Civicus

We once discussed how the inside of a virtual world can often be unfathonable to those on the outside (ref.  Stranger in a Strange Land).   Most virtual worlds we know are centered upon clusters of friends in a sea of strangers with whom we have little connection except through abstract filters - such as markets or gauzy toons with strange (and forgettable) names beholden to some tribal (and flimsy) narrative (e.g. alliance-vs-horde, etc.) .  Are our experiences in virtual worlds diminished by a lack of signficant interactions with strangers?

In my household we  still play Animal Crossing - I less so than my children.  However, when I do play it seems like a great deal of barking goes on about who has or has not been maintaining the village grounds adequately - e.g. it lacks flowers, is filled with litter and weeds.  Were we strangers the appeals would be to civic responsibility.  Were we strangers...

Mark Wallace pointed to an essay by Grant McCracken (How Virtual Worlds Discovered Dynamism) that makes an excellent point about the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) folks.  They are, to my understanding, a dedicated bunch who play online a detailed flight-sim/air-traffic-control-sim involving signficiant training and commitment to their virtual world.  The point made by Grant is this one (emphasis mine):

...VATSIM case, interaction take place between perfect strangers.  My game can be changed by behaviors you "throw off" in your game without really thinking about what they might mean to me.  Flying into Albuquerque, I may "crash" because it just so happens that you, the controller, are inexperienced, tired, distracted, or wrestling with your sister for control of the family computer.  The controller is not (or need not be) concerned with what my flight simulation experience is going to be.  No, he is just doing what he does, and whatever this is will sometimes have important implications for my game play...

In the VATSIM world we are led to believe that you must rely upon the duty-mindedness of your fellow players, strangers apparently bonded by a society purpose: keep the air-traffic network up. Contrast this with the more familiar MMOG pattern where players engage primarily through varying shades of alone or with friends.

Beyond the self-absorbtion that results from self-selecting societies - is it also true that the familiar MMOG pattern leads us to a place where self-absorbtion becomes the societal ethic?

Are strangers, deeply engaged, necessary to a world - without them can worlds at best be just a game,  gussied up?

----------

Ref.

Post-gazette reprint of May 18 WSJ article cited by Grant McCracken.  See also General Discussion on forums here ("VATSIM Makes Front Page of Wall Street Journal").


Comments on Civicus:

Michael Chui says:

There's something very fuzzy and incomprehensible about this post.

Are our experiences in virtual worlds diminished by a lack of signficant interactions with strangers?

Well, that's a matter of framing. It's more appropriate to say that one's experience in any world -- real or virtual -- is enhanced by significant interactions with strangers.

I've seen strangers playing Battlefield Vietnam praise the coordinated skill of a helicopter pilot and gunner; the gunner relies on the pilot to get him into firing position; the pilot relies on the gunner to score kills.

Further, the proliferation of Looking-For-Group systems and even reputation systems (if the rumor mill is right, since for me, it's all second hand) points to the fact that strangers can and frequently will have interactions amongst each other when there is a common purpose to fulfill, whether that purpose be civic in nature or not. Whether these interactions are "significant", on the other hand, is in the air for debate.

Posted May 20, 2006 6:02:04 AM | link

Nate says:

I've seen strangers playing Battlefield Vietnam praise the coordinated skill of a helicopter pilot and gunner; the gunner relies on the pilot to get him into firing position; the pilot relies on the gunner to score kills.

Further, the proliferation of Looking-For-Group systems and even reputation systems (if the rumor mill is right, since for me, it's all second hand) points to the fact that strangers can and frequently will have interactions amongst each other when there is a common purpose to fulfill, whether that purpose be civic in nature or not. Whether these interactions are "significant", on the other hand, is in the air for debate.

--------------


I think there is a perspective argument here. I go off and form a Pick-up-Group or I cooperate with a number of others to accomplish an objective (for the mutual benefit of the group). Is that the same thing as relying upon the services of strangers who are not rewarded (directly) for providing that service to me?

e.g. Air traffic controller example above.

Posted May 20, 2006 7:54:19 AM | link

Nate says:

I forgot to add/emphasize.

Yes, absolutely, people do form cooperative groups with strangers in MMOGs. However I think one could make the argument (building on my previous comment) that these are framed almost as improv-friendships that we may or may not forget after the Pick-up-Group based on how it went. If it goes well I add you to my "friends" list.

In other words, the MMOG social scene consists of looking for, making (and oh yea importing from RL in signficiant numbers) "friends." In a way this makes sense - these sorts of social networks have been provably "sticky" (enough) for MMOGs to work.

What seems to me to be missing, I'll argue, is that doesn't seem to be much need to cultivate a substantial relationship with strangers (who are happy to forever remain in that role) appealing to some notion of "civic-mindedness" or at the least cooperating in a manner such that its done for the common good and not direct rewards.

Posted May 20, 2006 8:13:21 AM | link

John Bilodeau says:

This reminds me of Durkheim's discussions of solidarity in his Divisions of Labour.

Mechanical Solidarity - Social cohesion based upon the likeness and similarities among individuals in a society, and largely dependent on common rituals and routines. Common among prehistoric and pre-agricultural societies, and lessens in predominance as modernity increases.

Organic Solidarity - Social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals in more advanced society have on each other. Common among industrial societies as the division of labor increases. Though individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interests, the order and very survival of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specific task.

(summaries from: The Emile Durkheim Archive http://durkheim.itgo.com/solidarity.html)

{which i've only applied once to MMORPGs to explain the success of Beastmaster Linkshells in FFXI and the isolation of the Beastmaster job from the rest of the ffxi job-pool. We are the only job that displays mechanical solidarity, rather than organic.}

Posted May 20, 2006 9:29:44 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

The Durkheim reference is indeed apt, and it bears noting that for him organic solidarity was to a great extent theoretical, an aspiration about on what grounds social solidarity could be achieved under the context of modernity. That is, this solidarity didn't necessarily naturally emerge out of the increased specialization that one finds following the division of labor, and this is why he was interested in reformation of French education, professional ethics, and a new religion of the individual (see "Individualism and the Intellectuals").

Nate wrote:
I think there is a perspective argument here. I go off and form a Pick-up-Group or I cooperate with a number of others to accomplish an objective (for the mutual benefit of the group). Is that the same thing as relying upon the services of strangers who are not rewarded (directly) for providing that service to me?

This difference in perspective is understood by anthropologists as the difference between balanced and generalized reciprocity. In the former, reciprocity occurs with reference to a specific relationship. In the latter, reciprocity occurs even in the absence of an immediate shared goal or benefit. So, to take a simple example, in American society I hold the door open for strangers at some cost to me and no immediate benefit; I will assumedly draw the benefit indirectly through others doing that for me. It seems that this is the distinction you're wondering about, Nate. While we may find balanced reciprocity in virtual worlds, is generalzed reciprocity largely absent, and why?

Posted May 20, 2006 11:06:17 AM | link

Story Weaver says:

I find this idea of generalized reciprocity very interesting. Over here I've been writing about some of the flaws I see in the current generation of MMOs. One point I made was that if you help a player you bump into to win a fight this is seen as hostile, rather than helpful. This is, of course, because you've just reduced the experience they receive and therefore have 'stolen' from them. This makes it difficult for situations like holding a door for someone to occur.

Because of this and other similar problems, formalized parties are essential. This leads to the heavy dependence on 'friend lists' that you mentioned.

To truly encourage interactions between strangers game designers need to make it possible that whatever a player is doing, it's always possible for someone else to step in and join in. Otherwise you lose the fluidity of social networking that typifies real life relationships.

Posted May 20, 2006 12:10:36 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

A quick note: There is some generalized reciprocity in WoW, at least -- buffing of (same faction) strangers as you pass them. (This can lead to humorous variations, such as buffing someone with Underwater Breathing in the middle of the Barrens. When someone did this to my toon on the zeppelin from Orgrimmar to Undercity, I lol'd and then remarked to the buffer, "Could come in handy in the event of a water landing." :-P )

Posted May 20, 2006 12:54:30 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Far from being hazy, this post goes to the heart of what's fundamentally wrong with virtual worlds, and why they spawn so much evil for their inhabitants, and why people need to pay more attention to this problem before it becomes impossible to control.

I call this phenomenon "fuck-you hedonism" in Second Life where it is possible to watch with endless fascination how it plays out. I get to do "whatever-the-fuck-I-feel-like-doing" (WTFIFLD) on my property, with no one having the right to get in my way. Oh, sure, there's the TOS, but that's completely flimsy, honoured more in the breach, and subject to horridly skewed enforcements based on friendship networks of the enforcers.

The "fuck-you hedonism" isn't only a result of the solitary single-player mode of an offline game or solipsistic combat-mode against an NPC even within a MMORPG, but about something else: no consequences.

In school, we were taught the old adage that "my right to swing my arm ends right where your nose begins." We can swing our arms only up to a point, after which our social responsibility begins to prevent harming our neighbour.

In a virtual world, the adage is: "my right to swing my arm is endless and subject only to my skill levels, since your nose doesn't exist and there are no consequences to punching it."

There are no consequences. That is, sure, there is "breaking the TOS," when someone gets around to noticing it. But that may depend on the police-state system of someone ratting on you. They might, or they might not, depending on whatever insidious mafia-like omerta they may have organized with others.

The selfishness and heedlessness of others goes very, very deep and seems a product of other facets of modern culture (the "bowling alone" stuff). I find people have absolutely no notion of what a public commons is, don't even know the term, and of course haven't even considered whether it has tragedies or not.

I find this over and over in SL when I tell tenants that they are all in a group, that there are only so many prims or object spaces to go around on the server, and that if any one person goes over their allotted limited, they'll be taking free what others have already paid for as their limits. So you always get the following:

o some people approach the situation and even without knowing there is a rule, sense that they must watch what they put out and have some limits, and ask what the limits are
o some people read the rules and stick to them ruthlessly, often taking less than their share
o some people read the rules, more or less follow them, but then put out 50 extra, thinking "no one will notice" or "that person didn't use their limit, so I'll take it".
o some people put out as many as they feel like, heedless of rules, and often crash the sim or force everybody else's prims back to lost and found by putting out some building or airplane with 3,000 pieces.
o some people put out way too many prims AND become hugely beligerent when you ask them to reduce AND began nit-picking at the rules either claiming that they don't apply, or trying to find some loophole, like "you didn't tell me my house would have to count toward the prim counts".

