if you can add a “title” above your nickname that is 16 symbols long - it’s a tiny thing but it adds more flavor and therefore matters.
- In All Points Bulletin(~GTA online) the customization is so insane you basically remember everybody after a few encounters. Servers also have a 100 people cap so during a session you’ll encounter same players several times even when not matched with them and just going about your business.
- On Steam you have a comment section, your achievements, your uploaded content, your activity, owned games and other stuff under your profile.
B. Increase the gravitational pull of communities and discourage solo play.
- In L2 just being a part of a clan gives you perks and a clan can achieve better perks.
- For an mmo very strict roles like a support/dd/utility/tank/buff/heal make players seek for each other.
- Content that is only doable as a group, as a clan, as the entire server obviously encourages cooperation at that scale.
- New players can be a part of a few chat channels from the very beginning - be it faction, newcomer, tutorial/help, class specific, general in-game, local as in your city, trade or whatever you can come up with kind of chat.
- Increase experience/gold/whatever gain when in group or doing group activities.
C. Players should experience the personal layer as much as possible.
Contemporary matchmaking systems for your typical, average player make it so you can’t really encounter a person twice, or at least it’s very rare, even for a 20k community, let alone 500k. I don’t have immediate solutions, but I’d expand on Starcraft 2's Divisions idea. It puts you into a 100-people group (that makes no difference actually at all socially), however somewhat intertwining it with how inhouse leagues work and iterating from that point might yield some good results. T
his can achieve a tons of tight communities and reduce toxic behaviors as a player would depend on being accepted by this group for personal success. Obviously don’t cut away the matchmaking, but encourage practice within a given division via x10 experience/gold gain, unique stuff, achievements or whatever. I know it sounds weird, but ghost town games such as Sc2 and Battlerite would benefit immensely from this.
D. Doomsayers are morons.
If in order to enjoy a game you must have this sense of population growth then you aren’t enjoying the game by itself but stroking your ego that you’ve made a good investment so to speak. It’s understandable if you run a business and for some reason fully depend on that single investment, but weak minded if you’re just playing for fun.
The game eventually becomes a medium for players to be in together. At least should, otherwise the pull is much weaker no matter which and how many dopamine inducing techniques devs implement - nothing beats social interaction and genuine sense of success and power, especially as a group.
And by the way an invested in a community player will most likely not worry about this at all.
Find a group.