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D-Mail #2 - Knee Jerk Reactions

Updated Thu, Apr 29, 2010 by DragonsLLTS

In D-Mail #1, The Syndicate Guildmaster and CEO Sean "Dragons" Stalzer explained his passion for building strong online communities and reasoned that these communities and the "business brains" behind online games have many of the same interests at heart. This week, in D-Mail #2: Knee Jerk Reactions, Sean looks at how game developers can slow down ragequit-prone guildies before they do something rash through, of all things, a clever marketing gimmick?


In early April, something deceptively cool emerged from Bioware. On the surface of it, you could view it as a marketing tactic intended to generate attention for Bioware products, probably because that is exactly what it is. However, the idea they are implementing makes for an interesting discussion about how it could be used to affect MMORPGs in the future and, specifically how developers could use it to grow and strengthen the community aspect of gaming.

The core tenet of the D-Mail series is that strong communities greatly benefit players and developers alike. The longer players keep playing a game, the more revenue the developer makes, so it is in their best interest to invest more time and effort into truly supporting communities in significant and tangible ways. One of the primary things that destroys gaming communities is drama. And one of the factors that plays into drama is the fact that many players react, before they stop and take the time to think when an issue arises.

That knee-jerk reaction is unlike what we would do in a similar situation in the real world. It is not very often that a disagreement with a co-worker causes us to quit our job, move hundreds of miles to a new home, and start from scratch in a new company. That, however, happens many times every day in the online world. In the real world we weigh the pros and cons of a decision more carefully than many players do in the virtual world. So we can often see examples of ill-conceived decisions or solutions to a perceived issue that were not well thought-out. It is in those moments that communities can tear themselves apart and, once destroyed, the developer and the player suffers the results. So when I read the recent news from Bioware, it  was with a mind to increasing social attachment to games that I viewed their idea and how it perhaps could be adapted to have a positive impact on MMORPGs.

BioWare's first auction bazaar ran in early April, allowing players to spend their BioWare points on Mass Effect 2 CE custom painted Computer, an XBox, and other BioWare branded goodies.

The event that I am speaking about is basically an auction that is being done with virtual currency. If you own Bioware products or refer your friends to their site you get tokens. You can then spend those virtual tokens bidding on real items that you can win. So, for all intents and purposes, it is an auction where your success is dependent upon how deeply you dive into their brand. It is a brilliant idea, in my opinion, and one that has parallels to the issue I just described above. The idea is to build "brand loyalty" which in the MMORPG world would translate into "guild loyalty" which in turn might just reduce the kind of knee jerk reactions that tear down guilds.

By no means am I suggesting a comprehensive, silver bullet fix. The challenges that face online communities are very complex.  They are all based around social interactions and personal relationships. As such, the solutions will be many and varied in nature. There is no one size fits all policy tweak that makes everything perfect. I do, however, view the Bioware event as possibly being one tool that could help online communities grow.

That premise we discussed in D-Mail #1 is that the more stable communities/guilds/clans become, then the better the experience for players is and the better the return on the investment will be for the game developers. The Bioware auction supports that premise because it creates an interesting idea that MMORPG developers could “steal” for their games as a tool to improve brand loyalty and a tool to improve community stability and at the same time directly benefit us as players.

Creating a guild naturally supports the social aspect of why we play. However, for most players, being in a guild results in a low personal recognition factor and there exists a high availability of other guilds to be a member of. As such, for many players, there is a low incentive to work through issues, avoid drama, and create something long term. Finding a way to both improve guild stability is a key factor in player retention and borrowing the premise behind the Bioware idea could be a step in that direction.

The old "think before you speak" adage comes into play here and figuring out how we subconsciously affect player behavior to do that is one of the tools towards improving stability of guilds. The simple fact of the matter is, with so many choices out there and, for most players, no one choice being any better than another there is no real incentive to think before you act. On the side of those managing  guilds, there is also fairly low incentive to work for the collective good since recruits are also fairly easy to obtain. That is certainly not true for some guilds but nearly every player I have met has several more stories about poorly led, self centered guild entities than they do about wonderfully led entities out for the collective good.

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