Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Generation conflict theory applied to MMORPGs

Once you checked out the video I linked to in my previous post, it is an interesting excercise to apply Clint Hocking's generation conflict theory of video games to the narrower field of MMORPGs. The original Dungeons & Dragons pen and paper roleplaying game, published in 1974, is very much a product of the baby boomer generation, being all about free interaction between players.

The generation X version of roleplaying was Everquest: punishing, and abusive, and all about achievement, and beating the fixed challenges of the game. But EQ had inherited a social component from D&D, almost involuntarily: If you create the Matrix in the generation X style as objective reality against which players bang their head, the real-life fact that doing something together is usually easier than doing something alone invariably sneeks in. The more punishing and abusive you make the virtual world, the more players are forced to play together, to cooperate. But generation X is a generation of lone wolfs cherishing their independance, and so they called this feature "forced grouping" and hated it.

World of Warcraft started out with a generation X base, but with the knowledge that players hate forced grouping. So the generation X loner's dream of a massively single-player online RPG was created. But of course if you have a game in which grouping is possible at all, and in which you want to enable soloing, this turns out to be incompatible with the generation X idea of games having to be punishing and abusive. You need to lower the bar for single players to be able to overcome the challenge, because the minute they can't get over a hurdle alone, they'll group up. In the end the only way Blizzard found to make content that was hard, was to create instances with a limit on group size. Note that in vanilla WoW group limits weren't totally fixed yet, you could still do Stratholme and Scholomance with 10 people, or UBRS with 15.

I think it is best to see World of Warcraft as a game between generation X and generation Y. The lowering of the bar necessary for generation X to solo it, simultaneously fulfilled the generation Y condition of a game having to be more accessible and forgiving. If you compare other features from Everquest and WoW, you'll find more generation Y influences: The death penalty has been lowered significantly, and gameplay is guided by handing out a steady stream of rewards from quests. World of Warcraft being a game with both generation X and generation Y influences makes it both successful, because all generations want to play it, and a battlefield of the generation conflict. As Clint Hocking predicts with his demographics, generation Y appears to be winning that conflict, with WoW definitively moving towards ever more forgiving gameplay, and handing our rewards to everyone for participation, not just top performance. The increase in social features, like the patch 3.3 new group finding system and the Cataclysm guild cooperative features are pure generation Y.

Nevertheless, the generation X roots of World of Warcraft are too strong to ever turn it into a pure generation Y game. Which is where Blizzard's next generation MMORPG comes in. People often wonder how Blizzard is planning to make a next generation MMORPG without canibalizing the WoW user base. I think part of the answer is that the next generation MMORPG will be very much a generation Y game, with little generation X influence left over. I expect the next Blizzard MMORPG to be a lot more cooperative, with a lot more social networking than WoW has, and with a lot less of the generation X aspects of players trying to overcome static challenges. Of course generation X players will hate that game, and deride it, but by the time it comes out generation X will be past its prime anyway, especially in the teen to young adult age group most likely spending their time in virtual worlds. The next generation Blizzard MMORPG might resemble A Tale in the Desert and Facebook more than it resembles Everquest.
Question Tobold: Are you just talking about increasing social interactions within MMORPGs or removing the 'G' from MMORPG?

I was born in July of 81 so I stradle this so-called generation boundary; I enjoyed WoW very much for the social interaction, in fact, it's what kept me playing long after I lost interest in the game itself. On the other hand, I also relished overcoming the raid challenges the game presented as a group.

Can you really take the challenge out of a game and still call it a game? At what point does it devolve into a mass of people sitting around just socializing? The challenge in WoW is what gave the time I spent with my guildies meaning, but at the same time those challenges were meaningful because they were shared between my guildies.

I'm not sure you can totally "defang" an MMO just as sure as you can't remove the second 'M' from MMORPG without turning it into an ordinary single player game. Maybe you're right though and the new generation will make THE facebook MMO without any game behind it, and on that day I'm not sure I'll be joining in.
and much of generation X is PAYing generation Y's subscriptions. Conflict? Hrmmm....
So basically are you saying that a glorified farmville/mafia wars will be the future of gaming?


