The "social factor" is often advanced to explain the popularity of MMOs: "it’s the people that are addictive, not the game." And indeed, social networks are essential components of the online gaming experience. Game designers build "virtual third places" to encourage interactions. Quality time in a MMO is time spent with others, be it raiding a dungeon in a group, socializing with bystanders in a cantina, or chatting with remote guildmates while exploring the wilderness on your own.
Or... is it? The data PlayOn has assembled from World of Warcraft challenges many of these assumptions. Could it be that a less, not more, social environment contributed to WoW’s success? Read on for more.
For the past 8 months, we have been collecting and analyzing data from WoW. We use "bots" on 5 different servers (covering PvP, PvE and RP realms) and take snapshots of the population every 10 minutes or so (more detail here), capturing data about each present character's level, location, grouped status, and guild affiliation (among other things). So far, we have observed about 150,000 unique characters. While this data is far from perfect (after all, we are only getting what Blizzard is willing to let transpire through their API), it can still yield a surprising amount of insight into the social dimensions of multiplayer games.
We have tried to assess the prevalence of social activities in WoW using a variety of metrics. The most obvious is the time players spend in groups. In the early stages of the game (level 40 and below), it hovers at around 30%. Even if we assume players spend a fair amount of time crafting, selling goods on the auction house, etc., it is hard to see these activities accounting for 70% of the time spent in-game. It is only at level 56 and above that players spend the majority of their time in groups (probably raiding high-end instances). Moreover, players favor "soloable" classes (warriors, hunters) that, by design, survive mob encounters better in solo play - the more social classes (e.g. priests) that require a group to work well are among the least favored. Compounding the problem, and despite features like WoW’s "group xp bonus", grouping is an inefficient way to level, which naturally steers the more "hardcore" players away from groups (at least, in the early stages of the game).
Overall, this data indicates that instrumental group play in the context of quests might not be an important source of social interactions in WoW. How about guilds? Excluding level 1 characters, 62% of WoW’s players are in guilds. Interestingly however, 17.5% of them belong to a "one-person guild" - in other words, nothing more than a custom tag below their name (which, incidentally, says volume about the trouble players are willing to go through to customize their avatars). That leaves only 44.5% of players in guilds with at least 2 members. Moreover WoW’s guilds are fairly small (median size: 9) and very few grow beyond 35 members (90th percentile) - a kind of Dunbar Number for guilds.
More importantly, guilds are also very sparse social networks. Our analyses indicate that the average guild member in WoW spends little time with a large majority of his/her guildmates. Over a month, the average guild member is online 20 minutes or less with 80% of his/her guildmates. The same average member collaborates (in quests, etc.) with only 11% of his/her guildmates for more than 10 minutes over the same month. In other words, most guilds in WoW are not highly social and/or collaborative environments.
Considering all this, it is easy to wonder why WoW’s players spend so much time (more than 10 hours per week) in this game instead of a single-player RPG! To me, WoW illustrates how a large number (the majority?) of online gamers enjoy being "alone together." The social factor at work here clearly has little to do with direct interactions and camaraderie in the context of quest groups or guilds. Instead, it looks as if other players are mostly:
- An audience (to showcase your latest "elite" gear and other accomplishments).
- A social presence (the constant flow of chat in the wide-reaching "general" channel, the movement of other avatars around you, make playing WoW somewhat analogous to reading a book in a densely populated café - while you may not necessarily choose to interact with the other patrons, the sense of being in a public social space can be attractive enough to conduct individual activities there).
- A source of spectacle and entertainment ("people watching" is fun in WoW, in part because Blizzard encouraged it by design with many humorous objects that can be appropriated by the players - the gnomes’ various trinkets with unpredictable effects, the infamous 20-lb catfish that can be used as a weapon, etc).
Does this mean that, to reach WoW's scale and attract gamers as-yet unfamiliar with the genre, future MMOs should focus less on collaborative questing and other traditional techniques to encourage interactions, favoring instead "looser," more indirect forms of social experience? A "society of the spectacle," to use Guy Debord's terminology? Or are there alternatives?
(P.S.: an expanded version of this analysis will appear in a CHI 2006 paper I'd be happy to send to interested readers).
Comments on "Alone Together" in World of Warcraft?:
I think focus on group-play is a bad strategy, particularly when you consider players who already have limited time on their hands. Finding a group takes time; getting to the encounter (if not already there, of course) takes time; waiting for others to assemble; coordinating roles (unless you luck out with adept groupmates); re-grouping if you get wiped out. There just really is no alternative to solo-play for the time-restricted player, especially if that player wants to experience the gameworld. Otherwise, you're just waiting in line at an amusement park.
Some folks argue that solo-players have no business in a multiplayer game -- that solo-play is anti-social. I don't know that the effort of grinding levels in a group is any MORE social than solo-play. In fact, I've been in any number of groups where fewer words were spoken than there were members of the group! For me (a die-hard soloer), social time is for hanging around taverns and other "hang-outs" ... the "chat-room" portion of MMOGs, if you will.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 5:14:35 PM | link
I have to say that I'm skeptical about some of these data. Now my experience is almost entirely on RP servers, and I expect that skews things, but the time in guild interaction is quite a bit higher for everyone I know playing WoW, in my circle of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.
Another factor that would be hard to measure is the use of channels for "meta-guilds", which seem increasingly common among endgame players on the RP servers.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 5:19:21 PM | link
I've said before something to the effect of: the presence of other people validates emotion. Beating the dragon feels more intense in a single-player context because the game itself is better and you are indeed the only hero. But it doesn't feel as real. Add other people to the mix, and your accomplishments, though more mundane (you are not the only hero, and getting that level was about grinding, not strategy), feel more real.
Succes in a single-player RPG feels like success in your daydream. Success in a MMORPG feels like success in the real world.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 5:29:52 PM | link
I'd have to agree with Bruce -- my own guild (on a PvP server) is a great deal more social than the findings above. Then again, I doubt that my particular guild is normal in any sense of the word.
I would love to see data on how much time people spend talking in guild chat (or meta-guild channels) while soloing, though I realize that would be a difficult metric to take, given the available tools. Additionally, I think that there tends to be a core clique within every guild, a group of people who login often, who participate in guild events, who talk in guild chat often, etc. If you were leave out alts and fringe members who don't login very often, how much time does this core clique spend together?
I also wonder about things like non-grouped twinking/assistance (if you're level 30 and have a level 60 friend helping you with grinding, they'll lower your XP quite a bit if they are in a group with you), guildmates running battlegrounds together without being in a group, that sort of thing. Maybe a useful cross reference number would be how much time people spend in the same zone as their guildmates?
(Btw, great first post, Nic!)
Posted Feb 6, 2006 5:40:39 PM | link
I'm also in a 100+ member guild on a PvP server, but I understand the "alone together" idea perfectly. When I played on a PvE server, that's what I liked.
PvP carries a lot more social interactions, but not necessarily friendly... :) The biggest PvP attraction for me is the rush of knowing I could be targeted by another player at any time. (And vice versa!) How do you measure that? I also wonder if you see a migration of players from PvE to PvP once they "beat" the PvE game? (Around level 35 the PvE game became very boring for me.)
Posted Feb 6, 2006 6:10:46 PM | link
I like the notion of "being alone together"; I don't actually play WoW or other MMROPGs, but am fascinated by the social dynamics of these virtual worlds. I couldn't find your E-mail, so via comments: I'd like a copy of the CHI paper you mention. :)
Posted Feb 6, 2006 6:15:25 PM | link
Good read. Unfortunately there's no good way that I know of to track people's membership in not only guilds, but their participation in the multitude of channels that WoW allows for. In my own experience socializing actually happens more frequently in these comparably less controlled and more 'free' environments. I suspect, however, that to form any conclusive statements about socializing in WoW you'd have to delve in to this subset of interaction in more depth.
