Chat Systems
  Non-Real Time

Case Study

Gaming Networks, Virtual Worlds, and Other Technologies

Some of the most interesting online communities form around gaming networks (such as battle.net or Sierra On-Line) and virtual worlds (MUDs, MOOs, etc.). Each network has its own purpose, personality, and problems. Governance of such networks depends upon what problems must be addressed.

Gaming Networks

Gaming networks give gaming enthusiasts the opportunity to compete against more opponents than just their friends, and are quite popular. In a typical moment of a typical night, Battle.net (Blizzard Software's gaming network, featuring games such as StarCraft) has over 30,000 connected users playing in more than 9000 matches. Battle.net keeps users' win/loss records and features an ongoing competition among users; as a result, governance focuses on preventing and punishing cheating.

Punishing cheating on Battle.net usually means warnings from the company or deletion of a user's account (a dire punishment for someone with a record built over hundreds of games). [14]

Blizzard focuses more on preventing cheating, however. The tournament rules are constantly being updated as new methods of cheating appear [14], and the game software packages themselves are constantly patched for the same reason [15]. If cheating is technologically impossible, no disciplinary action would be necessary.

Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds are more complex than gaming networks, however, and thus are essentially impossible to regulate automatically. According to the FAQ,

A MUD (Multiple User Dimension, Multiple User Dungeon, or Multiple User Dialogue) is a computer program which users can log into and explore. Each user takes control of a computerized persona/avatar/incarnation/character. You can walk around, chat with other characters, explore dangerous monster-infested areas, solve puzzles, and even create your very own rooms, descriptions and items. You can also get lost or confused if you jump right in... [16]

Governance in MUDs tends to be somewhat autocratic, with the owner/administrator of the MUD acting as the king. On LambdaMOO, for example, users vote on "laws" which are then added into the software "as soon as possible" by "the wizards," or the administrators of the MOO (an object-oriented MUD).

Vigilante justice could also be possible in a MUD, for users are capable of "killing" one another in some implementations. (According to the FAQ, multi-user games of Quake also count as MUDs....)

Other Technologies

There are so many different ways to communicate on the Internet that it is impossible to cover them all. We have selected what we consider to be a representative sample of the various technologies available. To give an idea of what else is out there, we present the following list.

  • Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes): Like small versions of AOL (before it connected to the Internet), BBSes combine all of the technologies we've mentioned so far. Usually a BBS has real-time chat rooms, e-mail, newsgroups (called message boards on BBSes), and even MUD-style games. BBSes have been mostly eclipsed by the growth of the Internet, but many dial-up BBSes still exist. Some have also obtained Telnet connections to the Internet.

  • Collaboration Software: Collaboration software enables more interactive long-distance conferencing. Packages such as Microsoft's NetMeeting offer real-time chat with audio and video, the ability to draw on a shared "whiteboard," and the ability to have people at several different locations work at the same time on the same document.

  • Web Rings: Web Rings are on the fringes of our definition of an online community. A web ring is a group of web sites that link to one another in a ring. One can follow the ring from one site to the next. Web rings usually contain the pages of different members of a given community (frequently an "underground" community).