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TOPIC: The evolution of communities in the past 20 years


Stormhaven Studios
TOPIC: The evolution of communities in the past 20 years

The main aspect of MMORPG is its community. Players from all over the world, from all paths of life, from various cultures, philosophies and sexual orientations. A vast sample of humanity gathered in the laboratory of virtual worlds.
While the social aspect of MMORPG still exists as a core pillar of its foundation, the situations have evolved. Over those last twenty years the community has grown, changed. And mostly the way the community interacts today is different.

At the beginning, communities where created within the games themselves. Players gathered in guilds to thrive and overcome the challenges they faced in the games. Players organized themselves via the official forums or their guild headquarters and sometimes used voice chat software, such as Teamspeak or Ventrilo.

World of Warcraft widened accessibility of the genre to a larger public. Games become more complex yet easier to get in the hands of players. Features that created frustration were replaced by quality of life systems that taught players to be assisted at best, and lazy or entitled at worst. Things started to become more fast paced, for smaller playing sessions or quick binges over a few days, the content created to last months instead of years.

Somehow, MMORPGs lost their way. At least for a while. The community started to feel something amiss. Guilds structures sometimes feel obsolete. Most MMORPG can be played alone with extraordinarily few interactions with other human beings. Players are striving for more social interaction, for more meaningful playing sessions. But they seem to have forgotten how to make friends. Many speak with nostalgia of the good ol' time "back in my days..."

But something is important to note that as the community grew, as the MMORPG industry evolved, the internet changed. Youtube, Justin TV (then Twitch), Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and beyond.
The way players communicate and the way players bond with each other has changed. Now it happens more often outside of a game, on a Discord server, on Twitter, or on the Twitch channel of a streamer. Most players are nomads. They rarely settle for a single title for any length of time anymore. They play games for a few short weeks and constantly rotate between them. They hop from one game to the next, following the latest trend, following communities where they are heading. For this reason, platforms or systems that allows flexibility, diversity and inclusivity are striving.

And you? What is your experience with communities? How have you experienced the metamorphosis the gaming community went through? What are you hoping for in future?

The MMORPG world is different today than it was in the early 2000s. Yet the situation is not as grim as it can seem to be. Communities do exist. Players still enjoy playing with each other. Some things never change. However, the way players socialize is definitively different.
If you really dislike the use of social media, Discord, or hanging out on a stream, then be that one person that initiate a guilds, a community, working in the old school way. I promise you that you will find the persons you are looking for if you just make the effort to find them or create a place for them.
There is space on the internet for all kind of people, for all kind of moods, for all kind of structure. If you do not find what you want, then create it! Some people will thank you for it!!
I honestly don't think much has changed, sure there are different apps and more people on them. But most are still full of inside jokes, internal dramas and friendships/foeships alike. I've gotten older but how people behave has mostly stayed the same.

Maybe the biggest difference is communities and their size have been highly commercialized since then and now only the biggest communities get the most exposure, as they create this social black hole of marketing gravity. So now I feel like the difficulties in finding a good community are just as challenging as the days of dialup, the only difference now is I can do it from my phone.
Communities still exist, they have migrated, though. Cross server shenanigans are now a thing, as are mega-servers. So forming communities in the game itself has become harder. One can compare it to a village vs a city. In a village almost everyone knows eachother, and the atmosphere is generally a lot better. (In some they don't even lock the doors) In a city, it's much harder to keep track. Sure you can have a group of friends, but generally, everyone's doing their own thing.

In the endless pursuit of profit and bigger playerbases, these villages we all love turned into metropoli. But that's not all, the market for MMORPGs has always been niche, so, in order to appeal the masses things get watered down. WoW, again, is a good example. It started off and was considered by many to be very casual, it was easy to get into. In my opinion it struck a nice balance. Forward just a few years, and things are vastly different. It's not any one mechanic. It's an amalgamation. I could list them all, but they are all a symptom of the larger problem. Accessibility. In all things, a proper dungeon delve (for example) should be an undertaking, not something that you'll complete twenty minutes before work.

One of the problems, though. Is if you don't do these things. Dungeon finder, short linear dungeons, fast combat (no waiting for resources to recover) a lot of players will leave, because they want the instant gratification.

So I would argue it's the developer mindset that changed more then the communities and tools they use. And I cannot blame them. Ultima Online for example when it was one of the only MMOs out there reached about 100k subs. (though not for too long) MMOs these days require a lot more, or so it is claimed, I am not privvy to the numbers required.

As for the developer mindset, it's not their fault, persay. It's the way companies are structured. For example. You guys finish the game, do well, keep a core playerbase, which fluctuates every now and then, but generally has a stable line. Everyone is happy. Then marketing people come into play, share holders, company executives. Where as most companies start with a small group of people who share a vision for a game. (mostly gamers themselves too) eventually someone disconnected from the ideals comes along, and succeeds in making the game more profitable by adding things left out on purpose. They sell the soul of the game for profit. And again, I understand why, I don't like it, but I understand. And the cycle starts all over again. CD Project Red is the latest one I can imagine. (the things they cut and left out to please shareholders and the like to release earlier) when the marketing and pr people start making decisions for the game, is where it all falls down.

Sorry for having gone on a bit of a tangent, but a lot of these things are very complicated and quite often intermingled. Communities are built on teamwork and overcoming obstacles and hardships together, it's how bonds are forged. And I don't mean an elite quest here or there that takes half an hour to complete. But these things don't generally fall under the philosophy of accessibility.
I think it comes down to how willing you're to embrace the things in MMOs nowadays. Not many things are new anymore. And for the past 5 years or so I've just seen lots of similar MMORPGs shot out and being too similar. Community in my opinion is the most important feature in a MMO and it's what should draw people together. Community is the blood life of a MMO. Opening the heart to things and forgetting the hate you had of previous MMOs is the only way to start enjoying them again.
It's like relationships... your last MMO is like an ex, the only way to move on is to heal yourself and see other MMOs another way.