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According to the online Bartle-quotient test (http://www.andreasen.org/bartle/), I am an SEK; I rank awfully close to Damion Schubert, according to the test. (I am still wondering if this is good or bad. ;) Now, I find this a bit odd, because I am not much of a MUSH player, I actually played LP muds exclusively in college. Nor am I a huge fan of plain chat. I also love offline games as well as online games; I have been neck-deep in Diablo 2, which is really little more than exploring random maps while waiting for your statistics to increase. :) Anyway, online I am mainly a socializer even if I have achiever tendencies in general.
Now, I think the distinction between online and offline play styles is important. When I log onto a mud, I like to socialize and explore my surroundings. Why do I like to socialize? I think the main reason is because socialization only happens with other people, something I do not get in most offline games. Do not we put our games online to add the extra dimension of human interaction to the game? And, socializers are the people that provide the friendly face to this interaction in our games. All this seems brain-dead obvious, but is it really?
Now that is earth shattering.
I advance the notion that we worry too much about the other types defined by Bartle to the exclusion of the Socializer type. We constantly ponder the problems caused by unrestrained Killers, we tend to focus our games on keeping the Achievers happy, and we always want Explorers to grace our games. Explorers are the fun and interesting players. But, when is the last time you heard any mud developer consider, "How can I make my game more attractive to Socializers?"
Part of the problem is the fact that people view community as something that automatically happens in an online game. Obviously, it happens automatically, because it is what is unique to online situations compared to equivalent offline ones. One of the Laws states: "The basic medium of multiplayer games is communication." (Dr Cat's Theorem as expressed by J C Lawrence). However, I think most experienced developers know that community often does not form in ways we expect.
Even though the community happens automatically, the job of the developer is to help shape it to the extent they want it to fit into the game. We have trouble with some of our current communities because we did not take an active hand in developing the community we wanted. If a developer chooses a hands-off approach to forming community, he or she should not be surprised when something unusual (or unpleasant) forms.
In Meridian 59, when a particular new server was opened up in the early days of the game, some of the developers allowed an established, friendly "guild" of players to play on the server first. At least one of the former developers believes this is the reason that server remained strong even when others failed; the established guild had enough of a foothold to keep the "bad seed" in check. Even though the "undesirables" were present, they could not counter the group that was already established within the game. Given this, I think that developers cannot absolve themselves from considering how the community will form. And, by applying Bartle's research, we know Socializers are the foundation for a strong community.
So, how do we attract and retain Socializers? Really, there is nothing new or earth-shaking here, we just need to apply what we already know with more vigor. Communication tools are obviously an important part of retaining socializers. As I stated in my last rant, you need to make sure you include both instant and persistent communications in both individual and broadcast forms. Each of these types of communication is important for the Socializer to keep in touch with their friends and meet new people.
This also brings up another important concept: that we need to make sure that Socializers are able to meet new people and make new friends if they want, just as Achievers want new powers, Explorers want new areas, and Killers want new victims. Much of the focus I have personally seen in discussing systems for empowering social groups talk about allowing people to keep in contact with their existing friends. However, I know from personal experience that meeting new people is a large part of why I enjoy socializing with others.
Tying this back to "Advancement Considered Harmful", we need to make sure that Socializers can interact with a wide variety of people. If a low-level Socializer can offer nothing to a high-level player, then there is little possibility for interaction. The more this is the case, the less chance the Socializer will have of making friends and staying with the game. This interaction is vital to the Socializer, and the bond must be able to be maintained in the game, preferably without forcing a focus on achievement on the socializer.
So, why do socializers like our games? Why do not they stick to the chat rooms where they belong? Because the game provides an instant form of "common ground" to allow people to start conversations. There are a plethora of chat programs that allow me to keep in contact with my friends, but a mud allows me to meet people with a common interest in gaming, a certain genre, etc and play a game with them. This is one reason why I think the watering down of games to make them more "mass-market" friendly is problematic. Without a solid, defining characteristic, it makes it harder for people to find others of similar interests, the "common ground" I spoke of above.
Of course, there are some limits on this. I am certainly not advocating that we focus on Socializers to the exclusion of all others. As I said before, I am not a huge fan of plain chat. We need the Achievers, Explorers, and Killers to make the mud a game. It is also important to realize that sometimes tradeoffs are made in the game. Perhaps you eliminate instantaneous communication for whatever reason ("not realistic", or "do not want players giving info to enemies", etc); a good developer realizes that this change accomplishes the goals of the game yet at the same time realizes it will hurt the Socializers. Each developer must decide if this is a good tradeoff in the game they are working on.
So, it is time for mud developers to remember the Socializers. We must consider this group in designing our games, give them the necessary tools, and present them with the situations they desire. By intentionally including Socializers, we create a game that truly takes advantage of the online medium.
August 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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