Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the "Community" word doesn't make sense

The Community. Everyone seems to be talking about it these days.

We've seen a stream of well thought out posts discussing just how bad the WoW community is - verified by for instance dickish behavior in pugs, sewer level conversations in the public chat channels and the Gearscore mentality plague.

I'd especially like to point you to a recent post by Brian Psychochild Green, who talks about how ageing and growth has an impact on the game community, arguing that Blizzard might not be able to do that much about it. It's a very thoughtful post and I suggest you go ahead and read it if you haven't already!

Another post I liked particularly was Ixobelle's response to Wolfshead's anti-WoW post, where he reveals the nature of the oh-so-good community back in the days of EverQuest. The truth according to Ixo was that the game was full of design flaws and tedious endless periods where you did nothing but sit around and just wait and chat together. Sure, it created a great community - nothing can get you come together as well as a common experience of misery. But as it appears it was at the cost of what I would consider an enjoyable gameplay. Way to go?

One Community - really?
Nevertheless, there's something more I'd like to say about this community issue. You see, I've got second thoughts about the way we talk about The Community as one entity.

I'm the first one to admit that I'm doing it myself. I've probably written a good many posts where I've generalized wildly, putting everyone in the same box, mindlessly applying the C-word label on everyone, either they deserve it or not. And I'll probably do it again. But nevertheless I think it's about time that we stop up and think for a moment.

Wouldn't we come further in our discussions if we would acknowledge that with a game of the size of WoW, you can't really talk about The Community in singular anymore? There are dozens, of them, or I'd rather say hundreds, and they have so little in common that every attempt to pull out an average from it and expect it to represent every player, will be so false and misleading that it's pointless.

Shouldn't we rather address the issues and potential improvements we can see in the different respective subcategories? That would be more constructive and interesting than the current I-want-everyone-to-view-WoW-the-way-I-do attitude, which is a bit strange when you think about it.

As it is now, it seems as we've suddenly all been incorporated into one big mechanism, void of any aspirations on individualism and variety, making you think of The Borg of Star Trek.

I don't quite buy the concept. I never did.

One game - many communities
Actually I wrote about this in my very first blogpost back in February 2008. I was still something of a newbie at that time, and I had many things yet to learn about WoW and the people who are playing and talking about it. But in my ignorance I got that right from the beginning. I wrote:

"When you think about it it's not ONE game, but many, there are so many ways to see it and play it."
Yep. I still have this view. Lume reminded me about it the other day as he commented on my post about how famous players can get TCG cards named after them.

"Famous" WoW players really depend on what areas of the game you follow and what communities you're a part of. And there's a LOT of communities. Arena, raiding, machinima, humorous videos (that aren't really machinima), tanks, specific classes (and specs of classes), etc. And then you have to COMBINE some of these categories for even more niched communities."
You're spot on, Lume.

So why don't we start to try to map out, describe and und understand all those sub-communites? Once again I come to think of Tim Howgego's brilliant attempt to draw a map.

I would like to see an expansion of it. Make it more fragmentized, more detailed, add multiple dimensions, point out the connections. We need more work along those lines if we want to understand the complexity of the game and the varying expectations the developers have to consider.

What Community is to me
I dare say that the Borg image of the Community is a hoax. Forget about it for a moment and recall all the different kinds of players you've encountered over the years.

Stop listening to the "The community is horrid" talk! Refuse to judge every player alike! Wake up and look around you!

There are fantastic, lovable subcommunities everywhere, if you investigate it a bit further.

The Community isn't just some drunk idiot rambling in /trade (which you by the way can turn off at your own will any second - issue solved.)

The Community is also Big Bear Butt assembling the raid-for-the cure event to support a guildie suffering from breast cancer.

The Community is a bunch of silly gnomes enjoying their epic journey from the starter area to Ironforge, thanks to their own imagination (and a glorious general).

The Community is Tamarind having a serious talk with one of his guildies.

The Community is to ignore Gearscore nonsense and naysayers, take charge over your own game time and create the kind of game play you want to see, in cooperation with other players.

The Community is made up by all those wonderful bloggers and podcasters who keep entertaining us, informing us and making us think, laugh and cry day after day - all for free.

Room for all?
There's such a huge diversity among the millions of people who are playing World of Warcraft that it doesn't make sense any more to talk about The Community as a singularity. Stop doing that! Stop bashing the "WoW Community!" Start looking for solutions where you can let different kind of players co-exist peacefully, without breaking the game for each other!

Azeroth should be big enough to have room for us all.



Russ said...

I totally agree with the "many games within the game" and "many communities within the game" concepts. The variety is part of the game's wealth of opportunities, both social and as far as how one decides to play.

