Is Social Interaction Really That Important to MMOG Players?

A particularly interesting post on Terra Nova reveals the results of an eight month, detailed study of World of Warcraft. The dataset includes information from over 150,000 characters, so it’s certainly thorough enough. The post claims that the results of the study contradict the commonly-held assumption that people play MMOGs primarily for the social interaction they offer. However, it isn’t clear to me that the data really supports such an argument More on that.

Among the study’s most interesting findings: early-stage players (level 40 and below) spend only 30% of their time in groups, and less than half of WoW players belong to a multi-person guild. Furthermore, the average guild member collaborates (in quests, etc.) with only 11% of his/her guildmates for more than 10 minutes over the same month.

First, this data could indicate that many players rush through the early levels in order to enjoy end-game content with their friends. (Indeed, the study also found that end-game characters spend far more time in groups.) Second, guild members may form strong relationships with a small percentage of their guildmates and choose to group with them whenever possible. (They may not even have a choice, if those guildmates are the only guildmates who regularly play WoW at the same time of day.) Of course, all this could be incorrect as well. I’m just saying it isn’t clear.

The post also states that players favor “soloable” classes like hunters and warriors. (Data here.) That certainly has merit as an argument against social inclination. However, Warlocks are soloable, and they’re the least-played Alliance class. Players may prefer warriors and hunters for any number of unrelated reasons (for example, some may choose warriors because that class enjoys access to the broadest variety of weapons and armor.)

Lastly, from the post: “despite features like WoW’s ‘group xp bonus’, grouping is an inefficient way to level, which naturally steers the more ‘hardcore’ players away from groups (at least, in the early stages of the game).” But if the system is inherently biased against group play at early levels, I don’t see how you can make any major assumptions about social inclination from the data.

Long story short, I’d like to know more before accepting any pronouncements. That said, I’d bet a few developers would be pleased to learn that social interaction is not so important, since accommodating social interaction tends to engender the thorniest design problems.

8 responses to “Is Social Interaction Really That Important to MMOG Players?

  1. Warriors are soloable? Seriously? *snerk*

    More to the point, I think that pretty much all the classes in WoW can operate solo, and that the class distribution data (with Priests being more common than Warlocks, which are *much* more solo-friendly) doesn’t really support the study’s conclusions. Some points to consider:

    * Combat-ready pets increase the ability to go solo, but that’s two classes (Warlock and Hunter). In the alliance, the Hunter is #2, while the Warlock is dead last. In the Horde, both Warlocks and Hunters are the third from their respective end. I suspect that all this means that Warlocks are more complicated to play than hunters are. (Multiple pet selection, plus they require soulstones for all their best powers.)

    * Unless I’m misremembering, Warrior is the only class available to every race. That in and of itself might skew the stats towards more warriors. They’re also one of two classes that get to wear plate (Paladin being the other). That increases their solo potential, though their pathetic damage output compared to Rogues and Mages decreases it. Paladins are actually far better suited to soloing, since they can heal themselves.

    * Rogues are probably the best class for levelling solo. They have stealth abilities (which help them choose their fights) and massive damage output. On the downside, they have light armor and can’t heal themselves, but as long as they draw their foes one at a time, they still level faster than Paladins and Shamans, who kill mobs more slowly.

    So according to my analysis, if soloing was the only issue at stake, you’d be seeing a whole lot more Paladins, Rogues, and Shamans, with Hunters and Warlocks also being high on the list. As it is? They’re kind of spread out, and Warriors (the tank/meat shield class!) is #1 in both factions. Either my analysis is flawed (always a possibility, but I’m biased against that interpretation), a plurality of WoW players think Warriors solo better than other classes despite evidence to the contrary, or other factors are influencing class choices.

    My money’s on the last option.

  2. Interesting data, but I’m with David — given the huge variety of motivations, experience, and commitment from players, it’s hard to justify a broad conclusion — maybe just “socializing may not be as important to all players as we thought it was (based on conjecture)…

  3. Players don’t choose their class based on how easy it is to solo. They choose their class either depending on what they think they’ll enjoy the most, or what their current clan needs.

    @Alec Austin: Pathetic damage output? Lol. When all classes are geared out with epics in the end game, warriors are always top contenders on the damage meters. Other than that, you’re pretty much dead-on.

    Hunters and warriors aren’t the most soloable classes. Just look at all the gold farmers and what classes they choose (Lol, only kidding, but it does prove a good point). Rogues and hunters are the classes that level to 60 the fastest. Now I know it doesn’t say that rogues are the most soloable, they’re up there, but they’re the fastest to level to 60, which is what that data is really saying. Players rush to 60 so they can enjoy the game more, because they’re more powerful.

    Warriors are VERY soloable at 60 if they’re well geared and fury specced, but that’s not the point, since you need 60 and good enough gear to be able to do so.

    Based on their ability to have pets, hunters and warlocks are obviously the top solo classes.

  4. Letifer: You’re entirely correct re: my “pathetic damage output” crack. I should’ve specified pre-level 60 damage output.

  5. that was a stupid blog!

    dude serously

    this is wow

    of course people solo it was made so whiney lil bitches could play mmorpgs

    i play wow

    people talk over guild chat while they get to 60 well 70 now..

    wow isnt a very soical game

    compared to others such as everquest and final fantasy11 where you have to play with other people

    thats the problem?

    did you really think people acaully grouped in wow? much at all ? i mean really?

    you my friend have no idear about mmorpgs *sigh

    yes people to soilise but you dont need to be in a group to that theres guilds and you have a friends list

    that data is not good because most people are in the high lvls anyway lol so the fact is there lvling not playing the high game that matters

  6. rogues do not lvl the fastest

    they can get killed very easly compared to hunters

    paladins are a slow class

    rogues are fast but it depends on the player i lvl my rogue slowlish lol i die alot im a paladin typa guy for example i have msn on when im on wow

    the fastest classes are probly hunter and warlocks i would say no downtime for them and fast killing and low death rate

    omg wow people ..*angry eq vet wonders off

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