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Community: A Start

November 15, 2012

Dear Reader,

I’ve got a lot of little topics today, but the first I want to address is the idea of improving community.  Spinks suggests that it could be done by making content easier.  Tobold doesn’t think so.  There’s a lot of back and forth about it, so I wanted to throw my answer in the ring for consideration.  Before we can talk about how to improve a community, we first need to agree on what makes a community in the first place.  I think I can sum it up in two words:

common ground.

To have any kind of community, you need common ground. This can be done in a multitude of ways.  Physical communities share a physical space, a literal “common ground.”  College communities share “school spirit” or “love of academia.”  Gaming communities share the game.  So we need to start with a common ground, and, frankly, that right there is where we run into problems.  WoW provides a lot of common grounds now – too many, perhaps.  Wow’s become so diverse to increase the play opportunities that many micro communities, or subcultures, are springing up, and the result is what it always is when communities share a proximity: conflict.

The largest, most sweeping conflict is also the most obvious: the hard core gaming community conflicts with the casual community.  Making the game easier would seem like a way to bring the casual gamers onto the “common ground” of the hardcore; they could, at least, talk about raiding.  It’s not that simple, though, because the “common ground” that binds the hardcore community together is the struggle against difficult odds, the constant battle with numerical margins – a tiny more healing, a smidge more dps, a few more cooldowns blown; allowing others to experience raiding with simplified content, then, wouldn’t create any common ground.  In fact, it would likely make the hardcore resent the “pretenders” to raiding.

How, then, do we increase common ground in WoW?  I’ve got bad news.  You can’t.  With so many diverse options – this is just off the top of my head – hard mode raiding, casual raiding, LFR raiding, heroic dungeons, regular dungeons, general achievement hunting, pet battles, battlegrounds, rated battlegrounds, arenas, gathering, crafting, farming, dailies, there’s too many people for a single community to contain.  Dunbar’s number – between 100 and 230 – is the average maintainable size of social relations.  Each community, then isn’t going to get much larger than that.  Consider the size of our little “blogging community.”  I’d be willing to bet the number of readers you interact with and blogs you read comes out to about that.  Consider also the implications of a blog growing; often it means less responses to readers and less time to read other blogs.  As your personal community grows, the volume of interaction outside your personal blog shrinks.

WoW’s not much different.  You may know a lot of people through your guild, but it’s not likely you know a ton of people that don’t share a common ground with you.  The guild may be one.  Maybe you know some other PvPers or raiders on your server, probably even other pvp or raiding guilds, but you hardly know everyone.  We’re simply not built for it.

But that’s not really an answer, is it (man I hate tag questions that read like statements but require a question mark)?  Okay, here’s what I’ve got.  Let’s start with a story I read in Made to Stick, a compelling book about why some ideas succeed and others fail.  It’s a good read, if a bit “obvious” if you’re in a job like mine where you have to make ideas stick all the time, but even then, it provides a vocabulary to talk about those ideas.  That’s beside the point, though.  Here’s the story, poorly relayed in short form.

A bunch of coaches noticed that their kids’ sport games were being polluted by bad sportsmanship.  They couldn’t really figure out how to get back to good sportsmanship, though, because the term had been so overused as to become nearly meaningless.  One finally figured out the core of their message, though, and it’s become the mantra of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a large non-profit organization that’s sprung up as a result of its success: Honor the Game.

It’s not about individual behavior, then, it’s about a community spirit that respects the enterprise that brings us together.  It’s a common ground that everyone in WoW can share, because it’s simply about respecting the spirit in which WoW was formed.  I have no idea how we can better communicate this message, of course; I’m no marketer or psychologist.  But it’s a start, if nothing else.

Speaking of starts, one of my other pieces of news is that Stubborn is being leveled, slowly but surely.  He’s specced and about 1/3rd of the way through Jade Forest.  I’m enjoying getting back to my roots, to stealthy, silent kills and lots of kitty roaring.

