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[Column] General: The War Against Down Time

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 16,613MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

Last week I wrote about the loss of class interaction and dependency as one reason for weakened socialization in modern MMOs. This week I want to discuss another big factor in the decline of social MMOs, the war against downtime.

Read more of Mark Kern's The War Against Down Time.

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Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

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Comments

  • TheLizardbonesTheLizardbones Arkham, VAPosts: 10,910Member

    Seems like what's needed is something that does what downtime does, give players a space to chat and learn about the game, without actually looking like downtime.  I'd like to see what you come up with as a solution.

     

    A while back I thought about integrated a game's forums into the game itself in some way, with bulletin boards or signs or something.  It wouldn't be very in keeping with most games' theme or environment, but it would certainly give players a reason for downtime, and a way to interact with other players in the game.

     

    I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.

  • FoobarxFoobarx Poway, CAPosts: 451Member

    Why on earth would you advocate solo-ability in a game meant for socialization?  MMOs were always about other people, not playing all by yourself.  Why are their dungeons or raids or even battlegrounds if you don't want to play with others?  The crux of the problem is they have turned MMOs into single player games and the reason no one sticks around is because they ARE single player games. 

     

    Talk about ideas?  What a load of .....

  • Dreamo84Dreamo84 Niagara Falls, NYPosts: 3,437Member Uncommon


    A lot of people don't remember that well it seems. But one of the biggest topics back in the day about EQ1 was always "which class can solo, where do I solo, how do I solo?!?!" People always wanted to solo sometimes. Why? because it was easier, you could be on all day soloing and take a piss when you wanted, grab something to eat, stop and watch a show etc etc. You weren't locked in with another group of players.

    Yes, being social is a big part of MMOs. But I think the biggest factor has always been persistence the sense that your character continues to live on. Even if you never talk to another damn person and play solo 100% of the time a single player game can just not give you same feeling of persistence that an MMORPG does.

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  • Dreamo84Dreamo84 Niagara Falls, NYPosts: 3,437Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by lizardbones

    Seems like what's needed is something that does what downtime does, give players a space to chat and learn about the game, without actually looking like downtime.  I'd like to see what you come up with as a solution.

     

    A while back I thought about integrated a game's forums into the game itself in some way, with bulletin boards or signs or something.  It wouldn't be very in keeping with most games' theme or environment, but it would certainly give players a reason for downtime, and a way to interact with other players in the game.

     

     

    It's funny to mention in game forums! Meridian 59 actually did this with their community globes. There was one for community posts of any kind and another for developers to post updates, patch notes, etc.

    Also NexusTK had in game forums too! I believe it was actually a community bulletin board or something in game.

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  • TheocritusTheocritus Gary, INPosts: 3,747Member Uncommon
    All I know is the less downtime there was, the less I interacted with the community and less friends I made.
  • BladestromBladestrom edinburghPosts: 4,943Member Uncommon

    travel is pleasant downtime < ruined by instance travel and lfg raids championed by Blizzard and morons who make stupid disconnected statements like 'people need interesting choices'

    grinds is pleasant downtime < ruined by the drive to constantly reward every week championed by Blizzard (its more addictive, lower skill range means younger players = more subs)

    class interdependancy is great < ruined by blizzard generalising class roles and abilities so tanks who complain about no being able to dps without an alt can dps on their tank main (etc etc)

    it goes on.

     

     

    rpg/mmorg history: Dun Darach>Bloodwych>Bards Tale 1-3>Eye of the beholder > Might and Magic 2,3,5 > FFVII> Baldur's Gate 1, 2 > Planescape Torment >Morrowind > WOW > oblivion > LOTR > Guild Wars (1900hrs elementalist) Vanguard. > GW2(1000 elementalist), Wildstar

    Now playing GW2, AOW 3, ESO, LOTR, Elite D

  • FensfieldFensfield SheppertonPosts: 4Member
    Personally I think a lot of this feeds back into MMO's rampant obsession with combat instead of just creating a world to play in.

    Not that one would blame developers as such; combat's easier to make fun than most things, it's easier to abstract away behind numbers, it's the most obvious thing.. but I really do think when a game comes along where players can just enjoy Being there; wandering around, seeing how things change from day to day, finding various other little things to do besides wailing on monsters.. maybe working on a crafting project over a realistic period of time through a system lets them engage with the effort. That's anything but easy but I do think it'd lead to people slowing down, losing this insane urge to just fight and level and.. blagh.

