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Status Reversal

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, gaining status in a virtual world may be more appealing to younger players because of their relative lack of status in the physical world. Indeed, the following player articulates this point:

I grew tired of hardcore gaming. I used to be the type that would want the best of everything and would work really hard to get it. I guess, by getting some self-esteem in real life, it wiped out the need to be the best at something in a game. [WoW, M, 21]

There are several interesting things about this set of findings. First of all, they suggest that younger players are disproportionately more likely to be in positions of power and authority in an MMO. Whereas high school and college students may be used to working for people in their 30s or older in the physical world, the reverse may be true in an MMO. Secondly, what makes this status reversal particularly intriguing is that it is largely made invisible in MMOs due to the use of avatars. On the other hand, the emergence of integrated VoIP tools may upset this hidden social dynamic. Can a player just as easily maintain a position of authority if they "sound young" on the microphone? And finally, this suggests that younger players may have a disproportionate influence on different aspects of the game. For example, as leaders in groups and guilds, they have the ability to shape the game experience for other players. Also, given that the casual-vs.-raiding tension often causes guilds to fragment, the stability of a guild may be largely influenced by the number of younger players in a guild. And finally, hard-core players being more vocal may mean that the opinions of younger players are more often taken into account when they post on forums.

Added Note: See below for great comments from players articulating the point that adults with managerial positions don't need additional stress when they are trying to relax. I definitely agree that this plays a large role in the status reversals and should have made this point more explicitly in the article.


Posted on October 15, 2007 | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)


Very interesting article, which I think is port on.

Another point to consider and maybe factor in is that younger players usually have much more disposable time and in most mmorpgs time = progression.

Would be interesting to overlay disposbale time on the graphs.

Posted by: Holymoly on October 19, 2007 6:42 AM

As a 63 year old female guild officer (and former guild leader)in a reasonably high-end EQ1 raiding guild, I found this part of your study interesting but not totally surprising.

While at the moment one of our raid leaders is 19 and a PitA in some ways b/c of his apparent need to be very visibly The Leader, our officers and class leaders are in their 20's, 30's and 60's (we actually have 3 60+ in leadership roles, and another 4-5 members 50+!). Our other raid leader is in his mid-30's.

We lost a raid leader recently in part b/c his need to lead and to drive the guild ahead caused behaviors that not only frustrated some of the guild officers but also frustated him so much that he deleted all his gear and then the toon. Three days later he /petitioned SOE and got it all back... then moved on to the #2 guild on server which raids 6 nights a week. Age? 28.

What I am seeing in a guild whose average age is well over 30 (even though our baby RL recruits people his age like crazy) is a tiredness with the whip-cracking approach of the young folk. We want to progress, we thrill to victory and agonize over defeat. But we want to do it while integrating RL (jobs, kids, etc) into our lives. Our baby RL lives w/ his g/f's family and evidently does not work (though she just got a job... yes, she's in guild also b/c he dragged her in).

Of course, part of this is EQ1 is 8 1/2 years old. Many of us have been EQ'ing for most of those years. The game is "mature" and so are we!

Flip side: when my former guild and current guild merged 2 years ago, one of the raid leaders from the other guild was possibly the best raid leader I've ever worked with. He was mature, focused, successful. When he said "homework" one night I ???. Turns out he'd just turned 17. Blew me away! So yep... if they type and don't talk on TS or Ventrillo, *if they're mature and balanced*, we can't tell their age unless they volunteer it.

In our guild just about everyone volunteers info like that. Eventually .

Posted by: MAB on October 19, 2007 6:49 AM

To set the record straight I'm 50+ and started playing mmo's with The Realm about 10 years ago.

The stats about RL Leaders vs Virtual Leaders is interesting. IRL experience counts, someone is made a manager because of his ability to navigated the pit falls of business with minimum risk. People under 25 tend to take more risks as they have not experienced the consequences. This is borne out in automobile accident statistics. This is why young men and women go to war, not us old farts. We would be all day assessing the risks and get nowhere. In an mmo, if there is a wipe everyone gets resurrected, not so IRL.

If there was a game where when you died and your character was erased then caution and experience would have more value than constantly doing the same thing over and over again till you succeed. This is most easily see in console game where you go over the same sequence till you get it right.

