Online Playability: The Social Dimension to the Virtual World

Online Playability: The Social Dimension to the Virtual World

Ricardo Gouveia Rodrigues (NECE – University of Beira Interior, Portugal), Paulo Gonçalves Pinheiro (NECE – University of Beira Interior, Portugal) and José Barbosa (Instituto da Segurança Social Centro Distrital de Aveiro, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0149-9.ch021


A growing phenomenon of increasingly high importance, online gaming generates some of the Internet’s most popular and profitable content and has also experienced exponential growth in recent years. The relevance of this issue and the relative lack of research available both consolidate the appropriateness of this theme. The social mechanism to MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) is perceived as both key to their attractiveness and a factor of differentiation in their success with corresponding attention to how game design can enhance this facet. Thus, this research aims to understand how the social mechanism present in MMOGs takes precedent over the range of pre-defined player objectives and play a key role in this type of game. For this purpose, two interviews were applied to two different publics: first, fifteen interviews were held with fifteen players of the MMOG Travian, with the second an interview with the game’s management in order to gather information both from those playing and those providing the game. The interviews were then analyzed using content analysis. It was found that the social mechanism overrides the achievement of goals by players and that it is acknowledged, harnessed, and strengthened by the management as a key factor in the success of Travian.
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In parallel with the increase in the range of online gaming services came countless functionalities designed to “capture” players and ensure they spend the greatest possible time on the respective sites. However, there has been very little academic research targeting the reasons gamers choose one particular game over another or the functions and characteristics driving gamers to spend longer periods of time engaged in a specific game.

Gaming represents one of the most popular online forms of content and where a person does not only play against the computer but also with and against other people connected via the Internet (Gorriz, 2000; Vaughan, 1997). One study on Internet utilisation showed that users spend an average of 20 hours per week on the Internet for personal usage of which 48% is for online games (Pastore, 1999)

Numerous techniques and resources have been deployed to ensure gamers return time after time and creating an ever greater degree of addiction (KESA, 2002). Research related with the length of time spent playing might provide significant implications for client loyalty and companies with online businesses, in general. These firms need to ensure that clients visit their sites repeatedly given that it is the total number and incidence of hits on a site that determines its value (Rose, Khoo & Straub, 1999). Should no client be interested in again visiting the site, then its commercial value plummets despite its input of technical and management resources.

As regards the loyalty factor, companies with online games businesses have proven fairly successful given that their clientele does display loyalty and even to the extent of what might be perceived as addiction to the game (Lewinski, 2000).

However, despite the high potential of online games and the sheer range of technical capacities and features deployed, there has been little academic study of the techniques that most influence online gaming (Quam, 1998; Rosenzweig, 2000). The limitations of studies carried out on online gaming may be classified into three groups. First, the majority of studies do not provide either conceptual or theoretical frameworks. Secondly, the majority of these studies do not provide empirical validation of their thesis. Finally, previous studies have not established a relationship between the conceptual factors and the design characteristics. Therefore, even while knowing that the concepts are important to boosting the reproduction of the game, we do not know how to apply the design concepts to online games in practice. Consequently, the majority of online games have made recourses to a fairly costly set of techniques with only a few proving able to generate client loyalty (KESA, 2002).

Nevertheless, higher profile research on the field of online gaming has sought to capture that which is recognised by both producers and players as the key factor responsible for the success of these games – socialisation. According to a study carried out by Griffiths & Davies (2003), one in every five gamers prefers to socialise online when compared with real life. According to the findings of these authors, players affirmed that they perceive a major source of satisfaction and pleasure in virtual environments, especially in games that promote equality among the gaming community.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Mechanism: Relationships between players that could go from a simple interaction in the game to a high degree of friendship.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG): Games that attract the attention of a large number of gamers and harness them through a variety of activities and experiences as well as through the interaction with other gamers and objects incorporated into the online world ( Yee, 2006 ) with such interaction essential to gaming success ( Galarneau, 2005 ; Jakobsson & Taylor, 2003 ).

Interaction: Identified as one of the leading factors in attaining a high quality online gaming experience (Csinkszentmihalyi, 1997 AU88: The in-text citation "Csinkszentmihalyi, 1997" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; Mithra, 1998 AU89: The in-text citation "Mithra, 1998" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; Choi & Kim, 2004 ). This interaction is defined as the communicational behaviour between two or more objects and where one impacts on another (Laurel, 1993 AU90: The in-text citation "Laurel, 1993" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ; Choi & Kim, 2004 ).

Qualitative Research: A type of scientific research that seeks to understand a given research problem or topic analysing the perspectives of the population it involves.

Online Gaming: The use of some form of computer network (nowadays almost always by means of the Internet) to play a video game with other people.

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