Additionally, the collaborative project that Tobold and I are working on has really taken off.  We’ve cherry-picked some ideas from those submitted and are working on a general story arc.  We’re getting into the early encounter planning stage.  I’ll write a whole post on it as we work through that stage.  So far it’s been extremely fun to be planning D&D adventures again, something I used to do on a weekly basis, and Tobold’s been a great partner to collaborate with, providing ideas and insight and being wonderfully responsive to my constant deluge of questions and concerns.

Lastly, I feel I have to be fair and tell you about Dell.  I wrote before about their ridiculous hiccups and poor customer service.  It got worked out, sure, but it was still a grand annoyance over nothing.  Because I’ve been very happy with my computer, I decided to get the same model for my wife for her birthday.  It came in on time and we got it set up, and 16 hours later it died and wouldn’t come back on.  Now, to be fair, that irritates the hell out of me, because that first 16 hours was a lot of work downloading, installing, and whatnot, which will have to be replicated.  HOWEVER, since I was very critical of the custserv last time, I wanted to be fair and say I got the best Dell customer service I’ve ever had when I called.  The guy actually let me (i.e. instructed me to) take apart the computer piece by piece and test various systems myself.  Everything I’ve heard in the past has been “don’t open the box or it’ll void your warranty, but this time I got to do what I like to do: experiment.

After removing component after component down to just the motherboard, we decided what I’d suspected all along, that it was a simple power issue, not a component issue (the alienware don’t have an on-board power box; they have a power cord with a box on it, like an Xbox, so it was easy for me to test that it wasn’t the “power source” by switching the cables from my computer to hers).  Either the on/off switch is screwed up, or, more likely, the power system itself is flawed.  So I’m getting another one.  It’s annoying that it failed, but at least I feel like I was treated as someone with SOME computer knowledge, and it makes a huge difference.  After all, doctors who get sued aren’t more or less intelligent or accurate in their diagnoses; the doctors who get sued are the distant, cold ones who treat patients with condescension and disrespect.  Doctors who treat people like human beings, friends even, hardly ever get sued.  Imagine that – how you treat people matters!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and all over the place the last few posts)

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 11:48 am

    Common ground is a bit vague, but I think I see how you mean to apply it. But I think what you’ve described is merely a loose connection between people and that in itself isn’t sufficient for a community me thinks. There’s something more to it, though I don’t think I can do a better job of nailing that down just now.

    And I think that when it call comes to me it will be too long to post as a comment, heh. Another interesting discussion, though. Good topic.

    • November 15, 2012 11:52 am

      I don’t mean any of this to maintain a community at all; I don’t think it can be done in WoW any more; there’s just too many disparate groups of people playing. What we can do, though, is help maintain courtesy, and to do that we need to find what little, thin slice of common ground their may be, which is, perhaps, a love of the game – whichever game it may be you’re playing when you load up WoW. So I agree with you; what I describe here isn’t enough to bind a community together, but may be enough to at least keep the turf war of the “right” way to play to a bare minimum by bringing in respect for a “higher power” – the game itself.

      My guess is that won’t make a difference to the worst of the trolls, because their sole purpose is to aggravate others, and that’s the game they play when they load up WoW. However, it may cool the heels of some of the elite raiders who think pet battling is “wrong” or casuals who think that they can autoattack through a dungeon. “Honor the game, man,” can have a lot of meanings and could perhaps begin to act as a salve for the festering wound the current WoW community exists in.

      Thanks for the comment, and I look forward to seeing your post on the matter!

  2. Samus permalink
    November 15, 2012 12:18 pm

    I think just as important as Dunbar’s number is the number of true, close friends as person has. This is generally 2-4, with recent research suggesting most people have 2 close friends. The rest are more like acquaintances.

    This comes into play with group size, and the concept of “playing with your friends.” The ideal group size to play with your friends would be 3. I’ve never even heard of someone claiming to raid with just their friends (I would call that person a liar if they did), and even a group size of 5 means bringing strangers into the mix, severely disrupting the “playing with friends” dynamic.

