Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 19, 2009
Community Chest

In the open Sunday thread a reader posted a question about what I thought of the quality of the WoW community, compared to other games' communities. Not an easy question that, because there isn't just one WoW community, there are thousands. For example the community on the official WoW forums is fundamentally different from a server community, or the communities formed by a guild.

But in general we can observe two major trends weakening the WoW community, compared to other games: Size and soloability. There are so many WoW players, even on one server, that tracking them all becomes impossible, and people behaving badly can disappear into anonymity (not to mention the possibility of changing server, name, and look). At which point we are back to John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. And as you can do major parts of the game alone, and aren't forced to rely on other players, cooperation is basically limited to the endgame.

So if you compare the WoW community of 2009 with lets say the EQ community of 2001, there are huge differences. In EQ you couldn't even level without a group, and a wipe could cost you weeks of progress. Thus there were server forums with "black lists" of people behaving badly, and somebody who had already left 3 guilds just would never have gotten into a 4th one. Being forced to rely on other players has its drawbacks, but it sure improved loyalty and community spirit.

World of Warcraft is a much more selfish game. There are even lots of bloggers singing the praise of selfishness and everyone for themselves. Funnily it is then usually the same people who complain about players in their raid group being less skilled or not dealing enough damage. If you consider the system of WoW, of guilds, of loot, and social dynamics, it quickly becomes apparent that the optimum way to improve your gear in the fastest manner is being the *least* powerful player in your raid. If you are undergeared compared to the content you are beating, your chances of getting an upgrade are the highest. Both because other players might already have that gear and pass it to you, and because you can use every drop. So to maximize progress for yourself, you would need to leech of better equipped or skilled people.

Obviously that is a tragedy of the commons type of problem. If everyone maximizes his self-interest, it doesn't result in maximum overall good. Communities which involve some selflessness can fare better overall than those in which everyone just looks out for himself. And that is something that happens even in WoW, in sub-communities, for example some of the more friendly guilds (mine included). Completely selfish guilds not only suffer from a lot more strife and guild drama, but also experience frequent throwbacks in progress, when the most powerful members do the rational selfish thing and go leeching of a more advanced guild, instead of having others leech of them.

As soon as you accept other values than pure self-interest, values like loyalty and friendship, suddenly the weaknesses of WoW turn into strengths. Suddenly you aren't dealing with leeches any more, but with people voluntarily helping the less advanced guild members, giving them a leg up. Which in turn not only strengthens community values, but ultimately lets the whole guild progress at a faster pace. A selfish guild is constantly rejecting people coming from below who want to profit from the others in the guild, while losing people to guilds above, and that process costs the guild as a whole a lot of energy and is unpleasant. A more selfless guild accepts differences in time spent and skill, and by making the best of it loses less energy to guild drama, enabling them to concentrate on overall progress. And we shouldn't forget that World of Warcraft is a game, a form of entertainment, so the relative values of harmony and getting ahead aren't necessarily the same as lets say in a work environment. What good are those purple pixels to you if they came at the price of lots of shouting, backstabbing, and guild drama? Would you rather log off at night having had a lot of fun, or would you rather log off angry and stressed, but with another 1% gain to your stats?

So, community values in World of Warcraft are definitely under pressure, but the battle isn't totally lost yet. Everyone still has the option of avoiding the most ugly aspects of the community, for example by choosing another game forum than the official one, or by choosing a friendlier guild. But those who prefer a dog eats dog environment, can choose that one too. The problem becomes one of carefully choosing one's company, which is not necessarily a game design problem.
Actually it's not a tragedy of commons. In that case the other members (who suffer from one's selfishness) are powerless to stop him. In our case the other raiders have all power to stop the underperformer, either by kicking him from raid or deciding to not give loot to him. They choose not to exactly because of "being nice" (social values opposed merit values)

The "Suddenly you aren't dealing with leeches any more, but with people voluntarily helping the less advanced guild members, giving them a leg up." is completely wrong. Selflessness allows one to leech on the big scale. Imagine that I reach lvl 80, lazy to gear up on my own, selfless people gear me up, than I leave for a more advanced guild, or just parade with their new gear but don't raid or doesn't bother to learn the fights so still useless, despite their good gear.

