I appreciate the social interactions in GW2, perhaps all the more so because of how little I got in The Old Republic. And I agree with the posts and what they have to say. The truth is that social interaction in games is always going to start basic. Its growth depends on the people involved and the relationship.
But how do you offer that initial opportunity for socialization? That is the key, and in my experience, in MMO’s, the key revolves around allowing players the opportunity to help other players.
Think for a moment about how many of the relationships, friends, and acquaintances have started because you were helping that person or they were helping you? Certainly all of Rowan’s examples fit that mold. Think about what a guild represents – why are those people there? To chit-chat with – yes, perhaps, but even the chit-chat is a means to the end of having people who are willing to come and give you a hand. Or who you are willing to set aside your playtime for to give them a hand. Even outside of MMO’s – the friends I have in Battlefield 3 that I don’t know in real life, are there because of helping interactions we’ve had. I pulled them out of a tight spot. They ran the server we were on and helped us with a player who was cheating. The list goes on.
Its also no coincidence that these are the most memorable moments in your gaming history. That time your group banded together to take down the dungeon boss. The moment when you helped that noob and donated some money to his start up fund. The time your guild ran an event together to make sure everyone got the achievement/loot.
It is in every game’s interest – even those devoted to PvP – to provide opportunities for players to lean on each other. GW2 does an excellent job of this with its mechanics, and its a part of the foundation of its success. I think you can look to other successful games and see the same thing. I was at a presentation one time where the presenter referred to these types of entry level interactions as “social lubricant.” The term, while it has a bit of an “eww” factor, is dead on. That lubricant makes it easier for people to develop a relationship.
Unfortunately, what games still struggle with is building a good community of players who will take those basic opportunities and interactions and take them to the next level. They also struggle with providing tools that allow blossoming relationships to deepen. Right now, most of those opportunities are outsourced to third party platforms – private guild forums and websites. Even just have a place of meeting for a guild in game is a significant step forward. This is a place where GW2, and to be fair, many MMO’s, are significantly lacking. I believe, by the way, that this is one of the things that has made EVE a lasting success as an MMO – the ability for groups of people, having formed relationships, to claim a home and a strong sense of group identity, within the landscape (and I don’t necessarily mean that term literally) of the game.
The next game to get both of these things right – the lubricant, and the deepening roots – will be a great game indeed.