    This ties into community building because there are simply no activities which encourage real social ties. A “good group member” is somewhat similar to a good ally in PvP: you value that they do their job, and your tie to them is the hope that they will do that job again in future groups. There are no social bonds, it is a function that could just as effectively be fulfilled by an NPC (aside from the randomness/variation a real person provides).

    I would also point out that Dunbar’s number assumes a full blown community, and assumes you are living your life in that community. Online games represent a “sometimes” community, where you only spend a few hours a week (and thus can form/maintain fewer connections). In an online world where a typical person spends 20 hours a week, over a few months rather than years or a lifetime, I don’t think the “supportable” size of the community is anywhere near 100.

    I think this ties in with the “gogogogo” attitude in PuGs. The structure of WoW endgame dictates you will encounter more players in a month than an adjusted Dunbar’s number could support, much less become even acquaintances with. It is no wonder many people in random groups do not treat the other players as friends. Forming social ties with all these people is quite literally something they cannot do.

    • November 15, 2012 4:42 pm

      Yeah, I think there’s a lot of social factors at play here. Most people have an average of 11 people they consider “close,” with a scale of “closeness” in there that has a few very close (like the 2 you mention) and others that are important but not as close. Beyond that we get acquaintances. Of course, some people have ONLY the 2, and others have closer to 20, leaving the average the same, but it’s a starting point. I also agree with Rimecat and you that the Dunbar number really isn’t going to be a perfect fit, but simply a starting point. From my other comment: I think the Dunbar number is FAR too high for an online game, but I wonder whether we couldn’t figure out a more accurate number. 10 or 11 allies, 20 or 30 acquaintances, and 40 or so “known entities.” That seems right to me.

      Unknown entities, then, like the PuGs you describe, will be viewed in the “basest” way of the player. Generally polite people will treat the unknown PuGs in a generally polite ways, and impatient little pricks will gogogogo. I think this too adds to the isolation of guilds; why ever do dungeons with people outside your knowns? That insulation means LFD becomes more filled with villains, and the cycle continues.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. November 15, 2012 12:19 pm

    Common ground is a working loose definition, props for phrasing it in such a light. Establishes a solid basis but is open ended. As Doone said, the door is open for further evaluation and discussion.
    You say that you can’t bring different demographics together? I’d disagree (shameless source:sink plug). In fact, where you can’t establish common ground, you can accentuate, embrace the differences between demographics and establish a system where groups need each other. Or, at the very least, groups benefit from each others’ hard work. The positive results of raiders benefit the crafters. The crafters have items for the RPers. The RPers provide bodies for the PVPers etc. You devises systems that are perhaps not cyclic in dependency, but at the core are systems of simultaneous consumption (of content produced by ‘the others’) and contribution (of content for consumption by ‘the others’).
    What have you just done? Established the ‘common ground’ amongst all demographics that working together is in everyone’s best interests. And you do so in a manner that only works with positive reinforcement.
    HEY! That’s why when most of us ‘old timers’ speak to the quality of the ‘community’ in the days of yore, it’s because these games implemented such systems. ‘Forced grouping’? No, remove the ugly negative connotation and it’s called ‘mutual dependency’ and lovely communities make, it did. Today’s ‘my demographic exists in a vacuum’ paradigm is at fault.

    • November 15, 2012 4:37 pm

      I agree that such a circular model is possible, but there are two great perils in it. First, the game needs to be designed that way from the start; I don’t think it can be implemented later as a fix. WoW clearly did not do this, so I stand by my belief there that the WoW community can’t be reunited, only mollified towards one another. Secondly, if it’s not very carefully designed, one group can simply decide not to participate in the circle, and the whole thing breaks down; this is similar to the failure of “equal” societies (I want to avoid “communism” as much as possible due to the connotation); if they’re not very carefully run, it devolves into Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

      I’ll also reflect on one of my most recent failed guilds which wanted to be both a PvP and a PvE guild. We recruited excellent players from both, and ended up with two very solid teams; about half the members did both, and the other half did only one or the other. However, when a handful – and it really was only 2 or 3 – of the PvE’ers stopped playing, we couldn’t get any PvPers to help out. As a result, some of the PvE’ers stopped wanting to “help” the PvP’ers, so the entire relationship – and the guild – died. Even though it would have been in everyone’s best interest to go along to get along, to keep up both activities so everyone could have what they wanted, instead the “community” dissolved. I can see a circular game like you describe above – if not very carefully designed – doing the same.

