Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Three Foundations of Society

After having an extended conversation on the Shut Up, We're Talking discussion thread on Virgin Worlds, and thinking further on my previous post, I've come to a series of interesting questions.

What makes society, society?
Or rather, what makes it work?
How does it have such power to bring people together for mutual interest?
And how can we mimic this with in MMO's?

This is my attempt at an answer to these questions.

The Three Pillars

There are three components that make up a functioning society. (more or less)
A: Social interaction and integration of the members of said society.
B: Economy and shared resources, coupled with personal wealth of each member.
C: Infrastructure, rules and regulations.

Remove one, and the whole thing collapses.
You need all three to some extent, which can vary.

I'll go over each one in order, explain them in more detail, and link them to game mechanics that work in favor or against said component.
This could take awhile, make yourself a coffee.

Social I.I.

Now what the bloody heck am I talking about here?

Interaction is obvious. People need to be able to talk to each other, and construct relationships.
If someone wants or needs something, they need to communicate that effectively.
Say, if someone needs medical attention, and if no one knows, then guess what?
That's probably one less member of that society. And of course on a larger scale, you just can't get things done that way.

But this is easy. People talk. You can hardly shut them up at times.
In game, at the very least you have chat channels.
The more specific, the better.

But chat is slow, and in the heat of battle, you just can't type as well.
The answer? Is voice chat. Duh!

However, while we are mostly familiar with third party chat programs by now, they are a bit of a hassle, and hardly seem worth the trouble at times.
Which is why inbuilt game voice chat is preferred..... if it actually works.

And then there is in game mail, allowing contact even when two or more players are not normally on at the same time.

Bottom line, the easier you can make it for people to communicate their wants and needs, the better your society will be.

Second, integration.
By this, it means for each member to fill a role within the society by in large, with preferably mutual interest as the net result.

ie, I work, this work provides service or produce to other members in my society, and I get money in return, which is in turn used to keep me feed with a roof over my head, hence I survive.
It is in my best interest to help others in my society.

But people have to be able to fill the needs of society. If a car breaks down, we need a mechanic fix it. If there are no mechanics, someone either fills the role, or we're fucked.

How this fits into MMO's, is that by limiting roles to preconceived notions, you ultimately cripple yourself in the long run.
In traditional level and class based games, where you pick you role right at the beginning, usually before you know how anything works, once you get into a group with certain requirements to be met, you either fit, or you don't. Often the latter.

It's the square peg, round hole dilemma. We've all seen this.
This system is too rigid, and as such when people need things, things just don't get done 9/10 times.

However, if it's sane we're talking about instead, round hole, square hole, it's doesn't matter.
Sand can change to fill whatever niche it comes in contact with.

And in MMO's, players have to be able to change as the situation dictates.
As such, sandbox style or classless systems are preferred here.
But also, the tools to change and meet a wide array of needs.

People can change, and their tastes and moods change often.
You are X just doesn't cut it anymore.

Economics and Wealth

Still with me? Haven't fallen asleep yet have you?

Economics in short is things need value, and things of value are exchanged between members of a society or between societies, for mutual gain.
As such, we come to rely on each other for goods and services that we just don't have the time of day in order to get ourselves individually.

If we each had to get our own food only, then we would do nothing but, just to stave off starvation.

It's much better for the society for a few to create a overabundance of a valued good, such as food, to provide for everyone else. This frees everyone else up to spend their time creating other goods and services, which a greater portion of society can utilize.
Hence, this improves the overall health of a society.

How this works in game, is that players obviously need to be able to trade things, first and foremost. And again, the easier you make it, and the wider audience you can reach, the better.
As a consumer, between ebay and the newspaper, which allows you to find what you need the quickest and easiest?

Ebay right.

As such, just direct player to player trading isn't enough.
Auction houses work so some extend. But it gets a bit cluttered, and is difficult to compare prices at times.
Region wide markets on the other hand, such as in EVE, work very, very well.
Allowing not only to reach a wide numbers of players, as well being hands off enough that you don't have to be online for things to sell, but also allow for real competition to creep in.

All it needs is branding and advertising, then it will be set.

However, mechanics that work against this are item drops, NPC rewards, and having a low number of constant requirements.

