One of the things I’ve been wondering about in WoW is that real relationships tend to have multiple social circles, but in WoW I’m forced to have just one guild. That leads to barriers between groups, and competition between groups for members.

I‘d like to see multiple orthogonal social groups in games. Second Life for example has groups that you can join, but you can be in multiple groups at a time. Each group has its own chat channel. In addition you’re in an informal family group. You can choose your first name but there are a small number of last names available for each batch of new players. When you see a stranger with the same last name, you have a connection with them, without having joined any of the same groups. The explicit links (groups) are augmented with implicit links (last names). In games, classes and races and professions could serve a similar purpose. In practice though I rarely see people make connections based on last names or classes or professions or race. Perhaps it’s because there are too many people in each group, so you don’t feel kinship.

In an epic MMO, there are events in a shared history that could form implicit social links. For example, if a game has large, difficult battles, all the participants in a battle form an implicit social group. If a game has a way to build things, the people who built in the same town have a connection with each other. If a game has an economy, the people in the same business or frequent trading partners have a connection. When I’m in a town and pass by someone who has a shared history with me, I‘d like to see an icon or color so that I know I have a connection with this person. I might wave or give them a beneficial spell or interact in some other way. A shared chat channel or mailing list might be nice too. Instead, in WoW, I walk by strangers and don‘t care about them.

If we had many different ways for people to build social connections, and reinforce them with game features, we’d end up with a much richer social structure in games.

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16 comments:

Amit wrote at August 19, 2008 10:35 PM

And yes, I am aware of how limited my MMO experience is, having only played WoW, so perhaps you readers can tell me more about social structures in other games.

Nelson wrote at August 20, 2008 1:48 PM

Hey Amit! I totally agree with you; online social games have surprisingly limited social tools. WoW is more or less as you describe, focussed on the guild. It is possible to create alternate channels and the web forums allow some other forms of socialization. Mostly it amounts to nothing, but there are interesting exceptions like The Leftovers.

Eve Online has a richer hierarchical social model. Individuals belong to Corporations; more or less like guilds. But then corps belong to alliances, a second tier formal social structure in the game. There is also a sophisticated reputation system, both at individual and corporation levels. It was all developed in service to the complex PvP dynamics and while it's clumsy, it more or less works.

Rick C wrote at August 21, 2008 12:20 PM

When I played Ultima Online, I ran a miner/blacksmith for a couple of years. I got to recognize a few other miners over the years, and would hang out and chat from time to time. Even ran dungeon crawls with some of them.

abhinav wrote at August 27, 2008 9:52 AM

Hi Amit
i m abhinav. i had developed java applet games during my free time like snake, rubik cube, pegball etc. but they had limited scope. now i wanted to develop games that me and my frnds can play on lan not internet. so pls suggest a language which wud b helpful in building them. well i can hav a better graphics game afterwards bt now for a start a 2d game is ok ;)

Amit wrote at August 28, 2008 6:52 PM

Hi Abhinav,
Your question seems to be unrelated to this blog entry. I suggest you use a language you are familiar with. Is there a reason you are looking to change languages?

Morgan wrote at September 02, 2008 9:12 AM

One of the first mmorpg's Merdiain 59 had guilds that players joined. But additional, there were several other organizations that players would participate in such as factions. Factions essentially gave leveling bonuses to players and as a result chat channels would emerge for the various factions. Especially for the Duke/Princess/Jonas faction system for token collecting.

Meridian 59
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meridian_59

Anonymous wrote at September 06, 2008 1:08 AM

Hi,
sorry I don't have an account here, so I comment as anonymous. I stumbled upon your website and since it's gaming and MMO... I listened to a very interesting presentation of a brazilian company yesterday who have a product called bitverse.

the url is (if i remember right):

http://www.hoplon.com/

Maybe it interests you, too.

