Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Building a Better Community

Tongue firmly in cheek, Tobold asks what game companies could do to build a better community.

I'll take the question seriously and give several possibilities. But I'd also like to take a step back, and consider the greater strategy behind each idea. As well, remember that all things have a price, but some prices are worth paying.

A. Improve the environment

The idea behind the Broken Windows Theory is that "humans constantly monitor other people and their environment in order to determine what the correct norms for the given situation are." An environment in disrepair encourages people to be more anti-social, while a maintained environment prevents further vandalism.

Basically, the theory states that paying attention to small violations of social norms helps prevent larger violations. Accordingly, here are a couple of suggestions following this theory:

1. Have a strict naming policy

Normally, naming rules are very relaxed, save on Role-Playing servers. Enforcing stricter naming rules for characters, guilds, and PvP names would send a signal about what is acceptable and not acceptable. We've all seen the terrible, scatological, rude, and quite frankly stupid names that abound in WoW.

They're kind of like graffiti and petty vandalism. Making sure that names are decent (and also don't use special characters) might improve the general environment.

2. Stricter forum moderation

Hyper-aggressive forum moderation would set a the standard for what is acceptable behavior. Forum bans should also result in in-game bans, further linking the idea that how one behaves on a forum should match how you behave in-game.

B. Filter your audience

There's an old saying that "one rotten apple spoils the bunch." Here, the idea is that a single malicious player can destroy the community for numerous other players. That player might also influence other players to behave badly as well. Identifying and getting rid of that player might have the greatest impact on the quality of your community.

3. Be more willing to ban players

If it looks like a player is a bad influence, ban them. Even if it is debatable, maybe it is better to lose a good player than keep a bad player.

4. No PvP

If you follow the Bartle archetypes of Killer, Achiever, Socializer, and Explorer, Killers are the ones who enjoy harming the game experience of others. Killers are also greatly attracted to PvP. Getting rid of PvP gets rid of a major attraction for those players and makes it less likely that they will join your game.

There's some circumstantial evidence for this. First, battlegrounds have always been much worse than dungeons. Heck, I've been in BGs that featured vicious insults and trash talk when we were winning!

Second, of the MMOs I've played, the Lord of the Rings Online community (at least prior to going F2P) always had a very good community. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the one game that featured the least PvP.

C. Remove sources of conflict

Maybe to improve the community, the best thing to do would be to remove the things players fight over.

5. Make the game easy.

In my experience, players are pretty easy-going as long as they are successful. It's really only when failure happens that the knives come out. If the game was much easier than it is, maybe players would have less to fight about.

Anyways, those are some ideas to improve the community of an MMO. Remember that they all have drawbacks, which I really haven't discussed at all.


  1. I would LOVE more filtering on the names aspect, especially on non-RP servers, but I never really found RP servers much better in the naming department, you still get the rogues named stabuguud and mages called freezdu etc.

    Point number 2 is something I've wanted for a while, but I would like to expand it to in-game moderation. Very few people use the forums compared to the sheer number of players in-game, but everyone has to put up with trade chat, aka chuck norris/murloc-movie/thunderfury link-chat. In-game moderators to hand out temporary bans or at least mute players for a short while are quite common in other MMOs.

    They wouldn't even necessarily need to be full blizzard employees, or have actual ban powers beyond a temporary mute and a quicker way to report to GMs, just players that earn extra privelages (some free game-time or somesuch), and perhaps a faster median players can report to that can filter out real problem players and pass that information to actual GMs faster. Of course they would need to be held accountable if they got out of line, but most message boards are moderated by frequent posters who are elvated to mod status.

    Hopefully it would get trade back to what it's meant for, LFG a viable channel, and put all the garbage in /general where it belongs.

  2. Congratulations! You've just designed massively multiplayer Minesweeper!

    Seriously though, have you designed a game that's actually fun?

  3. As an achiever I wouldn't even go near a game with no PVP, but since the topic is about a NICE community I guess I can understand your point of view. PVPers don't give cookies.

    I do have a question however, Would you even play a game that satisfy your point 5.

    Of course I understand you haven't talked about drawbacks yet but I hardly think it's even going to lead to a nice community at all.

    In my opinion making a game easy removes the need of creating a community. If I oversimplify, communities are born from the need to interact (in a broad sense, searching advices, looking for help, collaborating). If it's easy you don't have to interact, so no community.

  4. Celimos: The trick is to allow players to make the game easier by involving more of the community. Frex at the moment, you make the endgame easier in raids by gearing up and learning fights. But imagine a game where you also had the choice of inviting more people to your raid group.

    ie. progression via socialising

  5. In the few months that I've played around with LOTRO, one of the constant themes in the chat channels is how the community has gone to hell since the game went F2P. Sure, it's not even close to WoW in terms of obnoxiousness, but I think the bar is different there.

    Also, the nature of the LOTRO universe implies that you'd expect less PvP. The monsters are the discernible bad dudes, not just another faction, so unless you like playing evil characters, there's not much reason to take up the other side.

  6. spinksville: think more meta, your suggestion is to make the game hard enough but with mechanics that will make it easier if you collaborate.

    I'd like to point out that this is NOT "make the game easy", it's "make it hard, but..."

    This system (forced collaboration) although it create the ground for a community, typically does not promote a "nice" community but more of an elitist one, favoring those who perform their job better than others, unless the mere presence of the other party is enough, in which case you still don't really have to interact a lot.

    If i take your example, I've played several games (EQ, DAoC, EvE) where the raid size isn't limited (so here is the "bringing more people"), they all evolved in a category of players bringing along another category of players just as cannon fodder, and treating them as such.

    Now I agree it's always in the details, or the tricks as you call them. But I still think if you try to promote an environment for a "nice community" you'll end up with no community at all.

