Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 03, 2009
 
The Illusion of Impact

World of Warcraft is a highly strategic game, in which players have to figure out what the best strategy is to beat a raid boss. Guilds in World of Warcraft become so famous that they get sponsoring contracts from international companies, and appear on TV. World of Warcraft is also a highly creative game, in which players make videos about how they and their friends play WoW, get millions of hits on YouTube, and end up making music videos starring themselves.

Does this sound like a representative description of World of Warcraft to you? Obviously it is not. While everything I listed there is documented and true, this is not how World of Warcraft plays for the average player. Only a handful of players figure out raid boss strategies, everybody else just follows them. Guilds with sponsoring contracts like Ensidia are few and far between. And, thank God, there aren't all that many Felicia Days making Do You Want to Date my Avatar music videos.

EVE Online is a game of high intrigue, politics, and treachery. Guilds get toppled by assassins setting up a clever trap. The universe's most powerful alliances break up when a highly placed member turns traitor. Players pull of clever scams and bank heists, and get away with stealing virtual currency they can legally sell for thousands of dollars.

Does this sound like a representative description of EVE Online to you? Obviously it is not. While everything I listed there is documented and true, this is not how EVE Online plays for the average player. Only a handful of players is engaged in high politics or intergalactic bank scams. The average EVE player logs on, does a couple of missions, gets into a couple of space fights, mines a little, transports some goods, and logs off again.

Why, oh why, are we letting the fans and makers of EVE Online get away with presenting their game as something which it isn't for the huge majority of players, and do not apply the same logic to other games, be it World of Warcraft or anything else? Every game has a few outstanding players that have a huge impact on how the rest of the players play the game. If you happen to be the first to kill a boss in World of Warcraft, and post the strategy on YouTube and elsewhere, *millions* of players will follow your instructions to the letter, or die trying. If you subvert a powerful alliance in EVE, you'll make headlines on various gaming sites. But that is not what these games are about for the regular player. Whether you could become the next Felicia Day or the next Haargoth Agamar is about as relevant for your daily life as whether you could become the next president of the United States. That isn't to say it is impossible, it just is so extremely unlikely that it doesn't really matter.

It is certainly true that World of Warcraft raid gameplay is more scripted than gameplay in more sandboxy virtual worlds. Two different raid groups killing Onyxia back in vanilla WoW did so in very, very similar ways, because the scripted behavior of the raid boss determines the players strategy. But then, if you play for example Warhammer Online and participate in several keep raids in different locations, you'll notice that there will also be huge similarities between the different events. There is nothing scripted, but the layout of the keep, plus the way the game works, ends up determining player strategy just the same way.

The whole idea that the behavior of a single player will impact the whole virtual world is a carefully crafted and marketed illusion. Just like the illusion that *you* could become president, or win the lottery. It isn't strictly false, and as there are obviously presidents and lottery winners and players influencing virtual worlds, it is easy to keep up the illusion. But you can do statistics, and see that out of 300 million Americans only 1 is president, that the chance to win the lottery is 1 in X million, and that out of 300,000 EVE players only a handful ever had a major impact on the world. To know what a game is really about, you have to look at what the average player is doing in it, not what a few exceptional personalities do.

P.S. As I had to moderate one comment on this subject in yesterday's thread, I'd like to remind you that you do have the right to strongly disagree with what I say here, but only as long as you manage to do that without name calling. Insulting me or your fellow commenters is not only not helping your argument, it will also result in your argument not getting posted in the first place.
Comments:
It's about opportunity. Here in the UK, the lottery used the run the slogan "It Could Be You". Unlikely it would be you but yes, it could be :) Very appealing.

That's the big difference between EVE and WoW. No matter how much you try in WoW, you will never change the landscape of the game for every player. However in EVE, regardless of how slim the chances are, you *could* conquer the entire galaxy and effect every player in the game.
 
Seems to me that this is kicking in open doors to be frank. Only a very select number of people will rise to the highest level of excellence in their profession (or hobby or eccentricity..), so much so that they can influence the field, be an example for others, make excessive amounts of money etc. This is common knowledge i'd suppose...The rest of us can really only strive to get the maximum out of our potential. The "impact" as you call it, can be achieved though (which is good, since it motivates), and as such it isnt an illusion. What would be an illusion is the claim that this ultimate goal is easy, or for everyone.
 
But....but....but....I quite like Felicia Day.

