Wednesday, 23 September 2015

What makes an MMO "social"?

I know everyone is talking about the "Realm of Protection" at the moment, but I think that deserves observation for a bit before giving feedback. It is very difficult to work out, in abstract, how different rules will effect the incentives and the subsequent behavior of players. I fail at the task regularly despite having time to daydream on it during lectures. Better to experiment.

Instead I want to consider the question of what makes social interaction more fun in some games rather than others. My hypothesis is that it comes down to two simple rules:

1. Arrange things so that players are likely to interact with the same players repeatedly
2. Have them encounter novel situations

Rule (1) is common sense, backed by psychology, and backed by history. Humans historically lived in tribes and small villages. We're good at keeping track of small groups of about 100 people, who we like, who we dislike, who is a fool, who is treacherous, and so on. And we can't do this very well for larger numbers of people. So for a fantasy community to feel "real" above a certain size, it has to start segregating someway. This could be through different towns, guilds, etc; but the main method at the moment is realms. When the orb room came out, it struck me as inconvenient to make it difficult to cross realms, but it now occurs to me that this is a good idea, a great idea, because having some sort of barrier between realms encourages people to stick in a home realm, which increases the chance of meeting the same players. This simultaneously helps the pvp and scamming aspect (since reputation serves to discourage griefing) and the social aspect of the game. Meanwhile, the fact that realms can be crossed helps make the world feel connected, lets friends play together, and gives an escape route if someone is hunted too much on one realm.

Steam realms were merged with the old realm today, and from tavern gossip, it sounds like the theory is working.

I said I would travel to black. And they told me that black contains a group of pkers led by Pyro, but who is not that tough, because she was successfully repelled from Cyan.

Meanwhile, Arcand wanted to hunt some playerkillers, and they suggested he go to red, which has reputation for playerkilling.

And people on the Steam forum have spoke of "realm invasions", where people go to the orb room together and attack a different realm.

This is cool stuff. With realms, it feels like the world is 5 times bigger. And that is even with realms being identical. So we get to have a big a world while still maintaining communities.

As for rule (2), that is inspired by army doctrine. Closely-bonded soldiers tend to be much better at war, so the army has done a lot of research into how to bond its troops together quickly and effectively. In the past decade, it has moved from drilling (though that is still important), towards adventure training - which is when a platoon or section travel somewhere in civilian clothing and do kayaking, mountain climbing, bicycle riding, all sorts of things. According to the manual, this is because people in every-day life put on metaphorical masks in social situations, but in novel situations the mask comes off, revealing their true characters, which leads to connecting with people much quicker.

Aberoth has monsters which, according to various random factors, can act strangely and dangerously, creating novel situations which we have to think about and react to. Likewise for players. I think this is the important feature which builds friendships. If a game feels like it is on a conveyor belt, it doesn't matter how elaborate the features are - people won't really communicate. I can think of a few elaborate chatroom-style virtual worlds in the late 1990s which, despite containing real people, felt pretty dead, and now I understand why.

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