In a Tokyo Game Show Forum keynote attended by Gamasutra, Turbine CEO Jim Crowley spoke to an overwhelmingly Japanese audience on the collision of social networking, virtual worlds, and online games, revealing a Facebook-style social network plan for its games such as Lord Of The Rings Online.
Crowley started by discussing the history of Turbine, which currently produces The Lord Of The Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Asheron's Call, noting that each game "is an evergreen property" and suggesting that their worlds could conceivably each be around for "more than a decade."
He then focused on the "born digital" generation, which he defined as those born from 1995 onwards, and explained that those people are living their lives publicly in the digital space.
As a result, the customer has become the company, and the community is the brand, says Crowley -- and so worlds "will have to turn themselves out," creating an open ecosystem.
He then argued, debatably, that the intersection of social networks, games, and virtual worlds are "core" MMOs such as Turbine's titles or World Of Warcraft -- implying they have the best features of all three phenomena.
Crowley commented that virtual worlds such as Second Life "have become the mall of the twenty-first century," and although they often lack a unified thematic structure, he pointed to their excellence in marketing and advertising purposes.
MMOs' thematic structures work well, but their models "need to evolve" to meet the needs of the born digital generation -- thus the Turbine CEO introduced the concept of "MMO 2.0."
Apart from building on traditional strengths, the MMO must "step out of its shell... and start reaching a much broader and deeper audience," says Crowley. He focused on multiplatform access, arguing MMOs "need to be on console."
In particular, "turning the game inside out" is vital, and that, according to Turbine, should be a real-time layer of Web 2.0-style tools -- social tools both in and out of the game, and mobile access where appropriate.
Crowley then revealed early mock-ups of a "My LOTRO" page -- a Facebook/MySpace-style social networking website that sits on top of a Lord Of The Rings Online subscriber's in-world experience. He later mentioned that it would launch late in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Player profiles, friends, character achievements, blogging, player videos, and screenshots -- as well as banner-based advertising -- were all displayed via a web interface and linked into the game world. He indicated that a fleshed-out version of this concept would roll out over Turbine's games over the next few months.
Crowley made it clear that the ideal situation is to have multi-SKU MMOs across PC/Mac, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 (and even "at some point in time, a Wii") directly linked to the MMO-oriented social network.
There would then be syndication or app-style hooks into sites like Facebook and MySpace, with mini-game plug-ins for those two social networks leading people back into the game with the hope that the community will help to virally spread subscription demand.
Crowley didn't give any hints as to which of Turbine's properties would be the first to receive that multiple-SKU treatment -- although recent job postings and comments by executives make it clear that console MMOs are actively in development at the studio.