Game talkDesigning for community

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Feb 012011
 

Yeah, yeah, I’m writing about this again. :)

Tobold’s got a post on community in MMORPGs.

We can’t get to a really better community, where all the goodwill is felt from the bottom of the heart, without the players themselves contributing to that. I still remember my first day in Everquest, where a complete stranger helped me and even gave me a magic necklace, for no gain to himself. It is hard to blame developers for the fact that such behavior has become so rare.

Designers design the social environment by commission or omission. If they ignore it altogether, then there will be an accidental mishmash of features and the result is fairly unpredictable.  Mind you, this doesn’t mean that paying close attention to it is going to work well either. Players respond to the environment they are given.

A simple thought experiment would be to ponder what would happen if you removed chat. Plenty of games do. Designers put chat into MMORPGs without really thinking about it, and tend to simply imitate chat systems we have liked in previous games. Clearly, its presence and design affect the quality of the community.

Everything you do that affects the experience players have in a multiplayer environment is going to affect the formation and development of the community.

Bhagpuss replied to Tobold, saying:

MMO “Community” was a freak side-effect of the design used by early games in the genre. Can you point to design documents or press releases from Everquest that indicate the slow mana regeneration, long downtime and so on were designed with the intention of fostering community among the playerbase? Not interviews after the fact, when designers may have taken credit for that emergent behavior, either!

I can’t for EverQuest specifically, but there are piles of design materials here on this site that are exactly what he describes. Some of them are pre-release articles written about the SWG development process. Yes, designers do think about this sort of thing. Designs like the allegiance system in Asheron’s Call, the high-end game in World of Warcraft, or the economic interpendence in Eve don’t just appear without some thought going into how payers interact with one another.

Some references for the curious:

Bhagpuss went on to say:

Modern MMO design allows for fluid, enjoyable gameplay without the need for a unified community. About the only remaining reason to design for community is its supposed positive effect on retention. Other than that, it’s surely easier for designers to cater to the individual than the collective.

It isn’t a “supposed positive effect.” Community ties are the single biggest predictor of retention. And in the subscription game (really, in the microtransaction game too, though the effect is more complicated), retention = money. Therefore, community ties = money. Yes, it’s easier to ignore the social aspect. But nobody said that making money was easy.

  44 Responses to “Designing for community”

  1. Yep, I was writing about how the EQ2 design crew were and weren’t fostering community in 2005, and again in 2008

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raph Koster, joi podgorny and Michael Hahn, Philip Chu. Philip Chu said: RT @raphkoster: Blog post: Designing for community http://www.raphkoster.com/2011/02/01/designing-for-community/ [...]

  3. Heh! I was poking Tobold with a stick there. Didn’t expect the “ouch” to pop up over here.

    Presumably most of the levers to be pulled to create communities and the advantages derived from having those communities were established in MUDs, long before MMOs. The lessons learned there were, no doubt, incorporated in the design of EQ, given that it apparently follows established MUD design closely. (I never played MUDs so I only know what I’ve read).

    Will community in the established MMO sense continue to be of primary importance in keeping players playing? If it was not losing touch with their online friends that kept players logging in to MMOs, will they still feel that need when they are all linked up on Facebook anyway? If the content of MMOs is increasingly designed either to be played solo or in groups assigned automatically by the game (Dungeon Finder, Battlegrounds, Public Quests), will players ever form a community in the first place?

    Guilds do seem to be almost the last remaining mechanism that gives players both a way to get to know each other and a reason to want to do so. Is that enough? If the glue dries out, will the whole machine fall apart?

  4. It makes me incredibly sad to read the comments in that thread. I mean, stuff like this: “There’s 2 ways to get people to cooperate. Either offer them a reward or lead them to believe cooperating is better for them (it’s more optimal and/or less detrimental).” I don’t think most players are so viciously cynical, though, so that’s something.

    I wonder, though: what’s the mark of a good community? I can’t put my finger on that. Is it a lot of mentorship? Is it enjoying each others’ presence? Is it a high civility-to-ragequit ratio? I realize that a good community is something that just clicks when you’re in one, and the dissonance of being in a bad one signals that you are…

    But how do you say, “We’ve improved” or “We’ve lost ground” on community quality? Is it something quantifiable at all? I wonder how RL community managers figure it out.

  5. [...] I need to disagree with Raph (note to self: Raph not Ralph) here when he says that “community ties are the single biggest predictor of retention” in MMOs. If WoW wasn’t on the scene then I might have been inclined to agree but right now, I [...]

  6. The most obvious thing that hurts community in MMO’s these days is the level and zoned content separation that forces players apart.