Such a large scope can mean problems, of course, but I really like what you're saying here.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words about my post.

When people talk about "community", I think they are talking about the community as a whole. Yes, there are subcommunities; the most obvious example here are different guilds or different servers. Each group has its own feel to it.

I think the main issue that comes up when people discuss community is how it feels as a whole. I agree that there can be shining examples of people who are great people in a game, that doesn't mean that you have a high probability of running into these types of people in a game. My work with Meridian 59 let me meet a lot of really cool people and make some good friends. But, the experience of someone logging onto the game for most of its history would be getting hunted down by murders and reading insults about other people's mothers in global chat. As a developer, I knew there were a lot of genuinely good people in the game, but I also knew that someone coming into the game fresh would probably see that relatively ugly part of the community before meeting those cool people.

So, I think that's the context you have to consider. Sure, there are people organizing raids for sick guildmates or a bunch of silly people making the newbie journey sound epic, but how likely is someone to just run into these types of people? Or are you more likely to meet people who would rather check your gearscore than find out how your day was? That's what most people are going to care about, and what the developers have to worry about.

My thoughts.

Klepsacovic said...

In the future I will try to be specific about who I think make a terrible community.

Stabs said...

I think it's the beginning of the end when you need to split up your community to find the nice bits.

When people talk about community in EQ2 there is a single consensus opinion that can clearly be seen. AH goblins are generally ostracised, ninja looters are blacklisted, who's a good raid guild is generally known across the server.

It's villagey, parochial even, but there's a clearly defined community and a clear sense of common values.

If you break it up into segments what you're actually doing is retreating from community, the way people do when they start living in big cities. Don't talk in Trade because it's all just anal jokes, don't pug because they're all bastards, don't talk in bgs because you'll get flamed.

You can end up only talking to your mates and that's not really a community at all, just a clique.

Holly said...

I think I have to agree with Green. You can macrocasm or microcasm the entirety of the 'community' from parties to raids to guilds to realms to cliques to roleplayers to pvp'ers to pve'ers to casual gamers, and hardcore gamers, to WoW community, MMO community, or even gaming community. In the end when most people say 'the community' they mean the majority of players in World of Warcraft and how they should work as a society. Think of it like a big city whereas other games are small cities, there's still a city community that's broken up to make managing easier essentially, but there still should be some basic guidelines people -should- follow, most of them seem to be in tips for the loading screen that nobody reads or edits since you 'should be nice to other players in order to get invites into dungeons' >.> <.<

Spinks said...

This is a tricky subject for you, Larisa, because WoW is the only MMO you have played. So it isn't that you're wrong, but just that you don't have much to compare with.

Games do have different feels to their communities. The LOTRO community does genuinely feel friendly -- it's a smaller game, older skewing player base, much less hardcore (sure you can be hardcore but it's not as common as WoW), and full of people who like Lord of the Rings so a slightly different breed of geek.

The WoW community really does vary a lot between servers. I find RP servers to be a lot friendlier but they still don't approach the friendliness of LOTRO unless you have a guild around you. That's just how it plays.

You have to decide for yourself how to balance the various aspects of gameplay, community, how easy it is to find players like yourself to hang out with.

On EQ:
"Sure, it created a great community - nothing can get you come together as well as a common experience of misery. But as it appears it was at the cost of what I would consider an enjoyable gameplay. Way to go?"

I actually never played it. But bear in mind they didn't have much to compare with. People didn't sit around saying how miserable they were because that was how the genre played. They sat around patiently and chatted, because that was tied in with the gameplay.

Yes, modern games are more fun to play. I also doubt the EQ community was any more friendly than my current WoW guild, to pick an example. But think whether you'd enjoy a game where you didn't have to cloister yourself in a guild (a guild which might break up if the raiding breaks down or if your guild leader leaves and the people who are left decide they can't be bothered any more) - instead you could wander the world, chat to random friendly people, and group up with them.

That was the original WoW design too.

Copra said...

There is nothing much to say to add to what Mr. Green said up there. I was amazed by how different feel to the community as whole there was in EQ2, Allods Online or in EVE compared to the feel of WoW. As it happens, I would change the community of EVE -which is even bigger than that of single WoW server, mind you - to that of a WoW server anytime now.

The thing is, as the game has been made easier to play and easier to solo, with no real incentive to the players to group or guilds to mentor newcomers, there is no build in need to form minor communities or community codex. This is definitely a design issue, rather than solely player issue.

I still think that the overall WoW community is horrible based on my own personal experience and view. And that personal experience and view is all that matters to us all in the end, right?

