Feb 252011

I am doing a revised, streamlined version of my Austin GDC talk on Social Mechanics, this time sprinkled through with more references specifically to social games. It’ll be at the Social and Online Gaming Summit, Monday at 3pm.  Here is the event listing:

Social Mechanics for Social Games [SOGS Design]Speaker/s: Raph Koster (Playdom)
Day / Time / Location: Monday 3:00- 4:00 Room 134, North Hall
Track / Format: Social & Online Games Summit / Lecture
Description: Many have accused social games of not really being social. But they are underpinned by many classic social mechanics that drive interaction and community-building. Some of these have been proven to work in other genres such as MMOs and are beginning to filter into the social games market; others are easily visible and quite familiar in real life, but have yet to be seen in the design of social games. In this talk we will draw from both proven game design and from anthropology and sociology and explore the social potential of social games.
Takeaway: Learn about core human psychology driving social games, and walk away with a clear list of game mechanics that encourage social structures and human relationships, thereby driving retention.
Eligible Passes:Summits and Tutorials PassAll Access Pass

I will endeavor not to take an hour and 15 minutes this time. 🙂

Oct 082010

The intent of this talk was to do a “powers of ten” sort of look at multiplayer mechanics… not really to describe anything new, but instead to try to take the whole big spectrum of what we think of as multiplayer game design, and do a cross-disciplinary look at it. I covered a bit of game theory, a bit of psychology, a bit of evolutionary biology, a touch of history, a heavy dose of sociology, a dash of social networking theory, and of course, game design stuff.

My hope was that when done, it would both serve as a good context for thinking about multiplayer games of several sorts, and also as just a plain old reference, something to point at when discussing things like what the impact of gifts and wall posts are in social games, or why some MMOs have longer retention cycles.

So here it is as a PDF, for your perusal. I tried to make the slides stand on their own as much as I could, but of course, the actual voiceover would make many slides more comprehensible. For that, look for the actual session recording to appear on the GDC Vault.

Long-time readers will notice that there are bits here that reference and repeat elements of much older presentations. I recommend following up this one with the math-heavy but extremely related presentation on social network theory Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds (PDF), if you have not seen it before… I gave it back in 2003, a year before Facebook launched. 🙂 It digs a lot deeper specifically into many of the characteristics of large scale-free networks in games.

Feb 262010

Dan Terdiman at CNet engages in some handwringing over the fact that kids worlds and social games are taking over the hype that used to belong to virtual worlds.

But to someone who cut his virtual world teeth on more immersive, 3D environments like There and Second Life, these never-ending announcements of new companies trying to jump on the social gaming bandwagon have left me with one nagging question: Where is the innovation?

The innovation lies in making something that matters to ordinary people.

Now, I am a virtual world person, obviously. I don’t see much distinction between the game worlds and the non-game ones like Second Life. I have been working with them since the text muds, for over 15 years, which doesn’t exactly put me in the true old dino category where Richard Bartle and Randy Farmer reside, but I think it is fair to say that I have been closely identified with the space for a long long time now.

And I think that they aren’t over, but the form that they have taken is.

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MiscDunbar’s Number matters online too

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Feb 272009

Of course, this is completely unsurprising to me, since we demonstrated it via datamining of MMORPG metrics five years ago. There’s some interesting stuff here about “core” or tight-cluster friends versus the extended network, however.

The rise of online social networks, with their troves of data, might shed some light on these matters. So The Economist asked Cameron Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, to crunch some numbers. Dr Marlow found that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis, and that women tend to have somewhat more than men. But the range is large, and some people have networks numbering more than 500, so the hypothesis cannot yet be regarded as proven.

What also struck Dr Marlow, however, was that the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable. The more “active” or intimate the interaction, the smaller and more stable the group.

— The size of social networks | Primates on Facebook | The Economist.

