Study: Researchers State The Obvious

Study: Researchers Determine Sex May Cause Pregnancy!

Study: Researchers Believe Poking a Bear With A Sharp Stick May Result In Mauling!

Yes, those both sound a bit uhm, like a waste of time and money, no? Well, look at this little gem I saw the other day on GameDaily Biz:

New research conducted at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has shown that massively multiplayer online games, such as Asheron’s Call (pictured) and Lineage, can expose gamers to alternate worldviews and promote sociability.

OMG, can it be true? I never noticed?! Ok, snarky sarcasm aside, is this just a case of some lazy researchers trying to win an award for stating the obvious, or did they actually miss the boat and get the wrong conclusion to their research? Read on…

The first thing that surprises me here, is that it took researchers at two universities some amount of time and money to come to a conclusion that seems blitheringly obvious…of course MMORPGs expose players to alternate worldviews (and I assume they mean real world points of view, culture, and politics and not virtual worldviews). Of course MMORPGs promote sociability. The very nature of these games is about interacting with other players from many backgrounds and beliefs.

On the other hand, can I really say that the conclusion is obvious? While MMORPGs *should* be promoting socialibility and offering players exposure to alternate worldviews, are today’s most popular games achieving this?

Have MMORPGs become less sociable over the years with the emphasis on grind and self-centered gameplay? Do players really take the time to chat about their perspective on world affairs or are they too busy whining about getting PK’d somewhere and complaining about the last guild raid?

Anyway, I’m still convinced that MMORPGs are getting farther and farther away from RPG and closer to FPS. Less social with more twitch and hack. Toss in a stinky mix of in-game advertising; “free to play” models (how long until someone offers “a monthly subscription to our MMO will disable ads”?); and a strong dose of carbon copy generic content, and you can see where our industry is going in the next few years. Unless of course, someone tries to do something different and succeeds in bringing it to market.

One last thing…how exactly did those researchers come to their conclusions?


13 thoughts on “Study: Researchers State The Obvious”

  1. (how long until someone offers “a monthly subscription to our MMO will disable ads”?)

    Until upcoming Ultraviolent Acclaim Grinder ‘2Moons’ is released, apparently… I ranted about it a few posts ago at my place :)

    Sociability in MMOs is something I’m continually paranoid about though, yes – I’m playing a massively *multiplayer* game…”I ought to be friends with *all* of these people, otherwise what is the point?!”

    Paranoia and facelessness are probably something to do with it though – we’ve here to get on with a job, not chat! Increasingly hands-on pickup grouping and raiding demand focus on the game, rather than idle interactions; shut up, work the dungeon, kill the boss, grab your loot, and go away!

    Then again, is that a problem, if the reason we’re here is for the game, rather than the graphical chat client? In many cases, we’re not after friends, we’re after semi-autonomous AI Henchmen who can help us get the loot we need.

  2. Dom…why shouldnt Raph see that I posted this?

    VanHemlock…I’ll check out your rants, I’ve been meaning to write something scandalous about 2Moons.

    The problem you mentioned is a direct result of greater emphasis on FPS style gameplay, and a total focus on level & loot as the point of the game. The game industry is totally setting itself for a giant fall. If we aren’t careful, all of the younger gamers out there now that will be the bulk of the industry in the future will be so used to mindless crap being churned out, that really exceptional content and games won’t have a market to target.


  3. Why would twitch-based gameplay necessarily lead to a lower degree of social interaction than RPG-style gameplay? I have seen more intelligent conversation among fragged Counterstrike players waiting for the next respawn than I’ve seen on WoW public channels. I see no reason why an MMOFPS couldn’t build in support for social interaction to an equal or greater extent than an MMORPG.
    In fact, I don’t consider the RPG – one of my favourite video game genres, and also a non-electronic gaming hobby of mine – to be the epitome of suitable MMO genres, because the RPG has huge problems dealing with the “Massive” effect. Let me elaborate.
    An RPG is a story-driven genre, that only differs from adventure games (such as Zork, Monkey Island etc) largely in that characters tend to be described by a series of dynamic statistics that often affect the outcome of various actions the character takes. It shares with the adventure game genre the – often pre-written and static – storyline, unique secondary characters/NPCs, and frequently an emphasis on problem solving. Single-player CRPGs often relies heavily on a deep, intriguing, emotionally loaded storyline to keep the player interested, since the visceral “thereness” of the FPS is not an option.
    It is simply not possible to create that same strong storyline in an MMORPG. It is hard enough to keep four tabletop / NeverWinter Nights RPG players on the “right track” when telling a story. Whenever folks have tried to do something similar in an MMORPG, with thousands of participants, it always boils down to a “kill the ridiculously overpowered foozle” plot – because those are the only storylines you could possibly run with that vast a horde of people.
    Further, the other driving factor for RPGs – interesting characters – are also all but impossible to pull off in an MMO. When there are literally tens of thousands (or in WoW’s case, 5+ million subs * multiple alts = lots) of characters, there are only so many names, faces, armour/weapon combinations, mounts and class builds you can have. There will never be an “Arxas, Master of Swordplay” or “Zettar, Chief Carpenter” because someone out there has run the numbers through exactly the same 3rd party calculator apps you have. You will never be known as “Kilnhammir the Slayer of Hydras” because someone else already ran that same quest, or will in ten minutes. There is no heroism because nobody needs saving. There are no champions because you can never win a permanent fight. Nobody is interesting because everyone is a cookiecutter version of their class in different stages of progression.

