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The Social Gamer: From Solitary to Community

by Bob Edwards on 08/19/13 06:49:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Some consider gaming a solitary activity. There was once truth in this idea, of the lone gamer sequestered away in a dark room, surrounded by Doctor Pepper and Cheetos, wearing out his mouse playing single player games.

This is a stereotype that, well, probably has some truth to it, even in the modern day. That said, the solitary gamer is something that is rapidly going out the window as more studios and games incorporate social aspects into their mechanics, and make being part of a community more attractive. Social based games are bringing a whole new demographic into gaming, and the success of these is beginning to bleed over into AAA, even in games of the action and adventure variety that used to be single player only.

As an indie company, we at Victory Square Games are trying to approach this a little differently. With one project nearing completion and another live on Kickstarter, we’re taking social integration, even for games that don’t normally use it, very seriously. It’s a funny market, and indie games have the chance to include social integration in ways AAA would never think of.

The idea of community in games isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who has played a MMORPG. In fact, many gamers live and die by their community, and would cite that as the primary reason they keep playing. MMO’s survives based on the activeness and involvement of their player base, and as the community diminishes and withers, so do they. This reliance on a strong community means that many games go to great lengths to keep players invested in the game. The micro-reward system found in MMO’s bears a similarity to many types of gambling, and makes people feel that if they keep playing eventually they’ll top out and win.

You don’t win in MMO’s. Even if you’re in the top raid guild, with the best gear, and all the Achievements, and everything done, it only takes a few months until new content comes along and the grind starts all over again. Players spend 12-16 hours a day, most days of the week, chasing this carrot, but is it really the gameplay that keeps them logging on?

In the last year or so there has been a significant population drop in World of Warcraft. The game topped out at around 11.5 Million subscribers during the Wrath of the Lich King era, and is now down to around 7 million, as of the latest release by Blizzard. That’s a pretty significant reduction in the daily player, many times more than the average MMO ever even had in total population. As an MMO, World of Warcraft uses a strong community and social ties system, the Guild, but this rarely leaves the actual game world. They don’t have Facebook integration, the ability to easily compare and show off scores, or accessible leaderboards. Is this lack of social media integration hurting them, or is it that the bubble has burst on MMO’s and players are tired of the grind?

The question to ask is where those four million players went. It’s a big thing, abandoning a character that you’ve spent 300 days leveling and nurturing, and there needs to be a mighty big carrot to entice someone into a new game and world. While some players may maintain an active presence in multiple MMO’s, the majority of people tend to stick to a single one. Where their community is. The question then, is not where the players are going, but where the communities are.

Increasingly, streaming and video blogging of playing games is allowing players to create their own communities around themselves, instead of a virtual character. Where once someone would have been known only by their MMO character, now gaming has bled over into a mix of the online personality and the real person. While the average person may struggle to find viewers, professional gamers, or those who show high levels of skill can rapidly shoot into the spotlight.

This doesn’t account for four million subscribers lost from WoW, but the MMO genre is falling behind when it comes to social integration. The new breeds of MMO’s need to find a way to ways to capitalize on the increasing social atmosphere of gamers, and go beyond the context of the in game chat client.

Bob Edwards works as a writer at Victory Square Games in Vancouver, BC. Victory Square Games has  just finished production on Boximals, and have are Kickstarting a point and click adventure game that has John Watson on an epic quest to prove that Sherlock Holmes is a giant jerk.


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