Interview with Mark Hopkins in Minecraft About World Construction and TechnoBuffalo Server
This is a great new book for those of you interested in doing digital ethnographies or research on social media.
Thumping: Firefall and the Social Impact of Player-Driven Dynamic Events
Red 5 Studios has an in-development MMO called Firefall that is currently in closed beta while development continues. From the outset, the game is a third- and first-person shooter (depending on perspective) that is aiming for mostly sandbox play with a fairly powerful engine. Amid the interesting innovations of this game is the lack of classes—players instead can change between “battleframes” at any time that provide roles for players. Battleframes are unlocked via experience and in later levels also resources gathered in game; all of the equipment and items in the game can also be crafted with resources.
To earn resources, players must engage in a player-driven dynamic event called “thumping.”
From the game perspective, thumping is a form of resource gathering (or mining) that involves protecting a thumper (or a science fiction styled mining apparatus that sifts through earth.) Players pick a spot for the thumper, call it down, and then must protect it for several minutes from hostile wildlife—usually bugs, lizards, some sea life, etc.—until it completes. Upon completion resources and extra experience are awarded.
While thumping, the presence of the thumper is announced to nearby players and added to the game’s main map. Other players (not involved in the thumping team) can come to assist. Aside from earning experience from killing attackers rushing at the thumper, players who remain in the vicinity can also earn a small cut of the resources mined by the thumper team.
In this fashion Red 5 encourages players to gather together around thumpers that leads to social interaction and greater group cohesion in Firefall.
Thumpers also come in a number of different sizes stock, light, medium, and large—with each increase in size ostensively also in difficulty to protect. (When players fail to protect a thumper, it is destroyed, and there is no reward in resources.) Endangered thumpers can also be sent back early at a severe penalty in earned resources. Therefore, larger and better geared defensive groups are needed to protect larger thumpers.
Common social thumping strategies:
- Playing solo with a stock thumper and waiting for other players to gather—players who do this often add those who arrive to their team and aim for a larger thumper as teams grow;
- Calling out in global chat for people to form a team to attempt a larger (often medium) thumper and if enough extra players arrive larger thumpers are deployed;
- Asking their Army (i.e. guild) to help them form a team to defend a heavier thumper; this often means a veteran group with well-equipped battleframes who can support a heavy thumper;
- The previous strategy is sometimes also combined with calling out for more players in global chat to increase the number of thumper defenders.
The first two strategies are essentially pick-up-group (PUG) group strategies and only when 5+ people arrive to protect a thumper can a PUG team manage to defend a heavy or larger thumper from the onslaught of attackers. The second two strategies involve gathering together veteran groups of well-equipped characters, which more often leads to better outcomes.
Mechanical strategies used by players for heavy thumper groups:
- Placing thumper between rocks or as close to large rocks as possible to limit the angles of attack that the onslaught can follow;
- Placing thumper on shores extremely close to the water in a fashion similar to above, although this is less successful;
- Placing thumper in a fashion that causes enemy-pathing-AI to glitch out and hang them up on obstacles such as trees or rocks (there is a space near the north melding that does this currently);
- Placing thumper atop high rocks and plateaus (very few spots for this) that include internal hollows that spawn onslaught attackers from which attackers cannot readily escape.
For the most part, thumper teams enjoy better results not from placement but from heavier equipped or more abundant defenders.
In my observation, thumper teams that gather numerous people also become a little bit of a social event including discussion (between thumpers), Army invites, and small-talk conversation. This conversation can ebb and flow according to who is involved in the thumping; although much of the conversation is contained within the team chat (a private channel) of the thumping team than it is in local or global.
The extreme need for resources for thumping for advancement in the game means that numerous players are pushed to solo thump, find a thumping team, or seek out thumpers in the field. As a result, there’s a certain amount of interaction that involves thumpers in general even with the minimum population that Firefall has currently.
Griefing and “claim jumping” comparative reaction in the community
Before thumpers are dropped, players first “prospect” the ground for resources that they want to gather. These resource nodes are not created equal and can spawn in different qualities and some resources are rarer. As a result, prime thumping spots are desired and can produce a particular amount of friction between groups.
In a later document, I will examine the current strategies for griefing of thumpers as well as what I’m going to call “claim jumping.” Claim jumping would be when a group or player is currently thumping a particularly valuable resource and another player manages to get their own thumper on that point, essentially stealing the claim from the original group.
Recently Red 5 made this much more difficult with a 30 second node forbid after the previous thumper completed; but teams still get their claim jumped although it much more rare than before.
Warframe and What I’ve Been Reading on Social Science in Virtual Worlds
I’ve been both busy and listless lately so it’s taken a while to produce a video with much content. In this video, not only do I show off the newest free-to-play MMOTPS (a little bit) but I talk about some of the things that have been going on recently.
