Social Nets in Virtual Worlds


Recent work issues have kept me a bit slow on the posting. The folks over at Catallarchy caught something before I did.

Life With Alacrity posts on mapping social networks that arise in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Ultima Online. The post is a follow-on to a previous post about the issue of Dunbar's Number. For the source of the graphs presented at LWA, check out PlayOn.

According to the research, it looks as though guilds (read: online social groups) grow in cohesion until they number around 50 players. At that point cohesion tends to fall, indicating that it may simply be hard for those who are at the top of the guild to build and keep group interest when there are more than 50 players. I'd also hazard a guess that, in joining a group of that size, an individual may see less benefit in participating actively given that so many others are already present (that is, the marginal benefit to belonging is low compared to the cost of contributing to the group in whatever way). Perhaps interesting research on public choice theory is soon to come?


It is not only that the leaders have to build and keep group interest, but that for each member to feel that they are getting a "fair share" of the value of the group they must offer increasing participation in the group process itself. Dunbar's original hypothesis proposed that it could require as much as 50% of each individuals time "grooming" and other social glue to maintain a group as large as 150. This is fine for survival groups (whenver I see the show The Sopranos I'm reminded how much "grooming" and social glue they require to stay together), but for non-survival groups this amount of time gets in the way of the goal of the non-survival groups, in the case of WoW, the fun.

I'm not sure that I understand your use 'public choice theory' well enough to understard last point. I've always heard public choice theory described as how bureacracies (in particular government ones) tend to make decisions in their own self-interest, not the the public they serve. In other words, the same factors that make open markets work cause pathology when goverments try to do it. Do you mean something else?


Thanks for stopping by!

Public choice theory is a bit more involved than simply declaring governments as involving self-motivated actors. Specifically, I was thinking mostly about questions of rent-seeking in the leaders, abilities of leading coalitions to movitvate larger groups (latent groups, that is). An in-game example: a group of lower-level players that may be looking to level up quickly, and could do so if the higher-level players were to provide help/xp-gathering assitance through exemplar-style partnering, giving access to items harder to get for the lower levels, etc. The higher-level players would have to be willing to give time to do so, which is essentially a cost for some possibly unspecified return. Would a single player who would face higher opportunity cost for doing so (similar in group choice to a single individual/small group that has the resources to absorb costs more readily) join a larger guild where there might be numerous people making numerous requests for this kind of help, or rather join a smaller guild where there wouldn't be so much demand? Is it easier for a small number of high-level players to build a large guild quickly, and if so, how do they do it and why? Do small guilds of low-level players build gradually to maximize returns on things like reputation issues? In such a case, deviation from the principles/actions of the group might result in higher cost to reputation. And so on and so forth.

That social cohesion is in some interesting way measurable leads me to think that we could find out some more specific things about the "grooming" that goes on. Who are the people most likely to devote time to grooming? Lower-level players (who could be seen as resource-poor members of a group) looking for approval from higher-level? Or higher-level ones enjoying being at the top of the pecking order? Some review of the "incidence" (to abuse a word) of the grooming activities could be fascinating...


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This page contains a single entry by published on October 31, 2005 2:11 PM.

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