The ONLY solution is selfishness: I refuse to boost anyone, raid with only equally skilled people, remorselessly kicking all underperformers.
One defining aspect of the WOW community is the sheer quantity of player provided information and other resources that are available to the WOW player. This is amplified by the openness of the WOW interface to user add ons. Any question you can think of about WOW is likely to be answered on one or more help sites and you can probably download an add-on or other tool which has that information built into it.

The community of Lotro is much smaller and the game interface is closed so getting information can be much harder. It can be frustrating when you can't get answers even to basic questions like "Will I do more damage with this Axe or this Sword". There are no dps meters and no heal meters for Lotro.

I think this disparity of information has profound impacts on the whole culture of the respective games. WOW is a min-maxer's dream. Lotro is a min-maxers nightmare and as a consequence it has a much less competitive culture than WoW.

Is it human nature that as soon as information is available we start to use it to compete with others? Personally I would love to have more access to information on game mechanics and meta-gaming in Lotro but if the price for that was to have DPS league tables I think I would rather live without.
'The problem becomes one of carefully choosing one's company, which is not necessarily a game design problem.'

Arguably one of the biggest issues in Wow as it stands today. Probably more accute in the past but that is another story.

I have acted as GM in a guild of friends. We had a tongue-in-cheek approach, often making more enemies than friends and we generally tried to maintain a casual approach. However, members that were not of an immediate cycle joined us for the chance to have some progress as we were a kinda mid-range guild in terms of exploring content. The two worlds often coldided and after quite some time it was too much work trying to consolidate those differences. A series of events lead to my second guild, on a different server. Having seen what you describe from an ugly point of view my search for that guild had a few important elements. I was looking for a guild with a convinent raiding schedule, of comparable progress level but with a clear mindset on progressing, even slower than other, `end-game' guilds. Which I did find.

At the end of the day what really made my game exciting and me getting my money'w worth was the fact that I was very carefull in choosing my company. Even since then I was willing to put up with things I used to do differently because I knew that I had successfuly found a medium for my in-game needs.

In my humble opoinion players need to define exactly what they want from the game. Then genuinly look for it and once they find it... be willing to accept a set of rules that will allow them to achieve what they want through that company.

Wow is and remains a social game. How we act, more often than not, will result in us end up with like minded people if we truly know what we want from the game (i.e. our spare time)
FFXI had similar "group enforced PVE." Largely I found the community much more helpful. Entire groups of 10-12 players would join up to help other players out, back in its prime of course.

WoW forums are so terrible because they don't link characters through Armory and continue to allow players to troll on alts. Now, with server transfers and name/appearance changes, there is even less incentive to behave. Also it seems that pretty much everyone is used to people acting poorly and thus it is no longer a big deal when something gets ninja looted or whatever.
The ONLY solution is selfishness: I refuse to boost anyone, raid with only equally skilled people, remorselessly kicking all underperformers.

From playing in other grouping games, this is not true by a long shot.

You will still will run into loot drama, raid organization problems (Who gets to go and who doesn't.), and will still not necessarily avoid the "lowest geared person leaches" issue (You are relying on there being enough people being the right "gear level" at a good time for you to raid, and relying on higher gear level groups accepting you when you outgear you lower gear lebvel teammates, which they may not necessarily do depending on who they have available.)

The issue is when to apply selfishness vs. unselfishness. If someone is being a jerk, obviously, that's not the time to be friendly to them and keep them in a group, but trying to reach for as much loot as possible is going to create drama.
In my humble opoinion players need to define exactly what they want from the game. Then genuinly look for it and once they find it... be willing to accept a set of rules that will allow them to achieve what they want through that company.