People just aren't trained in civic responsibility any more; civics isn't even a value or a subject; people expect not only to be endlessly entitled, but endlessly feted, too. If someone makes a demand of LL or the public at large, they are "whiners". If someone suggests slash-and-burn economic policies are too harsh, they are told "a businessman doesn't make excuses, a business makes a profit". Social Darwinism is the order of the day.

I'm glad Durkheim's terminology was introduced. Surely there are other modern authors that can put this into perspective, however, since it could be argued that now there is Synethic Labour or some other category that is in fact completely depersonalized not only from others, but which has no need to rely on them in any organic sense, literally and figuratively.

I get some of this feeling from the phenomenon in Second Life where a creator can make a product, put it out in a vendor, and it keeps copying and selling endlessly with no further labor or thought, so that there need not be any concern for customers, or dependence on others in quite the same way -- of course, they depend on the servers and the software to be there, but in the context of the world, they can afford to be utterly heedless -- and are - and any notion of "the customer is always right" is utterly irrelevant to them.

I think even modern movements like Poland's Solidarity illustrate that there surely are more categories to understand human solidarity, that it is not merely the likeness of trade or the dependence literally on one another, but higher goals of similar aspirations or beliefs, like overthrowing an unjust government.

To be sure, various "caretakers" develop within SL who claim to be representing the public good. More often than not they are seeking reputational enhancement in the virtual context which helps advance them socially or economically. That is, if they can be seen to be giving freebies to newbies or staging events for Katrina Relief, that will position their venture or product more advantageously. This fake altruism is widespread, and annoying.

The saga of the Bush Guy, as he came to be called (though his signs said IMPEACH BUSH) was a stark indication of how fuck-you hedonism is blessed and even replicated. A land-extortionist and griefer bought up hundreds of small parcels of 16m2 and 64m2 in size and put up large, annoying, brightly-textured, spinning IMPEACH BUSH signs all over the Second Life mainland, in the middle of water, right in front of mountain views, by the road, in the air, right next to your home. He then set the little squares to sale for exhorbitant prices. Most people in SL appear to be critical of Bush, if not anti-Bush and endorsing the sentiments of the signster, but they didn't enjoy being forced to buy their view back.

If you didn't want your home destroyed by having to look at this junk when you logged in, or worse, if you didn't want your club or rental home business to be destroyed by it, you'd have to buy it from this gleefully malicious individual, who was laughing all the way to the bank. Hundreds of people lost thousands of dollars, not only paying off the extortionist, but selling their land at below cost in a hurry to move out. The Bush Guy's stunningly successful caper was even suspected to be run by the Lindens by some paranoics because the result drove many people off the mainland into the arms of private island dealers, and thus earned more money for the Lindens as islands cost more, and more money for island dealers.

The Lindens refused to budge from their techonlibertarianism notions on this one, the ideology that so richly feeds fuck-you hedonism. They upheld the right to freedom of expression on one's property -- not something anyone opposed, in fact, but a decidedly iffy proposition when you could also illlustrate this fellow was violating the TOS rules about not spamming, not interfering with the enjoyment of SL of others, and not commiting verbal harassment.

They had not only the lefty's interest in not appearing to be squelching anti-Bush sentiment, they had the corporate long-term interest of wanting to ensure that SL be used as a platform for advertising and political campaigns and whatever people wanted to put on their billboards. They let those long term goals of their own step on the existing world and its needs to retain land value.

They took this to a horrid extreme, remaining utterly blind to the exotortionist side of the issue (if it were truly only about free expression, why was the land set for sale at outrageous prices??) Only a few people succeeded in getting injunctions against the Bush Guy when he would go a little bit too far and extend his prims on to their property. The notion that others' property was devalued if they were forced to firesale their land went out the window. The notion that business in SL is like web commerce was invoked this week at the town hall by Philip Linden about the crashing of the servers as a whole by griefers; the notion that the Bush Guy cost people like me hundreds of dollars of lost business remained opaque, however.

On the forums, an influential minority (the FIC, the platformists, the tekkies, however you wish to call them) rigidly and even maliciously upheld the right of the Bush Guy to do his thing not only due to their left politics, but because they don't see Second Life as a community where people share a public commons. They see it merely as a platform where each one of them has their own "web page" so to speak to scribble or doodle as they wish. Their perception is very hard-wired, not only from single-player games, but from their own positions within their family, say, where often these days, the youngest member, regardless of his level of social maturity, is accorded guru status by virtue of technical knowledge like how to make the VCR or printer work.

When these fuck-you hedonists occasionally drop their manufacturing of scripted wierd things in the sandbox and try to make a group together, to come live next door to someone else, they often make elaborate privacy safeguards -- putting houses up in the sky so no one can see them, putting vicious security orbs out so that no one can come near the house -- and vicicously defending their right to bounce other avatars to kingdom come to defend their privacy.

Another interesting thing about Second Life is that many people have the illusion that they are creating "public spaces" for "the public" to use. I know a lot about this, because I'm one of them! Most public spaces that people elaborately design (especially virtual architects very proud of their accomplishments) sit empty. That's because there's no public -- the best-kept secret about what everyone calls Massively Multi-Player Online Games is that there is no public -- that are only masses.

In fact, these architects get annoyed that people prefer to flock to black boxes and stack up on laggy sims rather than space out over some lovely river walk or attractive forest clearing that someone has created for them. Each day I marvel at how people will come and put traffic on some parcels and not others for reasons unrelated to their "public commons" status as envisioned by well-meaning organizers, including myself. That is, usually it's because either someone has a friend, and wants to sit and chat with them or do something like barrel racing, so they take over the use of that public space for an evening. Or, they make use of the liberal rules in our SL Public Land Preserve and camp there. So the big public spaces are used but not by groups...but by solitary campers, sometimes those who make their homes out of sight in the sky, or a couple.

Now and then a group will come together around some shared enterprise, like a yard-sale. The Lindens have done every possible thing they can do to kill this kind of resident-organized public gathering for a whole host of reasons ranging from the campaigning of a few third-party website barons who hate it when the economy doesn't move through their servers, and esthetes offended by popular culture and the "tackiness" of yard sales. Whatever the tales people will put in this thread about groups forming and taking care of the group interest for the sake of killing orcs, there are a hundred more tales where the proverbial orcs slayed another player, and everyone stood by and didn't do anything, and even fled to a private island so they wouldn't have to look.

You would think in a world where it is very easy to get a group together at the drop of the hat and have that group include people from North and South America, Asia, and Europe, that it would be terribly interesting and there'd be all kinds of fascinating events. There are some, but most people prefer to bowl alone, spending hours and hours in build mode or PSP making content for others, pairing up with just on other, or attenting what amount to mass totalitarian parades, like a town hall, or a lecture by some celebrity, where, to be sure, they get to talk back by typing comments in the room chat (they are increasingly made irrelevant by the use of voice in these meetings now, some of which are conneted to RL meetings).

I believe the problem the OP has identified is central to the Metaverse taking a better course, and it deserves the greates of attention and study. The Lindens have not solved this problem and have run from it, and allowed their customers basically to follow the credo, "United we stand, divided we run free at last." Many people run free to private islands where they increase their security, filtration, and banning of others, sometimes for totally specious grounds.

Far from designing new ways for people to get along in public and make new use of space, this virtual world is the setting where players are screaming for more tools to render their neighbour invisible, mute him, ban him, make his objects unviewable, and erase him from existence for any reason, or no reason.

This archipelago of egos is in fact ripe for totalitarianism, being so atomized. It's very easy for a meme to get started and jump by the game of "telephone" from isolated enclave to isolated enclave -- in one sense modern communication can break atomization in that direction, that IM rumours easily spread by groups or cut and paste -- but then there is no feedback direction, no corrective, no give and take, no public discourse where different values can be shaped. In each isolated community, the meme is received, and there is no one to talk back, because "like-minded" have already been selected and critical have already been filtered out.

Of course, with RL trumping all, as it must, no one can be held accountable for anything.

Posted May 20, 2006 2:07:48 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

People just aren't trained in civic responsibility any more; civics isn't even a value or a subject; people expect not only to be endlessly entitled, but endlessly feted, too.

The result of "everyone's a hero" game design?

It strikes me that this discussion highlights the absence of any functional Gemeinschaft in virtually all MMOGs (arguably Gesellschaft is present if only in the mercantile Auction House in WoW at least). There are hints of a village-like collegiality in some games, but almost none of it is supported or encouraged by the game-world mechanics beyond the fossilized structures of "party" and "guild."

People learn and adapt to what works. In virtually all MMOGs thus far, civic relationships beyond the immediate (pick-up groups) and the tribal (guilds) have been unsupported and unrewarded. Despite this, some people (often referred to as "innkeepers" or "caretakers" have tried to nurture them anyway. I have long wondered what would happen if we injected actual support and reward for more nuanced forms of civic engagement in an online world. Would we see the emergence of more richly textured forms of community?

Posted May 20, 2006 5:50:44 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Mike wrote:
I have long wondered what would happen if we injected actual support and reward for more nuanced forms of civic engagement in an online world.

And this itself leads to a significant challenge. Systems of reward in MMOGs and virtual worlds are very often precise and measurable. Is this because code lends itself to precise measures? Or because programmers tend to think in precise terms when it comes to providing tools for human interaction (which, in the case of the market, is a particularly good fit)?

In any event, this, in my opinion, works against the imprecise (and lasting, never settled) nature of reciprocity. For moral relationships to emerge, one needs inexactitude. This is because you never know what you'll need to ask from your friend (neighbor? fellow member of virtual society x?) when the @#$& hits the fan (or what they'll ask of you). It is also because there is no way to prove yourself reliably over time unless the world is complex enough to generate culturally meaningful challenges.

This was my problem with BillMonk, talked about on TN here. Why do we need a tool that enables us to make our relationships with others more precise?

