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MMO’s and social gaming

October 18, 2007

A year or two back, a lot of folks were looking at how MMO’s were eating up the market base. One of the main ideas was that computers can handle crunchy rules very easily, letting people focus on play. While that is true, I think the bigger push comes from the ideas of the social impacts that make them a big draw.

Everyone points to the fact that a) you can play without being face to face, b) don’t have to do huge set up to play, c) can play anytime, etc. as big convenience reasons.

And these are all true. They completely fold in with the desires of the casual gamer, or at least the gamer who wants less effort to play (and that’s a fair goal in my book). You don’t have to deeply learn rules (FAQs solve that), you don’t have to remember a lot (the computer handles it), and ultimately, you can’t argue about the rules or have any conflict about why you’re there to play.

You mine ore, beat up monsters, fly spaceships or whatever predefined options the videogame gives you… which leaves you completely open to focusing on hanging out, whether that happens to be as alternate personas or talking about work and family in real life.

This is actually the crucial part a lot of folks miss out on- the person who just games to hang out with their friends is best served by the MMO, and least served by face to face rpgs.

The actual play and the hanging out are not working through the same medium as you have in a tradtional roleplaying game. In many ways, like sports, you can do this activity and hang out at the same time. In the traditional tabletop game, you can talk to push along the game OR you can hang out (and people switch all the time, but ultimately you’re still using one channel alternately).

Aside from all the folks who are attracted to cool graphics and not having to learn a billion things to -get started- to play, MMO’s have eaten the people who just want to hang out with their friends.

The tabletop rpg groups that we’ll see 10, 20 years from now? Those are going to be groups where hanging out is -a- priority, just not -the- priority. Folks who just want to hang out and casually play games will have a million and one options online. We started to see this shift with videogames back in the 90’s but MMO’s and the casual online play have sealed it.

The draw of the actual game itself and the activity of it as a game of group creativity will have to be the anchor factors, at least to sustain the group as a gaming group in the long run.

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