“Please Leave” : A Tale of MMO Community Building From the Player Standpoint

A community is not a bunch of individuals who demand your unpresence. Just sayin'.

I’m not in the “hardcore” gaming crowd. That said, I just demolished another controller due to overuse (I crushed my “Y” button!), but I’m still casual. I don’t know how to put the buffs, glyphs, items and lunar alignment together to make a perfectly streamlined character. I just want to play. I want to turn on the game, turn on some rock music, and turn off the real world for a little while.

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Apparently, this is too much to ask for.

See, this is my day off. Crawling out of bed on days like this isn’t too hard providing that I have my rapidly depleting bottle of “Vitamin I” near by and a clear line-of-crawl to the kitchen to grab 12 cold, beautiful ounces of liquid caffeine to kickstart my brain into forming words like “yes” or “what?” Somewhere on the way past my computer I slap the button that looks like the on switch and let it boot up without me. Then come back with two cans of citrus flavored caffeination (one for now, one because I know I’ll be in the middle of a crawl after this one is slammed) and a bag of breakfast potato chips to be greeted by a superficially happy window to the virtual world.


I hate windows 8, some days I need insulin to deal with the saccharine-like forced happiness it tries to clobber me with. Then settle in with my favorite hoodie, turn the lights off, and slip blissfully into the game and play…

Well, try to play.

The screen shot above is fairly typical of my day today. Awhile ago my character reached max level, meaning that the only way to progress is to play the top end events. Playing old content at this level is like (to put it Durty Dan style) shooting butterflies with a shotgun. It’s fun, sure, but what do you really have to show for yourself at the end of the day? The problem is that these top tier events are filled with the so-called “hardcore” crowd. And these guys are so set in their ways and unmovable in what they KNOW THEY NEED that you’d think they were made of hospital jello.

Coming into an instance and being greeted with “argh” and “goddam” makes me cringe. Mainly because my first thought is wondering if my reputation somehow precedes me. There aren’t many characters based on X-Mas elves and…

“we dont’ need anymoer trollers”

Oh, okay, so they don’t need a character of my specialization. Okay, that’s cool, out of 8 people I can understand that, kinda. Looking down the list I see two other people in my specialty so I’m cool, I’m flexible in a virtual world. So I offer to go with the more utilitarian damage role.

“we have neough dps”

Okay, okay. Well hit “Y” on my keyboard and see they’ve already chewed through about 15 people in the 2 hours they’ve been working on this instance. Hmm, big turnover rate but it’s cool. This can still work! A look at the map, they’re at the end boss. OH! This is easy! I’ll stay in my role and exclusively debuff the boss and do what’s called “Crowd Control”, meaning tie up enemy popcorn into a nice bow and keep the mobs at a manageable level. I’m pretty good at turning forty enemies into…

“Keep kicking new people till healer comes in.”

Oh. That… that is the battle plan? Sit on your assets and hope that what you need pulls up in a limousine, steps out and declares “I’m here!” while brushing their purple cape behind them like… okay, it’s DC so that’s not too far fetched, but really? This is your plan? Punish people with a timed debuff so they can’t immediately re-cue for an instance, all because you think a single healer will keep your sorry tails alive in a boss fight you’ve been working over for easily an hour? Not working as a team, not working with your available resources, just selfishly throwing everyone out ’till what you want comes along?

And that’s what bothers me the most.

I’ve read game designers, studios… the whole industry talk about community building. Hell, I felt downright “crying game shower” dirty reading what some of you guys say about building communities in your flavor of game. Then I get into your game, and I’m greeted with this mentality “Kick out the new people” for what crime? Being new to the group and not being a healer.

If this was isolated, I wouldn’t pay it much mind. One group of people does not make a community, I know this. But then I see it again, and again, and again… This screen shot is not an anomaly, it’s standard practice. And it has nothing to do with gear as some pundits proclaim. It has nothing to do with character level or skill in the instance, I never even got a chance to see them let alone look at their gear. It only has to do with what the group thinks it needs, and they’re willing to ruin several other people’s good times until they get it.