I guess I tend to think that there are some things which are incredibly hard to implement or architect in virtual worlds, and where instead a dance of sorts must take place between what practices emerge within the world and how they could be amplified/encouraged.

Posted May 20, 2006 8:01:30 PM | link

Nate says:


reward for more nuanced forms of civic engagement in an online world
...
Why do we need a tool that enables us to make our relationships with others more precise?

My instinct here (fwiw) is that at some point greater precision in a prescriptive model that is oriented towards directing individuals (contrasted to, at an extreme, a descriptive model of population) is subject to gaming - simply because it exposes more edges abutting the mechanics to the world that can be exploited.

I'm going to go out on a limb here - but in fact I tend to believe that there has been a cultural design bias in the game developer community (as it appears to me anyway) that is excessively focused on the management of small group dynamics (e.g. reward systems). The reason is simple, and it may be the most prudent path for a business - after all individuals pay bills and complain (or not).

If you believe this then to move beyond this would require looking at the global designs involved and perhaps accepting some local messiness.

Posted May 21, 2006 11:50:56 AM | link

Nate says:


Nate> excessively focused on the management of small group dynamics (e.g. reward systems).

To complete my thought here. The problem with this is two-fold (imo):

1.) becomes technically impossible after a while - e.g. the most crass-case people rebel, more subtle case I mentioned earlier, they look to game the model;

2.) it reinforces what I thank is the big divide between casual and hard-core gamers: a cynicism about the design and purpose of the world.

Too many cynics do spoil a public broth?

Posted May 21, 2006 12:14:03 PM | link

Caelan Paige says:

I reckon that meaningful relationships within games are a product of how much an individual player depends on others (guild, group, etc) and depends on the community (server, faction, etc) at large. Increasing the dependence people have on one another is a simple matter of increasing the insecurity and uncertainty that individuals feel while playing the game.

Games that had a high degree of uncertainty and insecurity, UO and Meridian 59 for instance, promoted complex relationships. While it served to push some people to the extremes of behavior concerning the community (more ‘innkeepers,’ and griefers) it also allowed people to fall naturally on a broader spectrum between those extremes.

Games that do not have a high degree of uncertainty and insecurity, more recent games with closed pvp and fewer consequences for death and ostracization, have produced less complex relationships based on mutual material gain. While wealth is a powerful motivator, it does not have the same visceral impact as an existential threat (by that I mean ‘something that threatens the ability to continue functioning normally within the game’ rather than avoiding game-death).

Guilds in games where insecurity reigns are internally structured like a family. Loyalty is valued more than the ability to contribute wealth. Alternatively, guilds in more recent games are internally structured like a corporation. Mergers among raiding guilds are not uncommon, and surprisingly, there are even cases of layoffs occurring to cut underperforming members. The social contracts between individuals and their guilds on UO and Meridian were along the lines of, ‘if you keep me alive, I’ll keep you alive,’ on WoW it becomes, ‘You contribute to our bottom line, and we’ll contribute to yours.’

The environment shapes the organization, and the organization shapes how people behave. I have repeatedly seen cases where a social guild reaches a certain point in a game where raiding becomes the single motivating factor. These guilds change, become less likely to nurture members, and sadly, become less interesting organizations.

The origins of human organization are rooted in the premise that when survival is uncertain, there is safety in numbers. We might want to keep this in mind when developing games that are sanitized of unpleasant experiences with one’s neighbors.

As games have grown in scope and complexity, they have simultaneously atrophied in terms of providing players with an affecting experience. Social organizations in games have grown and become more complex as well, but they now lack the positive qualities that were provided for in games where insecurity was a factor.

If a game was now developed with an open pvp system (to necessitate collective security), a robust communication system, (to facilitate collective security), and a limited number of manageable and controllable natural resources (to align interests against one another), social organizations will develop that are very similar to what we would call a state. Achieving this would provide gamers with rewards (both tangible and non-tangible) based on being a good citizen. Simply put, if we want players to practice good civics, we should allow them to act as citizens rather than employees.

Posted May 21, 2006 9:21:43 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Nate wrote:

Most virtual worlds we know are centered upon clusters of friends in a sea of strangers with whom we have little connection except through abstract filters - such as markets or gauzy toons with strange (and forgettable) names beholden to some tribal (and flimsy) narrative (e.g. alliance-vs-horde, etc.) . Are our experiences in virtual worlds diminished by a lack of signficant interactions with strangers?

I know some of you probably hate hearing this, but this is a function of having experience largely with the big-budget blockbusters and the relatively uniform play patterns they engender.

For instance, there are virtual worlds where you are forced to interact with strangers, because the politics of those strangers may be impacting your organization. Diplomacy becomes a necessity, one builds rivalries with enemy 'strangers', and so on.

Caelan Paige wrote:

If a game was now developed with an open pvp system (to necessitate collective security), a robust communication system, (to facilitate collective security), and a limited number of manageable and controllable natural resources (to align interests against one another), social organizations will develop that are very similar to what we would call a state.

Those games exist and have for over 15 years now! You're describing -exactly- what exists in some text MMOs, for instance. Heck, the entire core game structure of our (Iron Realms) games are built around precisely that, and what they lead to is just what you suggest they would lead to: Very 'real' feeling organizations that aren't just there to help you bash some monsters or whatever. They are organizations built into the story-fiction of the world and pitted against each other in much more immediate and tangible ways than the vauge Horde vs. Alliance tension of WoW.

--matt

Posted May 21, 2006 11:54:35 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Nate> Are our experiences in virtual worlds diminished by a lack of signficant interactions with strangers?

We obviously aren't getting the broadest range of experiences in the standard ABC game :) And VATSIM appeals to people that generally have a desire to see the world ordered or enjoy seeing the world ordered (like building an elaborate minature train world in the basement). There is a sense of duty: a duty to the ordered world, a duty to the minature family that a train could be run over if the traffic control is not properly managed, etc.

Current standard ABC MMORPGs are designed for the expected gameplay, whether the design accounts for emergent gameplay behavior or not. Again, most of the MMORGPs are mostly games.

Prokofy Neva> detail description of SL land policy & effects.

Hey, before Linden decided to put ideology over the bottom line, the management should hire academics with good understanding of the development of real estate policy!!! Obviously, people are flocking to private islands as they have much better civic land policies. This dynamic is often used to promote private property vs public property.

Parting comment to Nate's parting question> Are strangers, deeply engaged, necessary to a world - without them can worlds at best be just a game, gussied up?

No, not in standard hack & slash MMORPGs. All players need to do is to hack & slash then sell the loot. It's just unfortunate that hack & slash MMORPGs are what the customers want at the moment.

I'm personally waiting for a Romance of the Three Kingdom - Dragon Warrior hybrid where the butterfly effect (as in Chaos Theory) is a feature :)

Frank

Posted May 22, 2006 6:29:22 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Matt, as in this long debate we had at Ralph Koster's blog about games and social worlds, I'm not sure it's a fair fight to keep bringing up older text games as examples of rich, developed player institutions, when they obviously represent a past stage of history, are not the cutting edge, are not 2-D or 3-D with massive numbers of people in them -- unless I'm missing something. I appreciate everything they've accomplished and it's all a rich trove of lore and useful things to analysis, but people like me aren't going to turn to them now and enter them and take on their encumberances when they face so many other options of 2-3 or 3-D worlds now.

Frank, I'm not sure I'm getting your point here, re: "people are flocking to private islands as they have much better civic land policies. This dynamic is often used to promote private property vs public property".

It's not that the private island dealers have "better" civic policies. They merely have really stringent rules -- something really authoritarian and restrictive rules that force people into themes, building codes, behaviour codes, etc. precisely because people on their own are liable to obey the "laws" of the Internet Fuckwad Theory, or simply do whatever the hell they feel like, without consideration of their neighbour. So all that the islands do, by having higher prices, is keep out riff-raff, and by having enforced rules, do the self-restraining that people aren't discliplined themselves to have.

On the mainland, people can attempt to achieve the same goals with looser policies, voluntary zoning, good neighbour policies, concessions and mitigations with neighbours, etc.but they are undermined by the failure of the Lindens to enforce and uphold their own TOS or simply by their neglect as caretakers on what amounts to their own "estate" or "private island" of Governor Linden.

By allowing horrors like the Bush Guy and other griefers to flourish and prevail, the Lindens are imposing the un-freedom that comes with licentiousness granted to one, which takes away the liberties of others. They themselves *allow* the tragedy of the commons that others work mightily to avoid or at least mitigate because they refuse to conceive of a notion of the rule of law to guide the community-- the TOS continues merely to be enforced in a lax and biased manner as a set of rules they invoke for some when they need it, and ignore for others to dispose of them.

So it's not as if in a fair marketplace of ideas, one set of people with "better civic land policies" got to "win the customers," it's that in an unfair, mightily tilted playing field, one set of people who paid the Lindens more in what amounts to a protection racket got better service, and the rest of us were left chewing on the remnants of the Lindens' ideals of yesteryear.

Posted May 22, 2006 6:43:08 AM | link

Peter Clay says:

VATSIM sounds cool although several orders of magnitude geekier than something I'd play.

As for "If a game was now developed with an open pvp system (to necessitate collective security), a robust communication system, (to facilitate collective security), and a limited number of manageable and controllable natural resources (to align interests against one another), social organizations will develop that are very similar to what we would call a state.", that sounds like a very good description of the alliance system in Eve Online.

Alliance space has a high level of natural resources and totally open PvP. It tends to be either empty, or full of big roaming "militia" fleets on seek-and-destroy missions, coordinated through Alliance chat and TeamSpeak. It's not for everybody; only about 10% of the universe participates in alliances. But within an alliance there is a lot of collective action. A threat to core space or key assets will bring volunteers rallying.

Posted May 22, 2006 9:40:14 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Prokovy Neva wrote:

Matt, as in this long debate we had at Ralph Koster's blog about games and social worlds, I'm not sure it's a fair fight to keep bringing up older text games as examples of rich, developed player institutions, whren they obviously represent a past stage of history, are not the cutting edge, are not 2-D or 3-D with massive numbers of people in them -- unless I'm missing something.

