What leads gamers to join one guild in a massively multiplayer game or one clan in an online shooter over another guild or clan? Why do you post on the gaming messageboard that you do as opposed to one of the other countless alternate ones? And once you’re in a group, what kind of things make you leave?
Industrial-organizational psychologists, who use the tropes of psychology to study people in the world of organizations and work, 1 have come up with a lot of theories on why people choose to work for one company over another, why they leave, and how those things affect the “culture” of the place –the shared understanding of what is expected and rewarded within that group. Some of these models lay more credit at the feet of organizational structures, and some credit the environment. But another view known as the Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) model, 2 3 says that it’s the people that determine the culture of whatever organization you’re looking at, be it guild, clan, messageboard, or mod team.
In brief, ASA says that it’s the people in the group that define the culture 4 , not just the environment, structure, or rules of the game. It does this through a three-step cycle:
- New members are attracted to the group by what they perceive to be similarity in values, goals, and interests
- When petitions are made for membership, the gatekeepers in the organization select would-be members based on who is most similar to them
- Attrition happens when people who don’t fit in so neatly after all find better things to do than hang out and deal with the guild drama
This isn’t exactly mind blowing, but it has implications if you think it through. One being that it explains the three-pronged mechanism by which cohesive, like-minded groups of people develop over time. People that are at odds with the culture within the guild or clan tend not to want to be a part of it. And if they do, they tend not to be selected for membership. And if that happens, they tend to rage quit over time.
For example, back when I was playing lots of Team Fortress 2 I hung out a lot with guys from a website called “Portal of Evil.” These were guys who ran goofy game mods, played on experimental and occasionally awful maps, and who broadcasted obnoxious music and trash talk over allchat. I played with them regularly because I thought all of this was hilarious and fun. But if hadn’t wanted my Engineer wearing a jaunty party hat or couldn’t tolerate hearing “Baby Got Back” on allchat FOR THE FIFTIETH TIME THAT NIGHT, I would have found someone else to play with or been mocked for complaining.
Likewise, guilds in massively multiplayer games are sometimes interesting in how they evaluate petitions for membership. A friend of mine who wanted to join a hardcore raiding guild in World of Warcraft once described this process as an audition where he was grilled about his play style and history, his character build, his equipment, and how many hours a week he was willing to devote to to the guild. He was then taken along on an actual raid where the guild’s recruiter used UI mods to track his performance in the game along very strict measures to see if he could properly play his role. In the industrial-organizational psychology parlance, we call that kind of thing a job interview and a work sample test. It’s exactly the kind of thing that the “S” part of the ASA model describes. (And if you, dear and handsome reader, have personal experience with this kind of thing, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.)
What’s even more interesting to me is to consider is how game designers and community managers might use something like this model to guide their efforts if community is a big part of their game.
First, the ASA model points to providing players with tools that they can use to communicate their goals, values, and desires to each other. Allowing players to formulate and share a charter that signals these things would be great, as would communication channels like messageboards and private chat to which prospective members could be invited to eavesdrop. Statistics about guild/clan activities could also provide a strong signal –things like rankings, achievement counts, manhours played, headcount, or other metrics could be invaluable to people shopping for a group to become part of.
And this information works both ways –people who aren’t as into PvP combat could self-select out of the process while those who are will find it easier to find guildies who share those values. Heck, what if you borrowed another idea from the world of Industrial-organizational psychology and allowed players to submit anonymous responses to standardized surveys asking about what values their guild or clan holds? “On a scale of 1 to 5, my guild is forgiving of people who miss scheduled events.” Useful.
Game developers might also want to provide tools that team leaders can use to evaluate potential members. Gameplay stats and standardized application blanks could be really useful, as could be information on complaints filed against that person by other players. If you provide a useful tool, players won’t have to rely on third-party tools. Or maybe THAT IS your plan, and you can facilitate it by providing data and APIs upon which players can build.
The point is that both current and potential group members are going to be looking for information about those shared expectations (i.e., organizational culture) in order to make decisions about each point in the Attraction-Selection-Attrition cycle. To the extent that a game or a service outside of a game facilitates that, people will find it useful.