For the record, this was an 8 man “raid” that I’ve done before, several times. It’s hard, but achievable, to beat the final boss without a healer in the group. Everyone has to play smarter than the average bear and be their brother’s keeper but it can be done. This group wasn’t going to have any of that “play better” nonsense, because they were convinced they needed a healer. Nothing else would do, only a healer. But there’s one more part, right near the end of the screen shot.

“k kick the person that just zoned in since they didnt help us get here”

This is the hardcore mentality. I do not deserve to win with them because I had no hand in getting them to the end boss. Unless I’m the role they think they need in which case I’m more than welcome to be blessed with their company. The mixed message is, again, common. I’ve seen it in every MMO I’ve played with group content. Some groups would rather short-handed run an instance rather than allow someone to ride all their hard work to the end reward in the last few moments of the fight. I find this mentality puzzling, because in order for a spot to open up someone had to leave. And the only reason people leave voluntarily is if they determine the group is “fail group” material.

So this, according to game designers apparently, is “community building”.

I’d call it something else. Selfish. See, these players didn’t want me because, in a way, I threatened to win the ultimate random reward from under their noses.

“I didn’t work 2 hours to have this new guy come in and win a need roll for something I EARNED!”

They didn’t want me because I wasn’t a healer, which is more legitimate but when you’re greeted with “goddam” it feels more like being cursed for a decision made months ago. And they made this decision as “business as usual”, like they’d kicked out a lot of other players before me waiting for that perfect tetris-like line piece to fall into the instance and solve all their problems.

Allow me to get into the real world a moment.

Role play with me, we’re talking MMORPG’s after all. So… You’re in a flood zone and bad things are about to happen. It’s dark, raining hard, you’re beyond soaked to the bone, and desperately trying to fill sandbags to build a dam to at least try to stop the worst of the water. Some guy stops his truck nearby, runs out and offers to help. Would you look them over, see they’re not a sandbag specialist, and tell them to leave? I’m betting no. “Grab a shovel and start filling!” Doesn’t matter who they are, an assist is an assist. This is a community mentality. We’re in this together, you may not be perfect but you’re here and you want to help. Lets do this.

I also pull into my paintball background where I play a lot of what’s called “walk on” play. Meaning that I don’t know who’s on my team until the goggles are on and we’re standing at our base making a very crude plan. You can’t just throw someone off the team because they don’t fill a role you think you need. You work with what you have, play to your strengths and not to your weaknesses, and if everyone sticks to their strengths you can win. Unless you’ve done it, you’d be surprised how often it works. Some of the most fun games I’ve played involved players going out of their native element, yet playing to their strengths for a team goal.

If you want to build a community, it takes trust.

Ultimately it comes to the designers placing systems in that either reward team and community style play, or discourage the mentality of “U R NOT HEALZ! U LEAVE!” It could be as simple as an achievement for “Beat the final boss without healers (or tanks, or dps for that matter)” or “Beat the final boss with your original starting crew” or reworded “beat the final boss without kicking people off your team”. It could be altering your “looking for group” to be specific.  Or allowing a player to have a trinket to allow them to emergency change their role for 5-10 minutes which people will scream is “OP” but it’d solve the problem for people who can’t make a situation work.

You could have a ‘group reward’ that isn’t rolled on randomly so everyone gets it and they don’t feel ‘ninja’d’ by the new guy. It could even be as drastic as allowing a ‘kicked’ player to file a report for unfair bootings, but that’s open for abuse. But no, it’s easier to have a team game that rewards individuals, and not teams.

I understand why too.

It’s a variation of the Skinner box. If you have 8 people in a team, the boss drops 2 pieces of valuable loot, you now have realistically a 1-8 chance of winning that piece. It’s the slot-machine payoff, keep people coming back for more if they don’t win. If everyone won the piece, well they won’t come back or so the theory goes. What it creates is situations like this one today.

“You didn’t get us here, you’re gonna gank this loot! *boot*”

Not a solid community when people don’t trust each other.

