This collection of game mechanics and how they affect social interactions and community norms in MMOs is of course not meant to be exhaustive, but I think the examples provided here are provocative in getting us to observe and think about how all game mechanics are selected out of other possible instantiations. More importantly, game mechanics don't only change how we play the game, but they also change how we interact with other players and what cultural norms emerge. In EQ, it was perfectly normal to stop and say hi to a stranger running by and ask for help, for a buff, or for directions. In WoW, you oftentimes can't ask for help without being told to look it up on Thottbot.
While many of the examples above suggested how game mechanics could shape social interactions, these would be very difficult to test empirically (without access to two servers where some mechanic varied systematically). And many of the observed differences between early and recent MMOs may also reflect how the playerbase has itself changed over time. As several players noted,
I don't think it was the death penalty and interdependence that strengthened relationships in EQ. It was the net culture of the times and the newness of the genre. If you ever sat around reading the zone chat in EQ it had a striking resemblance to any random chat room. EQ was a graphical chat room for a lot of people and the game provided them with an excuse, subject matter, and a wide audience. Toss in the MUDing community (MUDs often had less than 200 players) for a base culture and you get UO/EQ. [M, 35]
Personally I think MMOs have just reached a broader audience in recent iterations leading to a decrease in the community feel. [M, 36]
Whether the strong community and altruistic cultural norms of EQ were a function of harsh game mechanics or early adopters of virtual environments, one thing is clear. Those days are gone forever. It would be unthinkable nowadays that a game with a true death penalty could gain broad market share. And third-party databases and more casual game mechanics appear to be the standard now. Even for those gamers who are nostalgic about the early EQ or UO days, the likelihood that we would find harsh worlds palatable after games like WoW is probably low.
On the other hand, as a recent fan of the Sci-Fi channel series Battlestar Galactica, a plot element in the current season really resonates with all this. The Cylons, a robotic race, download their memories and knowledge into a new body when they die. In short, they can respawn indefinitely. In a recent episode, a rebel group of Cylons decide that it is ultimately death that gives meaning to life and set into motion a plan to destroy the resurrection machine. Reflecting this back onto game mechanics, perhaps this is one reason why MMOs have become stale--adventuring has slowly turned into task-completion, but this does beg a more interesting question, would we be willing to give up our virtual immortality to live more meaningful virtual lives?
seems like alot of EQ is better than WoW posts, not unlike the WoW is better than AoC posts we are starting to see. All this wishing for the better days of the mmo doesn't seem to be doing much to move the genre forward IMO.
I saw a post the other day about EQ's greatness, and it boggled my mind. In retrospect, I remember EQ being an exercise in tedium, frustration, and even terror. And yet, I played it for over two years, and even WoW only held my attention for six months. There was a great feeling in being able to buff strangers, rez for free as a cleric, etc. You could be genuinely nice to others in a non-PL kind of way. You were needed. And that's being taken away in each new game.
In AoC, you can't even buff people outside your group. Rarely do you need a group (in the early levels). You hardly ever talk to anyone. I know the reasons why, and I almost agree with them, but, as Nick points out, at what cost?
In Warhammer, we'll have to join together to defend and attack. We'll need the support of allies, the standards to rally around, the reinforcements and troop-deployment dynamics necessitated by conflict. I really hope it brings back the idea that the individual is publicly needed in an MMO.
I never played EQ so I can't weigh in on the tedium vs. community argument.
But I have played WoW for several years and participated in several guilds so I can comment on how guild = community in WoW.
My main observation is this: given the large WoW server populations, it's like real life - the community is what you make of it.
The guild I'm in now is a "casual raiding" guild. They have fun. They help each other with group quests. They help lowbies and newbies level up and get gear. They do this not because they're part of some progression machine (because we aren't - we just downed Gruul for the first time a couple weeks ago). They do it for the fun and community aspect of it.
This experience it totally unlike my experience in other guilds.
- one guild would just recruit anybody that walked by. Nobody talked to each other. Nobody helped each other. It was like being in a giant 60-man PUG.
- another guild was all lvl 60 (pre-TBC) with only two lowbies (I was one of the 2). I couldn't interact much with the guild.