I'd agree, however, that persistance plays a role in the appeal of WoW. For example, take a look at another Blizzard game, Diablo 2. D2 is very much a non-social and solo experience. However, players show an overwhelming amount of dedication to their battle.net characters as compared to their 'offline' ones (unfortunately no hard data, however it isn't hard to notice the popularity of the b.net activity). They go through some amount of annoyance for the ability to both rank and assure that they are able to play in reasonably controlled environment. Where their progress is not only noted by their peers, but has some additional weight of accomplishment. This no doubt has some bearing on the success of the game
There is one last point to be made. World of Warcraft is a fun game (for most people, Blizzard does this well). And if you want to play it you're going to have to play it online, even if you want to go solo. What I'd really be interested to see is if your numbers change over the next few years, considering the current state of the WoW endgame, and if so, by how much.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 6:20:17 PM | link
You know Ken, I recently started playing a lot on a PvP server and I'm experiencing the same "rush" you are talking about. I guess the fear of player-killing counts as an indirect form of social interaction ;-) But this is not what people expect when talking about the social aspects of multiplayer gaming, I presume. If anything, it makes WoW more like a first-person shooter - competition is the driving force, not collaboration.
As an aside, I have started writing extensive notes about my PvP experience - I think I'll post something on it soon. The way players negotiate encounters across factions is simply fascinating - how can you look non-threatening when you cannot talk to the other party? I really like the way players use sequences of emotes to get out of a fight.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 6:23:33 PM | link
there are more solo players in MMOs than people think. those that want a little social interaction use guild chat to achieve that end. most social interaction that occurs is to achieve some short term goal.
perhaps the reason for this is that in virtual worlds there is a lack of long-term objectives.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 6:53:38 PM | link
Another possible reason for group/guild participation: resource optimization. People join groups and guilds because they hold a perception that doing so makes it easier to get better gear faster.
This would explain why the typical group/guild player doesn't spend much time in social activity. Resource optimization is utilitarian behavior, not social -- you talk to other players only as long as it takes to get what you want from them. When you've got what you want, interaction over. (Of course not all players are like this. The question is whether enough are to generate the results obtained.)
This would also explain a MMO vs. single-player preference. In a single-player game, you advance only as fast as the developer lets you buzz through their pre-scripted encounters. In a MMO, you can use the power of group action to become/get the "best" much more rapidly.
Resource optimization as a motivation doesn't explain everything. But it seems pretty good overall.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 7:02:15 PM | link
I believe the reason people (including myself) like to play an MMO even though we spend most of our time ungrouped is simply that an MMO's world seems more "real" and alive. A solo game's world is very predictable and mechanical; a world full of other players, whether you're working with them and talking with them or not, is far more complex and interesting. It has an economy. It has rudimentary politics. It's just more immersive and fun.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 7:30:14 PM | link
Bruce's comment prompted me to take another look at the data and see if there are any significant differences between RP servers and others. Interestingly, it looks like guilds on RP servers are smaller on average but have higher centrality and density - which is indicative of more interactivity. So the type of server matters. It makes intuitive sense, but it's always good to see a confirmation from the data.
(Thanks to Nick Yee for his help with this new analysis).
Posted Feb 6, 2006 7:34:03 PM | link
I attribute a large part of WoW's success in its design that supports solo play. Most people prefer their own company. They only group if the mechanics of the game prevent them soloing. All the data supports this.
I think one great part of WoW's design is that it does not force you into artificial 4-person archetype parties. Human beings are not wired that way.
Duos make sense. Military-style raids make sense. 5-mans, 10-mans, 20-mans, no. Yes, people only group for mutual benefit, and in a game like this, it's predominantly for materialistic ones. Social guilds are few and far between (e.g. RP GBLT Troll Sub-Dom Panda punchers only).
Game design clearly affects social behavior here. Just compare SWG's one character per server, with all professions possible, vs. WoW's multi-chars, only 2 tradeskills per, rest xp, mail between chars, etc. In SWG, it makes sense that people will form closer connections than in WoW. Players who are friends may be playing with each other's alts and not know each other. Not to mention the Horde/Alliance split that purposely dehumanizes the enemy... I digress.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 8:05:19 PM | link
From a developer's standpoint, there's a lesson in this. Players make great content. A character model "occupied" by a living, breathing person is far more interesting than an AI equivalent. Even if you don't interact with other players, it feels good to know they're around.
I tend to prefer soloing; however I rarely play single player games. While I can appreciate a game like Morrowwind, the knowledge that I'm the only living player in the world destroys the experience.
Real people validate a virtual world. They make it real by their presence, even if you don't interact with them. Timothy Burke's point about the importance of persistence in the world is well taken, but it's the mass suspension of disbelief that makes the experience real. A dynamic, persistent world helps but it’s not required. When you see another player's avatar, you know there's a "Ghost in the Shell". That's real. Everything else is a simulation.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 8:14:22 PM | link
Interesting article. I find that I like to solo, am in a 1-person guild, but never play single player games, preferring MMORPGs like WOW.
I'm not sure what the exact reason is for my preference for MMORPGs over single player games, but I imagine it's because the world seems much more alive with other people running around.
The occasional bit of socialising also makes the game less lonely than single player games, and having multiple players in a game gives you greater gameplay options due to things like the Auction House.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 8:46:39 PM | link
To the people who say "My guild has many members and is very sociable, I don't understand this article," I only have one question for you:
How many people do you interact with outside of your guild?
Posted Feb 6, 2006 8:50:16 PM | link
As a casual (< 10 hours a week) WOW player, I've considered joining a guild but haven't put in the time to find a good one. WOW could offer more resources - especially in-game - to let guilds advertise themselves or possibly set up an HQ. As it is, I have enough trouble finding good groups, without trying to find a good guild. Maybe they need a pledge week.
Also, after all the discussion of the ways that guilds can't or shouldn't advertise themselves ("All Australian," "GBLT-friendly," "All Colts fans"), it also strikes me that they don't have many useful ways to characterize themselves: I hear a lot of guilds advertise that they "like to have fun," which sounds like a personals ads, but I don't hear anything that really characterizes them.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 9:05:48 PM | link
My sphere of interest in broad virtual or textual spaces is generally limited to metaxical fields, so a little empirical data on online sociology in a single contrived circumstance isn't going to sway me tremendously. However, there are numerous factors about the primitive state of virtual worlds that I tend to find peculiar when it comes to the subject of initiation of social interaction.
For instance, isn't it a little odd that someone knows everyone's name, or relevant moniker, as well as social station the moment they log on? What's left to talk about when the distinctions are laid out for people? I have to imagine that most socializers are a bit put out given that their favorite subject generally starts with themselves and carries forward from there. It would be hard not to feel short changed by this shared omniscience.
Virtual currencies or exchange practices are more than handy closed models for armchair economists to chuckle over. In many instances, they serve as universal language. However, interdependence for survival is usually not a high content development objective for most entertainment providers, so this language becomes muted. If a primary tool for weaving narrative coherency between acts and objects as well as continuity between chains of interaction becomes secondary to the player's experience, those that stick around can most likely be expected to craft private narratives.
Of course, when it comes to private narratives in a shared space, it is often to be expected that players will become entangled in them without expecting or possibly even realizing it. The abruptness of this is frequently mitigated by the other party's trump ability of being able to simply log out, or what we might call creating 'nonconsentual anomie.' The creation of narrative is deeply tied in to ego, so a brash, even sociopathic sensibility often emerges in the patterns with which one player initiates interaction with another in the expectation of full cooperation/consequencelessness.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 9:36:42 PM | link
I love being around other's ,SO why Group.and if soloing is anti-social, then I most be anti-social.
I always thought anti-social ment you did not want anyone nere you and you try to hide from them etc.