On a more topic related note I don't think you should dismiss the importance of in game celebrities. Every kid who plays football on a street corner dreams of playing for Manchester United or Real Madrid. Most of them will never even come close but the dream still enhances their enjoyment of the game. Without the celebrities the sport would be far less popular than it is.

I personally have never had much time for World of Warcraft's elitist pee in a bucket brigade (personal prejudice admitted) but tales of monumental conflict and high level intrigue in Eve certainly stir my blood.
 
No matter how much you try in WoW, you will never change the landscape of the game for every player.

I would argue that the guy who first kills some new boss and posts the strategy will change the landscape of the game for every player in WoW. Probably we're all following some sub-optimal strategy on some boss just because that is what the first guy came up with, and nobody ever bothered to find something better. Ensidiq qnd Felicia Day influence the cultural landscape for all players as well. You can ignore them, but you can also ignore BoB getting blown up.

On a smaller scale, guild leaders have a huge influence over the daily lives of raiders, deciding who can go raiding, or who gets what loot. The only difference is that WoW is separated into hundreds of servers, while EVE has only one. That gap is shrinking with cross-server functionalities rising in WoW.
 
7/10, entertaining for at least a few hours. Kneejerk response, stating disputed issues as fact, meta, us vs them, lack of shades of gray. Could benefit from some crossposting.
 
7/10

My server logs clearly demonstrate that you read my post for less than 10 hours, and are thus not qualified to review it! I knew I recognized your writing style, Hirvox, now it turns out that you are Ed Zitron. ;)
 
"No matter how much they try in bloging, they will never change the landscape of the blogsphere for every reader."

But some may :)
 
Hirvox, now it turns out that you are Ed Zitron. ;)
I am also Syncaine, so I have all bases covered. But for this discussion, I think I'll have to be Captain Obvious.

If you gank someone in World PvP, he'll be back in a few minutes, wearing the same items and as deadly as before. If you ambush a battleship, that's 200 million down the drain, and you'll send the guy packing until he has the money and time to buy and fit a new one. The fact that the impact of a single player is relatively small doesn't mean that it isn't there.
 
But for this discussion, I think I'll have to be Captain Obvious.

I learned years ago that nothing on the internet is obvious. Your point that the degree of death penalty makes a difference on the impact is not only completely valid, but also not all that obvious. (e.g. what about insurance). Thus that point is something which advances the discussion. "7/10" doesn't.
 
I learned years ago that nothing on the internet is obvious.
Indeed, like assuming that people remember arguments that they have made themselves. Like me forgetting that one should never attribute something to malice when incompetence will suffice. I think I'll have to get my troll-o-meter checked.

Thus that point is something which advances the discussion. "7/10" doesn't.
Nor does a post that can be disputed by googling your old writings. Nice to meet you, mr. Kettle. :-)

So.. Do you think that you were incorrect earlier and/or has Eve changed in some way that has dissipated the impact? For example, how do you think that the aforementioned insurance and clone contract systems change the impact?
 
Well, when I complained previously that I don't like losing an expensive ship to being ganked, lots of people told me that if you do it right, you lose nothing, due to insurance. Thus if you now say that PvP in EVE has a larger impact due to people losing expensive ships, that contradicts the information I was given earlier. Which version is true? I can't say, at the time I was shot down, insurance didn't exist yet, and I haven't played since. If insurance meant getting shot down is now much less painful, that diminishes my argument that I'm not playing because I hate being ganked, but it strengthens my argument that PvP doesn't have all that much impact.

What you appear to have a problem with is understanding that this is just an open discussion. Theory of game design, chapter 27: Impact of player actions on virtual worlds. Is there any? It isn't even about whether EVE is a good game or not, or whether I personally like EVE or not. I'm simply advancing an argument that player impact on virtual worlds is something that happens rarely, in any game.

Instead you're engaging in that boring old game of who can hurt the others the most with clever put-downs without actually contributing anything to the discussion. I know that this is a rather usual style of "discussion" on the internet, but I'd prefer if you'd play that on the official WoW forums or somewhere similar. Snarky one-liners which don't express a single argument on the subject matter aren't really fitting in here. You are certainly intelligent enough to make good arguments when you want to, like the one of the impact of death penalty. So why do you think you have to be so aggressive? There isn't actually anything you can win here, except the pleasure of an intelligent discussion.

