It's a scary thought, but I've been playing MMOs for over 10 years now, ever since the original Everquest was released back in 1999. A lot has changed in the genre over the years (though some would say not enough!), but I'm still playing and enjoying them.
I think the thing that keeps bringing me back to the games are the communities that they generate. Without a decent community an MMO effectively becomes a mini-multiplayer online game, or even a single-player online game. So, here is my very personal and highly subjective run down of the top 8 MMO communities that I have been a member of over the past 11 years.
I should quickly say that I am not talking about guilds here. I'm talking about server communities as a whole, and even in the games with poor communities I have always managed to find decent guilds full of great people. Also bear in mind that this run down is highly subjective and the result of my own personal experiences. So, here, in reverse order are my top 8.
8. World of Warcraft, Argent Dawn - Roleplay Server
I know it is something of a stereotype to say WoW has a poor community, but in my experience it is a stereotype based in truth. I can play most MMOs and enjoy them even if they have a poor or no server community, but the WoW community on Argent Dawn is the only one that has actually driven me away from a game.
When I played the game seemed to be full of unfriendly, unhelpful, childish, rude, petulant and aggressive players. Now part of the problem may be the sheer size of the community; there is no doubting the game's success after all! Consequently there are a lot more of the unhelpful and vocal types around. Another issue may be that I was playing the game shortly after it was released, and communities often take time to evolve (though not always, see my thoughts on Dark Age of Camelot below). However, I am not sure that this was the case. I did reinstall WoW a couple of years ago to see what had changed. I logged in (and bear in mind this was on a roleplaying server) to see chat channels full of abuse and vulgarity. Within a minute I had received a /whisper asking if I wanted to cyber, and had another player's toon doing some weird humping emote on my character. I logged out, uninstalled the game, and haven't been back since.
Personally I think part of the problem stems from the game itself. It engenders a spirit of competition rather than one of cooperation. Secondly, the player base for WoW did not come from the traditional MMO player base (how could it, it more than doubled the existing player base!?). Instead the community was made up of players from Counterstrike, Warcraft, Diablo and other competitive games.
In any case, my experience with WoW was so bad that I'll never go back there.
7. Guild Wars
I'm not really sure what to say about the server community in Guild Wars. There didn't really seem to be one. Partly this may have been due to the instanced nature of much of the game and the highly limited nature of the open world parts. I cannot say the community was bad, but it was not well formed, with no character or atmosphere. This does seem to be something they are actively working on improving for the sequel.
6. Age of Conan, Aquilonia - RP-PvP Server
I've written about this before, so won't go into great detail now. Part of the problem is that the entire game community seems to be based around the end game. The levelling part becomes a grind around level 40, and other players just seem to want to get to the end game as soon as possible. Funcom must realise this as they give you free levels every four days of subscription, which is a sign in my eyes that they have a problem with their main game.
Things may get better at max level, but I got bored well before reaching that point. It's worth pointing out that I did find a great guild (Clan Koragg), without whom I think I would have left much sooner.
5. Eve Online
Eve is a seriously weird game. It really is fantastic and incredibly original in many ways, and one of those is the community. First of all the game only has one server which hosts all of the 250k subscribers. The game has a great sandbox nature to it, and the politics and manoeuvrings of the various player corps can be an overwhelming thing to try and understand. The payoff is that the player community an have a massive impact on the nature of the game world. You can find examples here and here.
My problem with the game is that I found it required an extraordinary amount of commitment to get the most from it. You are not just playing the mechanics of the game, but the politics of the community, and to keep up with it all you have to read the daily newscasts religiously. The other issue is that it requires a long time and a lot of effort before an individual can make their mark. I found a great corp, who took me on and trained me in fleet combat manoeuvres, but I did feel like a very small cog in a very big wheel.
Eve is a game I may like to try again at some point, but it's most likely that I would return to that universe when they release a sequel and can start in a big pond of many small fish, rather than being a small fish in a big pond full of sharks.
Eve is a seriously weird game.
