More Barriers to Playing with Friends…

I have often complained about the strict server architecture of MMOs and how they keep you from playing with your friends.  World of Warcraft has ever been the prime example.  I know so many people who play or who have played WoW, but most of them play on servers Eldre’Thalas where I have invested the vast majority of my time and effort.  And so our paths rarely cross.  I have made characters on other servers from time to time, but inevitably my focus can really only be on one server and there are only so many alts you can play.

And this sort of tale goes back to the early days of EverQuest, when friends rolled up on different servers and so we never played together.

In the last week or so I have run into two more examples of this sort of torment.

First, Potshot and Earl from our regular Saturday night group decided to jump into Need for Speed: World, the driving game I have played and written about now and again.

However, since I last played, EA has added a new server, Chicane, which is where new players appear to get routed.

Of course, all of my time and effort has been invested in the old server, Apex.

And, as you might guess, never the twain shall meet.  There are no server transfers that I can see.  At least my account appears to work and, after a day or so, it actually recognized that I had some of the RMT currency, Speed Boost, available and let me access it on the new server.  But now in order to play with Potshot and Earl I need to give up a garage full of cars and start again from scratch.

That probably isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Well, the starting from scratch part at least, since they appear to have revamped the game yet again and, while there are still driver levels, those levels seem to have lost all of their meaning.  But not being able to drive the cars I have collected… well, that sucks.

And then there is World of Tanks.

I play on the North American server naturally enough and I have been bugging some friends to try the game out, including long time pal Gaff.

Gaff also plays EVE Online with me… or I play with him… anyway, there we are in EVE, which has one server for the whole world (outside of China) and thus attracts quite an international mix.  Our alliance, TNT, is heavy with European players.

Our alliance also has a clan in World of Tanks and channels on our TeamSpeak server dedicated to that.  So when Gaff finally got off the dime to try WoT, he ran off to where our alliance mates were playing.

They were, of course, playing on the EU World of Tanks server.

And there is no mixing of the North American and the European servers.  They require different clients and they do not share accounts.  You cannot, it seems, even use the same email address to play on both servers.

So once again, to play with friends, I have to give up all the time and effort invested.  Before I had gone on this latest WoT binge, I might have considered it.  But now, with me driving towards a tier VII German tank destroyer and a tier VI Russian heavy tank, not to mention gold invested in their crews, I see starting again as a huge barrier to swapping servers.

I suppose I should be happy that they at least let you roll an account on the EU server from outside the continent .  That isn’t always an option.

But it is still a barrier.

So once again, EVE Online has something that I think others should try to emulate.  I play on the same server as every blogger out there going on about EVE Online.  I just never see them… or play with them… for other reasons.

But at least the option exists.

19 responses to “More Barriers to Playing with Friends…

  1. I’m strongly in the “server community” camp. I do believe that different servers have different cultures within the same game and I have a much more enjoyable time on some servers than i do on others. It makes no difference whether this is objectively nonsense – it’s my subjective experience in many MMOs and therefore to me it matters a lot.

    Consequently the idea of MMOs moving to single-server communities is an anathema. With that said, though I am in complete agreement with you on barriers to entry for friends playing in the same game-space. The ideal situation in my opinion is something like Rift, where there are many individual servers (well, not that many now but you get my drift..) but players can move between them with reasonable facility and with little cost.

    I wouldn’t advocate infinite free server moves, which would seem to undermine the kind of server communities I believe grow over time, but a free move once a week or so would seem to provide the best of both worlds.

  2. I doubt you will see productive changes in this area. To start it is probably easier to manage the load spread across multiple servers. It also seems too many games make extra money by charging for server moves and requiring account upgrades to be purchased separately for each server – stuff which probably only costs them a few cents to provide so ends up being very profitable.

  3. @evehermit – Indeed, I was always appalled that SOE was charging $50 for a single character server transfer, though you did have to call a customer service rep to have it done. And now that it appears to be an automated service, $25 seems like a lot to ask.

    And, of course, EA thinks I will buy more cars because of this barrier.

    @Bhagpuss – I always bought into that server community stuff somewhat, until SOE put up the Freeport server for EverQuest II Extended. A single server for all of free to play was very nice, both because everybody I knew who was on Extended was there and because it made for a very active server, which I now feel is a requirement for an active community. A small group of regulars on a server where you know a few dozen people at most (I have to think that anything beyond that and you are including people you might know of, but don’t really know) is comfortable, but without the bustle of activity from other people, it is more of a club than a community.

    @WN – Because I don’t have enough games to play yet? Besides, it didn’t sound like my kind of game.