Posted by: Albinoblade on October 19, 2007 7:27 AM

I am going to have to disagree with you, at least partially. Without seeing your actual data, it seems you are lumping all mmo's into one pile, discounting the fact that mmo's such as UO and EQ1 are both quite old as far as the genre goes, and the population of both games, in my experience, tend to have older populations.

The older games, where the thrill may be gone for the younger crowds, are still a stable environment for the older folks that like the challenges still presented, without having to deal with the younger, power hungry generations that evidentally flood games like WoW, Guild Wars, etc.

There are so many differences in the various games within the genre that lumping them all together seems to be doing some of them an injustice.

Posted by: Fud on October 19, 2007 7:42 AM

When I was growing up, I didn't like fishing, it was just sitting around. As I know have a job, If someone asks me about fishing, I say, when can we go, because it is just sitting around.

I am worried you maybe reading to much into youth's desire for leadership, and not enough credit to older players possible desire to not be in charge. Not to be responsible. Not to deal with the extra burden inherent with game leadership.

Posted by: Jake on October 19, 2007 8:26 AM

Very interesting figures, since this was not at all the case for the high-end raiding guild I was in. While we did have some younger folks step up and assume leadership positions, I found that they tended to burn out a lot more quickly than the older folks who were leaders.

Posted by: Muaziz on October 19, 2007 8:44 AM

As my real-life responsibilities have grown, my desire for fewer and fewer recreational responsibilities has also grown. My vacations became less and less active and planned until now, my perfect vacation is one in which I have to make absolutely no choices except what drink to have while lounging around reading a book.

At 35, I don't want to be part of guild leadership. I don't want to be playing a game to rush to the end. I don't want to feel that I _need_ to level up or advance in any particular way. I completely understand the graphs, because I have lived through each of the age groups, even though I was admittedly playing Wizardry and not Everquest (for example) when I was in the first group.

The thing that is most dissatisfying about modern MMOGs is that the progress curve is too high. I don't want to play 40+ hours a week. I'd like to be able to do the entire game in a few months of only 5-15 hours a week. After a month or so things begin to progress so slowly and new experiences become so rare now, that I cancel the subscriptions very quickly. Some don't even make it out of the first free month. It's not because the games don't have new things to see and do, but because they are designed to prevent you from doing it. I'm just not going to pay to "play that game."


Posted by: Doug on October 19, 2007 11:26 AM

Although I would agree with your results, I disagree on the reasons.

For example, I am the owner of my own company with about 15 employees. It is enough of a pain in the butt to deal with RL people and situations, vendors, customers, etc every day. I do NOT want to carry that same scenario over to a game that I play for fun.

Another factor you seem to have ignored or barely mentioned is that younger players tend to have more free time, and to a large extent are much more "I want it NOW" oriented.

Posted by: Laiina on October 19, 2007 12:14 PM

Great points that adults with work management positions don't want more of that stress in a fantasy world. I should have made this point more explicitly in the article itself.

Posted by: Nick Yee on October 19, 2007 12:29 PM

I absolutely agree with the other posters regarding RL management positions vs. taking leadership roles in game. I am a 39 y/o female with 9 years of MMOs behind me. I have a full-time job supervising 8 clinical professionals. But besides that, I have a full-time job raising my 2 young sons. I also have a full-time job keeping my home organized & my marriage happy. Why in the world would I want to take on additional responsibility in a game that is supposed to be for fun? This is my downtime after my kids go to bed. When it becomes another job or responsibility, it's time for me to leave. I have enough on my plate!

Posted by: Brynlei on October 19, 2007 1:49 PM

All the posters are on point-- Mind you, I still like to log in a tool around in EVE, but I always remember that I am paying to play this game to "Have Fun"
As a working adult with Managerial responsibilities and a Household to run-- "Having Fun" does NOT mean being locked into a mining operation for the next 2 or 3 hours. It does NOT been being forced to earn & learn your way up an experience ladder so steep that entire weekends of play are required before you can DO anything that begins to be "Fun".
And it most CERTAINLY does NOT mean PAYING to log into a game where someone else, either a Corp or Guild Leader will TELL ME WHAT TO DO!?!?!?
Excuse me? He ain't giving me a paycheck. And every once in a while I have to remind myself of this. When I encounter such an atmosphere, the Game stops being Fun or Entertaining. I dock my ship and Log out regardless of whose corporation is on the Line.

