Some people like to avoid crowds, but not me. I love them. Maybe it’s a preference I developed from living in big cities practically all my life. From Bangkok to Hong Kong, Toronto to Shanghai, these places were always crawling with humanity no matter the time of day, and I find myself feeling a little awkward and out-of-place now in the tranquil quiet of suburbia. Not surprisingly, I am the same way with my games. There’s only one thing worse for me than having to live with the belligerent riffraff of a bad community, and that is having no community to live with at all. The thought of going out into an MMO world encountering next to nobody is a depressing thought, and I’ve stopped playing games before on the sole basis of having no one to play with.
So while some were staying away from Lord of the Rings Online hoping to wait out the flow of F2P players, I braved the server queues (which thankfully weren’t all that bad even at peak times) and couldn’t wait to jump right in to try and take advantage of the population increase.
I’ve only experienced benefits, much to my pleasant surprise. In the last week, I’ve had no problems finding groups, and not a single encounter that made me cringe. People are still spontaneously role-playing and making music and all that good stuff for no reward but the experiences’ sake. In all areas and especially the early zones, I see helpful answers in the Advice chat. In other words, nothing’s really changed. If anything, more people on the Landroval server have meant good things for my little Hobbit Minstrel, who has gained so much experience from all the group quests.
I’ve always thought of an online gaming community as a fragile thing, difficult to cultivate but extremely easy to destroy, not something you can fine-tune. Perhaps that’s why most MMO communities today are utter crap. But LOTRO has surprised me with the way its adapted to the influx of people so swimmingly. When it comes down to it, I truly believe the players shoulder the bigger responsibility. Developers can only do so much to provide the tools to encourage a good community, and maybe intervene occasionally to weed out the unwanted behaviors. The problem is, there are tons of ways to punish the bad but not enough ways to reward the good, especially when it’s those good behaviors that are the grassroots of a great community.
That’s where I think the players come in. Apathy is what erodes away a community’s foundation, people pointing fingers or counting on someone else to take care of the problem. Too many are also quick to call someone an asshole or do unsavory things, and then turn right around and wonder why the community is so piss-poor when someone else decides to call them names or act like a jackass. On the other hand, you can definitely see a difference when enough people take the time to care. One of the reasons the community on Landroval is such a good one is because its members take such great pride in it. You can read it in the forums and you can feel it in the game. There’s a sense of personal responsibility and self-discipline without being overly prudish or stuffy, and I think it’s an awareness that spreads to everyone who comes on board.
In the end, what we have around us is what we make of it. I’m looking forward to spending more time in-game and in my new kinship, going forward with F2P LOTRO.