In the final words of the earlier Game Director's letter, GD Joel Bylos wrapped up the letter with the following words, "Remember, people who play together, stay together!" It's so true.
Community is what makes MMOs. It's one of the reasons players log in again and again to play amazing games such as The Secret World. Even though the changes to the new player experience mentioned in the letter are pretty great at easing the game play for new players and old players alike, there's more that could be done. In perfect world, that is, where only MMOs would matter, and money, or player numbers, wouldn't be an obstacle. There are definitely some changes the game could do to make its community building more easier.
If developer resources were basically infinite, what changes would really benefit the community? Here's couple of my favorite changes:
1. Better dimension hopping - Get rid of walls between servers.
Even though the upcoming fast travel system sounds good, it could be even better. Currently it's described as a way to jump between wells in the current location, without having to die. Neverwinter is doing something even better. It allows players to switch between instances of the current playfield. In TSW lingo, this would mean being able to switch between dimensions, and different instanced versions of said playfields in that dimension. No longer would you be stranded on an empty server. You would be a click away from playing with new people while still playing the same part of the game you were playing earlier.
Why is this probably not going to happen any time soon? Servers are probably not designed with this kind of large scale player hopping in mind, and there might be some big changes required, to make the servers work this out efficiently. Unfortunately, in the world of multiplayer networked games, inefficiency seems to be the big terrible word lurking beneath the surface.
Why this should still be implemented? Even though it's possible to hop between dimensions, it's only possible to do so when you have someone you know acting as an anchor for you on the other side. Communities are created from interaction. Interaction cannot happen without contacts, and more importantly for communities to spread, those contacts need to be new ones.
Being trapped to a half dead dimension is one of the big reasons people quit MMOs. If not for community's sake, it's also for psychological side. If it seems that there's no one else playing a game that is marketed as multiplayer (aka to be played with others), players easily think there's a reason other players are not playing it. Perhaps it's not good game. Perhaps I shouldn't play it either. Alone is no fun.
2. Multifaction cabals - Get rid of walls between factions
In the beginning the devs over at Funcom had a fine idea of having multiple different factions, competing against each other. As currently the only remaining indicator of this feud are the faction limited cabals and faction based minigames, it might be time to give the players a bit more room to mingle together, at the expense of some lore and features that never came. Seriously, it's been years since the game launched. Faction limited cabals feel like dinosaurs of the past, except that for some reason they are still with us.
If it's lorewise hard to call such multifaction cabals 'cabals', there's an easy solution. Just switch the name to cloak and dagger societies or some such name with similar meaning but different wording. To keep the lore interesting move them a bit below, a bit above, or a bit left of normal cabals. The thing with real world cabals, at least in all the conspiracy stories, is that they all intermingle with each other.
Why shouldn't this be the case in The Secret World as well.
3. Multiple cabal support - Get rid of walls between communities
The current model of cabals is great for keeping up with your current cabal mates. On the same time, it does a great job building walls between your cabal and the rest of the player base. It's giving you better tools to work with the members of your cabal, than the tools you have for your non cabal friends. The main problem being, the player itself cannot decide where these walls are being built. Instead it's done by cabal leaders and officers.
The solution would be to give players possibility to join multiple communities simultaneously. It's currently possible to mimic something like this by creating chat channels, but that's not totally the same thing.
What communities in general sense offer to individuals, is interaction, and common identity. With chat channels players can interact easily, but creating common identity is harder because of the lack for rules for such development. Sandboxing is hard, players want amusement park rides. As weird as it is, it totally applies here. Currently it appears the chat channels cannot be moderated. At the same time there are no clear rulesets to push players into organizing the channels into organisations inside the game.
If full multi-cabal support is not plausible, some kind of lil-cabal system could be helpful as well. Just the chance to add persistent in-game information, such as description and group title for the chat channel, and ability to moderate it would allow people to grow new communities from these channels.
Similarly, a group could be made into a smaller ad hoc cabal, or at least give it a more visible role in the game, by just allowing groups to have a cabal like title above their members while the group is formed.
Why is this probably not going to happen any time soon? Cabal are tightly knitted with the chat system and Funcom has several times mentioned that the current implementation of the chat is something they wish not to touch, due to it being very complicated system. Also this kind of cabal system change might require lots of rewriting under the hood.
Why this should still be implemented? Communities that have nodes connecting randomly through out the community are far more healthier than communities which consist of few nodes connecting lots of smaller communities together. Basically the latter community (or network) easily breaks into parts if the few connecting nodes leave the community.
4. More ways to show cabal / group identity - Build (good kind of) walls between communities
In perfect world, cabals could represent themselves in the game world. This could be done by showing corporate cabal names and logos in billboards, with cabal members wearing cabal gear showing logos, with cabal related placeable objects or with something totally different.
Even small things, as just allowing players to create cabal labeled junk near them, would make cabals bigger part of the game than they are now.
All this would lead to more ways for players to bring their cabals into attention of others in passive ways. It would make cabals part of the game world, in-game entities. Same could apply to the aforementioned lil-cabals and adhoc cabals.
In the uber perfect world, cabals would be playable game entities. But yeah, that's not happening, as it would be a brand new different game.
In addition to boosting cabal visibility as non-playable game entities, there's another super useful thing in order to help community formation. Give players easy ways to differentiate themselves from the rest, while still being able to easily identify own organisation's members as well as members of different other organisations.
At the moment many cabals are having specific cabal clothes that they wear as uniforms, or specific cabal colors that they recommend members to wear.
How this could be made easier, would be to allow cabals to buy themselves cabal uniforms from the stores (from both pax and cash stores). This could be done perhaps in a way that cabals could buy normal items from stores to cabal's catalog, and from this catalog cabal leaders could pick the current cabal uniform, consisting of different clothing slot items, that would be same for everyone in the cabal. This way cabal members could use same fitting cabal gear as others, but they wouldn't have to buy the clothes themselves, as lowbie chars might be low on pax, and not everyone is interested in buying items from the in-game store. Same time the more wealthier cabal members would get a chance to pay bills for the rest of the team.
Similarly, a cabal could have one cabal uniform (consisting of all normal clothing slots) available at the beginning, and they could unlock more uniform slots for their different member levels from missions and item store.
Even better, players could have a group uniform slot, that they could share with the people in their current group, while its formed.
5. New PvP modes - Get rid of walls together
Instead of all the pvp happening in minigames, what if they would be taking place all around the game, and they would be happenig between cabals, instead of factions. What if cabals would have different PvP roles. Say, CTO, holder of holy dagger of broken nerfing, politician, judge, spy, spymaster, etc. The cabals then would get assignments to find a certain role from certain cabal, and do certain action with them. Perhaps this action could be your regular PvP assassination, perhaps it would be about broken phone, where cabal agents would pass messages from first cabal to the eight, and the final would have to pass the message to an npc. Perhaps it would be about following certain persons. Perhaps it would be about escorting random npcs. Perhaps it would be about killing npcs. Perhaps it would be about trying to solve what message is going in broken phones. Perhaps it would be taking samples.
The main idea being, that instead of players killing npcs together, maybe they could do other things together, that would make them interact more.
If two people need to meet each other in dark alley, and exchange special messages via chat, there's a good chance they might also exchange couple of additional words just for fun.
And in the end it's about playing together.