- another guild was also mostly 60 (still pre-TBC) but as a new 60 I could do stuff with them. This guild was more progression oriented. They didn't really have time for those that fell behind the progression curve in acquiring gear. (read as: they were not a very fun bunch). When TBC came out this guild became very hardcore progression oriented. Leadership also became a tight clique which would pick and choose who could raid with them and make no effort to support the other 40-80% of the guild's advancement. (read as: they went from not very fun to intolerable).
- so then I moved to my current guild was a total breath of fresh air.
So my little saga of guild history is actually a window into what can happen community-wise in a "forgiving" MMO environment. Sure there were some crummy experiences there but also great ones.
Does a game have to gain "broad market share" to be successful? It strikes me that the market might be big enough for niche games now.
I think it's interesting that the article does not mention those attracted to a game *because* death has a high penalty.
The most well-known example currently, I think, is Eve-Online, which is the only game I play. In Eve, players fly around in spaceships, fitted with modules, and loaded with ordinance, all of which they must purchase or build themselves.
If that ship gets destroyed, both the vessel itself, and most of its fittings and contents, are *gone*. If the vessel gets destroyed in PvP, the opponents have the opportunity to loot anything that survived. If the opponents killed the character's life-pod, as well, the character wakes up in a new clone -- but without any expensive cybernetic implants the previous body may have had.
That has two positive benefits that, for me, make the game worth playing. The first should be fairly obvious -- the high risk means high excitement. Routine PvE missions have an extra edge, if you know that, even though they'll never "pod" you or loot your wreck, the NPC ships will still inflict an expensive loss if you've misjudged the situation or the effectiveness of your fittings.
As for PvP, that's a rush of a whole 'nother magnitude. If you lose in PvP, you lose everything you're flying, because they *will* loot the wreck. And, given that rare fittings can sometimes cost more than the ship, that can mean a devastating financial set-back. Add in the potential loss of implants if you can't warp out in your pod, and the consequences can run to hundreds of millions -- or even billions -- of isk (the in-game currency). That can take weeks, or even months, to recover.
The second consequence is more subtle -- and vastly more profound to the mechanics of playability and sustainability. The actual loss of ships and equipments creates a continuous economic drain in available resources -- resources that someone must replace.
In the real world, few of us lose our belongings as the result of violence, or even accident. Mostly, we lose it due to wear-and-tear -- entropy wins in the end, and we have to replace stuff from time to time.
Entropy sucks in a game. It's boring and annoying. However, losses due to combat are a lot more exciting. Moreover, the need to replace what was lost drives player industry, which opens a whole new avenue for dramatic play. Best of all, it gives the entire production sector of the game a pattern that closely follows real-world economic principles.
Someone has to mine the asteroids to get the ore. Someone has to move that ore to the refinery. Someone has to move the refined minerals to industrial stations or manufacturing arrays in player-operated-stations. Someone has to research the plans needed to build ships and equipment of all types. Once researched, someone has to get the blueprints to the stations. Once the blueprints and minerals, together, result in production of new goods, someone either deliver them to market. Alternatively, if purchased directly from the industrialist, someone has to fly over and pick it up or deliver it to the buyer.
Of course, there's a kicker. The rarest of the most useful minerals come from the asteroid belts and moons in lawless space. That opens opportunities for piracy, which means escort missions, scouts, patrols of main transportation routes and the need to exercise sovereignty, which means military control resource-rich sectors.
See where this leads? More than half of all missions in Eve Online originate with *player-initiated* economic activity. The realistic economic model drives dramatic interaction of all sorts, up to and including piracy, theft, betrayal, lasting partnerships, powerful alliances and, of course, a lot of the old ultra-violence.
Moreover, in the more abstract sense, the game offers the subtle attraction of elegant design. The universe functions in an intuitive way. Hyper-inflation of the cost of "purples," or even useful equipment, doesn't exist except in a very localized and temporary way (usually in or near war-zones). The game closely follows well-established economic principles, which allows players to use real knowledge learned in the outside world to prosper in the game environment.
That, in turn, offers a level of immersion that, in my honest opinion, few other games can even approach.
Diablo II. Hardcore Battlenet.
Now THAT'S a death penalty.
I have to agree that death penalty IS an incentive to play a game. Without a severe death penalty you just don't care if you die. You rush, you get tired of the game earlier, you have no actual feeling of risk.