    Start there before you take any more steps. Community starts with associations.

    Oh, and this comment is wrong:

    Small games tend to have a better community than large games.

    It should be “Small communities tend to be better than large ones.”
    So, group small communities to form a larger one. Think Guilds>Cities>Nations, or some other take on that structure.

  7. Will community in the established MMO sense continue to be of primary importance in keeping players playing? If it was not losing touch with their online friends that kept players logging in to MMOs, will they still feel that need when they are all linked up on Facebook anyway? If the content of MMOs is increasingly designed either to be played solo or in groups assigned automatically by the game (Dungeon Finder, Battlegrounds, Public Quests), will players ever form a community in the first place?

    There’s evidence that having an active circle of friends drives retention in social games as well, so it does seem like socializing in some fashion remains important. If you think of these games as “third places” or “bowling” or the like, then there’s plenty of real world analogues, and nothing to suggest that the desire to connect with other people and do something fun together is diminishing. Even if you are linked on Facebook, you still want to get together for dinner or drinks.

    That said, it is unquestionable in my mind that multiplayer and sociable design is harder than single-user design, especially when you are trying to get across a specific tailored experience. So there’s always pressure towards the easier answer. I think that the current is towards better experiences and worse communities. But I hold out hope that after that, comes generalized competence in the provision of experiences, leading to developers seeking out other avenues of differentiation… such as the communities.

    We’re seeing this happen today in social games, where the name of the game is rapidly changing towards retention.

  8. The one thing I learned on this topic from EQ1 is that nothing builds community like shared pain.

    People rallied together out of sympathy and empathy for confronting the same obstacles and frustrations in their lives inside the game. I’ve felt since that without that annealing fire, the connections between players are written in fainter ink. Er, to mix metaphors. :P

    I really don’t want the lesson learned to be “intentionally put frustration points in your game to give people a sense of camaraderie”, and I don’t think intentional frustration points would work anyway (we’re alternatively savvy enough and/or cynical enough to spot that most of the time). Always the problem with being among the elite few to have accomplished/endured/put up with something is the elite few.

    Still, shared pain is an ingredient to be aware of and not forget was in the mix.

  9. [...] Even Raph Koster tosses in his two bits [...]

  10. Not sure what your angle is here, Raph. I understood the beginning of your post, the end seemed to imply that devs deliberately design EVERYTHING that happens in the game. I don’t agree if thats what you mean; emergent behavior *is* something design tries to encourage, but I can hardly believe that designers in, say World of Warcraft, are even remotely aware of the impacts of many features. In fact, as you said, games tend to put the chat feature in there almost without thinking. Are we to believe that a designer who does such a thing has community in mind? I think not.

    @Michael Chui: I think a good/bad community is absolutely a quantifiable thing, but requires a true survey of what’s going on in the community. For example, are your players in need of groups? How do they find them? Do they actively seek each other or is the game too competitive to allow that kind of trust? Many questions can be asked to attempt to quantify it, but I believe the wrong thing to do, and what devs seem to want to do these days in MMOs, is hand the community a tool which ends up being almost anti-social. To what degree do we want to assist players in finding a group? To what degree should we facilitate, through socially conscious design, player initiative in bringing that outcome about? I do believe many designers ask these questions, but I also believe few try to answer them and implement something patented for their specific community. The trend is they look to other games and simply rip off their ideas.

    @Raph: You’re lumping two things together into one. You are saying that because players in MMOs today prefer to play with friends, then it suggests they will go and make new friends. All it suggests is they will ask friends they already have to join them in this new virtual world. And THAT has a tendency to subtract from community, because no new communal bonds between that player and the existing community are made. They are effectively leeches who take what they want from the game, ignore players who are already there, and almost exclusively play only with friends they know from Facebook, as you say. I think the evidence is out there of this behavior and I think the evolution of the MMO community has also demonstrated this. If I could categorize players over the years very generally I would say there is a the MUD generation, the Battlenet generation, and the Facebook generation. A study of how these different generations view socializing will no doubt reveal some clues as to why gaming communities today are fairly anti-social compared to yesterday.

    On a specific note, I made a post not long ago about the state of the WoW community and threw out some suggestions and guesses about it:

    http://www.raiders-guild.org/2011/01/policing-the-mmo-community/

  11. But that doesn’t necessarily follow, does it Raph? Retention doesn’t equal money, the number of active subscriptions at any given time equals money.