C out

Anonymous said...

This post is spot on. I never got why people were so quick to act like the WoW community is the same thing everywhere.

A good counter-example is all the nostalgia to the wonderful community that was Classic WoW. People pine for the good ol days where people were afraid to ninja, pug runs were these friendly times where you hung out with cool people on your server, etc.

Even if you ignore the fact that even back then, the WoW forums called the Bnet kiddies the worst part of the game, not everyone experienced classic WoW the same.

I was on a pretty hardcore server at launch, and the raiding guilds were very snobbish to pugs/non-guilded people. For example, I was berated in one of my very first 60 5man runs for not healing perfectly. (This was in May 05, the game had just barely been out half a year.) Players in hardcore guilds would ninja from pugs because, who cares if you got on the pug blacklist, since your were in a hardcore guild anyway. The stuff players complain about now that makes them miss the community of yesterday is the stuff I've seen in this game since day 1. But it makes sense when you think that not all servers were like mine. I'm sure, on some of the smaller PvE servers, that players weren't as competitive and a lot nicer to each other.

It just goes to show, that like you said, boxing everyone that plays this game under the Community label doesn't do the diversity of this game justice. And also tends to downplay all the nice people and good players in order to imagine that the game is only played be jerks.

Anonymous said...

And I also find it interesting that I've been running a lot of pug dungeons since the dungeon finder and I think I've had like 5 bad experiences. Even with this tool and all the pugs I've ran, I've seen way less bad sportsman ship, than I did back in the first couple years of this game.

Then I read the forums, and even the comments on this post, and there's all this talk about all the terrible people they run into now that you don't have to care about reputation. Either I am a really lucky person or in a really good Battlegroup.

Shintar said...

I think you are on to something there. Thinking about it like that, comparing say WoW's community to that of a 100k subscriber MMO is like comparing apples and oranges, or say, the population of your small-ish home town to that of a large nation. Larger groups just work differently.

Larísa said...

@Russ: I think that the huge variety within the playerbase is what creates those tensions between different sub-communites. But acknowledging it and trying to find ways to work around it is probably a better way to go than to simplify it, saying that "The Community" is bad as a whole.

@Brian Pshychodhild Green: I hear what you say, but I'm not totally convinced you're right. OK, I'm a TBC baby so I've been around a few years, and maybe it has changed since then. Maybe it's worse for a new player now than in 2007, but I wonder... We who have played it for a while can only speculate about how it appears to the new ones. Nevertheless... am I extremely lucky to have ended up in not only one but in several good guilds, to have met some wonderful people both in game and in the blogosphere, to have had so much fun thanks to different subcommunities? Am I an exception and everyone else miserable? You know there's also some sort of saying, at least in Swedish, that the health remains silent.
Meaning that the whining people at for instance the official forums is such a minority.
I wonder if Blizzard ever does real, random customer surveys to find out what "the community" really think about the game. Apart from when people are leaving ofc... It would be interesting to take part of, although we never will - of course it's kept as a secret for business reasons.

: That's the spirit!

@Stabs: maybe my English languages are failing me a bit. I'm not entirely sure about the definitions of a community and when it goes over to be a "clique". In the end I suppose it's a sort of tribal game we're playing. Actually pretty well reflecting the real world, where the traditional nation thinking is lessening its grip and other sorts of groups become more important. Hm... Food for thought.

@Holly: But with such a huge and diversified game as this is, is it really meaningful to try to speak of the playerbase as a whole? I'm not sure about that. I think the cities are playing a way bigger importance for how players actually perceive Azeroth.

Larísa said...

@Spinks: Hehe, yeah it is a bit tricky and you're absolutely right that it's hard for me to compare to other games. So I refrain from doing that, apart from quoting Ixo, who admittedly hadn't played EQ himself, but at least done some research. :)

Nevertheless I do think that the general bashing on the WoW community is a little bit pointless, especially since it - as you say - varies a lot between different servers. And also, according to me, between what kind of game you're playing. I dare say that if you're extremely involved and focused on one aspect of the game, such as PvP E-sport or raiding or gold-collecting, whatever - you might have a quite different view on it than players with other interests. You see and notice the part of the "community" that matters to you.
Do we really achieve or get anywhere by talking about some imaginary Borg-alike community creature?

About wandering in the world and talking to strangers... If it's become more rare these days I don't think it's as much about the game design as about the lifecycle of a game. The age factor that Psychochild talks about. Inevitably it will also vary a bit depending on how far you are into an expansion. I would dare say that people will become far more social once they start leveling again in Cataclysm.

