Using Dunbar’s Number to Design Online Worlds

Posted on Posted in 2018 Selected Workgroup Topics, 2018 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Since their inception, MMOs have been focused on scale. Massively is right in the name! And we have expended large amounts of creative and technological energy creating larger and larger simulations to support bigger and bigger groups of players. We love to design large, interconnected mechanics, and global scale systems. Managing and shaping big systems is fun for designers/developers but is often inaccessible and confusing for players. And when it comes to social systems, large scale works against community building. So we add a lot of support systems, complicated UI, and hierarchies to make our games manageable for players. This approach (make it big, then add support to navigate the big) has produced some really cool designs but what if we approached this from the other direction? What if we designed small first? What if we designed to optimize human interaction and relationship building and then create the framework to scale? Specifically, what if we used Dunbar’s number to guide design of an online world?

I am interested in exploring what design of an online world based on Dunbar’s number would look like, what approaches and constraints would look like in this type of design, and whether this lens could produce a better, more social online world. There are many resources we can draw on from psychology research, games that have unintentionally been shaped by Dunbar’s number (maybe there are even examples of games that used this lens already), online community history, and even past Horseshoe work groups. I believe this could be a rich and interesting topic for people interested in social gaming and online worlds.

2 thoughts on “Using Dunbar’s Number to Design Online Worlds

  1. Hi Crystin –

    Have you taken a look at my workgroup proposal?
    https://www.projecthorseshoe.com/2018/10/06/designing-for-friendship-part-deux-the-trust-spectrum/
    It’s similar to what you’re asking about but we’ve already got a foundation to start from.

    Dunbar’s number is a good starting point but there’s a lot more to it. “All 150 of our friends are not the same”. Check out my talk from gdc earlier this year for a crash course:
    https://youtu.be/5wtlj_q3DjE (fast forward to 1:43:00, sorry, can’t get the link to correct time on mobile :).

    I think I can help get you started on how to apply Dunbar’s number to design for large online groups, and would love to work with you on this! 🙂

    1. Hi Aaron,
      Yes! I did see that proposal and I am familiar with the original Horseshoe group and the Trust Spectrum work that Raph has published. I am excited to see what your group does and it could be that the overlap between your proposal and mine is so great we should combine but I wanted to throw mine out there as well to see if there was interest in something specifically focused on online world building.
      I am interested in how Dunbar’s number has contributed to organic culture building and how the various levels of intimacy, each requiring a different degree of social effort to maintain, can suggest a structure for online world design. It’s a subset, for sure, of what your topic wants to look into, and chances are there won’t be enough interest to support a whole other group. =P

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