This is why I will openly ask game designers, studios, and in fact anyone else involved in AAA gaming if they actually play their own product as a casual gamer. They talk a LOT about community building and it’s obvious they never come down out of the ivory towers to mingle with us plebeians without stuffing their status up our orifices. (Orifi? Orificiuses? “Nooks and crannies”! We’ll go with that.) Most studios and designers seem happier to keep the dirty masses at a safe distance rather than actually get into the trenches and see what we deal with so they can address these issues.

I also wonder if these people, in the real world, would be like this? I mean throw people out of their work or school projects like they lived in a reality show. I suppose that I’m weird because I’ve been trained all my life to “finish the mission” and do it with what you have at hand. I’m the master of jury-rig (you should see my “computer chair”.) It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it more rewarding sometimes. I suppose that the easier route is to throw out what could be valuable assets to hope that what you believe you need will come by and want to help you out. Throw back the fish in your hand and hope you catch a whale sounds good ’till you’re starving. In the real world, that never happens. But I guess that’s why we’re in a virtual world, right? To avoid reality and the repercussions of being selfish in a community.

Sorry bro…

Right after I took that screen shot, I was kicked from the group with a “sorry bro” that felt as genuine as a black Naugahyde seat in summertime and about as comfortable as well. I thought about telling them I have a maxed healer as well but to be honest, I’d probably counter-troll them. You know, log in, queue up, get in, and tell them “You just threw me out a moment ago, so I’m not gonna heal. GLHF LOOZERS!” then leave. But to tell the truth, that wouldn’t actually solve anything. Instead, I logged out and went for tacos. Sure, this still leaves me wanting my gaming fix but, ya know, those tacos were really good. I’ll get back in there with a different group, and we’ll scream through that instance. It’ll have it’s moments, but we’ll ultimately win. How do I know? Because we can make it work.

Edit add : it’s currently 4:25 AM.  Why am I awake?  Clowns will eat me, too much of the elixir of the Mountains, I’m nocturnal, I’m actually a vampire / werewolf…  Well the house slammed a door on me and drew blood so I might become a werehouse, but I digress.

I’m back in world of DCUO, and interestingly enough, been kicked out of two groups in the span of an hour.  In both cases, it’s the same story.  “we need a healer” so seemingly arbitrarily, I’m the one booted.  It’s not the DPS output, I’ve been #2 and #1 respectively.  It’s not the gear, although granted if it were the results are even more impressive.  It might be because I’m playing a furry, I’m willing to accept that as an answer.

In both cases I e-mailed the person who instigated the booting and asked bluntly “Why did you kick me?”  The last time I did this I got an interesting one that I can’t repeat in a family forum but suffice to say it broke the terms of service.  Several times.  In one message.  That’s impressive.

I still feel the same way, that it’s a selfish act, but in smaller groups one instigates, the others follow thankful they’re not the ones booted out and this creates a totally different dynamic.  When you can’t trust your teammates, you have no teamwork.  The instances we’re doing does not require a healer, just smarter play and teamwork.  Teamwork that is, unfortunately, not there.  Again, you can’t build a community when people don’t trust each other.

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I'm a gamer. I'm a reality junkie. I'm a cynic. I'm a dinosaur. I'm a writer. I'm so much more than a paragraph can say. You want more? Ok. I started a video game show on the internet some time ago. See, I've played video games since Intellivision and Atari 2600 and PONG back in the day. Retro-gaming doesn't really fire me up as much as seeing how the community ticks. And after seeing way too many "I'm too young to have played this game when it first came out but it MAKES ME SO ANGRY" reviewers who would happily eviscerate my childhood for lulz... yeah I tossed my hat into the ring. the quickly scooped it back up, I'm told I have a bald spot that needs covering. Outside of gaming... yes I go outside shut up... I like to play paintball when I can. I snowboard a lot, when I can. I go mountain biking, when I can... seeing a trend yet? I prefer reality to video games, but at 4 AM it's hard to find a paintball game going on. Lately I livestream a lot, playing video games for an audience.