@Copra: I'm sad to hear that you've had so horrible experiences. But I'm not prepared to say that it represents the reality for every player there is out there. And that's why I think it's time to talk a bit about the fragments. I think that the real challenge here is to help players to find their mates in the perfect subcommunity match. There is someone for everybody I'd dare say. But the matchmaking isn't perfect yet.

: Yeah, if I would listen to all horrible things that are said about the Community as truth I would have very little reason to play the game. But thankfully enough I meet a different experience once I'm online. But hehe, I suppose I'm the exception then if I was to believe the commenters?

I think too that memory is very selective and that some players who love to rant about the community back in the days actually are victims for own rose-colored nostalgia glasses.

@Shintar: Yeah, size definitely matters. So I'd rather see us split up the "Community label" in our discussions. See WoW as a collection of different games intended for different audiences, rather than one single game perhaps?

Raddom said...

I agree with the concept that there are many different "factions" in the game and each faction is interested in a specific aspect of the game (eg. raiding, gold making, etc.) and within each of these factions people group themselves with others who they like.

Additionally, no one is restricted to one of these "factions" people are more than welcome to participate in as many as possible and to leave and join any of them as they wish.

Think about it. If you are constantly trying to sell stuff on the AH, talking in /trade, and blogging, or reading and commenting on gold making blogs, you will eventually join this group (or this community), you will begin to meet people and interact with them. You probably won't like everyone you meet though.

Conversely, if you were to raid all day, visit the raiding blogs, and do nothing but raiding and trying to deck out you characters, you would eventually join the raiding community.

In RL, while we live in our small communities, one could argue that we live in a global community because of the internet. You could agree or you could disagree, but the fact still remains that the meaning of the word community can drastically change depending on who uses it and how they use it.

Anonymous said...

Oi!! I was usually the rambling drunk in /2 !!!!

Cacknoob (the rambling drunk of Iron forge!!)

Holly said...

I completely agree a city is a better metaphor for WoW whereas a town or small community better represents most other games. But I know at least when I talk about the community, I do try to talk about the community as a whole, cities are known for being less human, but there is still a common decency rule even if it's 'I'll walk by and not say or do anything.' There's still rules and laws and society has to function at least....semi-amicably toward each other, for a society to function. If cities say threw food out their windows at every passerby (which I'm sure somewhere in a city it does) but when it's the -majority- doing that, I think soon people are going to avoid that city, -period- then the city officials have to figure out how to fix that to get tourists etc. . back.

Fitz said...

The WoW Community does exist, but it's like America. There's no stereotypical American anymore, and there's no stereotypical WoW player that we can come up with. However, it is the diversity within that makes the WoW community great, and why we can have such great debates. So I will continue to refer to us as a community, even if it's just another word for playerbase.

lonomonkey said...

Very toughtful post.

To be honest I have trouble agreeing with you. I mean that I believe that community is the sum of the players playing in it and as such it's a reflection of the general tendencies of it's members.

Sure there's indiviuals in it and not everyone is the same but in the end everyone is building the community, wether it's good or bad.

Thanks for the inspiration! :)

Anonymous said...

[The Community isn't just some drunk idiot rambling in /trade (which you by the way can turn off at your own will any second - issue solved.)]

A bit off subject - but one of my bigger pet peeves is the whole "just turn trade chat off" argument. So, those of us that are either shopping our wares or looking for goods that aren't on the AH need to punish ourselves by turning off the trade channel? It's almost as if a long time ago the trolls realized everyone was turning off the General channel, so they decided to take over trade so people would know their name.

Wasn't meaning to rant against you, Larisa. I'm new to your blog and have enjoyed it, but the trade chat "community" really gets to me.

Larísa said...

@Raddom: yeah, funny enough I don't often see people complaining about the "Internet community" since everyone realizes the futility of it. But in WoW for some reason we still expect us to be parts of one happy family.

: /nod

@Holly: but that's what we have GM:s and codes of conduct for. There ARE guidelines and you can report players who violate the rules. With varying outcome, admittedly.

: I think we agree more than you belive. As I commented on your post on this.

: Well... yeah. But I can't be bothered to be really upset about it. I think most people do their sales via AH anyway. But then I'm not a big trader myself, maybe I'd view it differently. And welcome to the blog btw!

Stabs said...

"English languages are failing me a bit. I'm not entirely sure about the definitions of a community and when it goes over to be a "clique""

A community is everyone in a certain situation (eg everyone in Sweden, everyone in WoW, everyone on Argent Dawn).

A clique is a self-selected part of the community (eg all the cool kids, all the elite raiders). Clique implies you set some kind of standard. It's a slightly pejorative word so the implication is that the standard used is a bit of a crap way to judge people.