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A Brave New Medium: Facebook versus World of Warcraft
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A Brave New Medium: Facebook versus World of Warcraft

December 16, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Networking/Community Feedback

The tools for creating your virtual self might be broadly similar, but once again, the uses of those creations differ significantly. "In WoW, emergent social norms make it difficult to join a group: typically someone within a guild needs to vouch for you and you have to prove you're trustworthy on a few runs before an officer invites you in," said Waldman.

"Between extensive privacy levels and the constant user worries that if they don't accept friend requests from old school mates that it will cause drama, social pressure surrounding Facebook ends up devaluing collaborative interaction in favor of self-serving sharing."

There is also a tension point where user expression can turn into a spoil-sport that ruins the whole experience; Leeroy Jenkins, for example, or the legion of joke profiles that eventually diluted Friendster and MySpace.

"The core is real world identity, the fact that when you visit a friend's page you know that it's them," said Davis. "This is based both on the amount of information that a person has voluntarily put on their profile, so that I know it's them; and when we create a friend relationship, it's symmetrical. We both agree to share a certain amount of information with each other and that's a trust relationship."

The degree to which the medium gets in the way of this transparency is a point at which many creative experiences can become manipulative and unexpectedly dramatic. Such is the case of EVE Online, one of WoW's most intriguing contemporaries.

"It's often hard to evaluate whether the person you're talking to is honorable in their intentions if you've only ever talked in a virtual environment," said Arnar Gylfason, Content Director and Associate Producer at CCP Games.

"Hence, trust is one of the most valuable commodities in EVE Online. While Facebook takes some steps to verify your identity, EVE has an extra layer of anonymity which allows pilots to forge their own online personas -- which is often their most powerful tool."

Marshal McLuhan & 4D Media

There are twenty-four frames per second at the end of a movie -- the same as at the beginning. The requirements for viewing don't change over time. The viewer just aggregates a constant stream of information. With interactivity the method of consumption changes significantly throughout an experience.

Marshal McLuhan described media along a continuum of "hot" and "cold" in 1964's Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Hot media requires the least amount of viewer effort to understand, often working to heighten a single sense. On these grounds, cinema can be considered "hot" for its rendering of emotion through a mix of image, music, and association. When a scene is sad you feel it first and articulate it second.

Cold media exist on the opposite end of the spectrum and require the most audience effort to decipher. Newspapers, comic books, and books all require varying intensities of deconstruction and filling in of the gaps to fully appreciate.

Interactivity introduces a new axis to McLuhan's paradigm of media perception, as it allows the audience to affect the nature of the medium mid-stream. In World of Warcraft your experience is "cold" while tweaking character stats and equipping weaponry in a menu screen. Things heat up in exploration and quests, where the world, music, and character models directly inform you of the drama, value, and threat level of all those surrounding you.

Crucially, you must respond to all this hot content as if it were cold. When you see an enemy attack animation it's not enough to intuit what the behavior is signifying, you are required to have an immediate response.

"Facebook rewards more asynchronous behavior and has little dependency on timeliness (e.g. you don't lose out on much for not being on Facebook at the exact same time someone else is, unlike WoW)," said Waldman.

"At the crux of it, WoW actively rewards collaboration and teamwork -- aspects that Facebook falls flat on."

The consumption cycle in Facebook is much more drawn out, but it vacillates in the same way between hot and cold. Users read status updates, look at other people's pictures, follow links of interest; and then they can reach back into the world, either commenting on someone else's content or adding new content for other users.

Interactive media adds the vector of time to McLuhan's continuum of hot and cold. Figuring out how different forms of interactive media work isn't about classifying them as hot and cold, but determining the frequency and intensity with which it moves between the two.

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