I read—and will review—the book The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World by William Sims Bainbridge. A book that I rather enjoyed having been a World of Warcraft player myself for a while; I found his praxis for studying WoW as a virtual world to be interesting. He chose to approach an ethnographic study from the viewpoint that the toons themselves were people—and his alts therefore were research assistants who looked at the WoW NPC “structured culture” (or literary culture) through a lens of a role player. He also talks about how other players approach the world and they themselves form and formulate guilds; including a series of anecdotes about how a guild appropriated external cultural influences (such as marriage) and reflected that external culture into the virtual world.
The paper that I’m looking to speak about is from 2004 called The Laws of Virtual Worlds (pub California Law Review, 2004, Vol 92) that examines virtual worlds for how communities for their own laws and regulations and phenomena as well as how they interact with external concepts of identity and property. Some of the worlds referred to in the text no longer exist (such as There) but some still thrive such as the Sims and Second Life. Much of the paper discusses how virtual worlds and present avatars, identity, property, and how those might clash with classical ideas of the same from external Western cultures in particular. One thing that I found interesting, and I disagree with, happened to be an idea of cyborg rights that involves the avatar (or virtual identity) has having rights distinct from the person who reifies the avatar.
Finally, I discuss an interview that I had with Cryptic Studios Lead Designer Zeke Sparkes who worked on the Neverwinter project—an upcoming Perfect World Entertainment MMORPG set in the Forgotten Realms D&D property of WoTC—amidst our discussion I asked him about the Foundry. This is a virtual world creation tool that allows players to interact with the game world at a lower level to produce quests, missions, dialogue, and other textural/cultural artifacts that are generally reserved for MMO developers and content creators. It basically gives the community the tools to create their own content, including tools to allow the community to enter into that content, rate it, communicate about it, and recycle thoughts/moods/ideas surrounding it.
I will update everyone as I complete those videos and write essays formulating my thoughts for interested parties.
Neverwinter Cloak Tower Dungeon and First Impressions
Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment just unveiled their new MMO, Neverwinter—in this video I talk about how the game presents and what it’s like mechanically as well as how it hooks together into other PWE/Cryptic products. As well as a short section about the new Foundry.
The Foundry is of particular interest to me because it is a tool for user generated content. Cryptic’s Star Trek Online also has a Foundry. This tool is used by players to produce their own content and to permit other players to join in and play through that content.
User generated content in MMOs greatly increases the virtual world and community aspect of every MMO. It also gives users a hand in the creation and promotion of their own interests in that MMO—not just through the social tools already set in these cultural spaces such as those that produce guilds or enable communication.
Foundry content propagates through expected mechanisms of world-of-mouth and popular interest—via both PWE’s forums and internal community as well as podcasts, external forums, guilds, and etc. As a result, in STO well-known Foundry authors have risen out of the community to become well known for their work with this virtual world-building tool.
Dragons, Timers, and Dynamic Events in Guild Wars 2
NCSoft’s Guild Wars 2 utilizes a system of gamification called “dynamic events” to make the zones of the game more lively than the standard MMO model by causing periodic (sometimes somewhat random) events to spawn while players are in the region. Many of these trigger on very short periods (10-30 minutes apart) meaning that the designers expect most players not to linger hours in any one region; but even with the shorter event spans players may still choose to participate repeatedly.
Observing the way that GW2 players gravitate towards dynamic events, there are two primary reasons for repeating events (1) because the “daily” may require a certain number of events to receive an award for participation and (2) because particular larger events—such as world-bosses and the Maw event—have substantial rewards matching their complexity and difficulty.
In the case of world-bosses (the dragons) and the Maw, it will draw in a great deal of participants. The mechanics underlying the gamification in GW2 will increase the difficulty of the event proportional to the number of players participating thereby meaning that if 20 or 80 players enter it will still tend to last a similar amount of time. The dragons seem to have this effect running, but events such as the Maw may not as much (as the Maw is made up of a chain of smaller events culminating in a weak boss.)
The three world-boss dragons are the Shatterer, Tequatl the Sunless, and the Claw of Jormag.
Each one runs on their own separate timer with the Shatterer the shortest (at 3 hours) with short span of pre-events that are often run through rapidly by parties interested in spawning the dragon. Tequatl has a 30 minute window within which the dragon might spawn once the timer runs down, but no pre-events to slow it down. Whereas the highest level dragon, the Claw of Jormag, has a 1 hour 30 minute window that it can spawn a pre-event within that takes a lot of participation to spawn the dragon itself.
The website GuildWarsTemple.com (Dragon Timers) track these larger events using player participation via crowdsourcing and a knowledge of the underlying mechanics including the spawn timers and the spawn windows. Players are enabled to give data to the timers by noting when the event in question last ended or even vote that the event is currently occurring. This means that through crowdsourcing, the event timers will usually be highly accurate.
During a typical week between January 21st and 25th, I attended 20 dragon events and questioned participants as to how they’d discovered that the event was occurring or was about to occur. Of those present the largest proportion said that they followed a dragon timer—and usually mentioned the GuildWarsTemple timer—representing more than half of those gathered in most cases. The remainder said that they’d been told by friends the dragon would be up shortly and others said they’d watched the regional chat (and often arrived after the dragon spawned.)