    Mabinogi is one game to look to. It added lots of little systems that had nothing at all to do with combat, but could be engaged with by other players. The most obvious was music; using instruments to perform tunes coded in using MML, but there were a fair few others.. not to mention non-combat character interactions like say, larger characters being able to carry smaller ones on their shoulders.
  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon

    Interesting read.  Two things if you really are interested in  playing with downtime mechanics imho.

    A. flat/blatant downtime was/is/and will be un-popular in the same manner that blatant.in your face never-ending grinds are/were;  Find a way to mask it that clicks with certain demographics, and you may have something(cut-scenes, non-interactive story telling would be a limited example of such)

    B. in your marketing hype be sure to highlight the downtime aspects and make a concerted attempt to NOT market towards everyone, just the demographics who may find it fun/new/interesting.

     

     

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  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 13,666Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by lizardbones

    Seems like what's needed is something that does what downtime does, give players a space to chat and learn about the game, without actually looking like downtime.  I'd like to see what you come up with as a solution. 

    A while back I thought about integrated a game's forums into the game itself in some way, with bulletin boards or signs or something.  It wouldn't be very in keeping with most games' theme or environment, but it would certainly give players a reason for downtime, and a way to interact with other players in the game.

    A break from the action is always good and your forum idea hits on how the break works best - when it is user chosen as opposed to game enforced. What has happened though is that MMOs have changed in many other ways at the same time that downtime faded away, and many have falsely attributed the lack of socialization to the removal of downtime.  Some of those other changes are:

    • Forcing the server's various groups together at main hubs (ex: Orgrimmar/Ironforge), effectively reducing each community's 'personal space' to a chat channel. At work, at a bar, at a club or any other mixed group of people there are sub groups that people gravitate to. Without the ability to break into subgroups, social interaction breaks down. Differing views, the easily offended, the all-to-brash, the sports fans, the gamers, the rich guys, the hood crowd, etc... each group has their own way of interacting, their own boundaries and their own culture. They often clash. The hub system of today's MMOs, both in virtual space and Global/Zone channels make it so that all these groups are in one big pile on. That's as much a formula for disaster in the real world as it is in the virtual world. Most developers have either completely forgotten that, or they genuinely think they are going to solve the world's problems through a video game. While such a noble act isn't completely impossible, it's an unrealistic and unreasonable approach in light of the alternative - just build gamespace and communication channels that support how people DO interact. 
     
    • Removal of most aspects of micromanagement and other low-activity tasks where people can chat while getting something accomplished in game. DAoC is an interesting example of that. While no one really wants to go back to watching progress bars crawl by, most DAoC crafters seem to fondly remember chatting merrily with others while getting their stuff done. 
     
    • Linear, single-focus gameplay. Kill, loot, level, repeat (KiLLeR). There is little else to do in most mainstream MMOs beyond that. As a result, if a player is not grinding down the path, they are 'wasting time'. When other activities are present, they are designed to be secondary to the KiLLeR gameplay, often limited in how far you can advance by your KiLLeR* progression. Fensfield (above) mentioned Mabinogi, which is a great game to look at for diverse low-req gameplay that allows for and encourages interaction.  

    But to get back to your idea...

    I think MMOs are building toward supporting community, but they are doing so in ways that may cater to communities most here aren't part of.  Twitter/FB integration, Twitch streaming and in-game browsers allow many players to socialize in the ways they are more accustomed to. More importantly, it allows them to do so in their chosen circles, where they are far more comfortable and far more likely to encounter like-minded or similarly-interested gamers. 

     

     

    "Can we make downtime fun and slow enough to allow for rich social interaction?" - Mark Kern

    It seems the better question would be:

    "How can we support social interaction in a manner that is makes sense to today's gamers?"

     

    Downtime and interaction really do not have much to do with each other unless one wants to suggest that creating boring non-moments is a desired way to get people to socialize just out of sheer desparation for something... ANYTHING... to do. AC, UO, ATITD are all MMOs where you can just grind your ass off if you wanted with zero downtime, yet people regularly made time to stop by their favorite watering hole to BS with their buddies, sometimes for hours on end. Coming at socialization and community interaction from the angle of downtime seems to be the least optimal way to approach it. 

     

    *not an industry term. Acronym is solely for my own amusement

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • whilanwhilan Everett, WAPosts: 3,172Member Uncommon

    I posted something similar to this almost 4 years ago, stating that downtimes are where I was able to socialize especially in EQ when you needed to wait for the boat.

    http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/post/3803753#3803753

    Please don't necro this thread that I linked guys, i'm just pointing to it as a source of reference to back up what the article is saying.