    Retention is just one variable in a multivariable equation. You could very much have a successful system wherein you have no real elements that drive retention, and your churn rate was quite crazy in comparison to other games, but where you more than make up for that with a truly ridiculous acquisition rate and a massive playerbase.

    Retention is an important thing sure, and it probably deserves more weight than most of the other things you need to worry about, but there are edge cases where it doesn’t matter so much, and you certainly can’t do a direct comparison between games. Especially if it turns out that there’s a trade off between designing for retention and designing for acquisition.

  12. Ugh, I really need to let my posts sit for a good 20 minutes so that I’m sure there’s nothing I want to add:

    Someone really needs to do a more rigorous study (or point me toward someone who has) of the consequences of retention strategies on overall acquisition rates; there’s this intuitive feeling that I have that they should, on some level, be something that you cannot “max out” in both directions, that is, that it’s impossible to have exceptionally high retention and exceptionally high acquisition without being a vital service and a monopoly. I also have a suspicion that there are stable equilibrium states as you make trade offs between the two that lead to sustainable growth, and also unstable states that lead to population fall offs and death spirals.

  13. There are two broad categories that most activities in MMOs and virtual worlds fall into: create or destroy. Community building is social architecture — an inherently creative act.

    We’ve got excellent incentive systems for destruction — loot, badges, experience, advancement.

    Our incentives for creation are lagging. A creative person can make a great deal of gold (or real money, in systems like Second Life), but creatives usually view money as a tool to support more creation, not as a reward in and of itself.

    Effective rewards for creation are feedback, accolades, press, access to special tools and materials, challenges… heck, basically anything that would make your art department perk up and start cranking out deliverables ahead of schedule.

    UO gave the Golden Brew and Golden Brew Players some unique decorations and functional items, a Lord British Award or two, a few turns in the Community Spotlight, and a general feeling that we were unique, important, valuable contributors to the game world.

    What did they get in return? Free volunteer content creation, of a type that they never thought of, and players that are still playing and paying for a game that (let’s face it) was technologically dated even at launch.

    Coming up in a couple weeks: The Golden Brew Players’ production of “Twelfth Night”. Want creative community builders in your game world for years to come? Feed us.

  14. Doone,

    I understood the beginning of your post, the end seemed to imply that devs deliberately design EVERYTHING that happens in the game.

    No – that is why I said by commission or omission. If a designer designs something in, they are shaping the environment. If a designer fails to design something in, they are also shaping the environment. It is an artificial environment, after all. Everything there is put there on purpose (though perhaps not with much considered thought).

    You are saying that because players in MMOs today prefer to play with friends, then it suggests they will go and make new friends.

    Actually, I didn’t say anything at all about making new friends… socialization itself doesn’t imply new friends. It has more to do with facilities for the interaction between friends.

  15. Eolirin,

    Retention is just one variable in a multivariable equation. You could very much have a successful system wherein you have no real elements that drive retention, and your churn rate was quite crazy in comparison to other games, but where you more than make up for that with a truly ridiculous acquisition rate and a massive playerbase.

    That is pretty much exactly the market social games are currently growing OUT of. :) Over time, acquisition costs rise because of competition, and loyalty becomes more important. And then customers stack. With any sort of business model based on ongoing revenue (subs, microtransactions), stacking the revenue matters a lot. The long-term currents around the market moving to ongoing revenue are far too large to ignore.

  16. Raph, I’m not saying it’s not important, just that it can’t be the only thing you look at. Signs point to WoW having a much higher churn rate than post trammel UO or EQ, but it’s obviously been vastly more successful because of it’s ability to attract a *much* larger install base. It was WoW that I was thinking of, more so than the current crop of social network games, which are mostly closer to zero retention rather than poor by comparison retention.

    You can go too far in that direction, but throwing acquisition under the bus in favor of retention doesn’t solve anything either. Some sort of equilibrium needs to be reached, if there are trade offs between the two, and I kinda feel like there are, though I can’t prove it.

  17. Well, sure. Obviously, acquisition of zero equals zero revenue and zero success. There’s no under-bus-throwing going on!

    I think that low acquisition cost and large audience is basically only a phenomenon of new markets, and can’t last very long. So business models have to account for that. Also, keep in mind that retention in itself does positively impact your acquisition rate (cutting costs via positive word of mouth and viral spread), but critical mass is also very important — many effects do not kick in unless you acquire a substantial enough userbase in the first place. So yes, there’s a balance for sure.

  18. So the question then really becomes: can you actually create something that’s heavily sticky that also can reach critical mass or is the ability to reach a critical mass a property of an environment that resists being heavily sticky? I suppose I should say that this is in the context of optimal numbers, not necessarily “merely” having sustainable growth and positive monetization (UO is still alive, and EVE is growing, but neither is something that we can consider to have gotten this all right).

