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Massively has a “thought provoking” discussion piece up entitled Where did all the MMO bars go? which kind of got me to scratching my head. I’m pretty certain that all of the MMOs I’ve played recently have featured drinking establishments:

ESO – yup, taverns everywhere. With cooking fires for us chefs. And bards. One of ESO’s many nice touches is that they had each of the bard songs recorded by several artists, so you can hear different performances in different places.

Wildstar – definitely has bars, at least on the Exile side (I haven’t really played Dominion). There are beered-up granoks all over Nexus.

Rift – has bars. There’s even one in Sanctum, capital city of the stick-up-their-immortal-butts, religious zealot Guardian faction.

Guild Wars 2 – human taverns, an asuran cantina in the depths of Rata Sum, moody charr dives where grizzled cat monsters gulp shots of whisky. Pretty much the entire Norn culture is one endless Octoberfest, the lucky bastards.

SWTOR – cantinas. With coin-operated jukeboxes. And hologram twi’lek dancers.

Neverwinter – even Cryptic’s stripped-down, instance heavy game, seen by some people as little more than a graphical UI for a cash shop, has taverns aplenty. Mind you, it’s D&D, every adventure HAS to start with a mysterious stranger in a tavern.

World of Tanks – OK, got me there. I did see a KV-1 brew up nicely when I hit it the other day, but I’m guessing that really doesn’t count.

Fortunately, the comment thread on the article picks up on the real issue – it’s not a lack of bars, it’s a lack of players in them. MMO spaces aren’t used as much to socialise as they used to because players socialise less. In part, because we don’t NEED to seek out others – auction houses have replaced the need to seek out crafters in person, dungeon finders have replaced the need to form a labour exchange to assemble adventuring groups. The other reason is that games have got more, well, more gamified. I used to log into DAoC or even vanilla WoW to hang out, and maybe look for something to do in the game world. The modern MMO expects and helps you to be active and productive for every second of your precious gaming time. Daily quests give you a checklist of things to complete, dungeon finders and PvP queues get you straight into the action (unless you’re yet another bloody DPS, of course) and quest flows are designed to take you efficiently through the PvE content without time to smell the roses, let alone sit back quaffing beer. Show me a player character granok kicking back with a brew in Thayd and I’ll show you a slacker who won’t hit his Elder Gem cap for the week.

I suspect some bars do see use – they’re roleplaying venues par excellence, but in the modern MMO the RP community tends to be ghettoised, so if you aren’t on the (official or unofficial) RP server you’re not going to see them. LotRO’s Prancing Pony attracts sightseers. And a certain inn found in one of WoW’s start zones is, of course, famous for attracting a regular if slightly specialist clientele. But ultimately, the bars are out there. It’s just that after a hard day’s work in the real world, it turns out we’re too busy to kick back with a virtual beer in a place where everyone knows your avatar’s name.

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