Posted on May 17th, 2016 by | 7 Replies

Like many, I played Overwatch during the free weekend. Tyler Bro already discussed his thoughts regarding Overwatch, and I don’t have that much to add regarding its core gameplay. What I do have to add is an observation that really surprised me about the Overwatch community itself from my several hours of playing. No, they weren’t bullies, miscreants, bossy types, trolls, jokers, or fan bois. They were something much worse. They were silent.

Overwatch Chat

Will you brave the silence and talk in Overwatch?

Overwatch arguably entices players to communicate more than any of its previous titles. The potential for coordinated teamplay is so deep that it should inherently encourage  communication. Blizzard has done their part to open up that communication with in game voice and even allowing all chat (a big deal for Blizzard). But outside of a talkative enemy pre-made group, I can count the number of players that actually talked in game on two hands (orally or in writing). Sure, some of this can be attributed to people simply learning the game, but I think that something far more reaching is largely to blame. Blizzard has actually conditioned its fan base not to talk.

Over the past several years, Blizzard has increasingly make multiplayer experiences less social. I would go so far as to say they even breed anti-social behavior. The proof is in the products so let’s go over each game’s disdain for communication individually.

Hearthstone

The communication in this game is limited to six prepared phrases. Six. If all I could do was say hello, good game, and damn you in the real world these blog posts would be a lot shorter and a lot less interesting. I certainly wouldn’t have made a single friend gaming online limiting myself that way.

In Hearthstone, there’s no chatting with opponents nor even a general chat room. To speak with someone directly I’d need to add them as a friend first, which makes absolutely no sense. A friends list by its definition is a list of people you actually know in some capacity with which you have a positive relationship. How can I develop such a relationship in Hearthstone when I’m not even given the chance?

Hearthstone chat

Your Hearthstone chat interface

It’s not even like we can even opt-in to chat. It’s just a feature that literally does not exist in the game. Blizzard focused their efforts so strongly on delivering a casual CCG experience that they even removed the ‘chore’ of having to talk with people! It’s such a shame because players interested in discussing strategy or tactics must resort to out of game methods. Time in between turns presents players with opportunities to talk shop or offer friendly banter. But Hearthstone is a game you play with other people who may as well be intelligent bots.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard’s answer to League of Legends and DOTA2 instructed us that we could avoid toxic players and trolls by removing /all chat. Then came the realization that most flaming comes from teammates and not opponents, so they added an option to block team chat entirely. This is a MOBA that’s supposed to be about the team more than the individual but where allies can be ignored before even uttering a word. It’s entirely possible that the ally you’re trying to coordinate with doesn’t even see your messages.

What’s more is Blizzard decided that the game would be best without a post-game lobby. So again, there’s literally no way to communicate with the opposition unless you add them as a friend. Half of the people involved in every competitive match of Heroes of the Storm have no way to opt-in to chat with the other half. Somehow, Blizzard managed to create a game with even less communication between opponents than Hearthstone. The pattern of anti-social design choices by Blizzard continues with their MMORPG behemoth.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft at launch was anything but anti-social. Things have changed over time. World of Warcraft has always been solo friendly but used to also encourage guild participation and fostering friendships. This was in spite of design decisions such as Bind on Pickup and gibberish enemy communication. But the golden age of socialization in WoW seem be waning due to features that encourage casual and solo play.

The addition of cross-realm LFG and LFR (looking for raid) has been a life saver for off-time and guildless players. Whereas before content was unreachable for this population segment, it’s now incredibly accessible. The downside to this is that players don’t form any lasting bonds. There’s no need to worry about one’s reputation or finding a reliable group. Players can drop in and out of groups and even if a toxic player gets kicked it’s easy enough to join the LFG queue once again. LFG has completely supplanted the old method of dungeoneering for all but the most hardcore raiders.

Ten Ton Hammer posted a few months ago about the death and decay of guilds in World of Warcraft. They cite LFG/LFR as one of the reasons for guilds declining among other changes such as smaller raid groups and guild perks that discourage small guilds. Guilds are one of the primary methods of socialization in MMORPGs so to see the largest MMORPG continually weaken their significance is disappointing. That’s not to say that LFG/LFR is bad but to highlight the lack of value Blizzard assigns to socialization.

World of Warcraft garrisons

Modern era World of Warcraft

The addition and importance of garrisons in Warlords of Dreanor only reinforced Blizzard’s anti-social values. Garrisons are basically a Facebook game you play inside World of Warcraft. Players send followers to gather resources and heroes on missions for loot. The player gets rewards by clicking a few buttons and waiting a certain amount of time for their rewards to arrive. There’s no interaction with players and it’s completely a solo feature (unless a friend, which are becoming harder to find, wants to gauge the aesthetic appeal of your garrison for some reason).