    If we’re talking about community, there is some issue there: one of the properties of strong communities is that they’re tight knit; that does provide an increasingly significant barrier to entry for outsiders. Even though you’ve reduced your acquisition costs – you don’t need to do much to attract new players directly – you’ve also reduced your potential pool of players; only people who know people in the game are likely to want to join. People coming in blind are going to have a much harder time finding an in and that can lead to alienation, and that can cause an easy bounce. You get similar problems if you’ve designed an environment that’s allows for player control and doesn’t have sufficient mechanisms to allow new players to catch back up; even though you’re likely to keep your established base, and they will bring their friends in, if a new player doesn’t have someone to in some way bankroll them, they’re not going to be able to enter into much. This is a big problem in EVE, for instance. EVE can be very sticky, but it’s so inaccessible that many people won’t get to that part of the game.

    So it’s not just a question of acquisition *cost* but acquisition opportunity, so to speak. As a contrived example (I don’t think this mechanic necessarily does this, but for illustrative purposes), having territory control may significantly improve retention but it may do it at the cost of reducing your potential market significantly, as a decent number of people simply will not play a game with that mechanic. You get similar issues with things like long painful periods of downtime. They do help you build communities, but they also make the moment to moment experience of the game quite a bit less fun, and there are *other* options that you have for entertainment so you go and do that instead. You bounce almost immediately before the community effects get to kick in.

    It’s pretty complicated. :(

  19. I think a good/bad community is absolutely a quantifiable thing, but requires a true survey of what’s going on in the community. For example, are your players in need of groups?

    I’ve got to stop you right there and ask whether groups are a good or bad thing, because you seem to be assuming they are… whereas I wonder what number you’re assigning to them as a quantifier of community quality.

    I mean, say you’re looking at groups and you notice people aren’t grouping up anymore… but there’s a lot more time spent idle in dense populations with a lot of chatting coming out of there. Is that better or worse? Why?

  20. Historical perspective time…

    Designing for community isn’t something Roy Trubshaw and I did explicitly in MUD; we assumed that players would self-organise, and even that they would form cliques, but we didn’t have any idea that there would be a “MUD community”. We hoped there would be a “MUD culture” (or maybe multiple cultures – we weren’t fussy), but we didn’t plan for what would now be called community.

    This isn’t to say we didn’t, at some level, know what was required. One of the most important decisions we made was to have the TELL command (or WHISPER, as it’s known in some virtual worlds) despite the fact that we had no fiction to explain it. As I said in my Austin talk this year, realism was something we strove for; SAY and SHOUT made sense on this basis, but how could we justify allowing individuals to communicate one-on-one across any distance? Well we couldn’t. Players did complain about this lack of realism, and weren’t impressed by my “it’s telepathy” answer (in part because you could cast a DUMB spell on people to stop them talking, and it also stopped them using TELL). However, both Roy and I knew that we had to have TELL in, we just couldn’t explain why beyond “it HAS to be there!”.

    Design for community in a more formal sense didn’t come to MUD until maybe the geographical additions I made from 1982 onwards. As part of my PhD, I’d read Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, and therefore had some idea about how space can encourage the formation of a community. I used some of that directly in MUD, most noticeably with its Elizabethan Tearoom lobby area.

    This isn’t to say that any of the designers of virtual worlds that derived from MUD had any understanding of this, but then again, it’s not to say they didn’t, either. I can only say what Roy and I did.

    Richard

  21. I think there’s a danger that the player community can become insular, dogmatic, resistant to change and hostile to outsiders. That’s a problem for a designer trying to keep the game fresh and up-to-date to appeal to new players.

    One value of systems and incentives that put new players in contact with grizzled veterans is that they benefit both retention and recruitment. New blood keeps old enclaves from stagnating and decaying; old blood helps keep new players from feeling overwhelmed and isolated (a distinct danger in games with a decade or more of systems and content additions).

    I agree that not only CAN you do both, you HAVE to do both.

  22. I guess you can study the goals of your players to get a clue about how they will interact with each other. You will probably encounter retention problems if your players find a commonly understood and optimal goal.

    Another problem might become apparent if the players have no practical use of supporting other players while seeing each others avatars. (At least within an mmorpg but I would expect the same idea applies also to more abstract simulations.)

