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Nov 17, 2009



Great survey with a lot of open questions!


At first glance, the Worldplay project might seem like "just another survey," but we're actually doing something a bit different. In many ways, the project is an attempt to move forward on issues raised during the State of Play V: Building the Global Metaverse held in Singapore.

What is the purpose of this research project?

This project explores issues associated with cross-cultural interactions in virtual worlds. Our goal is to identify creative ways that players, game developers, and industry professionals can nurture and extend transnational cooperation in virtual worlds.

During the past five years, dozens of researchers have scrutinized virtual worlds. How is this project any different?

Great question. For the most part, existing research on virtual worlds falls into one of a few categories. On the one hand, there are deep ethnographic studies in which researchers immerse themselves in subcultures associated with a particular virtual world (e.g. Taylor, 2006; Boellstorf, 2008; Malaby, 2009). While we appreciate and value the textured analysis emerging from such studies, our project does not use ethnographic methods.

There are also many helpful studies that combine traditional survey methods with the analysis of server-side data logs. The most recent studies (e.g. Williams, Consalvo, Caplan & Yee, 2009; Williams, Yee & Caplan, 2008; Bell, Castranova & Wagner, 2009) have leveraged random sampling methods and vendor-relationships to deepen our understanding of gamer demographics and motivations. We are intrigued by these studies, but this project does not use random sampling methods and we do not analyze server logs. We are not attempting to make statistically valid generalizations about the broader gaming universe.

OK. So the Worldplay project does not use ethnographic methods and it does not use quantitative methods for analyzing large data sets. What exactly are you doing?

We are fanning out across virtual worlds and casting as broad a net as possible to increase our understanding of transnational player interactions. In an open-ended survey, we are asking people to share their thoughts about their on-line interactions with gamers from other countries. We ask people to describe both positive and negative experiences, and encourage them to share suggestions about ways that gamers, developers and scholars can foster transnational interaction in virtual worlds.

But isn't this rather slap-dash? If you cannot generalize your results to a broader population of gamers, what's the point?

We firmly believe that every voice -- including statistical outliers -- deserves to be heard. Our goal is to identify a wide range of opinions, experiences and recommendations related to the phenomenon of transnational play. In synthesizing and publicly sharing our findings, we hope to provide suggestive data points that can be used by developers, gamers, and researchers who are interested in promoting cross-cultural interaction in virtual worlds.

In many ways, our approach is analogous to the guerilla usability testing methods recommended by Jakob Nielsen in the early 1990s. Rather than developing generalized claims about a large group of users, we seek to collect as many data points as possible. Rather than using our research as the basis for theory building, we are interested in ways our findings can be applied to the gritty realities of game development and guild management.

Some advocates of transnational gaming have bashed industry practices that inhibit cross-cultural interaction in virtual worlds. Is this your intent?

Definitely not. We are sensitive to the many demands placed on developers. Although we are saddened by the practice of region locking, we understand the legitimate business reasons that inhibit transnational interaction.

We have no desire to scapegoat our colleagues in the gaming industry. After all, without game developers, none of us would be here in the first place. Players, scholars and government policymakers can also play a crucial role in nurturing cross-cultural collaboration in virtual worlds.

This sounds very idealistic. Is it really possible to make these types of changes?

Two decades ago, the concept of an enormous, user-generated encyclopedia would have sounded very idealistic, but we now have Wikipedia. In the 1980s, the idea of a free, collaboratively developed operating system would have sounded very idealistic, but we now have Linux, Free BSD, and dozens of related open source projects. Our ambitions in this project are far more modest.

The Worldplay Survey itself is an example of how globally distributed individuals can cooperate with one another. Within one week of launching, volunteers offered to translate our survey into Simplified Chinese, German, Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean.

What sorts of recommendations do you plan to make?

We hope to identify simple steps that can help create momentum. For example, consider the game Free Realms. Launched several months ago by Sony, the world already boasts 3 million subscribers from around the world. The game's player base is extremely international, and players use the general chat channels to communicate in multiple languages. But there is one glaring problem: cut and paste functions are disabled in Free Realms.

Without the ability to cut and paste, it's very difficult for players to communicate across language barriers. If cut and paste were enabled, players could switch into another browser window and use automatic translation tools to understand what other players are saying. This would be an important step forward.

This sounds great. What can I do to help?