Anyway, on insurance and clones, I do think that the harsher a death penalty in a PvP game is, the more there is a direct impact of one player on another. As you said, the practically non-existing death penalty in WoW PvP makes that getting killed 20 times on a battleground leaves no mark. Except for resilience, people prefer to maximize dps to play PvP, not surviveability. But the impact is very localized, and more comparable to lets say the impact another player has on you in PvE when he ninja-loots an item you thought you should have, or your raid-leader kicks you out of the raid for being the wrong class. That isn't the kind of world-changing impact EVE recently advertised in their butterfly effect chaos theory video.
 
Tobold... long time reader, first time poster. I think I need to point you at the infamous EVE Goonswarm ad/propaganda piece:

http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c156/PinkFlagg/Eve/everyshipcounts.jpg

*That* is the difference between Eve and WoW. Yes, you tackling that Covert Ops won't make the gaming sites, but it can have an impact. Just like smacktalking in the wrong system...
 
Well, when I complained previously that I don't like losing an expensive ship to being ganked, lots of people told me that if you do it right, you lose nothing, due to insurance.

T1 ships, you are right if you don't pimp your ship with a lot of expensive Mods.

T2 ship insurance is a hideous joke, it barely covers 20% of the ship cost.
 
"But the impact is very localized, [...] That isn't the kind of world-changing impact EVE recently advertised in their butterfly effect chaos theory video."

I think your impression of the contents of the trailer is inaccurate.

The events in the Butterfly Effect take a solo pilots relatively minor decision - "Should I gank the miner or spank the pirates?" - and demonstrate a hypothetical result of providing aid - meeting some of their corpmates, in the process of moving to engage in a major Alliance fleet operation.

The video as a whole illustrates that a) EVE's a big place with big things happening, and that b) being in the right place at the right time can involve a player in those events. It doesn't make any claim at a player's every footfall will shake the world...
 
Well, when I complained previously that I don't like losing an expensive ship to being ganked, lots of people told me that if you do it right, you lose nothing, due to insurance. Thus if you now say that PvP in EVE has a larger impact due to people losing expensive ships, that contradicts the information I was given earlier. Which version is true?
Both, actually. Insurance covers the mineral value of the ship and costs a fraction of the ship's price. However, it does not cover modules nor the components that are necessary for building T2 and T3 ships. Thus, players can choose between reduced effectiveness and low impact and high effectiveness and high impact according to their financial status, and each has a proper time and place. One does not wear their sunday finest for an oil change, nor does one wear overalls when showing up in court. Me^H^HSyncaine has spoken about the same phenomenon in The Game That Must Not Be Named.

That isn't the kind of world-changing impact EVE recently advertised in their butterfly effect chaos theory video.
The name of the video aside, CCP didn't claim that the single Wolf pilot flapped his wings and caused a tornado, just that he created a ripple. But if you factor in hundreds of thousands of of ripples at once, I think it's safe to say that he result is not a clear, still lake.
 
It's amazing how fast someone can go from hater to fanboy.
 
Selling currency for real life cash in any game isn't "illegal" but is usually against the TOS. EVE is no different. You can convert cash into Isk within the ruiles, but you cannot do the opposite within the rules.

Insurance payouts on cheeply fitted tech I ships can be very nice. Sometimes the payout will exceed the cost of the ship and the fitted modules. You can make money getting blown up.
 
A nitpick:

EVE has 300,00 subscriptions, not players. Given that to make an effective alt in EVE you need to pay for a second subscription, most/many players have AT LEAST two accounts. A buddy of mine has 3. He knows someone with 5. It's insane.

So EVE probably has 150k PLAYERS within that 300k SUBSCRIPTIONS.
 
Like everything the insurance argument ignores some of the subtleties. For example did you know that the because the high sec market is hyper efficient there is pretty massive downward pressure on the mineral basket price (supply outstrips demand)? But insurance acts as a floor to mineral prices since whenever the basket gets too low people build ships to insure and suicide them (increasing demand and stabilizing the prices). The only reason insurance becomes a valid argument is because the industrial complex in EVE is fairly efficient (it could be argued that this is due to it's single server architecture - but I digress). Even banning 6k RMT accounts had no effect on the floor effect. So even the act of a newbie going out and mining is contributing to keeping the ships cheap.

Also in the OP the comment about legally converting the in game currency to real world currency is true on the real world sense (i.e. except in China there are no laws restricting the conversion of game currencies to real world currencies). The player that did it got all his characters banned since doing so is against the ULA.
 
