Functional or Social? Exploring Teams in Online Games

People keep in touch with friends on Facebook, update personal information in Twitter, and interact and “befriend” with strangers in online communities and online games. The social features seem to be more important than actual functionalities for many applications. Sociality is a profound behavior of human being. However, specially designed mechanisms and incentives do change people’s decisions. Can we still consider online social relations “real” in this case?


We started to explore the impact of social incentive designs in online games. Team collaboration is the essential building block in massively multiple player online games. Working together provides a chance for players to interact with each other and seek stable relations. Game developers employ many design elements to promote team activities such as difficult tasks, complement roles and skill sets, in-game friendship and organizations, etc.

In the study on Dragon Nest, I compared the patterns of solo and team activities and provided a comprehensive picture of players’ in-game status and team engagement. We find that solo and team players are two distinct populations, which can be explained largely by game design mechanisms. With extra incentives, players do team up more as expected. But the team collaboration is more functionally-driven and is not motivated by a desire for relational outcomes.

After all, money can’t buy friends and benefits won’t make people more social.

For more, see our full paper, Functional or Social? Exploring Teams in Online Games.
Yun Huang, Wenyue Ye, Nicholas Bennett, and Noshir Contractor, Northwestern University


About Yun Huang

Yun Huang is a research associate in the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research group in the department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences at Northwestern University. His research explores the dynamic and evolution of individual behavior and interactions in digital-enabled environments such as scientific collaboration, online communities, and virtual worlds using data mining, social network analysis, and economics approaches.

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1 Comment

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