Look at me with my out-of-nowhere extreme-controversy-style post. It might seem like I’m trying to rally or upset. In reality, I wish only to inform.
What makes a game a massively multi-player title is not simply the presence of many players other than yourself, but the way in which the game facilitates you interacting with those players. Questing (i.e. racing to kill quest npcs before that stranger over there does so you don’t have to be the one to wait two minutes for a respawn) does nothing for this. Random Dungeon Finder tools do, to an extent. It’s a bit corrupted insofar as community development is concerned though, as (at least in WoW) you are paired with other players in your Battlegroup, which are not necessarily on your server. This does make the queue times shorter (WoW stream-lining your theme park experience) but doesn’t forge any bonds or foster any recognition beyond that theme park ride. I think with RealID you can now make friends with people from other servers and even party with them for your LFD adventures; I guess that’s something.
What WoW does not have is this:
I was fighting some quest NPCs on a hill top, trying to recall how my 30-something spells all worked together (hint: they don’t, they are best used in subsets situationally depending on friends/foes nearby) when I was waylaid (my attention was on my bars and not my surroundings) by an Invasion party. Some large, ugly troll-thing followed by a host of life wisps. I was slowly becoming overwhelmed, when a stranger ran in to help me. I knew I had help because suddenly (through no action of my own) I was in a party. This changed how I was using my spells, as the new comer was a melee class and I have buffs and debuffs that specifically aid melee (which I need not use when soloing as a mage). Together the small encounter became trivial. The stranger waved and was on his way.
Not every player that crosses your path in WoW will leave you to your fate (or race you for a quest npc). It is the case, however, that in Rift, players are rewarded for helping one another when their paths cross: each of us received rewards (currencies, consumables, and a chance at upgrades and collectibles) for taking down the Invaders. Not to mention that Rift trivializes party formation in that you can click a button or right-click someone’s face plate and just jump into their “party of one”. They can leave, but they can’t stop you. And why leave? Once in my party, the other player benefited from my auras and party-based heals (of which there are many).
When I used to play WoW there were players who would stand and watch, just run by, or even wait for you to die so that they could take the quest npc/rarespawn/whatever for themselves. In WoW, greed was rewarded. In Rift, I have yet to see any player just run by, or just watch. People team up and work together because cooperation is rewarded. If you see somebody fighting a rarespawn and losing, you can jump into their party and help them, getting credit for the kill along with them.
WoW stream-lines your theme park experience. Rift stream-lines your multiplayer experience. Rift is exemplary. I sincerely hope future MMO developers are taking copious notes as – from an MMO design perspective – they are getting their butts soundly kicked.