Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is WoW too individualistic?

There seems to have started a debate (debate is what I call anything that is commented by more than two bloggers in their own blogs) in the bloggosphere about whether or not WoW has become too individualistic. Although this kind of discussion is held now and then at various places, the particular one I will be commenting on here was started by a post by Tobold. Larísa, Copra and SynCaine had a response and here is my take on this matter.

Here is a quick rundown on the issue;
Tobold posts about how he thinks WoW might be 9 years from now. His vision is that by then Blizzard will have taken the ultimate step towards individual play and have made everything in the game available to players in a singleplayer manner, yes even guilds.
"The breakthrough came in 2012, with the 4th expansion, as Blizzard had realized a fundamental truth: Players simply do not want to play with others. Having always been good at "borrowing" ideas from other games, Blizzard took the henchman concept from Guild Wars, and enabled players to do dungeons and raids solo, accompanied only by NPC henchmen"
It is written jokingly, but no doubt with serious meaning.
Larísas answers that she thinks that Tobold has a point. In Wow, strangers are often regarded as obstacles, something to use to reach a goal rather than being a goal in themselves, that of interacting with other people. She feels sorry for new players because they will never get the social aspect that was a bigger part of the game a couple of years ago. But in the end she still feels like people bring something unique to the game that computer players just can't or as she writes;
"Annoying or not – every time you team up with another player you bring something from it. You may not get a new person on your friends list, but you may gain an insight, a laugh or a good story to share in your blog."
Copras answer is partially an agreement with Larísa, yet again stating that WoW has become more indivual than ever and how the lfd-system is a perfect example of this. He doesn't agree however that random people feel like anything else than computer players, and says
"the social possibilities have been limited to the bare minimum and I doubt that any player coming to game even gets the notion that the other player characters are played by a living person." 
SynCaine overall agrees with the abovementioned bloggers;
"Random, cross-server dungeon pugging is technically group content, but only technically. It generally totally lacks any of the social aspects of group content (...)"
If you're curious to know more about the matter, and make sure I got the above bloggers opinions right, you should check them out!

More bloggers opinions on this matter have probably been posted between me writing this and posting it, but needless to say, alot of people seem to have a thought on the matter.

Unfortunately "social engagement" is something that is very difficult to measure. How can you tell when someone is being "too individualistic" with an easy description? In the end, and for this debate in any case, we will have to settle that this matter is based on personal experience. So does my personal experience conform with the view of these four bloggers? Do I feel like WoW has become more and more individualistic?

Definitely not.

First of all I must say that there is no way we can tell how a new player feels about the game. It is logically impossible for us to ever get the "new" feeling more than once in any game, and we had ours. In my case some 6 years ago. And new players have no way of knowing how things have changed and tell us what is different. I can only speculate about how newbies feel like they are received in the community that is WoW today and compare it to how I felt the community received me 6 years ago. What has changed?

Back then WoW was a way smaller community,
most importantly cross-server instancing wasn't even thought of yet and the people on your server were the ones you had to play with. I think this is the key factor to the "individual" feeling that some people seem to have. Back in Vanilla you only had the people on your server to form groups, so naturally you would bounce into people you had grouped with again, and probably again. How often does it happen that you randomly end up with the same person through the lfd system? Not very often. One could argue that this overall made people behave better in groups since they didn't want to be branded as ninjas/asshats, which might make it harder for them to join new groups. But do the changes to grouping mean that people have become nameless "npcs" with which we barely socialize today? And if that is the case, does it really differ that much from back in Vanilla?

In my opinion no
(and no), I socialize as much with my random pugs today as I feel like I did a couple of years ago, and believe it or not, people are as prone to act as morons now as they were then. To me the random dungeons are the same, but without the 1-2 hours wait of collecting people for the run and having everyone travel to the instance. Seriously guys, do you miss that? Even a little bit? In that case you are insane. Are random puggers mindless, silent drones that just move forward without a word? Yes, that happens. More often than back in Vanilla? No, I don't think so. People play it differently today, as they did back then as well. I've got a friend who, without any special reason, doesn't say much in instances. He never has. I on the other hand talk all the time, even when tanking and healing (which has lead to some wipes). It is naturally a little difficult to do a good job tanking/dpsing/healing if your keyboard is busy typing words. So if you do a smooth run, ie stay in combat alot, there might not be much typing and not much "talking". You would have to do breaks between pulls to talk, and honestly I don't think many people do dungeons to talk. We have guilds for that (some have trade chat for that). The silence in dungeons is natural, has always been there and is nothing that has spawned from the lfd-tool or started becoming more prevalent over the last years. If there was more talking before it's only because those dungeons took longer, there was more pausing between pulls. Is that what we're missing? I sure aint.

You wanna talk about individualism? How much did you know about the people in your 40 man raid group? If you were lucky enough to even be in a raiding guild, because people who didn't devote a couple of days each week to raiding usually didn't get to join those guilds. Compare that anonymous heap of players with the 10 man raids that seem most prevalent today. I know for a fact people could go afk mid fight for a drink, and no one would notice their absence. Social enough for ya? I know the general age, location, and even the irl name of most people in my 25 man raid. Quite the difference. I know raiding isn't part of the lfd-tool, but it still says alot about the general attitude towards other players in the game. In a 40 man raid your fellow raiders were really anonymous tools to a goal, in any case alot more than they are today.

Some people will always have a hard time realizing that there is a real person who controls that bundle of pixels. You think people who played 6 years ago were better at this? Hardly. Everytime I took my first steps in STV I was brutally ganked and sometimes griefed for an hour by some random player, who just wanted to ruin my gaming experience. People have been acting like asshats all the way since Vanilla, in instances and outside of them. These players have been around in WoW since Blizzard started their first server. I can only speculate that with alot more players, the prevalence of these kinds of players will also increase accordingly, but that isn't because of changes within the game or because of some certain game mechanic. These people will just always be around. They make out a natural portion of any community, like it or not.