I can only hope you're wrong about this. Nintendo hard is gone but turning MMO's into some sort of youth church group on the beach singing kumbaya is scary. :)
Can you really take the challenge out of a game and still call it a game?

As Wyrm said: A Facebook "game" like FarmVille is the perfect example that you *can* take the challenge out of a game, and still call it a game.

But of course that is like having a race, and then giving everyone a medal for participation. The generation Y kids would say "I participated in a race and got a medal", the baby boomers and generation X adults will say that it wasn't really a race. I don't really feel comfortable calling FarmVille a "game", but that is how it is labeled.
The flaw I see in all this is that if you look beyond EQ/WoW, the theory does not apply. Games like EVE, DF, AC, UO (or games like CS outside the MMO space) are all about grouping and social aspects. And today, in those games, not many clans will tolerate gen-Y style gamers, looking for handouts and free rewards. That WoW continues to trend further and further towards farmville or mafia wars is an indicator to the type of player Blizzard is hoping to attract (low maintenance, low expectations), rather than a reflection on a generation.

Nintendo hard was not a generational thing, it was a solution to hardware limitations.
How do you know that it is not the other way around?

The game initially targeted the hardcore people from both generations, yet it was later observed that these are just a tiny percent of potential players from both generations.

Once they softened up the game they managed to pull a lot more people in from both generation.

This generation thing is nonsense. It is about individuals and how they react.
To be fair, those Facebook games have a meta-game in all of them: to see if you can beat your friends in the leveling game.

But to call that games must be something like calling someone who only plays little games on his cellphone a gamer. Might be technically accurate, but he/she is not really a gamer.

I used to fight this trend and get upset about it, not anymore. Mass market get what they ask for and they are asking for this. The same as everybody on CO at this moment is asking for more cash shops in a full box price and full sub games.

The only thing we can do is to wait for the niche gems that offer something outside the trend.
This is somewhat an extension of the casual vs hardcore debacle. Perhaps in this case gamers vs non-gamers (must work on the new definition).

But a question I've been asking that I think fits in this topic is: why is that that some commenters basically want socialism in gaming but social Darwinism in real life? How come they refuse to accept that they won't be able to see [insert uber raid name here] but they will gladly accept not being able to afford healthcare or their mortgage?

DO you think it would made a subject for a post?
I think it's a weak hypothesis that the baby boomers like challenge and generation X/Y want to be social.

What we're seeing is a range of new business models that have accompanied swift technological change.

It's no longer necessary/viable to get kids to spend all their pocket money in the arcade, paying for 'extra lives' because you have insufficient content to keep them playing otherwise.

That said, challenge will always have a place, because people want to compete against each other. As long as there's an ape subroutine that says "I > you", MMORPGs will find ways of packaging it.
But a question I've been asking that I think fits in this topic is: why is that that some commenters basically want socialism in gaming but social Darwinism in real life? How come they refuse to accept that they won't be able to see [insert uber raid name here] but they will gladly accept not being able to afford healthcare or their mortgage?

DO you think it would made a subject for a post?

Well, it would be a very short and not very interesting post. Because the answer to your question is simply that one is real life, and the other is just a game, a form of entertainment.

The fundamental difference between your point of view and the generation Y point of view is that you consider time spent in the game an INPUT from you to the game, for which you think you should be rewarded. Generation Y considers time spent in the game an OUTPUT from the game towards them, so spending more time in the game is a reward in itself, and shouldn't be further rewarded by access to more content.