  4. Funny you should mention Freeport – that would be near he top of my list of really good, distinctive, individual server communities. Playing there (it’s been my primary EQ2 server since the day it launched) confirmed everything I feel about servers having very different cultures within the same MMO, something that different rulesets emphasizes even more strongly.

    Indeed, in an ideal world I wouldn’t just have lots of servers but no two servers would have the same ruleset!

  5. Fair enough.

    But when you wonder why more MMO’s don’t make it easier to play with your friends, maybe because it’s more profitable to be mainstream than it is to be innovative.

  6. I *love* TSW. Yeah, it’s still a bit unrealistic when using firearms vs regular mobs, (though shotguns still do seem to take out zombies oin only a hit or 2. . . ) but in dungeons the mobs tend to be huge so you wouldn’t think your bullets would be more than bee stings to them anyway, so it makes sense that it takes a while for them to fall.

    My personal favorite weapon is actually chaos magic. It’s a melee/close range magic that you simply wear a focus on your back and as you execute moves the “weapon” appears in your hand. Usually some kinds of claws for melee moves, or a simple glow around your closed fist, but there are also hand-crossbows for the ranged attacks, or spears coming up out of the ground to poke at your enemies’ feet. I love how it looks.

    It’s B2P now and I’ve heard it’s as cheap as $15 on Amazon. You should give it a try. If you want to go with healing like you are in Rift, you can use a Rifle for “heals through damage” (think Chloromancer) or Fists for “straight healing” (think Sentinel), or Blood for Barriers (Purifier). and you can mix and match them too. Fist/Blood is generally preferred for beginning healers, then they graduate to Fist/Pistol (pistol doesn’t heal, but it buffs healing and crit, and healers LOVE crit in TSW), and then eventually graduating to the Rifle/Blood healer since it doesn’t suffer from diminishing returns on endgame gear since it needs to balance out heals with damage.

    And then of course the skill wheel is a theorycrafter’s dream. Once Funcom gets it tweaked so that multi-hit skills (burst and focus) aren’t obviously superior to single-hit skills (strike and blast) then it will be even more fun to muck around with.

    I think your instance group would have a complete blast with it too. IMO, the dungeons are the best part of the whole game. Group size is 5, so it’d be perfect for you. Plus while there are “dimensions” there are no servers, so even if you don’t start on the same dimension you can still group up and play together any time you want.

  7. Everybody is on one server is one of the many things I admire about Eve.

    I would argue that in a game such as EVE, people break up into smaller communities anyway. So I don’t think that’s much of the argument.

  8. @Toldain – Exactly. That is where the logic of the “server community” argument breaks down for me, as people will divide themselves up into sub group regardless. The die hard fans make a server community sound like Cheers, where everybody knows you name, when the reality is that we chop ourselves up into often very exclusionary sub-groups that interact very little with the so-called server community as a whole.

    In fact, I am pretty sure at some point I called another blogger a liar when they insisted that they enjoyed interacting with the community as a whole. It cannot be done. And I might have called them a dumb ass. Or a pretentious ass.

    Anyway, I was insulting because the idea was so ludicrous as to be laughable.

    So it seems to me that the BEST way to foster a set of communities, cliques, and what not is to have the largest population on a server as possible. Something on which Bhagpuss and I seem to agree even after coming at it from completely different angles.

    After all, where are interesting communities more likely to arise? A big city or a small town? And least for specific definitions of the word “interesting.” Your point of view may vary.

    @Red – Indeed. I have, in fact, had a number of very awkward convos with other bloggers and readers of the site. As it turns out, I only run off at the mouth when the communication is mostly one way… as in a blog post… but otherwise I am pretty quiet and often at a loss for words. I recall spending about fifteen embarrassing minutes chatting with the esteemed Van Hemlock in EVE. After the first two minutes we had established our identities (me Wilhelm, you Van Hemlock), determined our locations relative to each other (very far away), our relative allegiances (opposed), and pretty much shut the door on any joint activity, and then spent the next twelve minutes trying to find a polite way to end that train wreck of a conversation.

    Which is how many of my initial conversations with people go, honestly, in-game and out. Back when I was dating, I had a lot of first dates and very few return bouts.

  9. Wilhelm, you ignorant slut. (Starting the classic insults early, as you’ve admitted you’re rude to people who think you can interact with a whole server community. ;)

    You can actually interact with a whole server community. I did it a lot. Okay, so it was on Meridian 59 where the servers were a lot smaller. But, your inability to interact with a whole server in more recent games has nothing to do with the innate nature of online games, and everything to do with the design decisions (server size) made by the game developers.

