[MUD-Dev] Massive Corporations and MMORPGs
talien at toast.net
Fri Jan 3 16:19:12 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003
Koster, Raph posted on Wednesday, January 01, 2003 9:35 PM
> No, no, no. You can't just make uch a statement, you have to
> EXPLAIN. Describe the methods. :)
Okay, okay, okay. Fine. Here we go. Deep breath. This is going
to make me very tired...
Let's follow a typical message roll out (one I will see shortly at
work I'm sure) at the mythical company. Here's how it works:
1) CEO plans for an implementation of a new initiative:
paperlessness. Paper is the enemy. It is evil. Paper must be
eliminated. Everything can be done online.
2) CEO has a meeting in some sunny location with his direct
reports. Direct reports are told the message. They're supposed
to tweak it (but usually, they repeat it ad nauseum without
3) Direct report, SVP of a sub-business, communicates this
information to his managers. Managers make their own
4) Managers, in turn, have staff meetings where they discuss and
disseminate the message to employees.
5) Employees run the message through a filter, including:
- How will this affect my job?
- Does anyone care if I don't do it (or do it)?
- How will this affect the company?
If the message can't run through those questions, it utterly falls
flat. The company talks about the initiative but employees don't
really believe it. It's BS, and everyone knows it.
If an employee realizes that there's still reams of paper in the
storage room, he's not affected by the message at all. The
- How will this affect my job? A: It won't. You are still
writing memos like you did before.
- Does anyone care if I don't do it? A: Nope, you have plenty of
paper left. Obviously, if "THEY" really cared, they would have
removed the paper. You didn't get penalized or rewarded for doing
it -- so keep doing the same old thing.
- How will this affect the company? A: It must not affect the
company, because nobody's reacting to it even though that's the
As an employee, I feel pretty insignificant. I was told to do
something but, obviously, actions speak louder than words. I feel
like I am not important. I get told to do an action, but nobody's
paying attention to see if I really did it In short, like a child, I
feel neglected. I decide to do what works best for me, working in
my own selfish interests to further my own goals and ensure I am
bettered by it.
This is where communicators come in (my job, incidentally). By
inserting the communicator in between any of the steps (preferably,
all of them), we translate, modify, and alter the message to fit the
audience. The CEO's message may need to be hard driving to his
direct reports, but it may come off sounding arrogant to employees.
So the CEO's message should NOT just be replicated and handed down
to the line without altering it for the audience.
In fact, instead of viewing it from the top-down, communication must
be viewed from the bottom up. Employees do the majority of the work
in the company. That one sentence is VERY difficult for companies
to actually comprehend, so I'll say it again:
EMPLOYEES DO THE MAJORITY OF WORK IN A COMPANY.
So why aren't we running the company with their needs in mind?
Because of pyramid structures where information flows downwards,
because the general assumption is that by advancing, power over
people is somehow a reward. I.e., you should be a manager because
you're good at your job. It's an old, outdated concept. Managing
requires people skills. They are a core competency in MANAGING.
So how does this help employees feel valued?
Employees care about their own selfish needs. Instead of
pretending they are utterly loyal to the company, communicators
recognize them as millions of individuals, each with their own
needs. There will be exceptions to every rule. Broad sweeping
statements are a mistake, because they will tick off somebody
somewhere, who really DOES need paper to work on.
So first, we address the employee needs. What the employee wants to know:
WHY do we need to get rid of paper?
WRONG ANSWER: Because it saves the company money.
RIGHT ANSWER: Because by saving the company money, it allows us to
increase spending elsewhere, which means bonus checks and free
water can continue in hard economic times.
And the employee buys into it. Sure, fine. So why should I care?
WRONG ANSWER: Because we told you to care and you should be lucky
you have a job.
RIGHT ANSWER (filtered by manager): Because it will save our
department $10,000 that we can spend on other useful stuff that
will make our lives easier.
Okay. And how does this affect me?
WRONG ANSWER: It just does, so stop using paper.