Generation Y considers the INPUT to be the monthly fee, which is the same for all players, thus all players should get access to the same content. By extension, in a Free2Play *not* everybody pays the same, so they accept that content access varies in function of the money put into the game. Note that if you see it like that, a game works just like Real Life, where your health care and how nice your house is also is variable and depends on how much money you put in.
i think you might find the next blizz game being along the lines of Fallen Earth, or Call of Duty or Halo...but who knows. :)
I find that strange.
I will tolerate anti-social behaviour in a game where the consequences are mostly to ones ego than the kind of anti-social behaviour that says everyone who cannot afford healthcare must die or anyone that cannot afford a place to live should be in the street.
I don't honestly see any merit in grossly generalizing generations like this. I really doubt most of gen X prefer "abusive, punishing" games and most of gen Y are very forgiving and prefer hand-outs. I think that is an incredibly simplistic and inaccurate approach. People are people and usually tend to behave the same around the same age data points, regardless of generations. Not many people are incredibly different respective to their parents.

In my opinion, the fact that games have become more streamlined and casual-friendly is due to gaming not being a hardcore niche any longer. It's mainstream now, mainstream games with 11 million players cannot have the same design as hardcore only games with a couple hundred thousand players. WoW was very hardcore in it's endgame when it launched, if you want a reason why it keeps growing over the years look no further than its ability to change itself and adapt to a less "hardcore only plx" mentality.
I was born right toward the end of the cutoff for Gen X, so maybe I'm an X-er with a good bit of Y in me.

I came to WoW never having experienced EQ or any other MMO. I fell in love with the game, but really fell out of love with the end-game and the need to be in a group for instances. Of course, things are much better in Wrath than the were in lvl 60 WoW. But still not where I want it to be.

It's not that I'm anti-social, I just happen to have 1-2 really good friends I play WoW with and it would be nice to run the content with just 2 or 3 of us. We do this now by playing low level stuff, but of course, we're always a bit behind.

The perfect fix for me would be to make all instances do-able with any group size. And you don't have to give me and my 2 man group the same loot the 5 man group gets. I don't care about the loot, I just want to play the content with my friend. I think that's the biggest point where WoW falls down. The 'forced grouping' and focus on gear and OMG PURPLZ really ruins the game for me.

It will be very interesting to see what MMO Blizz does next. I suspect it will lean a lot toward my preferred gameplay and away from the 'hardcore' style of the past 5-10 years or so.
If you're right about the nature of the next game, and if WoW sticks around for any length of time (which it of course would), I wonder if future WoW patches would start to tend toward the hardcore.
humm, the two games I prefer the most are FFXI and EVE, and I was born in 64 (tail end babyboomer I guess).
A blog comment is really too short a space to completely state my position on this post and Clint Hocking's generation conflict theory. But basically my position is : bullshit.

Baby-boomers are no different from generation X who, in turn, are no different from generation Y.
I never played D&D, although I had friends who played...all of us Generation X. I watched them play, and was confused on what they were doing, what constraints they had, etc. I saw the book, and never got interested.

I played my Commodore 64-Atari-Nintendo-Sega-Sony consoles, and finally lept to PC. I still ignored RPG games that some of my friends who had played D&D played.

Eventually, after all the RTS/FPS games that I had played got old and nothing new came out, I picked up WoW. I found it to be just the right amount of solo/grouping. I enjoyed the battlegrounds of fighting other players, and also raiding with other people, fighting the computer.

I don't see WoW as a Gen X game that is slowly being turned Gen Y with welfare gear (throwback term) for everyone.

I agree with Ayr; you don't make your game more difficult if you want more people to play make it more user-friendly.

Ultimately, if you want to grow a business (which WoW is) you either expand your consumer-base, or charge more money. Blizzard made the smarter move (in a business sense) of retaining and expanding their user base while keeping the fees the same.

Hopefully Gen Y isn't as posited, as a generation of people who can't tolerate competition among people. I'm not saying that game death in an MMO should be permanent, and that if you can't raid 30 hours a week you don't deserve to play...because I feel the exact opposite.

But if "games" are going to lose all semblance of competition and become just instant messenger programs with some pseudo-3D graphics, I feel sorry for gamers. If I want to say hi to someone, I can already do that. Games, as a concept, are designed to challenge yourself and your opponent.
NOt to rehash my previous post on the other thread, I think the defiitions of the generation are just fatally flawed.