I mean, why should I care if I die, if only penalty is like 5 coppers? or even some platinums. Now... EQ's death penalty (more ecen before they introduced that recovery corpse zones) meant that if you failed to recover your corpse in 3 hours, ALL your equipment was LOST FOREVER. You had to rush back to the dungeon, naked, or with secundary equimpent, fight or run your way to your corpse, surronded by mobs, drag it to a safe site, and recover everything. Now THAT'S an adventure, one you'll remember for time. You can feel the adrenaline rushing, No need to face a real life lion, and still same rush.
And yes. mostly EQ (old EQ) was plain better than WoW. I don't mind whatever anyone says. But, for starters, default was 1st person perspective, which helps you identifying with your char, then, you had all that downtime, you used it to socialize. If you were a caster, you'd spend most time medding, and chatting while medding. You made friends while medding.
Leveling was much slower, so a given player would hang several days on same zone, so there was a feeling of comunity. WoW? except for really amsll servers, you can barelly find anyone from outside your guild twice a month. That leads to no reputation. EQ? After 4 days chatting ooc with same people, you worried if they had problems, you talked with them, shared with them your life.
If anyone was an asshole, everyone would knew, people HAD to behave properly. Not to mention trains. Believe it or not, but nothing bonds more than a train stopping attempt. Just you, and a couple guys you just hailed or something before, trying to stop dozens of mobs from getting to the zoneline. That... really bonds. After a couple of those, you feel you're safe with them.
So... sure, there was downtime, and a slow rythm, and boats were killers (not just on the time sense, but cause of that bug in which the boat would actually kill your char). But those made you feel more part of the world. You were not just rushing to kill a single monster, in five minutes, before going out to see a film. Ther was no need to films, cause you had all adventure you needed, right there, in first person.
Or, if you were bored of adventures, you'd hang in cities, or halp random lowbies, and they'd be most grateful... or, you could goof around, and arm and buff Emperor Crush, and have a laugh or two.
Also, there were antagonists. You were sitting in the overthere, and there, a goon! everyone running for their lives! You were in dreadlands, and EFF! There's gorenaire! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! Everyone running from same enemies... that meant it wasn't you versus the world, but you AND MORE PEOPLE versus the world. WoW? I just felt alone there. Sure, there are mobs that attack everyone. But run 2 steps, and there, they're ignoring you now. Try outrunning a goon! Try outrunning Lord Nagafen, back in the really old days. Heck... I STILL remember Kizdean Gix, and his hate for "good" races. All that... monsters actually following you for ages... made it feel more... real, somehow. They wanted to kill you, and they wouldn't stop just cause you were running a little.
Ah, the good old days...
Just thought I'd throw this out there; there -is- still a community of people who enjoy the challenge of a major death penalty. Take a look at Eve Online. If you die, you risk losing a -lot-. Personally, this has led me to be so reserved in my adventuring that I don't go far beyond 0.6 space, but once you get into bigger corps you see real risk, which has led to the formation of corps with many hundreds of people, so that you can be reassured that if you are killed by an enemy faction, your corp will support you to help you outfit a new ship.
As one more note, I can't help but read this entire article and remember my EQ days. I played EQ off and on for 7 years, and I made many more friends than I have ever made in any other game. Really, in fact, all the friends I communicate with in MMO's nowadays I met back in EQ. There are many good points made in this article that show why EQ was more condusive to social interaction. Why talk to anybody in WoW when you can do it all yourself?
"Whether .... of virtual environments, one thing is clear. Those days are gone forever..... Even for those gamers who are nostalgic about the early EQ or UO days, the likelihood that we would find harsh worlds palatable after games like WoW is probably low."
I disagree. WoW has a very big number of players, that doesnt mean a very big percentage of the total MMORPG players comunity. Because of his very big number of players and their good marketing, WoW is being "cloned" a lot, so that is percieved like the "gaming tendency".
But if you pay atention not to the number of players but the tendency of growing population in games, I am sure you will see a lot of "smaller" games which population is growing at fast rates.
They dont have the marketing power WoW has, non they have the so much appealing graphics so their player base is smaller, but they can be perfectly healthy games with growing comunities that are no willing to change to others games.
Moreover, there are a lot of people in this "non so famous games" that come from WoW, Guild Wars or Lineage. They have not stopped playing MMORPGs after leaving the "main = best" ones.
In "Shadowbane", for example, when you die you lose nearly nothing, but your nation city can be destroyed by other players, which is percieved by guilds like big "city death penalties". Also you can and will be killed by any other player in the server. While you get the top level fast, the learning curve is slow, and the game is very Skill-PvP oriented. That is, very diferent mechanics from WoW. That game comunity is strong and full of people who have tried WoW or GW and rejected them.
