Now that our Simulation & Gaming article is online, I thought it would be helpful to summarize some of our findings. For the MMO study mentioned in the article, I surveyed players of EVE Online, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars. I asked them about their leadership structure (whether they had a single leader, a team of leaders, or no formal leaders), their own leadership role in the guild, and their transformational leadership behavior, both within the MMO and in their real life workplace.
I think the most interesting finding is that guild leaders in guilds with just one leader tend to report the highest levels of transformational leadership. As the guild has more leaders, their individual transformational leadership declines. I believe this supports one of the underlying assumptions of leadership research in video games, that leadership is even relevant and that guild leaders are acting like so-called traditional leaders. Regular gamers might say “well duh” but from a behavioral point of view it is important to establish prior theories of leadership are even relevant in a virtual world context. This also suggests that strong leadership may not be necessary when leadership is shared among several members or the entire group. There’s not much research examining how leadership structure impacts performance in MMOs.
Another finding I think is very interesting and specific to MMOs is the type of leadership structure in guilds. In EVE, only 25% of the participants said their guild was lead by a single leader. Although leadership teams or “top management teams” have become popular in organizations, they are still the exception. In MMOs a single leader or CEO is the rarer form of leadership structure.
One last takeaway is the different trends between MMOs. Comparing WOW and EVE, players who said they were not in a guild tended to self-report higher transformational leadership behavior than players who were not in a guild in EVE. When you get right down to it, leadership = influencing others. In EVE, you can play solo for years without really interacting with anyone and still get pretty far in the game. In WOW (at least at the time of the study) you needed to team up with other people to accomplish high level goals. So in a sense, WOW was requiring all of its players to have or to develop at least some level of transformational leadership ability, whether they had it themselves (solo players) or by association through their guild. Now, EVE guilds/corps appear to require or develop a similar amount, but only in WOW was influence also required for solo players. You need to be able to exert some influence if you’re constantly trying to put together high level raids with strangers. This is a great example of how a game will have a hard time inadvertently developing skills, like leadership, that are not built into the structure of the game.
I’ll post more tomorrow on one of my more recent EVE Online studies!