These players are the rockstars of MMOs. And just like real rockstars, the average musician will never make it.

But that doesn't stop young musicians from aspiring to become a rockstar. Nor should it.

Should we keep kids from trying to be star athletes just because they'll never be a Michael Jordan?

Who exactly are you trying to protect, Tobold?

The average MMO player KNOWS they'll never be a rockstar. That doesn't really take the joy out of them TRYING to become a rockstar.

Players aren't stupid, so it's a pretty condescending to assume we somehow need to warn them. They already KNOW and the joy is in the journey. Actually becoming the rockstar is just the supreme triumph. It shows what is POSSIBLE, not what anyone actually EXPECTS.

Even MMO players need their heroes.
 
It's a matter of potential. The fact that you have to bring out of game stuff in, like people blogging about the game, or sponsorships of top guilds, while all the EVE stuff is all IN GAME stuff, tells the tale.

It's not that the average player is a mere drone whose activity is lost in the noise--- sure, that's true of every game. Kinda HAS to be, really.

It's the potential for change that makes the games different. Makes them play differently, and feel differently.
 
The whole idea that the behavior of a single player will impact the whole virtual world is a carefully crafted and marketed illusion.

Not an illusion--It's an unlikelihood. Touting outcomes that are within the realm of possibility though not certain is a common tactic that we see every single day many times in advertisements. It's also a ploy we use in conversation to try to persuade people to do what we want them to do. I don't understand your issue with it.

There is no illusion; there is impact. It's just a matter of how much an impact the game allows and how much of an impact you're satisfied with. You happen to be satisfied with little-to-no impact. It's not fraud that other games claim a higher potential for impact.
 
It's pretty much like this... just because you don't do it on a regular basis does not mean that you wouldn't like the option to do so.

A good number of my friends (and myself) typically go to work, go home, eat, watch some television, play some games, and go to sleep. That's our normal day-to-day life. Occasionally, we will go see a show, go bowling, go out to the beach, go out to eat at a restaurant, see a movie, or any one of a variety of activities. Not always, but occasionally. However, if you start taking away the 'occasional' options, you'll see a lot more stress in us, because our world has become smaller.

I moved to a much smaller town on the other side of the US, and I was totally shocked at how different it felt. I no longer have the options I used to have. My normal day-to-day hasn't changed, but my world feels a lot smaller and less comfortable because of it.

The advertisements from EVE and WoW and the like capitalize on this, because even if 99.9% of the time you *don't* do any of this, there's still that option to do so. You could join an uberguild, or you could focus your time on the arena and push for being the top of the top, or you could do something no one has done before. You probably won't, but even having that option appeals to people.

--Rawr
 
You're missing one key aspect of this. While Ensidia can post a youtube video of a boss, if they don't the next guild will, and guess what? It's going to be the exact same "Simon Says" steps. The only impact they have is they post it first and forum trolls fall all over themselves to ballwash, big deal.

You CAN'T ignore BoB being destroyed. It has a huge impact on the economy of the game (which effects EVERYONE), it starts/stops wars among players not in or even around BoB, and it turns a very powerful force loose to attack any region they want (having lost their home). Sorry, that impact goes a bit deeper than "first" on youtube.
 
Try reading what Tobold is actually saying, rather than coming to the aid of EvE or WoW.

Individual players can have an impact on their game world, Tobold isn't saying the opposite.

What he is saying is that most players don't, and that the possibility that they might someday is just a marketing ploy to get people to feel as if they matter in a video game.

The EvE and WoW fanboys need to take a breath and relax. Your game of choice isn't be attacked. Your way of life isn't being denigrated.

Yes, it's possible that you can have a real impact on your video game world...just not very likely.
 
the possibility that they might someday is just a marketing ploy to get people to feel as if they matter in a video game.

And that's where I take issue with the original post. People aren't morons and no one is falling for some "marketing ploy" that's tricking them into playing WoW or EVE.

Not everyone can or will be great. That's what gives "greatness" it's distinction. But what everyone can do is aspire to be great.

For better or worse, these MMO rockstars act as a role model of sorts to enlighten players about what is possible.

It's really no different than admiring a great athlete for his ability throw a baseball.

A better discussion is whether or not we SHOULD be looking at them as role models.
 
I don't WANT to have an impact.

I have no ambitions and have, all my life, considered ambition to be a vice, not a virtue.

