Social Gaming – Fostering Friendships in Games?


What makes an MMO game social? It seems to me that there are a few ways to meet friends in games:

  1. Meet them out in the world, and join up with them to accomplish shared goals in the open world.
  2. Meet them waiting for, or matched for, an instance – dungeon or battleground – to accomplish the shared goal of that instance.
  3. Join a Guild, or whatever the game calls a group larger and more permanent than a party, and meet other folks in the guild that share the above goals.
  4. Meet them outside of the game, and come into the game together.

But once you bump into someone in the game, there are aspects of the game that encourage or discourage the formation of longer term Social Interactions in the game.

Fostering Friendships

How long do you share a goal with a person you meet in a game?

If the leveling experience is too quick, you will not share goals long enough to foster a friendship and are not likely to continue a goal with someone. If folks are blowing through levels very quickly, or for some other reason, your goals are changing fairly rapidly, then the likelihood of your continuing to share goals with a new friend is much lower.

While it may be necessary to party up to perform dungeons and other instances, there is no benefit to being social if the dungeons are far apart in the leveling process. Tera suffers for this at levels from 1-60. With Avatar weapons and the ease of enchanting, Solo clearing of shared content from 1-60 is easy and the instances are so far apart that it is unlikely that a friend you meet in a dungeon will share your goals to form anything lasting beyond the dungeon.

Aura Kingdom makes no effort to foster being social. Solo clearing of shared content up to, and probably beyond, level 30 is very easy and the daily instances cannot be shared. There are some shared dungeons, but they require 3 players, so if you meet a buddy, you have to find another. I once was invited to do a dungeon at level 20 with a pair of players, but even though we continued to do quests after the dungeon they soon drifted off. They were friends and talking on Skype, so they didn’t see any benefit to having a 3rd wheel while they quested and talked on Skype after the instance. If daily instances, which are auto leveled, could be shared with groups from 2 – 5, the game would be much more social, especially if the rewards were increased for party members compared with solo players. There is a real un-tapped opportunity here for AK.

Sabex Armory - level 62
Sabex Armory – level 62

My experience of Tera higher level dungeons is that they drop only specialized loot, and decent XP, so they are grind-fests for folks looking to level to the cap, or to get high level gear. Also my experience is that folks doing grinding are not interested in friendships. And my goals do not include grinding either.

Guilds are a hit and miss proposition. And features that make it hard to change guilds, by putting costs or cool-downs on the process, make it harder to find a guild that matches your goals, whatever they are. Tera suffers from this.

Instance Matching Destroys Community

I recently saw a YouTube video that argues that World of Warcraft is failing because, among other things, instance matching makes it easier to do content without “Friends”.

I think there’s a lot to be said for this opinion. But without “friends” in the game, I need instance matching if I’m ever going to do a dungeon. In many cases, there are no folks matching anyway. But no games I know of allow friends across servers – at least when I left Wow, they had not implemented the ability to share loot with or communicate with folks across servers. You could only chat with folks during the instance and never communicate with or find them again after the instance ended. However instance matching does work across servers on games I’ve seen, so it makes the pool of potential players larger for dungeon content. Also, it probably extends the time zones available to be playing dungeons, so if you are playing at a slow time for your server, then there may be more folks available to play the instances.

I don’t have solutions for these problems, but I’ve noticed a trend toward less sociability in games over the years that I’ve been playing them. This in spite of the fact that “Social” is the big new buzz these days. Maybe the reason is that what we mean lately is “Casually Social” and being a friend in an MMO is more of a commitment than a Facebook page where you post a couple of messages a day and check up on  your friends’ cat pictures.

I have many fond memories of long term friends in GW1 and Wow – a few years ago when I was subscribing – but since GW2 allows cooperation without friendship or sociability of any kind, and Tera seems to reward and encourage high level play to the detriment of lower level player and their friendships, my MMO time is less and less friendly.