RIGHT ANSWER: When you come in to work tomorrow, the paper in the
supply closets will be replaced with an automated storage facility
that will dole out sheets of paper. You have to provide a good
reason for why you want it, but we want to be flexible and ensure
that work isn't disrupted. Our goal is to make work faster and
more efficient by eliminating unnecessary waste.
So now the employee can see why he should care. It does affect his
work processes. He's even gotten an explanation as to what it will
mean when he comes into work the next day. Best of all, that
message is individually tailored to the employee so that different
employees are getting different messages. Perhaps the IT folks
don't use paper now anyway, so it would be a much less substantial
announcement filtered to them.
What the hell does this have to do with players on a MMORPG?
Well here's the thing: the above message process is being
distributed to hundreds of thousands of people, all with different
languages, different cultures, different locations. A one size
fits all message is impossible, because it simply costs too much
to translate into 20+ languages and it wouldn't be appropriate for
all cultures anyway. The communication process must be a LIVING
THING, filtered through the lens of site communicators and their
managers. In short, mini-cultures within a larger culture.
This is not anything new. I know there's much more scientific names
for this sort of thing, I'm just speaking from my own experiences
and because Raph wanted an explanation.
So here's some lessons from the corporate world:
1) RECOGNIZE MINI-CULTURES. Your players are not part of one
massive player base. They are playing in their own human
experience, in groups of five, ten, and twenty. They do not see
their group as thousands. They know the core group they interact
with. MMORPGs should map out what those mini-cultures will be,
what they want them to be, and encourage their growth. This can
be guilds, clans, etc. It should not be "whatever the players
come up with." That means the foundation of these mini-cultures
are built largely on ignorance, guesses, and hypotheses based on
experience alone. People want information they can rely on --
fail to give it to them, and the rumor mill will do it instead.
BAD EXAMPLE: Most MMORPGs let players classify themselves
however they see fit, losing an opportunity to take the credit
for good communication. "Races" are not a valid mini-culture.
Players pick a race with little to no social or cultural
implications on the game itself. Clans are self-created, and
are thus only as well informed as a group of players can be. We
call that the grapevine in corporate speak. The grapevine has
many heads, it speaks with many voices, and it guesses about
everything. If the grapevine is speaking to players, if players
are forced to rely on each other exclusively in a vast virtual
universe for their networks, then the social network is already
GOOD EXAMPLE: On Ivory Towers, there were two cities, Chaos and
Law. The playerbase was divided in two depending on which city
you lived in. Further, players were divided into guilds. Each
guild was as strong as "clans" on MMORPGs. People strongly
identified with their guild. On the smallest level was the
party, which players also identified with.
2) MAKE THOUGHT LEADERS PART OF THE SYSTEM. Once you have
mini-cultures, you need to make sure they're connected. MMORPGs
need "translators" of messages to manage the millions of
subcultures that pop up on a MMORPG. But who are those folks?
Ironically, clan leaders, which appeared of their own volition.
Big mistake. We call them Thought Leaders. Thought Leaders are
often times administrators or folks who "have access." They are
not trained communicators . They hear things through the
grapevine. They've been at the company twenty years. They think
they know everything. They're right some of the time, wrong most
of the time. But they have strong opinions and people listen to
them. Instead, thought leaders should be trained. They should be
trained to filter information and they should then be communicated
to, consistently and repeatedly. They should be the primary
target for disseminating information, because it's a lot easier to
target 200 communicators than 200,000 employees.
BAD EXAMPLE: Using a level-based system to determine authority.
Levelers are not leaders. Someone who is 100th level is not the
best person to network or lead (just like being good at your job
should not mean you become a manager).
GOOD EXAMPLE: On Ivory Towers, each guild has a guild leader
with built-in powers to police the guild. Guild leaders had
council meetings where they determined various issues
(promotions, war against the rival cities, etc.). Guild leaders
were nominated by guild members. Guild leaders...well, LEAD.
3) ONE MESSAGE DOES NOT FIT ALL. We highly discourage all
employee messages except as platforms to provide awareness for
managers, who explain what it means to employees. Similarly,
coding staff must be sure not to simply drop an information bomb
on players and "hope the word gets out." There should be tailored
messages that target the appropriate audience. The more
personalized, the better.