Posted by: Lonnie on October 19, 2007 2:22 PM

I've been noticing a lot of the older posters explaining that they don't want to play +50 hours a week in order to get a high level position and I tend to agree. I'm 23 and its not that I don't want to be in leadership or in command, its the time constraints that prevent me from achieving it.

I was elected the President on a game called Face of Mankind but it was a truely unique system. The election wasn't based upon guilds, clans, or how long a week I played, it was more based on ideas, character, and reputation.

I believe that the current systems in popular MMORPGs such as EQ and WoW favor playtime over true leadership or management ability. I know quite a few players who are in leadership/management positions who lack good leadership/management qualities.

Also, many of us just like to sit back and ENJOY the game for itself and not have to worry about structure, organization, administration, and other high level concepts.

Anyways, excellent article!

Posted by: James on October 19, 2007 2:39 PM

For a guild to run well and be fun, it takes a lot of dedication and TIME! I am 45 and do not have either the time or the inclination for a second job. When I started playing EQ1 7 years ago I had a guild, a full time job working 70 hours a week, and a wife and 2 kids. Needless to say the guild was a flop. I did not have the time and energy to run the guild and when I concentrated on the guild all I did was log in to solve problems and log out. NO thanks. That job is best left to those who are either young and in school and have more time for it, or who are retired and have more time for it. Those of us in the working years who hve jobs, and families cannot service the needs of a large group effectively. Unless of course you azre an insomniac!

Posted by: Kent on October 19, 2007 7:54 PM

I'd have to agree with the majority of posters on here, especially the one who spoke of EVE Online. It seems that that is a chronic problem with the game - corporate leaders think that they are able to force you to do things in-game just because they're above you in rank. This could tie in with the figures shown in this article - younger people have more time and therefore end up in leadership positions... but then again, to me that doesn't seem like the case in EVE. I can't see anybody under 16 years old managing a corporation effectively.

Also, is it not possible that the younger players are more likely to lie about leadership positions? Especially on an online survey where the likeliness that someone will check their background is very low.

However - based on the information given, and though I disagree with the numbers presented, good article.

Posted by: Chris on October 20, 2007 1:49 AM

Interesting findings, and I believe that many of the comments here show that there is a bit of complexity in why 30+age players are less likely to seek leadership roles. It appears that the precieved time commitment and the need to have a game space to unwind in are major factors.

What I think would be an interesting follow-up is soft leadership vs hard leadership by age.

Younger players appear more likely to take on the clearly visiable 'hard' leaderships roles (Guild lead, raid lead, etc.).

Soft leadership describes folks who others seek out for advice, untangling planning snafus, or to just plain talk to. My thinking is (at least based on my experience, I am 38) it would be seen that more of the 30+ crowd is in this role.

Posted by: Dan on October 20, 2007 5:07 AM

My first thoughts, as a 48-year-old sometimes guild leader, were these:

1) kids have more time
2) people without demanding RL jobs have more time
3) kids have more guilds

This last has *got* to be significant in this study. I have seen my son's friends go through games where they were part of a different guild every week, because youth-led guilds implode on such a regular basis.

These young guys have great positions in leadership in great numbers because they are probably leading guilds of 8 friends who've been in a guild for 2 weeks.

Where, I recently returned to Eve Online after a couple years away, found my old guild, and my guild leader (who I estimate to be about my age) is *still* guild leader, and we have a largely consistent cast of characters.

So, next time you do a study, ask how many guilds per game these folks have been in, how long, if they've been leader of a guild that's imploded, how many people *leave* their guilds, and other questions that might indirectly address the quality and effectiveness of leadership?


Posted by: Shava on October 20, 2007 9:59 AM

It's pretty simple really:

those of us who are older, and have leadership/management jobs all day at work, the last thing we want to do is come home and do ANYTHING that remotely resembles work.

It's one reason why I've not played WoW or FFXI in about 8 months.

