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Behaviour & Information Technology, 2013

Challenges of designing for sociability to enhance player experience in Massively Multi-player Online Role-playing Games Georgios Christoua∗ , Effie Lai-Chong Lawb , Panayiotis Zaphirisc , and Chee Siang Angd a Department

of Computer Science and Engineering, European University Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus; b Department of Computer Science, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK; c Department of Graphic Arts and Multimedia, Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol, Cyprus; d School of Engineering and Digital Arts, University of Kent, Kent, UK

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(Received 04 November 2011; final version received 26 November 2012 ) Massively Multi-player Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) have become a popular leisure activity. It has been suggested that the reason for their popularity is that they offer a new ‘third-place’ for people to socialise. However, designing for sociability in these games has been shown to be a challenge. In this article, we discuss the results of an online survey that was directed towards game design researchers and professionals. We then present a subsequent discussion on the results of the survey at a Special Interest Group (SIG) held at CHI 2011. Through analysis of the findings of the survey and the discussion, we propose six requirements that facilitate the design of MMORPGs: In-game Communication, Off-game Communication, Empathy, Grouping and Rewards, World Design, and Designed Relationships. We state that it is not necessary to add all the proposed requirements in the design of such games, but we also caution that a game that does not include any of the requirements presented here cannot belong to this genre. We discuss limitations of this work, and offer future research directions that result from this work. Keywords: game design; user experience; player experience; MMORPG; sociability; social games

1. Introduction and background The overarching goal of this article is to further the understanding of the challenges in designing for sociability in Massively Multi-Player Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs), and to begin a discussion on the requirements of sociability design in these games. As playing online games (of which MMORPGs are a part) is the second most popular activity among today’s Internet users (Nielsen Wire 2010), it is important to look at this topic and examine how better design can enhance sociability without being so intrusive as to impede the overall Player eXperience (PX), which can be regarded as a specific manifestation of User eXperience (UX)1 focussing on games. Amongst a range of qualities for PX, fun is a common as well as critical one (Nacke 2009, Drachen et al. 2010). Thus, many questions require answers if we are to move further in the science of designing social games, questions such as: How do existing MMORPGs provide a social experience to players? What does it mean to have a social PX? How does one optimise sociability design? Which structures actually support sociability, and how does one evaluate the game structures that support sociability? To investigate some of these questions, we created an online survey that was directed towards researchers in computer games and game industry professionals (but not to game players) to gather opinions on ∗ Corresponding

author. Email:

© 2013 Taylor & Francis

the challenges of designing for sociability in the context of social games to enhance PX. The survey was created in the form of probing interview questions to understand the thinking process of experts in the field of social game design. Researchers have started to address various questions on topics as diverse as social impact (Seay et al. 2004), ethical questions (Warner and Raiter 2005), design (Ducheneaut et al. 2004), presence (Ravaja et al. 2006), and game experience (Fisher 1995, Clarke and Duimering 2006, De Kort and Ijsselsteijn 2008, Zaharias and Papargyris 2009), and the way these manifest in the online communities within MMORPGs. In fact, social cultural studies on computer games are gaining much popularity recently because player–player interaction, both collaborative as well as competitive, plays an important role in MMORPGs. Also, the notion of sociability is central to the field of computer-supported collaborative work and of humancomputer interaction (HCI) and is concerned ‘with developing software, policies and practices to support social interaction online’ (Preece 2001). According to Preece (2001), three components contribute to good sociability: purpose (i.e. reason for belonging to an online social group or community), people (i.e. individuals’ needs and roles in such a group), and policies (i.e. formal and informal rules

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G. Christou et al.

govern interactions in the group). Whether this generic 3-P sociability framework, which has been operationalised into some general success measures (Preece 2001), is applicable to specific online communities such as MMORPGs remains an empirical question. It has also been demonstrated that designing for sociability in MMORPGs is a difficult process. Many MMORPGs are created, but only relatively few have succeeded commercially. An example of sociability design backfire can be observed in Star Wars Galaxies, an MMORPG which tried to pressure the players into socialising through its designed relationships between avatars, and eventually pushed the players away (Ducheneaut et al. 2004). In addition, the social implications of moving third-places (i.e. social surroundings)2 from the real world to the virtual world are only beginning to be understood. All the while, this move requires the development of virtual third-places that draw people to them and promote the same types of sociability (Simmel and Hughes 1949), just as real-world third-places do. There have been several attempts to create such virtual third-places, with various degrees of success (Ducheneaut et al. 2004, 2006). Still, one of the major draws to MMORPGs is that in addition to the single-player game content, they provide players the ability to socialise and play together with friends and strangers, either as allies or as competitors (Steinkuehler and Williams 2006). In observing that, as mentioned earlier, certain game features purportedly designed for sociability may backfire (Ducheneaut et al. 2004, Eklund and Johansson 2010); we need to examine the ways in which MMORPG design can affect sociability, which in turn affects the success or failure of the game. Therefore, the relevant question that we try to answer in this article is how do we design for sociability in MMORPGs so as to enhance fun – the key experiential quality of games? As designing for social interaction in games is challenging, and this is a key differentiator from solitary digital games, a design method is required that takes into account the social aspects of a game as well as any other considerations that would normally go into creating a single-player game. The social aspects need to be defined, presented, and even promoted by the game itself, so that its users may begin to play them. The rest of the article is organised as follows: First, we present a study using an online survey aimed at game researchers and professionals who have had research or professional experience in the study and design of MMORPGs. The responses of the survey enabled the development of a three-factor model. Then we present a discussion and brief application of the model during a SIG at CHI 2011 (Conference of Human Factors in Computing Systems). The results of the survey and the model were presented at the SIG, and through discussion with the participants the model was further defined and elucidated, leading to a six-factor model. We conclude by discussing the limitations of our approach and the consequences of our model on social game design.

