Is social networking killing the MMO genre?

Not social enough for Rift?

Rift was my main game this year, the one I would play before any other. The only real way, I feel, to really enjoy a MMO is to go all-in, completely devote yourself to it. Otherwise you remain an outsider or a dabbler. I love MMOs, so if I followed my natural inclination, I’d just play a dozen at a time but never really get to know any of them.

But Rift was the real deal, a fantastic effort from a great group of people who did an imaginative variation on the tried-and-true World of Warcraft gameplay. I devoured the game, got through all the T1 and T2 dungeons, finished my T1 armor set and was busy replacing it with T2, had done the first couple ranks of PvP and had maxed out all three crafting professions. I’d even started a little raiding, as well as having fun in the pickup rift raids.

Then I stopped playing. I didn’t have any explanation. Work got busy again, but that wasn’t it. My guild started emphasizing raiding more, but that wasn’t it — raiding isn’t required in the guild. I had fulfilled all my goals in the game, having seen all the non-raid content by then. That was part of it.

What was I doing besides playing Rift? I wasn’t playing another MMO. I wasn’t even playing many single player games. Mostly I was chatting with friends on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and recently, Google+. Google+ in particular has become a fantastic platform for serious discussions; blows Twitter away.

Turns out what I really love about gaming is the social interaction; clear back through EverQuest, it was the chance to hang out with like-minded friends that kept me logging in. And with social networks, I can hang out with like-minded friends no matter what I do.

I first noticed this phenomenon back when Dragon Age: Origins came out. It’s a single player game, but a lot of the people in my circle were playing it and we used Twitter and blogs to keep each other up to date on our progress and to discuss the game. It was a fantastic experience, and I awaited each expansion and DLC so I could play alone (with friends) again.

The same thing happens with books — when George R. R. Martin came out with his fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, Dance With Dragons, we read it together and my longest Google+ discussion remains that with friends who have also read the book.

This whole social media revolution has changed gaming.

Friends met through a MMO would often essentially vanish when they stopped playing. Now, these friends move up a level, and you can opt to keep gaming together. MMOs used to be entirely about community building. Now that better tools are available, MMOs are less about community and more about being quick fun. Which kind of diminishes the entire raison d’etre of MMOs to begin with.

I’m looking forward to Skyrim and Diablo 3. I’m sure they’ll be great games in their own right, but I know I’ll be able to share the experience with dozens of other people playing the same time, and _that’s_ going to make all the difference.

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Tipa

Web developer for a Connecticut-based insurance company that's over 200 years old! Also a bicycler, a blogger, a kayaker, and a hunter of bridges.

16 thoughts on “Is social networking killing the MMO genre?”

  1. Hmmm…I have to admit, I play Rift casually; I’m still only level 28, same character since launch. Now I really only play when my wife plays, or when my friends are on. I can no longer log in and solo content like I used to do, but I’m also not overly social…being a slow leveler, most people I may interact with out-level me quickly.

    But this is an exciting observation. Maybe companies need to leverage this kind of dynamic in some way, although since we’re doing it ourselves, they hardly have to (except they’re missing out on some revenue in some way, I’m sure, which is like blood in the water to them). It makes single player games multiplayer games, without actually having to code any network support!

  2. Imagine the ability to screenshot or note achievements directly from Skyrim using a Twitter feed?

    Connect your Nook or Kindle directly to Facebook and recommend right within the chapter by quoting something meaningful?

    Rift did a great job opening up Twitter and the game. I can comment, send pics directly to Twitter and chat with my Twits (that’s what they are..right?)…now I believe is the next gen of the social versus the game, book, music file and more.

    Good observation and

    Cheers….

  3. In the era of Google+… for some reason actually going over to the blog to post comments there seems strangely foreign :) However I will copy my comments here as well. This was a really good post, and it made me think about my own absense from rift.

    I really need to make my “I am not playing rift” post… I just have held off doing it. I guess I just tapered off my game play and was just simply not logging in at all before I even realized it. It just felt like something was missing, and I had a hard time putting my finger on it. It wasn’t the pure mechanics, or the dungeons, or even the raids… the few I did.

    The world just felt off. It was missing something, a spark. Then it kinda hit me. The world is missing fluff. Everything in Telara exists for a purpose. Every building, every npc, every object in the game seems to be tied in some way to some quest line somewhere. Nothing seems to exist just because. There are no empty buildings to RP in, no towns to make up your own story about, no books or doodads you can mouse over in dungeons that say interesting things.

    I guess in a way I have putting off making the post, and as a result stalling out my blog entirely because I didn’t want to feel like I had given up. I mean because as a whole I think Trion cares more about it’s players than alot of the MMO companies I have seen. I wanted to like them, I wanted to be there for the long haul. But as each member of my guild hit 50 and mysteriously tapered their play time off and eventually quit, it was obviously that something was just missing to glue players to the game permanently.

    Basically the social aspect was there for me as well but just in a different way. As we lost more and more 50s to the “I dinged, what now” blahs, my interest in the game waned massively. I’m a tank… it’s what I do in games. I big chunk of why I tank is my deep protective nature of my friends.