The other is - tired of the kids (I just turned 30, and playing online with a bunch of 13-15 year olds gets old itself pretty damn quick)

I'm a captain in the Air National Guard, spent 8 years on active duty in the Air Force, and currently hold a GS-12 gov't position. Yeah, middle management soon turning into lower/upper in a few months. I get paid to be a leader, and I enjoy doing it.

What I don't enjoy is signing up for free babysitting, counseling child-like adults, or anything that gets too much like my day job :)

Posted by: MOGS on October 20, 2007 2:35 PM

I'm surprised that nobody seems to have brought up the most obvious point yet: while it's undoubtedly true that young people are more willing to "take charge", as you put it, not very many are actually willing to follow them. I would be very interested in seeing some numbers on how many of your "take charge" kids are actually in leadership positions, especially in guilds that are going places.

Posted by: Inxj6 on October 22, 2007 3:40 PM

I agree on one of the graphs in which older players are less interested in going on to the endgame as early as possible, or desire to be on top of the player rankings. "Haste makes waste", ain't it right? That rings true.

As a male 31-year-old senior computer technician who plays on weekends as a mid-level female archer, I prefer to just follow rather than lead a party, because most of the time I find the party leader responsibility in the game, in contrast to the real world (where I can easily lead and teach a team of junior technicians about the tricks of my trade), rather taxing and very stressful: being a PL means remembering who'd disconnected and needed to be waited on, who should be joining the party after asking for a vacant party slot, who should have the nice drops, and trying to calm down and counsel a screaming kid who'd lost his favorite +7 weapon to another looter after getting fragged by a high-aggro monster.

Because of real-life personal financial control and commitments, I honestly can't have the time and the money to lead a party or even a guild with a volatile membership prone to defection or mutiny. Going hardcore 24/7 isn't my style.

On the other hand, as I admit my real age to younger players I've partied with, most of them change their tone in chatting, regarding me with due respect as their "elder sister". :)

Posted by: Oneesama on October 22, 2007 4:54 PM

I'm 43 and have played WoW on two servers and have been in a more casual raiding guild and a more progress oriented one with different characters. I think mature players (over 30) are more likely to have family and job responsibilities and to be in stable relationships with people who don't play WoW. Plus we grew up in a world where we didn't have games like WoW, so we have other hobbies that carried over from out lives before MMOs were widely available.

Younger players often do seem to take the game more seriously. I have noticed that the people in the guilds I have been in who are most interested in their position on the damage meter and who are most likely to grind to be "first" to get something have mostly been teen to early 20s age and male. But these are not IMO necessarily the most skilled or commited players...they just THINK they are. There are also young players who are more moderate in their approach to WoW, because they are involved in school activities and non MMO hobbies or are striving to be good students and often hold down part time jobs. So personality makes a difference here. Plus many players in their teens and younger at least are not in control of their play time, as their parents often require them to log off without notice for dinner or chores and they often share computers with parents and or siblings.

The "high intensity" young players players seem more likely to guild hop, pull too much aggro in instances and be irritating to other players. A few are also deliberately provocative and disrespectful. I will hazard a guess that the guy who was "spamming" the trade channel a while back saying that there are no "girl" WoW players and all the female toons out there are really played by "unmentionable word referring to orientation" was not very far along in years.

Most teens/young adults, however, are nice and mature players, and I am often surprised to find someone is "only" 17 or something.

Still, in my experience, the ones who tend to be best at organizing instance runs and being guild leaders are not the players in their teens/early 20s. They tend to be at least in their mid twenties or older. The youngsters are often a bit more whimsical and impatient and are less likely to commit to a long-term game plan. Plus their lives are very changable. The fluctuating schedules brought on by part time or entry level jobs, school and new romances can wreak havoc with their play time.

Forgive the long post, but this is actually an issue that has been much discussed in the guilds I have been a part of.

Posted by: Erica on October 22, 2007 5:19 PM

Also, a lot of the results depend on the game. In mentioned EVE Online, alliance heads need not only lead fleets into battle, and quite often they don't. They appoint fleet commanders instead. Running an alliance effectively in the world of EVE means coordinating work of your fleet commanders and production/mining directors but also planning campaigns, ensuring smooth running of markets, space security etc. One mistake could mean a lot of time and often efforts of thousands of people wasted.
Most of 'successful' Alliance directors are mature people that have got some time on their hands.