2. The study 2.1. Aim The study aimed at gathering the thoughts of people who have worked in the field of game design, either professionally or as researchers, to create a common understanding of what sociability is in the context of MMORPGs. The goal of this process was to delineate the structures that can be used in game design to support sociability, thereby providing relevant PX. Once the structures were identified, a discussion could follow to explore design choices that promote sociability in a way that is not forced upon the players. This would enable players to socialise as well as play. Such design would also promote the games’ social features to first-time players, so that they understand how to use these from the outset. The result from the discussion is then framed as three requirements that form the basis of the model for social game design. 2.2.


The study was divided into two parts. The first part consisted of a survey that was placed online between February and May of 2011. It was further opened to receive more answers between March and August of 2012. The survey was publicised in several HCI- and Game Design-related mailing lists. During these two periods of time, a total of 102 replies were received of which 12 were excluded, because the respondents had not completed any questions other than the demographics. Therefore, the results presented here are from a total of 90 answers. The reason for the relatively low response rate was that the survey was specifically aimed at researchers and game designers/developers with experience in MMORPGs. Their desired experience should be either in designing or developing social games or in researching the social structures of MMORPGs. Hence, this study was not aimed at game players. The survey was designed as a mini-interview aiming to gather qualitative responses rather than as a survey aiming to gather quantitative data and not to measure any kind of psychometric properties. As such, the questions were designed to gather the practices of practitioners and the ideas of researchers about the design for sociability in MMORPGs. Towards this end, we believe that the richness of the data retrieved as a result outweighs the small number of replies. The questions of the online survey are shown in Table 1. The survey consisted of two parts: the first set of questions aimed to understand how researchers and practitioners define sociability in MMORPGs, and asked them to state their belief as to whether today’s MMORPGs promote sociability, and in what ways. The second part asked participants to state ideas about how sociability may be hindered or improved through game design practice. The survey resulted in the identification of three structures that are necessary to create a social PX in an MMORPG.

Behaviour & Information Technology Table 1.

Survey questions. Survey questions

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

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10. 11. 12.

13. 14.

What is your primary occupation right now? Have you ever played any MMOG? Which ones? (conditional on the previous question) For how long have you been playing MMOGs? How do you define sociability in MMORPGs? Which perceived qualities of the following do you believe contribute to sociability in MMORPGs? How does sociability influence other perceived qualities of MMOPRGs? Mention any design methods that you have used to specifically design for sociability in MMORPGs Mention any evaluation methods that you have used to specifically evaluate sociability constructs in MMORPGs Which design/evaluation methods could be considered uniquely applicable to MMOPRGs? Which specific features of MMOPRGs entail such specific methods of design/evaluation? (conditional on the previous question) How can individual players’ UX be related to group (or social) experience in the context of MMORPGs? Is a whole greater than the sum of its parts, if they are additive at all? How important is sociability to the overall experience of the game? How is sociability promoted in MMORPGs?

The second part of the study was a discussion on the results of the survey and the topic ‘Designing for sociability to enhance player experience in massively multiplayer online games’. This discussion occurred in the context of the SIG at CHI 2011 (Christou et al. 2011). The results of the survey were presented to the SIG participants to enable the discussion. The SIG brought together researchers and practitioners from various disciplines such as sociology,

