Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Building a Better Community, Part II

I forgot one other strategy for building a better community when I was writing the last post.

D. Reduce Anonymity

According to John Gabriel's Greater Internet F****** Theory, the combination of anonymity and an audience causes normal people to feel free to act badly. So maybe reducing anonymity is a valid strategy to build a better community.

6. Tie all characters to a single id

Remove the idea of anonymous alts. All alts can be identified as belonging to the same player/account.

7. Tie all accounts to real word name or identity

This takes the previous idea a step further. Your online identity is linked to your real name.

In addition to reducing the anonymity of the would-be bad actor, this also might have the additional effect of "humanizing" the other players. Sometimes when you're playing with a bunch of avatars, it's easy to dehumanize them and treat them as effective NPCs. Perhaps using real names will remind people that they are playing with real people.

I also want to respond to a couple of specific comments made.

Community Based Policing

SaiyanMan states:
Isn't the central problem: "The Internet is a horrible place to have a community"? The only working solution on a fairly large scale tends to be a strong, user community based policing.

I am not as sure of this as you are. Community based policing enforces the current norms of the community. So if the community is bad, the norms it enforces will be bad as well.

For example, if you picked 5 random WoW players and presented them with one player, Sue, who used the word "gay" as a pejorative, and other player, Jane, who does 2K dps in heroics, who do you think the community is more likely to censure?

(If you say Sue, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in.)

In my experience, community based policing only really works when the power is not given to the community at large, but to a subset of users who have a vision of what the community should be. Often older or original members of the community.

As well, community based policing is vulnerable to hijack by organized "mafias". A small group working together can often intentionally push the community moderation in an unintended direction. Just imagine if Goonswarm gets to be the police in your MMO community.

Moderated Servers and the Best Guilds

Winterpine suggests:
Create specific servers where there is little to no moderation or banning and see where people choose to roll their mains. Five bucks says that many who try out the "freedom of speech" servers will realize society without laws isn't as peachy as they thought, and that a little (self) moderation goes a long way in improving play experience. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the best guilds thrive on the moderated servers.

This might or might not be a good idea. But personally, I would be shocked if the best guilds were on moderated servers.

The best players tend to come from the young, male, hyper-competitive gaming culture.1 Killer-Achievers, basically. They are not particularly attracted to moderated servers. The culture is often crass, and contains a lot of bravado. They're not bad, per se. If the lines are laid down, they will stay more or less within them, pushing the edges where they can.

But that culture would see it as a point of pride to be top dogs on the non-moderated servers. A sort of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" attitude.

1. I'm not saying that they're all male, or all young, but the core of most high end guilds tend to be males in their 20s.


  1. While I applaud your desire to build a better community, I strongly disagree with the requirement to publically tie accounts to real names.

    In a game world, I will tolerate my real name being kept for billing and legal purposes. I am known as Foo. Most likely this is not my 'real name'. When Blizzard 'offered' to 'out' us on the forums, I cancelled my WoW membership, and only restarted after they reversed their decision. I may be ‘old school’, but will not start a facebook account.

    I am a privacy advocate. Pseudonymity satisfies my desire to remain ‘private’, while providing a level of accountability. I doubt that bloggers like Breevok or Gevlon would have blogs by their real life names. I certainly would not.

    For those that do not think that privacy is valuable, may I suggest you have a chat to Sony.

  2. You believe that you belong to the majority culture that is intruded by a handful of trolls. The truth is that you are a member of a 5-10% elite in the sea of racism, sexism, religious fanatism, nationalism, communism and whatever stupidism.

    See also: percentage of adults who (still) believe Obama is not a US citizen.

    The GIFT argument is easily repudiated by a casual stroll through the average Facebook user's Wall - even if you filter out the people with no personal info/fake data, the amount of shockingly asinine material that gets written is immense. And that is from people who know each other IRL.

    I keep seeing that comic brought up as though the bullies in grade school did not exist. Or the varsity football team. Or the mild-mannered kid that nevertheless grows tired of bottling all his negative emotions up inside. I could see the argument that anonymity might encourage the latter to let loose, but the formers? If they did not care to spew their filth in your face, why would the internet be any different?

    The theory is discredited.

  3. Setup your own "trade" channel, get a group of people to moderate out the idiots. Advertise the channel as an alternative to the public "trade." You've just started building a better community, and you don't need a single thing from Blizzard. You can setup whatever rules you think are "better."

  4. I really like the fact that you're coming up with ideas to build a better community and find that I agree with many of them. However, I have to say that I strongly disagree with your idea to tie online game personas to real IDs.

    Blizzard had this idea already. I, like many people, were planning on leaving the game if they didn't change their mind. My name is unique enough, that it would have been very easy to find me, if someone chose to.

    Not only that, but I work in a profession where gaming could have a negative impact on my chances for promotion and career. The consequences would not have been worth it.

