Jeremy Dalberg posted recently on the subject of supermassive communities. Actually the post is mostly about the relative benefits of official vs unofficial forums but that’s been done the science is in and the deniers have been denned. Scott Jennings mentioned the headline comment and, as is usual, the weird and wonderful came crawling out of the woodwork in the comments section to display some extremely poorly thought out opinions.
Jeremy’s post is mostly a critique of some points that Ryan Schwayder made on the pros and cons of official forums, but amongst all of that she makes some very interesting points on community scalability. Communities, it is very clear work best when they are small. How small? Jeremy brings up Dunbar’s Number as a possible limit but in reality I think the answer is mutable. For a game community, a single server is probably too big to be considered a single community, an alliance or a guild is a better basic unit of community and those tend not to exceed a few hundred. If your alliance exceeds that number then the chances are you have several communities within that umbrella that can be said to be independant of each other as discrete communities. For all that we might talk about ‘the community’ on a particular server, the reality on the ground is a lot grainier than that. Just because we might end up fighting the same battle, we aren’t necessarily part of the same community. It isn’t necessarily limited to the number of simultaneous relationships any one member can sustain – hence why I don’t think Dunbar’s Number applies – but once you start going beyond second degree associations then I think you can start to define a boundary. The smaller a community is (above a certain sustainability threshold) the more tightly knit it tends to be, this is something we see in every aspect of life from geographic location through to international associations.
The basic point of Ms Dalberg’s post is correct. However we are measuring the cohesiveness of a community, 5 million is way too many to be considered as a single entity. That’s crazy talk and is akin to assuming that putting the entire population of Belgium in a room to chat to each other and then trying to manage that would be in some way productive.
So how do you manage a 5 million member community? You don’t. You chop it up and manage a few hundred smaller ones.