  7. I think I said something to this effect in a comment on another blog. The single major problem with all these kinds of suggestions has nothing to do with whether they would be effective or not. The problem is that they would result in a game with fewer subscribers than you would have if you didn't do any of these things. Fewer subs means fewer profits. Fewer profits means upset investors and unemployed developers. Gaming companies are not charities. They are not going to do things that would deliberately reduce their number of potential customers, which is exactly what these suggestions would do. THAT is why MMO communities cannot be "fixed."

  8. The only thing that bothers me more than rude, obnoxious, repugnant behavior and attitudes...

    ...is a company who presumes to know "what is best for me", then forces ITS values on me through so-called "moderation" (which is completely subjective).

    Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not a sheep in need of a shepherd.

  9. @Stabs, maybe I didn't make myself clear. This is just brainstorming ideas. I wouldn't expect a game company to implement all of them. Some of them, such as no PvP, have severe drawbacks.

  10. @Dancingblade

    I also don't like rude, obnoxious, repugnant behavior and attitudes...

    but disagree that moderation is inevitably subjective. Also, can values be "forced upon" consumers of entertainment?

  11. @Aracos, the situation is more complicated than that. A bad community might cause people to stop playing.

    In that case, losing the one bad apple is more profitable than losing several good players.

    But maybe the opposite is true. However, that begs the question, if the negative community is not enough of a reason for people to stop playing the game, is it really a problem?

  12. Celimos: I think of it more as making it appealing for the playerbase to mix and to play together. It won't matter if a small proportion of the players despise the rest, that's inevitable, and they'll still mix.

  13. 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.

  14. I love the application of the Broken Windows theory here; I'm kicking the absolute crap out of myself for not thinking of it first.

    I like what you've come up with here a lot, even if I think some of the points you've made are quite subtle. If the game is going to be "fun," there probably needs to be some challenge, which is in direct opposition to making the game, "easy."

    So I think what you're doing here (I assume intentionally) is making a point that there's going to be some decisiveness in the community if it's a community based around a game instead of, say, a quilting, which is simply an activity people do together rather than a "game."

    I also totally agree with the idea of removing (or at least reducing, but really removing) PvP. I liked LotRO's approach to PvP in that you could, if you wanted to, get out there as as your toon or as a monster and just go to town, but other than that, everyone was on the same side. I've said before I find it ridiculous that there's such factionalization during a time of crisis (as it is over and over in WoW), and LotRO took care of that.

    Excellent post.

  15. @Rohan,

    You are correct. Perhaps I should not have spoken in such absolutes. Changes such as these would be embraced if they resulted in retaining more subscriptions than they would otherwise lose by NOT acting. I would argue though, that most developers would see changes like these as having more negative impact than positive, and thus rejected.

    The question you raise is an interesting one. If a poor community doesn't stop people from playing, then what are we complaining about? I think this comes back to the old "minority of a minority" issue. The segment of the community that we represent ("we" being forum posters, bloggers, etc.) is a small portion of the overall community. These issues that we see as problems are not necessarily problems to the "silent majority" or the community at large.

  16. I dont understand why you pick on the battlegrounds/pvp as a negative towards community. I would argue there isnt enough pvp and the pve is too easy which is necessary to build bonds between people and encourage healthy comp.

  17. @Asterix, my argument is that PvP attracts a greater proportion of Killers, people who actively like to hurt the experiences of other players.

    This doesn't mean that all PvP players are bad, or PvP is overall bad, just that PvP is more likely to attract Killers than PvE.

    So in a game without PvP, less Killers are likely to join up. But you also lose a lot of other good players who like PvP. But the average quality of your community increases.

  18. I've played WoW on PvP servers and RP servers, and my mains are on PvE server, and I've yet to see any discernible difference between the climates of those servers at all. Trade chat on my PvE server is still populated with lolkids, characters on the RP server still have offensive and lewd names, etc.

    What I'd like to see WoW try is a server that is exclusively PvE. There could be a set of super-duper heroic versions of the current raid tiers for people who love PvE, but no access to BG's at all. I'd be interested to see the dynamic that would happen if the majority of the lolkids went elsewhere. I'd also absolutely pay extra to play on a 21+ server.

    That said, I don't think making the game easier is the solution. Raiding, min-maxing, theorycrafting discussions, etc. all seem to be populated by a more cerebral class of WoW player, and I'd hate to see WoW lose that.

  19. Of all the possibilities you raise, I think it is safe to say that #1-3 are all relatively easy to implement, have low short run costs on the bottom line, and a large long run benefit.

    Strictly enforced naming policies: a little automated screening and filtering at the character creation stage and some community self-policing (reporting) after that, and the names will start to fit a fantasy themed synthetic world and be inoffensive. It's like removing the litter from alongside a highway, names make a big difference in people's experience of the game. Oh no, someone's freedom of speech hampered? Can't show off their creativity through variation on an offensive cliche? Those people can go somewhere else - but they won't, because with the amount of entertainment one gets at $15/month, giving up a stupid name is really no big deal.

    Stricter forum moderation is also a great idea. People behave better and conversations are more constructive when they can receive the Banhammer (a la Elitist Jerks) and when reputations stick with them between synthetic reality realms (be it a discussion board or a WoW shard). This will drive some idiots away, but the overall quality and reputation of the game would improve so much that others would be attracted to the game, and the current player base would likely become even more stolid.

    Banning should definitely be employed more liberally. If it happens with consistency for the worst offenses of language, abusing trade chat, and so on, people will take their annoying conversations to private, party, raid or guild chat, where they share a community of like-minded people. I don't think people would so much leave the game due to the restrictions as it would drive them to take their conversations to the appropriate venue.

    And if Blizzard is afraid of losing profits? 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.