This does seem true for a lot of computer game issues, actually, it seems a lot of people get fixated on small details rather than looking to a larger picture to what those details mean.
I'm always surprised that in an online game, where it is so easy to be selfless and nice to people, there are others who choose a grim path that reminds me more of fighting against competitors for your career in a real life job.
"The ONLY solution is selfishness: I refuse to boost anyone, raid with only equally skilled people, remorselessly kicking all underperformers."

Thanks to Gevlon for describing what is wrong with people today. It's a game and they treat it like some Donald Trump version of the "me first" world.
Gevlon's comments remind me of the old "greed is good" mantra that is still prevelent today in the business world.

There is an opposite to the rose coloured glasses, and that is a way of viewing the world and always seeing the worst, always afraid someone is taking advantage of you. Personally, I believe it is better to be taken advantage of than to take advantage, but there is a more sensible and just road, where one can simply be helpful to those in need, and deny those who take advantage. It is really not all that hard to tell the "leechers" from the rest, and it certainly does not require some sort of bizzare and unnatural form of social darwinism in order to accmplish tasks and collect items in a computer game.

There is no love in total selfishness, and without love, life is a dark drab hopeless mess. That's neither fun inside a game nor outside of one.

Gevlon's recent comments just feel like he's trying too hard at this point.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Greedy Goblin. Yeah. We get it.

But your comment doesn't even apply to what you're talking about. In a tragedy of commons, the example of sheep grazing on a shared plot of land is used. The ability for an "elite grazer" to kick a "lamer grazer" from the common ground isn't even brought up, it doesn't even play into the mechanic at all. It's a simple analogy of a discussion where if everyone is out for #1 only, the community as a whole suffers.

At that point, guilds haven't entered into the equation. It's like saying humanity suffers, but you're like "WELL NOT MY FAMILY, WE KICK LAMERODS". But unless your family is not a part of humanity as a whole, then you just don't get it. In fact, in this point, you're actually proving the point.
One thing I think is missing from this discussion is the distinction between players who are simply poorly-geared (but make an effort to play well) and those who make no effort at all and expect to be carried.

My old guild had a number of people who just couldn't be bothered to craft gear, run heroics, or spend 5 minutes looking up a good rotation. And yet those same people DEMANDED that the players who DID put in all that effort carry them through every instance. "Hey, if we still kill the boss, who cares if I did 1200 dps and everyone else did 3000? Right? ...right? Hey, where did all the good players go?"

In the end, our entire progression raiding team left, and one of the reasons was that the faction that didn't want to put in effort tried to force the guild to adopt rules that forced the prog team to carry the people who weren't even trying.

In our new, smaller guild, we have a few players who perform poorly because they don't have good gear, but they are constantly trying to improve, they just had RL reasons that they only got to 80 a few weeks ago and have limited play time. They have a great attitude, and we run naxx 10 and heroics hoping every drop is for them so we can gear them up. This is WAY different than sitting around demanding to be carried when you can't be bothered to even craft a cape.

Tobold, you talk about the constant "bleed from the top", and in my experience that happens a lot less in guilds that acknowledge that everyone is selfish to some degree. Instead of demanding that the people who actually put in effort now put in MORE effort to help people who can't be bothered to help themselves, they keep giving the good or geared players a reason to stay.

I just don't see why "letting lazy/sucky people take advantage of you" is the right way to play if you put in the effort to get gear and learn to play your class.

Usually I agree with Ixo, but I think Gevlon has a point that the situation in wow is more complicated than a simple tragedy of the commons. Though that analogy can be useful to a point (and to make a point), it's a disservice to the discussion to ignore the other factors, such as a guild's ability to set rules and standards. Just like how one solution to the tragedy of the commons is to have everyone involved agree to rules that preserve the common resource in a fair way.
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