In most MMO's, you kill stuff, and they shit equipment. And when you only need weapons and armor for the most part, and one or both drop from enemies or are crafted via NPC's, with quality equal or often greater then player crafted gear, then this circumvents the entire player crafted economy.

If you could kill your neighbours cat, and it would drop a brand new pair of shoes once in awhile, then respawn 15min later, why would you ever go spend money for the same exact item?

For economy to work properly, you have to have sources of goods and services be mostly, or to some extent, player driven.
Again, in EVE, ships are a good which you use regularly, and it is required to play the game.
You cannot get ships by any other means, except via other players (or yourself) building them first and selling them to you.
As such, ships have value, and the resources that are used to build ships are valued.

Money makes the world go round.

Personal Wealth
As such, personal wealth is equally important.
For two reason, personal health and well being, and motivation.

Having stuff makes us happy. But it also allows us to micromanage our lives as we know best, making us more productive members of society.
If it was the duty of a handful of people to make sure everyone else was feed at a given time, a great deal of people would starve to death.

It's much more beneficial for society if we each took it apon ourselves to keeps ourselves healthy, happy, and therefore productive. Therefore we need stuff.

But also, having stuff and getting more stuff can be used to motivate us to go out and do things, things we may otherwise not do.
Say you want a new car. You currently may not be working a whole lot due to low expenses, but at the same time you are not saving anything either.
So in order to safe up enough to buy this new car, you either try to get a better/extra job, or get a raise or promotion within your current job.

Normally you wouldn't bother, but you want more stuff. And as such, you work more, and this means more productivity for society.

In game, just having your armor and weapons usually isn't enough. You have to have other things in which you can buy, or the currency becomes superfluous.
Houses, jewelry, pets, land, mounts, fluffy items, so on and so on.
The more stuff you can potentially buy, the more motivated you are likely to become.

Esp in the case that they are consumable items, that you need to replace often.
ie, Ships in EVE. When you die, you lose your ship, then have to buy another, and so you are motivated to stockpile cash and replacement ships.

And thus, you have supply and demand.
The foundation of economics.

Infrastructure and R&R

Bored yet?
Prepare to be catatonic.

In order to be a healthy, productive, and growing society, we need infrastructure.
Building, pumping and sewer systems, power plants and lines, roads, etc etc.

Without clean water being pumped into our houses each day, we can't drink or have sanitation, and we would all die after a couple of days if we didn't have water storage.
Or die sometime later due to disease or sickness.
Infrastructure keeps us clean and healthy.

But also, we need to be able to build infrastructure as our needs and numbers grow.
If for some reason we could only have a town or city with 100 houses max, we would quickly overpopulate beyond the means of those houses to provide shelter, and thus not only would large number of people roam the streets homeless, but each house would likely be packed.

Extrapolate that out further, and everything thing begins to fall apart with strict population controls.

Growth is important.
And in game, where 99/100 content and thus infrastructure is static, you regularly find locations where people a packed on top of each other, in a big, unorganized cluster fuck.
So finding the right people for the right job becomes endlessly more difficult.
Just getting things done become downright painful as your words get lost in the squawks of endless chatter.

People need space, and lots of it.
But they also need to be able to make use of that space, so the others know that their there, and to manage there own needs as they see fit.

If you we're to go into a zone or area, and there are lots of people running about trying to sell something to you, and in the center of the area there is a building that looks like a shop, which are you more likely to buy from?
The shop right?

You need places to store your stuff, and places to get certain things done.
You can't just fix a car in the middle of the street. (well you CAN, but it's a bad idea)

Personal storage chests and the like in games are a start, however these are usually located in static towns and outposts. And when your in the middle of nowhere, at war with another group, last thing you want to do is go back to town for a quiver of arrows and to repair your gear.

But to be able to build a base of operations with your guild or group, so as to supply you with what you need and storage for what you don't need at that minute, is important in a world in which distance matters.

In short, to have a proper in game society, you need lots of space which players can claim and occupy, with resources that can be made use of, and for infrastructure to be built to meet the groups needs.

Rules & Regulations
But of course, there is more to it then that.
You need rules and regulations to manage people, so that they can work together constructively, and not steal from and kill each other.
While in group rules are usually easy enough to mimic in games, where guild members just don't tend to screw each other over (provided there is good leadership), mechanically it is just made impossible to attack someone in your own group.