Maybe I am wrong now ?.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 10:18:14 PM | link
"Considering all this, it is easy to wonder why WoW’s players spend so much time (more than 10 hours per week) in this game instead of a single-player RPG!"
In a nutshell, there are no single player RPGs out there worth a damn currently, and when there are, they're over with pretty quickly.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 11:14:11 PM | link
Interestingly, this data is very similar to what's reported by people from large sites like Pogo where right now there are 230k people playing bingo, poker, simple puzzle games, word games, etc. According to a (now former) producer there (at least I think it was him, Dave Rohrl) a huge segment of the most popular games on Pogo are set up to be precisely "alone together." You play a game by yourself, there's no interaction between what you're doing in your game and anyone else's actions, but you're all in a shared space and the leaders are on the same high score board, etc. So quite possibly, the psychological dimensions here go beyond just MMOGs.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 11:37:24 PM | link
I support the "Alone Together" theory. In fact I've wondered about a sort of Turing Test to convince a player that the other avatars are driven by human players. Obviously any sort of social interaction would expose a toon, but what behaviors or reactions would "fool" a human player. Games such as Animal Crossing and The Elder Scrolls IV are advancing the art of purpose-driven NPCs but I think there is an opportunity for specific research into this area (i.e. what is necessary to fool a human player into believing an avatar is human-driven?).
What is the current ratio of players to NPCs? Let's say it is 100:1. What would a game feel like that had a ratio of 1:100? It's easy for me to imagine the cities of WoW or the villages of Guild Wars to be occupied by 80% NPCs running around in epic suits, putting stuff into the chat channels, and running off to disappear into instances. What happens when we become "Alone But Deceived"?
Posted Feb 6, 2006 11:37:50 PM | link
I should imagine that the findings are correct.
From a mechanics perspective, grouping in any sort of farming (save quest farming or rep farming) is strictly discouraged. Areas of the game where group farming (that is, farming where additional people don't reduce your split of the good, vis a vis Felwood tubers this patch) is continuously removed in update after update. Further, for end game raiding you need to get mats for consumables, or money to buy them. Grouping = less revenue outside of instances, chance of loss inside instance unless you know group very well. (When farming we tend to employ Maximin strategies, especially when who we might group with is a wholly unknown quantity. Avoiding bad payouts with the maximin rule for choice under uncertainty is something we really, really, really ought to see.)
And yes, people only socialize inside their guild. If socialization with people you didn't already know had to be satisfied on some sort of metric then i'm utterly baffled as to why someone with that preference would choose world of warcraft over say city of heroes. Heck, the game is partly based on your inability to communicate with half the game.
Of course, your analysis misses something rather critical; what are people doing out of game? Are people just idling and reading boards while they wait for the next battleground to come up? How does the data read among different factions?
Obviously, problem users of one sort or another tend to drive other users away, and WoW minimizes this by minimizing necessary interaction in a variety of ways (most importantly the modifyable UI which grants the ability to the games core movers/shakers, and on the same level instanced dungeons)
Does the lack of interaction help WoW? I think so. Problem users are a problem in any online envrionment, and human sanction is a very inefficient way of dealing with it that often elicits strong criticism and additional loss of users. Of course the only alternative to that is to simply put up barriers to interaction. No one measures a service by the quality of interaction if it's not a normal feature.
Posted Feb 6, 2006 11:50:19 PM | link
In short, where's the qualitative data? =P You could ask Nick Yee.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 1:13:53 AM | link
Question: Does this mean that, to reach WoW's scale and attract gamers as-yet unfamiliar with the genre, future MMOs should focus less on collaborative questing and other traditional techniques to encourage interactions, favoring instead "looser," more indirect forms of social experience?
Answer: Only if the future gamer wants more of the same. My intuition is that there are different types of gamers (as exemplified by the different guild makeups across RP and non-rp servers) and that trying to create more games that use the same formula of less and less social interaction will turn the creation of MMORPGs into little more than a videogames arms race. As great as WoW is, it still hasn't addressed a few of the core issues that I beleive keep a majority of players out, namely that the game is still fundementally a fancy levelling treadmill disguised as a game. Wait, I take that back, isn't that what we call a career these days?
Another thought I had about all this was where games that use a great deal of instancing fit into it all (eg. DnD online and especially Guild Wars). I would presume that heavy instancing would decrease social interaction because there are fewer players to interact with, particularly within instances, but does that then draw consumers or is that counterbalanced with the fact that people are unable to play "alone but around others"
Finally, as a tangent, does anyone else have difficulty swallowing the durotar's number notion that this guild size must be a direct byproduct of relative neocortex size (in other words, human biology)? Perhaps I am interpreting the definition wrong, but it seems to me that even the merest glance across different social networks should prove that the notion of there being a neurological basis for the number of social connections one can make is preposterous. To cite a "man who" example, I work for an insurance agent who juggles the name, contact information, and personalities of hundreds of different people in his head effortlessly, simply because he has to. To cite a more well-documented example, consider the study done on London taxicab drivers (London's streets are notoriously complex to navigate) which found in essence that working the job enhanced their mental accuity- in other words, that they rose to the challenge. In-game guild composition is a function of a) game design, first and foremost and b) culture (is it an RP or PvP server? What type of player does the game design attract)
Posted Feb 7, 2006 1:18:56 AM | link
"We have tried to assess the prevalence of social activities in WoW using a variety of metrics. The most obvious is the time players spend in groups."
I should think that chatting was the most obvious social activity to measure. But, you probably don't have access to any metrics on how much people chat.
I know that when I'm soloing, I'm usually chatting up a storm with my guildmates, and sometimes people I just happened across during my adventures. Saying that players are not being social because they're soloing is like saying that players are not being social, because they're at the computer, and not down at the pub. We, of all people, should know better than that.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 2:34:29 AM | link
Elaborating on Tess' comments, it is also often easier to socialize while soloing, since communication and other avatar activities are often difficult to effectively coordinate (both use the keyboard extensively, after all). That seems counter-intuitive, of course, but in practice, that seems to be the norm.
Metrics that might be interesting to collect, if there was some way to do so, would be the number of communications per time period while in various situations (grouped, solo, etc.), and which "channels" were being used. (I doubt the tools exist to do so from client side, unfortunately.)
Posted Feb 7, 2006 6:36:15 AM | link
JM> If socialization with people you didn't already know had to be satisfied on some sort of metric then i'm utterly baffled as to why someone with that preference would choose world of warcraft over say city of heroes. Heck, the game is partly based on your inability to communicate with half the game.
That was one thing I was thinking too -- that WoW always seemed to me kind of lonely versus City of Heroes. I would just be careful not to generalize about VWs based on the data you're seeing w/r/t World of Warcraft. It's very interesting, given the game's popularity, of course, but I don't know if it is characteristic of what all players would want if they could choose the ideal level of socialization in a MMOG.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 7:17:18 AM | link
As someone that considers themself a social player - I also spend about 75% of my time in-game physicially alone - i.e., what would be termed soloing.
But I'm NEVER alone - there are thousands of other people in this world with me. My activities are more often than not aimed at supporting other people, my guild - something besides just my own interests, or at the very least dually focused. Hunting funds for myself while hunting herbs for the guild for example.
A player does not (and should not) be forced to be 'attached to the hip' of other players as the their only option. This is looking at a VW solely thru the lens of game mechanics and is totally missing the point of the numerous ways social ties develop.
I don't have any problem with specific activities that are designed for group encounters - that is also needed, but WoW seemed to get the balance right (or at least more right than some others) with activities that can be pursued solo as well as activities meant for groups.
Socialization will happen all on it's own as long as communication tools are present. You don't have to beat players over the head and force them to do this, they will engage in socialization at their own comfort level automatically, and 'solo' play may not be solo at all to the player's perception, if the group's goals are what they are pursuing.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 9:09:21 AM | link
A very interesting post that has sparked some random thoughts in no particular order...
