One of the key defining features of a massively online multiplayer game, as with any other video game, the extent to which the player is given the freedom to engage upon the development of the same player’s experience over the course of their engagement with the game as a piece of entertainment in and of itself as well as a vehicle for interactions with other players involved in the shared experience. This completeness of agency provided to players is best exemplified in the 2003 MMORPG Eve Online, released by the Icelandic game development company CCP Games. One of the key differentiators that removes this game from the vast majority of other similar online games is the structure of the game as an interactive environment. The vast majority of games fall within the “Theme Park” classification, with the player being placed upon the proverbial tracks and with very little possibility of deviation from the intended path. Eve Online is firmly placed on the opposite end of this structural spectrum as a “Sand Box”, the vast majority of the game structure provided is vaguely provided with the intent that the final content be provided primarily by interacting with the other players present within the game. This represents the ultimate form of player agency, when the player’s choices interact not with an agencyless actor in the form of preprogrammed, but with a multitude of actors with agency of their own. It is this interaction of agency that forms the basis for the majority of content that grasps the player-base and ensures a consistent growth due to the constant and meaningful interaction within the game that aids in the minimal or inexistent rate of attrition.
This is due to the actual gameplay is not restricted to the scope of the ingame environment to the same extent that is commonly found in the more traditional Theme-Park style games. This leads to the development of a “meta-game” as described by Carter, Gibbs and Harrop (Carter, Gibbs, Harrop). On the basis of Eve’s emphasis on “player-versus-player” interaction (PVP), a large component is the existence of “Corporations” and “Alliances”, analogous to the guilds commonly found in other games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and federations of guilds in the case of Alliances. These larger groups of players can reach if not exceed 5000 unique player characters operating under a common banner towards a common goal. This constant interaction with other players within the confines of the game environment and the amount of players interacting at any given time exceeds the typical constraints provided by the game requires the use of third-party tools to facilitate any communication and interaction between the players. This includes, but is not limited to: Voice-Over-IP tools (ex: TeamSpeak, Ventrilo), private message-boards and public message-boards. This leads to a large amount of emphasis being placed upon these third party tools turns the external or “para-game” aspect of these tools to reach a core facet of the player’s experience of the game, with some players even going so far as to state they rarely even play the actual game itself, instead focusing on the external experiences involved with the greater experience instead (Carter, Gibbs, Harrop). This led to such an emphasis on these para-game environments that a large part of the political aspects of the game taking place entirely within the realm of public and semi-private message-boards and forums, which in the case of Eve: Online is entirely ironic considering the fact that the forum most commonly used for these purposes was itself created in response to the developers themselves interacted in the game environment for the benefit of a group of players engaged in an in game conflict with another group of players. This led to the player involved in exposing the incident being banned from all products developed by CCP games creating the main aforementioned forum, kugutsumen.com, which until recently was one of, if not the main place that the major players within the in game political landscape would engage in backdoor dealings, propaganda as well as general discussion regarding the current state of in game and out of game events related to the overall experience. Some of the more notable events to occur on this message-board were the “leak” posts, which would typically involve a high-ranking player from within a prominent organization, would post private information from within the group in an attempt to air-out dirty laundry as well as stir up drama within the overall community (The Mittani). These posts and related media would expand into outright propaganda videos released by opposing sides in conflicts in an attempt to shake the opposing side’s confidence and engage in well-mannered jeering in a manner similar to rugby hakas(Ignore). In recent times, one of the more famous of such threads was entitled “fuck secrecy i’m just going to leak some it ceo threads nbd” with an image of Stalin presiding over a military parade in the Red Square. The first page alone of the message thread contained almost 9000 words of leaked material and private discussions, with the remainder of the discussion of the political ramifications over the course of 350 comments (The Mittani). In recent years these events would eventually lead to the creation of various “news” sites, created primarily for the purpose of reporting on in game and out of game events in a manner similar to real world events in an attempt to provide up to the date information for the various players who are not directly involved in the in game events as well as allow for those involved to see the extent to which their operations have had an impact on the greater political scene. This particular example fit the mold for most of the higher-end para-game activities, with the emphasis on divulging private information and conversations in an attempt to attract neutral third parties and even second parties to change allegiance by detracting the opponent. This is in sharp contrast to the typical propaganda video, such as those created by the YouTube user DredditMot typically in the manner of a “postcard from” to present themselves in a more positive manner in an attempt to win the potential public relations war (Ignore).
The nature of the beast, with the emphasis on player interaction as well as the extent to which the players themselves engage in these para-game activities, removes the reliance upon the game developers themselves to introduce any incremental additions to the game content, allowing them to only focus upon the larger title updates without any detriment towards the overall game experience. This is in sharp contrast to the more popular Theme Park games which rely almost exclusively upon these more incremental as well as the large updates to ensure a more consistent experience for the player-base. This leads these Theme-Park games to go through “boom and bust” cycles in the player-base, as best exemplified in the case of World of Warcraft, with peaks in subscribers occurring immediately preceding the release of a new expansion or title update and the troughs occurring in the tail months of the preceding expansions life-cycle yet far enough away from the release of the newest update to prevent it from enticing existing players to remain active or for players to return or even for new players to even begin subscribing (Activision; CCP Consolidated). This correlation between the amount of freedom given to players to create their own narrative within the scope of the game and the overall trend lines, with EVE trending towards a solely increasing subscription amount, while World of Warcraft shows the subscription behavior described above. This is further supported by a 2006 study that demonstrated the limited effect that large content updates had on the overall subscription levels for Eve: Online and places it in diametric difference to the trends seen for the larger Theme-Park games (Feng, Brandt, and Saha).
This shows a very strong relationship between the amount of narrative leeway provided to the players, in this case in the form of an extensive para-game with little restrictions and the overall player-base of said game. One of the key aspects of video games as a genre is the amount of agency it provides to its users. The more invested a player becomes with a game, the more likely he is to maintain is activity within the same game. As shown above this is best exemplified in the game Eve: Online, with a practically unrestricted free-market, limited moderation and oversight by in game supervisors and consistent growth in the player base. When a game allows the players the agency required to allow for the introduction of terms such as “alarm-clocking” and “poop-socking”, to refer to the act of voluntarily disrupting their own sleep cycles as well as neglecting their own hygiene (though this last was only ever used to the author’s knowledge in a tongue-in-cheek manner), demonstrates the extent to which player narrative can progress when given the opportunity to do so.
Activision Blizzard. “Number of World of Warcraft subscribers from 1st quarter 2005 to 4th quarter 2014
(in millions).” Statista – The Statistics Portal. . Web. 15 April 2015. http://0-www.statista.com.mercury.concordia.ca/statistics/276601/number-of-world-of-warcraft-subscribers-by-quarter/
Carter, M., Gibbs, M. and Harrop, M. (2012). Metagames, Paragames and Orthogames: A New
Vocabulary. Foundations of Digital Games Conference, May 29-June 1, Raleigh, NC, USA, ACM.
CCP Consolidated Financial Statements 2012. N.p., 2013. Print.
Feng, Wu-chang, David Brandt, and Debanjan Saha. ‘A Long-Term Study of a Popular
MMORPG.’ NetGames (2007): 19–24. Print.
Ignore, Test Alliance Please. ‘Merry Christmas, Fountain.’ Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
The Mittani. ‘Fuck Secrecy I’m Just Going to Leak Some It Ceo Threads Nbd.’ Kugutsumen. N.p., 9 Jan.
- Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.kugutsumen.com/showthread.php?7438-fuck-secrecy-i-