This blog is about virtual worlds, not "World of Warcraft" or "worlds with high production values." (After all, if it's about worlds with really massive populations and those with high production values, I'd expect that you'd stop talking about Second Life here.)

Further, what you seem to fail to recognize is that these worlds are out there, right now, thriving. One of the worlds I was referring to is not even 2 years old yet. They represent the present as much as World of Warcraft does, regardless of whether they are as popular. Your suggestion is like someone suggesting that there's no point in talking about theatre anymore because now we have movies with splashy special effects and because it doesn't attract the same number of people as "Star Wars Episode 3" does. I completely reject that line of thinking.

As for cutting edge, that's a joke. There doesn't exist a graphical game that comes close to what text MUDs accomplish design-wise (which isn't to say that text MUD designers are better designers, only that the medium gives a designer a magnitude more creative freedom).


I appreciate everything they've accomplished and it's all a rich trove of lore and useful things to analysis, but people like me aren't going to turn to them now and enter them and take on their encumberances when they face so many other options of 2-3 or 3-D worlds now.

"People like you." What does that mean, exactly? Do you think the demographics of our games, for instance, are notably different from WoW? They're not. People like you do play text-oriented virtual worlds, but in smaller numbers.

If you're not willing to try out richer worlds because they lack that eye candy, it's both of our losses I suppose, but it's ridiculous to write, "I wish there were virtual worlds with X" and then complain that those aren't the worlds you meant when it's pointed out that what you asked for exists. (Yes, I realize you weren't the one I was responding to in the first place, but you take my meaning I'm sure.)

The big graphical games don't represent "progress." They are just more popular.
--matt

Posted May 22, 2006 12:50:48 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Prokofy,

It may be all nice and good with people banding together to achieve 'harmony' via "looser policies, voluntary zoning, good neighbour policies, concessions and mitigations with neighbours, etc..." and put the blame on Linden for having for civics and letting people prove everyday the "Internet Fuckwad Theory".

However, sometimes its the private property owners that will take a harder stance of making sure no one damages property value. Sure, it could be seen as a protection racket, but it can also be seen as differentiated service levels.

Sure Liden is not making any moves to shore up property values on the mainland, which drives up property prices on the islands, but... isn't this the effect of a government policy that favors private landowners?

Frank

Posted May 22, 2006 1:54:23 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt, we've had a fair amount of big-game/little-game (and often at the same time 3D-game/text-game) sparring going on for some time here. It's true that TN tends to focus almost exclusively on WoW and SL, these being the two with which most people here are most familiar.

It's also true that whenever someone says, "how come feature [X] has never been implemented in a MMOG?" there's almost always some (often small, obscure) game that has in fact implemented feature [X]. But, as in science, literature, etc., if an innovation hasn't been disseminated, for most people it's as if it never happened. WoW isn't the first game with a strong new player experience, but it's the first one that 99% of MMOG players know of with such an "innovation."

In terms of the main thrust of MMOG development, Prokovy is right: text games represent the past. I'm sure that rankles you and other text-game developers, especially when you have been and continue to innovate in many areas, but it's nevertheless a fair statement. Text games were the heart and soul of pre-MMOG online games, but that hasn't been the case for years.

So to me the question is, if an online game (text or graphical) innovates in areas of gameplay, story, civics, etc., and is played by no more than a few hundred or a few thousand people, is it significant for MMOGs overall? To what degree do scale and popularity make a difference? There are many factors; but at the same time, an innovation in a game that few ever see (relative to the size of the gaming population) is less interesting simply because it is less known -- and thus less applicable to what most people experience as the online gaming.

Sharpening that point further, if two games have a few thousand people playing them and one is graphical while the other is textual, I can almost guarantee that innovations in the graphical one will be seen as more comprehensible and applicable to online game-worlds overall, if only because the vast majority of people interested in online games today will never play a text game. This wasn't true ten years ago, but it is now. And that means that, in terms of having innovations recognized as bona fide and applicable to advancing MMOGs overall, text games are and will remain at a disadvantage.

Posted May 22, 2006 3:42:42 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

WoW isn't the first game with a strong new player experience, but it's the first one that 99% of MMOG players know of with such an "innovation."

The reason I read annd participate in Terranova instead of player-oriented forums is because I expect that the posters here are more interested and more knowledgeable than your typical player and that the blog is about what's interesting in virtual worlds, not just what's popular. If you're really implying that what's relevant to Terranova stops at what is relevant to the widest audience/lowest common denominator then I have to wonder how that jives with a site that is ostensibly about virtual worlds rather than being a cheering section for two specific products. I'd also wonder why SL is discussed so much, since it is about as relevant as text games to 99% of MMOG players.

--matt

Posted May 22, 2006 6:02:26 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt, why would you expect that kind of quality? "Virtual worlds" that doesn't copy each other are all quite different. To get to that level of expertise you have to have experience with a multitude of systems over 10+ years.

Posted May 22, 2006 6:56:14 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Thought experiment...

Poof! Matt Mihaly gets $30M in VC funding and builds a graphical version of the Iron Realms games in 10 seconds flat.

The pertinant question still remains: Does the player-v-player politics from the various Iron Realms games scale up from thousands to millions of players?

Posted May 22, 2006 7:28:07 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Does the player-v-player politics from the various Iron Realms games [and other smaller-scale games] scale up from thousands to millions of players?

Mike Rozak hit my point. Like Matt, I expect to find more insightful and knowledgeable commentary on TN than on most player forums. But popular and knowledgeable aren't always incompatible, much less inversely proportional. In some cases popularity indicates a certain shallowness or playing to the least-common-denominator; in other cases it's indicative of having struck a deep chord that is meaningful to many people. Niche games/activities can be the domain of the elite, or simply the fringe; lack of popularity is not necessarily a badge of honor.

So, if civic or other gameplay hasn't become wildly popular, is that because it is inherently not-fun, or because most game designers believe this to be un-fun and thus haven't even attempted to make engaging attempts at such mechanisms and structures in online worlds? Personally, I think it's more the latter and that games like Matt's can point out interesting directions to explore. But I also think that often what works with a few thousand people scales poorly and can be crushed by the social weight of hundreds of thousands. Whether this is true of Iron Realms' game designs is left as an exercise for the interested VC. :-)

Posted May 22, 2006 7:43:07 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Rozak wrote:

Poof! Matt Mihaly gets $30M in VC funding and builds a graphical version of the Iron Realms games in 10 seconds flat.

The pertinant question still remains: Does the player-v-player politics from the various Iron Realms games scale up from thousands to millions of players?

Well, in the case of a WoW-type game, it only has to scale to tends of thousands, as that's all there are on a single world instance. Yes, the political stuff would scale. What the larger market's reaction would be is something different. (Other systems of ours would not scale, even to tens of thousands, and our management structure certainly wouldn't scale, but then, nobody expects the management structure of a dozen person firm to scale to hundreds of employees.)

But then, I don't see that as a pertinent question, even leaving aside the fact that WoW doesn't have a world with millions of players, but many static, identical worlds with smaller groups of players. What does scaling have to do with whether something is worth discussing? It's one, single aspect of a product. It's not even an aspect. It's just a theoretical potential.

Look, if I'm interested in understanding literature a bit beyond the ordinary consumer, am I going to search for a site that discusses only The Davinci Code and Harry Potter (that's not a comment on quality. They're just the two most popular books released recently), or am I going to look for one that is interested in the principles behind literature, not the specifics of a couple of products? I realize that talking about WoW gets you blogged by other people and gets Wired doing articles based off what gets posted, but is the site about getting attention for itself by talking about things that will draw the most people (see the "The Horde is Evil" thread as a prime example) or about things that are interesting in their own right? That's a genuine question, not a snarky one.

Mike Sellers wrote:

Niche games/activities can be the domain of the elite, or simply the fringe; lack of popularity is not necessarily a badge of honor.

Badgers of honor have nothing to do with it. I don't think Terranova is here to give awards to games by mentioning them. I think it's here to probe more deeply into the nature of virtual worlds, and you're not doing -me- a disservice by writing off a whole set of virtual worlds that does things quite a bit differently from the usual suspects: You're doing yourself the disservice (and the site!).

What frustrates me isn't a lack of attention from Terranova or whatnot, as attention from the customer is ultimately what I care about and we're still growing after 9 years in business. What frustrates me is hearing people wishfully talk about how X wouldn't work because of Y, for instance, when I could point you to five virtual worlds where X and Y happily co-exist. I expect that from the average consumer, but I feel like there's little excuse for anyone claiming to be seriously interested in virtual worlds to focus on two, five, or even 10 examples and feel as if they're honestly covering the gamut.


But I also think that often what works with a few thousand people scales poorly and can be crushed by the social weight of hundreds of thousands. Whether this is true of Iron Realms' game designs is left as an exercise for the interested VC. :-)

I'd never try to pitch taking our systems as they are to much larger audiences. I've spent too much time telling people that want to give me money why that simply will not work and why I won't waste my time trying to make "Achaea 3D" when doing that properly with competitive graphics would cost $100 million, minimum and would be unlikely to ever return that investment.

But then, again, that's not really the point. Systems can be adapted, things that will scale pulled out, things that won't left behind, widgets bent, gizmos traded, etc etc. You wouldn't try to take Meridian 59 to a WoW audience feature for feature I'm sure, but that doesn't mean that there isn't something to learn from it. Right?

--matt

Posted May 22, 2006 8:37:24 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

The scalability issue of certain gameplay designs is a tough problem, but often the customers just don't buy "non-me" gameplay (gameplay that is not about me).

One gameplay that has developed "the social weight of hundres of thousands" (using Mike's words) is business and market gameplay (e.g. produce, auction, sell & buy). The Crafting and Auctioning features are the prime examples.

Once you go beyond guild-level civic structures, there are other civic structures that designers can utitize.

For example, what if Blizzard decides to add two features called 1) Blessed the Stranger and 2) Soul Brother and Sister?

Blessed the Stranger:
You get a number of charms equal to 61 minus your level, which replenishes every week. These charms have random beneficial buff effects. An avatar can only receive the blessing from a particular avatar once.

