My Dear Wizards,
I’m sure you’ve heard us toss around the term “Socialization” here and there lately, and I wanted to chat about it in more detail with the community. Our mission statement is simple: we want to do everything to facilitate friendships in the Spiral. In this dev diary, I'll give an introduction on how we’re taking on this huge multi-update initiative, why it’s important, and what kind of changes to expect in the future – both in the short term and the long term.
What is Socialization?
Socialization, by definition, is the act of mixing socially with others in a way that’s acceptable to society. In the Spiral, our socialization changes aim to encourage Wizards to interact with each other in positive, helpful, and rewarding ways. As an MMO, Wizard101 obviously has many social systems and players often connect with each other already, but we want to expand and improve upon our social offerings and give even more encouragement to use them.
We’ve been lucky to attract such an amazingly positive and wonderful community, and we love watching y’all interact with each other. Both versions of the Beastmoon event are awesomely social – working together as a team to either take on another team of Wizards or waves of monsters is a fun and strategic way to engage in cooperative play. Team Up has provided a way for players to find each other to complete battles they couldn’t on their own. But we can do more. Much, much more. There are so many more places where we can provide opportunities for Wizards to cooperate more often, and reward those who do so.
Notice I said “provide opportunities” and not “require”. We understand some players want to solo or duo with a partner (and sometimes that partner is themselves if they dual box). That’s okay! The game isn’t changing to prohibit soloing at all or make playing more difficult for lone wolves. We just want to provide more ways for you to meet and interact with other Wizards... and maybe make it worth your while if you’re a bit hesitant to do so.
Why is it so important for MMO players to socialize? I could get all analytical and talk about engagement metrics but let’s keep it simple – it's simply more enjoyable to be part of something. Being part of a world, part of a community, part of a like-minded collective of humans... err... Wizards, it’s gratifying to share an experience with a group. We want to be where our friends are because it’s more FUN and we are all about fun in the Spiral.
In the olden days before Wizard101 existed, I played a ton of different MMOs. I can give a few anecdotes about most of them, but the ones I have the fondest memories of – the ones where I can talk for hours about my adventures a decade or more later? These were highly social experiences I couldn’t have begun to replicate while playing solo. Maybe you start a friendship by joining a group to defeat a boss you couldn’t solo, then you start logging on regularly to quest together with your friend, and then years later, you’re inviting each other to your respective weddings. I’ve made lifelong friends because of MMOs, but only in the types of games where I got a bit of a nudge to play with other people.
As I talked about in a producer letter last year
, we aim to balance our updates in many ways. One important priority is to hit as many of the “player types” as possible. We’ve got the PVP initiative for the Competitors, we’ve started to roll out our new story content over more updates (like the quest leading up to Lemuria this year) for the Explorers, we put a million things in for Achievers, and this initiative aims at our Socializers – people that enjoy interacting with other people above all else. We’re inspired by these social folks, and want to give our community new ways to grow and become stronger (and create their own communities as well).
We’ve always attempted some cross-pollination between player types, especially with recent content. Many people aren’t Competitors but enjoy Beastmoon PVP because there are elements of Social and Achievement based play that can be earned outside of wins and losses. Some people aren’t born Explorers but when we lead them through a story exploring new world, they enjoy it. Finally, some people aren’t natural Socializers either. While they’re not against playing with other people, they also aren’t going to seek it out. Any friction will stop them from doing so, and sometimes they just need a little nudge to go play with others (this is my gaming personality to a T, to be quite honest).
We’re hoping that when we’ve completed this initiative, it will give folks like me, those on the fence, that nudge to interact. And maybe they’ll make lifelong friends in game – just like I have, and just like a lot of our social-minded community has as well.
Method to our Madness
Artie Rogers and Gary Smith are the masterminds behind these socialization updates, and they've been meticulously planning and discussing all these potential features for months. In our first kickoff meeting, we realized we had a LOT we wanted to do, MANY updates worth of content, and we had to figure out how to tackle it. We decided on this method:
- Make a pass to improve existing systems and lay a solid social foundation first before tackling huge new initiatives.
- Generally, first work on features benefitting new/all Wizards before we tackle changes focused on max level players.
- Balance our updates (you knew you’d hear this coming from me since I’m all about balance when I’m not all about fire!) between giving players better ways to connect, new things to do in social situations, and solid rewards for doing so.
With our Spring Update, we broke ground and made some changes:
- Team Up Volunteers – instead of having to transport yourself to the Team Up Kiosk and find groups to help, you can designate yourself a Volunteer and sign up to help fill out any group that fits the parameters that you set, leaving you free to explore about the Spiral while you wait! This is the first step towards #1 – improving existing systems – and you’ll see more of this in 2021!
- Friendly Flag – this lets players who want to chat, group, or otherwise interact with other Wizards send up the bat signal that they’re available. This is one of the things I believe will benefit both new and socially reluctant players the most and encourage social interactions.
- Social UI - we started building the structure of this new UI by adding the new “social” button in the top right corner of your screen. This is essentially a new user interface “hub” where we’ll add new social features as we roll them out.
We also made another change that was rolled back for now:
- Group to Mob Ratio – We tried out the change to make a second Wizard not add a third monster to combat circles. The feedback wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, so we pulled it. We did, however, have reasons for doing this so we may take another crack at this feature soon. In lower-level content there’s a bit of stigma about players joining solo combats since it adds monsters that may be difficult to deal with. Until you receive the tools to effectively AOE in combat, MoB adds can be pretty annoying if you’re not ready for them. We’re looking into ways to integrate this change in a better way in the future, perhaps giving Wizards the option to choose, but we’re still discussing the particulars.
In the coming updates, we’re looking at these types of changes:
- More grouping changes - We’d like to give perks for having a full group. Would you like to always go first (in PVE), perhaps? Increased drop rates to help questing go faster? These are some things we’re considering. Also, we’d like to make the grouping UI more functional and intuitive.
- Adventure Parties - Interested in a more permanent way to group up with your friends? While Guilds are on our list, they’re still pretty far away. Our first step is a bit smaller – sort of a “guild-lite” system. Just to be clear, Adventures Parties are NOT guilds!
- Combat changes – Frustrated by joining combat half a second too late? What if we allowed players to join during the combat planning phase? Ever wanted to ditch your minion or henchman to let a Wizard in? We want to let you do that.
...and there’s much more, but I don’t want to steal all of Artie and Gary’s thunder. Our hope is that we’ll do multiple round tables to get feedback from the community as we go forward. Are you a livestreamer interested in hosting a round table? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Further out, we’re discussing fun things to do in larger groups – yes, that means Guilds in some form or another, but we have other more casual and inclusionary ideas as well. For now we’re focused on working from micro to macro, and from improvement to invention. Our hope is that when we get to the big, new stuff, these features feel like an extension of the solid social structure we’ll have nurtured into the game over the previous updates.
We hope you’re as excited as we are to make new friends! I'm excited to see your comments in the discussion forums
See you in the Spiral,
Leah "Professor Falmea" Ruben
Dated: June 21, 2021