Diablo III

Finally, a game without player opponents so everyone should be on the same page here. Unfortunately, the game is so repetitive and easy to play that bots can do the job for top tier players. There’s not really much of a need to talk in Diablo III because there’s nothing really to coordinate. The game can be played as easily solo as it can in a 4-person group. Rewards go up with more players, but the only interactive reason to group up is to trade items. Of course traders can only do this if they were in the same game when the item dropped. Many feel it’s a step back from Diablo II’s vibrant trading community.

Perhaps the most interactive component in Diablo II was in fact trading (bartering technically). Everything in Diablo II could be traded which made for some interesting negotiations at times. Players could also share loot with friends without restrictions and a cap of eight players allowed more to join in on the fun.

Diablo 3 trading

It’s all mine and you can’t have it! Seriously. You can’t.

To their credit, Blizzard has improved interactivity since launch by removing the auction house and adding clans and communities. Ranked multiplayer greater rifts also encourage competitive players to find like minded individuals for success.

Starcraft II

GLHF

GG

That summarizes the most chatting you’ll see in a StarCraft II match. However, unlike all of the other titles above, StarCraft isn’t a game with time for chatting. Actions per minute rules the ranks of StarCraft II and chatting doesn’t add to that ratio. RTS games typically balance and build around 1v1 and StarCraft is no different. Thus, there’s not really much of a team to coordinate with either. And due it’s popularity you’ll be unlikely to see the same person twice unless you are a very high ranked player. Players might sometimes discuss a game after it ends or chat in the general lobby, but StarCraft II isn’t game you play to make friends.

Blizzard’s Anti-Social Ways

Is Blizzard making a mistake by making their multiplayer an anti-social experience? It’s hard to say no considering Blizzard’s profit levels. All of their games exude quality and top sales charts. And it’s not as if Blizzard is making games with the intention of creating an anti-social community. In the examples above, Blizzard has implemented features in order to either strengthen casual play, limit real money transaction gold sellers, or diminish flaming and general toxicity. These are noble goals, but Blizzard’s foresight in how accomplishing these goals will affect other aspects (such as socialization) is questionable

If features are to be added that are anti-social as a byproduct then intentional social features should be added to compensate. That clearly is not a priority for Blizzard. Blizzard lately has produced entertaining games that could be played just as well with a computer as a human, if only the computers were smart enough. They seem to changing their tune with Overwatch, and it will be interesting to see if the anti-social behavior bred in older titles will bleed over into their latest.

 

 


7 thoughts on “Blizzard’s Makes Multiplayer Anti-Social

  1. Erik

    I agree that the Garrison activities killed a lot of the social aspects of the game. But I recently just quit WoW due to its continued requirement of grouping in order to get top gear. Yes, there are ways to join groups without having to socialize, but it’s the grouping requirement itself that I don’t like. Waiting for other players to get their shit together is not my idea of a good time. In fact, I play games in order to get away from people like that.

    Now I know what a lot of people will say: “why play an MMO if you don’t want to play with other people?” The truth is, I LIKE playing with and around other people. Competing or co-operating for resources; chatting; trading; comparing stats; learning from each other. These are all great social aspects to the game. But waiting around while someone hearths to get the potions that he forgot, or listening to the fight strategy for the eleventh time, or wiping because someone can’t be bothered to install the right addon…I despise it, and I know a lot of other people do too.

    If there was a high-quality game that allowed solo players to get BIS gear, I’d jump on board. Sadly, I am not aware of any such game.

    Reply
    1. JJ

      @Erik

      You actually hit it right on the money for me. When I play a game, I will research as much as I can to be the best player that I can be – meaning, if I’m going to run a ranged dps and want to run a raid or instance, I’m going to find out what my job is before I run it so that I don’t get kicked for being a noob. But that aside, 10-man 3 to 4-hour raids were the reason why I quit WOW back in Pandaria. I think if there was a way to run a 2 or 4 man in WOW and still get BIS gear, it’d make it a lot more fun… And also, make raids a one-boss deal… just my opinion obviously.

      Reply
  2. Azuriel

    The comments about Hearthstone make me question whether you might have ever played other online CCG/TCGs. “Friendly banter”? In the two years or so I played Magic Online, the chat box was essentially a conduit for gloating and abuse. Given the creative ways in which even the emote system in Hearthstone has been twisted, can you imagine how the stereotypical, say, Aggro Shaman (etc) banter would go? I’ll give you a hint: Twitch chat. “Get reckt.” “FOUR Legendaries? GG wallet warrior.” “What a scrub.” “May as well concede now, because I’ll going to rope your ass every turn.” “Another shaman? DIAF.”

