Virtual Worlds for Real Life People – Part 1
ME AND MY 140 BEST BUDDIES
When designing the social and interactive gameplay of a virtual world, a lot of developers seem to be putting a lot of effort into creating tools and mechanics that bring everyone together. As a result, we end up with forced grouping mechanics and other nonsense. Utopia is called such for a reason. To create communities that work in a large scale environment, the goal should be to create tools that allow people to divide.
Yes, divide. We already know, from multiple studies and research projects, that people function best in communities of 150 or less. That being the case, mechanics that facilitate the separation of players into recognizable subgroups allows for people with common interests to gather and bond. My suggestion is to expand the ‘guild’ to a ‘community’ focus that allows like-minded individuals to pile into groups of 500 or even even a thousand. Of that lot, you’d probably have a few dozen to maybe 100 on at any one time. People get to know the members of their particular community that play during their time slot (a subset of the community subgroup). That guy next to you very quickly becomes “Danny who just bought a new Mazda yesterday” or “Amy who always dyes her armor green” or… well, you get the drift.
Once someone becomes a familiar entity to another person, it is much harder to be a complete fudgewad to them. More importantly, it is more likely they will extend a certain level of extra courtesy and respect. The best example I can think of right now is if you are walking down a block in NYC and you see someone off to the side with a sad look on their face. The level of attention you pay to it is, for most people, directly related to your level of familiarity with them. If they are someone you recognize from the office you might do a double take and keep going. If they are someone who you have spoken with a few times or more at the office, you’re going to be more inclined to go over and ask if they are ok or if they need any help.
One concern people present regarding this is that the communities will show signs of elitism or display animosity towards each other communities. GOOD. It means that the people in your game are functioning like they would in the real world.
Game developers should remember that they are game developers, not God or Gandhi. They should create realistic tools that foster community for real world people and not for some Utopian vision of how they want people to be. It’s silly to try to devise the solution to world peace through looting rules and raid mechanics in a video game.