First your data supports the belief that I've held since UO and EQ: that forcing people to group--forcing them to be a part of a community--is far worse over the longterm than allowing them to solo. That alone is part of the reason for WoW's success.
One of the reasons some may be questioning your data is that maybe they hang out with people who try to play WoW like previous games. On the PvE RP server where I play there are distinct groups: those who primarily grind/farm their way up through the levels and those who primarily quest their way up, often solo. The two don't interact much.
The hardcore PvPers are another separate breed altogether, and even they are divided between players who like the challenges when facing other human beings and the honor point farmers. (I'm sooo sick of game designs that produce and encourage loot whores.)
Solo questing is by far the fastest and least likely to produce burnout, but to people who are used to banging away on their keyboards it "feels" like it takes longer. Quests involve things like reading text, travel time, exploring (or trying to follow sometimes very long walkthroughs or instructions from guildies--Onyxia Key anyone?) etc.
Only near the end of some of the opening to middle game quests do players need assistance from other players. And then only if they do the quests when the quests are still yellow and up in difficulty. The players who do quests outnumber those who grind. Although there is again the subset of those who try to grind quests, trying to find groups for quests they could solo. Again I suggest this is out of habit: "Let's get through all this boring stuff as fast as possible so I can get high enough to do the fun stuff!"
Another--probably dangerous--thought is that because of WoW's popularity more players find themselves wanting to solo because of the larger cross-section of humanity they discover they're rubbing shoulders with. A lot of people from all over are playing Wow. And WoW's servers are crowded.
Players are in an environment with a far greater likelihood of running into people who are unlike them (due to culture, region, playstyle, education and so on) than in the 200,000-400,000 player games they're used to. This diversity can make them uncomfortable, particularly in the opening through the middle game. After that they settle into guilds with hopefully like-minded souls. Although my experience helping to run my son's guilds in several previous MMORPGs did not prepare me for the drama we get in WoW because of the greater chance for diversity even in groups who -think- they are there for the same thing.
And finally for several reasons, including the fact that it's so easy to level in Wow compared to its predecessors, there's also a much higher percentage of casual players who may also feel more comfortable soloing.
Damn, I keep adding and adding. I'll stop. Sorry for the meandering!
Posted Feb 7, 2006 9:10:36 AM | link
Interesting data here Nic... I'm definately a proponant of the "being alone together" thesis but I would also advise looking for less directly causal explanations for your data on grouping vs soloing. Sociologists amongst others often speak of a generalized need for social contact sometimes as the very definition of our humaness but there is little specificity about what "social contact" might mean.
One thing you might consider say following someone like Benedict Anderson ("Imagined communities") is that actual social contact in the sense of direct connection through discourse or co-presence is not as important as the imagination of social contact or social belonging as in Anderson's argument about nationalism.
Thus it may be that virtual worlds provide unique new mechanisms (like newspapers do for Anderson) in providing a sense of imaginary sociality -- so that is what folks are logging in for. Indeed, I'd go further and argue that actual social contact often pales in comparison to the imaginary sociality in these spaces.
I'd would love to see the CHI paper
Posted Feb 7, 2006 10:17:58 AM | link
In terms of dueling anecdotes, I'm anecdotally predisposed to find this data highly credible. Perhaps it's partly because it's how I actually manifest my own sociality in most MMOGs.
But I'd add an explanatory hypothesis to several already suggested. What the presence of other players does is add organic unpredictability to solitary experience, like adding spice to a bland but satisfying meal. A solo game is played once, appreciated for the first time for its narrative and gameplay, but rarely played again. A MMOG that is solo-friendly has a recombinatorial flavor to it--enough familiarity that each time does not pose a massive learning curve; enough unpredictability that every play session is unlike the one before.
Beyond that, however, the mode of sociality described by being "alone together" is also a pretty common one in the real world, what some have called being a "gregarious loner"--that many people, especially introverts, derive energy from being non-social, but then engage social domains at a time of their own choosing or will to the extent that they can. This potentially is a pretty good sketch of suburban sociality--the manorial independence and individuality of the family in its home; the "alone togetherness" of many public spaces; a leavening of intentional experiences of more intensive sociality such as parties, playing sports, etcetera.
In that respect, this kind of sociality within a MMOG both resembles the sociality that many players inhabit in their daily lives and is *part* of that sociality--that in a synthetic world, players sometimes behave as if they are in a crowded social space like a mall (where one engages in individualized shopping, walking, viewing which is very like "solo levelling") and sometimes behave as if they're at a party or playing tennis with friends (becoming socially visible to other people, being engaged in simultaneous activity with a group).
This is why I've never understood the proposition that there is something mysterious, inexplicable, surprising or irritating about the fact that many MMOG players prefer or seek solitary play for much of their in-game time. It would be more mysterious if the opposite were true, in fact.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 10:20:17 AM | link
Tim> This is why I've never understood the proposition that there is something mysterious, inexplicable, surprising or irritating about the fact that many MMOG players prefer or seek solitary play for much of their in-game time. It would be more mysterious if the opposite were true, in fact.
Here's a question, though -- can you point to a *game* situation (not a mall or a suburban area) where the enjoyment is in being alone together. To answer my own question a bit, Roger Callois suggests that crossword puzzles are a social activity, because of, to some degree, the reasons Nic mentions above (e.g. crossword enthusiasts like to brag to other ones -- everyone knows everyone is doing the cross word -- there's some "imagined community" of crossword solvers a la Anderson, etc.).
But MMOGs read to me as spaces (Richard makes this point in DVW over and over -- it isn't a game, it is a place where a game happens.) I'm wondering about RL places that could be analogous -- places where people go to play alone, together. Any thoughts on that?
Posted Feb 7, 2006 11:10:25 AM | link
Oh, and btw -- this really is a great first post, Nic. Fascinating topic & with data to boot -- spiffy!
Posted Feb 7, 2006 11:12:14 AM | link
Here's a question, though -- can you point to a *game* situation (not a mall or a suburban area) where the enjoyment is in being alone together.
(Great post, Nic.) I wrote about a very similar situation in Greece, Greg, in the context of the dice gambling there. It is simultaneously the highest stakes gambling (by far), brings the largest group of players together (up to ~18), and yet is marked precisely by the quality of aloneness that Nic found for WoW. In fact, I titled the chapter "Collective Solitude", and went on to discuss the issue of the presence of the social and its unpredictabilities as providing the source of the game's compelling quality, even absent much conventional social interaction at all. I wouldn't talk about it in terms of "enjoyment", per se (as I similarly try to avoid all such terms that presuppose people's participation in games as intrinsically normatively positive experiences), but that social unpredictability, as Tim points out, is the key. (This connects to a broader discussion of the various sources of unpredictability that games bring together, by the way, including the social, but also the performative, chaotic, and others, which I've written about in the book and elsewhere.)
Posted Feb 7, 2006 11:23:57 AM | link
Greglas: But MMOGs read to me as spaces (Richard makes this point in DVW over and over -- it isn't a game, it is a place where a game happens.) I'm wondering about RL places that could be analogous -- places where people go to play alone, together. Any thoughts on that?
The biggest one that I'm surprised no one has mentioned is the movie theatre. We are literally alone together there -- we watch the movie in a darkened room where interaction with others is discouraged, and yet it is a profoundly social experience. Seeing a movie alone is different from seeing it with a friend. And seeing a movie where it's just you alone is different again (once my daughter and I saw "The Princess Bride" and were the only ones in a large theatre, which was a fun but odd experience).
