The Commune vs the Community: Mob Tagging in MMOs

ArcheAge - Wheat Field City

I’ve long been undecided on my preference for an MMO’s mob tagging system. Closed tagging, the traditional model wherein the first group or individual to attack a mob receives all of the rewards, has recently fallen out vogue as newer titles continue to gravitate towards open tagging systems, wherein all players who materially participate in the death of a mob are treated to some form of rewards. Similarly, resource instancing is a functionally equivalent game system for resource harvesting; nodes can either be instanced to the individual or consumed by the first player to harvest it.

Consistent with its long list of somewhat anachronistic features, ArcheAge, my newest MMO obsession, has opted for closed tagging, a move which reached into the back of my mind and pulled a discussion on the mechanic to the forefront. Discussion of mob tagging has largely been one-sided in favor of the open system since its introduction, and while it certainly has its benefits, I remain unconvinced that it is the best option for all situations, for from where I sit, neither system is without its drawbacks.

The Commune

Open mob tagging has been warmly received, with players praising it as reducing competition among people who by all rights should be playing cooperatively. Competition for mobs and resources as created by closed tagging systems has been seen as creating unnecessary tension between allied players, a belief validated by the perception that players in open tagging games are more helpful and friendly (I have no reason to believe this is actually the case, and assume the perception stems from players being rewarded for assisting against mobs others have already engaged). From this perspective, open mob tagging is often seen as the de facto answer for the future of MMO gaming.

ArcheAge - Group Shot

And when you’re competing with a guy on a reindeer mount, you may as well just give up, sit down, and sulk.

I agree with both of these assessments. Where I get hung up is that I don’t think this shows the full picture. Open mob tagging has been experimented with in games like Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, and while there haven’t been any overt problems with its implementation (other than open world PvE being a massive zerg), is it possible that the feature has had subtle, negative effects on those games?

The Community

While there are definitely benefits to reducing competition among allied players, I can’t help but feel there are also benefits to maintaining it. Diversity may be the spice of life, but adversity isn’t far behind. Conflict is a central part of every narrative structure, including games. We find it interesting when struggle arises. We don’t like falling to a challenge, but we sure as hell enjoy overcoming one. I know I had fun in MMOs from a past era, competing over mob spawns while farming an area in the open world. To be truthful, we must acknowledge that competition for mobs and resources has both an upside and a downside, though I won’t pretend to know which is more important or to whom.

In a closed mob tagging game, players looking to share credit for objectives are forced to group or run the risk of losing their chance at the objective. In the pro-open tagging arguments expressed above, only one of two possible outcomes is being considered. While they are correct that adversity and loss are a possible side effect that can be viewed negatively, never have I seen the other option brought up for consideration; to bypass competition, players can group together to complete content, opening up the door to future relationships and strengthening the server community in the process. In an open mob tagging system, one of the most basic pressures exerted on players to group is effectively removed from the game, hindering its  ability to foster a strong long-term community.

Proper Closure

With the above in mind, when are the respective models most appropriately implemented? Has ArcheAge made the correct choice with its seemingly anachronistic reversion to the closed tagging model?

ArcheAge - Caption Contest

That poor sap on the right tagged the boss too late and has been exiled to a life of serfdom until the next spawn.

I equate open mob tagging to an open world LFD system, which is appropriate given that the feature is often called open grouping. It provides quick and easy access to support without regard for long-term community building, and as such, is well suited for games pursuing a bite-sized content model, where players are expected to quickly and easily find and execute content with optimally minimized downtime, specifically to be able to cater to players with play times that may be limited to half an hour per sitting. Themeparks like World of WarcraftNeverwinter, and Guild Wars 2 all seem excellently poised to take advantage of this model.

Closed mob tagging follows the overly discussed, but ever relevant path of the inconvenient, community minded feature – the one that takes a little bit of commitment now for some long-term gain. If your game relies on having a strong persistent community, then due to its heavily incentivized grouping, this may be the best option for it. In keeping with the rise of open mob tagging systems, this type of game has become increasingly difficult to find, as more and more MMOs drift away from the genre’s roots and strengths.

However, ArcheAge is not one of those games; its community will be a huge factor in its success due the sandbox nature of the game. As a result, going back to the closed mob tagging system is more likely than not the correct choice for the game. More than once I’ve seen ArcheAge criticized as being amazing for players who have a guild or community to play with, but not a good game for solo players. Some may call that a fault, but to me it’s high praise. As such, the more opportunities there are for players to encounter each other and build guilds and communities, the better the game will fare.

#MMO #MobTagging #ArcheAge

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4 thoughts on “The Commune vs the Community: Mob Tagging in MMOs

  1. I’ve often wondered about this too. Under a closed system, as you point out, sure you can group up and avoid any unnecessary conflict with quest mobs, etc., but in WoW at least my experience was often that the person would ignore the invite or otherwise be an ass about it.

    I’m for a hybrid system, if that could work out, specifically whereby any and all quest mobs could be open, but all rare mobs, world bosses, and regular mobs would still be “first come, first served.” I want to say that open tagging somehow promotes camaraderie and community but… the truth is many people continue to roll through quest areas at a breakneck pace without interacting with anyone else.

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    • It absolutely doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it doesn’t have to, either. Of the hundreds of people I’ve grouped and quested with in MMOs, at least a few dozen went on to become long-term friends, and it doesn’t take a lot more than that to bind someone to a game. At one point in my gaming history, my core group of friends were only four other people, but our shared experiences and the promises of more kept me in the game much longer than I ever would have considered staying otherwise – and that was in WoW, where the community was barely taken advantage of.

      In a game like ArcheAge where the community does matter, any feature which pushes players together will pay dividends in the long run, both for the players themselves, and for the companies offering the service. Even at a 1% rate of success, with 1,000’s of players grouping every day, that’s a big push to keep a lot of people around and engrossed in the game world.

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