What matters is whether I am amused and content. If that's in place, the world is wonderful. And MMOs are a very easy environment to find amusement and contenetment. Just a bit of gathering or wandering around looking at the view usually does it for me.
 
I was just about to point out the Every Ship Counts image from Goonfleet, but it looks like I was beaten to it. :)

http://img89.imageshack.us/img89/6397/everyshipcountstr8.jpg

Yes, that is a perfect example of how a seemingly insignificant player can have a very large impact in the game of EVE. It's far more common than Tobold seems willing to admit, maybe because he just hasn't been exposed to the game as much. Honestly, after 4 years of WoW and 2 years of EVE (currently playing neither), I'm very confident saying the average player can have a large impact in EVE if it's something they are trying to do. (And not everyone wants to do this.) Conversely, trying to have an impact on the world in a game like WoW is next to impossible. A static environment combined with a never-ended revolving door of player name changes, server transfers, etc. makes it an exercise in futility.
 
It sounds like you've just defined the whole point of a free market economy, Tobold. The point isn't that everyone gets to be president, or a millionaire, or a member of Ensidia. The point is that everyone (or at least a majority) has the potential to be one of those. If you sink enough hours into the game (or life), make the right decisions, and take the right risks, you can concievably make it up there. Maybe not to the top, but somewhere higher than where you started.

In the economy (in theory), people are motivated to get ahead, so they work hard to try to do so. Some get the opportunity to get very far ahead, but many don't get that opportunity. However, almost everyone has the opportunity to get a little ahead.

This is the case in WoW (I don't know about Eve). Sure, few people will get to be part of Ensidia, or be a Felicia Day. However, just about everyone has the ability to start a guild. And if they work hard and make the right decisions, they can grow said guild into something notable - not in the world, but perhaps on a smaller stage.

Myself, I started out playing like anyone else. Then after get to max level (60 at the time), I participated in a small amount of raiding and pvp, and developed a small reputation among other pvpers on my server as someone to play with. Then in the expansions, I moved to twinking, and established myself as one of the most well known twinks in the game, before realizing that I spent too much time playing the game and quitting. >.>

Sure, I wasn't known worldwide or anything silly like that. But I was pretty well known within one small subcommunity of the game. And that was pretty cool and fun. In Real Life, I may not become president, but I hope to have a strong influence around the immediate people around me, and that's good enough for me.

Perhaps this all boils down to a question of what to expect. MMOs seem to be the most similar games to Real Life because of the human interactions and the similarity in how much of an impact an individual is likely to have in the world. In Eve, the game world is more reflective of all those social interactions. In WoW, the game world is not very reflective of them. Instead it is there to provide a diversion to try to satisfy the human need to be the center of the universe.

You'll never have a multiplayer game where everyone is the center of the universe, and not have that be dependant on some sort of illusion. It's a bit like a comment I remember you making once; to paraphrase: "your freedom ends where the other's freedom begins."
 
You've touched on something that is a strength of sandbox games.

You aren't automatically "epic". You are how hard you work, how competent you are and how social you are.

Theme Park games give a horrible illusion of your own epicness that is laughable. They give a shallow lie about how you are a special snowflake with your epic loot and killing of the epic boss.

Everything you ever do in a themepark mmo is completely ephemeral. You kill bosses that are being killed by thousands of other snowflakes at the same moment in time. In the next moment in time another thousand snowflakes will kill the same boss again getting the same "epic" loot. You will come back and kill the same boss many times again.

The marketing illusion of WoW is such a massive lie its ludicrous to put it in the same room with an actual living world created by Eve Online players (I'm not one of them) where you can actually be "epic" given will, skill and luck.

As you state in a later post -
"I'm simply advancing an argument that player impact on virtual worlds is something that happens rarely, in any game."

Your post is failing to do that in my estimation. Most boring days in Eve actually do have more game impact on the most "epic" day in WoW (I'll follow up to your discussion of PVP to elaborate).

Btw- Consciously or unconsciously your original post is based around a logical fallacy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_fallacy

You are kind of saying "eve players dont have the impact that the marketing video said, therefore wow players have just as much impact on their world".

It's telling that you place a comparison to Warhammer which is themepark with some extremely short term sandbox elements to muddy the waters...
 
Good post, Tobold.