    There is a relatively easy solution that still holds people accountable, however. They should implement the system that they have for Starcraft. Everybody is assigned a PLAYER NUMBER and no matter what toon they are posting on, their number is listed under the profile. That way, people can still see what main is associated with the alt.

    They could even make the player number standard across all their gaming platforms. So, for instance, the number I have for my Starcraft profile is the same one I have for my WoW account (or Diablo, when it comes out.)

    I think this would be relatively easy for them to integrate (since they already have the system in place) while still holding people accountable for their online actions.

  5. I agree with Azuriel's opinion on GIFT. I agree people who are anonymous, have an audience and know there will be no feedback on their behaviour behave worse on average than people who are not anonymous, do not have a large audience and will face feedback on their behaviour - however, GIFT is a fallacy (although it might be truth just by coincidence). I believe it's also wrong as people will behave the same way if only anonymity is taken from them. (After all, such behaviour is not rare IRL either.)

  6. 6 could work, but 7 is frankly dangerous. I think people can be help accountable using fake names, if they are consistent fake names.

  7. I think that if you were to completely remove the anonymity from the start, as opposed to how the Blizzard devs attempted so late in WoW's lifespan, it would have changed some numbers, sure, but overall, I don't see it would have changed that much.

  8. Yes, what you hit on with the "super users" was closer to what I intended than rule by the mob.

    It seems like the communities that really work (slashdot for example) tend to have a responsible userbase that takes ownership of the community. I wonder if the culture surrounding WoW (the demographic you cite) would make that impossible. As you point out, WoW is very much a "might [fill in progression, gear, DPS, etc] makes right" community.

  9. While we agree that anonymity is a 'plague' when it comes to internet and people behavior, I don't really believe that FEAR or finger-pointing is the answer.

    Instead of the 6 and 7, I would propose one more function: Ignore Account. When someone pisses me so much, I don't care what his name is, I don't want to know where he lives or how many alts he has, it is of no interest at all to me if his connection to the web ceases to exist just because he is a pest, all I really care is to have the OPTION to ignore him completely. And the option to ignore as many people I want. Those 2 points whould certainly make the 'community' I care about exactly as I want it to be...

    What is missing mostly from this 'community' is a reason to exist. If all that I want/care to do can bedone with minimal effort, then I don't need the collective to do it. If I absolutely HAVE to be networked with some people, I might as well just maintain a basic connection with the 9-10 people needed.

    It has to be a reason and something to gain from a community in order to build a healthy one and hope to maintain it...

    ...just my thoughts...

  10. I disagree with the tying accounts to real names in an MMO like WoW. The main problem has nothing to do with the game itself, but due to companies, banks, and what-have-you performing background checks. There is still a stigma attached to being a gamer, whether it a pencil-and-paper game like D&D or an MMO like WoW, and having your name traceable to a game like WoW is tantamount to putting WoW experience on a resume.

    We just aren't there yet, in terms of acceptance.

  11. I was one of the youngest players in Death and Taxes, during the peak of our raiding. I think only 2 other players out of the 60 or so core raiders during MC > BWL > AQ > Naxx were under 20.

    Most players were in their late 20s, and all but a few of the officers were over 30.

    I'd agree with you if you said the best pvp players were young males in their 20s. However, raiding is largely social, and requires different sets of skills. The "best" players aren't always the right choice for a world first raiding guild.

    The top pvp players were all young males in their 20s, but the majority of the raiding core were older, more mature players.

  12. It seems the comments were lost; I (and someone else) pointed out that GIFT is an example of "correlation implies causation" fallacy, i. e. while Internet is more anonymous than RL and people behave in rude ways, it does not mean they do so because they think they are anonymous. (After all, people behave in rude ways IRL too, most often when they think they will not be punished for their behaviour.)

    Reducing anonymity in order to "humanize" might help people to behave more politely to each other; on the other hand it might remind me that the person who snapped at me in a dungeon is a living and breathing human who probably honestly thinks it would be better for the world as whole if I was never born or something.

  13. Yeah, blogger ate all the good stuff :P

    I pointed out that instead of 6 & 7 all it takes to make WoW a better place is an 'Ignore Account' feature, because I don't care about who is bugging me and what his alt are, all I want is to be able to /ignore his account and be done hith him for good.

    Not gonna reright the whole post. Point made. That's that.

  14. I'm all for accountability, but that just requires moving from anonymity to pseudonymity.

    Forcing real names in gaming communities is a sure way to kill good community, because a fair number of the responsible adults, those of us who can't allow our real names associated with our hobby (sad but true for people in a lot of industries/jobs), will simply stop participating.

    Anonymity doesn't encourage people to behave badly, lack of accountability does. It often goes hand in hand with anonymity, but it's not synonymous.