Friends FTW! Friendship and Competition in Halo: Reach

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community

Speaker:  Winter Mason, Stevens Institute of Technology

How important are friendships in determining the success of individuals and
teams in complex competitive environments? By combining a novel data set on
the dynamics of millions of ad hoc team-based competitions from the massively
multiplayer online first person shooter (MMOFPS) Halo: Reach with ground-truth
data on player demographics, play style, psychometrics and friendships derived
from an anonymous online survey, we investigated the impact of friendship on
performance in such competitive environments. We found that friendships play
a fundamental role, leading to both improved individual and team performance,
even after controlling for the overall expertise of the team, and increased
pro-social behavior. Furthermore, because players structure their in-game
activities around opportunities to play with friends, we show that friendships
can largely be inferred directly from behavioral time series using common-sense
heuristics. Algorithms that leverage the utility of friendships, without
needing explicitly labeled (and thus private) data, are thus both possible
and will likely improve many aspects of competition prediction and design.

Winter Mason received his B.S. in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh,
and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and Cognitive Science from Indiana University
in 2007. From 2007-2011 he worked as a Visiting Scientist at Yahoo! Research
in the Human and Social Dynamics group. He is currently an assistant professor
in the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology.
His research draws from psychology, cognitive science, sociology, and computer
science, with a particular focus on social influence, group dynamics and