    Similarly, I don’t much understand the criticism with Overwatch. Is it a better game with friends on the mic? Yes. Do I necessarily want to hear endless plays called out by 14-year old keyboard commanders in an 8-minute match? Nope. I neither expect nor even desire much chatting in Counter-Strike or Battlefield 4 or TF2 pugs either.

    Reply
  3. Syl

    I think it’s a bit early to judge a game’s community that hasn’t even launched yet. 😉 Beta testing weekends aren’t exactly when everyone is chatty in channels, everyone was learning the ropes and half the people didn’t even realize how to use the chat in Overwatch by the looks….so naturally it was silent.

    The other thing that doesn’t work for me here is that you are listing genres that are all of them vastly different in terms of how communities work and form. Classic PvP / Clan (or team) shooters are not social games the way MMORPGs are, neither are most PvP focused games (many of which are lobbied); they’re not designed for it and there’s not the same requirement for social engineering on a developer’s side. Overwatch is an insanely fast game and expecting there to be chatting and socializing going on while pugging makes little sense to me, given your group keeps changing almost nonstop. You could argue it’s not really a game for pugging at all.

    So, the only time you’ll experience a sense of community is if you either create your own team or become active in a competitive clan/group that may organize itself on forums and use dedicated voicecomms. This genre is so restricted in terms of its gameplay, you won’t be experiencing much else in the social department. Personally, I was weary there is even a public chat given how pervasive flaming and l33tspeak is in competitive shooters.

    Reply
  4. The Bro Post author

    @Erik – I think it’s a smart business decision to allow solo players to achieve BiS gear. However, I think it’s detrimental to the health of an MMO for solo play to be the ideal method to achieve this. I think if people who grouped efficiently could earn BiS gear twice as fast (to throw out a number) as solo play then that’s fine. In my opinion, MMORPGs should always encourage grouping. It doesn’t mean solo play has to suffer though.

    @Azuriel – Magic is about the only online CCG I haven’t played. Games I’ve put at least several hours into include Duel of Champions, Solforge, and Infinity Wars. I also dabled in Hex. The opponents were generally cordial or silent. Certainly there were some bad apples, but the enjoyment I have from meeting new people far outweighs the bad experiences. To me, meeting someone I can enjoy gaming with long term is worth it.

    If I’m playing a competitive multiplayer game, I want to play with people who want to win. Overwatch requires communication to win unless individual skill is lopsided. In the rare chances that a 14-year old know it all is calling nonsense, I’m happy to mute him if that means on average I get a more competitive and more communicative experience. That may not be a tradeoff others are willing to pay, but it obviously makes for a less social game if people don’t talk.

    @Syl – You’re absolutely right that it’s too early to judge. It’s just my observation from that free weekend. I did say some of it can be attributed to people learning the game though. 🙂

    It depends on the FPS for communication though. FPS with instant respawn and/or low planning will involve less chatting. Overwatch has a long enough respawn and enough strategy that people can/should chat and coordinate. I do agree that it is a tough game to pug because it’s fast paced and potentially very deep. However, I want to see developers put effort into giving us a playground where we can meet new people. I do think Overwatch does this well actually, but I simply wonder whether Blizzard’s previous games will influence Overwatch’s socialization negatively.

    Reply
  5. Jeromai

    Considering the propensity for toxicity in most multiplayer games these days, I think Blizzard is on the right track. Now we just need to go one step further and design in quick communication systems that allow only for positive communication and for the purposes of tactics and strategy.

    It’s like GW2’s design goals of removing ways for players to negatively affect one another. Removing possibilities for negative communication is great, but we shouldn’t end up with zero communication as a result. The additional layer needed is some form of quick communication system, and innovation is sorely needed in this area.

    Radial communication menus have been done to semi-decent extent in FPSes, though it can be still abused like “Medic!” spam in TF2; Left 4 Dead did an awesome job with computer-assisted automatic communication depending on context and where each player was looking “Ammo here! Smoker incoming! Thanks! (after a teammate shoots a hunter off you), etc.”

    Reply
  6. The Bro Post author

    @Jeromai – From my perspective, I’d rather keep chat open but provide a system that shuts down toxic players. Something simple like ignoring players and having that feed into matchmaking. So if you ignore a player you will never see them in matchmaking (if pool if large enough) or rarely see them (if a smaller population). Additionally, players who get ignored frequently get put in games together and/or receive chat restrictions.

    And I definitely agree that a quick communication system is a must. Typing in a fast paced game can be very unrealistic.

    Reply

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