    Help me Bioware, you're my only hope.

    Is ToR going to be good? Dude it's Bioware making a freaking star wars game, all signs point to awesome. -G4tv MMo report.

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  • VoresVores Arcadia, CAPosts: 1Member
    Originally posted by Foobarx

    Why on earth would you advocate solo-ability in a game meant for socialization?  MMOs were always about other people, not playing all by yourself.  Why are their dungeons or raids or even battlegrounds if you don't want to play with others?  The crux of the problem is they have turned MMOs into single player games and the reason no one sticks around is because they ARE single player games. 

     

    Talk about ideas?  What a load of .....

    Although your logic is reasonable, you still need to keep in mind that since the fact is that game developers made the change, so maybe there was a reason why they did it. And it probably because players prefers to be able to solo, which would attract more players and generate them profit. Big popular games today all have soloability added to them and players actually like those aspects. If majority of players actually prefer team dependacy over soloability, then there is no way game developers would make games like that. However, the problem for developers now is that players don't stick around games as much as before due to lack of socialability. Therefore, I believe it makes sense to discuss how to keep players to games instead of simply reverting back to a team-only game.

     
  • OriousOrious O''Fallon, ILPosts: 548Member
    Money don't care about downtime and it makes me very...very... sad.

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  • DaessarDaessar Chino, CAPosts: 204Member

    It's still going to take companies a little while longer to realize that MMO's will all be niche from now on. When they understand that 1 million players is all they are going to get on a good day, then we will see the changes start to happen, and they wont be so concerned about hurting the feelings of one particular group or another.

    In other words they will make their game with downtime whether you like it or not, and another studio will make theirs with xp loss in Pvp whether you like or not, etc..etc. Some studios are still hanging on that fantasy of hitting the MMO jackpot, but they are starting to come around to reality, so it shouldn't be too much longer ( hopefully ).

  • MagiknightMagiknight McKinleyville, CAPosts: 782Member
    I like the columns the OP writes. He gets what set MMOs apart.
  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,209Member Uncommon

    There was plenty of social interaction and a great community in Lineage and that game had no down time. It also didn't force grouping or require class inter-dependency. There is more than one way to foster community, social interaction, and interactive play.

    Forcing that through downtime and mandatory grouping is one way, but it obviously came with a lot of flaws and baggage. There is a reason games evolved and those crude systems either changed or died.

  • DamonVileDamonVile Vancouver, BCPosts: 4,818Member

    When I played wow and had nothing to do I used to sit around town and chat with people. I did it mostly because there wasn't really anything else to play ( that I wanted to )

    If that happens in an mmo now I quit and go play something else.

    As for actual talking while lvling...I use voice coms and talk all the time. Down time would just be annoying and boring.

  • SovrathSovrath Boston Area, MAPosts: 18,455Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Loktofeit
    What has happened though is that MMOs have changed in many other ways at the same time that downtime faded away, and many have falsely attributed the lack of socialization to the removal of downtime.

     

    Downtime and interaction really do not have much to do with each other unless one wants to suggest that creating boring non-moments is a desired way to get people to socialize just out of sheer desparation for something... ANYTHING... to do.

    I liked your post but I think you are missing something.

    Removing those "downtime moments" which were huge social opportunities, DID remove social interaction.

    this is not false.

    Those moments, whether one thinks they were boring or not, were opportunities for people to interact and they did it.  Even so much as grouping in order to minimize overlong downtime.

    It doesnt' make sense to suggest that removing moments of  "downtime social activity"   falsely attributed to the lack of socializating.

    If that's when people were socialing and you remove it then you remove those moments. I'm not sure why that's difficult to see?

    There's a saying "there's a lot of music in the silence",  It essentially means that silence is not about "nothing".

    Heck, I met one of my best friends at a bus stop. we are very different people and normally would never have met each other but for "downtime" at a bus stop.

    Though the idea of "being bored" because you are alone with your own thoughts is a bit disturbing to me I suppose some people just don't like it so I have to accept it.  But let's not suggest that one size fits all here. You don't like downtime, you get bored, not everyone sees it that way. But I do understand the idea of "not playing" being disliked. I get it as modern quests seem to be the biggest contributor of "not playing" as you mostly are running from one small moment of game play to another all the while "not playing" while you are just running from arrow to arrow.

    While waiting for a ship in lineage 2 one opened themselves up for attack from enemies. Sometimes others would help the one being attacked and you would have "game play".

