Groupthink in MMOs

Groupthink in MMOs
Clay Shirkey, the guy who demolished the thinking behind micropayments, takes a look at some of the group dynamics in virtual worlds.

If you want to see why the tension between the individual and the group is so significant, imagine a world, call it Fork World, where the citizens were given the right to vote on how the world was run. In Fork World, however, the guiding principle would be “no coercion.” Players would vote on rule changes, but instead of announcing winners and losers at the end of a vote, the world would simply be split in two with every vote.

Imagine there was a vote in Fork World on whether players can kill one another, say, which has been a common theme in political crises in virtual worlds. After the vote, instead of imposing the results on everyone, you would send everyone who voted Yes to a world where player killing is allowed, and everyone who voted No to an alternate world, identical in every respect except that player killing was not allowed.

And of course, after 20 such votes, you would have subdivided 2 to the 20th times, leaving you with a million potential worlds – a world with player killing and where your possessions can be stolen when you die and where you re-spawn vs. a world with player killing and possession stealing but death is permanent, and so on. Even if you started with a million players on Day One, by your 20th vote each world would average, by definition, one player per world. You would have created a new category of MMO – the Minimally Multi-player Online game.

This would fulfill the libertarian fantasy of no coercion on behalf of the group, because no one would ever be asked to assent to rules they hadn’t voted for, but it would also be approximately no fun. To get the pleasure of other people’s company, people have to abide by rules they might not like considered in isolation. Group cohesion has significant value, value that makes accepting majority rule worthwhile.

Good stuff. Here’s the url since our automatic linking robot, Rusty, needs to be oiled.