Enough With The Social Hubs In Video Games

Enough With The Social Hubs In Video Games
This character from Outriders had no patience for the social space. (Screenshot: People Can Fly / Square Enix)

Here’s a radical idea: Turn every social space in a video game into a menu.

Last month, Kotaku’s Zack Zweizen and I teamed up to power through the demo for Outriders, People Can Fly’s upcoming looter-shooter. Verdict: It rules. (Zack, if you’re reading this, yes, I’m speaking for you.) The shooting is airtight, some of the powers are truly awesome, and there are moments — particularly as the demo wraps — that demand some coordinated teamwork. Still, while shooting the shit in the game’s hub, Rift Town, we touched on a mutual complaint, levied specifically at that hub: Rift Town could’ve been a menu.

In Rift Town, you can buy armour and, provided you complete a side-quest, weapons. You can customise your character’s appearance. You can party up with strangers. You can fast-travel to other fast-travel points, kickstart missions, and even talk to a vendor who allows you to cash in collectible items for in-game rewards. Once Outriders releases in full next month, it’ll feature a stash that allows you to share gear between up to six characters affiliated with your profile.

To be fair, Rift Town is gorgeous, its ramshackle appearance instantly conveying the beaten-down state of humanity on a hostile, faraway planet. When you walk through its not-so-hallowed halls, you know exactly what story this game is trying to tell. But I can only walk up the same set of stairs so many times. I get tired of hitting up the same kiosks. Life would be precisely one million times easier if I could just navigate all this stuff as a menu.

The cumbersome nature of the social space is even more prominent in a game like Destiny 2. In Destiny 2, one of the easiest ways to power through seasonal levels is to collect bounties — banal tasks, like “kill X number of Y,” that you can complete while tackling more interesting quests — from various vendors. At the start of every Destiny session, you load into The Tower hub. You talk to Commander Zavala and pick up his bounties. Maybe you talk to Shaxx, if you’re one of those Crucible players. If you enjoy the Gambit mode, you talk to the Drifter, who’s about as far away from the primary spawn point as possible. Only then do you actually start, y’know, playing the game.

I love Lance Reddick as much as the rest of you, but just picture how nice it would be if you didn’t need to spend five minutes at the start of every session putzing around The Tower, talking to NPCs, possibly waiting on slower party members to do the same. Picture a solar system in which you log in and your bounties are already in your quest log. You could simply start playing right away!

And then there’s Avengers. Like Destiny, you can pick up faction-specific bounties during each session. But, when the game first launched, you had to visit two separate hubs, each separated by a loading screen. (This problem has since been patched. Now, you can access faction-specific vendor terminals in the hub.) Once again, life would be easier if you could just skip the pitstop of a hub area and get right to playing.

The idea of a social space is well-intentioned. Video games are at their best when they foster a sense of community. Seeing other Guardians bunny-hop around the Tower builds an unmistakable cosy camaraderie. But it’s still a midway point between loading the game and playing the game. For those saddled with packed schedules, slow internet, or bones-deep impatience, an option to access the essentials via a menu, rather than a social space, would be more than welcome.

As for Outriders, it’s unclear whether or not Rift Tower is the only hub, or just one of many. An in-game tutorial suggests there’s a “Camp” hub for each of the game’s regions, and that they’ll allow you to avail yourself of all the same resources and tools you can access in Rift Town. The game isn’t out until April 1, so I can’t tell at the moment how much of a role the current hub will play in the full game. In the interim, I guess I’ll do another lap around Rift Town.

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  • “Turn every social space in a video game into a menu.”

    Ewww no thanks. Destiny with a static screen instead of a hub sounds terrible. What you are saying almost completely defeats the RPG important of the hub. Sure a lot of people who dont care about the world building idea of them, that doesnt mean they should be removed from those of us who do.

    Yes some of them are less exciting that others (cough, Anthem) but many of them are core to the games identity.

    • I thought Anthems was actually better. It’s not so bloody big, it has stuff put around it to find and listen/read and people to talk to.

      I understand it’s there for world building but sometimes they just suck and a menu is faster

      • The nice thing about Anthem’s space was that after a few patches they made it so that if you wanted to just jump in and go, you could do that through menus without needing to trudge through the social space. But if you did feel like smelling the roses and taking in the sights and sounds that ground you in that world, you could do that, too. Options are important to allow more people to get what they want out of a game.

      • Anthem’s quest hub is not the same as its social hub.
        And it served no purpose after you did the main quests anyway, cause every option in the hub was also in the Tab menu.

        Anthem’s hub reminded me why hubs should go bye bye, they over promised, under delivered and it just made the space an awkward quest hub of pointless chit chats that had no real consequence… deflating the once great Bioware into a developer who crunched and under-delivered a game that should of been epic.

        … and the actual social hub, was an empty hanger bay with 3 vendors and no charm!

  • If you got rid of the social hub in Destiny, you’d miss out on the random fun that can happen – snow fights, impromptu dance parties, emote-offs, soccer games etc

  • I’d love for this to be an option you could opt out of.

    Given how social hubs all end up instanced to prevent overcrowding anyway, it wouldn’t even mean that people who opt out are leaving the RPers crying about being the only ones left in ghost towns, either.

  • I completely disagree, social hubs add to the sense of world and elevate the game by increasing player’s emotional connection to the gameplay. Destiny, for example, would feel desolate without having a central space to congregate and hang out in, if it were just the gameplay look and a menu designed to get you back into that loop as efficiently as possible.
    The argument in this article could be boiled down to “if there’s something which could be streamlined in games, it should be” – by this logic, only core gameplay should exist and everything else should be in service of getting you to the core gameplay as fast as possible. This rejects that games are anything besides their core, and rejects that a sense of world, or an aesthetic, or any emotions evoked in service of elevating the core gameplay are redundant.

    • That’s too reductive, I think. Personally I’d just prefer it if the social spaces were more functional, or at least gave you more agency over what the social ‘hub’ looked like. I know Fallout 4/76 isn’t the most useful direct comparison with its camps and such, but I always treated that as a social hub in my mind.

  • Agreed. I can see why games of certain types have social hubs (destiny, anthem etc) but then you have games where the hub is completely unnecessary, like Dragonball FighterZ and Jump Force. I’m not sure why fighting games would ever need a hub when a menu would be so much more efficient. Perhaps because it enables you to sell microtransactions for cosmetics that are visible in the hub and not elsewhere.

    • Oh the social hubs for Japanese fighting games are so annoying. I was so hoping Strive wasn’t going to have it. Just have the screen like sfv. Then have lobbies if people want them. Done. Easy as.

  • “live service” games are nothing but poor attempts at being MMOs and the so called social hubs are proof of that. They are there to try and recreate what people do when they are bored shitless and have nothing better to do after clearly all their weekly chores.
    If lockouts didnt exist, then theres no need for social hubs as a menu is all you need to find a group but then again most live services dont even have a proper way to find a group within their own game so you have to use reddit/discord/other 3rd party sites/apps

  • I wasn’t a huge fan of the Destiny 2 one, I started playing when it came on Game Pass and there was so much content etc in the tower it was really unclear what to do.

    The one in No Man’s Sky is perfect though, you can see some cool ships and nothing’s really hidden away. Not really any loading times either just summon the anomaly and go.

    I think as others have said, options is the way forward, have the hub by all means, but if you can access it through menus too, win win.

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