Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
 
Can we make a collectivist MMORPG?

Stubborn has a brilliant post up on individualism vs. collectivism in WoW. While I wouldn't argue against the table he has in that post that explains the difference, there is a much simpler way to explain it: Collectivism is what in real world politics is called "left wing" or denounced as "socialist". Individualism is what in politics is "right wing".

Now historically the US is to the far right of Europe in politics. In Europe a right-wing politician called Bismarck introduced universal health care in 1883. In the US a left-wing politician is still struggling to get that implemented 130 years later. Thus with the US being very much individualist it isn't a big surprise that the big MMORPGs, which after all tend to be produced in America, are individualist. Even for group activities, like raiding, the importance is put on the individual performance and individual loot rewards. "Carrying the weak" is a collectivist idea which has lost track over the years in World of Warcraft. You don't form a guild with your friends, you make friends with your guild mates, which are selected on basis of their individual performance.

EVE Online, a European game, is far more collectivist, with the goals being conquest of a part of space by a corporation (=guild) or alliance of corporations. An extreme individualist (like Gevlon) can make a killing in the market, but won't be able to conquer the galaxy.

Even more collectivist games, like A Tale in the Desert, don't attract all that much attention, nor very many subscribers, but then it is very low budget. The sense of belonging to a group is something that a collectivist game does much better than an individualist game. The often bemoaned trend of us "playing alone together", of the "massively singleplayer online RPG", is the result of individualism. A well-made collectivist game thus could potentially gain a lot of customers that feel left out of the current crop of individualist games.

Comments:
The conclusion is in contradiction with the examples above. You called EVE is more collectivist and it has 20x smaller subscriber base than the individualist WoW.
 
No, that is not a contradiction.
"A well-made collectivist game thus could potentially gain a lot of customers that feel left out of the current crop of individualist games."

Thus, there are customers that feel left out of the current crop of individualist games. These customers can potentially be won over by a well-made collectivist game. What I read from Tobold's conclusion is that a company could win over this "left out" group by getting them a collective game and not by putting an individualist game in the market as most companies do.

This matches up with the current hype surrounding GW2. One of the bigger draws of that game is that there is so much emphasis on cooperation in those dynamic events. Especially when the tasks become bigger you see that players dedicate themselves to healing and resurrecting fallen strangers because they are needed to help the event succeed.
From the beta weekends, my experience is that a bunch of players stick together to go to the next event without having grouped up into a party or a raid. The game itself is the incentive to stick with the group, noone is forced to do so.

 
I would explain the lower subscription numbers of EVE by the inherent discord between being collectivist and at the same time being about doing your utmost to hurt other people.

While the war between "us" and "them" has in history been a strong collectivist force, it isn't a natural fit. Somebody who is collectivist and thinks more in terms of "everybody is equal" would probably more attracted by a PvE game than by a PvP game.
 
re "A well-made collectivist game thus could ": I have my "could" versus "would" argument.

There are systems that could be better than capitalism or democracy or individualism. However, in the real world with real people, it can't work out that way for an extended time.

I don't see EVE as that collectivist. I don't see many people go to 0.0 to be part of X as much as "X will benefit me the most and if I don't like it I can try another." And I see a large focus on "what's in it for me" TBH, in most discussions, EVE is an outlier.

Re "often bemoaned trend" - is it really? A few forum posters and bloggers periodically bemoan. Tens of millions of customers are voting with their wallets every month. Blizzard reduced group quests in WoW not as part of a Fox News plot but because their customers were avoiding them.

Perhaps the reason that EQ 2006 with its "better community" is not viable now is that collective institutions do much poorer after more efficient competitors evolve?

The meta question is: is this point just about MMOs or is it societal? I would offer trends of small towns where you knew everyone and fiends and family tend to grow up and stay nearby has become a more mobile and urban and less connected society. The days when a near majority of the people watched the same new show at the same time to now when there is narrowcasting so you can watch what interests you when you want it and it plays to your bias and perhaps is even in your language. Perhaps if society is becoming less interdependent (with considerable costs), then it is so surprising that virtual worlds are evolving in a similar manner?
 
Blizzard reduced group quests in WoW not as part of a Fox News plot but because their customers were avoiding them.