But regardless of game, it would be interesting to see how long have the guild and corporations led by younger players existed compared to the ones ruled by older ones, and also how 'successful' they are.

Posted by: Wojtek on October 24, 2007 3:14 PM

Interesting points, but I wonder how many of the younger players in positions of power are actually good leaders? The two guilds I've been in in WoW have both had mature leaders and officers - largely 30+ year olds. We've watched a lot of the younger players leave to form their own guilds. Guilds which last a week or two before vanishing because they don't actually have the skill or the patience to match their enthusiasm.

I wonder also, how many of these so called leaders are the ones spamming unguilded people (who they don't know) exhorting them to "join my uber guild of leetness". I think the older players gravitate more towards established stable guilds, and tend to move into management rather than setting themselves as leaders of a new startup.

Posted by: Skrybe on October 26, 2007 1:09 AM

In my experience, being older in the MMO isn't so much about not wanting responsibility, nor about not having to compete for esteem, but rather, I've learned to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Less mature, less experienced people often focus on the destination, and miss the journey. I don't mind being a guild officer, but I don't push and drive like many less mature players, because I'm quite happy to achieve goals in a more relaxed manner - Rushing often misses small but valuable things, and often leaves people behind.

Especially with newer players, I find that slowing down, taking a little time to help them develop their skills, build their resources, makes them more loyal, more effective, and more able to contribute to the guild. It also means they generally wind up enjoying the game more than their more driven counterparts.

Posted by: Laird on October 26, 2007 8:41 AM

Are you sure this isn't more of a a function of time than psychological motivation? Meaning, the older I get, the more I realize I have other responsibilities and the less time and energy I have to dedicate to any MMO I am playing. If I didn't have the additional responsibilities and lack of play time, I would still desire all of more "hardcore" stuff you mention.

The fact for me is that the balance of game life vs. real life has slowly tipped over my past 10 years of MMO gaming, and my hardcore desires have tipped inversely with this scale not due to a lack of motivation, but due to a lack of time and therefore logical removal of intent to reach those goals.

Posted by: Ryan Shwayder on October 29, 2007 9:07 AM

I must agree with Skrybe above. As a 33 yr old mother in a middle management position in RL, I researched all of the guilds on my server prior to selecting the one that I felt would best fit for me. I joined the guild as an initiate the same as everyone else, planning to be just a small cog in the bigger machine. This was not to be. Very quickly I was moved into a leadership position in the guild, and am now one of 5 officers in a guild of nearly 200 players.

I think that the adage 'The cream always rises to the top' applies. A good leader can recognize mature, stable players, who have leadership abilities, and they wouldn't be a good leader if they did not take steps to move those players into a position of authority.

The bulk of the officers in our guild are over the age of 25, and 2 are grandparents. They range from college students to Army recruiters, to computer professionals, to successful business owners.

I have seen the bright and shining stars of the younger generation. Unfortunately, I have also seen them crash and burn time and time again. Their kind of energy is simply not sustainable for the time and care that is required to run a successful guild for any length of time.

Posted by: Lightpelt on November 8, 2007 8:43 AM

One oversight I find in this, is that leadership is often not built into the mechanics of existing online worlds in more than name. I think older people instinctively recognize this more easily than younger folk. Rarely is the success of an individual facilitated or improved by the organizational capacity of a real leader in the current crop of online collaborative games.

I have been known to dabble in EVE once in a while, but I am usually put off by the lack of guidance at the top. Property isn't really valuable. When there's no "means of production" holding people down, the only people who actually do anything are the volunteers, and that tends to be ad hoc. There are fewer conspiracies, and the game becomes less immersive for that. If people are almost solely self-sufficient, then there is no crisis to propel them to put aside their instinctual risk-avoidant behavior, which is boring.

Personally, I wouldn't want to punch a clock either, at least provided it didn't in some way make way for additional advantages to myself or my corporation. I'm the same way in my day to day business life, and wouldn't expect otherwise from my employees if I weren't a freelancer. If I'm being paid by the hour, I expect bean-counting technology to be streamlined into the equipment I am using, and to be flexible rather than something that rules my life minute by minute.