anthropology, computer science, HCI, and psychology, to discuss the challenges of creating social games. The format of the SIG was both structured and open. It was structured because it systematically set a stage which presented sociability issues and challenged the participants to come up with solutions through discussion on some specific sub-topics, and it was open because any person interested in this area could attend and contribute. For the purposes of our analysis, we first present the results of the survey, then the results of the SIG discussion, and finally we synthesise our findings into six requirements that may be used to facilitate the creation of MMORPGs. The whole process, together with the results from each part of the study, is shown in Figure 1. The online survey was open between February and May 2011, and between March and August 2012. We publicised it in various academic and game industry forums and mailing lists, such as the SIGCHI, Usability News, and the Digital Games Research Association. During the second round specifically, we personally invited experts in game design and development, both from academia and industry, to ensure that the sample also included respected professionals who have worked on the creation of successful MMORPGs. After both rounds, we gathered 90 valid responses. The survey questions are shown in Table 1. The first four questions aimed at understanding the demographics of the respondents. Specifically, questions 2 and 4 asked participants whether they had any experience in the more general field of Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs). The reason was to retrieve the experience of the participants as broadly as possible on online social games. Questions 5–7 aimed at understanding the respondents’ views on what sociability is in MMORPGs. Questions 8–11 were design-specific, questions 12 and 13 asked about the role of sociability in shaping game experiences, and finally

In-game communication

Online Survey

In-game communication

Off-game communication

Off-game communication

SIG Discussion

Sociability through grouping

Survey-derived requirements

Figure 1.


The research process and the findings from each phase.

Empathy Grouping and rewards World Design Designed Relationships Survey + Discussion Requirements


G. Christou et al.

question 14 asked about structures that are used to promote sociability in MMORPGs.

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2.3. Results and discussions 2.3.1. Demographic data The first four questions of the survey dealt with the demographic data. The 90 replies came as follows: 61.11% researchers/academics, 14.44% graduate students, 4.44% undergraduate students, and 20% game industry professionals. From these respondents, 54% had not only worked on but had also played MMORPGs, with World of Warcraft (WoW) being the most popular among the participants (40%) and the second choice being Lord of the Rings Online with 6.15%. Participants reported playing in total 36 different MMORPGs. 2.3.2. Definitional issues Question 5 aimed at understanding how participants defined sociability in the context of MMORPGs. This response was free text, thus giving respondents the opportunity to write about their thoughts freely. We then gathered all the responses and categorised them according to keywords that emerged through analysis. To extract themes from the responses to the free questions of the survey, we used thematic analysis (Miles and Huberman 1994). Thematic analysis is by nature iterative. We read through the responses to each question several times, each time creating a category or adding each response to one or more of the existing categories. Then, we went through the categories created and simplified the categories, either uniting categories where needed, or creating new categories and only stopped when saturation was reached (i.e. all items could be placed in existing categories). Through successive iterations of this process, three major categories, which can be seen as requirements, were identified (Table 2). The same process was followed for all the other questions that required free text replies. Responses such as ‘being able to

Table 2. Sociability requirements derived from the responses to the online survey. Requirements In-game communication Off-game communication Sociability through grouping

Explanation Sociability as it is perceived by players, i.e. through chat, grouping (short and long term, persistent or ad-hoc, etc) Define sociability not only in terms of in-game experiences, but also structures and artefacts that support it out-of-game, such as forums, wikis, etc Sociability through content that requires more than one player to complete, and the provision of structures that allows players to create groups

communicate with other people (in-game and externally), form groups and experience (appropriate) content together, and also having an infrastructure for the group available (e.g. guilds in WoW)’ straddled categories. In this case, the response fits into all of the categories. Other responses were more direct towards defining sociability as direct interaction, such as ‘where directly interacting with other humans is a meaningful part of the game’. However, all responses focussed on direct or indirect interaction between players. Table 2 summarises the three categories that emerged from the survey’s responses. The first category ‘Sociability through communication’, accounts for any in-game structures that allow players to communicate or that support the ability of players to communicate. Players communicate through in-game global chat, private chat between two or more players, or through channels reserved for shortand long-term groups that may be persistent or ad-hoc in MMORPGs. On the other hand, grouping mechanisms that allow players to create persistent or ad-hoc groups with any kind of longevity are structures that support the ability of players to communicate. The second category is also about communication, but which is not situated in-game. Rather, it comes from interactions through structures that are external to the game. This communication could be just information transfer from the structure to the player, with no reciprocity mechanism, but most of the time, such structures offer various mechanisms through which two-way communications may occur. The structures that we refer to here are, for example, wikis, forums, reference sites about the game, and even real-life groups, either official or fan-created. Such structures take the social aspects of a game one step further, creating a community that not only lives in-game, but also has significant substance outside of it. The third category encompasses the structures that allow players to join forces against game obstacles that cannot be tackled by a single player. There are various mechanisms of grouping. These could be ad-hoc or semi-permanent, long term and short term. However, grouping mechanisms do not presuppose that players belonging to a group will automatically communicate. In fact, it has been suggested (Ducheneaut et al. 2006, Eklund and Johansson 2010, Christou 2011a) that many times players do not communicate when in groups. But the act of grouping together presents a social action, and together with helping others even instrumentally to achieve a game goal can be viewed as social. 2.3.3. Quality attributes contributing to Sociability The sixth question, as shown in Table 3, provided several choices to the survey participants. Table 3 also shows the distribution of answers. The quality attributes were selected from traditional software quality models as well as from emerging UX research. Some of these attributes overlap and some differ from Preece’s (2001) ‘determinants of success’