  23. @Raph: You are right, it just seemed your post was implying something there. Still not clear if you are taking a stance or just throwing things out there, though I’d say the latter. I believe community ties used to be a good predictor of retention, but for the reason I pointed out earlier that is a failing standard to measure retention. If I bring all my friends to the game, me and my friends can also go somewhere else. Whereas, when I befriend people in the game, whom I can only interact with in the game (time zones, language, location, etc), then that definitely makes it less likely that I will leave. I guess that was all I meant to imply. Apologies I did not understand your statement the first time.

  24. Rose-colored glasses are fun. So many people who suffered the experimental punishments in EQ1 now longingly look back on the days when time investment “mattered” and decisions were “accountable”. Usually in the same breath as scoffing at easy-mode WoW (or the preschool-level DCUO :) ).

    Community forms where people are. How it forms and what form it takes are specific to the environment. Is it every person for themself? Is there a common enemy or binding influence in the game or naturally evolved from the environment? Is this intended (hard coded factions) or emergent (everyone meet at NRo docs for Orc Trail, Coronet Starpart bazaar)

    Every game has a community of sorts. Those seeking to replicate the emotion they think they remember having from an earlier game will always been disappointed. It is possible for some people to live too much history to have fun, because eventually the sea of sameness they think they’re in makes them revise their memories of where they had been.

    Yukon Sam wrote: I agree that not only CAN you do both, you HAVE to do both.

    Totally agree. Can’t tell ya how often I reference the Player Pyramid. It’s critical to a vibrant community that you have a mix of playstyles and player cultures. The guy selling crafted goods is as important as the guy who raids 10 hours a day as are the hundreds of nameless faces that log in once every two weeks and forget they’re on a billing cycle :)

  25. Raph, when are you going to design an MMO again? You seem to be one of the few people out there who actually gets what an MMO should be about, ie: using the fact it has a massive community at its core. You look at what the Bioware guys are doing with TOR, for example, and while it will most likely be a fun game, it’s pretty much designed to be a single-player experience by default, unless you go looking for the community. That, to me, is absurd. Yet people are out there, day after day, thinking the smart thing to do is gather a massive audience… then design a game that doesn’t involve a massive audience. What a weird gaming community the MMO community truly is.

  26. I believe community ties used to be a good predictor of retention, but for the reason I pointed out earlier that is a failing standard to measure retention

    The most recent data I have seen suggests that it retains its importance.

    If I bring all my friends to the game, me and my friends can also go somewhere else. Whereas, when I befriend people in the game, whom I can only interact with in the game (time zones, language, location, etc), then that definitely makes it less likely that I will leave.

    Again, community doesn’t imply “meeting strangers.” The same features that enable meeting strangers also enable you to have a more social time with your friends. And if the environment is conducive to it, then you & your friends are more likely to stick around as a group.

    That said, it’s certainly true that webbing up your cluster of friends to other clusters reduces the chance of a wholesale group defection.

    My stance was simply that yes, designers can and do design a community environment that affects players, and in fact do so either intentionally or accidentally, so to say that they do not is an error. That was about it. :)

  27. I think we’re in general agreement that the design is of critical importance in fostering community.

    The act of forming and maintaining a community is the responsibility of the players, but a game design with strong social elements is far more likely to attract and keep the social leaders that are the nucleus of lasting player communities.

    And I think it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean mandatory group content or open PvP to force people together. Grouping to deal with a threat or exploit an opportunity CAN lead to deeper community, but only if the non-combat social elements are also in place. Otherwise, you get random PUGs and raiding guilds whose social interaction is limited to bitching, bragging and begging.

  28. MMO without community is an oxymoron although elder game with the need for unified community is, unfortunately, in vogue.

  29. One of the tricks for building community has definitely got to be having a game that promotes inclusiveness towards new members, rather than exclusiveness. For example – playing DAoC, the server community I was in was positively welcoming towards new players because they were reibnforcements for the ongoing realm war. There was no great immediate cost to having a lower levelled, under-geared player come along to the frontiers, and a definite long-tertm benefit if he stuck around as a comrade in arms. In contrast, PotBS with its limit of 25 per side in instanced port battles resulted in a community that discouraged the great unwashed from taking part from the get-go. Anyone who was a lower level in a smaller ship who won the lottery for a place in the upcoming battle was strongly encouraged to pass in favour of one of the big PvP guns… much less reason to stick around if you’re being shut out of one of the game’s biggest selling points.

  30. Now, do social ties cause someone to stay in a game, or are they merely correlated with staying in a game? Maybe the kind of person who likes to be social is also more loyal to games.

    I ask this because a certain big MMO is trying to corral people into big guilds. Is this a smart move, or just cargo cult game design?

