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Addiction and the Structural Characteristics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games
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Addiction and the Structural Characteristics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games


August 22, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next
 

Player Populations and Structural Characteristics of MMO games

While we may not know a great deal about addiction as it relates to these games,
there has nonetheless been a great deal of work exploring these worlds. The methods of these studies may not be perfect, yet they nonetheless give strong hints as to who is playing and why. Even if many demographic variables have yet to be sampled scientifically, what exists can be compared against information on addiction in order to garner information regarding these worlds.


Figure 2. Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft

Each MMO, for instance EverQuest or World of Warcraft, is a different game, with
different mechanics. Within games there can be large differences as well, as each game will, on average run one, 20, or even 100+ servers, depending on the popularity. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, currently the real world’s largest MMO, runs at least 108 servers, which they call “realms.” This number increases as World of Warcraft gains popularity, yet may collapse if newer games grow in favor. A server is a single copy of the game world, with its own internal mechanics; likely variations between servers are community, economy, or nationality.

To be more specific, after purchasing an MMO and creating a billing account, one will have to choose which particular “server” of this game world they would like to play in. The bulk of player population studies do not explicitly explain how they treat sampling with regard to servers or games, though this is not the major downfall to such studies so far. A major sampling downfall is that the bulk of studies looking at player populations have been elicited through outside websites, particularly “community websites” for particular games. Two major concerns with this are (1) the sheer volume of such popular community websites, and (2) the low likelihood that those seeking community outside the game will be representative of those playing within (especially those pathologically addicted).

Structural Characteristics as a Theoretical Concept

Though literature pertaining to videogames is growing rapidly, few have stopped to
actually define videogames or analyze their structure (Wood, Griffiths, et al., 2004). In a
study of more traditional single-player games, Wood et al. set out to assess video game
structure by way of asking which structural characteristics were most salient among game players (Wood et al., 2004). Many of his structural characteristics were not entirely applicable to MMO play, for instance ‘duration of game’ and ‘mapping’ (creating custom levels for a single player game). Other characteristics apply to MMO games, such as interface options, use of humor, and brand assurance, yet were omitted from this study in order to restrict its size.


Figure 3. Structural characteristics map the structures available for interaction within
these games, and include exploring new areas.

Yee’s MMO Motivations

Nicholas Yee, one of the more recognizable names in the study of MMO effects, in a
3 year period surveyed over 30,000 players from the MMO games Ultima Online, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Star Wars Galaxies. In a paper set to be published in 2006, he explores positive and negative effects of MMO playing. Qualitatively, Yee identified five factors of MMO motivation: achievement, relationship, immersion, escapism, and manipulation.

It is important to differentiate motivations for play from structural characteristics, the
actual structure within the game that is being manipulated. This distinction notwithstanding, the criteria used by Yee can be modified and clarified so that these motivations may be measured as if they were structural characteristics. For instance, Yee’s concept of manipulation includes the questions, “I scam other people out of their money or equipment”, and, “I like to taunt or annoy other players.” His questions do not have to be changed drastically for a successful query of MMO structures.

The wording of some measures taken from Yee remain unchanged. In “immersion”,
for example, creating a back-story for one’s character can be entirely in the mind of the game player, or it can be an integral part of the game. Eve Online and City of Heroes are two games where players are encouraged to enter information about their character’s history, in a structure that allows other players to then read that information and/or back-story. World of Warcraft has no structure for this, but it is not uncommon to hear a player talking about their created back-story on an RP, or role-playing server. The same structure is here operating in radically different ways, sometimes even within a single game.


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