Posted by: Dave on November 8, 2007 4:41 PM

your thoughts on younger players playing harder to achieve "status" via a role reversal in comparison to their elders, is wrong.


younger players have fewer responsibilities and more time, so they can ambitiously pursue such endeavors.

older players (like me, im 29) have responsibilities such as work, paying bills, family and our time and concentration to play the game cannot be as dedicated.

if we chose to dedicate more time in becoming leaders of a clan and hard core gamers, the equilibrium of our real lives will suffer because of the lack of attention and maintenance.

we would basically find ourselves out of the those fancy management jobs that users of your survey had answered, in holding.

Posted by: jim james on December 28, 2007 7:25 AM

Great article and fascinating.

Just thought I'd share my guild's experience, which may illuminate another facet to this debate.

Our guild leader just turned 50 last year, and had led us, with quiet patience and resolve, from a guild of 10 levelling players to a casual raiding guild of 120. He's been great at this, and I hope me and our other officers (mostly in our late 20's and early 30's) have been a support! He is a really good guild leader, and yes, is in a leadership role at work.

However, he is not a combat leader. When we raid it tends to be our youngsters who take centre stage. I think they just have more time to do the research required on tactics, so tend to direct operations. As observed elsewhere in the survey they are also more goal focussed, which helps to herd us older and more lackadaisical players through to victory. Left to our own devices we tend (though I hate to admit it!) not to take it quite seriously enough to really get anywhere with the more challenging high-end encounters.

The kids provide the "hunger" - just enough of the "hardcore" attitude - to pull us through. They care that little bit more, which is infectous. There's also a sense in which the older guild members take a great deal of vicarious enjoyment: the younger players unbridled delight when we acheive our goals is great fun, and there is always a sense that we're doing it for them, as much as for our own characters' improvement. Does all of this amount to "leadership?" I think it probably does.

Theres a big difference in the type of leadership required commanding an army of 100's over years and a group of 10, 25 or 40 over a few intense hours. Whilst the older generation may be better at the former, I wonder if younger people aren't actually better at the latter? Not all leadership is learned behaviour delivered at a steady pace - a significant part of it (read your Shakespeare if you disagree!) is about inspiring others with passion in the heat of the moment, and for this, I think the kids excel.

Posted by: BT on December 31, 2007 8:26 AM

I'm going to preface response with a bit about myself, a reflection on that, the state of how MMOs typically work.

First, one of the biggest things I've noticed about myself as I've played MMOs over the years, is that when I first started, I wanted to achieve all the "end-game" content/gear as quickly as possible.

That meant playing an exorbitant number of hours every day. I've also noticed that through the 9-10 years that I've been playing MMOs (I'm almost 30 now), that my desire to get the top ranked items, beat high-end raid encounters, and/or achieve higher character rankings has substantially waned. I no longer feel the necessity to achieve all of that in-game glory right now.

This brings me to the nature of the traditional MMO.

Traditional MMOs are games that never end. If they don't end, there isn't any reason for me to quickly get to as close to "end-game" as possible. I find that the enjoyment I have with MMOs, is the social aspect of grouping with others to get that next best item, rank, or some other miscellaneous improvement to my character. I've personally realized that once I've achieved everything I can on a character, given current "end-game" mechanics, I either get temporarily bored of the endless grind or do it all over again with a different one.

Finally, I think it's fair to assume that leadership in the real world generally comes from strong people. Those kinds of people that you either fear, admire, or have prior access to power. Regardless of how the power is achieved, the individual has it. I think it's also fair to assume that people with power are more likely to lead. After all, why would you follow someone who seemingly lacks power? They're not any better off than you.

In-game, power only comes by spending the required about of time to achieve it. That means putting in the time to get the experience you need, to get the gear you need, to get the ranks you need, to get the abilities you need, to get whatever that next defining expansion has to offer that makes your character better, or in more simple terms; more powerful.

My point?

In the realm of MMOs, if an individual has more time to achieve power, and a powerful person is more likely to lead. Then, to me, it make sense that a person with more time is more likely to lead.

Posted by: occulte on January 28, 2008 2:36 PM
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