The Dunbar Number of MMORPGs?

Many of you don’t like detailed prose, so here is the short summary.  You can read further to see the details.

Key points:

  1. Six is the magic Dunbar number for MMORPGs.
  2. Warhammer Online:  Warbands (8 groups of 6), Scenarios (12 versus 12 with each side having two groups) and Adventure Groups (one group of six) divide the player base for organizational purposes.   If you want to play with your group in an instance and you are member #7, then you can just go log out!
  3. Why not let group buffs and magic work across the warband?
  4. Why not open groups up to 12 or more since it is clear the technology is not forcing the limit?

The Magic of Six

What is so magical about six?  Generally, in Warhammer Online and many other MMORPGs, it is the group limit [I know, I know .. your game is 8 or 10 or 4].  There is a theory that states you can only maintain a certain number of healthy, cohesive relationships.  The theory’s limit is called the Dunbar Number, and I believe that 6 – 8 is that number within an MMORPG, and it’s probably a holdover to when technology costs were more intense.  Being the seventh guy in a six man world can really leave you out in the cold – particularly if you are a casual player.


The first screen shot shows a typical group configuration.  This is your normal party configuration.  People adventure, do PvE, run scenarios and otherwise organize their game play around this core group of players.

One of the things that always concerns me in a guild or other social setting is whether or not everyone who wants to be included is included.  It’s sort of like seeing a popular kid at the school with whom everyone wants to chat.  That popular kid can only handle so many inquiries and conversations at a time.

It’s the same way with the uber healers, the best tanks, and the hottest DPS.  They are in demand.  Over time, they gravitate to others of their ilk, and the many are left outside looking into the cool kids’ circle wishing to be popular.  For those of you old enough to remember this:  think about the movie Heathers!

Warbands, Scenarios, and Groups

Why do we have to limit a group to six?  First answer is that you don’t.  In Warhammer Online, you can form a 48 person Warband or a 12 person group within scenarios.  The problem with this 12 person construct and the Warband is that it sets up two groups of six or  eight groups of six!   Group heals only work within the group in which you reside.  Experience and renown effectively accrues if someone in your group gets a kill.  It is more cooperative  than solo, but it does limit the scope and dimensions of cooperation.


Why not let the group heals and XP flow across the big groups?

It might cause too much Uberness.  It might let people advance too quickly and therefore lose interest in the subscription fee.  Personally, and Ziss tells us to be opinionated, I would enjoy it more if that Warrior Priest with group heals in group two (and in Order, healers aren’t out there like in Destro) could put down some love in group one.  Sure, he can throw a HOT my direction, but it clearly is not the same as the 2400 point group hug.

Why not open groups up to 12 or more since it is clear the technology is not forcing the limit?

In today’s world, Intel / AMD have six core processors.  Even in the enterprise, high speed, low drag category, high performance storage is cheaper per gigabyte than in any time in history.  Sure, electricity for your data center is expensive, but you can do a lot with what you have.  You already allow people to raid in open areas with 48 people per group!

There are times when I want to do a scenario and play with the team.  I log into vent, and see a six person group up and running.  You can start a spillover group, but you are left out in the cold in terms of RP and XP.  Why not allow for larger groups?  I think it would be worth an experiment to increase the group size to eight or even 12!  That way, no one gets left out of the activities with the cool kids.  We can all tag along and bask in their glory!


Speak Your Mind


5 + = six