People have a tendency to look back at things, anything really, and remember them with some heightened glory. It's like all the people who say "I remember when I was young" or "If only I could be a child again". For us who have been around all these years I agree it is easy to look back on what we were and all the fun we had and get the impression that that somehow was better than what we have now. Forgetting about all the horrible stuff that they've thankfully fixed since then. Most of us have really fond memories from things we did in the game a couple of years ago, and the present doesn't feel as compelling because... well it is the present. No one likes the present. In 5 years people will say "the game was a lot better 5 years ago, remember Cata? That was the best expansion ever".

Our way of gaming has changed as well. 6 years ago when I started playing I knew nothing about my class or how to do things. I remember I had geared towards some mix between feral and resto druid (yes my first main was a druid) and used to offer to play "secondary healer" in instances. What the heck is that anyway? The dude who stands around waiting for the first healer to fail? Of course I had tons of time typing stuff in chat then. Good thing Vote to Kick didn't exist, or I probably wouldn't have done many instances. I must've been the very definition of "annoying noob who doesn't contribute anything to the group". Now I (hopefully) have a better clue, and so I don't have to stumble my way through every new encounter. I will, and I want to, do things alot faster and smoother than I did a couple of years ago. I won't pause before every pull. But just because I don't always take the time to socialize doesn't mean that the social aspect of WoW has faded all together. It's just faded from my gameplay, and that is all my own doing. It's not like people won't respond if I talk to them in random pugs (at least that happens very seldom). Now I get the feeling people run through an instance and at the end think "wow, no one said anything, this game is getting so individual", while being the silent player themselves. When new players join the game, who do you think sets the standards for things? From whom do they learn how to do dungeons? From us, who have been here a while.

I've never been more social in WoW than I am right now. I am in a serious raiding guild that invites new people every now and then and through raids I get to know them quite well. I do loads of pugs, and by being my happy and cheerful self *cough* I usually get some fun conversations going even there. A couple of years ago the big guilds didn't care about me and the small guilds were, well small. I didn't do as much pugs as I do today because each pug took 4 hours instead of 40 min (1 hour if you're dps counting wait time). To me, the game has only improved.

And yes, these are my personal experiences, I don't pretend to voice myself about general or actual changes in how people play the game, I just don't have the facts to do that. But to me, WoW has always been as social as you make it. If you don't start a conversation, then perhaps no one will. And that's the way it has always been.


  1. I've also been following this debate, and I enjoyed reading your expansion on it.

    Although I can't offer the view of a 'new' player (an opinion I would be very interested to hear) I have recently joined a guild that is by far the best I've ever been in; these people have renewed and enhanced my enjoyment of WoW many, many times over. So, for me at least, Cataclysm and beyond are looking to be the least individualistic play style of my time in WoW.


  2. You know, I've been thinking about it, and the LFD tool could have an option to group only with people from the same server. Maybe it would take longer to assebly the group, but it's rather easier than going to Org or SW and start yelling at everyone. I have grouped with a lot of people from several servers and there were times I wished we all were from the same server. I dont know how it worked in Vanilla (I started in WoTLK) but I think it'd a way better to get to know people than it was back then.

  3. @Fabio
    Brilliant idea! I would really like to group with people from my own server, because not only would they hesitate to ninja stuff, they would also most likely behave better in general. You don't shit in your nest, so to speak.
    I think a major reason why people behave like total asshats in pugs sometimes is because they get away with it. If they do and it instantly pops up in tradechat that they're ninjaing a-holes, they might not want to do it anymore.

  4. Sadly i think Eldhorn has hit the nail on the head. I even have a guy in my guild that stated one day he rolls need on everything he can in a 5 man if he needs it or not as its a random PuG and he wont see any of those guys again. How lame is that?

    I think the guld you are with can make a HUGE difference in WoW, especially Cata, as guild instancing is pretty much the chosen way to do things if possible. The lame duck guildie I mentioned above aside, I run with guildies in my 5 man instances, generally no less than 3 and 80% of the time with 4 of us being guildies.

    One of the things I liek the best about Cata is that it has brought back Guild cohesion, atleast in my eye's. Yes you have ppl that are looking to join a guild just for the perks, but at the same time, once they are in long enough to gain the rep, and be there for the guild leveling, they are pretty much at home per say. They have leveled with everyone, gained rep and hopefully if the guild is actually looking out for each other, they have talked and socialized to the extent that they are comfortabel and really have no desire to leave.

    Thats not individuality, thats socialization working as intended.


  5. Hey Becca,

    I tried to post a comment, but those are limited to 4096 characters and mine is almost 7000, so I'm gonna send it by email instead!

  6. I never thought of pugs as part of the content before, but that makes sense to me although you don't seem to agree.
    I believe that most pugs are mindless drones as a rule and when you get to socialize with them it is the exception.

    Back in the days being a guild made of 5 people, 4 of which were my alts, I did a lot of pugging. I could tell you instantly almost anyone doing the LFG in trade channel all you needed to know before you even joined their group.
    When I see one of those lfg posts on my server, I could tell you their maturity by their grammar and speech patterns, their skill levels by their guild tag (yes birds of a flock stereotype..and I knew most of the guilds and their "reputations"), their other skills by the type of gear choices (cloth wearing druid? unechanted/gemmed gear?), drop locations/gear quality (raid level, normal, heroic?), etc,
    I would quickly armory them too if I saw they were a tank or healer. All this was before gearscores and ilevels, those were the days. More often than not I would be right but I also knew that not all people fit that mold but surprisingly I was right more often than not.