Is Social Interaction Really That Important to MMOG Players?

A particularly interesting post on Terra Nova reveals the results of an eight month, detailed study of World of Warcraft. The dataset includes information from over 150,000 characters, so it’s certainly thorough enough. The post claims that the results of the study contradict the commonly-held assumption that people play MMOGs primarily for the social interaction they offer. However, it isn’t clear to me that the data really supports such an argument More on that.

Among the study’s most interesting findings: early-stage players (level 40 and below) spend only 30% of their time in groups, and less than half of WoW players belong to a multi-person guild. Furthermore, the average guild member collaborates (in quests, etc.) with only 11% of his/her guildmates for more than 10 minutes over the same month.

First, this data could indicate that many players rush through the early levels in order to enjoy end-game content with their friends. (Indeed, the study also found that end-game characters spend far more time in groups.) Second, guild members may form strong relationships with a small percentage of their guildmates and choose to group with them whenever possible. (They may not even have a choice, if those guildmates are the only guildmates who regularly play WoW at the same time of day.) Of course, all this could be incorrect as well. I’m just saying it isn’t clear.

The post also states that players favor “soloable” classes like hunters and warriors. (Data here.) That certainly has merit as an argument against social inclination. However, Warlocks are soloable, and they’re the least-played Alliance class. Players may prefer warriors and hunters for any number of unrelated reasons (for example, some may choose warriors because that class enjoys access to the broadest variety of weapons and armor.)

Lastly, from the post: “despite features like WoW’s ‘group xp bonus’, grouping is an inefficient way to level, which naturally steers the more ‘hardcore’ players away from groups (at least, in the early stages of the game).” But if the system is inherently biased against group play at early levels, I don’t see how you can make any major assumptions about social inclination from the data.

Long story short, I’d like to know more before accepting any pronouncements. That said, I’d bet a few developers would be pleased to learn that social interaction is not so important, since accommodating social interaction tends to engender the thorniest design problems.

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