Philipp. (bytefish.de)

schnalle wrote at September 14, 2008 5:42 PM

what about achievments (or titles)? i haven't played wow for a long time, so i don't know much about the details - but the general though is, you get achievments for certain tasks. e.g. beating all (or most of) the bosses of all the pve-dungeons gives you the title "explorer". having a high arena score gives you the title "gladiator". a high battleground score gives you the title "general". and so on ...

these titles are added to your name, e.g. "general amit". if a player has more than one achievement, he or she can choose which one should be shown, thus the primary interest would be reflected.

as far as i know that's the way WoW handles it at the moment.

Amit wrote at September 15, 2008 3:27 PM

I think achievements offer another way to give rewards, but not necessarily a way to let people form their own social groups. The visible title does help some, I guess.

Maradus wrote at September 30, 2008 10:27 PM

"When I’m in a town and pass by someone who has a shared history with me, I‘d like to see an icon or color so that I know I have a connection with this person."

I very much like this idea. And it should not be too hard to implement. Whenever you are in a group with someone or walk past someone, the color of his/her name becomes very saturated, very green for example. The value for the saturation fades over time if it is not "replenished". Of course, walking past someone does not increment the value as much as /w oder /invite.

The effect on the player might be the virtual counterpart to RL's "I know this guy, but where from?..."

And yes, one should definitely be permitted to join permanently more than only one group (guild) in WoW. Or at least there should be something like a super-guild which consists of serveral guilds.

Charles wrote at October 30, 2008 10:36 AM

Hi there Amit. EVE has come up once already in the comments, but I strongly encourage you to check it out if you have not. It's an interesting game...it's very free form (people have used the term "sandbox"), and most of the meaningful interactions in the game happen in player-created communities like what you describe. Some are supported by the game (corporations and alliances), and some are more ad hoc and arise of of the very rich economic system in the game (the development staff includes a Ph.D. economist) or other shared goals.

Also as a side note, our corporation in EVE is called "SRE Brotherhood" which is a reference to you-know-what. Many of us were avid SRE players back in the day.

Amit wrote at November 03, 2008 10:33 AM

Hi Charles, Yes EVE has a very interesting economic world, and a steep learning curve. I love the stories I hear from the EVE world, and I've taken a look, but I didn't have the patience to get involved myself. Cool corporation name. :-)

Master Alex wrote at April 09, 2009 3:59 PM

I think one reason having more groups you belong and can chat with is not more common in MMOs, is the overload of text. EverQuest2 has something along these lines, where you get access to multiple chat channels based on various common traits (ex. Qeynos Cleric, Freeport Wizard, Level 10-19, Crafting 30-39, etc) However most players turn off the majority of these channels to avoid being spammed with chat, and in turn many of these channels have become completely deserted.

The idea of making it possible to belong to several guilds on one character has intrigued me for a while. I wonder how it would work in light of many guilds requiring a serious commitment to the guild.

Kevin wrote at June 05, 2011 1:36 PM

Sorry for necroing this post. I just discovered your blog recently and I've been reading it from the beginning. (I'm an old SRE fan.)

I had an idea for a RTS/MMO hybrid I'll probably never write: in place of guilds, players would have families. They would raise, train, and equip NPC children, who would inherit some of the wealth and property of dead PCs. If they were loyal to the family in life, dead players would come back as their closest NPC relative. If not, they would come back as an NPC distantly related or not related at all. Loyal players would become part of wealthy dynasties, and griefers would gradually drift into outlaw clans.

Kevin wrote at June 05, 2011 1:43 PM

Another idea I had, which I may actually incorporate into a game someday, is for social structures to be bottom-up instead of top-down. Instead of guild leaders inviting players to a guild, players would declare their allegiance to another player. When a player has a certain number of followers, they would obtain a title. The allegiance of enough players with titles, in turn, would confer higher titles. Allegiances would be hierarchal; the knight who declares his allegiance to the duke would also owe allegiance to the duke's king.

Amit wrote at June 05, 2011 2:35 PM

Hi Kevin, coincidentally I was working on a blog post about a related idea: in a role playing game, it could be interesting to move from one character to another, like actors do with movie characters. We also looked into this idea for Realm of the Mad God. It's a game with permadeath, so your characters will die often. But if all those characters were part of a single family, then you could live on by playing another character in the family.