Commenting on Stabs’ thoughts about Expert Rifts reminded me of an old train of thought I had about “inclusive” and “exclusive” content. ‘Inclusive’ content such as world events is all comers welcome, feel free to join in, even a guy who’s not a GREAT help is still SOME help. Instances with a hard cap on players participating are probably the classic example of ‘exclusive’ content – if you can only bring ten people to fight the Epic Overlord Of Doom, better bring the best ten you can find. Random Joe Schmoe in green quest gear need not apply.
Both types of content have their advantages. It’s hard to make inclusive content that isn’t a zerg-fest. Now personally, I happen to like big mass battles, but I recognise that isn’t to everyone else’s taste. Instances may be exclusive, but by defining exactly how many heroes are fighting the dragon in advance the game designers can build a challenge that’s tailored to that size of team. Also, some players LIKE exclusivity – the knowledge that they are good enough to get on the team that does the epic content and that by definition puts them head and shoulders above the common herd of players.
However, the problem for me is that too much exclusivity seems to kill any wider sense of community. In an exclusive game, you only need a set number of comrades to tackle the end game. Everyone beyond that number is at best a potential recruit if you ever need a replacement; at worst a rival you’re measuring your success against; and most likely just an irrelevance. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best in-game community I’ve seen was in DAoC, where both PvP and PvE were inclusive. I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that WoW’s community has become less welcoming and tolerant as the game has focused on smaller and smaller raids.
The flip side, of course, is that inclusive content offers a lot more scope for freeloaders. People might joke about AFK hunters with macro’d shot rotations, but I remember the Caer Sidi raid where one paladin asked me if he could /follow me and go AFK for two hours and he’d be back when the loot was distributed. A community has to police itself and deal with the bad actors, but that still seems a lot better than no community at all.