4. Everquest 2, Antonia Bayle - Roleplay Server
I've really pondered about the order to put EQ2 and the original game on my list. I almost settled on giving them joint third place, but that seemed like a bit of a cop out.
Everquest 2 is my current MMO of choice (at least until The Old Republic appears sometime next year). I played the game for three years from launch, then had an extended break before recently returning, and I'm happy to report that the community as a whole is still as friendly and helpful as I remember.
There does seem to be a lot less roleplaying going on than there used to be, but it is still there. You just have to actively search it out, rather than finding it at unexpected moments. Level 1-9 chat does seem to have become the new global chat channel, and whilst at times swinging perilously close to the famed Barrens Chat of WoW, the community as whole does seem to be a lot more forgiving and any insults seem to be thrown around with a sense of mischievous humour rather than real aggression. There is also a surprisingly low amount of vulgarity in the global channels.
There appear to be some really friendly sub-communities within the server. The crafting channel for example is often fun to read and full of helpful and friendly advice.
I've only been back a month, but so far I like what I see and am looking forwards getting to know the community better again.
3. Everquest, Brell Serilis Server
I plumped for this above EQ2 purely for nostalgic reasons. Both games have had great communities, but I look back on my time in EQ through rose-tinted spectacles and miss quite a bit of what made the community special.
Sure, it was new and exciting at that time, and like nothing I'd experienced in a game before. Huge numbers of people gathered in game just to talk; the East Commonlands tunnel became the defacto auction site for the server and you saw the same faces over and over again.
There was a lot of inter-guild cooperation and communication. The unlimited raid sizes helped foster a sense of the community as a whole, whereas nowadays the trend is for smaller raids that a single guild can often fulfill.
The times I remember most fondly were the large roleplaying community on Brell. My time as an officer of the Mithril Empire, and later the Knights Templar was great fun, especially the stories and interactions with the Violent Harvest (who later lost their "n" and became the Violet Harvest). Major roleplay storylines were mainly played out in game rather than on forums, and the ability to hold guild wars was fantastic. For certain periods the Knights Templar would be at war with the Violent Harvest, meaning that you could attack them on sight for the duration of the war. This is something that more games need to do - controlled PvP rather than open PvP, but controlled by the players themselves, who negotiated the terms of the War (duration, locations, safe areas, etc) before the leaders issued the /guildwar command.
I remained friends with many of my old EQ playing partners for many years after leaving the game, even though they all lived thousands of miles away.
2. Lord of the Rings Online, Laurelin - Roleplay Server
The server community as a whole on Laurelin is definitely one of the best I have ever experienced. This was a world where you could wander into any tavern and immediately become involved in roleplay. A world where you would spontaneously stop to watch a band of players performing their latest tunes in exchange for a few silver. One of the few modern games where I made good friends outside of my immediate guild. It was very rare to see characters with lore-breaking names (like Legolasss), gold sellers were almost completely absent, and many players spontaneously helped me out, often responding in character to my thanks.
I do fear for the community now that the game has moved to a free-to-play model (I have no problem with the business model itself, but rather the effect that a large influx of new players will have on the community). Time will tell if Laurelin can hold on to that special feeling.
Which brings me to my number one!
1. Dark Age of Camelot, Prydwen Server
Where to start? One of the friendliest MMO communities I have ever been a member of. I made great friends with many people outside my own guild. The tailor-made GM server events were a blast, uniting the entire server community for days at a time. The PvP was perfect and has not yet been bettered, bringing people together for a common cause (I remember fondly the time that almost the entire host of Hibernia banded together to capture relics from Midgard - hundreds of players united in a common cause).
I have been to a few real life meetings with fellow guild members before. Prydwen is the only community I joined that held server-wide gatherings in real life. I got to meet people that I had previously only met across the battlefield.
Finally I met my wife through the game. Our guild leader came to our wedding. Pretty good going for a game community I reckon!
So, those are my thoughts. Agree or disagree? Let me know!
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