Academia plays MMOs #1: WoW guild survival and churn

I should not be so surprised. Academics are also people and people play games. In fact academia has often been the first to embrace technological developments and often prefigure or even found the very concepts that later made a market. MUDs or other early online games often ran on university servers, and students and faculty threw their time into creating and running them. To study “games” was certainly frowned upon for long, and academic careers were not made by studying gaming. That’s for off hours mostly (and a lot of those).

This has changed though and the academic eye on gaming has become more acceptable and by gaming being a sizable and maturing industry and academia always having sought affinity with industry, the old taboos are falling.

But a lot of my negligibly small readership would never care about all of this so I’ll stop here and instead go on to the first in a series of posts in the spirit of “Academia plays MMOs #1” where I want to highlight some stuff academics look for in MMOs that may actually deserve being pulled out of heavy tables and statistical significance tests for more general consumption.

 Today: Nicolas Ducheneaut, Nicholas Yee, Eric Nickell, Robert J. Moore “The Life and Death of Online Gaming Communities: A Look at Guilds in World of Warcraft” in Proceedings of CHI, 2007.

For the uninitiated, CHI is the major conference on all things human computer interactions (CHI stands for computer human interactions, because people come first!).

These good folks looked at guild history over a year and some subaspects over shorter periods. Time is roughly June 2005-June 2006, so squarely during WoW Vanilla times. This was run across 5 different servers of all 3 main types (PVP, PVE, RP).

Here a few interesting highlights of what they found:

  • Dominant guild size is 35 (90%), average guild size is just over 16. Anybody surprised why Blizz downsized to 25 man raids and emphasizes 5 and 10 man content more?
  • Typical churn (i.e. people leaving and joining) for a guild, interestingly mostly independent of size is at an amazing 25% per month.  That is typical guilds are not all that stable! Not sure how my former guild managed to go with a much lower churn for so long.
  • However churn does drop as a server matures, which makes sense.

Also they report analysis of dimensions that contribute to stability (i.e. doesn’t implode), and advancement speed of a guild. They find that a guild is more stable if it (in order of significance):

  • Has a balanced in class population, is large, has a wide spread of levels, has small subcliques, spends a lot of time instancing, are well connected with each other.

 Most rapidly advancing guilds:

  • Are small, have large subcliques, have high schedule compatibility, has a large number of subcliques larger than 3 people, is class balanced, has a wide level spread.

Of course all of this is WoW 1.0. Interesting that WoW TBC seems to merge both profiles, i.e. the raid size got reduced to match the more typical group sizes. Yet WoW TBC raiding goes through varied group sizes (5, 10, 25) hence demands large yet stable subgroups to be able to split safely. By having highly paced attunements, also high schedule compatibility is encouraged, even though this is a characteristic of the most rapidly advancing groups not one of the most stable.

 In some sense it seems to me that WoW TBC chose accessibility by size, but chose achievement by raid content format. But of course that’s just me guessing. Maybe in a year or two we’ll see some academics writing a nifty paper showing the actual impact of the TBC changes in hard, statistically significant numbers. Whee.


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