Thursday, 28 July 2011

Reviewing the Reviewers Part 6: The Protean Village - Online Communities

In what will probably be the last (at least for now) entry in terms of reviewing, I’m going to talk about something that isn’t actually tackled a whole lot in terms of reviews: the online community that is an absolutely essential element to Multiplayer Online Games. After all, although some games like Everquest and World of Warcraft can cater to a solo adventurer, much of the high level content can only be accessed by larger groups of people. Games like Team Fortress 2 don’t even really have an option for playing alone, because if you want to play an FPS by yourself there’s already plenty of single player narratives out there.

There is of course a reason why reviews rarely talk about the community though: because the community is by far the most mercurial and fickle element of any online game. The communities that I’m a part of for example might not be appropriate for another player, and there are some people that are part of communities that are inaccessible to me for various reasons as well. It can be skill, familiarity, or even just whether you actually know the right people or not.

What a reviewer might be able to do is recommend a friendly enough place to begin a game, but even in this there is an element of danger, because if a place that is recommended as novice friendly is suddenly flooded with people, it’s likely to become a lot less so.

There are players that go out of their way to hassle neophytes, just like there are players that will go out of their way to help them. The important thing is finding a community that jives with what you want to get out of the game, and not overstepping your bounds. You’re not going to be one of the team captains right off the bat unless you’ve got somewhat of a natural knack for whatever it is you’ve picked up. At the same time being new is also not an excuse for being stupid - no one in TF2 appreciates the Sniper using the SMG and dying every five seconds (the other team might, but they’re not the ones you’re aiming to please) - so learning the ropes and just in general being not an idiot is something that will earn the appreciation of veteran players.

By far the easiest way to get into a game is to have friends that already play it. Having people that you hang out with in real life beside you in the virtual world means that they’ll generally be more understanding of any potential flubs, as well as more willing to show you the ropes and the more advanced tips and tricks when the time comes to learn them.

Your friends can also introduce you to their communities, or of course there’s the possibility of forming your own guild or team with enough people around you. I know plenty of people that play as much to socialize with the people they enjoy chatting with as they do to beat that next boss or get that next kill, and in the end there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it might be one of the best ways to use an online multiplayer game. Get together with friends over dragonslaying.

Again though, turning to actual reviews. The community can be unaccountable at times, but I still feel the need to mention that a review should at least feel some obligation to saying whether or not a person is going to be able to find any good footholds, whether the majority of people out there are accepting of new blood or if they’ll find those first couple weeks or levels really harsh but ultimately worth it.

It’s certainly a wild card, but it’s still part of a hand that the reviewer can tell anyone who to play, or if it’s worth even keeping in the first place. And in the end, that’s all that anyone might want when they look for a review for guidance.

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