A more place-like analog is the theme park. Ted said earlier in this thread that "the presence of other people validates emotion." Disney is reputed to have said "shared experiences are compelling experiences." We reinforce and gain validation for our own experiences from the presence -- even the highly mediated presence, as with distant chat in-game -- of others in the same space. As with movies, going to a theme park is a different, less compelling experience when you're alone than when you're with others, even if you're sitting side-by-side and not overtly interacting.
Another example that was related to me recently is casinos. Part of the attraction for people there is nothing more than the presence of other people. If you put the slot machines off to the side, they get less business even if you route traffic there, simply because they don't feel like they're "in the middle of things." Similarly, at least one casino launched a program where they brought in "whales" (high-spending VIPs), gave them a private elevator to an exclusive gambling area, etc. -- and it didn't work. While these people don't want to overtly interact with the drunk losers on the low-end blackjack tables, they do want to be seen and to be part of the social environment.
Overall, I think there's a great deal to be said for the ability to be "alone together" in a MMOG. This eases entry into the game, lets players move along at their own pace, and not feel the overhead of social group maintenance, but also without feeling completely alone. When I start a new character in WoW, I have little interest in the other new characters around me, doing the same fast and easy quests, but knowing they are there changes the quality of the experience for me. Similarly, I suspect that for the level 60s with their gravity-bending armor, being seen by those with whom they have no interaction is socially important (though I have no direct experience with this :-/ ). From a casual player's POV, knowing that those avatars are driven by people and their graphical state does represent accomplishment and investment in the game is also validating to my experience of the game -- much more so than if they were all NPCs or if other PCs were displayed using random graphics on my client.
All that said, I also think that we are still doing little to encourage (not force) group formation in different ways and of different types. It may well be that people spend more time alone simply because the options for being in a group are relatively narrow, and the costs relatively high.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 11:39:20 AM | link
One example of the high costs of synthetic world sociality when it becomes compulsory.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 11:58:15 AM | link
And that kind of thing, I'm quite certain, is a major force behind all the outcry from casual players of WOW who don't want to raid. If WOW excels at "playing alone together," then it certainly doesn't continue that theme into the endgame, which is much more intensely social. So even the game being used as an example assumes that eventually people will "graduate" to social play, the kind of thing that produces disasters like Timothy's post and also... well, hilarious disasters that become cultural icons, the same exact dungeon being the source of the infamous "Leeroy Jenkins" video. It takes a lot of social networking ability, a large tight group, or a significant amount pre-planning to put togther a solid UBRS raid, even moreso for 40-man raids in WOW. And it may be that most players aren't as interested in that kind of challenge.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 12:30:07 PM | link
As the Death Knight in Warcraft 3 remarks, "I hate people, but I love gatherings."
Posted Feb 7, 2006 1:09:19 PM | link
Playing while grouped with others can increase a player's stress level and reduce the amount of control he or she has over situations.
It is more comfortable to be in a relatively simple but challenging situation and be familiar with your capabilities rather than be in a difficult situation but with more players. Situations that require groups increases the level of complexity, reduces an individual's influence, and involves more uncertainty. Initiating a group event also has a higher startup cost and a higher cost of failure.
These barriers are why achievement-oriented players, like myself, tend to only group when necessary.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 1:34:40 PM | link
Goki wrote: It is more comfortable to be in a relatively simple but challenging situation and be familiar with your capabilities rather than be in a difficult situation but with more players. ... These barriers are why achievement-oriented players, like myself, tend to only group when necessary.
Hmm. I'm strongly exploration-oriented, but I have the same reason for preferring not to group -- I've learned to be wary of relying on other people in these very game-focused worlds.
Anonymity strikes again.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 2:53:01 PM | link
Grouping seems like it's going to be the point when you're sitting there installing the game, picturing this big world full of people there to have fun and help each other, but that isn't how it works once you've tried it a few times. The first day I had WoW, two RL friends who'd also just gotten it and I grouped to do a few quests in the Night Elf starting areas. They had trouble getting online, and I got bored, and bam, I'm three levels ahead of them when they get there and I'm ready to move on. That took all of, what, thirty minutes? An hour? From the first moment I was in the game, I knew that grouping was going to be a pain of the administrivial sort. Once we *were* grouped, I was bad at being a part of a group because I'd learned to solo, not group.
Eventually, we fell into the habit of forming a party (there were only 5 of us who knew each other RL and in-game, anyway) so that we'd have a channel we could chat on while we soloed. Months later, we had made enough in-game friends to form a small guild (10 players, roughly 30 characters). Now, we still mostly solo, but we use the Guild channel to chat. We grind for items for each other's professions. We keep up-to-date on level progression. We make plans for scheduled grouping events at later times. While we do a lot of instancing with our guildmates, I'd say half if not more of our time is "alone, together," and that's how we prefer it. Every time I see a guild advertise that they are "a fun and friendly group eager to help each other," I always wonder where they find the time.
The coffee shop analogy is a good one. I tend to think of our level-grinding as a group of friends preparing for a dinner party in a shared kitchen. When I'm off level-grinding in Eastern Plaguelands, I am preparing my dish; another is preparing theirs next to me on the counter. We may sample each other's work, but it's still an individual endeavour. Once we all show up outside Dire Maul, we've sat down to eat the real meal.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 3:19:36 PM | link
The data has me a little skeptical. Social interaction by design in WoW was specifically meant to address the limited solo play given the extreme group oriented nature found in other MMO's. (EQ for example) I do believe that this purposeful design does provide alternative social dynamics for players which may be attributed to WoW's success. Although a purposeful design paradigm for leveling, once level 60, the limited available progression pushes players into the same social orientation previous MMO's rely on for longevity. In essence, players must join a social circle if they choose to continue progression once they've reached the level cap. Granted socialization within guilds is difficult to survey, I would be interested to see the data specifically restricted to level 60 characters rather than all players from levels 2-60 surveyed equally.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 4:50:41 PM | link
Interesting post Nic. I would love to have a read of the IHC2006 paper. There are however a couple of points that are not that clear for me, particularly in terms of how the data you posted actually challenges the assumptions you open with.
Time spent grouping says very little about time spent soloing and chatting to guild mates, friends and other people one encounters in the game. I believe a critical part of the sociality these worlds provide is the potential of meeting others while doing things in the world. It's the potential for those random encounters that imho gives a strong sense of being in a lived, social world, not neccessarily the pre-arranged grouping scenarios.
The Friends list is a critical part of sociality in the game. Until whisper activity to friends can be measured I would say it would be hard to quantify and back up a solid critique of the assumptions you mention. And even then there is an additional issue. As the majority of people I have interviewed in WoW recently have said, after hitting 60 the greatest attraction to logging on is spending game-time chatting to friends who aren't neccesarily in their guild. This would mean that the percentage of time that your data portrays as 'being alone' playing, is actually a very strong example of being with others whether the game is actually engaged with or not.
With regards to your point about not being online at the same time as 80% of one's guild, why would you need 80% of a guild to be social. Just like in the friends situation, the fact that you can log on and have the potential to meet guildies whose company you enjoy still makes them highly social environments. And on that note even one or two guildies online are enough to make for a social event.
I also don't really get how co-location is neccesarily significant to collaboration/sociality, seeing as a very significant element of collaboration can (and is normally) be effected remotely. I'm referring to all those things that one most often needs more than anything when being in a guild: getting direction (quests, talents, etc...), asking for gank assistance on pvp servers and mailing each other items and crafting materials.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 6:16:44 PM | link
Fascinating comments from you all. I especially enjoy how many of you offered additional stories and ideas that refine the notion of being alone together, and why it might be attractive. I just want to clarify a few things prompted by the more critical comments:
- I am *not* saying WoW is not a social environment, simply that sociality in WoW differs from the stereotypical MMORPG formula (that is, promote grouping above all else). As Bart remarks, Anderson's notion of "Imagined Communities" illustrates really well that you can build social worlds without direct contact between their members.