    In an FPS/twitch based/strategy/puzzle forms of gameplay, you do not have this problem. The gameplay itself is what matters, not your character’s stats or equipment. Some personal progression might be nice, but what matters is the advancement of the group – the taking of territory, the securing of resources, the erection of a large palace. Puzzle Pirates, WWII Online, A Tale in the Desert and Eve Online comes to mind as examples of this. Even though Tale and Eve are considered MMORPGs, on a different level they are clearly strategy and twitch games. Because of the teamwork and shared goals inherent in these games, social interaction is promoted moreso than in MMORPGs where, as VanHemlock mentioned, the goal is still personal (l3wt/XP) and teaming/guilding is often considered a necessary evil.

    I’m going to pretend you didn’t say anything about Free-to-Play because this comment is already long enough. :)

  4. Too late, I saw it!

    Seriously — the general public view of MMOs is that they cause broken marriages, suicides, and financial hardships. Studies like these that offer data that is positive are incredibly valuable.

    The full study is linked in the comments thread on my site…

  5. Lachek, I completely disagree.

    First, of course people can have great conversations in an FPS, or any other game for that matter. The key phrase in your comment though was “waiting for the next respawn”…the conversations don’t occur during the gameplay. Players don’t login to a Dust2 Bar and have a drink while polishing their gun barrels.

    Second, you are confusing story driven with plot driven. CRPGs and single player games are plot driven. The player is faced with specific scenarios and a linear (ok maybe somewhat open-ended) plot. It is possible to create engaging and emotionally involving experiences in an MMORPG. The problem is that the focus is more on the combat than anything else these days. Yes, it is a vicious cycle until someone does something different.

    MMOs are, by definition, role-playing. Players assume a “role” and play. Also, interesting characters are not impossible to pull off at all. You pretty much define interesting character by unique gear or a unique name. Are you a unique individual at school or work? If everyone wears levi’s and a white t-shirt, is it impossible for anyone to be unique or interesting anymore? Quests also do not define a player least not more than finishing a project at the office defines who I am.

    Repeat after me: “Free to play is a bad idea!”

    Raph: Hi! Thank you for posting. I’m honored you commented here.

    Anyway, I am reading the research this afternoon, and I will be adjusting some of my comments in my post. I like ranting, but I like knowing what I am talking about and being fair as well. Having said that, I think I could have written my initial post a little better and been clearer on my viewpoint. I do support industry research, but in this case, I have questions…why was the research in the news with such a silly title? The research seems to be based on MMORPGs as “third places”…does saying “may expose gamers to alternate worldviews and promote sociability” really communicate this?

    That brings to mind another question “may expose”….does that also mean that it “may not expose” or that the standard to expect is non-exposure, and that sometimes exposure is possible (sort of like “patients *may* experience side effects, but usually dont”).

    We do need academic research and lots of it. It validates our profession and our industry, plus it can offer heady insights into all sorts of things, trends, data, etc.

    We also need designers, writers, developers, and publishers to wake up and stop screwing around. I’m getting tired of crappy games that try to be shocking or over the top simply to sell boxes…and end up pissing off the government. I’m getting tired of seeing anti-game laws passed, or people arguing that games are not art. Some games definitely absolutely are art. Again, academic research can help to validate this. Lack of academic credibility and the release of poorly designed games really handicaps the industry.

    Well, I need to finish reading this study. Check back later.

    Nicodemus / Robert

  6. I’m straying off topic – so what else is new.

    Let me try (and probably fail) to be a little more terse. I find the roleplaying game genre to be a superficially obvious, but surprisingly poor genre choice for MMOs. By contrast, it is an excellent genre for a game with

  7. Buh? What happened to the commenting system? All my beautiful, shiny ramblings got eaten by /dev/null? The horror!

  8. Ah. My post contained a less-than sign (left angle bracket) and got cut off at that point. May want to fix that.
    Evil web forms.

  9. Just to comment quickly on research: much of it confirms already held beliefs, both because it is testing whether the conventional wisdom is true and because the conventional wisdom goes both ways.

    Testing whether it is true: many things that “everyone knows” are wrong. It is good to be the one who disproves conventional wisdom.

    It goes both ways: would you be surprised to see that people who play MMOs have worse social skills? Probably not, since we have a whole story about anti-social gamers in their basements. Would you be surprised to see that people who play MMOs have better social skills? Probably not, since we have a whole story about social interaction, forming guilds, organizing raids, etc. Either way that the research turns out, there is a way to phrase it as “duh,” more so if there is no statistically significant effect (“gamers are just like everyone else”).

    But yes, feel free to mock researchers. Much published research is…”marginal.”

  10. Stating the obvious is what they have done as far as I can tell. What I would like see is some research into whether or not children are more prone to ganking because they enjoy terrorizing other players or are adults more likely to crush someone weaker than them just because? An MMO has so many social aspects that to focus on the obvious statement that “An MMO encourages social interaction” seems silly to me.
    How about is a PVP player or PVE player more likely to buy gold from Ebay to get the edge. Or do more women play priests or men and why? The questions that can be posed are nearly endless, but pointing out that a social game promotes sociability is pointless. /duh

  11. Actually, the title of the article on gamebiz was quite misleading, and I admit I based most of my initial comments on that news piece instead of the actual research (yes, Im still trying to finish reading it before posting fully).

    Anyway, check it out wolfgang…

    It isnt simply about MMORPGs offering alternate worldviews and promoting socialibilty.


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