MMOs and the school of fish effect


I imagine that most of us are not demigods or sentient mainframes capable of performing trillions of operations a second (I get up to about two, three tops). So for the most part our lives are segmented into what’s in our sphere of interest/involvement and… everything else. We can’t stay on top of all of the news, all of the pop culture, all of the everything in the world. Experiences, preferences, and interest lead us to pay attention to certain areas.

Even in those, we’re hopelessly outclassed in today’s entertainment-rich world. I can’t watch all of the TV shows and movies coming out that apparently I’m supposed to in order to make good conversation around the watercooler. And when I narrow it down to just MMOs, well, I’m still a small little grouper in a big, wide ocean of titles.

There are the MMOs we play, the MMOs we don’t play but follow, and then… everything else. And I’ve noticed that when we’re involved with a game, we can get really, really involved with it, staying up to date on news, patches, forum posts, trends, events, and so on. One person can only play so many games, and the more you try to add in there, the more your time and interest gets fractured and fragmented. So I think it’s a kind of defensive measure for our sanity to stop paying attention to other games that we would play if we had the time, but we don’t.

Except that we’re also influenced by others around us. Here’s where the school of fish analogy comes into play. We’re swimming along, all happy in our MMO of choice, but then we start seeing others dart away to a different title. Maybe our guild has up and left for new hunting grounds.. Maybe we see bloggers or forum posters or tweeters or commenters talk enthusiastically about another game. Whether real or perceived, we see the school of fish change direction and there’s a powerful impulse to change with it.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this happen even in the MMO blogosphere. Trends and fads of playing this game or that come and go. Sometimes it makes sense — there’s a big launch or patch or expansion — and sometimes it’s simply one person enthusiastically gushing about a title that starts a snowball reaction (uh… in the ocean, with the fish, let’s not abandon the analogy) and then everyone seems to be playing it.

I don’t see this as us being weak-willed and bowing to popular trends, but just receptive to the excitement of others and open to checking out (or revisiting) other titles. After all, how many times have you read a book or seen a movie based on someone else’s recommendation? MMOs can be like that with a ripple effect (with fish!).

So swim along, little fishies. Dart where you will and chances are I’ll be wagging my tail right behind you.


4 thoughts on “MMOs and the school of fish effect

  1. Chris Smith August 3, 2016 / 12:42 pm

    I don’t even pay attention to the games I’m currently playing! Self-zing!

  2. Aywren August 3, 2016 / 1:25 pm

    I won’t deny that I’ve been swept up in hype in the past. I’m getting much better at distancing myself from the school of fish, though. Maybe I’m just better at defining what I like and can tell more quickly if a game isn’t meshing with me. It’s fun, though, to get lost in that kind of excitement, especially when the game turns out to be something you do enjoy.

    Temptation is there, but there’s plenty of hyped games I’ve skipped the past couple of years. Just too many games coming out, and I remain unmoved in my choice for main MMO.

  3. baldwinp August 4, 2016 / 8:45 am

    Fortunately, as long as your interests are somewhat close, you can still get a lot of enjoyment out of discussing them with others who may have changed course. I started reading this blog because of your writing about Lotro, which you stopped regularly playing maybe 2-3 years ago? I had no interest in Wildstar, preferring ESO that year. I also enjoy a number of single-player games whereas you tend to focus only on MMOs, which the exception of the retro games (and I’ve never played WOW). Even still, this is one of the first websites I visit each day because I enjoy reading about your experiences in these other games that I will never have the time to try myself.

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