After my last article, I was accused of being overly nostalgic and living in the ‘golden sheen’ of EQ1. Well it is a fact that, very much like your first of anything, you look back at it, later in life with a slightly rose coloured tint. With that said I do want to revisit EQ1 on a specific subject and look at why no other MMO has replicated what it had, and that is its social network and networking specifically.
I log onto EQ2 today and the first thing that I do is shout up in guild chat to see if there are any groups going. If ther are not, I’ll have a look in community to see if any friends are on. if they aren’t or they are busy, I’ll shout up in channel ‘ 47 Defiler LFG’, then I will put my LFG flag up and see if there are any groups LFG in the LFG finder. Then I will go and either do some solo quests, harvest or put a group together myself. At no time will I go to say East Freeport and sit on the docks and chat. And that is the difference. When I was playing EQ1 I’d regulalrly log on and sit in PoK and either chat to friends, join in any ooc conversations or sit around and offer MGB (mass group buffs). Sometimes I’d do this for a whole evening, never once even considering xp or questing. Sure if I got invited to a group I’d go and play, but mostly I’d be happy to chat. The other thing in EQ1 is I had a huge social network and I think the prime reason for this was downtime in groups. EQ1 required a lot of downtime to ‘med’ between mobs, and in that time you would chat to the people that you grouped with and got to know them. Friendships were born and you looked for these people when you logged on, sometimes to group with, or sometimes just to chat with.
Today, in EQ2, I can do a 3 hour group and barely speak 2 words to my entire group members, that is unless someone is being an idiot (like the tank overpulling continually) then I may comment, in tells, to another group member about it. Sure EQ2 has its downtime, but nothing like EQ1.
I think one of the other reasons that we dont chat as much in MMOs as we used to is the advent of AIM, MSN, ICQ etc. we now have our own personal social networks, sometimes inside and sometimes outside of the game and we use these other mediums to communicate with our chosen friends. Even more than this many guilds, especially in WoW use Teamspeak or Ventrillo to chat to one another, so you dont even have to break the flow of the game to communicate with friends and peers.
I think in many ways EQ1 was as much of a social communication tool, much like the instant messengers of today, but better in someways, than say MSN. Why better? Well MSN and other IMs are basically peer to peer, if you want group communication you need something like IRC or have to go into a chat room. EQ1 offered all of those things in one product. Peer to peer chat in tells, private channels for group chat with friends, group chat with group members, group chat with guildies in guildchat, and general chat in OOC. Except for other MMOs no other software has or does offer this flexibility to communicate with potentially such a captive audience, especially being able to talk on subject that you enjoy, ie the MMO that you are playing.
Sadly the changing face or evolution of MMOs drives us forward faster, levelling is our only aim, so that we can achieve that holy of holiest of grails - ‘the end game’. Today we strive to be that level 70 (or whatever the level cap is for your game at the time), trying to get their faster and faster, we dont want to sit around chatting we very much ignore the social aspect of the game today and log in for one reason, character progression. Whereas many of the first generation MMO gamers came from a social gaming background, people sat around tables and played D&D or table top campaigns, had a few beers and chatted. When they migrated from real-life gaming to virtual gaming, the social aspect was a carry over, but now rather than 6 or 7 like minded people to chat to, they had potentially a few thousand and so first gen games like EQ1 were very social places to be. As may of the first gen players were diluted with newer second gen (non table top or D&D ers) the social aspect declined and so combined with changes in game mechanic the social element of MMos has declined also. I am as guilty as the next man, I have trillian running in the background, I do chat to guildies even, out of game - although it isnt always easy as I play a healer. Maybe as voice comms become more and more integrated into games and especially MMOs, the social aspect of gaming may return.