Soul Brother and Sister?
When an avatar is created, a random male avatar and a random female avatar that is in the "newly active" list (recently created and played) is choosen to be the avatar's unknown Soul Brother and Sister. The flag is used in the future for quests and other non-quests "character development".

How would the two features add to what Nate has talked about in the OP.

As for the age-old generation gap issue: until the new generation learns from the old, the old generation is still valid. Remakes are just flattery and updates with flash & style (e.g. Miami Vice and Posiedon).

Keep up the chatter :)

Posted May 22, 2006 8:58:47 PM | link

Arnold Hendrick says:

It is unfortunate that such a large number of posters here are primarily familiar with Second Life and WoW, because that limited view gives rise to the slightly skewed perception in the original post.

In point of fact, the current generation of mainstream MMORPGs was started by games that virtually demanded teamwork from players if they wanted to succeed. The original EverQuest was deliberately designed to make solo gaming as unpleasant (if not impossible) as possible. To do well in that game, you ALWAYS had to group up in teams of 4-6 people, preferably a full six, not to mention the 40-50 person raids needed for success above level 50.

All the MMORPGs that sought to emulate EQ's success also emulated the need for grouping, even a PvP MMOFPS like Planetside was rigged to make groups essential, not to mention AO, DAoC, SB, Lineage, the original CoH (not CoV), Lineage II and many more. In fact, WoW's big design "breakthrough" was demonstrating that solo play in an MMORPG could please customers.

If you poo-poo the teaming aspects of these games, I suggest going back and levelling a character to 40 or 50 in either the original EQ or DAoC, just for starters. You'll learn a lot about social dynamics, teaming, and the need for building a reasonably functional social network.

Posted May 22, 2006 9:07:03 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Frank, you seem to be equating in your mind somehow "mainland=public property" with public housing or something and people forced to live in collectives and "private island=private property". But that isn't a correct picture. The the mainland property IS private. It is sold in individual plots and becomes your private property. The task isn't collective living on a collective farm or public housing, the task is harmonious living of 15 or 20 private property owners who have nothing in common and don't know each other to live together on one sim, interacting in some kind of public commons.

So what's happening is that no, it's not as you imply, that Linden Lab is not protecting the literal status of private property in one setting, in the geographically contiguous mainland, and enabling it to be protected in another setting, on private islands. Private property is nominally honoured on the mainland. But the private property owners on the mainland are hobbled without sufficient land tools that more privileged island owners have, but they do control their land and buy and sell it. A new development is that now islands, too, which were unable to sell parcels out of whole sims, will be able to do an emulation of this that will put them on par with the islands.

More to the point, the Lindens don't uphold the TOS on the mainland, which is in a sense "Governor Linden's
Estate" where we "owners" are tenants with "deeded parcels" -- the equivalent of the deed owners or tenants on private islands. ANd therefore deliberate build-griefing, harassment, blocking, lagging runs rampant because the Lindens affirm the right of creativity and the right to do what you wish on your private property to such an extent that a person can deliberately haras, annoy, block, grief, etc. for days and devalue your property, and they will chalk it up to the "freedom to create" rubric and look away.

Posted May 22, 2006 9:17:36 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Matt, your discussion seems to be one of those "Mac vs. PC" or "cloth vs. diaper" types of arguments where you simply have a very deeply-held viewpoint, but there are clearly others on the other side of the aisle as

I have no special need to vaunt World of Warcraft over MUDs or MOOs or whatever because I didn't play either and I only study them from afar through blogs and articles like this. And to say "this blog isn't about World of Warcraft" seems preposterous when there have been a hundred posts on WoW, on every conceivable geeky and wonky topic, even asking if WoW is the new golf, or whether the horde is evil. No sale there.

>Further, what you seem to fail to recognize is that these worlds are out there, right now, thriving. One of the worlds I was referring to is not even 2 years old yet. They represent the present as much as World of Warcraft does, regardless of whether they are as popular. Your suggestion is like someone suggesting that there's no point in talking about theatre anymore because now we have movies with splashy special effects and because it doesn't attract the same number of people as "Star Wars Episode 3" does. I completely reject that line of thinking.

No, I got the point, but I'm not buying it. Nobody flocks to text games. They're in the past. Perhaps newbies are apprenticed in some fashion through narrow circles, but they aren't the next big thing. You can' be serious about claiming them as cutting-edge in any fashion.

Posted May 22, 2006 9:24:34 PM | link

Nate says:


Arnold> the teaming aspects of these games

I don't disagree with the teaming success of the current MMORPG recipe - as far as it goes. However, per the early comments in this thread, I think one can argue that this is insufficient in leading to a civic sensibility.

In fact one could argue (though I may personally back off from signing on to this stronger position) that the teaming system as it has been translated into the MMORPG grind - has led to a tight trade-space between time vs. rewards vs. group in the eye of the player. In otherwords, has the MMORPG rewards model (yes, the mass-market version) led to us becoming a more greedy lot?

Posted May 22, 2006 9:35:15 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Prokovy Neva wrote:

Matt, your discussion seems to be one of those "Mac vs. PC" or "cloth vs. diaper" types of arguments where you simply have a very deeply-held viewpoint, but there are clearly others on the other side of the aisle as

You're right. My viewpoint tends to be, "Look at as much as possible of what's been done and what's being done." I do feel pretty deeply about the worth of that.


I have no special need to vaunt World of Warcraft over MUDs or MOOs or whatever because I didn't play either and I only study them from afar through blogs and articles like this. And to say "this blog isn't about World of Warcraft" seems preposterous when there have been a hundred posts on WoW, on every conceivable geeky and wonky topic, even asking if WoW is the new golf, or whether the horde is evil. No sale there.

I'm not sure where I said this blog isn't about WoW. Of course it is. It's about virtual worlds, and WoW is a virtual world. My point is that WoW is just one virtual world, and one that hasn't done much different from others in the past. It's fine to expect that it will then be talked about more among consumers, but is this a cheerleading site for what's popular? No. I'm not part of Terranova, but I did and do believe that its goal is a little more broad than that. I really don't understand the reluctance to try to learn from the experience of virtual worlds generally.


No, I got the point, but I'm not buying it. Nobody flocks to text games. They're in the past. Perhaps newbies are apprenticed in some fashion through narrow circles, but they aren't the next big thing. You can' be serious about claiming them as cutting-edge in any fashion.

You're telling me what I can and cannot claim about something which you profess to know absolutely nothing about? Not worth arguing that point with you.

--matt

Posted May 22, 2006 9:37:49 PM | link

Nate says:


Thomas>
[is] generalized reciprocity largely absent [in virtual worlds], and why?

Nate>
the teaming system as it has been translated into the MMORPG grind - has led to a tight trade-space between time vs. rewards vs. group in the eye of the player.


I had a follow-up idea to Thomas' request for examples of generalized reciprocity. Perhaps a tangible MMORPG example that might qualify is choosing team members that are clearly sub-optimal (against other more qualified available options). Now this happens often in tight guilds -where RL relations are in play, but this happens infrequently (I'll assert) amongst the society of strangers. Pick-up-groups for example.

Why?

Is it the nature of players? Part of the problem is mechanical -level-banding and such. But I think a great deal of it is in how the game is played and how players come to view this world.

Posted May 22, 2006 9:53:28 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt: Yes, the political stuff would scale. What the larger market's reaction would be is something different. ... What does scaling have to do with whether something is worth discussing?

I consider "scaling" to include social scaling, that is, what the larger market will accept. If a feature or mechanism doesn't work with larger numbers of people -- if they won't willingly adopt it -- then it doesn't scale. Things that don't scale may still be interesting, but they may quickly become niche-bound or even irrelevant in terms of what happens with the main thrust of virtual worlds. The future is in scaling, socially and technologically, at least into the tens of thousands per world (that's our current social event horizon, I think). Bywaters of small-size games will remain, even increase, but in the best case they'll be keepers of the long tail, eking out life in various niches, or act as experimental feeders that lead back into the larger scale worlds. In the lesser cases they'll be like small towns bypassed by the railroad or freeway, still clinging to their former relevance.

... is [TN] about getting attention for itself by talking about things that will draw the most people (see the "The Horde is Evil" thread as a prime example) or about things that are interesting in their own right?

I'm not sure what makes you assume the thread on "The Horde is Evil" was started as a way to draw attention from the most people. As it happens, I can tell you that that was not at all the motivation behind it; it came from a heartfelt sentiment, not from any sort of grandstanding.

[TN] is here to probe more deeply into the nature of virtual worlds, and you're not doing -me- a disservice by writing off a whole set of virtual worlds that does things quite a bit differently from the usual suspects: You're doing yourself the disservice (and the site!).

Perhaps. Any world that does things differently is potentially illuminating just from those differences. OTOH, it's up to those familiar with the world to make the specifics of those differences known, and to demonstrate how they might apply to other worlds. And it's to be expected that such features and mechanisms might be evaluated in terms of the more popular games of the day, if only because that's what even the most knowledgeable tend to be familiar with. I'd say that being different alone is not enough; differences that work primarly for a small niche are not as interesting (to me) as those that work for a large population. This doesn't mean that only pedestrian principles are of interest, but that esoteric ones tend to be less so unless there's some compelling reason to think otherwise.

What frustrates me is hearing people wishfully talk about how X wouldn't work because of Y, for instance, when I could point you to five virtual worlds where X and Y happily co-exist.

When you see this, I hope you'll point it out with some context and specifics, and not just "we've been doing that for fifteen years." There may be many reasons why X won't work with Y in larger, more broad-based audiences; or it may be that this is just blinkered thinking on the part of designers unwilling to venture too far out of the current mainstream. Either is possible.

Posted May 22, 2006 11:09:41 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

I consider "scaling" to include social scaling, that is, what the larger market will accept. If a feature or mechanism doesn't work with larger numbers of people -- if they won't willingly adopt it -- then it doesn't scale.

