Massive Online Anthropology

Interview with Cynicman about being a captain in Star Trek Online

Cynicman is a player of Cryptic Studios’s MMO Star Trek Online. He plays a myriad number of characters including several with a Gothic romance look to them — elegantly displaying characteristics like Brahm Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu, and other vampire-similar tropes. 

He is a lapsed veteran, having been subscribed to STO before the switch to free-to-play. As a result, he has a perspective on the changes in the game and how it has affected the population from a slightly more longitudinal view.

Accompanying this interview, SiliconANGLE writer Kyt Dotson addresses some thoughts about the use of expression in virtual worlds and the Star Trek media phenomenon in general.

Interview with Bluebear from World of Warcraft

Bluebear is a World of Warcraft player on the Oceanic realms who has been the leader of a large guild (now sold) but still keeps herself fairly busy with another guild. Her experience with the game ranges from keeping to the space with her friends and collecting what the game has to offer primarily in mounts, Hunter pets, and minipets.

During the video Bluebear shows off her night elf hunter who is wearing an outfit that is almost entirely red-and-gold outfit items. According to her, each of the set pieces has been a long time in collecting and she very recently completed it.

She also runs a YouTube channel where she shows people how to solo older content in World of Warcraft in order to collect rare drops from bosses. Since much of World of Warcraft is skill-based adventures against challenging bosses and the collectibles have a low drop rate, often it is necessary to go through any single dungeon or kill any one boss multiple times before winning a desired item.

A Look at the Great Guild Wars 2 Ectoplasm Bug of May 2013

Not too long ago, Guild Wars 2 had an interesting thing happen to their game – a bug caused a high-level ubiquitous end-game-important crafting item to stop dropping from salvaging items. Those of you who play GW2 know I’m talking about Globs of Ectoplasm, otherwise known as “ectos.” The bug didn’t last long, but it had some profound effects on the community and economy.

The Great Ectoplasm Bug of May 2013

First, let me describe the bug.

Essentially the primary place you get ectos is from melting down rare and exotic with salvage kits—which come in various qualities from crude to awesome (i.e. the Black Lion kit)—causing the item to drop between zero and three ectos. For an average of about .9 ecto per rare item.

The bug, however, caused this drop rate to diminish to almost half that.

When this bug was introduced two things happened: the community began to notice, first through people who just wondered why they weren’t seeing as many ectos drop when they salvaged, some began to investigate and run their own tests on the subject; and second the economy began to reflect this because the demand remained the same although the total flowing into the auction house dropped causing the price to rise.

According to a blog on MiniMaxir written by Max Woolf:

“On May 28th, a player noted on the official GW2 forums that out of 166 salvages, he only received about 80 Ecto, or about 0.5 Ecto/Salvage[1]. This is approximately half of the original rate of 0.9 Ecto/Salvage. Since the rate of new Ecto entering the market was halved with no change in demand, the Auction House price for Ecto began to steadily rise.”[2]

Other players had experienced the same, of course, and began to build the community sensation that something had happened to the ecto drops—some cited the rise in the cost on the auction house, which wasn’t a killer increase but by the 30th they had gone from around 18s to 24s, an increase of almost 33%.

The small experiments already done seemed to be good indicators that something was up. However, if this wasn’t enough for the community, even more people began to pitch in on the forums:

“…players continued to post in the thread and began quoting even larger sample sizes, such as a salvaging 500 Rares resulting in 286 Ectos (0.57 Ecto/Salvage) and salvaging 775 Rares resulting in 402 Ecto (0.52 Ecto/Salvage). With those sample sizes, the probability that the true salvage rate is unchanged from 0.9 Ecto/Salvage is essentially zero.”[3]

As this rising tide of concern built up, ArenaNet’s on staff economist appeared in the forums—I’ve spoken about what John Smith has done in the past when I spoke about his infographics—and noted that the staff was looking into the problem.

The problem was finally patched May 30th, with ArenaNet acknowledging that the bug had occurred and a patch was very swiftly deployed.

At the end, Smith left a final message: “Thanks to everyone for your help identifying the issue and providing great data for me to start with in my research.”

The volume of ectos is on its way to recovering—but the price has certainly fallen back to very close to where it historically has sat before since the fix. (As you could see in the fig 1.1 graph in the video, having some trouble attaching it to the blog post.) Although with a few more months (between the making of the video attached and this publication) it would appear that ectos have an inflationary trend. Starting at around 18s in September 2012 and trending steadily up towards 22s now in August 2013.

Players experience game lifeworlds with expectation of developer impact

I’ve mentioned before that MMO games aren’t just sterile universes built-and-left behind, even as structured cultural spaces they have the implicit give-and-take between community and developers and ordinarily this is invisible. Bugs, especially those that present themselves from the “invisible” mechanics of the game, quickly display how community and devs interact and this is a brilliant example of that.

In a business sense: this is about customer service.

In a cultural sense, this is about the fact that the developers and operators of the world are part of the ongoing construction of the community and how it interacts with the world. For the most part, many players go about their day not thinking about the mechanics or the developers—except perhaps in a superstitious sense of attempting to guide the random number generator or curse the developers when something doesn’t go their way—but when an actual change comes down that wasn’t part of the expectations of the community.

The developers may control the world (and its underlying mechanics) but they’re not wholly separate from the context of the culture within the game and how AreaNet approached the bug—and the community’s reaction to it—speaks to how well integrated they are with the needs and “fun” of the culture they’re attempting to cultivate in game.