  31. It’s a feedback loop, Paul. Players who enjoy the social game are drawn to and remain with games that have a strong social design. In return, they’ll press the developers for more and better social content.

    I’m not sure which big MMO you’re referring to, but there are several that force you to group up or guild up for a significant amount of their content. I think some designers (and many players) are frustrated with the MMO soloist, not comprehending why anybody would play an MMO without teaming up with other players, and they try to force soloists into groups by ‘gating’ the content in various ways.

    This strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed. If you try to force soloists to group, they’ll just find another game that allows them to play on their own terms. But if you support and empower social nodes (independent of adventuring content), many of those same soloists will be drawn in like iron filings to a magnet.

    I adventure solo. I like setting my own pace, exploring, and experimenting with sub-optimal class/race/skill combinations (gnome berserker!) These tendencies do not endear me to goal-focused raid groups or PvP clans. But they’re perfectly compatible with social RP groups that form from shared interests and diverse perspectives, not out of necessity or competitive advantage.

    I know it’s possible to balance it out. Raph already did it. I’m still waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up.

  32. The Army Experience validated the notion of designing for a purposeful community. On the other hand, it may be safe to finally admit that Second Life is by and large, a massive failure.

    It isn’t credible to argue that a successful game designer doesn’t design for a community but it is a weak definition of what is actually going on.

    I think there’s a danger that the player community can become insular, dogmatic, resistant to change and hostile to outsiders.

    That may be the goal of the design, Yukon.

  33. Paul – from a sample of one, I would say social ties cause people to stay in games :) The games i have stuck around in (primarily DAoC, WoW and LotRO) have been the ones I’ve played for years on end. Games I tried but never joined a guild I tire of and move on from within 3-6 months. And when I have ended up leaving my guild in DAoC and WoW, in both cases I’ve left the game as well.

    As I said, sample size of one – but that’s definitely causation, not correlation.

  34. It’s fairly established as common knowledge that the main reason most players are in MMOs is because their friends are. It’s also that these games are extremely boring if you’re not playing with others, one way or another.

    There are also plenty of stories about how players will (1) collectively pick up and leave as a social group, which is in keeping with social inertia and (2) complain bitterly about the games they play and cite friendship as the only reason they’re still there.

    All that said, this is common knowledge at the player level, too, and even if it wasn’t a causative effect originally, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy now because the players believe it’s true.

  35. len: “On the other hand, it may be safe to finally admit that Second Life is by and large, a massive failure.”

    In what sense? True, user numbers finally plateued this year after a long series of boneheaded missteps by Linden Lab management, but SL has a huge, diverse, deeply invested and creatively empowered community of users. That’s kept it humming along even while the executives were running around clueless waving their hands helplessly in the air.

    I can think of a thousand ways in which Linden Lab has disappointed entire sectors of the user base. But I can’t think of any objective criteria by which the whole of Second Life can be fairly judged anything but a major success and historical milestone.

    Michael: “It’s fairly established as common knowledge that the main reason most players are in MMOs is because their friends are. It’s also that these games are extremely boring if you’re not playing with others, one way or another.”

    When Nick Yee examined motivations for play in the Daedalus project, the top rated motivations were progress, immersion and exploration. Socialization placed fourth, friendship sixth (out of about a dozen motivators).

    I’m a strong advocate for better social design… but it’s got to be kept in perspective of a strong game design that accomodates a wide range of playstyles (including solo play).

    len: That may be the goal of the design, Yukon.

    Hostile, insular cliques? Somebody needs to lock down the MMO rights for the Paranoia RPG. The computer is your friend…

  36. This is actually completely in line with the motivation theory of professor Robert-Vince Joule and how to get people committed.

    (see:
    http://www.managenergy.tv/metv/portal/_v_wm_300_en/index.html?showSlides=true&search=robert-vince+joule&submit=go) (scroll down to the presentation)

    e.g. this is also something that ‘hard core capitalists do not understand, people are social beings, but by being afraid to be called a ‘socialist’, they ignore the economic impact of being social (e.g. designing social aspects in your game in this case)

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  38. Raph,

    I’m sorry to post an off-topic question here but I’m not sure where to post it on this site so that you will see it.

    A couple of days ago, Gordon Walton, left EA Bioware Austin. He either resigned or was pushed to resign from EA and from the project he had nursed since it was a baby, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

    Is it usual for a General Manager (and Bioware Vice President) to leave a company that is about to put out a game on which it has spent six years and some hundred (or more) million dollars developing when it is due to be launched in the next six months? Do you know why he left?