Yes, but the reason for that avoidance is not what you think. People happily played in groups in EQ where progress was faster in a group than alone. WoW's problem is that playing alone offers the fastest progression, and doing a quest in a group is effectively penalized, gaining you less xp per hour. I think the history of grouping in WoW would have been a very different one if group rewards had been tuned differently.
 
I'd bet that for every customer a collectivist game gains from people who want to feel like they're a small part of something bigger than them, they'd lose many times more people who would be horrified at the idea that their ability to have fun in a game they play for entertainment can be completely interrupted or at all reduced by other players.

I feel this is the wrong direction to move in. I'm still waiting for a game where an individual or a few good friends can simply live in and have fun, engaging with other players only on the terms they choose.

Games have moved from forced grouping to do anything to forced grouping only to participate in endgame. The next step is to make a long term, enjoyable, soloable endgame.
 
I'd bet that for every customer a collectivist game gains from people who want to feel like they're a small part of something bigger than them, they'd lose many times more people who would be horrified at the idea that their ability to have fun in a game they play for entertainment can be completely interrupted or at all reduced by other players.

You got that one backward: It is the individualist games in which other players interrupt or reduce your fun. If the game demands a minimum performance level of every participant, any non-performer kills the fun and wastes the time of the group he is in.

A collectivist game design makes the contribution of every player valuable to all the others. Imagine building a pyramid together, brick by brick: As long as there is no limit to the number of people who can contribute, it doesn't matter whether some people carry bricks slower than others, they still contribute. Game goals can be designed in a similar way, so that there would be no stigma attached to "playing with your wife and kids", because bringing your wife and kids would always be better than playing solo, even if your wife and kids aren't hardcore gamers.
 
In a well made individualist game, as long as each person has something that is fun, and each level of skill is naturally self-segregating, the lower skill players don't have to ruin the fun of the better skilled players.

MoP seems to going in this direction. With each level of end-game activity granting VP points, people won't feel forced into dungeons they suck too badly to pug effectively.

They can spend most of their time doing dailies, doing some scenarios with their friends when they get bored. Or do a few VP free activities like Archaeology or Pet battles.

For more skilled players they can do dungeons, challenge modes, and raiding to fit their schedule.
 
I'd suggesting you're looking at it differently from how I do. I'd say that current endgame group activities are very collectivist. A single player cannot complete a raid or dungeon. To have an epic experience, you're forced to become part of a collective.

It's not about performer vs non-performer. In minecraft I can build a pyramid by myself. If a game is made such that it requires a lot of people to come together to build a pyramid, then my fun is dependent on their performance. Their failures are my setbacks.

In an individualist game, your friends' performance doesn't matter, because it cannot limit your own game.

Shrug, I wouldn't want to be part of a collectivist-focused game, because saying it's a game where it doesn't matter if you can pull your own weight will only encourage it to become full of people who cannot pull their own weight. And I'd rather not deal with those people.
 
People happily played in groups in EQ where progress was faster in a group than alone.

No, people unhappily played in groups because it was the only way to progress.

That really sums up the problem with collectivism overall. Eventually, the carrot is gone and all that is left is the stick. Crack the whip on the proles.

Collectivism will always fail, collapsing on itself in a heap of poverty and misery. Because online worlds proceed down their natural paths faster, and because people are free to leave, the more collectivism a game has, the faster it will collapse.
 
Collectivism will always fail, collapsing on itself in a heap of poverty and misery.

Hmmm, I must have missed the collapse of the nation state, democracy, the armies, social security, and all those other real world collectivist institutions. Ayn Rand turned out to be as lousy a prophet as Karl Marx.
 
How many potential gamers really have a longing to "belong to a group" in an online game? Is that really a motivating factor in playing a game long term?

Even the people who think they would like playing a game like that would probably get bored of it fairly quickly.

Think of it this way. If you were a child and every week there was a track and field day event where there were no 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medals, just a trophy for everyone who participated, how long would it take before you stopped going? It may be fun the first few times just to go and hang out with friends and run like a spaz every now and then but eventually, what's the point?
 
If you were a child and every week there was a track and field day event where there were no 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medals, just a trophy for everyone who participated, how long would it take before you stopped going?

Didn't you just describe what a MMORPG is?
 
Evony is a very collectivist game. You cannot survive on your own. You must be a part of a large 100 member guild that will defend your cities when you are offline. Evony does a very good business selling perks to those that wish to speed up the game process or add resources.
 
