Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 26, Issue 4–6, pp 873–925 | Cite as

A Case Study of How a Reduction in Explicit Leadership Changed an Online Game Community

Article

Abstract

Leadership is considered critical to virtual community success. Leaders engage in important community activities such as encouraging members and building social structure. These potential benefits, however, have rarely been empirically tested. We were presented with an opportunity to explore this issue while studying an online board-and-card-game community. During our study, the community experienced a major change in leadership when the founder – and formal leader – decided to substantially reduce his involvement in the site. This provided us with the rare opportunity to carry out a case study of leadership reduction in a real-world community. To look at the effects of leadership on community behaviour, we analysed 16 months of activity logs, supported by interviews, to compare the community before, during, and after the founder’s withdrawal. We observed strong variability in the effects of a leadership reduction – some results were in line with the “leadership hypothesis,” but others were unexpected. In some cases, we found evidence that reducing formal leadership can have negative effects on the success of the community; but in other cases, we found surprising sources of resilience to the reduction in leadership activities. Our study is the first to look at the details of how leadership (and a reduction in this role) affects several types of sub-community within a board-and-card game site, and the first to consider some of the factors that lead to differences in the effects of leadership reduction. Overall, we found that negative effects on sub-communities were closely tied to the specific activities that the leader provided, and the degree to which he was the only person able to provide those roles. The broad strokes of this finding agree with the leadership hypothesis, but there are several unexpected elements within the main story: the negative effects were less drastic than we anticipated, and all of the sub-communities (even the most dependent) survived the transition. The strong resilience of some of the sub-communities seems to be connected to their ability to “fall back” to a foundation of shared activity (i.e., game play) – an idea that has been introduced in earlier work but never studied empirically. This research helps designers to understand the complexities of leadership in online communities, providing an important foundation for developing and supporting online groups.

Keywords

Virtual community Online leadership Online games Case study Board and card games Leadership change 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Arty Sandler for making available the logging data from GameCenter and answering our many questions. We also thank the members of the GameCenter community, especially those that participated in the survey and interviews to provide insight into the community.

This work was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Prince Edward IslandCharlottetownCanada
  2. 2.University of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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