      That said, I would fully support this type of design; just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be. Thanks for the comment!

  4. November 15, 2012 12:48 pm

    I think one of the biggest problems is desires of some sub-communities conflict with others. And when the elite PvE (heroic raids) and elite PvP (arenas, rated BGs) come into conflict with people playing at a lower level, problems arise.

    For example, the dailies, reputation, and valor items.

    For a person who wants to be able to log on whenever they want and have something to do, some progress to make, it’s fine. Maybe they’re not hugely fond of dailies, but they can work on rep and earn some VP for items more powerful than LFR. It’s quite a nice system for them, really, probably the best yet.

    But for the high end heroic raiders (top 1000 or so world), doing those reputations every day to get the gear as fast as possible is perceived as mandatory. And it is, in practice. Not doing them is like not enchanting a piece or gear. Completely unacceptable at that level of play. Sure, eventually the content could be beaten without those items. Eventually the content could be beaten without your character wearing pants as well. Yet anyone who suggested characters just skip wearing pants if they don’t like them would be mocked, no?

    • November 15, 2012 4:31 pm

      Yes, I think you’ve hit on two things I’ve seen floating around the blogosphere. First, that “optional” is not a word that raiders really understand, because “optional” is often not, and secondly, that as the volume of “required” activities rises, the attitudes towards “non-required” activities shifts to those activities being “forbidden” or at least “mockable.” Those two aspects play greatly into the unfriendly paradigm between “serious” players and “non-serious” ones.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • November 15, 2012 5:42 pm

      “the attitudes towards ‘non-required’ activities shifts to those activities being “forbidden” or at least ‘mockable.’”

      Eh, that’s not really what I meant. My point was more that even “casual” players would think playing without pants on would be incredibly dumb and detrimental. Yet not getting that 489 valor upgrade to help in raiding seems just as dumb to top to a high end raider. People claiming it’s “optional” (including Blizzard) are trying to set a very arbitrary line.

      It’s optional to get valor gear but required to enchant items? The content is technically doable without both.

      It’s optional to use 300 stat food but required to use 275 stat food? Why not 250 stat food? The content is technically doable without any food at all, in fact.

      However, you did touch on something else: namely that having to do high end raiding PLUS the dailies and valor grind leaves raiders with a lot less time to do stuff like pet battles or PvP. And a raider who did pet battles or PvPed (excluding conquest gear as upgrades) instead of grinding out reputation for items would definitely be mocked.

      “I think the Dunbar number is FAR too high for an online game, but I wonder whether we couldn’t figure out a more accurate number. 10 or 11 allies, 20 or 30 acquaintances, and 40 or so ‘known entities.’ That seems right to me.”

      Interestingly enough, and it might have been unintended, but that lines up pretty neatly with 10 man guilds, 25 man guilds (or ZG/AQ20 guilds), and 40 man Vanilla guilds, respectively.

      Which could also explain the attraction of some people for 10s over 25s. They simply can’t know the entire group as allies, over half of it is just acquaintances.

  5. November 15, 2012 3:14 pm

    I am still rather leery of applying any real world community model to an MMO. Online gaming is too voluntary and free of consequences to make the analogy very strong.

    However, it is interesting that the WoW demographic you have identified as being incapable of forming a community (too big, too diverse, too self-interested) is fundamentally the demographic of the US. The real world strength of that demographic is when it is based on respect of a common goal or ideal rather than the inherit bonds of ethnic or religious affiliations. It will be loud and fractious, but it will also promote a diversity of opinion that is lacking in a demand community based on natural traits. The weakness, as we’ve seen over the last few years, is when the individual groups ossify and begin to consider themselves the ‘real’ members of the community due to some collection of often atrificial traits. Ignoring the trolls (who are essentially unpunished criminals) this is, I suggest, the real problem with WoW’s community.