Michael
You are wrong in assuming that an individual in WOW cannot solo raid/group content. There is a lot of activity in wow involving toons soloing lower tier dungeon and raid content. It was amazing for me to watch a hunter kill the Lich King on what was his 400th or so attempt. I know people who solo raids every day for mounts.

Overall, WOW guilds provide an opportunity for a brick by brick emphasis. Everyone's activities can contribute to guild rep or achievements. I know people that enjoy fishing just to get the achievements and compete in the monthly tournaments.
 
EVE, the cutthroat game of hardcore PVP, backstabbing, and scams, is collectivist?

Hmmm.

The problem with a collectivist game, as I see it, is that there's very little incentive to join the collective. Of necessity, the vast majority of the players will be taking orders and see little reward compared to those at the top of the pyramid. My experience as a guild leader in WoW was that it was like herding cats. Why should people do something they don't want to do? Why should people PAY for the opportunity to be told what to do?

It's not a terribly attractive proposition. I have a hard time believing it would be a mass-market option. But then I'm having a hard time viewing any MMO as a mass market product at this point. WoW is an aberration that apparently can't be repeated.
 
"People happily played in groups in EQ where progress was faster in a group than alone."

The only happy people in that scenario are the 5 close friends at the top of the social ladder. And they are only happy as long as they have a willing and available crew of 20 other players from which they can cherry pick to fill the 5 other spots.

Organic collectivism in MMOs is dependent on having access to a large pool of players to form a group. The majority of those players, however, will not actually get to play.

Well, why not form your own group? Take control!

The more players trying to form groups, the less likely any of them will fill their groups. To say nothing of navigating the complex and poorly designed social tools games provide.

For me, it becomes a choice between playing a game in which someone else has the power to allow me to play, or one where I have autonomy (Dungeon/Raidf Finder).

There is a reason that adults form "leagues" for recreation. They are essentially automated Team Finders.
 
EVE, the cutthroat game of hardcore PVP, backstabbing, and scams, is collectivist?

Hmmm.

The problem with a collectivist game, as I see it, is that there's very little incentive to join the collective. Of necessity, the vast majority of the players will be taking orders and see little reward compared to those at the top of the pyramid. My experience as a guild leader in WoW was that it was like herding cats. Why should people do something they don't want to do? Why should people PAY for the opportunity to be told what to do?

It's not a terribly attractive proposition. I have a hard time believing it would be a mass-market option. But then I'm having a hard time viewing any MMO as a mass market product at this point. WoW is an aberration that apparently can't be repeated.
 
Collectivism requires labor specialization which strangely enough, values individual contributions to the collective. Class differentiation and interdependence are needed to ensure the community has cohesion. Unfortunately, most players want to be leet in combat and developers cater to this by desiging narrow vertical progression in the game. So, with a narrow game focus, all collectivist possibilities are lost.
 
I think people also spend too much time analyzing current trends without factoring in that spending habits are dramatically (if not completely) shaped by what's available.

It's like the old sandbox MMO argument. People say, "No-one really wants a sandbox MMO, because no-one plays all the ones that are out there." Not factoring in the fact that the ones which are out there feature shithouse production values, are riddled with bugs, and more often than not filled with anti-social assholes whose biggest draw is open/free PVP, with corpse-looting.

Collectivism PVE? I see a market for that. I know my friends and family only prefer to play games that we can play co-op. Orcs Must Die, any RTS which lets you skirmish co-op against bots, Left4Dead, Counter-Strike's zombies mode, CoD zombies... And now TF2! Why can't this be expanded upon? Or is it, already, in development? It seems like trends take 4-5 years to be responded to in the MMO space.

I'm amazed there aren't more co-op MMOs with an intelligent antagonist. Imagine if you had a single (or handful of) employees dedicated to simulating the antagonist that players need? Gave them the tools to actively, and intelligently adapt to player activities, to reward certain efforts or use the DM-wand to utterly reject others. Instead it's all 2-faction or 3-faction warfare, usually with lacklustre world-PVP and e-sports-focussed balanced arenas/battlegrounds matches.

I know MxO tried that, but it mostly became about a handful of super-active players and guilds, rather than the entire collective player-base. The closest thing I could think of is the Ahn'Quiraj (sp?) event in WoW, where all levels could contribute to 'the war effort', even with their crappy low-level bandages and meats.
 
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