Friday, September 04, 2009
The power of social structures
World of Warcraft is a great anthropological example of why people tend to organize themselves into social structures like families, tribes, or nations: The social structure is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Everybody in WoW knows that a guild group is more likely to succeed at any given dungeon or raid than a pickup group. Some people think that this is because in pickup groups there is a higher concentration of exceptionally bad players. But if you have a look, you'll find that almost always everybody in the pickup group has a guild tag, and they'd all succeed if they were in a group with their guild mates. If you take 10 successful 10-man Naxxramas guild raids groups, and reorganize them into 10 pickup raids with one guy from each of the 10 guilds in each raid, you'd get 10 far less successful groups. In spite of that being exactly the same pool of people.
The little bit of extra trust the common guild tag gives everyone, the knowledge that you'll probably play together with the same people again, makes everyone in a guild group perform better, and be a lot less likely to give up. Being in a guild group makes people succeed in dungeons and raids which they couldn't have done in a pickup group.
The only disadvantage is that the added power of a guild is usually quite focused on whatever step of the raid circuit the guild is at. There are theories that the number of stable social relationships an individual can have is limited by the size of the neocortex in that species, and that this Dunbar's number for humans is about 150, which has been linked to the maximum size of guilds in MMORPGs. Whether that is true, or whether guilds simply tend towards a size at which during prime time there are enough people online to form one raid, fact is that guilds rarely get to a size where they would be able to organize several raids to different locations in parallel. My guild is doing Ulduar raids, with 10 or 25 raiders depending on numbers present, but Naxxramas raids aren't on the official schedule any more. They sometimes form spontaneously on off-raid nights, but they don't benefit from the same degree of scheduling and organization than the Ulduar raids. Which is why my warrior is pretty much stuck where he is, at pre-raid gear level, with not much hope of getting into a good Naxxramas raid. I once tried to get into a pickup raid, but was asked to link the [Epic] achievement to get an invite. Listen, buddy, if I had the complete set of Naxxramas gear I'd need for the [Epic] achievement, I wouldn't be asking for a group to go there!
So I was wondering if MMORPGs will one day evolve to offer more than the simple social structure of the guild. Wouldn't it be great to have some social structures that would allow a similar degree of cooperation and success as a guild, but also for alts? Some people suggested allowing people to have multiple guild tags, which would be one step. Another idea would be to have one main guild, but an optional additional membership to some other social structure for alts, for example a club of alts who want to do Naxxramas or heroics. How can we harness the power of social structures for our alts, instead of exposing them to the horrors of the pickup raid?