Behaviour & Information Technology Table 3. Perceived qualities that contribute to sociability in MMORPGs. Quality

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Responsiveness Privacy Credibility Desirability Security Beauty Branding

Percentage of participants 28 19 18 13 11 7 4

(p. 352), which cannot be generalised to MMORPGs. For instance, the measure ‘number of messages’ is not relevant to online game environments whereas ‘trustworthiness’ (i.e. ‘credibility’) remains applicable. Subsequently, we elaborate each of the quality attributes and the associated findings. Amongst the list of quality given, responsiveness is perceived as important for sociability by 28% of the respondents, the highest percentage obtained. The concept ‘responsiveness’ can be defined as the specific ability of a functional unit to complete assigned tasks within a given time (Weik 2000). As the temporal aspect (i.e. speed) is the basic requirement for most, if not all, games, especially MMORPGs, it can explain the relatively high rating (though low in an absolute term) for responsiveness. About one-fifth of the respondents consider that privacy can contribute to sociability. At first glance, being private and being social seem antagonistic. But if we understand sociability in terms of Preece’s (2001) definition, then this finding makes sense. Setting policies to decide who would be allowed to join a community and how easy it would be can affect social interaction in the community and address individual members’ concerns about privacy. However, the relationship between privacy policy and perceived trust is somewhat ambiguous (Fogg et al. 2003), and the latter is closely related to credibility, which is regarded as important for sociability by 18% of our respondents, as described below. Credibility is a trait that indicates the degree to which a person is perceived as believable, trustworthy, and competent (McCroskey and Young 1981). In avatar-mediated online interaction, credibility is determined by an avatar’s gender and anthropomorphism (Nowak and Rauh 2006); such findings are relevant to the perceived sociability of MMORPGs. Besides, according to Preece (2001), trustworthiness (or credibility) is a critical determinant of sociability, and can be classified into three types with one of them being closely related to security policy. The relationships between credibility, risk, and security have been studied by a number of researchers (e.g. Corritore et al. 2003). Only about 11% of the respondents think that security can contribute to sociability. This finding is not so surprising, given that MMORPGs normally do not involve any material transaction that needs to be protected in terms of security policies.


However, this may change with a new trend started by Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment 2012) where real money can be used to trade virtual goods and the in-game currency on the game’s virtual auction house (Tassi 2012). While it is not surprising that the respondents do not perceive credibility and security as particularly important to sociability, what is unexpected is the very low percent of our respondents agreeing on the relevance of desirability, beauty, and branding. In the emerging field of UX, these non-instrumental qualities have already captured quite some research efforts (e.g. Hassenzahl and Tractinsky 2006, Law et al. 2009). A product is desirable if it is seen as worth having or seeing (cf. Hassenzahl’s (2004) hedonic attribute of identification), as being useful, beneficial, or pleasing (Benedek and Miner 2002). Apparently, our respondents do not see the teleological value as relevant to the sociability in MMORPGs. Besides, unlike fashion or dress up games, for games like MMORPGs, fun and challenge are the salient qualities that players typically appreciate; aesthetic quality could be a nice-to-have but not an essential quality. Furthermore, branding shapes a user’s expectation about the quality of a product/service. What can account for our findings is that most MMORPGs are not ‘branded’ applications; they are not ‘marketed’ in the way the commercial worlds do. Thus, viewing this from a player’s perspective, we surmise that the players will only continue playing a game if they find it desirable to do so. The respondents may see these factors as preconditions for playing a game and therefore not relevant after the players decide to continue playing. In summary, none of the seven qualities proposed are perceived as critical for sociability in MMORPGs. More research work is called for to identify such system qualities. 2.3.4. Three consequences of sociability Question 7 asked how sociability interacted with other perceived qualities of MMORPGs. This was again an openended question. We analysed the answers in the same way we did question 5. The perceived experiential qualities identified by respondents as positively affected by sociability were Motivation, Fun, and Relatedness. Motivation refers to the observation that the players remain interested in the game and continue playing it. Relatedness refers to the observation that the players feel that the game world is as real as the real world, thus relating the game experience to their real-world experience. The respondents mentioned that: after playing a game for a longer time it become boring, what still attracts players to stick to the game is the community/the other players. In the long run sociability is the most important factor for many players to stay in an MMORPG (or they even decide to migrate as a group to the next one).