So what does "larger numbers" mean? There's a bigger difference between the size of, say, Second Life and WoW than there is between SL and the largest primarily text MMOs. The larger market in the sense of the truly mass market doesn't accept a single MMO, and the larger MMO market accepts exactly one MMO: World of Warcraft. Yet, Second Life is talked about quite a lot here. I've even seen A Tale in the Desert discussed, and it's hard to imagine a game that has less relevance to "what the larger market will accept."


The future is in scaling, socially and technologically, at least into the tens of thousands per world (that's our current social event horizon, I think).

I think that's nonsense. The future is what it is, not a selected sub-set of that. The future of the subset of virtual worlds that is the moving target of "the largest MMOs" almost assuredly doesn't contain text MUDs. Of course, it almost assuredly doesn't contain all sorts of things TN talks about.

Honestly, I feel like you're basically just making excuses because it's easier to write off text MMOs than it is to put in the effort (and there certainly is effort. A text interface is not friendly if you haven't used one before, and there are thousands of text MMOs) to actually investigate. The fact is, TN is clearly -not- exclusively about what the mass market will accept, as evidenced by all the Second Life threads. Heck, there have been a couple threads recently about Project Entropia!


OTOH, it's up to those familiar with the world to make the specifics of those differences known, and to demonstrate how they might apply to other worlds.

No, it's up to those who are serious about understanding virtual worlds to seek them out and educate themselves. What you're suggesting is like suggesting that a literature professor refuse to investigate anything that isn't a blockbuster novel unless it's pushed on him by essentially a marketing effort. What you're suggesting says that a site equivalent to Terranova that's focused on literature could simply dismiss poetry entirely, because it's not "mass market." I don't even know how to react to that except with horror, frankly.

Again, this isn't about "getting recognition" or anything silly like that. As an entrepreneur, the only recognition that matters is that of our customers, and Terranova is certainly not an effective platform to advertise to potential customers. As a designer, on the other hand, I find it odd to encounter a site that is filled with academics who are seriously interested in virtual worlds simply writing off (if you are speaking for TN, at least) a whole class of worlds (ours are just some of them, including some hobbyist worlds) that does things frequently talked about in wishful tones. I honestly find it perplexing that someone so genuinely interested in virtual worlds for the sake of virtual worlds (most of the TN authors aren't developers) spend so much time, apparently, deciding what to study based simply on what the flavor of the day is. Do I object to WoW being discussed? Of course not. It's clearly important. It is not, however, particularly innovative, and is important almost entirely because of its commercial success.

It's just really disappointing to hear you, of all people, essentially say, "If it's not essentially -the- most popular product in its class, it's probably not worth discussing." You once opined to me, over lunch in Walnut Creek, how attaining the big shiny brass ring isn't the only valid route in life.

--matt

Posted May 23, 2006 2:54:57 AM | link

RickR says:

I was going to cite SWG's player cities as an example of another layer of civic/social structure in MMOG's; replete with elected mayors, city specialities such as crafting bonuses ("Research Centre") or mission payout bonuses ("Job Market"), militias, civic structures. But it would be lost in the recent branch discussions.

There, now I've mentioned it anyways.

Posted May 23, 2006 8:01:28 AM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Nate,

In current popular games, there are still too few options to pursue. So given the small probability or opportunity space, people just graviate toward optimal steady states.

In the case of ~8 or ~40 member teams, these are just the coded optimal team sizes. Moreover, given the limited parameters and the guild culture, players obviously gravitates toward quantitative optimization.

So yeah, most players are "encouraged" by the designers and the peers to see the grind, see the guild culture, see the optimal team compositions, etc.

There are very few designs for "meeting of strangers". RickR points to SWG cities and others may point to ATITD or the Virtual Air Traffic Sim. Some may class this type of design as "generalized reciprocity".

If so, what of alturism in virtual worlds; giving with no expectation of or accumulating vector for any reciprocity or benefit?

Posted May 23, 2006 8:55:16 AM | link

John Bilodeau says:

I'm not sure exactly what people mean by scalability, since the notions of social structures & institutions have been tossed around.

Do you mean simply larger functional groups? or are you looking for evidence of functional differentiation, as one might see in RL institutions: educational, political, commercial, military institutions?

On the issue of interaction with strangers & scalability, FFXI has recently implemented a new event called 'Besieged', in which armies of npc monsters invade a local city. The defense of the town is left to whatever players happen to be in the zone at the time of the attack. Failure to defend the town results in captured NPCs.

These battles tend to involve 400-600 player characters, and so, necessarily involve at least 90% non-linkshell members (or strangers). Every one of these events I have participated in have spontaneously adopted the organization and tactics of smaller scale cooperative raids (ie. Dynamis, for those familiar). Without the authority of a linkshell organization, self-selected individuals begin forming groups and assigning targets, while total strangers assume the appropriate roles (sort of an "any shelter in a storm" type of authority).

This is an example of large-scale cooperation between strangers, galvanized by an external threat... But it has not lead to any structures or institutions that exist beyond each individual invasion.

The only persisent large-scale interactions in ffxi, that I can think of, involve crafting and HELM (Harvesting, Excavation, Logging, Mining) conventions. These take the form of etiquette rather than physical institutions, but the game has evolved social structures that govern the interaction between strangers competing in a number of ways.

Posted May 23, 2006 8:56:08 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt: I find it odd to encounter a site that is filled with academics who are seriously interested in virtual worlds simply writing off (if you are speaking for TN, at least) a whole class of worlds (ours are just some of them, including some hobbyist worlds) that does things frequently talked about in wishful tones.

First, I'm speaking for myself only, not TN (and I'm not an academic).

Second, no one has suggested that text worlds be "written off." As I said earlier, "This doesn't mean that only pedestrian principles are of interest, but that esoteric ones tend to be less so unless there's some compelling reason to think otherwise." Text MUDS these days are effectively esoteric. Some graphical games like "A Tale in the Desert" are as well. Both may have interesting innovations and observations to offer to those interested in virtual worlds -- or not. That something works in a small (user base of a few thousand) world does not mean it scales to, is relevant to, and thus is necessarily of interest to those more interested in worlds with much larger populations. Just saying "we've been doing this for years" is not sufficient to provoke interest in others, no matter how deep their interest in virtual worlds.

I said: OTOH, it's up to those familiar with the world to make the specifics of those differences known, and to demonstrate how they might apply to other worlds.

And Matt replied: No, it's up to those who are serious about understanding virtual worlds to seek them out and educate themselves. What you're suggesting is like suggesting that a literature professor refuse to investigate anything that isn't a blockbuster novel unless it's pushed on him by essentially a marketing effort.

I think maybe you misunderstand the nature of both an attention economy and how things get noticed in academic circles (though admittedly, I'm hardly on the inside there either). Nothing gets noticed without a champion, and nothing gets accepted without being pushed. This is true in academia, and it's especially true in a dynamic area such as virtual worlds, where there are far too many for anyone, no matter how dedicated, to focus on them all. Which ones an individual chooses to focus on depends on their interest and exposure. Some (many) here focus on WoW or SL because they're what's current. For some of these it's their first virtual world, and you know how that colors your experience. Others have focused on other games-of-the-day as they've risen in popularity, and then moved on over time. The same will happen with WoW and SL, I'm sure.

If you believe that text worlds deserve more focus, then it is up to you to champion that view, to bring to others here reasons why they should garner their attention -- what does a particular long-running, relatively small-audience text world illuminate that isn't seen elsewhere? What mechanisms or features are present that bear on a current discussion? Examples always help. Saying "you're ignorant about this and it's not my job to educate you" just gets you a spot on the sidelines.

You once opined to me, over lunch in Walnut Creek, how attaining the big shiny brass ring isn't the only valid route in life.

Of course. I absolutely believe that, both personally and professionally. Popularity, especially "flavor of the month" popularity, isn't all it's cracked up to be. I believe, as I said earlier in this discussion, that the market for small-population (relative to the largest games) worlds will continue to grow -- I suspect strongly that we're going to see many "small mammal"-like games scurrying around the feet of the lumbering brontosaurus-sized ones. But I also believe that in considering what works, what is accepted, and where we can learn the most about the principles behind and adoption of virtual worlds, the most popular in many ways carry the most weight. Even if I thought WoW was utter crap (which I don't) I'd be a fool not to understand it well if I'm interested in how people interact with and adopt virtual worlds. Other worlds such as ATiTD, SL, and at least some text worlds are also worth considering in various contexts as well. They are where much of the innovation will arise, if history is any guide. But for those innovations to be understood and considered relevant, they require champions to help others begin to understand why what they've done is significant.

Posted May 23, 2006 9:43:25 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

RickR: I was going to cite SWG's player cities as an example of another layer of civic/social structure in MMOG's; replete with elected mayors, city specialities such as crafting bonuses ("Research Centre") or mission payout bonuses ("Job Market"), militias, civic structures.

I would be interested in hearing more from you and others who spent a lot of time in SWG about what you thought worked well in these cities and what didn't.

John: This is an example of large-scale cooperation between strangers, galvanized by an external threat... But it has not lead to any structures or institutions that exist beyond each individual invasion.

Because there's no need for it to do so: when the next invasion comes, people will self-organize again in response. They know the invasion is of limited duration and effect, and there's no benefit to remeining organized in the interim. There are social costs to greater organization, and these must be offset by greater benefits or the organization will crumble.

This is part of what I was referring to as social scaling: do social and civic structures as various game-worlds have conceived them remain relevant to large populations (and remain persistent over time)? Are larger (not necessarily concurrent) player populations willing to adopt them, or do they remain the province of the truly dedicated, ignored or avoided by everyone else? Do they add something to the virtual world experience for at least a large minority of the players? And do they move beyond the current tribal-level of social organization?

Posted May 23, 2006 9:51:43 AM | link

John Bilodeau says:

Mike Sellers: "And do they move beyond the current tribal-level of social organization?"

What exactly counts as moving beyond?

Is it a question of size? hierarchical complexity?specialization? any of these?

I'm still wondering if game-wide conventions regarding etiquette count.

Posted May 23, 2006 12:39:24 PM | link

RickR says:

Mike Sellars> I would be interested in hearing more from you and others who spent a lot of time in SWG about what you thought worked well in these cities and what didn't.

