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MMO games rely on a steady stream of new players in order to survive. For most players an MMO game only captures their attention for a limited period. There is so much entertainment to choose from out there that it is natural to want to try new things. Few gamers are happy with the same experience over and over again. The vast majority of MMO games from World of Warcraft to City of Heroes force the player to engage in long, boring periods of unfulfilling grinding. The games aren’t really varied enough to keep the long term interest of most of us so they need a constant turnover of new players.
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Getting New Players to Stick
One of the biggest problems for developers getting new players to stick is also one of their greatest draws. The existing player base can help attract new people by personally inviting them, boosting server stats and occasionally being welcoming and friendly when a newbie asks for some help. On the other hand the existing player base, especially the committed, long term players are often fiercely protective of their world. They don’t want any new players coming in and detracting from their experience. They aren’t interested in helping someone else learn the game. In short these MMO players act like jerks.
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The Veteran Angle
It is worth looking at it from the other angle here. Why should they help clueless new players? The veterans are paying hard earned cash and spending their leisure time in this world. They are investing more in it than the newbie and so they feel more entitled. They may find newbie questions detract from their immersive experience, that newbie behaviour spoils their chances of gaining maximum rewards or that stopping to help noobs who rarely thank them is a waste of their precious time.
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Veterans Versus Noobs
Truthfully I can see both points of view and they are both valid. I have to play a lot of new games all the time in order to review them and the tension between veterans and noobs can be felt in every multiplayer genre. It is not the preserve of MMO games. There is a distinction though between veteran players with a genuine grievance and veteran players who are spouting off to make themselves feel big. If I joined an FPS server with friendly fire on and shot a team mate in the face I would expect a bit of angry backlash. If I joined and did my best but didn’t rack up many kills because the game was new to me I’d be pretty annoyed if someone flamed me.
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Flaming Harms Games
If you are a noob and you get horribly flamed by some WoW veteran who spends more time in the virtual world than the real one then you might just ditch the game. If you are a sensitive soul or you were angered by your experience then you will not only ditch the game yourself but you will make a point of badmouthing it to others. In this way the attitude of some veterans will end up harming the game they love so much.
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Picking on new players because they haven’t yet learned a game seems ridiculous to me. It is one of those things that only happen because of the anonymity of the environment. Imagine a kid in the park playing football. He may be rubbish but he’s learning. If someone who played for a local team ran up to him and told him he sucked you would think that person was an idiot. Well this exact thing happens in MMO games all the time.
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Elitist MMO Gamers
The level of elitism that is reached by some MMO gamers is hilarious. The games themselves do encourage this sort of rank prestige with levels, rare equipment and carefully controlled guilds. Gamers are able to gain positions that let them wield some power and for many of them it might be their first taste. Well power corrupts and a healthy proportion uses their position, status and knowledge of the game to belittle others. Many games even have their own slang language which has developed over time and goes beyond general MMO terminology. Hardcore players love to show it off. They throw acronyms around as though they are status symbols.
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Teach Don't Abuse
There will always be situations where a noob does something to interfere with or detract from someone else’s game. They will get flamed for it and fair enough as long as it is at least partly constructive (i.e. tells them what they did wrong). Most noobs will acknowledge they deserved it if they have done something wrong and it will help them learn. There are also times when veterans offer unwanted advice or just casual abuse. They are in effect saying “You are an idiot because you don’t play this game as much as I do and you haven’t learned every tiny facet of it." Admittedly it may be a small proportion of veterans who do this but they are very vocal and they create a bad atmosphere which discourages new players from persisting.
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Smaller Communities Friendlier
Interestingly games with smaller communities are noticeably different. Games that are innovative or independently developed more often seem to attract a friendly audience. This is perhaps because they don’t rely on advertising to pull gamers in, people who find their games are actively looking. Games that are struggling for numbers also often have a very helpful player base who understand the need to attract more players and go out of their way to school noobs. For all the abuse that is thrown around online there are also some genuinely helpful and patient people out there. For developers who want their MMO subscribers to grow helpful people are gold dust.
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We Were All Noobs Once
The word noob has become an insult in the world of online gaming but the truth is we are all new to a game at first. Granted some players are faster learners than others but this whole elitist anti-newbie attitude really doesn’t do much for gaming as a medium. The developers who make games and the publishers who promote them just want an audience and noob bashing turns people away.