When I started playing Sindome, one of the things that really drove home the crowd aspect was getting in to reading room texts and realizing that I was missing out on conversations that may have been about me, or at least related to me bumbling around. It made me pretty anxious, actually, but I think that really helped develop how a character new to the Dome might feel in somewhere so foreign. Even if they're from a crowded city, it drives home the idea that it's all very *jarring.*
I can completely understand how that aspect of the game could be killer to a lot of new players just by nature of them not ever realizing that they NEED to be watching/addressing in such an active way, and I can even understand how the system is basically just another chore to deal with to someone who's been playing for a certain amount of time. At the same time, I'm a proponent of the idea that it adds RP to sit someone down and basically say, "Baka, I know there's a lot going on, but stop paying attention to everything else and WATCH ME." It being a chore to an oldbie isn't much different, in my eyes, to the multitude of things that we all pick up and learn and have to overcome as time progresses.
I don't think that the watch/address system needs to be overhauled or removed, but I do think that messages similar to drug effects might be nice to proc when someone says something in a room that your character might not necessarily pick up on. bean_dip's OOC-Chat snippit from bitMuse is a good example of how players can really miss out on the vibe of an area because, let's face it, it can feel strange to see one line in flavor text stating how "busy" everything is, yet actively see how quiet the room is. Equally, I think Pavane's example adds real flavor and a reminder to those that simply forget, so that maybe they can say something along the lines of, "sorry, I didn't hear that."
I think the current system leads to 2 real problems:
1) Unintentional, normalized smallworlding- by watching and/or nodding at everyone that comes through a door, a character is simply noticing the "important" people. That's not terribly uncommon in my experience playing Sindome. You can enter a street and often immediately have someone notice that, for example, you're holding a gun, regardless of where their character might actually be in the crowd. Less of a problem with watching, more with looking, but maybe part of the overall issue of people having normalized the feeling that the game doesn't make places *feel* active.
At the same time, should people be actively sought out and penalized for always noticing something or trying to say something to a friend that just so happens to walk through their cell? I would rather not be noticed in a "crowded" place, but I understand that people, especially those with limited game time, NEED to notice others in order to get the most out of their time. I would say that they should be encouraged to phone the friend and RP meeting up, which I'm sure people often do, but I don't necessarily think it occurs more than simply -noticing- people in the bustling street or bar crowd.
2) Plain frustration by those who are either too familiar with watching all or those that don't know the intricacies of watching. One thing that I hadn't really thought about and had tried not to think about too much was something that Vera mentioned in the Remove Watch and Address thread linked here: things like taking a grenade out and pulling the pin might be a thing that the whole room sees, or maybe it's not. I don't know how many small actions a room can fully see, but it seems to me like fixing those exceptions would be better than modifying the entire rule.
That being said, I really love the idea of adding ambient "chatterbuzz" (as mentioned by ymk in the other thread+suggested here by Pavane/Hek) that has a chance to proc based on room pop and character perception. If that's too difficult, ambient pop affecting a message proc that reminds you that there's a -lot- going on, no different than how taking a drug reminds you that, yes, you are stoned, would go a very, very long way in adding a conscious reminder to people that things ARE happening. The bar is NOT completely dead just because there's nobody there but you and an NPC tender, even if a lot of us are either used to 1) RPing that the room is chock full of bodies, or 2) pretty much ignoring that there's all but 4 "important" characters" taking up space.