Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Battling the Hive Mind

Come to think of it, the command and control structure of computer strategy games is often not very realistic: You usually play an all-seeing, all-powerful general commanding troops which have no free will of their own. At best your troops have some sort of morale system which makes them run away at some point, but that is about it. And I've only ever played one strategy game which had the possibility that your orders to your troops didn't arrive, or were misunderstood. It is safe to say that real warfare is a lot less organized. Which is one reason why I consider World of Tanks as interesting as a strategy game, and don't consider it just a shooter.

A typical game of World of Tanks either has no general at all, or has one or more people trying to suggest strategies, with only a part of the "troops" listening to them. That applies even more so on the European servers, where often the players in the game speak different languages, and not everybody necessarily even understands orders shouted in English. The battle plans you can communicate by pinging the map are limited.

But even if nobody even tries to play the "general", that doesn't mean that there is no strategy. Players of one side see all the tanks of their side within radio range, which at least at the start is everybody, and via the same radio-to-radio network they usually have the same limited information about the position of the enemy. They also often have the same experience from previous battles, knowing what strategies are suicidal, and which approaches are more likely to work. As a consequence something like a collective intelligence, a hive mind so to say, develops. Some players don't look much at what others do, some players tend to follow others, and a third group tends to see where everybody is going and deliberately goes in the other direction.

That hive mind isn't always very clever. For example a lot of players dislike the Malinovka map, so there is a chance that somebody decides to get out quickly by a suicide rush over the open field, and some other players seeing that follow him. That usually doesn't end well (although a planned rush 2 or 3 minutes into the game and with everybody participating is actually a winning strategy). But surprisingly often the hive mind intelligence results in players forming squadrons and distributing themselves over the various lanes the map offers in a way that a general couldn't have planned better.

Being aware of this hive mind can help you predict the movements of the enemy, and make the strategically optimal counter move. Of course then you run into the problem that you are only 1/15th of your team, and you need to learn how to influence your own team's hive mind. But while certainly not perfect, this is not as impossible as it looks. Your own actions influence the actions of your team, whether that is by advancing, or by scouting the enemy position. Pinging the map is the least effective way to influence your team, but even that works sometimes. You might not be the all-powerful general in World of Tanks, but by being aware what the other players see and how they are likely to react to what they see, you still have an influence on the strategy. And in the end this is probably closer to how it works in real warfare.
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