Sean Bulger's ColumnBulger's Community Column: Players As A ResourceSean Bulger's Column - RSS 2.0
Building a Strong Foundation
Players are a resource, and a very important one that that. The sheer number of them is what defines an MMO and they allow for the creation of game types and gameplay systems that otherwise could not exist. As such, this is why many MMOs attempt to create gameplay systems that highlight player interaction, and that is why MMOs have Community Managers backed up by Community Teams.
MMOs thrive on their communities. The stronger and bigger the community, the more successful the game. World of WarCraft players are vast in number and many seem to be proud that they play - or at least appear to feel some connection to their online world of choice. EVE Online players can be downright obsessed when it comes to their beloved space sim. The hardcore players of Vanguard stuck around through the ills of the games launch and ensuing months and kept it alive - but the game did suffer by losing much of their community. Yet, even failing games have the saving grace of strong, though small, communities. Sometimes these games can rebound back, even if it is rare to happen.
It is true, that some games design themselves more around players. The more 'sandbox' style MMOs are often based very heavily around interaction between players. This can seen in games such as EVE Online and Star Wars Galaxies before the gameplay was fundamentally changed. Some 'theme park' style games do have high interactivity between players as well though, such as how PvP was handled in Dark Age of Camelot, or the nearly enforced grouping of Final Fantasy XI (for better or worse), or even the combat system of FFXI and EverQuest 2. Yet, other games tend to be less focused on interactivity between players and may almost work as single-player games. Many free-to-play Korean games can come across like this (although Western gamers get only a glimpse at the types of games that come out of Korea).
Of course, what it all comes down to is the foundation. That foundation is the players themselves. Some game systems tend to lend themselves more toward strengthening a community over others. Some systems can be designed to either strengthen communities, tear them apart, or be otherwise totally neutral. Some games extend beyond the realm of the in-game world to help build their communities as well.
Communities are of great importance to MMOs. They are what draw players in, keep players in, allow for the creation of gameplay systems that could not exist otherwise, and they pay the bills to keep an MMO running. There is quite a bit to discuss about them - and well, that is exactly what this column is all about.