In a fight against Tequatl during US afternoon hours (noon to 5pm) it wasn’t uncommon to have 20 players waiting for the dragon inside of the 30 minute window. As the window closed, this would often double and upon the spawn of the dragon it would triple as more people ported in and joined the fight against the dragon.
If I have time, I may gather data on estimated numbers and reasons given at dragon events by participants to volunteer their reasons and note the times. To bolster that, I may pick particular participants and ask how often they join in dragon fights during a given week and how often they use dragon timers to know when/where to go or rely largely on friends to warn them when to participate. This might give me a much clearer idea of the makeup of the participants.
I am also interested in how many people participating in the same events that I am happen to be crowdsourcing the data on the timers to GuildWarsTemple’s dragon timers.
OBSERVATIONS OF GATHERINGS
All dragons have gatherings occur before the event and while most of the participants do not interact, it’s not uncommon for chatter to strike up. The most common communication happens over the region chat (or /map) with people asking and responding to questions such as “Has the dragon spawned?” or “Has the Shatterer pre-event started?”
In the case of the Shatterer there is a collection pre-event that requires participation—but if too many people participate it scales up and slows down so often people wait for someone else to do it. During this, players will ask if someone is doing the pre-event collection in /map to judge how long it will take the dragon to spawn.
In the case of Tequatl, the 30 minute spawn window requires no pre-event and gatherings simply stand around amidst some siege equipment used to fight the dragon’s minions when it appears. Often the gathered players will joke amidst themselves or entertain one another with jokes, idle chatter, or complaints. Most of this chatter takes place in /say (a very local area) but can spill into /map. In one instance a discussion of Tequatl’s gender started and sexist jokes were traded.
With the Claw of Jormag, very few people gather at the spawn point of the dragon (waiting idly) in fact, far fewer than with the Shatterer or Tequatl. Instead, people tend to patrol the region and wander in and out until the pre-event starts when /map becomes filled with people requesting assistance to destroy crystals dropped by the dragon across the northern part of the map. The destruction of the crystals leads to the spawning of the dragon and thus the mass-group participation element of the Claw fight.
The post-event for most of the dragons and the Maw runs basically the same: a chest spawns where the world boss was slain and all the participants surge towards it to take the loot.
Some (very few) players will pause momentarily to revive downed participants, but for the most part there’s a mad rush to the chest. After grabbing the loot, players who trampled downed players will loop back and assist with their revivification, if other players have not brought them back up already.
After receiving the loot from the chest, some players will brag about what they received from participating in the event. Most of them do so in /map, announcing their prize to the zone (but it isn’t uncommon for announcements to also be made to guilds.) Generally only orange loot (exotics) are announced as well as a type of loot called a “glob of ectoplasm” which is an important and expensive crafting component.
Other players will complain about poor loot distribution such as commenting, “Just a wash of blues and greens,” or “more greens! dafuq?” Often these comments will be met with grumbling from other players who also felt that they’d been let down by the random loot from the chest.
Within minutes of capturing the chest, players begin to disappear. The most vanish (teleport out or log into other characters) within the first three minutes. By five minutes after the fight, less than one forth to one fifth of the fighting strength of players remains—oftentimes those who remain behind are clustered around a nearby vendor (having sold gear or components for easy cash) or are sitting idly. Either chatting privately, playing the auction house, or chatting privately.
At ten minutes all participants are gone except perhaps a few idle players who generally don’t move for minutes later (or vanish on their own—possibly due to inactivity or because they returned to keyboard) Although a few remain who continue to do quests in the region or are passing through to do other dynamic events.
City of Heroes: The Final Hour
This is the first video from the live stream last night, Nov 30th of 2012. Here we tell the story of a small group of intrepid friends who came to City of Heroes and played together for many years, some have drifted away, but now they’ve returned to watch the final door close.
Be sure to use the playlist on YouTube to access all the videos together.
Four minutes past midnight, the server shut down, casting all out with a last MAPSERVER DISCONNECTED.
This is the end of that story. Good night, and good dreams, City of Heroes.
Yes. I’m working out the logistics of that. It will either get published to my standard channel (where I put videos like the above) or it will end up on an ancillary channel; but I hope to make sure the video from our take on the end is posted somewhere.
City of Heroes: The Final Hour Live Stream
Tonight is the last night I and many others get to play City of Heroes—at approximately 12am PST end of day Friday, November 30th NCSoft will be shutting down the servers.
As a result, MMO Anthropology will be there with friends live streaming the end of City of Heroes and its related properties.
Come with us and join in on the long goodbye.
Interview with Spunkify, US Editor of MMOBomb.com
Spunkify is the US Editor for MMOBomb and does his own videos reviewing and talking about the MMO game industry. If you’re interested in how the MMO industry is progressing and how the marketplace is changing he’s a very good person to follow.
MORE ANTHROPOLOGY VIDEOS
“The MMO Game Review Community and Spunkify’s Career Change”
The above is a video about recent events in Spunkify’s career and his move from MMOHut to MMOBomb; it also discusses the nature and fragility of video game journalism and integrity. As his job change is currently obscured by legal issues, he is not able to speak about that on video so the interview did not cover that news.