BAD EXAMPLE: Posting to a message board that, "The Thieves Guild
lost backstab because it was too powerful. Discuss."
GOOD EXAMPLE: Disseminating that message to guild leaders,
specifically the thieves guild first. Explain in detail to the
leader what it means. He in turns disseminates that information
to the other thieves. Then a more generic message that
addresses the concerns is released to players at large,
specifically that this downgrade does not mean that mages will
4) RECOGNIZE SELFISHNESS AND EMBRACE IT. Gaming is far more
selfish than working. It's for fun. Players come from the
perspective that their view is the right view, that their version
of the game is the correct game to play, that they are there to
have fun and therefore they should be catered to. Similarly,
employees want fulfillment in their jobs and want to make money
doing it. Recognize that you can't please all of them all of the
time. You will have to make some decisions that negatively impact
some players while benefiting others.
BAD EXAMPLE: "We removed the ability to store items because of
people who stored up a billion items and cause the game to
GOOD EXAMPLE: "We remove the ability to store items temporarily
until we can figure out a way to reduce server load. This means
that you will not be able to make as much money as before, and
we recognize that as a valid concern. However, the alternative
means you won't be able to play the game at all, which means
nobody makes any gold at all." (Raph's exhaustive post on
muling addressed this quite well).
5) YOU DON'T OWN THE GAME. Networks are made up of people.
Americans tend to embrace the notion that the talking head is the
guy who runs things -- just as actors take credit for good movies
as if they wrote/directed/produced/filmed the damn thing. This is
very often untrue. The CEO alone does not run a company and it's
a great disservice to the rest of the employees to imply he is
responsible for its success (or its failures). Administrators
must recognize that a MMORPG ceases to be their game and becomes a
hybrid effort that is 90% players, 10% admin.
BAD EXAMPLE: 99% players and 1% of admin fixing
bugs. Administration does nothing to deal with typical social
issues (griefing, mass PKing, thieves, harassment) because they
style themselves as coders only. Or because it's too expensive
to police it.
GOOD EXAMPLE: Successful MUDs, who have an involved coding staff
that actively monitors the game. It doesn't even have to be
coding staff -- designated leaders can fulfill this role. By
recognizing them LEGITIMATELY (as opposed to just letting clans
exist on their own), the coding staff recognizes the game is in
large part owned by the players.
6) OPEN, HONEST, AND DIRECT. Players are not idiots. Recognize
them as people and they will respond better than sweeping
statements about them being geeks, nerds, fanatics, fanboys, or
pathetic losers. If they are treated like adults, many of them
will act like adults. Treat them like children and they act like
BAD EXAMPLE: "Here's the latest patch." (Stone faced silence ensues)
GOOD EXAMPLE: "We made a change to the system to fix a bug, but
it caused more bugs. It was an error we should have caught
early, but we missed it. Our apologies for the inconvenience.
We've modified our process to make sure the next time this
happens, we'll catch the bug earlier."
I could go on and on. This is just the foundation for the way large
companies deal with large amounts of people. I'm continually amazed
by how the "masses" are all jammed together as a huge faceless
crowd. Almost as if we don't know who our players are...
Oh that's right, it's too expensive to do all that monitoring. And
yet, profitable companies do just that. It's time to stop treating
MMORPGs like sandboxes that kids play in and treat them like massive
networks. In other words, actually include player societies as part
of the game as opposed to a "bolt on" accessory.
To parallel: Companies are not just jobs. They are made up of
people. If the majority of employees do not buy into the
fundamentals of the job culture, if they are not communicated to
and engaged, then the company will fail on a network and
structural level and be no more successful than companies of a
Translation: Star Wars is not just a game. Star Wars is a state
of mind. If the players don't have that state of mind, if they
don't buy into the fundamentals of what makes the game Star Wars,
then it will fail on a network and structural level and be no more
distinct than any other MMORPG.
Whew, tired already. I hope at least some of the above made sense.
Mike "Talien" Tresca
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