Strangers passing by would be loathe to jump in and help even when it was obvious you were looking at the short end of a long corpse run. No-one wanted to wear the Kill Stealer hat and who knew if a random act of kindness would end up in a /tell war and the eventual arbitration of a GM?
|Separated at birth?|
Even if you safely negotiated this arcane palimpsest and did no harm, the mere fact of your intervention might not be welcomed. Your intentions might come into doubt, especially if you didn't move swiftly on. No, the only respectable way to share a kill was in a formally constituted group.
This was the way of things and there could be no other. When Blizzard built their better mousetrap they made sharing much more enticing and practical but the proper place to share remained inside the party. The team responsible for EQ2 went to such extraordinary lengths in formalizing and automating the "play nice" policy, the enforcement of which took up so much of an Everquest GM's time, that they strangled the life out of their new game almost before it was born.
Enter the iconoclast. In building Warhammer Online Mythic took one small step away from the hardline group-or-die mechanic they'd taken and run with in Dark Age of Camelot. They invented the Public Quest and in doing so pressed the MMO reset button.
|I'll go left...|
Why wasn't it always that way? Were the designers of the early MMOs all Austenites? Did they deem it improper for us to do anything together before we'd been formally introduced?
Well, whatever lay behind those design decisions (and I imagine the reasons were largely technical rather than moral), it's all changed now. We're on the cusp of Guild Wars 2, which largely dispenses with the group itself. Even autogrouping is too formal there. All you need to do is hang around the general area and whatever rewards there are will be yours.
Which brings me at last to what I sat down to write about - The Secret World. The Secret World has no widely-advertised open grouping mechanic. When you pass someone killing a ghoul no invitation to join in pops up on your screen. There are no Public Quests, Dynamic Events or any kind of area where the game shares out xp and loot even-handedly just because you're there.
|You and me and Amir makes three|
It goes further. Last night I did an entire four-stage Main Mission with another player. It involved moving through a temple following a trail of glowing sigils, completing or preventing several rituals using both puzzle-solving and violence. There were a number of passably challenging mini-boss fights. We met by happenstance almost at the start, realized we had the same goals and co-operated successfully at every stage to complete them.
|Need a scorecard to tell the players sometimes|
We couldn't have done it had the mechanics of the game not supported us. Funcom haven't made any show of it but the Mission structure supports ungrouped co-operative gameplay. Everything we did, every ritual completed, every boss downed, updated both of us regardless of who contributed what, even though we were not formally connected in any observable fashion.
|Thanks for the group..oh, wait, there wasn't one!|
To me, the most interesting aspect of all of this is the rapidly-developing expectations of the audience. It's clear that players now want these systems, prefer them over formal grouping, at least out in the open world. It would be an unwise developer who failed to recognize this sea-change. I anticipate better and better MMOs in consequence.