    His goodbye letter – http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/game/367/view/forums/thread/307570/Star-Wars-The-Old-Republic-GM-Departs.html – also says, outright, that he always hated the NGE and what it did to SWG, his and your game.

    Come on, Raph, you’re embedded in the industry – what’s going on? Or, at least, what do you speculate?

  39. Alex… I wouldn’t presume to speak for Raph, but considering that he works for Playdom, I have my doubts that you’re going to get much beyond what’s in the press release.

    Seen in the context of a certain trend of cherry-picking talent from the MMO field, it was probably the right offer at the right time. Disney/Playdom’s got deep pockets and deep IP. Now they’ve got Raph and Gordon… and quite a few others. If we want to idly speculate, let’s speculate about what’s behind THAT curtain.

    In other words… I don’t think Gordon’s running away. I think he’s running towards…. something. And nobody’s going to tell us what the carrot is just yet.

  40. Interesting, interesting.

    And yet, I still can’t understand why Walton would leave a project whuch was his baby for years and which is just a few months from launch – and which, if successful, would not just have made him wealthy but allowed him to write his ticket to any job anywhere in the industry (including, of course, Playdom).

  41. You know, I’m reading all this…and it all seems so…quaint, somehow. Very insular. Very inside baseball. I’m reading it not because I care about the inside baseball of Everquest (which I never played, although I read the piece about it in the New Yorker years ago and marvelled at the red hair dye thing). No, I’m reading it because I’m mining it for clues to understand game-god behaviour in general, and Raph’s theories, which are usually applicable outside any given game situation.

    Yes, everything a game god does matters and affects community, but you know something, Raph? Communities develop ways and means outside of the technology’s exigencies, outside of the gameplay, and outside of the game god’s agenda. And that’s all a good thing. And yet, and yet…they can never break out of the magic circle.

    The reason I am reading this is to try to understand, once again, why geek culture always has to prevail in these situations, with all its awful features, and why, well, it always has to be a game, and a game with such nastiness. Even given that yeah, it’s a game, if you know what I mean.

    Even something like a classic meme — “the altruistic geek who helps someone in a game even though he got nothing for it” — is one of those heroic fictions you all tell yourselves about what you are doing, but those just a few steps outside your magic circle can see it differently: the geek performing some ritualistic bonding exercise that will make others like him; the geek playing good Samaritan because it will make others think he is altruistic and store up cred for drawn-down later; the geek setting the stage to always and everywhere be seen as selfless and giving — when in fact it’s an act rooted in vanity. You bless it benignly as merely some act that is the lubricant of lovingkindness; sorry, not persuaded.

    In my years in TSO and Second Life, I’ve really come to loathe that persona — the long-suffering newbie helper; the cleaner-up of junk prims from sandboxes; the tidiers of the JIRAs, etc. etc. They are all a collossal, supreme bore because no one can ever question their behaviour or exercise oversight over their powers — and that’s deliberate, and that’s the problem. They are always in fact encroaching on the freedoms of others, using the “helper” persona to lord it over them.

    And I’m thinking more about gamification now as I contemplate the arrival of Rod Humble at SL, who used to be at Everquest and TSO. And at first I thought that was a good thing, because I thought he might appreciate the customers more and realize he’s got a certain responsibility to entertain them — and manage the community — a role one felt Philip Rosedale, who first made Second Life merely as a sidebar, a testing ground for his virtual-reality goggles, didn’t really enjoy.

    But to my horror, the first thing your friend Rod does at Second Life is take out the community voting capacity on the JIRA (the feature and bug tracker). Awful, awful, awful. That had been in place for six years. It had literally hundreds of thousands of entries and comments and explanations of votes. Tens of thousands of votes chronicling the life of the community in extraordinary ways. It’s a vast trove of user-generated content. And it is about to be deprecated. The function will be frozen and no more votes will be allowed.

    This feature had been there since time immemorial, first on the Features Voter System and then on the JIRA (a worse system in many ways). Of course, in justifying this atrocity, the geek squad used the same arguments they use in RL against representative democracy (which makes them as a class so dangerous to the republic in real life): “it doesn’t represent everyone” (pretty devious, eh? Have less democracy because there isn’t enough lol); “it isn’t effective” (Lindens didn’t pay attention to it); “It’s gamed” (sigh); “it produces unfair results” (only the 100 that show up who care decide, but then, the tyranny of who shows up is something geeks specialize in); “It has no no vote or granularity” (also devious because that was deliberate, and originated in the JIRA framers themselves); “we can substitute it with ‘watch’ which shows more interest” (lame) and so on.

