Spreading the Disease
by Sam Witt
November 15, 2000
When you start looking at online gaming, it rapidly becomes apparent that the designers aren't the only people responsible for the health and well-being of a game. Sure, they have to do their best to release a game that isn't hobbled by any nasty flaws, not to mention a setting that's enjoyable for the players. But even the best designed game is only as good as its most crucial component: its community.
When I say community, I'm talking about players, but I'm also talking about a wider group of people. Ever mention Castle Marrach to someone, even in passing? Yeah? Then they're part of the Castle Marrach community, connected to the rest of the players through you. They aren't particularly active members of the gaming community, they may never walk the halls of the Castle, but they have some opinion about the game and its players now. That opinion is based almost entirely on you, the person who inducted them into the community.
As a designer, I can't see into the heads of a player and see what they're thinking about a particular part of Horizon Station, but I can get a good idea of how that piece of the game is playing to the community as a whole. On a similar note, few things make me happier than stumbling across a website or forum where people are praising something I made. That's power. And it's in your hands.
As some of the earliest Skotos players, you also have the interesting challenge of helping to grow the community you've joined. This is a strange and exciting position to be in, because you're all card-carrying ambassadors for our games. While evangelizing is always welcome, there's a much more important part of community-building that all of us can take part in without going to much extra effort.
Whenever a new player drops their character into one of these games for the first time, they are completely alone. In some cases, this may be their first stop in the online gaming world, and they'll be out of their depth. The wealth of commands necessary to make your way in an a text-based world can be daunting in and of itself, which sometimes leads to new characters acting oddly or even disruptively. In many cases, this can result in new blood being treated poorly or ostracized -- which in turn leads to them deciding your community isn't worth the effort of joining.
That's one of the things I'm taking great pains with in the design of Horizon Station, that new players are greeted and welcomed into the game's larger community. I admit it isn't easy, and as a designer I was a little daunted by the idea of actively encouraging seasoned players to interact with raw recruits. The design of most games actively discourages this, by segregating the interesting areas from those frequented by the 'newbies.' This division of players is a paradigm that I'm all too happy to do away with now, and one that I'm hoping the players will shun, as well. Without the new players, after all, the old players might not have a game to play...
I don't want to ask everyone to build a website, or run around posting to every message board they can find. It's a lot simpler than that and more personal. Whenever you see a new person in your game, or notice someone acting a bit confused, help them get their feet under them, then show them how to get around in the game and start interacting with others. In other words, welcome them to our community.
This kind of thing is worth a lot to the community of a game, it helps it grow, and convinces people to stick around. When you think about what you can do to really help a game you like, this is the one simple thing will make an enormous difference.
That's it for me this week, let's hear what everyone else has to say.