Fun and Relatedness were subjective qualities that were mentioned by many of the respondents in conjunction with the ability to play with other people whom players know

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are real and not interactive game artefacts. One respondent mentioned that ‘the more people playing and interacting in quality ways in an MMORPG the more fun the game is. Without people, or when people begin to leave an MMORPG, it dies off’. Another mentioned ‘it adds to the “reality” of the game by making the other players more “real” as persons’. Such perceived realism enhances the feeling of relatedness. For the respondents, socialising with other real players increases the game’s enjoyment, making it more fun. One of the respondents even stated that ‘a good sociability factor can let people continue to play games that do not meet their expectations in a game without sociability’. Finally, another respondent mentioned that ‘I think sociability is an integral part of the MMORPG experience, as opposed to single player games. Lack of sociability deprives one of the main features of MMOGs’. This respondent hints at the fact that sociability is one of the distinguishing features of MMO[RP]G games. To question 7 respondents conveyed the feeling that sociability is an added value to a game that makes it unique, one that makes the game’s perceived value to players greater, and a value that works towards the retention of players because players have a place to socialise with friends, thus agreeing with Steinkuehler and Williams (2006) in that MMORPGs are virtual ‘third-places’. 2.3.5. Design methods for sociability Questions 8, 9, 10, and 11 were aimed specifically at matters of designing sociability structures and evaluating them in the context of MMORPGs. On the issue of specific design methods used for MMORPGs, all the respondents stated that they did not use specific methods for designing sociability structures. The respondents’ answer reveals a gap in game design methodology, opening up a large area for future research. On the other hand, they did specify methods for evaluating sociability structures. The methods mentioned were: semi-structured interviews with players, third-party analysis of video recordings of game episodes, forum and discourse analysis and hermeneutic deconstruction, social network analysis, virtual ethnography, and Structured Expert Evaluation Method ‘returnance’ measuring survey. Of these, the methods suggested the most were those of virtual ethnography and interviews. All the respondents agreed that these methods were not only directed at evaluating sociability structures in MMORPGs, but they have equivalents in other research areas, such as ethnography and literature. The respondents also mentioned that because MMORPGs are largely closed worlds (with the exception of out-of-game structures as mentioned earlier) and because of the ease with which chat logs and virtual trails can be obtained, the analysis of sociability characteristics in games is more convenient than in the real world. Therefore, the evaluation of sociability structures in MMORPGs becomes more convenient than the same practice in the real world.

2.3.6. Social experience versus individual experience Question 12 asked how the individual player’s UX was related to the social UX in a MMORPG. This question brought the most variance of answers and opinions by the survey respondents. One respondent answered that ‘it is intrinsically connected. There is no “non-social” mmog’. However, as research shows, a large part of the PX in MMORPGs is experienced individually (Ducheneaut et al. 2006). Another responded with: it is near impossible to measure an individual player’s experience correctly. Trying to measure a ‘group experience’ is a question of definitions. my definition: no such thing as a group experience exists. a group is not a single mind, but individuals trying to get along and having individual experiences. if anything like group experience exists, it is the mean experience between all participants. So the group experience is less than the sum of its parts.

Yet another respondent stated that: The whole is greater than the sum, due to the shared experience, evolution of culture (traditions, specialized language, etc.), and permeability of that culture into mainstream culture.

And another brought up Durkheim’s (1982) work as relevant to this question: I think this is one of the situations where Durkheim’s idea of analyzing the social by just the social very much applies, i.e. the individual experiences, summed up and given the context, will explain much of what is taking place during, and around (on e.g. game fora), play.

Most respondents agreed on the fact that it is individual experiences that shape the social experience. However, they do not agree on the nature of the experience. This has important implications for social game design, especially when combined with the answers in the previous questions about how the respondents design the social attributes in their games. Once more the ‘social’ in social games is shown to come from experience and current practice than from an understanding of the social structures and how they affect the game experience in social games. 2.3.7. Engaging in social behaviour Question 13 intended to uncover how players are encouraged by MMORPGs to exhibit social behaviour in their play. The respondents highlighted the need for content that requires cooperation, with appropriate rewards for playing the game socially rather than solitarily: ‘Voice and text chatting, customizable avatars allowing projection of identity, group affiliations (clans), shared adversity (quests and enemies), laws/rules, ownership of land and objects, economic exchange, etc’. Again, out-of-game community structures were mentioned: ‘Guilds (as in WoW), group content (for different group sizes and different levels of difficulty), communication abilities, community building activities like contest outside the game’. One respondent’s view was

Behaviour & Information Technology Table 4.

Importance of sociability in MMORPGs.


