WoWBook? WoW+? Cynwise expands on WoW as Social Network

A week or so ago, Cynwise wrote a post talking about WoW’s evolution in the current era of the Internet, which touched on a lot of interesting points about social networks and how WoW’s design could evolve.

Now, that post itself has evolved, into a thorough look at how WoW and other MMOs can and should develop in the age of Facebook. After all, as Cynwise says, one of the big golden promises of the MMORPG was that you could play in the same universe as your friends, but thanks to guilds, servers, and various other impediments, the reality is far from that claim

“World of Warcraft’s infrastructure requires players to create accounts on specific, mutually exclusive servers. If I roll on Durotan, I cannot interact with players on Drenden or Moonrunner, and vice versa. Each server is effectively its own independent social network, limited in scope, much like old-school BBSes were. This made sense in 2004, but in 2012 social networks are broader, which is the whole point behind Real ID/BattleTags grouping. Warcraft is moving players towards a cloud-based existence, where your server matters less than your friends list. I personally think this is a good thing, because no matter how nostalgic I am for the old days of BBSes, I enjoy the present day reality of a global social network …

Let’s take a simple example, a player who wants to play both Horde and Alliance. She joins nice guilds on both sides of the same server and enjoys spending time with each group. But depending on which character she chooses to play, she either has to choose one social group or the other. This doesn’t have anything to do with guild perks or reputation – imagine a social network that forced you to choose between talking to one set of friends or another when logging in, and see how popular that would become. It’s not enough to be able to talk individually. “

I really hope that the poor, underpaid guy that Blizzard pay to sit and keep tabs on the MMORPG blogosphere (let’s face it, we know they must have at least one) spends a good chunk of time reading this post. I’ve never seen Cynwise’s central question – “How can WoW change to survive the post-Facebook age?” articulated so clearly, and whilst he doesn’t have a solid blueprint – yet – he does an excellent job of not only articulating the various problems but also proposing solutions for them.

And for the rest of us, it’s worth reading this post because it’s likely to be prophetic. Cynwise has nailed a key element of any future MMO that isn’t doomed to looking like a throwback – certainly, I’d be astonished if Titan wasn’t designed around social principles. And he’s doing some interesting thinking about not just directly Facebookifying WoW, but also translating the strengths of WoW via the things that make social networks great.

I’ll be interested to see how the conversation develops around this one!

How do you think MMOs will evolve in the Social Age?