Social structures in MMOs #

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.