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Extremely important Very important Important Slightly important Not at all important

Participants’ selection (%) 31.03 27.59 20.69 17.24 3.45

that ‘… sociability does not need promotion’. From what we understand, this respondent’s position is that to play any MMORPG effectively, a player is required to engage in all the behaviours mentioned by the other respondents, which are inherently social. We also believe that this is the case. The features that promote sociability in an MMORPG are exactly those that make the game an MMORPG. Sociability is weaved into the fabric of MMORPGs. Finally, question 14 asked participants to rate the importance of sociability in games, in general. The answers are shown in Table 4. More than 75% of the respondents agree that sociability is at least an important structure in MMORPGs. The survey allowed us to create a preliminary model of which social structures should be considered as standard content when designing an MMORPG. It also allowed us to discover that there are several open questions about how to design social games. The next step was to discuss the results with another set of experts, with a more varied background. For this reason, we organised a SIG at CHI 2011. This set of experts only commented on the results received from the survey up to April 2011. 3. The Special Interest Group The SIG was organised to further discuss the results of the aforementioned survey. At the SIG, there were 23 participants. A SIG slot at CHI is 80 min long. From the allocated time, we took about 10 min to present the results of the survey and to acquaint ourselves with the participants. Then, the participants were placed into three groups, according to the table at which they were seated. After the presentation of the survey’s responses, the participants were asked to discuss the three requirements for designing for sociability (shown in Table 2) that stemmed from the survey, and add anything that they felt was important. This process took about 15 min. The groups were then given 20 min to distil certain design ideas that may work towards promoting sociability in MMORPGs through design practices. Finally, for the remaining time, the groups were asked to brainstorm about an MMORPG they would like to create, explain sociability features, and discuss how they would evaluate those features. For each of the questions posed to the groups, each group had a few minutes to present their ideas and all the participants could comment. The groups were also given paper and markers to write notes and present their ideas to


the rest of the participants. These posters were gathered at the end by the organisers, and their content was published on the blog page of one of the organisers (Christou 2011b). 3.1.

Additional requirements

The SIG participants agreed that the three requirements (Table 2) given by the survey respondents were truly part of what makes an MMORPG. The participants argue, however, that the list shown in Table 2 may be incomplete. Thus, the aim of the initial discussion was to add to the three requirements that came from the survey so that a more complete set of requirements would emerge. The participants augmented the initial three requirements of Table 2 with the following: • Sociability through Grouping and Rewards: grouping was one attribute that was identified while going over the survey’s responses, particularly those to question 13. However, rewarding grouping behaviour adds an extra incentive to push players to socialise through grouping. Several MMORPGs use rewards to encourage social behaviour. For example, both WoW and Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) awards different types of points to players if they engage in collaborative Player-versus-Player (PVP) or Player-versus-Environment play. In fact, SWTOR has a specific mechanism through which players earn ‘social points’ when they complete any in-game challenges (many of which can also be completed solitarily) as a group. • Sociability through Empathy: a second requirement brought up by SIG participants is a clearly defined enemy. The enemy’s identity defines the goal of the group that players belong to, thus creating a strong community that wants to stand against this enemy. An example of this, brought up during the discussion, is two factions in WoW, one of the most successful MMORPGs today: ‘Alliance’ and ‘Horde’. This distinction clearly defines for each player who their enemies are, and through PVP structures, the game provides direct confrontation between the twoplayer communities. To further the in-game animosity, WoW also provides a rich lore that explains why this animosity exists between the two communities, further defining the reasons of the conflict. • Sociability through World Design: SIG participants suggested that creating a world that puts together players of similar experience, especially at the beginning levels, may provide the opportunity for socialising and grouping together to more easily get past the initial difficulties of getting to know the game. This is common practice in AAA3 MMORPGs, such as SWTOR and WoW. • Sociability through Designed Relationships: the game play should also be designed to encourage some


G. Christou et al. dependence on other players. Things such as buying and selling of game items between characters should be designed into games. However, we must also be cautious not to push these ‘designed relationships’ too far, as some players prefer playing alone in MMORPGs. Even social players would like to go solo sometimes. Thus, ‘designed relationships’ should not be implemented as the only way to proceed in the game. Instead, they can be built as a more productive means of playing, without forcing certain players to engage in collaborative play.