    I’m with bhagpuss, in that I like server communities. As a player, I like the fact that I could run into new and interesting people outside my social circle more often. I have alts spread all around DDO, and each server has a slightly different feel to it as the cultures have developed independently, despite being the same game.

    As a developer, I like the flexibility of separate servers. On the player-motivated side, you have things like “unofficial” role-playing servers, where you can get a critical mass of people interested in role-playing without having every asshole who wants to disrupt people telling stories with each other. On the developer-focused side, you can set up different rule sets for different servers; the classic example being PvP-focused servers. (Or, for M59, the non-PvP servers.)

    There are still technological and development problems as well. EVE Online‘s monolithic server comes at a cost. Think people are going to tolerate Time Dilation in WoW (for example) to have one massive server? When your zones are lots and lots of empty space, it’s easier to add more empty space to expand the world. When you have to create content such as locations and topography that allows people to not get stuck, being able to shunt people into different shards makes sense.

    That said, it would be nice if it were easier to play with your friends. Games should at least let you create accounts on multiple servers. And, stuff like GW2’s guesting is a nice step in the right direction, but overflow servers present other technical problems. (And, guesting still isn’t working quite right a few months after launch, so it’s likely a non-trivial issue.)

    So, there are some really good reasons to have different servers. Such as allowing your “friends” to “accidentally” pick the wrong server so they don’t have to put up with you. (Hey, I’ve done that a few times myself. ;)

  10. @Brian – I could have sworn I read that you were playing EverQuest II recently. Had you, you might have seen that they have managed to take on the “too many people want to be in the same are” issue without resorting to time dilation. That comes at a cost as well. You lose your seamless world. But you gain a vibrancy that both Bhagpuss and I appreciated when the Freeport server was the sole EQII F2P server.

    And I wouldn’t want to do away with separate rule set servers. But the problem I run into is rarely ever “my friend rolled on a PvP server and I did not.” The examples in the post above were servers with identical rule sets. (And has an RP server, official or otherwise, ever done anything to keep away disruptive assholes? I always felt that officially labeled RP servers actually attracted such people.)

    As for interacting with a server community as a whole, I would say that you, as operator/developer of the M59, were in something of a special position, with motivation, tools, and a smaller population. The person I was calling out was just an EQ player (and not on the Al’Kabor server, where the population was exceedingly small for EQ) and was writing in a way to make it sound like it was not only plausible, but that you were some sort of social retard if you were not fully engaged with everybody on your server in any game.

    And even with your special position, I am going to guess that there was a pretty low bar as to what counted as interacting. Did everybody you interacted with know that had been the case? Do you have an example of you interacting with the whole community of a server? Feel free to turn that into a post on your blog. I would be interested to read it.

    Finally, chopping your audience into separate walled gardens is not without its own risks. Population stagnation, decline, and cliquishness come to mind. On person’s “different culture” can be another’s noxious environment. You can get the EQII issue, where the AB server was the “cool” server and people migrated to it. Or you can get problems like WoW, where they had to go to cross server battleground groups primarily because of the horde/alliance imbalance on nearly every server meant that one faction had to queue for long stretches for battlegrounds.

    There are no easy answers, but I tend towards favoring fewer, larger servers if at all possible.

  11. WoW has come a long way to crushing the barriers between servers, especially where friends are concerned.

    I take part in regular raids with people from all different servers. We exchange real id information, and form a group and pick a raid. It’s great!

    Last week a friend from my original WoW guild asked for help on a quest. We grouped up, and I made my way to the area he was questing. Despite me being on a PvE server and his being on a PvP, we were able to fight his monsters together, and I came out of it flagged for PvP, back on my home server.

    Last night I grouped with some friends who had made pandas, again on a different server. The four of us entered the dungeon queue to grab a fifth random player, and we ran two dungeons.

    Moral of the story…so long as your friends are of the same faction there are almost no boundaries to playing together, unless your friend is playing on a european server.

  12. @Wilhelm: I was playing EQ2 for a bit, then a friend bought me GW2 for my birthday in November. So, I’ve been playing that. (G’damned MMO tourists, I swear! ;)

    As for interacting with the whole server in M59, it didn’t require any special tool. Just one thing: a global chat channel. And, there was a cost to using it: it cost you part of your mana that was used for casting spells. Chatting too much meant you couldn’t fight as well, and even in town you had to wait for mana to regenerate. Made it so that everyone could talk to everyone who was paying attention to global chat, but without too much spamminess. Of course, a global chat channel isn’t really feasible in a game that has a few thousand people simultaneously; again, having thousands of people per server instead of a hundred is a design decision, one we’ve grown to accept as the default, though.