    Pauses in activity aren't bad except for those who don't want to take advantage of those pauses. And Lineage 2 had a LOT of downtime (at times). Sometimes you would meet buffers looking to minimize some of that downtime and you get grouping buddies. There was still downtime but by banding together with other players you would have grouping moments and many great stories that grew out of those groups.

    I do agree with your assessment of piling on different personalities. Just doesn't work.

    I thought ESO was supposed to allow people of like mind to be in the same game instance?

    guess that didn't happen. image

     

  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon

    As I said above it was an interesting read. But I remain unsure that developmental recourses devoted towards promoting social interaction is necessarily wise. Such basically represents a nanny state or an exercise in herding cats. I do however agree with the OP that the trends/mechanics that actively de-incentivize social interaction is less than optimal. Social interaction is either spontaneous, forced, or limited. Ideally I supposed allowing social interaction without forcing or limiting it would be the most beneficial path, regardless of whether downtime plays a factor or not. A more accurate look at downtime to my mind would be towards content extension.

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  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 13,666Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by BMBender

    As I said above it was an interesting read. But I remain unsure that developmental recourses devoted towards promoting social interaction is necessarily wise. Such basically represents a nanny state or an exercise in herding cats. I do however agree with the OP that the trends/mechanics that actively de-incentivize social interaction is less than optimal. Social interaction is either spontaneous, forced, or limited. Ideally I supposed allowing social interaction without forcing or limiting it would be the most beneficial path, regardless of whether downtime plays a factor or not. A more accurate look at downtime to my mind would be towards content extension.

    I'd disagree on that one. With virtual worlds, a big part of what you are building is a virtual community.If you want a healthy, thriving community, you need to work toward building that, actively foster it, and continue to maintain it. This means far more than simple forum moderation and conduct agreements. This means devoting resources not only to managing and leading the community, but to the tools that the community needs or desires to effectively and enjoyably communicate, collaborate and grow. 

     

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon


    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Originally posted by BMBender As I said above it was an interesting read. But I remain unsure that developmental recourses devoted towards promoting social interaction is necessarily wise. Such basically represents a nanny state or an exercise in herding cats. I do however agree with the OP that the trends/mechanics that actively de-incentivize social interaction is less than optimal. Social interaction is either spontaneous, forced, or limited. Ideally I supposed allowing social interaction without forcing or limiting it would be the most beneficial path, regardless of whether downtime plays a factor or not. A more accurate look at downtime to my mind would be towards content extension.
    I'd disagree on that one. With virtual worlds, a big part of what you are building is a virtual community.If you want a healthy, thriving community, you need to work toward building that, actively foster it, and continue to maintain it. This means far more than simple forum moderation and conduct agreements. This means devoting resources not only to managing and leading the community, but to the tools that the community needs or desires to effectively and enjoyably communicate, collaborate and grow. 

     


    I respectfully disagree, social interaction should be a choice, not a response of...well I got nothing else to do. No artificial society will be stable, your basically saying developers now need to decide what the "correct" amount of social interaction should be, design content/mechanics to force and or limit to that level then herd all the cats inside. Good luck with that. Social interaction is either going to be a spontaneous and dynamic response among individuals outside developer control, or it will be a nanny state.

    EDIT imo developer contribution to social interaction should start and stop with not de-incentivizing it.

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  • ThupliThupli Spokane, WAPosts: 583Member Uncommon
    I started wow in tbc (coming from final fantasy 11).

    I always wished that there was more to an inn than simply parking your toon there. Ie, if there were mechanics that made you take your character to an inn to "decompress XP" so to speak, that would be great. BUT you would need something to 1. facilitate not getting too bored 2. not be required too often to make it tedious 3. make it not eat up to much time.

    Inns have so much potential to capitalize on.
  • ThupliThupli Spokane, WAPosts: 583Member Uncommon

    I'd like to add that:

     

    Internet databases contribute to ruining socialization in an MMO.  Google it, wowhead it, done, moving on.

     

    I'd like to see a game that takes a portion of a zone (15-20%) and RANDOMIZES location in sub-dungeons (open world caves), points of interest, areas that are geographically prominent or aesthetic, etc.

     

    Static quests and objectives remove surprise, and surprise and adventure is half of what a game is about to me.

     

  • Jerek_Jerek_ tulsa, OKPosts: 409Member
    Originally posted by Thupli
    I started wow in tbc (coming from final fantasy 11).

    I always wished that there was more to an inn than simply parking your toon there. Ie, if there were mechanics that made you take your character to an inn to "decompress XP" so to speak, that would be great. BUT you would need something to 1. facilitate not getting too bored 2. not be required too often to make it tedious 3. make it not eat up to much time.