    All awful, all Orwellian, all unacceptable. Quite a few people have protested, but they have nothing to protest *with* except the JIRA itself and a few other venues, blogs, some inworld discussions, etc.

    A substantial claque on the forums and blogs (as always) is taking that usual muscular geek approach that says “Come now. This is a private company. You can’t have a democracy in a corporation, it wouldn’t work, you couldn’t get the product out the door, etc.” Of course, as an *expression of popular will* that helps guide decisions and at least points out gaps between game-god intention and community, it’s invaluable. But those that like power align themselves with it by siding with the company, and use those sorts of smug put-downs. The “it doesn’t work to make decisions” argument is also trotted out — as if a good reason to have less democracy is that the democracy you had didn’t work. Say, ask the Egyptians in September if they like that idea.

    I lay this out because it’s a really good example of something a game-god does (and most games have no voting; SL isn’t a game) with great implications — and yet with such rigid ideology and such narrow conceptions of what is good or bad for people.

    I don’t know anything about Alex Clarke’s question, and I suppose my plaintive plea about voting here and Rod Humble is in the same “off topic” category, but the bottom line is: game gods just have too much power over people online. There needs to be more democracy. The internal Oprichina types in every community who back up the game-god’s undemocratic impulses are always the reason it fails.

    I don’t expect you to answer this. But I want you to *know* about it. I want you to hear *what a bad thing it is*.

  42. Second Life isn’t a massive failure. It’s the largest online opensource software experiment in the world — which of course, inherently makes it “a failure” in my book because of the open source cult, but the server code is still proprietary, the ill-conceived project to make it interoperable by trying to internationalize interoperability through IETF mercifully failed, so there’s hope : )

    The 30-day uniques are down, yes. But it is still very vibrant and thriving and business is good in some sectors (pets, prefabs, rentals) even if bad in others (clothing, vehicles) for various reasons, some of it the awful effects of forcibly moving commerce from inworld stores, which had once encouraged socializing and “hunts” and connections — and as Raph just told us, community ties=money — and moved the whole thing to the web, where it became non-social, solo, and less interesting — even if sales increased (easier to buy on lunch hours) and of course, the Lindens got commissions (which they don’t get from inworld sales).

    As for Nick Yee, I’ve always thought he had atrocious ideas about things in worlds. He is too game-centric and simply too male-centric in his views. He’s the one who would claim he could follow “avatar gaze” even though in Second Life, avatars don’t gaze and there is no way to follow their gaze, they don’t have eye beams and don’t turn their heads. Only third-party viewers developed long after his research claimed to find gender differences in gaze can approximate something like gaze by tracking where a camera zooms. But that’s not always instructive.

    Geeks go on insisting SL is a failure for all kinds of geek-centric reasons that only reinforce their own insular culture.

    Nick Yee’s concepts are completely wacky and male/war game centric. And I say this as no particular feminist but merely an observer of reality in virtuality. Socializing is a huge factor in retention; goals/rewards in a non-game situation don’t matter, etc. Motivations for retention in SL usually revolve around not finding a friend or having a friend and staying.

  43. of course if a game tanks, never ships or is worse- “just not cool”, moving on first is the way to do it in the industry;) “any industry”

    as to proks posts….
    GAMES DONT NEED DEMOCRACY… DEMOCRACIES NEED TO PROPERLY EDUCATE THEIR POPULACES ABOUT GAMES.

    everything that has gone on in the “video game” industry since it finally “outsold” the film industry last decade, has been proof that as a culture, and as a what we have left as a democracy, has failed to do that.

    the insanity of gov.2.0 and gamers conferences and the puesdo science of virtuality and media at places even like stanford, has been atrocious.

    dont forget, a ‘faux” stanford research institute, gave us ESP and uri geller in the 70s… and still today, 40 years later. after Nancy Reagans Horoscopes we still have, talking to dead people and ghost hunting shows that use “technology” to prove spirits…….

    the game god as author/director… experience/storyteller is what theyre role should be…. if they want to run the real world, then run for president…. for better or worse we had the avatar of ronald reagan do that 30 years ago… even without the “meta” of todays current delusions of what affects what.:)

  44. I think the upcoming game from Thatgamecompany’s line-up, “Journey,” will be an interesting “experiment” of sorts to see how anonymity plays out in an MMO environment.

    For those who are unfamiliar, inside Journey you are a traveler trying to reach a specific end-point. On the way, you will encounter other players, but no names or chat interface will be included. Although, I recall reading that your character has the ability to physically emote. Nevertheless, communication and identity will be highly restricted leading to an interesting social environment.

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