- The numbers, like all statistical analyses, describe an "average" player experience. Of course there are many guilds that are highly social, and many players (socializers?) who interact a lot and often with others. But overall, the data indicates that these are more rare than one might have expected.
- Also, I completely agree that chat logs would be the ideal data to truly assess sociability in WoW. Sadly, these are not publicly accessible. This being said, the public chat channels do not give me much hope that direct player-to-player interactions are much better - Barrens chat, anyone?
Posted Feb 7, 2006 7:45:48 PM | link
I must admit that the results are no great surprise: WoW is clearly much more solo-friendly (even "group unfriendly") than other MMOs. People are difficult and add risk to any adventure, failure is more shameful in a group, the initial cost of creating a group is high and therefore proportionally more expensive for players with shorter playing sessions. The time -I- spend selling items or whatever is interesting to me but a momentum-killer for a group.
What makes MMOs social for me is not so much in in-game contacts with other players (which are generally ephemeral, even if they are entertaining) but the "water-cooler chat" in real life with other people who are playing the same game. We sometimes get together in-game, but mostly just swap stories at work.
Equally, the socially important gestures and interactions need not take much time. When a friend donated 2 million influence to my character in CoH it took all of a few minutes, but the social power of the gesture is very strong. I'm not sure existing MMOs do enough to encourage these kind of gestures.
Having said all that, CoH is my main MMO at the moment and I love the teamplay and chaos that other players bring to the game. I like the feel of filling by role skillfully, acknowledging others who are skillful and so on... there are wonderful shared moments created by CoH. I may never interact with the other players again, but the moment is still powerful because there are other players present.
Why group in CoH? Well, there are much stronger rewards for grouping than WoW, there is a very good player-matching system, and a mature and generally sociable community of players. The average age of CoH player seems to be quiet a bit higher than WoW. So, in this friendlier environment, some of the social sting of creating groups is taken away. The game mechanics also remove a lot of the opportunities for groups to split. Inventory management is simple, there is no auctioning, characters can resurrect themselves or be resurrected in-situ and so on.
I think one of the key lessons from is that you can't measure the "social dividend" of MMOs by using raw time as the only metric. Group-friendly or solo-friendly, a small seasoning of the social carries a lot of weight.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 9:11:58 PM | link
Nic, how about looking at similarities and differences on US vs Asian servers? I wonder, for example, if a server in Japan or Korea would show fewer one-person guilds (fewer people using that as a way to customize a character) and possibly denser social networks.
Posted Feb 7, 2006 9:13:27 PM | link
Very interesting idea, Mike. I'll see if I can add a new data collection machine to our arsenal and focus it on an Asian realm (assuming this is possible with a US copy of the game, I have never tried it).
Posted Feb 8, 2006 12:40:50 AM | link
No, this wouldn't be possible with a US copy of the game. The Korean client is downloaded, not purchased in stores, but creating accounts requires Korean residence ID numbers (functionally equivalent to, say, Social Security numbers). However, for the purposes of this study, you may be able to contact Blizzard directly and see if some arrangement can be made around that restriction.
Posted Feb 8, 2006 2:39:44 AM | link
Those are some extremely faulty statistics. The main problem you are forgetting is that WoW becomes a totally different game when you reach level 60 and take part in regular raid content or PvP.
Posted Feb 8, 2006 9:50:54 AM | link
RedWolf - I am working on getting 60-only metrics, stay tuned. And by the way, I don't think the statistics are faulty here... but you are free to think the analysis is :)
Posted Feb 8, 2006 11:46:52 AM | link
1. The data supporting solo play tendencies is, for me, even more compelling given the continuing and seemingly hell-bent efforts of mmo designers to provide opportunities for social play -- while not devoting the same amount of effort or interest to solo play opportunities. That is, solo play takes place in spite of (and often in direct conflict with) much of mmorpg design. I've talked about this for a while -- e. g., Digra Vancouver -- but I don't think anybody much listens to things they don't want to hear.
2. The data supporting solo play tendencies seem to have been most obviously ignored by research that places social play at the pinnacle of the play experience. There is an undercurrent of play theory conforming to a supposed developmental template running from animal/physical play to child/mental play to adult/social play. Within this undercurrent, social play subsumes other types of play the same way that culture might be assumed to subsume language and/or language might be assumed to subsume cognition. This is, for want of a narrower brush, a cultural studies undercurrent -- and I don’t think it has served the data particularly well.
Posted Feb 8, 2006 12:22:47 PM | link
Please help, I would like a copy of the CHI paper but I am unable to find a direct connection to Nic or the paper.
Posted Feb 8, 2006 12:46:58 PM | link
Connor, the paper is on its way. And for the benefit of others who might be interested, send an email to: nicolas at-sign parc dot com
Posted Feb 8, 2006 2:34:55 PM | link
I really think the "being alone together" phenomenon is much deeper than we appreciate. At some level, we are group animals, and while our interactions -- even in large groups -- may actually be limited to the 4-10 people closely around us, there's a very substantial emotional satisfaction in simply being aware of a much larger human presence beyond the interacting core. And that presence has to be perceived as real, and constant, and something you can just be peripherally aware of without having to direct your attention to it, to be satisfying.
Posted Feb 9, 2006 11:06:40 AM | link
soloing owns. thats why people hate end game so much and reroll. who has time to wait around for 40 people of the right classes and builds to be online at the same time?
i am in a large raiding guild who partners with a few other guilds, so we often haave too many people, but the raids are slow and beurocratic - in my mind, not very fun. its hard to express yourself when your basically a healbot or a dmg bot. *yawn*
Posted Feb 9, 2006 1:01:31 PM | link
I know I've always enjoyed soloing in MMOs more than any situation where it felt like I had to be in a group. I generally attribute it to the difficulty of scheduling mutual playtimes with friends (and not particularly enjoying forced play with an anonymous stranger).
Although I had never formalized the "Alone Together" idea as well as the author, I often thought about many of them as one-player RPGs combined with the option to chat with friends who were playing the same game (since I've done that exact thing by running RPGs and Instant Messanger clients at the same time). In fact, one of my favorite features of MxO was the way it could integrate non-game AIM chat into the in-game chat window.
I wonder what this discovery will predict about the upcoming D&D Online game, with its heavy focus on necessitating groups. I knew right away that such a concept didn't appeal to me, but I had assumed that I was in the minority on that matter.
I'm very interested in reading the expanded analysis, once it's published.
Posted Feb 9, 2006 3:41:51 PM | link
Fascinating post, and the linked article comparing Everquest social networks to the mafia was especially interesting reading.
From my own personal experience as an online gamer, I can suggest another reason why at least some people prefer to be independent, and avoid grouping or close-knit guilds.
Not everyone wants to spend their leisure hours replicating the real-life necessities of kowtowing to a boss, placating a customer, or schmoozing someone whose help is needed. I've noticed that online social networks seem to have a pretty high percentage of people who see themselves as bosses, controllers, managers, gatekeepers, "mentors," what have you. This kind of thing is tiresome in a play environment.
Here's a thought for all you game designers. Could it be that you get out of touch with your real player base, if you spend too much time trying to meet the demands of the social networkers? The more independent type of player may actually be more numerous than you think, just more quiet. And they may quietly leave your game if they can't get much done without going through the player mafias.
It seems like it is pretty easy to provide game features that force and reward grouping. What may be much harder, but potentially more rewarding in terms of subscriptions, might be an online game that allows grouping, yet keeps it from becoming a requirement.