Which isn't always the best idea.
But that's something else entirely.

You need to be able to set rules that everyone can agree to, and be able to enforce them when there broken.
Again, EVE does a decent job at this.

In high sec, at any time you are ABLE to go and shoot someone in the face, however doing so will incur the wrath of CONCORD, which will promptly blow you up.
As such, even thou you can be an asshat, it is very rare to be attacked in high sec.
(unless you are at war)

However, in most other games, the rules or engagement vary between complete non-engagement, to lacking at best.
ie, In Guild Wars, there is no PvP outside of the PvP arenas.
And even within these arenas, you always know how many enemies your going to face, and basically what to expect.
This is canned PvP, and it's not very exciting.
Good for casual practice thou.

In Runes of Magic however, rules are piss poor. If you do stab someone, the guards will be angry with you, and glare at you from a distance.
Seriously, I've never seen NPC's guards actually do anything. And besides being red to other players, there is really very little stopping you from being a ganker/asshat.

0.0 in EVE is sort of like the latter there. No rules, no protection.
However, rules are generally, and informally set by thou's who inhabit the area.
Which is usually, not blue = shoot it.

Anyone surprised there isn't a rush to go down there?

What a functioning society in a world where there is nothing physically stopping from attacking people at random, like 0.0 sec in EVE, is for thou's who own the area to be able to publicly set the rules in a way in which all who enter their space can understand.

But, also allow for them to effectively enforce such rules.

For example, you and your guild/corp own a section of land/space, and your group decides that you don't want anyone within your area that is not apart of your group, to attack anyone else within your area. (regardless weather they are a part of your group or not)

And through mechanics, or a building with preset roles, you can set member of your group as 'enforcers'. As soon as someone breaks the rules, you know who they are, where they are, and what rule they broke.

Then the enforcers in the area can the enforce the rules as they see fit.
(and of course there would be some way of distinguishing them as enforces for thou's not within the group)

This way, players can set the rules for the area, and enforce them.
As such, thou's who abide by the rules set can have peace of mind, and are more likely to come and interact with you and your group if they feel safe.

Safety is important. People are less likely to deal with you if they feel unsafe.

All in all, you need not only to be able to provide buildings in order to organize and mange peoples needs, but also a framework of rules which all can agree to, in order to provide safety and security.
And most of all, rules must be enforced.
It's the only way to being order from disorder. (aka chaos)

Cliff Notes

Now that I've gone over in extensive detail what makes a society, and roughly how this fits into MMO's in the grand scheme of things, heres a short list of what mechanics promote in game societies, and which inhibit them.

What doesn't work:

Level/class based roles - Square peg, round hole.
Several severs - Segregating people is always a bad idea.
In game chat Only - Hard to communicate effectively.
Itemized drops - Circumvents player created goods, removing value.
Only non-consumables required - Stifles value in player created goods. Loss of motivation.
Few useful items - No motivation to get more stuff.
Only static infrastructure - Cluster fuck. No growth. Stifles productivity.
No rules - Ganking and asshattery. Lack of safety.
Too strict rules - No competition. Boredom.

What works:

Sandbox, defining your own role - Can change to met needs of the whole.
Single server - Lots of people. Single economy.
Inbuilt voice chat - Quick and efficient direct communication.
Mail system - Effective indirect communication.
Large usage of player created goods - Supply. Resources are valued.
Regular consumables - Demand. Money has value.
Lots of stuff to buy - Motivation.
Lots of space that can be claimed - Room to grow.
Player built infrastructure - Promotes growth. Allows greater organization.
Enforced rules - Safety and piece of mind.
Player generated rules - Allows for complex social interactions.

In Closing
Of course none of these are set in stone, however, it's just a good idea if your goal is social in nature. And because we are talking about MMO's here, social interactions are always going to be a large part of it.

A good in game community makes a healthy MMO.

Look at EVE, it has many of the right ideas and few of the bad, and it has by far one of the strongest, most lively communities I've ever seen in a game.
In terms of social and economic simulation, it is ahead of the pack by a country mile.
There is just nothing else like it, or even comes close.
(besides real life)

Not perfect, but any MMO's worth their salt should take a good hard look at it.

Because at the end of the day, it's people that make MMO's fun.


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