Interesting that you refer to SWG in the past tense. It ain't dead yet, despite SOE's best efforts.. :P

Players in SWG can opt to join a player city. The placement and zoning of their house/structure is controlled by the Mayor of the city and his appointed militia members. Residency in a player city can bring several bonuses, such as a higher crafting experimentation success rate, or higher mission payouts from terminals in that city. A crafter city can bring other benefits to merchants in terms of higher customer traffic and/or proximity to interdependent crafters .. the old tenet of business is "location location location" rings true in virtual worlds also. Cities are formed for several reasons: the aforementioned crafter/merchant city, guild cities, faction cities (Imperial or Rebel). Mayors have the ability to levee property or sales taxes from citizens. Elections are automatically held every three weeks and any player with the appropriate Politician skills may run against the incumbent Mayor. As cities grow in size, an increase in city rank dictates what civic structures they may place, including shuttleports, theatres, and cloning centres. Player cities can be seen to offer a "guild for the guildless", a loose affiliation with other players without the formalized bonds of guild membership. Faction cities offer alliances between resident guilds, and large-scale PvP impetus centred around civic defensive structures (PvP bases). They offer the same conveniences of co-location with services as living in a real-world city would offer, such as proximity to a shuttleport, or to the guild armoury.

Player cities can be used for griefing. City militias once had a "/citywarn" ability, which would cause a visitor to be PvP-attackable while within the city limits. This ability was removed when a game CSR was /citywarned and incapacitated. Player Bounty Hunters are often banned from using a player city's shuttleport after hunting a resident player, though I personally consider this just part of the cost of doing business if you're going to hunt other players. Most BH's don't use the shuttle anyways, knowing that residents who see a stranger load into a guild or faction city will suspect he's not there to go shopping. Banning of opposing faction members from cities in a prime location, such as near a popular hunting ground like the Krayt Graveyard, means opposing faction members must drive long distances to hunt there. This, though, as in the Bounty Hunter example, could be "working as intended" and simply adds to factional tension. Mayors can impose heavy taxes on residents who potentially must maintain a structure there as part of a guild membership stipulation. And, just as in the real world, political favour can be curried and bought in exchange for the prime vendor location next to the shuttleport (for example).

Overall, player cities in SWG work, and work well, judging by the number of players who choose to be a resident of one. They satisfactorily emulate the benefits of living in a real-world community -- convenience, services, merchant traffic, neighbours.

Posted May 23, 2006 1:23:07 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

If you believe that text worlds deserve more focus, then it is up to you to champion that view, to bring to others here reasons why they should garner their attention -- what does a particular long-running, relatively small-audience text world illuminate that isn't seen elsewhere? What mechanisms or features are present that bear on a current discussion? Examples always help. Saying "you're ignorant about this and it's not my job to educate you" just gets you a spot on the sidelines.

I think this misunderstands my point of view. I'm willing to point out that there's prior work in text MUDs and even taking the time, occasionally, to elaborate further, but I'm not really interested in "championing" anything. If people on TN aren't interested, I don't lose anything: They do. Leading someone else's horse to water when the horse is actively resistant is not really worth spending much effort on.

--matt

Posted May 23, 2006 1:26:15 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

What's cracking me up the most about this discussion is that text is, essentially, at the heart of the most "social" aspects of both WoW and SL, both of which are being held up as the non-text, popular, shiny, chef-of-the-future aps.

When email first came out, it was derrided by many as being "backward" tech from telephony; why on earth would I want to "type" a message to my friend(s) when I can pick up a phone and give 'em a call? Well... who can live without email now? Same thing for the Web in the early days. It's not TV, for God's sake! Why would anyone spend hours in front of a screen full of text! And images that don't move! It's text! Words! 6th century (BC) tech! Same for IM when it was first put on cell phones (which I know from personal, industry experience). "This is oddball, niche tech," we heard again and again. "Nobody cares about sending weirdo, shorthand text messages from phone to phone."

Or... not.

How do most players in WoW and SL communicate? How is 99.99999% of most information transmitted on the Web?

Yep. Text. And text is an extremely deep, sophisticated, advanced and growing medium. We add news words to the language every day almost. English is approaching 1 million words in the "common" lexicon. And that's not counting slang and jargon. Nor emoticons ; )

Yes, some folks in WoW are communicating via voice over sophisticated Guild networks of voice chat; to a very few others who are on that channel. How do they talk to the random folks they meet in the field? Text. How do they get their quests? Text. How do they learn about pricing for auctions? Text. Where do they read about guild activites? In text on the forums.

And SL? It's AAAAALLLLLLLLLL about the text chat, baby. How fast can you type and be clever and keep two open lines and 3 IM conversations going at the same time?

So... to say that "text" is irrelevant is very... odd. And to dismiss applications where text is the explicit and only mode of conversation, because there are other applications where it is one of several within a more varried context... also odd.

In VW's, right now, "text" is the 6th sense. Sometimes it is well-combined with others; great graphic visuals, sounds, motion, music, force-feedback... etc. But you can't make do without the old ASDFJKL;

Posted May 23, 2006 5:20:43 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>What's cracking me up the most about this discussion is that text is, essentially, at the heart of the most "social" aspects of both WoW and SL, both of which are being held up as the non-text, popular, shiny, chef-of-the-future aps.

I've said this before in many debates on this subject, i.e. on www.raphkoster.com in the last week, but merely put a different spin on it: what cracks me up is that 75 percent of SL is *typed* and is *about* typing text -- but that merely means that it incorporated or "pwned" the text games, that's all. There'd be no point to go back to text -- we're already soaking in it.

There'd be no point in saying text games are better, or doing it too, becaue the text is in SL, too. So who needs text? We got text.

Text plus pictures and sound.

Posted May 24, 2006 2:05:22 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

In other words, the pictures and sound are actually irrelevant, but we have them anyways, not by design, but because, "Hey, shiny!"

Since the text, pictures, and sound are all clearly irrelevant, could we please stop talking about them as if they were? Text-only worlds cannot, by definition, be less relevant than graphical worlds, unless the pictures, sound, 3d, etc. are part of the fundamental design being discussed.

Face it: it's not.

IRE remains relevant, like it or not.

It's also interesting to note that IRE and LL have similar business models. I'm not clear on LL's, but in an IRE game, you never have to pay a cent, but things accelerate if you do.

*shrugs*

The main problem with accepting text-only games as relevant is that suddenly the new and shiny graphicals aren't so revolutionary anymore. Sure, some of them, like Second Life have very definitive firsts. But they're not that world-shattering when you look at history.

It's like saying that America is the first and best nation when it comes to democracy. That's completely untrue. But it's definitely done some pretty sweet stuff with political systems. Modern India, for instance, has a better democratic system by definition; and the Iroquois and the Greeks were all over democracy before Columbus was born.

But they're of a bygone era, right? No longer relevant... No, modern India's not relevant at all... I mean, they're not present day superpowers, so obviously we shouldn't care.

So one more time: the text is irrelevant. The graphics are relevant. The fact that the main difference is the pictures is a really, really bad sign.

"regardless of the design assumptions behind the server simulation, you can always build a client that filters the data differently." -- Raph Koster.

Posted May 24, 2006 3:42:18 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

When you've got a bunch of people working purely with text only systems, I think it would be a shame to disregard them, especially as what they're working with is without the "distractions" of video and audio.

I see at least two arguments circling round this- some are arguing that pure text is/isn't old hat and of limited interest, others are arguing that as a coincidence of their relative unpopularity, pure text based worlds don't offer a large enough example to measure community/social interaction.

I think it's a shame that people are thinking they're wasting their time trying to bring alternative worlds into the discussion against a sea of WoW/SL. Not least because SL is my personal main focus, and it's more interesting to read about something else. Commentary on even a small virtual community still has value- maybe you won't hold it up against the whole of the WoW population, but you can still look at them on a "local" level- comparable to WoW guilds or SL communities at least, or simply at the group level.

Posted May 24, 2006 6:01:54 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

I'm going to beat the same drum that I do in my role as marketing dude: goals. What's the goal of the game? What are you hoping to get out of it?

There are days when I read very "easy," very "fun" fiction in a variety of genres because my goal is to have easy fun. No appologies, and none should be necessary. That type of writing and reading requires certain skills and asks that both the writer and readers bring (and leave behind) certain expectations. When you turn to non-fiction, at various levels, that asks for different skills, requirements and assumptions. Different goals, different contexts. No big whoop, right?

Same with games. If what you want is action, frenetic tactical fun, booms, crashes, fiery hoo-hah and dingos eating your baby in all it's bloody gore... the graphics and sound aren't "candy." Or, if they are, then it's good candy, because you went into the game wanting candy. The goal was candy. If you are simulating a "graphic" experience, then good graphics are part of a good, goal based solution.

In Second Life, however, (and many MMOs) there are often multiple, layered goals happening at the same time. For example, I have spent much time alone in SL being impressed with what individual designers have accomplished with their creations. Towards that end, the design tools -- which incorporate graphics and sound -- are a key element of helping achieve positive movement toward a goal, and better tools will help achieve that. When I look around a marvelous piece of virtual architecture or cleverly programmed sim, I say, "Wow... look at how this player/programmer/user has achieved his/her ends using these tools. Better tools might have enabled an even greater achievement of those goals." Which is great.

However, another set of "play goals" in SL involves social interactions. For these goals, I'm going to argue (and, I suspect, get pounced on...), great graphics and sound can actually provide NEGATIVE motion relative to achieving various ends.

I mean that when I see a really well tricked-out avatar, that someone has clearly spent lots of time honing, and that they've done to-the-nines with great prim hair and clothes and subtle bling (subtle, I say...), and have good control over their animations... I expect -- because of their control over the graphic tools -- to encounter a sophisticated all-around player. There are many visual, in-game cues that signal "newbie," or "fresh meat" vs. "long-time SL resident" or "sophisticated player." And when you find someone who evidences mastery of the "game mechanics" of the latter, you expect to engage in sophisticated social interactions...

Until, about 90% of the time, they open their mouth/text box and say/type, "Woot."