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Designing for sociability

Once the requirements for designing for sociability in MMORPGs were set, the SIG participants were asked to apply them by coming up with preliminary MMORPG designs with the main goal to promote the sociability aspects of their proposed games. Each group was allowed to work for about half an hour, and then a representative from each group presented the group’s ideas. The first group proposed the building of a sports game that would allow its players to take the role of coach, player, cheerleader, or spectator. Each player would be allowed to socialise with other players in certain locations, namely the Clubhouse, the Locker room, the Arenas, and the Fields. The group suggested that social interactions would be encouraged by giving social points to players, which would be earned for the following actions: helping team-mates, recruiting, doing things in the game as a group, playing with more than one role, scoring/winning, and for gathering fans. The group did comment that they could not Table 5.

come up with ways of attributing points to the in-game role of audience. The second group did not come up with a specific game concept, but rather focussed on the aspects of any game that wants to promote sociability. This group stressed that any social game should include an advanced chat interface, which would allow holding conversations with several people as well as include channels for general chat. The group also stressed that of great importance are the social norms that should be instilled in the game. These norms would define how players can interact with each other, either by helping or through conflict. On the matter of conflict, the group insisted that ‘griefing’ (Chesney et al. 2009) could be avoided by regulating the way that players can attack each other. The group finally argued that because of their social aspect, these games should provide realworld meeting opportunities, so that the sense of community created through game-playing would become more tightly knit. The third group came up with the notion of a Car Enthusiasts’ MMORPG. For this group, promoting socialisation would come from creating specialised roles for the players and creating role dependencies. The group also proposed that in the game there should be ways of creating incentives for players to create a community, through extra features, such as sharing stories and photos of game artefacts, thus allowing players to create their own stories, and giving the opportunity to the players to get to know each other’s game personas, thus creating in-game ties through understanding of personal histories. Each group’s proposal is shown in Table 5, crosstabulated with the requirements for design for sociability.

Summary of the sociability requirements against the proposed games.

Requirements In-game communication

Sports game group Specific places designed for socialising

Off-game communication Empathy

Nothing proposed (but implied empathy towards own team and animosity against other teams)

Grouping and rewards

Points for specific social actions. Players must group together into teams All the places are designed around specific social activities (collaboration, chatting, and competing) Roles created are co-dependent (except spectator that was not clearly defined)

World design

Designed relationships

No-game group

Car enthusiasts game group

Advanced chat interface that Dependencies between roles that can supports chatting with one or be taken on by players, to increase more people privately and through interaction public channels Real-world meeting opportunities Provision of extra features (forum, set up by the people/company wiki) that support the community producing the game Specific ways under which conflict Understanding of player personas between players will be regulated, through the creation of personal specific ways in which players histories and of sharing them may interact Players need to group together into teams Special space where groups can display their achievements and in-game persona histories Mentioned that roles need to blend together, but no further thought was recorded

Behaviour & Information Technology

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If a cell is empty that means that the group did not include that particular requirement in their preliminary design. 4. General discussion The survey yielded several results that may potentially be useful in the design and development of MMORPGs. Starting with the last question, the survey showed that both academics and practitioners believe that sociability is somewhat important in any kind of game. Even for games that are traditionally played by a single player, there should be structures that support socialising. In fact going back to the 1980s and 1990s, the arcade was a place where solitary games were played in a social context (Fisher 1995). Hence, playing ‘together alone’ (Ducheneaut et al. 2006) is not a concept that only fits MMORPGs. Nevertheless, it is clear that different design and evaluation approaches are required for co-located and computer-mediated ‘social’ games with the goal of enhancing game experience (e.g. De Kort and Ijsselsteijn 2008). Question 5 provided information about specific requirements that MMORPGs need to have so that they can be characterised as MMORPGs. Communication structures, both in- and off-game, together with grouping mechanisms are requirements proposed by the survey respondents. To question 13, however, the respondents suggested that to engage players in social play such as grouping, the players must be rewarded. The respondents agree that adding social structures in a game can shape different perceived qualities. Motivation, replayability, fun, relatedness, and the sense of presence are amplified. On the other hand, the perceived qualities that affect the sense of sociability in an MMORPG are responsiveness and privacy. In other words, the games are so designed that they can respond to players’ actions in a timely manner, contributing to fun and immersion, and there should be good policies regulating the membership of the community, enabling them to feel safe in their in-game identities. And once the players engage in this type of play, the respondents suggest that the players will ‘become hooked’ in a sense to the social aspects of the game, which will increase their fun and sense of presence, which in turn will increase the replayability value of the game. To evaluate sociability in MMORPGs, it was evident from the answers that current approaches from disciplines that perform social research in the real world are relevant. The respondents, however, disagree on the nature of social experience. It needs to be stressed, however, that the respondents did not provide any method or framework that they used to design or to think about how to create social structures in MMORPGs. The survey helped initiate thinking towards structures that give an MMORPG its identity. While the survey touched upon several topics related to the design for the UX of sociability in MMORPGs, the time constraints made it impossible to discuss them all during the SIG. Therefore, the SIG emphasised the design aspect more than the evaluation of the UX. In the end, six design features emerged that may


