Archive for the 'Lord of the Rings online' Category

Academia plays MMOs #2: How social is WoW?

Second installment on highlighting academic MMO research. This time an article that came out last year and focused on social dynamics of MMOs on the example of World of Warcraft. The article is Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., Moore, R. J., ‘Alone together?’ exploring the social dynamics of massively multiplayer online games. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2006) April 22-27; Montreal, Canada, 2006, 407-416.

They looked at a number of factors and the main theme was overall time spend either grouped or together. For example they look at amount of time spend in groups split up per class. The result is possibly surprising for one fact: While warlocks and hunters are in groups the least, warriors are the third least grouped class. Of course they indicate that warriors, hunters and rogues are the most popular classes. Unfortunately the numbers are missing, so it’s not clear if warriors group less simply because classes are unevenly distributed and there is more “supply” than “demand”?

Grouping increases with level. As early as lvl 4, already 16% of time is spent in groups, which I thought was surprisingly high, given that there was no explicit group content. That rises to 20% before level 10 and to 30% around level 20 (when the first instanced content becomes available). Above level 55 the curve increases drastically and folks close to 60 spend close to 60% in groups. The authors make the claim that WoW becomes more social during end-game.

Of course at the same time, with level the involvment in guilds rises as well. 90% are guilded above level 43, compared to an overall average of 66%.

On guild play together they find that average guildies spend under 23 minutes playing together, while member of a tight core of a guild come in at 154 minutes per month.

The paper is really about the leveling game and about this the authors make the point that at least from the data it appears that WoW isn’t mainly successful because of its social aspects. The argument goes, that WoW is an addictive game that can and supports Solo play in its own right and social is possible but not the main determinant of the success.

Unfortunately the core arguments here are hypothetical. They argue that social factors do make a difference but truly social play isn’t one of those main factors, but mostly playing along among others, having factors like achievement (being uber or leet or both, showing off gear), hanging in chat channels while playing, or having shared comedic value of the game. Unfortunately these aren’t really supported by a systematic study.

It’s true though. WoW as a game is mostly a solo game while leveling. This is much stronger now simply because when leveling your alt, you may not have enough people in your level range to sensibly organize instance runs. That the solo-ability is an important factor also showed in Lord of the Rings Online, where people complained about solo content having dried up in the 35+ range before the first content patch that came out size, in fact some still complain.

But play style and sociability aside, are there maybe other factors that contribute to folks not playing together until level cap? One thing that always struck me was the difficulty of game support to form groups. In WoW we are talking about the evolution of meeting stones, LFG channels, LFG interfaces, the reappropriation of the meeting stone for something completely different, then back to some form of channel. An important point about instances is that not only do they take a committed block of time, they also require planning and organising ahead. In the WoW leveling days iching towards level cap, it wasn’t unusual to spam for an hour to form a group for certain destinations. Is the difficulty to organise groups part of the issue here?

Warhammer online has advertised (see WAR Production Video Podcast #7) public quests, which are quests that you can join at any time and do together. How that will work out precisely. If it is safe againstexploiting behavior and above all if it’s a truly “playing together” experience remains to be seen. But it’s an idea that cuts out the searching for a group aspects, because one can join when ready.

But for social there is a lot more to be said then during leveling. At another time, I want to write some about the social and raiding (some more). But not now.

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Mmogdata gone online

Mmogdata has live data now. Here is the chart for subscriptions by game. Unfortunately the granularity is still coarse, about 6 months per data point. The last three entries for WoW are locked in on 8.5 million, wonder if that just means that there has been no actually released afterwards.

As for newer MMOs, like LOTRo, they are as yet missing. So I guess half a year to a year patience might be in order. 

Anyways, an awesome resource is back! Check it out.

What’s the next MMO?

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m actually waiting for the next thing after WoW. Maybe it’s because WoW TBC turned out to go more constraint and not really find the longevity solution for end-game (for me personally at least, where rep grinds are an admission that the holy grail hasn’t been found).

Hellgate London pushes towards MMO somewhat. How that’ll turn out might be interesting to see. I know a lot of folks who silently hoped that Blizzard had announced World of Starcraft, but they are hiring to design a “next generation MMO”. Red 5 Studios has been announcing an MMO (now based on the gorgeous Offset engine). But except for the first, things seem far away.

I’m not sure what it is, but too much splatter doesn’t interest me (Age of Conan), and I like collaborative PVE not PVP (Warhammer Online). Lord of the Rings online is fun now, but it is by no means clear that once the leveling subsides there is anything left there to do.

But as with anything, there is always surprise, and preconceptions about this and that I may well turn out to be wrong. Who knows? Maybe WoW 3.0 is the next big thing?

 P.S. June 1: WowVault’s Sprawl  has a lot more on this point.