Thought of the Day: On welfare epics, workers, and the industrial MMO economy

Once upon a time, in the pre-industrial age, life was simpler and easier to understand in the MMO world. People quietly got on with their own game and formed into like minded guilds, mostly for social reasons or to work on shared tasks. Some took a hardcore raiding approach and were somewhat respected as the server elite (by some people at least). But there was very little pressure on players to stress over their gear and play if they weren’t in one of those guilds. Raiding society put a lot of emphasis on which guild you joined, but outside this circle it was mostly unimportant.

As raiding became more accessible, there was a lot more pressure on regular players to buy in to the system. A system which defined players by the progression of their current guild and forced those who were deeply concerned with their status to put in more and more time, and keep jumping to more and more progressed guilds.

You could imagine raid guilds as being like production lines. The pressure on players to conform and gear and play to an approved style (with the use of external metrics like gearscore and damage meters to enforce) was like the work ethic that was imposed on pre-industrial workers in the real world. Lists of meaningless achievements replaced meaningless production goals set down by management, which in turn replaced meaningful individual goals from the pre-industrial MMO which people defined for themselves.

And the welfare epics? Well named, perhaps, because just as in the real world, welfare picked up some of the slack in that there were more workers than there were jobs; more players who wanted to be part of the endgame than there were guild spots.

So if that’s the industrial cycle, what happens now? Are we drifting into a post-industrial MMO age where raiding might become optional again, or at least less of a defining factor in how a player sees themselves?

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10 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: On welfare epics, workers, and the industrial MMO economy

  1. I don’t really hold with evolutionary psychology but yes, it’s a really interesting comparison to do!

    One of the differences is that although he’s talking about leisure and conspicuous consumption, I’m noting that people are being convinced that the meaningless achievements, and purple shinies are actually luxury items when in fact they’re just part of a bigger scheme to keep players on the production line. And not only that, but used as props to encourage players to call each other losers and noobs if they don’t play that game.

    I know I’m not the first person to say this, but I have been reading text books about industrialisation and the welfare state recently so I thought I’d say it again :)

    • The crucial difference is that the character product doesn’t need to be fitted with tier X-1 epics before it has more than a snowball’s chance in hell on tier X. Any stages in the proverbial production line are entirely player-made and player-enforced at this point. For example, any car sold today can go fast enough and accelerate quickly enough to maintain the flow of traffic. Do you get left behind in an inpromptu drag race from one red light to the next? Yes. Does it matter? No.As far as the system is concerned, your car is good enough. All they care is that you have a car in the first place and continue to pay the associated taxes and fees.

      • You’re absolutely right. And if someone can figure out how much money they need to afford a good enough house, good enough car etc then there’s no need to work any harder than needed to get it. BUT there is a lot of pressure in our society today not to be satisfied with ‘good enough’ and to call people slackers if they decide that they don’t need to be ambitious at work.

        Which leads to the point where if welfare offers a subsistence level of income and someone decides that they’d rather settle for that than work (and it’s pretty much poverty line in most cases) you’ll see their morals and ethics called into question. Similarly in game, if all you cared about was being able to run the occasional heroic so you just geared for that, you’ll still likely get trashed in group speak for having only 3k gearscore and/or only putting out 1.5k dps, even though anyone who played at the start of Wrath knows that’s good enough.

      • I work with many people who are in just the situation you describe and I don’t think they are often challenged on moral or ethical grounds. I think the problem with choosing benefits rather than an equally badly paying menial job is that benefits is absolutely the worst career out there.

        If you stack shelves at a supermarket for minimum wage after 2 years with the company you won’t be stacking shelves and you won’t be on minimum wage.

        It’s really hard to convince people of this. We had someone refuse a job this week because she worked out she would be worse off. This is because she had a debt that is currently frozen that she will have to start repaying when she works. She couldn’t see that paying off her debt would actually leave her better off in the long term, just that it meant £10 a week less money now.

        In WoW you don’t have to listen to other people at all. You can just do LFD and not read chat. There’s not a comparable downside.

      • Sounds as though the person you were dealing with was acting perfectly rationally. It’s not her fault that there’s a breakpoint where you have to earn significantly more than welfare to make it worthwhile in real terms. You’re right ofc that if you view work as an avenue to a career which will eventually ramp up your income then it should be a longterm investment. But I think increasingly people see that the career for life doesn’t really happen any more and so it’s less clear how the career path plays out.

        But I don’t think it’s true that people aren’t challenged on ethical grounds. I see stories in the newspapers about benefit scroungers all the time – yes it’s grossly unfair to people who can’t work due to disability or caring requirements (if you need to be at home 12 hours a day to look after your sick dad/family then you can hardly work fulltime too.)

        But your example also shows an issue with the way the whole banking system was falling over itself to offer people cheap credit. There isn’t much incentive to work if any excess will go straight to your creditors (I mean, unless you’re brought up to think it’s a big deal to be debt free and worth working yourself to the bone for.)

        I think I’ll maybe talk about consumerism and the F2P model next week (since that’s the next chapter of the text book :) )

        But also, although you CAN ignore chat, it won’t stop you getting booted if the rest of your group think your blue gear and 1500dps isn’t good enough. Plus is it really a good thing to encourage people to ignore chat?

  2. Please remove/reject the previous comment, I forgot to close the link element.

    Gevlon has already thought of this (part 2, part 3). In a post-industrial age, raiding isn’t done for progress, it’s done as a display of temporal and material wealth. To show that you can afford to sink X hours and $Y money to get that 0.5% upgrade and that special mount. The diminishing returns from each upgrade have long ago ceased to matter and the only reason to get an upgrade is to keep up with the Joneses.

  3. I second Hirvox’ feelings. it’s interesting to look back at the path WoW has taken since it’s beginnings – at some point in TBC it seems there was some balance between game difficulty and player opportunity, but after that the scale has tipped over.
    A lot of the customer QQ today is about “everyone wanting everything” and also a feeling of entitlement thereof, it’s very odd. WoW is really becoming world of collector-craft more than anything – you can also see that in the debate about the worgen’s ‘running wild’ ability.
    Blizzard are the only ones that can draw the line, the question is whether they care for the game’s “integrity” more than paying customers – I doubt it.

    • I know what you mean about world of collector craft. I think most people know that collecting things is just one part of the game, and it’s there for people who enjoy that sort of thing.

      But increasingly people will think you’re weird if you like your basic racial mount and don’t want to collect new ones :)

  4. It is at this point that the workers revolt and throw off their shackles of wage slavery and go off to live peaceful lives as poets in collective harmony. Or we invent new forms of debt to keep them working and buying far past the point of diminishing returns on happiness and every now and then someone asks what’s going on and gets shouted down.

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