Posted Feb 9, 2006 4:51:38 PM | link
very interesting findings. and somewhat surprising. i always thought i was the only one soloing so much.
as someone who has just spent 1 1/2 months playing WoW intensely and finally seems to wake up from the buzz in a mixture of disbelief, shame and exitement, i sometimes also wonder about the responsabilty the producers, in our case blizzard, of such games have. WoW clearly creates quite an addictive setting for all the reasons stated above. and while i agree that most of the responsibility lays with the players i still see part of the blame with blizzard. especially considering that many players in my guild are teens bellow 16. i think its not that clear-cut, because one part of the equation is the envolvement and commitment that is demanded here from players. and i think in that blizzzard does have a responsibility that they are not yet taking seriuosly. we might have to see a few more gamers die or lose it before they will.
everything in the game is set up so you could easily spend days, weeks, months, years playing it. just take a simple fact like this one, to finish most quests can take several hours. other games i have played it was easy to switch on and play half hour and leave again. with WoW this is almost impossible because it will get you nowhere. this envolves parameters that were set by blizzard, like the number of items that need to be found per quest, drop rate frequency of items, and such. dungeons, which can only be done in groups, usually take hours to finish and create huge social pressures on the players, if someone has to leave in the middle it will come off as a betrayal. then add to this the crafts, the money saving for mounts etc. all activites that take so much time.
to sum up, as games like these will become more and more immersive i wonder what it will take so that the game producers will have to warn of the addictive aspects of them. and to start taking countermeasures. we have seen the tabacco companies fight tis as long as they could. and lets not forget that WoW envolves a monthly supscription fee, so blizzard of course does have a vested interest to get players hooked as long as possible.
Posted Feb 10, 2006 2:33:18 AM | link
When playing non-WoW MMORPGS like Anarchy Online and the various MUDs, I've generally found that people group when they happen to be in an area together. I guess WoW's instancing makes this 'causal grouping' more difficult, and therefore would generally increase solo play by making the overhead for assembling a group much higher. (The other instances of grouping I've seen are in MUDs where you have a central gathering area and higher-level players gather groups of lower-level players to run them through various dungeons, but this is generally done in combination with scripting and only really works with very high population density so that you have enough people wanting to lead groups.)
Posted Feb 11, 2006 7:03:53 AM | link
Why is it so hard to see that WoW is just a good game, from the perspective of the mass-market gaming consumer?
WoW is a multi-player co-op game, which was a natural progression for the product line.
And the timing for making it online was perfect - their audience are used to instant messengers, blogs, and online games like Counterstrike/Bf1942.
For Blizzard's existing customerbase the "online" aspect is just a new twist. It spares them having to hunt through thousands of servers. Rounded off with the heavy use of instancing its not so so unlike GuildWars.
Outside of stats and prestige, WoW's players could care less about "MMO". All they care about is enough people to put together a group or a raid. Having plenty of people on the same "server" makes that less hassle to organize.
Posted Feb 12, 2006 1:51:40 AM | link
I enjoyed your analysis and I think the only problem is "measuring what's easily measurable." It'll be interesting to see you get access to some of the other info mentioned: chat data, etc.
Have you looked into the interactions of groups/guilds out side of the game? My guild has a very active forum and website, for example. It's probably difficult to know about this sort of thing unless you're in a guild that uses them.
Posted Feb 12, 2006 11:58:11 AM | link
I enjoy this analysis very much.
One observation I have with MMOs is that there is some form of forced interaction between players, prime examples being crafting and end game questing.
Want that uber weapon or armor? Good luck doing it by yourself. Early on, many MMOs did not have a reliable trade system in place. Getting that big item crafted either meant trusting someone enough so they won't scam you or getting very lucky by scamming someone else first. Now with reliable trade systems in place, it is a matter of in-game economics where social structures are in a mediated state. Even then, scammers still find a way.
Playing an MMO for more than 1-2 years means that if you want to progress any further, you usually need a really big group of people to get through that one big dungeon. As much as we want to believe that large group communication can be foolproof, there will always be a Leroy Jenkins among us.
Also, just to prove a point. Has there been any MMO with a guild that has 100+ members and has remained intact from the beginning of the game to the present (or end of the game)?
Group dynamics in MMOs are destined to fail one way or another, yet not having fellowships defeats the purpose of the MMO. Cosmic irony at it's best.
(Linking here on my blog)
Posted Feb 17, 2006 1:04:29 AM | link
Nic, you wrote:
"- Also, I completely agree that chat logs would be the ideal data to truly assess sociability in WoW. Sadly, these are not publicly accessible. This being said, the public chat channels do not give me much hope that direct player-to-player interactions are much better - Barrens chat, anyone?"
I am usually solo or duo while leveling (it's the most efficient way to level) but am constantly involved in the social aspects of the guild thru guild chats. However, the most intense social interaction (for me) comes thru actuall chatting thru my headset using teamspeak or ventrillo. I would RARELY go on a high level instance and try to chat thru the keyboard! The data available to you thru the game API is just to incomplete to determine the degree of social interaction. I have spent 3 hours raiding with my guild group where almost NO typing took place. We use the keyboard to control the action of our characters NOT for chatting.
Posted Feb 19, 2006 6:29:10 AM | link
Hank, good point - I'd love to get my hands on audio data too. Still, don't forget that the social network metrics we computed are based on guildmembers being *co-located*. So, while these numbers are imperfect, they take into account the kind of behavior you are describing. The 3-hour raid you describe would be included as 3 hours of interaction between the party members, simply because they were observed in the same location for that amount of time.
Posted Feb 19, 2006 8:40:51 PM | link
In response to comments about guilds - the guild I am in has 168 members and is growing each day.
Posted Feb 28, 2006 11:31:05 PM | link
Also you nedd 10 people at least to make a guild so how can the median size be 9? I suggest you get your facts straight before criticising the game.
Posted Feb 28, 2006 11:38:05 PM | link
I have been playing the game since it came out and I am perfectly aware of the 10-person limit you mention. The median of 9 is easy to explain (and I don't see how it is a "criticism" of the game, by the way). Our software measures who is seen online from a given guild at a given point in time. It is rare for all members of a guild to be online at the same time (especially considering the prevalence of alts). A median of 9 therefore means that guilds tend to have about 9 *active* players - players that are seen online at least once. Sure, guilds may have more members on paper, but do they really matter if they never show up?
Posted Mar 1, 2006 3:03:48 PM | link
Great article! Very fashinating statistics and well written analysis.
Posted Mar 3, 2006 7:52:56 AM | link
Very interesting article/data :) There is no question in my mind about the possibility of 'being alone together', to be able to have that solo time, is something that is important for MMO players.
I would be extremly carefull however of drawing any far reaching conclusions from it though, because socialization of the 'toons' is extremly limited by the game mechanics. The only reliable source to measure socialization would be the chat channels, which are not restricted by levels, questlines, current goals etc. I'm also curious how someone who just likes to sit back and read the open chat channels while playing solo would be considdered here. It is a form of passive socialization after all. Would he still play if there was no 'background chatter' going on?
Having said that it would be very interesting to see data on the chat channels and compare that with the current data.
Posted Mar 16, 2006 5:06:25 PM | link
I think you've solidly and spectacularly missed the primary actual social interactions in the game. While public chat is not particularly inspiring, I would describe almost all of the social interaction as happening in guild and private chat. I sometimes go so far as to describe WoW as 'a chat system with really good chrome.' It's so nice that someone decided this great game around a nice implementation of irc, so that you have something to do when there isn't anyone around you want to talk to.
It also sounds like you've not taken into account the fact that WoW supports ad-hoc channels - in addition to the group, guild, and public channels, any user can create an arbitrary channel for chatting with specific groups of friends in, and the WoW client allows you to participate in as many of those as you care to try and keep up with at the same time.
To the extent that the game has staying power, it has staying power because people are interacting with each other; some of that is group play as such, but the vast majority of that socialization is coffee-shop-like hanging out in the shared third spaces of guild and group chat.