Following the discussion that emerged in the forums it started with a single post outlining a single experiment. The evolution of the thread began to wind through individuals checking the math, people noting the changes in prices on the market—and as expected those who framed the discussion as market manipulation. To this end when Woolf writes that eventually even those who framed it as manipulation (and also the ArenaNet devs) saw that the statistics panned out to be true.

The exercise of players seeking information about the game via lived in experience, experiments, etc. is common across communities. As an example the “deep breaths” mechanic used by the dragon Onyxia from World of Warcraft has been used in the past—the “deep breath” has a tendency to inflict huge amounts of damage but according to Blizzard devs its entirely random. This hasn’t stopped players from producing hypothesis that involve player position, gear, attack patterns, etc. Another example of this is Star Trek Online’s battle with Donatra who has a cloaking ship—her behavior with cloak has long been a discussion of players as to what causes her to trigger the cloak sooner. This discussion became so heated that a dev had to respond.[4]

The virtual worlds of games maintain persistent “invisible” mechanics that players use in their everyday activities either intuitively, with gained experience/knowledge, through experimentation, or from communication with other players. As we’ve seen, when these mechanics change—or are perceived to change—there is a demonstrable reaction from the community.


 [1] Stego.3148, et al. (2013, May 29) Guild Wars 2 Forum “Changes to ecto salvage from rares” retrieved from

[2,3] Woolf, M. (2013, May 30) “How MMO Players Proved that Developers Bugged an Item Drop Rate” retrieved from

[4] borticuscryptic (2013, July 31) Star Trek Online Forum “Dev clarification needed on Donatra’s cloak behavior” retrieved from


Despite this ease of interaction, the development of my in-game relationships was anything but simple. When I began playing WoW (November 23, 2004), I had no conception of the game’s potential in terms of inter-player interaction or the social grouping opportunities afforded within the game.

This is an excellent view of identity and embodiment—a subject for avatars I intend to speak on at some point—so if you read my Tumblr you should go read this essay from The Post-human Gamer.

A channel update: Why so quiet?

I recently ran afoul of some much-needed dentistry to fix some wisdom teeth that where going to destroy other teeth. Needless to say the visit went well—although it needed a little patch up due to an odd rare effect where teeth sometimes penetrate the sinuses. Explains some of my headaches I’ve had.

So, here’s an update for everyone and I hope to put more videos together soon and many more will be coming to this Tumblr because I’ve fallen behind.

Meanwhile, good night and good dreams.

Interview: Arienne Keith’s Minecraft Creations Part 1/2


This is a two-part series highlighting the work of one of the participants on the MMO Anthropology Minecraft server and what she’s done in the virtual world. It involves constructions that she’s developed alongside other members — mostly monuments and artifacts — and includes how those constructions interact with the rest of the community.

During this video, Arienne Keith shows off what she’s developed using the virtual worldbuilding tools available in Minecraft and has made available to the community on the server. She’s worked on a series of personal projects (all of these were done by herself rather than community projects which also occur) and sit in regions where they can be found or otherwise enjoyed by other participants on the server.

Amid these projects has been the Vegan Hellmouth—a building constructed out of a reddish-block called Netherrack—made to look like a flaming, clawed-monster that contains growable food items (such as wheat, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, and watermelon.) All of these food items are useful to participants in the Minecraft world as they need to eat to keep up a food meter.

Also she has shown off her skyscraper treehouse which reaches from ground level to the maximum extent (height) of the server which is at about 256 blocks. Each level of the treehouse has been given a purpose and there’s even a level-by-level spectrum of dyed sheep used to produce dyed wool (a major construction item on the server.) Many times other participants have gone to her treehouse to shear the sheep for colored wool.

Also she shows off her castle hidden in the woods, or call Frau Totenkinder’s Castle. To construct it, Arienne used in-game tools such as minepicks with a special enchantment enabling them to take blocks as-is (otherwise coal, diamond, and other types of blocks would become coal or diamond resources) and she then used them as elements in the construction. Each tier of the castle uses a different color as a motif and the patterns of floor and ceiling use that themed-color set with basic found-in-world blocks.

On the subject of open servers and communities, a previous interview I held with Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins is a good follow-up to looking at these constructions.

Interview with Mark Hopkins in Minecraft About World Construction - MMO Anthropology

The MMO Anthropology Minecraft server is part of the live stream on Saturdays at where we spend time to talk to viewers of this channel about their experience playing video games and simply socialize.

Hybrid-MMO Games at E3 Show the Console Industry Blur Single and Multiplayer

E3 is one of the biggest consumer spectacles in terms of entertainment and gaming that we’ll see all year and the video game industry has a chance to show where the constituents intend to go in the future. As a result, gamers get a chance to look at what games they’ll be playing over the next year. This year, E3 appears to have a theme about connecting gamers in different ways and consoles are starting to move into the social sphere by taking one some of the aspects of MMO games.

Namely, instead of the persistent worlds or massive-multiplayer of worlds; but instead I’m seeing players who can enter into a single player instance (or instanced multiplayer) that can mix with other mutliplayer in specialized instances or events.

Also, game makers are starting to see the increasing “cyborgification” of the population via the prevalence of mobile devices, of non-consoles and not-PCs in the fashion of smartphones and tablet devices. Newly developed games are looking to include people using devices that don’t usually connect-nicely with PCs or consoles. In this sense, people who aren’t as “there” still get to involve themselves in the virtual worlds of these games.

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.


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[1]

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.