Why People Seek Communities
10/1/2012 8:24 PM
Ever stopped to wonder why some people seek out guilds and
others completely ignore them? People have been asking this question about
communities in general for decades and there’s been lots of research and
theories to try to answer it.
Understanding the reasons why people seek out each other
helps community leaders understand the expectations someone has when they are
looking for a new community, in turn allowing community managers (and
marketers) to maximise the effectiveness of their efforts. Given the usual
limitations of guild leaders (either with budget or time), this is exactly what
we want to achieve.
Buckle up, this is going to be a psychology and sociology
A few theories
Studying communities as a whole is hard to do and sociologists
still don’t have a full handle on what makes them tick. We can get some clues
from looking at psychological research done on individuals and a good place to
start is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human
Motivation" Maslow outlined basic human requirements that are seen as the
motivation behind everything we do. While it’s often portrayed as pyramid with
the most fundamental levels of need (physiological) at the bottom and the need
for self-actualisation at the top, Maslow himself never used a pyramid to
describe these levels. In his theory, online communities start to show in the
second (safety) and third level (loving and belonging) and are well established
in the fourth level (esteem).
While Maslow’s theories have come under criticism, there are
a lot of parallels in Manfred A. Max-Neef’s 1991 work "Human Scale
Development", which proposed a series of equally important fundamental
human needs. They are subsistence, protection, affection, understanding,
participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. A lot of these human
needs can only be manifested by interactions with others and so have a
relationship with communities.
The important thing to take away from both these theories is
that interaction with other people is a fundamental part of being human and
comes from the desire to fulfil personal needs.
From a survival standpoint, communities don’t always make
much sense – time that could be devoted to hunting or survival has to be spent
on social interaction – but the benefits of security and stability often
outweigh these drawbacks. In a group context, people frequently make use of
their individual strengths to benefit the group. So someone who happened to be
really good at fighting would be charged with defending the group while others
saw to their other basic requirements such as shelter and food. This kind of
interaction has continued to this day, although less in a basic survival
context and more in a business context.
This kind of exchange between individuals in a group is
encapsulated in a theory called Social Capital. It is the formal name for the
expectation that if you do something for someone, they’ll do something for you
back; you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Of course, this only works if
you're dealing with people you've built up capital with, which in turn leads to
the idea of a permanent group. Again, we encounter this frequently in our day
to day lives in “mates rates” and “favours”.
With the idea of a permanent group come extra needs which
Max-Nee and Maslow outlined, such as affection, belonging, understanding and
identity. These needs are additional motivators in social settings – it isn’t
enough to just have a group that will help you survive. In order to be happy
and thrive, you’ll try to seek one that accepts you and you identify with.
When it comes to online gaming, there are usually areas of
MMOs where the game content is designed for or easier to overcome in groups.
Pick up groups (PUGs) are an option, but they generally have a low certainty of
success and the amount you identify and share affection with any group of
random people is going to be low. In broad terms, they generally aren't a great
fit with the motivational factors that Max-Nee and Maslow outlined - I'm sure
you probably have some horror stories about PUGs to support that.
The better solution is to form a more permanent group with
people you like and who accept you and build up social capital through
interactions to help you reach your goals.
The motivation to belong and be understood is powerful,
after motivation is probably the main factor when it comes to choosing an
online community to actively be part of. This manifests itself in the priority
of finding a community that is well aligned to actual or desired identity. As
an example, a person may identify themselves as enjoying PvP and seek a
community that is focussed around PvP, or wanting to seek others who want to
gain a certain achievement.
The priority of the requirements will change from person to
person and for me this is where the beauty of guilds is. There is no one way of
doing things because everyone has different priorities to each other. Few
guilds are in direct competition with anyone else because they each are trying
to achieve things in different manners and that means their target audiences
are likely to be different (though there may be some overlaps).
It’s important to note that determining this sense of
belonging is commonly done without any direct interaction with the guild
itself. Unless a guild really goes out of its way to have a recruiting policy
of only accepting people found in pick up groups, it is far more likely that
someone’s first encounter with your guild will be through in game recruitment
messages or reading literature such as recruitment messages and posts, and
looking at guild websites. For potential members this is a quick and good (but superficial)
filtering mechanism with the limitation of relying that the guild accurately
describing themselves. In addition, there’s only so much time a potential
member can dedicate to the task of finding a new guild: eventually they will
have to stop searching and work out what the best of the bunch is.
Once you belong to a group, there's usually some kind of symbology
involved in distinguishing members from non members. This is usually done in
game with the guild name, banner, cape, symbol or similar. Acceptance or
rejection of the symbology between members can also be a determining factor
when it comes to judging if a community is suitable.
After finding a place to belong, Maslow points to esteem as
being the next need to satisfy. This is important to communities as people
interacting in this phase are actively contributing new ideas, expressing
opinions and will reveal more of themselves than those in the belonging stage.
The feedback from this is the real hook into a community, as it leads to being
recognised, earning respect of community peers and doing things that provide a
sense of contribution and accomplishment. This is the stage that turns a guild
from a collection of loosely associated people into a tighter group of friends.
Building esteem requires direct interaction between members
of the guild but this doesn't need to be realtime. Your guild's website or
forum can be a great place to interact with others and make a real mark on the
guild. This is especially true if the member's time is limited.
What this means for your guild
As a guild leader, you need to provide people with a sense
of belonging and the opportunity to feed their esteem. How you do this is dependent
on your game and the interests of the guild in question. Often you'll find that
people stumble upon things that work on either of these needs without being
conscious of them. For example, some guilds run contests to determine the
guild's symbol with submissions from the community (belonging from the
acceptance of the community symbol, esteem from contributing a design and
winning the contest).
Esteem may be fulfilled by group events that give people
opportunities to interact and make shared memories (in and out of game), providing
people with privileges over others, contests and (a personal favourite) guild
newsletters that highlight the accomplishments of members within a time period.
You should mark the anniversary of the guild every year (this will help people
feel like they belong) and you may also like to consider marking birthdays.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Not all of
them will be relevant to every guild and there are many more I haven’t thought
of – try things out, get feedback and refine the process!
So why do some ignore guilds entirely?
For the thousands of players in guilds there are a lot who
never join a guild. Given the social benefits of joining a guild it can be hard
to understand why some people never do but it can be for a number of reasons.
Frequently people who aren't in a guild state that they've had a large number
of negative experiences with communities to not feel like they’re worth it.
Others may not have the time to devote to building social ties that are
required to get a sense of belonging in a guild. Alternatively they may not see
the benefit or can’t find a guild they think they’ll be happy in.
You’ve taken a lot of words to say what I already knew...
As we participate in communities throughout life we gain an
understanding of how they work, so good for you and well done on being
observant. Rest easy in the knowledge that research backs you up and you’re on
the right path! Still, it’s useful to carefully examine things we think we
already know to get another perspective and make sure we’re not making
What you can do
Think about how the theories provided by Maslow and Max-Nee
and of Social Capital and how they apply to your guild. What could you do to
provide people with a sense of belonging and provide opportunities for them to
raise their esteem? Drop them in the
comments below and help each other out!
2 comment(s) so far...
By Tilion on
10/2/2012 5:01 PM
Re: Why People Seek Communities
Sam you did it again! An excellent read, especially for my area of expertise!
I was thinking actually of writing something about this specific subject, when poof! Refreshed DragonSeason and your article popped up. :D
By thevalliant on
10/11/2012 6:06 AM
Re: Why People Seek Communities
I hadn't have the pleasure of reading such a study on human social behavior since I was doing my MSc in the UK!
Incredible effort and a very interesting read Sam! Thank you!!