As a metric, I (and I believe most of the people I know in game, including the largest guild on the Eldre'Thalas PvE server) spend an roughly an order of magnitude more time talking with people in guild and private chat per week than I spend grouped. Which looks an awful lot like the 80% breakdown you mention above. Grouping is one of the ways that you meet people, but once you meet people you interact with them in a non-grouped way (at least, the ones you like. And since you can choosing which ones to cultivate...)
Posted Mar 17, 2006 1:56:29 PM | link
Some people have hinted at it already, but I think the problem is not that people do not *want* to group, but that the WoW game mechanics do not *facilitate* grouping. As one "levels up" in WoW, objectives that require groups are few and far between - from very early on, players learn that it's far more effective to solo.
Aside from that, WoW also has the most spectacularly useless tools for actually finding groups in the first place. It can take quite literally over an hour to even gather a group together (an activity which normally must be done in a city), and from that point 20 or more minutes to actually start on the objective. And, if a player leaves once the group activity has already begun, the chances are fairly high that the rest of the group will need to spend another large chunk of time trying to find a replacement.
This really means that grouping in WoW is not only inefficient from a progression standpoint, but in fact is prohibitively time consuming for those who do not wish to dedicate multi-hour blocks to playing a video game.
It may be accurate to say that WoW's success is due to the solo experience, but only because the grouping experience is so poor. Most previous MMORPGs have always just assumed players would always be grouping, and that assumption has kept away people who don't have the desire to wade through the overhead involved in creating groups.
For grouping to be done "right," it must become much less cumbersome.
Posted Apr 2, 2006 9:13:22 PM | link
"alone together" article was a good read, and the comment from the ones who read it made me think a lot about WoW.
Myself i don't play more than 10hr a week like i did year ago, all changed when i met a girl. She's the one who told me how much she hates the game for taking away my time and spending it on the game instead on her(she's right here because i love her very much and we live together), anyway.... i like playing WoW and enjoy virtual world very much but as much as i like it i hate it even more, why? i ll tell you why...
1st of all the game is so cool that it's addictive due to social life in game,the possibilities of making money and achievieng your goals easier than in real life(the possibilitie of getting full Tier 2 is 100% but takes time, achieving a Dr. degree in sience is of my opinion 0.1% for an average person), and whats more important it's soul-draining.....
This game requires 100% of your free time, the time you will make to play the game and the sacrifices you have to undertake to make your ingame char. better than the rest or at least come up to the standards of a decent player.
I want to show you the aproximate time you have to spend weekly with your guild to raid
Onyxia(20min-up to 1 hr)
BWL (6 hours)....
not counting the time to make a raid party, or time wasted while Whiped out and discussing a strategy(sometime even 1,5 hour) or getting buffed again....
how on Earth can a normal person with normal social life make that time on friday, saturday and sunday ?
on friday u finish school/work whatever around 17:00 pm
u get home it might be 18:00pm, u prepare dinner 1830/18:45
u eat 19.00
"OMG OMG raid is gonna start i am late for invites..."
19:30 family member ask you a favour u dont have time for it now....
20:30 example 1:"Timmy can you take out the trash?" but you can't your in a middle of a raid,they wont make it without a main-tank (think of AFK penalty -1.000.000 DKP)
example 2: "Honney lets watch a movie together and snuggle :D", --- "ohh honey i'd love to but i am in a raid and if i leave for a sec i will miss out on all those epix i been waiting for whole year, you understand don't you?"
21:30 example1: Timmy has wet his pants, he had no time to go to toilet, the smell of the trash has angered his parents...
example 2: The "Honney" you known for few years or been married to has just decided to leave you beacuase you find her boring and not as important as the virtual world of WoW...
23.30 example 1:"OMG not even a 1 plate item, all caster stuff, i pee my pants for nothing, i angried my parents after which they had a huge fight of either closing down the internet.... or taking away my PC.. , omg i forgot about school, i ve been playing whole weekend and didnt prepare for the final exam...."
Example 2: very few words left to write, the girl left you, leaving the dog and some trash behind her, you feel completly lonley, ahh what the hell did i do??? OMG OMG , i think i have to talk to someone who will understand me, i hope some guildies are on... click>>> WoW.exe
Saturday in short: u sleep a lot,shop a bit,prepare dinner,help friends whith problems, do something around the house, work out, later on you go out with your friends birthdays/disco/get drunk... whatever
Sunday u sleep off the hangover, you feel crap, you have to rest to be in a good condition to face your boss in the morning or a teacher at school....
I have a question about social life....
How can a normal social persone with some life still play WoW and still advance his char.? IMHO impossible
on the other hand the poeple with no social life themselves fit into virtual social life perfectly(and we souldn't take it away from them, never) they meet girls there(such as female elves :D or dwarf females if one prefers, they can get drunk at an inn, dance at anytime they want) but what about sex? i've seen a naked patch for WoW but still it ain't the same....
think about it before you get addicted like i am.
i 'd like to write more and if you have any comments or wnat to exchange ideas simply write me an email.
Posted Apr 19, 2006 5:28:07 AM | link
I play 2 to 6 hours a month. (Down from 6 a week.) The game is still fun (and I also enjoy metagame activities like user interface coding in Lua). The only trouble is that it's impossible to keep friends. I've been kicked out of my guild twice for being "inactive" -- and this is a casual guild too!
Posted Apr 19, 2006 11:32:33 AM | link
Krzysztof Loved your articles Examples...Many of them applied to me my parents threaten to take my PC out of my room..take the Internet Modem etc..lol..yeah I love WoW and its Bloody addictive, But yeah still have a social life. :P
Posted Apr 25, 2006 11:12:54 AM | link
I have no social life. I wish i could touch....never mind
Posted May 1, 2006 11:15:03 PM | link
Just some questions. Warning: I don't play WOW.
Why is 30% time spent in groups seen as little? I think that is quite a lot. Certainly more than in most MUDs, a lot more than I do in the physical world. A game must be facist to get it above say 40% as it takes time to build an enjoyable group and prepare for groupings in most designs.
Are you able to separate players from characters? It isn't uncommon for players to have 3-4 characters in the same guild.
Note: Guilds work differently in different designs/cultures. In general guilds can be seen as chat-channels and problem solvers with some events thrown in. People are social with their family even if they don't hang out all the time. Perhaps it is a good sign if they don't unless as people tend to get fed up with eachother...
Guilds are more active when they have group goals. If the game design stratify the population over levels and individual goals then it affects the guild function.
Posted May 2, 2006 7:43:49 AM | link
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Posted Jun 17, 2006 6:26:49 AM | link
I saw the same thing on http://wownn.com
Posted Jul 13, 2006 5:39:32 PM | link
I hear that Dungeons & Dragons released semi-recently and because it forces group play for the majority of things (from what I've heard), it is really struggling.
Posted Aug 30, 2006 10:26:04 AM | link
Also you nedd 10 people at least to make a guild so how can the median size be 9? I suggest you get your facts straight before criticising the game.
Currency trading market, forex
Posted Oct 21, 2006 7:04:58 AM | link
One of the reasons some may be questioning your data is that maybe they hang out with people who try to play world of warcraft power leveling like previous games. On the PvE RP server where I play there are distinct groups: those who primarily grind/farm their way up through the wow powerleveling and those who primarily quest their way up, often solo. The two don't interact much.
Posted Apr 11, 2007 10:51:26 PM | link
1st of all the game is so cool that it's addictive due to social life in game,the possibilities of making money and achievieng your goals easier than in real life(the possibilitie of getting full Tier 2 is 100% but takes time, achieving a Dr. degree in sience is of my opinion 0.1% for an average person), and whats more important it's soul-draining.....
This game requires 100% of your free time, the time you will make to play the game and the sacrifices you have to undertake to make your ingame char. better than the rest or at least come up to the standards of a decent player.
Posted Apr 27, 2007 9:24:35 AM | link