It is true, most of us really don't have any impact on the game itself. It's virtually impossible to. The best guilds play more and longer, sometimes from beta, and tackle new content as soon as it comes out, because they have beaten the previous ones. They are the ones that discover everything.

That has been bugging me lately as people keep bringing up the sandbox style-game in discussion. Most of us would be small-time gang members and our stories we create would be less expansive than a PvE one because of that. If we have small impact in the game, it's hard to make stories around it. All the good ones are done by the people you mention.
 
I think the barrier to participation in the 'big events' is much lower in Eve than WoW.

It's like ... the odds of anything happening in WoW that you took part in are vanishingly small. Videos are a dime a dozen (in Eve too), and there's no way I could get into a top raiding guild without putting in waaaay more time than I am willing to.

But as a semi-casual player in Eve I've taken place in famous wars and events that a majority of the other players know about. I've participated in (admittedly short-lived, but still viable) the creation of pirate free stations. I've faced people everyone knows, and flown with other famous persons. There's a kind of shared experience anyone who gets involved in Eve has, that's lacking from WoW.
 
'I would argue that the guy who first kills some new boss and posts the strategy will change the landscape of the game for every player in WoW. '

While that is theoretically possible within WoW's gameplay mechanism, when was the last time it happened?

What was the last time there was a mob in-game and people were trying to kill it and failing for two weeks or more, until someone came up with a strategy and changed that?
 
Yogg-Saron+0, for example. Some people claimed that it was impossible until Stars proved otherwise.
 
I understand the argument that time spent playing EVE, WoW or freecell is wasted. The existential/nihilist argument that nothing we do matters resonates with me all too well. And I understand that people are different and like different things. And there are certainly things in EVE not to like.

Ignoring the above, and assuming the game matters, I don't understand the argument that your impact on the game is comparable in EVE or WoW.

The impact of the all the players combined is obviously much greater in EVE than WoW. Ensidia downing a boss to weeks earlier or later has zero impact on the boss I face, even if I were to face the same one. It might change their fame but won't directly change my game. ( Actually things like tanking OS3d with a voidwalker will get the game changed but those are approaching exploits. ) The combined players impact on their environment is dramatically greater in EVE primarily because it is a sandbox, not theme park game. But there are additional factors in EVE: richness and numbers. Because there are no classes/restrictions, and far more skills than 6 attributes (and Cataclysm is siplifiing even that) and diminishing returns on skill learning, and changing ship types is much more significant than swapping a sword for polearm - means that the encounters will tend to be less cookie-cutter in EVE. And numbers matter. If you are a persuasive leader and get 45 people to show up for your raid, you get a slight benefit of a stronger bench. But there are no arbitrary limits in EVE. (In fact, if I recall Newman's World of Mathmatics correctly, power goes up quadratically so doubling the fleet size quadruples its effectiveness.) While the top-25 players on a realm can accomplish things that the remaining 10,000 can not, in EVE, since numbers matter, organizational and motivational skills matter.

TL;DR: My opinion is that economics - Adam Smith and the Cold War - show that the difference between "unlikely to be rich/president" and "impossible" is vast and has a huge impact on people's behavior. Does the fact that it is extremely unlikely I will be president mean I would be equally well off in a democracy or a totalitarian regime?

I'm not saying EVE is a perfect game and some people like both EVE and WoW and some neither and one's preference is personal.

However, I find your repeated argument against this specific aspect of EVE to be, uncharacteristically, inaccurate and illogical and thus it seems to me to be wrong.
 
Does the fact that it is extremely unlikely I will be president mean I would be equally well off in a democracy or a totalitarian regime?

If you think that the only advantage of a democracy over a totalitarian regime is that you can become president, then I'd say it's you who is inaccurate, illogical, and wrong.
 
I never attacked you personally, but offered my opinion critical of your analysis. I.e. I never called you illogical.

Let me clarify my point - that the likelihood does not overly diminish the importance.

I have never even heard about an election where one vote would change the outcome. Statistically, I am much more likely to topple an alliance in EVE than I am to affect a political election with my single vote. Yet it is a dark and cynical argument to say that voting doesn't matter. I think an extremely tiny percentage of the tens of millions of people who do vote think there is a realistic chance that their one vote will have *any* impact. I.e., while my few hours in EVE or WoW may have miniscule impact on those virtual worlds, my voting has had not miniscule but absolutely, mathematically zero impact on every election outcome; nor do I anticipate that changing. Yet I and everyone I know still votes.