In "Tibia" you lose a lot of experience and valious equipment when you die, that game graphics suck, leveling curve is dificult as hell and with no level cap, quest are very dificult, any player can kill you, and if you get a bad name in the server you will be likely to be lowed to level 1 by angry players. When a war starts, you never know if your 2 years leveling character that could be level 100 is going to be killed untill level 1. So it is a game with "Old school" game mechanics and even "Old school" graphics. And its players comunity is growing fast as hell. It is also extremely adictive for kids for unknown reasons.
Many other games, whith diferent game mechanics are alive. They are just not so well known, non the have that great marketing that allows them to be in every gaming shop store with apealing colours.
To finish with a more graphic example. Imagine you are studing societies. You do a research of China society, a country which has 1.3 billion people. But dont play much atention to a certain group of 60 countries that just sums 730 million called Europe. So you predict the global society tendencies based on China just because it has the biggest population.
Just my 2 cents, keep the good work. =)
A random game mechanic that could affect social interaction popped into my mind as I was reading: Hand position.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking... No, seriously. :)
I used to chatter a bunch on a MUD because navigation was done by typing n, s, e, w, and other such commands. My two hands were already in a comfortable position to type and interact via long sentences.
I play MMOs with a WASD movement, mouse-look system because of their three dimensionality. To lift my right hand off the mouse, hit enter, and type extended sentences effectively stops my avatar in its tracks.
There's both a subconscious impediment to trivial chatting, as well as a very conscious decision if communicating is safe - am I locked in mortal combat? Will I get jumped by a wandering mob? - every time the opportunity to talk presents itself.
Voice communication probably eliminates this problem, but brings a slew of other social limitations with it. (People who sound different from the norm tend to be reluctant to use it, leading to a very homogenous social voice community.)
I play Final Fantasy IX and agree that death penalty, required grouping and high difficulty adventuring is what keeps me coming back to this MMO. Respect, altruism and skill are required to get anywhere in this very community oriented game.
A comparatively small player base, a developer that generally listens to feedback and discourages RMT and the basic challenge to this MMO make adventuring risky, time-consuming and very rewarding.
Is it all roses, no? Thank goodness for some thorns... The sting brings us together and the wins are sweeter for the defeats.
I've played a nitch game, "Ashen Empires" (formerly known as "Dransik") for about 6 years.
I totally subscribe to the philosophy that a game's community is determined by the game's mechanics. The way the game plays will attract certain types of personalities and how they can interact with each other.
I think the attraction of "danger" has a lot to do with the gender and age of a player. As an older player, I find that mobs give me all the adrenaline I need; no pvp or uber death penalty necessary. As a female, I prefer "empowering" other players as opposed to "pwning" them.
I think the nature of who is a gamer now has changed vastly in the past 6 years. Six years ago, it was mainly male teenagers. Now, it could be anybody from 8 to 80 (I know someone 72 who plays) - although the females are still a minority. Many people are cutting their gaming teeth on the extremely well advertised games (WoW) and come to expect certain features such as ease of leveling and low death penalty. There is a basic formula for what constitutes a successful game and devs are going to try to get a handle on that. I think eventually all successful games will have certain features in common - easier to level, less grind, and will use new quests, new gear and expansions to keep people coming back and interested.
This was an excellent study guys, keep up the good work.
Will we ever get a game again with the magic of everquest? I believe the previous posters summed up the eq experience well. Why, on all the new games, is the zone chatter ....the way it is? (you all play mmo's, you know what im talking about). From what I remember this simply wasnt the case back in the day. Whats changed?
It saddened me when I read the line that we will never see the old days again.
A lot of these testimonials seem full of reconstructionist thinking. This article acknowledges none of the ways in which communities may form more easily or permanently now in other games. In my experience in City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, Communities form more naturally around the types of things people are looking for in their gaming experience. Sure harsh circumstances can foster a sense of comraderie or teamwork at times, but ultimately the harsh conditions also sow frustration and bitterness into those same participants.
People form healthier communities around activities they like, than around problems they face together. Thats what newer games offer, and I think if one looks at the types of guilds that form in World of Warcraft, its easy to find that people organize around having the experience they desire in most cases: high achievement, casual socialization, helping and mentoring, having a large diverse community, or being annoying to other players.