    Conceptually similar to what you are arguing but I think that this runs more to a willingness to understand that my group is part of the whole. What passes for discussion in WoW is often focused on how much better things would be if people unlike me (who like dailies, who hate raiding, who PvP) just went someplace else.

    • November 15, 2012 4:26 pm

      Yes, I agree that the fractious elements are the greater problem. The all-too-stereotypical “love it or leave it (or, perhaps, “our way or the highway)” kind of mentality that is now pretty pervasive in WoW certainly lends its bile to the dislike and distrust of other groups. When any group begins to think of themselves as superior to another, you’re going to run into problems. Unfortunately, the silence of the devs on this issue allows a confirmation bias for those “elite” groups; if the devs aren’t disagreeing, they think, then they must agree: “We get the best gear, so we must be the best players,” etc.

      As for the US, you may well be right, but at least here there is a literal common ground, if nothing else. It’s not enough, certainly, but it’s a start; I think that gets back to the whole “needing an enemy” point of view to solidify a nation. I don’t agree with that type of scapegoating, but it seems to be the politician’s cure-all for our divided nature.

      As for a real-world model, I don’t disagree, but I don’t really agree, either. The model won’t be perfect, of course, just like applying adult psychological traits to children isn’t a good fit. However, with observation and modification, an existing model can be used to generate a good model for the new situation. I think the Dunbar number is FAR too high for an online game, but I wonder whether we couldn’t figure out a more accurate number. 10 or 11 allies, 20 or 30 acquaintances, and 40 or so “known entities.” That seems right to me. The Rimecat Number (;
      Thanks for the comment!

  6. November 15, 2012 7:47 pm

    Interesting counterpoints, everyone. That’s a lot to think about!

    I think the Dunbar points are useful, but limited as we’ve all seen so far in the responses. I think it’s most obvious limit when talking about WoW (and other MMOs) is that these are environments with many disparate communities which interact. And my point in saying this is that inter-community interaction is just as important as more personal social behavior. I don’t put a lot of weight on the close friends and close allies argument, because I don’t need close friends and close allies to be part of a community. They are, in fact, somewhat irrelevant in that scenario. The assumption here is that it’s supposed to be ok to have major differences, because those differences ought not be the reasons for cooperation even if they might serve as the basis. For example, I may need a skinner to provide materials to me if I’m a leatherworker. That person doesn’t have to be as friend, ally, or acquaintance. At the same time, I can choose to collect the leather myself as a regular market transaction, where everyone is anonymous. Yet economies don’t falter on anonymity. So it seems there’s a very limited usefulness of Dunbar here after all.

    I still haven’t decided what I think are good bases for starting a community. I think “common ground” is it, but that’s somewhat obvious. I’m leaning towards values, though. Do communities need shared values if we’re to have them in the Dunbar sense? Do MMO communities fare better when the players share the same values? We could probably get some data from emus or even multiplayer server games to see how those communities fare compared to the vast anonymity of WoW-like MMOs.

  7. November 16, 2012 6:02 am

    I’m worried the antisocial community is larger than the positive community. But I shouldn’t be so negative, because I really do believe that the fencesitters will come around to the light when they see how much better the whole place can be.
    And that is true about those who get sued. It’s something that I am very aware of in my workplace.

    • November 16, 2012 9:50 am

      I think it feels that way because of the way it’s all set up. The squeaky wheels seem to get the grease, the jerks seem to run amok, and the good people seem to be in a shrinking minority with little support. If the dynamics changed just a little, a small push to empower the players, it could make a massive difference in the overall environment in which we play. Then, you’re quite right, the fencesitters would see that being good is “easier” and might hop off the fence.

      Also: Rare Spawn of Onyxia on my first battle!

      Thanks for the comment!

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