help game designers to think about how to design for the UX of sociability in MMORPGs. These are: In-game Communication, Off-game Communication, Empathy, Grouping and Rewards, World Design, and Designed Relationships. The SIG participants argued that an MMORPG does not have to include all the requirements, either the ones from the survey or the ones that were proposed during the SIG. However, it was suggested that the more requirements designed into an MMORPG, the better the UX of sociability becomes. The requirements aim to support the building of communities around and inside a game, and to encourage people to participate in these communities. Building communities comes from providing structures to support communication, both inside and outside of the game. Ingame chatting and out-of-game forums are very important for community building (Preece 2001). And to increase the cohesion of these communities, empathy towards people in the same community and animosity against a common enemy can be used. Finally, players should be rewarded when joining these communities, and they should be motivated to stay in them, otherwise the concept of a community will not be woven seamlessly into the game’s mechanics. The results of the survey combined with the SIG discussion produced a list of specific requirements that when followed will guide designers into creating social experiences for their users, and will make the social structures of the game more accessible to players. However, as shown by the game designs created by the three groups during the SIG, the requirements do not have to all be designed into every game created to provide the desired social experience. Nevertheless, during the discussion, it was agreed that if none of the requirements are designed into a game, then one cannot talk about sociability in a game and the social PX it affords. The six requirements that were suggested during the SIG provide a starting point for the game designer to think about how to create an MMORPG, something that is shown by the preliminary designs that were created during the SIG, in a relatively small amount of time. We, therefore, do not believe that the requirements that are provided here are a definite answer to how to design social structures into MMORPGs. However, we believe that they are a helpful starting point for game designers of MMORPGs who, up to this point, do not have any formal frameworks upon which to base their work. 5. Limitations This work is not without limitations. One limitation is the small sample of respondents for the survey. However, the survey was used more as an online interview of experts in the field of social game design, rather than as a survey from which we would extract statistically significant results. In this sense, we believe that the survey fulfilled its role in allowing us to start the process of understanding how experts perceive the sociability in MMORPGs and experiential qualities it engenders.


G. Christou et al.

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Another limitation is the limited time we had during the SIG session. We believe that more time would allow discussion on structures for the evaluation of the sociability and the associated experiential qualities. 6. Future work Through the survey answers, it became evident that there is a need for a comprehensive framework for informing the design for sociability in MMORPGs. While the concept of sociability has been studied in depth, there is still a void in design guidelines for social structures. Another open research question is the impact of the current practices of supporting sociability in MMORPGs. Again, research exists on how sociability occurs and how it is expressed in MMORPGs (i.e. Ducheneaut et al. 2004, 2006, Steinkuehler and Williams 2006). However, we still do not have any specific methods for evaluating how structures and artefacts that are designed into a game to support sociability impact particular experiential qualities such as fun, relatedness, flow, immersion, challenge, tension, and other affective responses. There is still further work that needs to be done in evaluating the results of this study as well. Further iterations of the proposed guidelines may lead to a framework that will include in-game, off-game, structural, and socio-cultural aspects of MMORPGs, thus creating a comprehensive framework for informing the design of sociability that can support a range of targeted gameplay experiences. 7.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we have presented findings from a survey and subsequent discussion on the topic of designing for the UX of sociability in MMORPGs. First, we presented findings from the survey, and then we described how the survey results were used to inform the discussion during the SIG. Through these exercises, we came up with a basic structure for sociability design for MMORPGs. The resultant structure that was created helps with the design of sociability in MMORPGs. This structure was implicitly used during the SIG discussion with the SIG participants creating their own preliminary designs of MMORPGs. We believe that further work needs to be done in this direction to expand the model, either by adding more sub-requirements which highlight more detailed sociability design features that will cater to other types of online games, not only to MMORPGs. Through this, the model will become more useful not only for academics, but also practitioners. Furthermore, a comprehensive analysis based on the proposed model can be carried out on commercially successful and unsuccessful games to extract sociability design features that succeeded or failed to provide practical design patterns. Given that the scope of sociability spans across ingame and out-game, structural and socio-cultural aspects of games, such analysis should improve our understanding of

PX at the holistic level as well as at the finer-grain, component level, thereby enabling us to gain insights into the relationships between game features and experiential qualities. Finally, it is evident that there is a need for the creation of a framework for the design of the social experience in MMORPGs as well as methods for evaluating the impact of the designed structures.

Notes 1. While the notion UX does not yet have a canonical definition, it is commonly recognised as highly subjective, contextual, and dynamic (Law et al. 2009). According to ISO 9241210 (2010), UX is defined as ‘a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use of anticipated use of a product, system or service’. UX encompasses a wide range of experiential qualities, including sociability, and associated evaluation approaches (Bargas-Avila and Hornbæk 2011). 2. The term ‘third-place’, which is central to community building, is defined as social surroundings separate from the first-place – home – and the second-place – workplace (Oldenburg 1989). However, one may argue that the dividing lines between these places are getting blurred. 3. AAA (triple A) games are those that have a large development and production budget, and usually are considered high-quality games by the trade press.

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