In real life, too, of course, we have the case where someone can look/dress/act very sophisticated, and then start talking and prove themselves not to be someone you'd be at all interested in. So, in that way, SL is mimicking life. But it is, thusfar (imho), hyperbolic, in that it is currently quite easy to resemble an SL "high level" person, while actually being a crank.

However... you can't fake text.

As one of the best GMs I've ever played with once said, "It is very hard to play a character that's smarter than you."

Right now, text is the most "limiting" or "defining" social tool when it comes to determining the actual level or value of another player (as opposed to avatar or character) when it comes to deciding if you want to engage in ongoing relations.

Out of all the Internet-based activities I've taken part in over the years, that's why I've been most successful, I believe, in continuing those relationships that have started in text or writing-based situations; either explicit to the art/craft of writing, or related to writing articles, blogs, editorials, marketing research, etc. There's something about writing and reading that lets other people know who you "actually" are.

The same holds true in WoW and other more "game-y" games that SL, of course. You can be an 11-year-old boy with the social skills of a hyperactive, drunk Yorksherie terrier... and still be a Level 60 Paladin in the game. Do I want a "social" relationship with that person based on their "game" personna?

Depends... what's the "goal" of my game relationship? If all I want is for him to throw some healing my way... sure. But do I want him as a buddy out-of-game? Probably not. And text will do a better job of ferreting out that skill set -- determining that "level" -- than will his in-game stats.

Text don't lie. You can't type smarter than you are. And that's a powerful, powerful tool/element. Games based solely (or more explicitly) on that skill as opposed to other more "complimentary," graphic and game-specific skills will let you find out more about the "real" person, more quickly and more accurately.

Posted May 24, 2006 12:57:06 PM | link

Warren Grant says:

I like the distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft pointed out earlier. As has been said, gamers tend to harken back to their first MMO experience when making comparisons and when selecting their ideal mental game - I think this can be modified to a desire for the same experience as your first satisfactory MMO. I started playing MMOs ostensibly in the MUD/MUSH days but didn't get that much out of it, then came The Realm with the same experience, and finally EQ. None of these games satisfied something I was looking for though. Dark Age of Camelot answered my dreams, early on at least.

Having just read the definitions of Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft I realise now that the reason I miss the early DAOC was the Gemeinschaft aspect of being in the realm of Midgard on Percival server. It was extremely refreshing to be part of a larger whole, defending my realm against the enemy solely because they were the enemy. Midgarders all over the realm would drop whatever they were doing - often suiciding out of dangerous dungeons or remote locations (and giving up hard earned experience as a result mind you) - just to head to the frontiers and deal with a threat from an opposing realm. The loose Alliance affiliations allowed this via direct warnings, but often invasion threats were also announced in broad chat so as to reach other alliances in the realm. Word spread quickly and invasions could be dealt with in minutes.

Sadly, Mythic missed this aspect of the game, and instead emphasized the Gesellschaft aspect of the game by adding in Realm Points which changed the nature of the game from "Beat the enemy" to "score higher RPs and gain boasting rights". It attracted in a (to me) less attractive type of player who was willing to yell at fellow realmmates because they "stole" RPs in a battle, it encouraged small squad RvR groups whose sole purpose was to patrol against other 8man groups and endlessly score RPs off each other. It discouraged the Gemeinschaft oriented players such as myself and my friends.

One of those friends has been following Mythic's development of Warhammer Online avidly, hoping for the return of Gemeinschaft RvR gameplay, but evidently Mythic is again opting to focus on more personally oriented gameplay at the expense of large scale social gameplay according to him. He was one of the major leaders in Albion/Percival and I think he misses the high level game of leading realm forces in the strategic game that so many DAOC players never really seemed to perceive or want to participate in. For me too this was the whole point of DAOC, everything else was a means to the end of strengthening the realm as a whole.

I think its a worthy distinction to point out. Although I was aware of the terms I had not explored their definitions until now. I would suggest that games that want to be well rounded in their PvP need to look beyond the direct rewards to the individual and encourage large scale cooperation and motivation. Sadly this seems to be something that most players are unaware of or see less value in, possibly because its so hard to express, and definitely because it seems absent in any of the games I am aware of - although EVE might possibly be an exception.

In my opinion the introduction of Realm Points to DAOC was the turning point in the orientation of the game, and it only got worse after that :)

Posted May 24, 2006 1:35:55 PM | link

vacuumflux says:

I'd like to add to Andy's comments

Andy said:
What's the goal of the game? What are you hoping to get out of it?

So looking at the _majority_ of today's players my question is: what if they simply do not want to form civic societies, what if they enter the game with the explicit goal to express/simulate their secret idiosyncrasies? What if they play in order _not_ to "behave properly"? Maybe the players what to leave their well-ordered (middle-class) life behind that does not seem to offer any exciting perspectives anymore?

In that sense dedicating time to an MMOG may be compared to a bored housewife taking arts lessons in order to escape just for a couple of hours (dreaming of the artist's lifestyle she fancied as an undergrad).

My guess: If you want to attract people to building a civic society online you have to look for people that lead a life in chaos and uncertainty (in a tyrannized developing country of your choice, e.g. Belarus). There people may be interested to compensate their miserable RL by dreaming up and acting out some form of ideal state. For the same reason literature, poetry and theatre have always been the last(secretive) ressort for people in oppressed (european) societies.

And yes, Andy is right: As long as nobody figures out how telapathy works _text_ (aka written language) is the _only_ replacement for speech (including of course facial expression, gestures, tone of voice etc.).

I got the impression (from my very limited browsing of TN) that postmodern theory is not very well received around here but I have to tell you that reverting to Durkheim and Toennies instead is probably not doing such a great service to understanding what is going on in the virtual worlds running right now. (BTW: Germans today take great pride in the fact that they have overcome the Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft battle. Today's fav expression is "Zivilgesellschaft" = civic society modelled after the anglo-american example.)

Just as example, to me Rorty and Bloom seem to serve well as an accessible starting point into "deconstruction", "relativism" and all the rest (just think of their more flamboyant claims as if they were made by game designers :)

So finally: Yes, postmodernist literature "theory" or rather
postmodernist _reading_ of western (and in parts eastern) tradition is going to help a lot in understanding what is going on, what to offer and where to go in VR technology, communities, business etc.

Always starting with the _text_, the "grammatical rules" applied to it and with the different _meanings_ the whole con-text has to the zilions of different people involved.

Posted May 26, 2006 5:39:40 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

To Vacuumflux: EXCELLENT points! And a POINT to you my friend, for making such! You may trade it in at the Terranova store for official swag.

I agree with you completely. And you've hit on one of the great problems with post-modern art/entertainment of many kinds; ascribing explicit goals to media, events, etc. that were once (in a modern or classic sense) implicit.

Why do we play games? In pre-post-modern society, one assumption -- and an assumption is often an implicit goal, which implies implicit rules and, therefore implicit behaviors -- was that we play in order to engage in "sportsmanlike conduct." It is "fun" to be on a team, to perform one's role in a gentlemanly manner, etc. It is often even fun to witness, applaud and laud the successful efforts of one's opponent. These were all part-and-parcel of a "classical" view of "games." We get a glimpse of that even now (though, of course, distorted at times) in the Olympics.

Modern and Post Modern "games," however, have been deconstructed (as have all things) into their component shiny bits. Is it about the game, or about the "fun?" Do the rules matter more or the law? Which laws? Your laws or mine? And what about money? Whose money? Amateur or pro? Fun vs. profit? Story vs. copyright? Is it better to lose gracefully or win at all costs? Does grace under pressure equate to weakness? All kinds of questions...

Your point, Vacuumflux, about people wanting to "escape" their real life into a game is a good one. But just as the concept of "gaming" has been deconstructed in post modern society... so have many of the concepts of "real life" and "civil society." We've had a number of discussions here as to what constitutues "cheating" in a virtual world. Many MMOs allow for the expression of very visceral and violent acts that, in RL, would get you locked up for life or lethally injected... but the "play of the game" is civil.

I'm always amused, for example, in SL, when I'm in an "adult themed" area and someone bumps my avatar, and the system asks if I'd like to report it as an intrusion... it's such a weird frisson... a strange amalgam of "here thar bey draaygons" and "here thar bey nannies."

Where, I think, I find myself most comfortable when playing games -- any kind, online or off -- is when there is an agreement as to what the goals and rules are. I've played pen-and-paper RPGs, for example, where certain players really like to be the back-stabbing, PvP types. Which is fine... if that's the kind of game we're running. We clear that ahead of time. If everyone else in a gang of 7 players thinks it's a cooperative adventure... and one turns around and starts poisoning everyone... well, that's not fun. And, as GM, I won't allow it.

That ruins the _text_ure of the event. Play outside the con-text tends to do that... ; )

Posted May 27, 2006 8:56:24 AM | link

vacuumflux says:

Andy,

your historical angle on "game play" is exactly what I am trying to suggest (in line with a pragmatic non-confrontative approach to postmodern "literary theory" that stops trying to prove analytical philosophy to be wrong).

But I am not so sure that the "implicit rules" were so clear to everyone in pre-1900 Europe and America. The whole research into pre-darwinian, pre-freudian literature and cultural production in general suggests to me that people (and not least bourgeois women) were rattling the cage quite a lot though rather invisible to the public eye in more or less private circles.

In an historical perspective each new technically advanced medium seems to have /extended/ rather than /revolutionized/ what people do with it in terms of self-definiton, self-assurance, self-expression etc.

Revolutionary stuff happened nonetheless but the new /medium/ seems to have served not as a /root cause/ but more as a /tool/ for achieving something that people wanted to achieve in their physical lifes anyway.

So coming back to civic society inside virtual worlds: What is it people want to achieve in their RL using the new medium as a /tool/? Who has done /quantitative/ social studies on this? And are questions about the "wish to escape from everyday life" using some sort of "dreamlands/conventional entertainment/virtual worlds" a regular part of quantitaive surveys of the non-geek population to create a basis for further comparisons?
Who is doing surveys on the root causes of "unhappiness", "boredom" or "dissatifaction"?

Great marketing/politics technology though: let people play online in order to indirectly figure out what they "really" want.

Posted May 27, 2006 2:40:34 PM | link