Should MMORPG developers build social media into their games?

Gazimoff starts today off with an intriguing proposal. He’s arguing that in order to counteract the “MMO nomad” phenomenon, MMORPG developers should be giving serious thought to integrating social media into their games – not just a Battle.net equivalent, but allowing Steam messaging, Twitter, even Facebook, live within the game environment

“The problem with this approach is that MMOs tend to be developed as islands, with a dedicated community team working with journalists and fansites and building interest. I’m not sure this is a great idea, as publishing houses and developers can generate their own fanbases as well. While getting as many people as possible to play a new release might be a short term goal, the longer term has to be focused around creating a fan-based market for every new release.

So what would this longer term goal look like? It means developing social tools that connect the in-game social experience with the wider internet, but in ways that help to promote a sticky relationship with the developer. How many of us would like to be able to take Battle.net chat beyond the smartphone, with desktop versions available? How about being able to link to Twitter in the way that Rift does, allowing you to send tweets and pick up messages while playing? What about using your Steam account to chat while playing Rift or Rusty Hearts?

I think that expanded social messaging, both instant and asynchronous, is one of the cornerstones of helping to build social experiences that go beyond one single game. I also think that it’ll become crucial as publishers move to a multi-MMO approach.”

This is a short but thought-provoking post. In a lot of ways, Gazimoff’s echoing and expanding on Cynwise’s recent musings on social networks and MMOs , but Gazimoff’s taking a very focussed, practical approach to the benefits that social media can offer both gamers and developers.

It’s an interesting vision of the future. Of course, the network effect could work both ways – whilst peers playing a game might push you toward it, they could also push you away from another game. I was strongly reminded of the theoretical future Charles Stross proposed in Halting State, where an entire infrastructure exists to allow players to “emigrate” between MMOs. But on the other hand, one of the most frequent complaints in MMO-land in the last year has been about the destruction of community – and a really robust social setup could allow communities to regrow.

Of all the social media, Google+ looks like probably the most appropriate setup for a multi-MMO social network to me, probably followed by the ancient social media site LiveJournal. Both offer the ability to segment your contacts by how and where you know them – offering a built-in way to include people in specific “guild” circles. Because, let’s face it, if games companies do go this way, one of the most important questions is not how to contact people, but how to avoid being contacted by them…

What do you think of Gazimoff’s vision of the MMO future?


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