Social control is what keeps us from running down the street naked, even so we feel from time to time like we should just do that. All while having half a million reasons and none of them having to do with sex. Just to make it clear, this is not an article about streakers, it’s about social control. Even so there’s a half naked troll dancing in the streets of Ogrimmar in the feature image. But it is about trolls, and other not so welcome players in MMOs.
How often have you been annoyed by the behavior of another player in your game? How often does something similar happen in real life, for instance on the subway, in the nearest Wal-Mart, your neighborhood Starbucks or in your office? Since I ordered this list in a certain way, it happens online at the highest frequency and of course in your office with the lowest frequency. More often on the subway, less at Starbucks. Why? Because the consequences of us misbehaving are very different in each of the venues I’ve listed.
What happens if you mine a node in WOW while somebody else kills some mob that was guarding it? Nothing. Somebody calls you a jerk, and that’s usually all that happens. Unless you are on a PVP server. Rolling need on every single item that drops? Go right ahead, maybe somebody votes to kick you from the group after 3 need rolls. But the dungeon tool will get you into the next one after a short wait.
What happens if you play loud music in the subway? Not much. Maybe there’s a transportation cop around who’ll give you a warning. What happens if you behave like a jerk to the baristas at your Starbucks? You’ll be asked to stay away, and if not, you better check if they aren’t spitting into your beverage. And if you get out of line in your office, there’s a pink slip waiting for you pretty soon. The consequences of your doing are the harshest with people you know. They are the ones who care and speak up.
The wikipedia article about social control says that society is using shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval as tools for social control. Discrimination and exclusion are the most extreme forms of social sanctions. And that’s a pretty common reaction to trolling or other forms of misbehavior online. The difference is, the perpetrator can avoid the social consequences so easily: He logs out and switches to another character. If he comes back the next day, he’s got most likely a new audience, who hasn’t heard his trolling, and the ones who’ve heard him might have him on their /ignore list. In extreme cases he just deletes the character, asks for a name change or a server transfer. No real consequences. And at no point in time he actually has to look his victim in the eyes.
Syl, over at Raging Monkeys talks about the consequences for raiders because of the lack of social control. There she explains that it is so easy for players to acquire the gear necessary to raid without learning the skills to raid. Five man dungeons and heroics used to be gate keepers, where players trained the finer points of their class. But with the LFG tool nobody really bothers to interact with a newbie and to show them the ropes. The usual reaction is to call them newbs and kick them, without much consequence for the group, since the next player is 3 clicks away.
I don’t have any solutions to offer to fix the lack of social controls. PVP is not the answer, since it can lead to even worse behavior (griefer, corpse camping and the Jihad of EQ Sullon Zek days). One of my answers is usually to call them out earlier or leave groups where they are in and explaining why you are leaving. It won’t help much with the clinical cases, but occasionally you’ll get an in-game mail from somebody who feels sorry for his actions. Artificial measures like a social vote for a character are easily abused and therefore not very helpful.
In the end, the only way to improve this, is to make our virtual world look more and more like the real world. But who would want that?
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I’ve been reading various blogs this morning and this post by Keen caught my attention and triggered a couple of thoughts on the subject. Why are we playing MMOs? Why do we drop some of them so fast and why do we stick with others way beyond a point where it seems reasonable?
There are three main reasons why we play MMOs: the achievements, the socializing and the storytelling. MMOs and many other games give instant rewards for all kinds of in-game achievements. It’s part of our nature that we grave recognition and rewards even if they are only given by a machine. The socializing aspect of the game is obvious as well. Humans are social animals and tend to do things in groups and tribes, guilds or clubs. And there’s more to it than just storytelling: The immersion, escapism, exploration, role-playing and the fun from customizing your characters looks, in game housing and even whole dungeons. (See this article by Nick Yee )
According to this article, not all players are built the same. Some are in it for the achievements, others spent their evening in the game chatting and yet another group will move around carpets in their virtual homes until it is perfectly matched with the hobbit painting on the wall. Obviously we will play a new game to find out how it will satisfy our tastes and quit as soon as we find out it doesn’t do it at all, or not as well as the old game, or after a while it just won’t be able to satisfy your needs anymore. You’ve reached max level, all achievements, know in your sleep that a 21/2/18 build is inferior to 23/0/18 for leveling purposes. Or the socializer, troll or extrovert is sitting in the games main hub all night talking to himself without any feedback, because the world has grown stale to most people and nobody feels like talking.
As the Gartner graph posted by Keen shows, an MMO will go through these phases:
- Trigger: “Game of Thrones MMO announced”
- Inflated Expectations: “Play GW2, meet hot chicks and win the nobel price”
- Trough: “SWTOR has no endgame”
- Enlightenment: “Rift has cool features, is well implemented”
- Productivity: “WOW, 13 mio subscribers”
As time moves on, competing games will offer new features, like SWTOR’s voice overs, Rift’s and GW2’s dynamic content. If WOW can’t keep up with it, people will move. Should Blizzard come up with feature people don’t like, lets say pandas, people will turn away.
However, and now we are getting more into people issues and toward an answer to the third question, players tend to stick with the things they know. Like old shoes, unfit to walk in the rain with, or an old hoodie with a hole the size of a DVD in the sleeves, people will not leave their game because it is safe. They know it inside out and know how to get their kicks out of it, even if they have to get higher and higher doses of it to be happy. They fear the new game, don’t know how it will react to their whims. And that’s why Everquest is still around. The game has changed ever so slowly, just enough to not alienate the remaining base of players. And that’s why the frog stays in water that’s slowly heated, but jumps out when thrown into boiling hot water. (so they say, don’t do this at home)
Back to the pandas. I strongly believe that the pandas are scapegoats for the general dissatisfaction with WOW. People have become bored with the game and see the need to justify their decision to leave their partner (game) of seven years. And that’s why they bash pandas, because the real reasons are many fold and much harder to explain.
Attribution: Gartner hype cycle and the panda picture are copied from http://wikipedia.org
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