Its probably impossible to capture, but i would love to see side by side qualitative data on the communal experience of an EQ player with a year commited to the game, and a WoW player with a year committed to the game. I think it would show a very different perspective than anecdotal evidence from people looking back in time.
Personally i agree with most of what this article states. Though i do think it really boils down to one thing. Ease of play.
MMO's IMO have become vapid. Nothing that is easy to obtain has value. People like Brittany Spears are great examples of this. They have no problems backing a 90k BMW or mercedes into a post 3 times a day because they had to do little to nothing to obtain that, and as such it has just shy of no value to them.
EQ was special because everything about it was difficult. Death penalties were severe, travel times were large, and most importantly, items were rare.
Although i played WOW for roughly 6 months, and certainly did enjoy some aspects of the game, i now harbor an extreme hatred for it, and for blizzard. I personally believe they have ruined the entire MMO industry. Due to the cost associated with developing an MMO, few devs are able to finance in house, and most mmo developers have to find investors. The unfortunate problem is that investors don't care about things like artistic value, intrinsic value, community, etc. All they care about is getting a return on their investment. So what they do is look at the most popular game on the market (WOW), and try as hard as possible to replicate that formula within the bounds of legality. As a capitalist, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem is it doesn't belong in the game industry. Also, when these investors start pressuring the devs to release a game (which is fine, sometimes you need to light a fire under someones ass), they in many cases ruin what could be a great game by forcing an early release. Examples. AoC and especially Vanguard.
MMO's are going the way of the consoles, that is, scoop the lowest common denominator. Who cares about making a game with any kind of depth to it, just make something that gets someone to spend 50 or 60 dollars on the game, keep them interested long enough for us to develop another 60 dollar game in about 8 months, and then bam, we just made more money.
WOW is the epitome of this ideal. Humans for some completely ridiculous socialogical reason, believe that if something is popular, that makes it good. Unfortunately humanity is subject to bouts of stupidity and whimsical notions of quality. This is why fads exist. We laugh at them in hindsight, but when they were the "thing" to do, by god were they insanely popular.
I feel like such a tool for falling for the WOW trap. But i realized exactly what they were about when the first expansion was released, and guess what. Literally EVERYTHING you did in the original game was completely and utterly trivialized by the time you reached level 63. I mean for christ's sake, mid 60's greens being far FAR better than "old" game raid gear?
MMO's thrive off of the idea of people's characters/avatars improving or "get better". Most MMO's do this through heavy use of items (WOW, EQ, etc), some do this through skills, EVE for example.
Anyways, i ramble. My point is this. WOW is like that really, REALLY hot girl who keeps flirting with you, or draws attention to her chest by breathing heavily, or basically metaphorically snapping her fingers in front of your face while she talks to you to keep your attention off of her buddy stealing your wallet, and then she does the same thing next week, and the week after, and the month after. And yet you keep coming back, because you can't see the forest for the trees.
As a Day one contributor to Nick's surveys , I'd also chime in on EQ .
As it happens , I recently met on a forum a person who had been also a Day 1 EQ player .
We immediately began to exchange experiences (Ah those players' markets in E.Commons tunnels with the whole haggling and hawking , you remember ? Sure I do , I always used to offer free DMF when hanging out there . And do you stil remember the first travel from Qeynos to Halas through the terrifying Blackburrow ? Yeah man and ...) .
And I realised one thing what seems to me now very important and relevant .
I stopped playing EQ in 2001 and since that time played many other games - DaoC , AC , Eve , AOL , EQ2 , WoW , AoC etc .
All those games passed like a blurr leaving hardly anything worthwhile in my memory .
Vague recollections of a town , of a trade skill , of a mob . Probably I even was in guilds but forgot everybody up to the name of the guild .
From EQ , even 7 years later , I still remember the terror and the sudden shot of adrenalin when carefully creeping through Kithicor Forest during the night I suddenly heard an undead cackling behind me and then came the familiar sound of a spell starting to be cast .
Oh how I raced well knowing that if I don't make it to Neriak gate , I am dead :)
So indeed EQ had something special because it left such vivid memories and I notice that most if not all EQ players from the early days also remember almost everything .
Why is it so and what made EQ so special ?
I think that it was because the kind of experience that EQ delivered was rather similar to RL experiences and so our neurones treated it in a similar way .