    You wrote, “On person’s “different culture” can be another’s noxious environment.”

    Yeah, but what your universal server is the noxious environment? What if someone thinks The Mittani is the antichrist and doesn’t want to play on the same game world as him? I guess that’s possible if and only if you speak Chinese, eh?

    I’m not saying either solution is the only “right” one. I’m saying there’s some significant benefits to having the shard-based design that shouldn’t be discounted. For all the heartache of someone not being able to play with his or her friends, there are other benefits to consider for both players and developers.

  13. @Brian – Yes, and as I said at the end of my comment, I do not see an easy answer, which you might infer as meaning a “right” answer. And speaking of inferences, I might reasonably infer from what you have written that you find even the current server sizes too large. Am I reading that right?

    Also I notice that the ability to “interact with a whole server community” got pared down to those online and paying attention to a particular chat channel at a given moment. That does not, to me, meet the definition of what was being claimed, unless you define “community as a whole” in a pretty loose and shifting way. My skepticism remains.

  14. @Wilhelm, I wouldn’t say too large, but I dislike any design philosophy that takes something on faith unquestioningly. I’ve seen that you could create interesting MMOs that thrive on a few hundred people online at a time. The assumption that you need thousands of people on a server at a time should be realized as a design choice.

    As for “interacting with a server”, it’s about the community. If the right person says the right thing (an admin proposing an event, a guild enemy threatening to take over a popular guild hall), then you’d get wide participation and people messaging others to log on. (Out-of-game communication was a lot more prevalent when the games were smaller. I still remember people in EQ1 swapping email addresses to stay in touch.) Over a course of a week I’d probably interact with a majority of the people with active accounts on a server, when I was an admin and the times I tried to go incognito as a player.

    Was I interacting with everyone all the time? No, but it’s possible to interact with a higher proportion of the server community in a smaller server than in a larger one. You’re going to run into the same people over and over again, which sparks friendships and rivalries. Compared to GW2, where even after a bunch of newbies went through the hard new dungeons with 1 person short and added each other to the friends lists, we still haven’t interacted with each other since that night because the others get lost in the crowds, particularly with the weak server boundaries in the games.

  15. @Brian – I remember an edict from an immortal during the MUD days declaring IM chat with other players while we were in-game as cheating. Some of us rebels had picked up ICQ to help coordinate things, which in turn persisted much longer than TorilMUD in its various incarnations.

    I am interested, since you have played a lot more GW2 than I have by this point, how much of what you see if due to the size of servers and how much is due to the removal of… as some people have put it… the frictions impeding social interaction?

    There has been a great rejoicing in some quarters that you no longer need to form a group, find a healer, fight as a team, or any of those annoying things. Competition over quest mobs and such has been removed. And so now everybody is happy and free and we can all be one community.

    Except that, to me, while I often find all of the above annoying, when I look back at my gaming past, those are all the things that drove people together to form regular groups and friendships in the first place. This was what the friend’s list was for, so you could remember the guy who helped you one night so you could team up with him later. I used to keep such a list on a notepad.

    Even in WoW, long regarded as solo paradise, I would group up with strangers to overcome the “we’re both hunting the same thing or on the same quest line” issue. At least I did until Cataclysm, when Blizz hit the “even more solo” button.

  16. @Wilhelm Yeah, strong communities transcend games. There are a few people I met in M59 who I am still in contact with, despite not being in M59 for a while now. But, I’ve found this happening less with the other MMOs I’ve played. Despite playing in a raiding group in LotRO for a few years, I haven’t remained in contact with anyone there, unfortunately. Of the few dozen people I played with in DDO, only one person remains and is someone I’m likely to stay in touch with.

    I think you point out the problem: the social difficulties were also what drove us to form social bonds When you take away the social friction, you take away a lot of the opportunities for people to form bonds as well.

    In GW2, the attempts to free us from social friction have also reduced opportunities to form bonds. As I said, I did some GW2 minidungeons with some newbies after someone lost connection. It was a trying situation and we accomplished something; we friended each other, but we didn’t really group up after that.

    People have said they form temporary nonverbal agreements with people as the cooperate, but it feels too much like “single serving” party members that you use and discard. Doesn’t even have the quasi-formality of RIFT‘s open parties.

    I think larger communities wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the relentless focus on soloing in games. I’m reading Desktops and Dungeons, a book about the history of computer RPGs. He goes to great lengths to say that MMOs/MUDs are more about socialization, but I find that funny given how much focus has been taken off of socialization in recent games.

    As I said in my most recent blog posts, I also think the economy being shared across all servers has created other problems as well.

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