I'm BB by that definition, but although I played AD&D I thought even at the time that it was a "hippy" thing, created by a previous generation. I was far, far more emotionally at home in EQ than I was in AD&D.

The old rock cyclical theory worked on cycles of 7-10 years, which seems much more culturally supportable from evidence than trying to group almost 20 years together for the Boomers.

I would tend to agree with you on Blizz's new MMO than most people.

I would expect the new MMO to be more in tune to Halo than Farmville.

That being said I don't know if I buy this whole X likes it hard and solo and Y likes it easy and groupy.
I admire Clint Hocking, but I don't quite buy this generation theory. I think it's just a matter of MMOs having grown out of the core, early-adopter market into a more mainstream market. The early adopters are always willing to put up with more inconvenience.

You can see the same thing in other genres. Early adventure games were punitive. You could die without warning or put the game in an unwinnable state if you forgot to pick up an item at the right time. They gradually became more forgiving as the market expanded. And I believe that was all within a mostly Gen X player base.
In the end the only way Blizzard found to make content that was hard, was to create instances with a limit on group size. Note that in vanilla WoW group limits weren't totally fixed yet, you could still do Stratholme and Scholomance with 10 people, or UBRS with 15.

This fact you stated doesn't really fit your limits were set for the difficulty of the dungeons. At that time of WoW, Stratholme, Scholomance and UBRS were scaled for this many people, as weird as this may sound to a new WoW player today! :)

As to the debate, I can't believe Y-Gen games will resume to be an easier and more forgiving iteration of what we see today. Y-gen needs something new, drastic and innovative to set itself apart.

I'm still waiting for something big enough to see a difference.
Hey tobold,
Deep sociology is the direction you are going here, I am very interested in the comparison of MMO culture to meatspace society.
It has been proven that MMORPG's carry many of the same sociological and economic characteristics. Some groups actually are using MMO's as a backdrop of their study of human behavior. I feel we can learn a lot by the study of players interactions with others.
Unfortunately, I have an editorial due tmrw and can't get too deep.
I will say this: Conflict theory says, "Only the strong survive." And it's been that way it's healthy competition that drives some people to do better than others which lend truth to the saying, "The cream will rise to the top."
Great topic TB.
I will be back soon.
This argument has really made me start wondering where some of us fit in.

For example I like challenge. I can't stand the current WoW model and I can't stand having rewards thrown at me for 'participation'. I find it insulting.

On the other hand, I like social and team based play. I love facing a difficult challenge in a team and conquering it when everyone pulls together. That's my reward. Beating a difficult challenge as a team.

So which generation does that put me in? Oddly enough, I was born in 1978, which is pretty much smack in the middle of the grey area between generations.
Umm, generally WoW isn't roleplaying its jsut a massive multiple online game. Sure there are role play servers but they are a small part of the population base.

Interesting idea about the next game being aimed at Gen Y and it might work for Blizzard. In the short term i'd say Gen X were spending a lot more on gaming than Gen Y and this probably wont change for another 3-5 years or so.

Gobble gobble.
While D&D may have been a product created by the Baby Boomer generation, it was ultimately defined by Gen-X (those born in the 60s and 70s). (Gygax was born in '38, so arguably he even predates the Baby Boomer generation.)

But WoW was released in '04, so it was developed by folks from the late Gen-X era, or early Gen-Y era, so it makes sense for it to be so constrained by a small generational gap. As the more senior developers have moved on (Gen-X), the more junior folks (Gen-Y) are undoubtedly playing a larger role in the game's development.

I think syncaine is partially right, but that the generational gap is still prevalent. For example, I'd argue that more Gen-X gamers play EVE, whereas games like WoW are more clearly marketed towards Gen-Y folks. Perhaps that's purely a reflection of the age of the developers on the crowds they're building their games for.
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