Many of those aspects have been treated here .
First is that EQ was dangerous .
Very dangerous and your (virtual) life had a great value .
Once I died in Oasis and was lucky to find a cleric 5 zones away who promised to come and rez me in 1 hour . I still remember his name and I was glad to wait the 1 hour to get the rez .
EQ also demanded a high level of patience in order to be rewarded - I remember having camped Unrest for 4 or 5 hours in order to get a quest item that would give me an armour piece with good stats .
EQ demanded a high level of cooperation because almost every class had something very unique that made them necessary for groups .
And when I say necessary I don't mean merely desirable - really necessary . You don't go in Kedge Keep without a necromancer and you don't go in Karnor's castle without an enchanter .
EQ was indeed slow . The levelling was slow and when you heard somebody yelling "DING !" it sounded for the whole zone like victory .
But this also meant that you were meeting same people in the same zones for a long time (I am talking weeks here) and established relationships .
EQ promoted , even more , demanded cooperation .
Do you still remember the lists for the Highhold basment where you were the number 4 and waited untill 4 people logged off to be invited but then you were sure that you wil be rewarded by a skilled group and achieve something ?
Personnaly I found the ease to find a group and the readiness of most people to help the most appealing feature of EQ .
Of course this decreased with time and after Luclin and PoP expansions when 90 % of the game population became a max level uber equipped crowd , EQ stopped to feel like what it was in the early years . It was then that I left .
EQ was vast and travelling slow .
There was no way to breeze through zones in minutes without danger .
There was much to discover and travelling provided pleasure of discovery .
Of course , back then we were often frustrated and angered because one usually died just after having dinged and thus lost the level and all the spells acquired the hard way .
We would have probably said that a WoW like game play would be a good thing if somebody had asked us .
Yet would EQ had been WoW , we'd have already forgotten all about it .
Last but not least I will join other posters who contradict the idea that a hard , dangerous , highly cooperative MMORPG like EQ has no future in the today's state of art .
I also think that the host of WoW clones is an effect of mode .
It is successful because many people play it and other developpers copy that mode because they think that it will also provide them with success .
But that doesn't mean that there are not many people who don't play it and would rather play an early EQ kind of game .
Perhaps not with 50 servers but to pass break even much less is necessary .
So yes , EQ clearly wrote MMORPG history and if one could weight the amount of memories that a game left in people's minds , I bet that EQ would win with a large margin .
V Interesting topic, hope to see it further explored - this aspect of ingame design/ environment influencing pple's behavior ingame.
I myself have been wondering why in WOW, there seems to be less Altruistic/ 'helpful' people aiding significantly lower level pple compared to few other previous mmos I played. Although yes, (server) community plays a part - I feel often it just boils down to the game design's 'costs' of helping someone.
In WOW, I find gear repair costs + (opportunity) time costs can be significant enough to deter some people from helping others. But most importantly, in a competitive mmo where achieving the 'higher status' takes eons of time to reach - opportunity cost of time spent helping somone else lvl up VS using the time spent on your own goals.
This, compared to a different mmo with high level persons with nothing better to do. Or an mmo that actually levels your skill (eg: healing/ ress) if you use it often on other people.
Damn, sounds like playing EQ back in the day was a blast.
But seriously -- you should have researched Eve Online! Like others have said, now THERE'S a death penalty. You die, you lose everything -- no chance of getting it back. That's even harsher than EQ was, if I see it correctly.
I started off playing Star Wars Galaxies, which whilst not overly harsh for non-jedi's in terms of death penalties did require a lot of player cooperation in order to get things done.
Memory of the game is getting a bit hazy now, but back when I played it armour could only be bought from other players (who needed to buy the mats for it from other players), to perform any combat activity you would need to get your character buffed (by another player) and after a period of fighting you'd need someone to heal you. If you wanted to learn a new level ability the best way was to ask someone else to teach you (they received points for this to use on a master skill). So lots to foster player interaction.
As a fairly casual player (whenever my boyfriend wasn't using the computer - which wasn't often) I didn't really have time to make any bonds with other players. I did join a guild, but only really spoke with the guild leader and wasn't able to attend many guild events. Mostly what I did in the game was a little bit of mats gathering and also tried out buffing other players (which I really enjoyed as a doctor, but not as an entertainer). I did do some group missions (when they decided you needed a group to kill a lair you previously could do solo), but I never grouped with the same person more than once intentionally.