If you are over the age of 18 and interested in participating in our research, take the survey! You can also take a look around this site, leave a comment on our forum, or explore (and comment on) the researcher's blogs. We are also eager to translate our survey into more languages, and could use help translating survey responses back into English.

Will you share findings with the public?

Definitely. After filtering out personally identifiable information, we will make raw data sets available to the public via the project site.

Related links

"Regional Segregation". In a thought-provoking article for MMORPG.COM, Dana Massey explores region-locking and transnational gaming. The comments thread is terrific.

The Multicultural Aspect of MMORPGs. The author of a popular gaming blog discusses the joys of playing games with people from other countries. In the comments thread, Brian "Psychochild" Green explains the reasons for region-locking from the standpoint of a independent game developer.

State of Play V: Building the Global Metaverse. In 2007, scholars, developers and government officials from around the world congregated in Singapore to discuss transnational interaction in virtual worlds. Organized by New York Law School, in conjunction with Trinity University, with the support of Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the conference itself demonstrates the potential of transnational collaboration. (Note: Links on the left side of the State of Play page will take you away from the Singapore conference. To view the video clips and conference program, you need to scroll down on the right side of the frame.)


Thanks, Jonas!


@ Aaron

You´re welcome! I have some additional questions, that I hope you can answer.

1) You say that the project is meant to nurture cross-cultural collaboration in virtual worlds But why? I can see the obvious reason like better tools for communication in the case of "Free Realms" on the PC platform. What more do you hope to come out of it? Do you want to see cross-cultural solutions to in-game challenges?

2) Why do you think region locking is so bad? It is of course going to restrict players from communicating with players from different regions, but is that such a bad thing? I mean focus might be on different aspects of a game, depending on cultural context. Region locking could be a good thing, if one communicates with a person closer to one´s "cultural tendencies".

I hope you catch my drift. I´m just really curious!


Hi Jonas,

These are great questions! Apologies for the delay in replying, but I was caught up in festivities surrounding the American Thanksgiving holiday.

(1) As you note, the Worldplay project seems to assume that cross-cultural collaboration in virtual worlds is a good thing that deserves to be nurtured. We realize that cross-cultural interaction can be filled with negative conflict (e.g. the so-called "gold farming" dispute), but we believe that these negative examples are outweighed by the many positive benefits of cross-cultural interaction.

Ultimately, we hope that this project will generate a range of ideas and strategies. Some solutions, such as better communication tools in Free Realms, will make it easier for players from around the world to communicate with one another. This could affect in-game cooperation related to in-game challenges, but it might also have positive effects on real-world understandings between people in different cultures.

There are many who anticipate the imminent arrival of a functional virtual world platform in the global workplace. Such a world might combine the open-ended freedom of SL with the performance monitoring tools used by guild leaders in WoW with the collaborative communication tools currently being pioneered in a variety of Wiki-style formats. Our hope is that solutions emerging from the Worldplay project will also be applicable to transnational interaction in more "serious" virtual worlds.

(2) Regarding the negative effects of region locking, we fully agree that some players do not want to interact with people from other countries and they should not be forced to do so. However, if people want to play games with players from different regions, we would like to see more opportunities for them to do so. Gaming forums are packed with anecdotes about guilds and player relationships that have fallen apart as a result of region locking.

Having said this, we understand that there are many good reasons for region locking, and we have no desire to demonize the industry for engaging in these practices. With any luck, ideas and activities emerging from the Worldplay project might help us make a business case for transnational play.

Implicit in all of this is an underlying assumption that openness, cooperation, cosmopolitanism, and diversity are intrinsically positive values that should be promoted whenever possible. We realize that these ideas are a reflection of our own ideological indoctrination, but we believe these things anyway.

Let me know if this answers your questions! I will fold some of this into the next version of the FAQ document.

BTW, we're about to post the first batch of raw data (including silly griefer comments) with the personally identifiable information completely scrubbed out. The link should be up on the project site by the end of the day.


Thanks for the links!


Just wanted to mention that the most recent batch of raw data (approximately 200 responses to a ten-question open ended survey) has now been posted at the Worldplay site: http://www.trinity.edu/adelwich/transnational/students.html

We have had good success reaching English-speaking gamers, but there have been fewer responses to the survey materials that are translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese. We would be grateful if Terra Nova readers could pass on the link to gamers in other countries who might be interested in participating.



Almost forgot... this clever student-created video explains region locking in less than two minutes. It's not possible to embed the clip in this posting, so here is the link:


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