    Inns have so much potential to capitalize on.

    The closest thing to this I've seen was cantinas in swg.  They provided non combat roles for people into that, a community focal point and never felt like a burden to me as a combat player.  I saw some weird stuff go on it cantinas but overall I thought it was a pretty cool system and fun to just go hang out in when I didn't feel like actually doing things.

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 13,666Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by BMBender

     


    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Originally posted by BMBender As I said above it was an interesting read. But I remain unsure that developmental recourses devoted towards promoting social interaction is necessarily wise. Such basically represents a nanny state or an exercise in herding cats. I do however agree with the OP that the trends/mechanics that actively de-incentivize social interaction is less than optimal. Social interaction is either spontaneous, forced, or limited. Ideally I supposed allowing social interaction without forcing or limiting it would be the most beneficial path, regardless of whether downtime plays a factor or not. A more accurate look at downtime to my mind would be towards content extension.
    I'd disagree on that one. With virtual worlds, a big part of what you are building is a virtual community.If you want a healthy, thriving community, you need to work toward building that, actively foster it, and continue to maintain it. This means far more than simple forum moderation and conduct agreements. This means devoting resources not only to managing and leading the community, but to the tools that the community needs or desires to effectively and enjoyably communicate, collaborate and grow. 

     


    I respectfully disagree, social interaction should be a choice, not a response of...well I got nothing else to do. No artificial society will be stable, your basically saying developers now need to decide what the "correct" amount of social interaction should be, design content/mechanics to force and or limit to that level then herd all the cats inside. Good luck with that. Social interaction is either going to be a spontaneous and dynamic response among individuals outside developer control, or it will be a nanny state.

     

    EDIT imo developer contribution to social interaction should start and stop with not de-incentivizing it.

    Yes, social interaction is a choice. Nowhere did I say anything about regulating, censoring or forcing interaction.  You seemed to have read a whole lot into that that was neither written nor implied in my post. A whole lot. 

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • BMBenderBMBender Nowhere, NCPosts: 568Member Uncommon


    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Originally posted by BMBender  

    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Originally posted by BMBender As I said above it was an interesting read. But I remain unsure that developmental recourses devoted towards promoting social interaction is necessarily wise. Such basically represents a nanny state or an exercise in herding cats. I do however agree with the OP that the trends/mechanics that actively de-incentivize social interaction is less than optimal. Social interaction is either spontaneous, forced, or limited. Ideally I supposed allowing social interaction without forcing or limiting it would be the most beneficial path, regardless of whether downtime plays a factor or not. A more accurate look at downtime to my mind would be towards content extension. I'd disagree on that one. With virtual worlds, a big part of what you are building is a virtual community.If you want a healthy, thriving community, you need to work toward building that, actively foster it, and continue to maintain it. This means far more than simple forum moderation and conduct agreements. This means devoting resources not only to managing and leading the community, but to the tools that the community needs or desires to effectively and enjoyably communicate, collaborate and grow.   
    I respectfully disagree, social interaction should be a choice, not a response of...well I got nothing else to do. No artificial society will be stable, your basically saying developers now need to decide what the "correct" amount of social interaction should be, design content/mechanics to force and or limit to that level then herd all the cats inside. Good luck with that. Social interaction is either going to be a spontaneous and dynamic response among individuals outside developer control, or it will be a nanny state.   EDIT imo developer contribution to social interaction should start and stop with not de-incentivizing it.
    Yes, social interaction is a choice. Nowhere did I say anything about regulating, censoring or forcing interaction.  You seemed to have read a whole lot into that that was neither written nor implied in my post. A whole lot. 

    I assume this part of your post Originally posted by Loktofeit
    I'd disagree on that one. With virtual worlds, a big part of what you are building is a virtual community.If you want a healthy, thriving community, you need to work toward building that, actively foster it, and continue to maintain it.


    the yous = developer if so then my point stands unless I misread. Communities form on their own; developers do not "create/foster" them in some mmo version of selective communism. Any forcing or limiting "actively fostering" the "true way" of social interaction will go over sooo well.
    Developers have enough on their plate just making a well targeted game without getting involved in some form of digital social engineering.

    EDIT the very games(pre wow) the OP was talking about as the hey day of social interaction never did actively manage social interaction, they merely stayed out of the way. I think some of the confusion is he thinks time sinks, dead time were social management features. They actually had nothing to do with social engineering from a developer standpoint, they were content extensions, one of the reasons it took months/years to reach max level in those games.

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