So as a casual player I wasn't really able to experience the full scope of the game as I didn't have time to involve myself to a necessary degree in the community.
After the Combat Upgrade I lost interest in the game and decided to try WoW (which my bf had, but I hadn't been interested in playing).
I still had limited play time, but managed to find regular pick-up groups (still with people I didn't know - but at least we were working as a team) and a small guild where I got to know most of the players and still kept in touch with them after they left. I also made a few friends while levelling that I chatted to when they were online.
I think WoW (and 'easier' MMOs) caters much better to casual players. If you can dedicate a set time to a game then I can imagine it would be great to have the sense of real danger/risk provided by harsh death penalties. If you have a couple of hours to play and you die right at the end of it, I can't see how it adds to the enjoyment when you lose everything because you have to go out (or to sleep because of work/school). In WoW I like the fact that I can log in for 30 mins, get a quest done and know that I'll have made progress on my character by the time I log out.
I think it probably depends on what you want an MMO to be. I like the idea of an extension to a single player game, where there are options to interact with others around you, but you're not forced to. I do enjoy grouping, but I'm not an overly social person and sometimes I do just like hiding away and doing my own thing, but as I enjoy the WoW universe I like that I can achieve both in one game.
Regarding external sites I do make extensive use of them for WoW, but not for everything. Generally it's for raiding, character gear optimisation or if I get really stuck on a quest.
I'm looking forward to the upcoming expansion because it will bring in new content. I've not looked at much of the beta stuff because I like being able discover new things (even if someone else has found them already). The first time I level a character I'll pick up every quest I find and read through them to work out what to do (with guildies being my first resource if I get stuck), for 5 man instances I'll probably head into them not knowing what to expect as well (which is what me and my friends did with BC, we tried the instance and worked out tactics as we went along, only looking online if we had a real problem).
For future characters I'll either look into a levelling guide (I've used one on some characters for azeroth, but found it unneccesary for outland). The first time you level a character you can have fun discovering new things, but mostly on following characters I would like to level as economically as possible, as the really new things with that toon are waiting for when I hit 70 (or 80).
As a two-and-a-half year WoW player, I have to say that, after reading these comments, I have no desire to play either Eve or EQ. I hate PvP intensely, so having to struggle to stay alive to do the most basic of tasks to advance, or having to start over after dying just isn't worth my time.
As to the oft-repeated theme that EQ required cooperation to succeed, I can see the attraction in that, but being able to solo through levels is a very zen experience for me. I don't have to put up with people's issues, drama, their dog needing to poop in the middle of a raid, people watching TV instead of paying attention, or even talk if I don't want to.
Is it a close-knit community? Probably not in the sense that some of these other MMORPGs seem to be, but I don't really want that. I have a family and a job and I just want to be able to quietly play the game, get a sense of accomplishment, and then go on to other things.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not entirely antisocial. I've made some good friends in this game, better than real-life ones in some cases. But different people play for different reasons. Trying to make a case for one game being better than another is like trying to make a case for chicken vs. steak: it's really just a matter of taste.
I'm still holding on to my favorite grinder MMO for more than two years, but what I really miss was the old days when there were only two servers and about 30,000 users: we knew each other, every one of us made a rep in one way or another, and I missed the bliss of comraderie and community. Today it seems more than 90% of the player population, despite the exodus to other new games, are acting like kindergarteners, and being stupid or noisy or horny is cool for them.
Regarding the death penalty: in the game, everyone's fear isn't just dying and losing 1% (and in the case of high-level players, a nightmare after hours of grinding), it's also the possibility of losing that costly +7 equip or armor set to some passing player. Furthermore if you get killed, either you're lucky to have a teleportation card and a friend on the list or have to trudge across several maps if you haven't able to do a save point at your grind spot.
Regarding global-wide chat: most of those using it are attention deficient, no doubt. If that could be used as a barometer of what kind of players the MMO contains, then in my case it's like the oddball guests at the Jerry Springer show: drama at its nadir. I once told the management to cut down the use of this feature (we call 'em megaphones or "shouts") but they don't want to because it's one of their most profitable products in the item mall.
I think that the general population size has to do alot with the player base attitude towards each other and the game. This is definitly true in WoW wow larger servers have no community feeling at all. I think the only way to get back that feeling is to start playing a game that's not popular but than it would probably suck anyway.