Similarly, there are about a million millionaires in the USA, so the odds are not great that you will end up there. The fact that with luck, skill and work you might get there might not be the main reason people work, but it is not an unwelcome thing to think about occasionally.
 
The nitpick post:

@seriouslycasual - yes people do misuse illegal and violates TOS, but it depends on where you are. E.g. if you are one of the millions of Chinese MMO players, then it is now illegal.

@ Andrew - I agree more EVE players have multiple accounts, but two nitpicks: RAF & MB. Blizzard introduced Recruit-a-Friend where adding/linking a second account allows you to level at triple the speed of regular players, plus a special RAF-only mount, the ability to summon each other once an hour ( a real help for going back and cleaning out bags), and for every two levels you can instantly boost a lesser toon a level. One of the podcasts even has a running joke: "remember if you are leveling without RAF you are leveling at one-third speed."

Plus, there is a small minority of WoW multiboxers. Some indivduals even play a five toon Arena team. I saw a group of 5 shamans in a EOS BG once - ride in single file, dismount, and boom there were 20 totems. pretty neat, in an OMG over-the-top excessive sort of way. They tend to name all 5 toons with similar names with lots of is and ls and accents so the opponents will have a hard time saying over vent who to attack. I read someone's blog and he was defensive and said he might have 5000 in extra computer equipment and that was a lot but people spend a lot more on hobbies than that. But yes, my guess is that even with the RAF, the accounts/person is higher on EVE.
 
I have never even heard about an election where one vote would change the outcome.

That is a complete fallacy, that only the one vote which tips the scales is the one that counts. And it is easy to disprove. If one side wins with 1 million and 1 vote against the other side's 1 million votes, how do you determine which was the one vote which changed the outcome? Obviously all the 1 million and 1 votes are equal, and they ALL changed the outcome. And that doesn't change if the difference gets bigger, and one side wins 60:40.

I totally agree that a single player in EVE has some impact with everything he does. What I don't agree upon is the idea that a player in WoW does not have a similar impact. An EVE player changing the prices of goods on the EVE AH has exactly the same impact as a WoW player changing the prices of goods on the WoW AH, for example. An EVE player who ganks another player and frustrates him enough that he logs off and unsubscribes has exactly the same impact as the WoW player who ganks another player. And so on.
 
An EVE player changing the prices of goods on the EVE AH has exactly the same impact as a WoW player changing the prices of goods on the WoW AH, for example.
..except that in WoW, that effect is mostly localized within a single server and faction. In Eve, it's trivial to fly from one region to another to take advantage of price differences.

An EVE player who ganks another player and frustrates him enough that he logs off and unsubscribes has exactly the same impact as the WoW player who ganks another player.
If we're still talking about the average impact of an average player, then the differences in the impact of a ragequit are usually small enough to be trivial. However, WoW has many layers of defense to ensure this. A disgruntled player can at most wipe his current instance group. Or steal the guild bank. Or make an inflammatory forum post in the realm forum. Or cause the resulting drama be noticed by Guild Watch and the bloggers and thus players on other realms. All of those levees stop the ripples, and crossing each requires much more effort, usually by an order of magnitude. And even the worst storm in a teacup can't cause ripples in all ponds. The next instance group will see no signs of the carnage the disgruntled player caused. The other guild's still going to have their own guild bank. People on other realms will not read that forum post. And some random player who never reads blogs is never going to know that there even was any drama.

All in all, I think that this whole discussion/argument stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the butterfly effect. The common misconception that you initially railed against is that the butterfly causes the tornado. It doesn't, at least not on it's own. All it does is to have an imperceptibly small but nevertheless crucial contribution to the overall conditions that allow the tornado to form. Just like the individual voter in your example.
 
One individual voter does not matter. The chance of one single vote swaing the election is dependent on how many votes are cast. So if there are 2 million votes cast, the odds of your single INDIVIDUAL vote affecting the election is 1 in 2 million.

I do not think Tobold is right though, I think Eve players can have real effects on the game world, and hence the marketing hype is justified. Do I think they have a large impact? Hah. Do I even think they have an impact that most other Eve players would actually care about? Hah! If you think most people will NOT care abot your impact...then I agree with you, that is merely an illusion. But the impact is still there.

What is more interesting however is getting people to actually care about Ones and Zeroes on the computer. Is it the idea/illusion of ownership? Does it matter that it is an illusion?
 
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