Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
 
The Dunbar number

I wanted to write something intelligent about the Dunbar number, which often turns up in discussion of guild size, but then found that the Life with Alacrity blog had covered the subject already pretty well.

Basically the Dunbar number is the number of people your brain can keep tab of as belonging to "us", your maximum social network. The number of 150 for humans is an extrapolation of the observation that the group size in primates depends on the size of the neocortex region of the brain. While not being a hard fact, it has been observed that for example guilds in MMORPG often are limited to less than 150 members, and break up when growing beyond that number. Your brain is simply unable to trust more than 150 individuals, especially when these individuals are not instantly recognizable as belonging to your "tribe". Which explains (but not excuses) a lot about xenophobia and racism.

It also explains why you are not likely to see any MMORPG having raids of much more than 40 people. It is unlikely that all the people in your social network are online at the same time, so getting 40 trusted people together is already hard enough. Enough raids already break up in bickering after things go wrong as it is, and if you increased the maximum number of people in a raid, it would only make matters worse.
Comments:
One of the important points in my series of articles on Dunbar Number is that for non-survival groups, the number is signficantly less then 150, probably somewhere around 50. This is due to the amount of communication "grooming" required to maintain the group. In my most recent posts, this has been substantiated by study of online games.
 
Yea, there's a distinction between what we accept and what is facilitated well by the limitations in communication.

I've attended 60-person PvE raids, and 75-per-side pitched PvP battles in both Planetside and Shadowbane (different mechanics and motivations).

The best ones work when there's a rigid hierarchy, and a clear breakdown of roles and responsibilities. The "group" is more of a metagroup, with sub-groups and chains of command.

Basically, how militaries have done it forever :)

What people PREFER is a different matter. But what people can actually be called upon to do has been defined and proven at a time before most of the countries where MMORPGs are played even existed as countries :)
 
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