Socially networked MMOGs

In Uncategorized on 2008-11-12 by Kyle Maxwell

I recently started playing a new MMOG on a trial basis because I have family members who play it. The game itself doesn’t seem to be holding me for any number of reasons, but two things stood out to me as the trial has progressed:

First, as noted, what pulled me to the game had nothing to do with the content, the mechanics, or anything directly controlled by the developer and publisher. My social connections pulled me into it: I have a sibling that lives halfway across the country. We didn’t grow up together, but now that we’re adults, we’re trying to find ways to have something approaching a normal relationship. Since we both are definitely gamers, this fits naturally. We’ve tried three different games so far, including this one. Whether we stick with the same game or not doesn’t really matter, but trying to does.

Second, when I mentioned all this to some friends, several immediately asked what server I was on, class, faction, etc. This includes folks I didn’t even know played the game. I’m confident that it holds true across other games, too. I likely have friends in a lot of games and don’t know it.

Why can’t I find friends from Twitter, email, other games, social networking sites, IM, even forums? Because they don’t share their graphs. (Any such architecture clearly would need an opt-in design; privacy is a sine qua non.) I don’t know who I know there, even if they’d like me to know. Web 2.0 and social networking fit naturally with MMOGs for any number of reasons, but the fact that “community” always represents a core building block should rank high among them.

Developers really miss major business opportunities for customer growth and retention here. If they make it easy for me to see that I have 17 friends in a game and that 10 of them are on the same server, I’m much more likely to want to try it, no matter what. And if they can provide the tools to stay tightly connected to my friends in their game, I’m likely to keep playing and even go out and try to get other friends to play.

CCP says that EVE Online will be adding some social networking tools in 2009, though I have yet to see any meaningful details on that. Bioware’s SWTOR has some rudimentary social networking in their forum site, and hopefully that will carry over to the game design. Metaplace really focuses heavily on this, though they’re not a traditional MMOG. I believe some of the more casual, youth-oriented worlds get this right, and that could partly explain why worlds like Habbo Hotel have so many more subscribers than traditional MMOGs.

They could include something like the Facebook home page, so you can see when a friend gets a new badge or new achievement, or hits max level, or anything else public about the character. Or maybe micro-blogging (think Twitter) so players can put out very short updates of what they’re doing. Export these things as RSS feeds so I don’t have to log into your game or even subscribe, because they will make me want to subscribe and log in to play with my friend.

In other words, we already form tribes. If we can strengthen our tribes, if you give us the tools to connect to our friends and we’ll stay in your world. If you don’t, somebody else will, and we’ll head over there instead.

Update: GamerDNA seems like it’s doing a pretty good attempt at this stuff.


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