Social fabric
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 April 2013, 5:27 am
There is some new discussion ongoing in the blogosphere about an old subject, "social fabric" or group play vs. solo play. Psychochild thinks that soloing is responsible for people treating MMORPGs like they treat single-player games, stopping to play after a few weeks. Green Armadillo thinks that social fabric equals constraints that turn a game into a job. Me I think that Psychochild is right that MMORPGs need social fabric, but that Green Armadillo is right in that current game design does social fabric badly, by linking it to specific content with a higher difficulty and a necessity for military organization.

But believing that MMORPGs *have to* do social fabric that way is like believing that the army is the only possible social organization in real life. If we consider MMORPGs as virtual worlds it becomes obvious that they should be able to do a better simulation of other real world social interactions than just military ones. Instead MMORPGs today are often designed to *remove* social interaction from our virtual lives. We have fully automated and nearly anonymous auction houses, so we don't need to engage in the social interaction of trading. We have instanced housing or no housing at all, so we don't need to engage in social interaction with our neighbors. We don't have politics, we don't have spectator sports, and we only have very little common public transport left. Gone are the times where you waited 20 minutes for the boat in Everquest and then traveled another 20 minutes on it to your destination, giving you time to socially interact with your fellow voyagers.

The proof that more is possible is evident in niche games like A Tale in the Desert, which has a lot more social fabric than a game like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. For example in ATitD there are resources that can only be mined by a combined effort of several players, instead of the exclusively solo mining in other games. There are buildings that just require so much work that it makes sense to construct them as a team effort. There are laws and politics to vote on. And a lot of these game mechanics would be totally feasible in other games.

I would expand on Psychochild's consideration of the need for social fabric by saying that what is needed for longevity is a virtual world to live in, not just a game to play and progress in. If somebody plays only for virtual progress, at one point he either reached his goal, or gets tired of the treadmill of not reaching it. But if there is a whole virtual life to lead with no linear level- or "Gearscore"-type goals, people wouldn't consider they "finished" the game after 3 months or less.
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