As someone with a larger-than-normal extended network and a smaller-than-normal core network, I kind of live with this every day as I use social media. There’s a lot of talk about the issue of “unbalanced” followers/following number on Twitter, for example, or about whether social media are used as marketing tools by some folks. In my case, the answer is undoubtedly “yes,” though perhaps my style of personal marketing is fairly informal. At the same time, as I have commented to folks at the office, the first anonymous brown-paper-wrapped package you get at your home address, first death threat, first random fan phone call at dinner, completely changes your perspective on social media…

Game talkReadingThe EVE upset

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Feb 112009

Edit: I don’t actually play EVE, just watch from afar. I’ve corrected some errors below that players of EVE mentioned to me. 🙂

A few days ago, everyone wanted me to write about the massive destruction of the Band of Brothers alliance in EVE Online, and how Goonsquad GoonSwarm finally triumphed via an act of betrayal.

But honestly, another day, another giant EVE scam. Ho hum. Is there anything really good to say about this?

For the uninitiated: there was a huge aliance named Band of Brothers. There was another clan named Goonsquad GoonSwarm who hated them (edit: well, everyone, really) and worked against  them, but was not nearly as big or powerful. Goonsquad GoonSwarm would recruit BoB members in order to scam them. A BoB member joined under these false pretenses, but then chose sides and rather than be scammed, asked to join for real — and offered up BoB as his price of entry. He was a high-level admin of BoB, and he basically disbanded the whole thing, destroying it from within, and Goonsquad GoonSwarm made piles of virtual money.

The most intriguing aspect of the whole thing to me isn’t the way it happened, but the overall social dynamics of it — the fact that it was completely inevitable. There’s been lots of talk about how this was basically a sort of exploit, that one person should not have enough power to destroy the work of thousands. But I’ll make the case that this is exactly what CCP should want to have happen.

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Jan 262009

I still pay a lot of attention to social networking theory (not the stuff about the sites, but the research around how humans form networks of influence), ever since doing all the research that led up to my 2003 “Small Worlds” presentation. So this Reuters report that scientists have found a genetic component to having tight friend clusters was interesting to me.

To dig into what’s going on here a little bit: social networks are very discontinuous. They “clump.” We know from datamining that some people have many friends and some have few. The ones who have many are often referred to as hubs or connectors. These folks are also often the ones that “bridge clumps.” And when we say they have friends, we mean, like, they have a crazy amount more than ordinary people do. (The distribution of “number of friends” follows a power law, so the folks at the high end are very very very rich with friends, to a radically disproportionate level).

I suppose it isn’t surprising to think that there is likely some genetic component to this aspect of it. Most people are not like those guys. Continue reading »

Sep 222008

Gamasutra has coverage of the other panel I was on at AGDC.

Finally, why did all of these developers leave their jobs at major MMO studios for the world of the web?

Koster’s response seemed to sum up a lot of the inspiration among developers who have come to love the web as a platform.

“It isn’t so much about the size of the market, though that’s important,” he said. “And it’s not even about the six year long [traditional MMO development cycle]. To me, it’s about the greater capacity for personal expression. There’s a great capacity to touch people. it was about empowering everybody. Working on the web now reminds me of working on the internet before the web was around, where it was much more community-driven and participatory and exciting and end users have their say. It feels like you can accomplish everything.”

Sep 102008

The Web is moving towards a user-centric experience. Whereas a few years ago, it was all about visiting destination sites, now it is about destination sites spitting out data that comes to you, via RSS. The attraction of things like Twitter or Facebook lies in the ambient information that flows out and about, and in your largely asynchronous, largely placeless, largely shallow updates on what your friends are doing. You come to know them deeply not by engaging deeply with them, but by building up pictures of lots of small actions they take.

Compare, for example, the destination-like IRC versus the ambient Twitter. Hardcore Twitter fans use it almost in realtime. They answer people, with their @fred syntax convention. They have a better history, perhaps, because they can search the stream in a way that IRC doesn’t really support. But more importantly, you follow Twitter by filtering it; it’s one big stream, and you take little bits of it out. It is as if IRC were all one channel, and you happened to build an aggregate channel of just the people talking that you wanted to hear.

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