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Survivor: Friendship Isle

February 4, 2009

My first MMO was Star Wars Galaxies.  I’d never really bothered with MMOs before that, mainly because none really seemed like a game I’d want to get into.  I stuck to RPGs for the computer and console and was content until I walked through Costco of all places and saw SWG boxes taking up a whole table there.  I immediately got on the cell and called my roommate and told him we had to try it.  He was the first person on my friends list in that game, but he definitely wasn’t the last.  Over the 5+ years I played it seriously, I added hundreds of people to my friends list.

You know what the best part about that was?  I didn’t have to remove many, if any at all.  The friends list in that game was nigh infinite.  If it had a cap, I never hit it….but I bet my friend Beer did.  That guy put every customer he ever had on his friends list and sent out emails to his entire list when he restocked vendors or was in the market to buy resources or rare items.  His friends list was so big that, I swear to the MMO gods, he would crash his account every time he tried to email everyone.  He’d hit send, I’d hear a ding for my email and at the same time see him go offline.  I’d check my mail and by the time I’d finished translating his infamous Beer-speak, he’d have logged in and asked me if I’d received it so he could figure out where in the list it stopped sending mail when he crashed.  Seriously, it was that big.

Lately though, I think someone forgot to put a cover letter on the report about friends lists and it got lost.  The last two MMOs I’ve played have both touted themselves as epic X versus X types games, whether they called it Realm vs. Realm or Nation vs. Nation.  Ultimately, it was the same thing.  One side versus another (or against multiple sides) in an all-out struggle for domination where you have to work together with everyone on your side to reach your goal.  That takes a lot of coordination.  It takes making lots of friends and keeping in contact with them.  That screams epic friends lists.

And yet: Pirates of the Burning Sea – 50 people.  Warhammer Online – 40 people.

Seriously?  Seriously!  Seriously.  I’ve got more pieces of flair on my jacket than people on my friends list in WAR.  Not for lack of trying, mind you.  I hit the 40 person limit within the first week and then had to start voting people off the island.  First to go, alts.  Once I ran out of those, people I hadn’t grouped with in a couple days.  That’s right, a couple days.  What the hell?  That means people couldn’t take a couple days off the game before I discarded their in-game friendship.  Then came people that I didn’t see on a daily basis in RvR or didn’t run dungeons with regularly.  Then I stopped participating in RvR for the most part due to the merry-go-round that is keep/BO swapping and I finally got to keep people on my friends list that I didn’t see every single day.

Of course, that led to me realizing that a lot of people were disappearing.  Not from my friends list anymore, but from the server.  They weren’t on their mains, they weren’t on their alts, maybe they were on another server, but there was no way to know.  Hey, maybe they just didn’t enjoy the game anymore.  Plenty of people have left over the problems with end-game RvR, so maybe they fell victim to that.  Or maybe they were just part of the huge group of people that start games lately, play the first free month and then move on having had their fill in a game-grazing sort of way.  My roommate I started SWG with is kinda like that now.  He tries just about every game but sticks with very few, if any, for long periods of time.

Lots of people do that lately it seems, which is why every game lately starts with lots of servers and then merges shortly thereafter.  People like to say it’s the game, but it’s not.  It’s the people.  Lots of people are willing to spend $50 to try out just about every game out there when it comes out.  They then move on, or don’t, based on their personal likes/dislikes.  Nothing wrong with that, but it’s an interesting pattern that’s making it hard for games to be seen as successful nowadays.

Back to the point though, what if people aren’t leaving because the game doesn’t fit them?  What if it isn’t because of the end-game not being what they wanted?  What if, instead, it’s because they feel like they’re playing a Massively Multiplayer Online game by themselves?  What if this age of stupidly small friends lists makes them feel like the people they met in-game and had fun with are now ignoring them simply because those other people had to remove them from their friends list and now don’t know when they’re online to be able to simply say “Hi”.

Whether online or off, human beings for the most part crave human interaction.  They want to feel like they’re a part of a circle of friends, whether it be a guild or simply a friends list.  Why are we becoming so guild-centric in games?  What, just because you joined X guild, you can’t be friends in Y guild?  But that’s what alliances are for in WAR right?  But then you can’t be friends with people in X alliance because you’re in Y alliance.  Simply because your friends list is too small.

I find it hard to believe this could be a data storage issue.  Hard drives are getting bigger and bigger and prices for storage of data are dropping to the point where they might as well be free.  I bet if someone did a breakdown of the cost of adding 1 friend to your friends list, it would be damn close to nothing.  Yet I’m capped at 40.  Who made that decision?  I’d like to hit them in the face with a pie.  Preferably chocolate cream with whip cream and sprinkles.  Just because.  But seriously, I’ll give you a quarter every month to up my friends list by 100.  That’s gotta be a profitable tradeoff.  Hell, I’d almost be willing to send you a brand new hard drive to add to your collection if it meant you’d make it unlimited for me.  Seriously, tell me where to send it.

In the meantime, my friends and I are going to go take out our frustrations on some office equipment with a baseball bat.  And if anyone’s seen my stapler, please let me know.  It’s red.

*walks off muttering* I’ll burn this place down…

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