    Here is the problem… I HATE tanking for pugs. Even if they are nice pugs… they aren’t people I care about… they aren’t people I am willing to pull out all the stops and push everything to the limit to save. So as the guild groups started to peter out, I spent more and more time wandering around Meridian… which is FAR more boring than Dalaran btw heh.

    So I completely get the social angle… just for me it manifested itself in a different way.

  4. I had exactly the same experience with DAO and it was great. I really suspect that SWTOR will be similar in that people will want to talk about the story while they’re playing it.

  5. I think the “togetherness” is really the big deal. I played WoW for so long not because I liked the game, but because I was out around with other people, and talking to them. If you can add that social networking ability to single player games (allowing instant chat/linking screenshots / tweets) then you’ve probably given most people what they want without needing multiplayer functionality at all.

    Elementalistly , Kindle already tweets quotes. And Amazon has a very limited social networking functionality: the tweet links to a page of all the highlights and bookmarks you’ve ever made,and you can comment on them (or make them non-public).

    I finally noticed that my 360 has a Twitter and Facebook login, in addition to the windows/xbox live. I am not sure what it does, but I am hesitant to try it for fear of spamming everyone. Most people already hate the FourSquare and Facebook game spam.

  6. Tangent to the main point of the post, but..

    Elementalistly’s comment made me remember how angry Rift’s Twitter connection made some people. (I thought it was fabulous.) Are we over that now?

    It just seemed, back in the old days (last winter), that any time a game allowed tweeting from inside it (some PS3 games did this, too) the Twitteratti got upset about spam. Though thinking about it, maybe that was just from the auto-update stuff?

    I’d love to see more integration from inside games (with an option to just turn it all off for when you just want to immerse yourself in a game with no outside interruptions).

    It’s good for the publishers, too, as it encourages buying at full price on release day so you can experience the game with friends.

  7. My experience is the exact opposite. I’m playing Rift every day because I love playing it. I don’t have any particular desire to talk about it with anyone other than Mrs Bhagpuss, who’s playing it too. I’ve been writing about it on my nascent blog but I’m only really doing that because I wanted to record some of my own experiences in a way that would be of interest to me when I re-read them in a few years’ time, and I wanted to learn how to compose blog posts.

    For the first five or six years that I played MMOs I socialized a good deal in-game, but eventually I realized that MMOs are a lot more fun when you just get on with your own stuff and don’t have to faff around with other peoples’ agendas. I don’t even join guilds any more. I really like logging on and knowing I can get on with the myriad things I want to do without having to discuss anything with anyone.

    I don’t have a Facebook account, use Twitter or own a mobile phone. I weaned myself off email several years ago, when I realized it was taking up about two hours a day just keeping up. Even if I used any of these things to socialize, I wouldn’t be talking about MMOs because I have literally no friends who play computer games. Most of my longtime friends actively despise them in the way that only one subculture can despise another (they’re comics fans).

    Of course, this could all change. For the last decade and a half I’ve worked in an environment where I spend all day chatting about anything and everything. When I get home I’m pretty much chatted out for the day. If my work changed and I ended up doing something where I couldn’t spend hours talking about music, books, comics, sport. travel and life in general then I very well might want to start doing the same from within my MMO. Nice to think that option exists.

  8. I’m tempted to go dig up that old xbox ad, “The best thing about playing an xbox 360 is not beating the game, but showing all my friends I had.” As corny as it was, it is very true.

    Personally, I wouldn’t say that social networking is killing MMO’s. I think MMO’s simply have not embraced their own versions of social networking. One of the main reason being, of course, that there is an extremely limited amount of people in MMO’s who want to use their real name. Turbine has a (albeit so broken, like most of their website pages) myDDO and myLOTRO sort of thing going on over there. Having an MMO expand those features into allowing players to write and share their own blogs, having something resembling a twitter feed (minus auto-updates and spam) and things of that nature would enhance the experience greatly. I know a good portion of RP’ers who enjoy putting together in-character blogs, or even guilds who might want to have a written record of their accomplishments for whatever purpose.

    These sorts of things need to be embraced and fit to the MMORPG playerbase, which should be a very social one to begin with.

  9. Really just wanted to pop in and say what an exceptional post this was, and you’re on the nose, really.

    I’m desperately hoping SWTOR and GW2 can pull something together for me, else I fear I’ll never play a MMO again like I did.

  10. Interesting post, but as both an MMO player and a social networking junkie I disagree. My guild was WoW-only for a number of years, but we recently decided to stop playing it exclusively and have everyone just play what they want. Those of us who aren’t currently playing the same game keep in touch over social networking, like G+ and Twitter.

    Those people who I keep in regular contact with but don’t play with? It’s totally not the same. Social networks are all push and no conversation. It’s all, “I had this for dinner” or “here is a new site I found”. There’s no teamwork, no bonding.

    Playing an MMO together is hanging out. Being on a social network together is just.. keeping in touch. There is a world of difference, for me.

  11. My experience has been different, both on Twitter, blogs and now on Google+. Most of the people I chat with I’ve never actually played an MMO with, which is odd when I think about it. I only keep in touch with a few people I’ve actually been guilded with.

  12. I would love to be involved in some of those game and book conversations mentioned in the blog article. Any suggestions on how I get involved or invited?

  13. Max, I circled you on G+ (Brenda Holloway). Check out my posts and the posts of the people who comment on mine, and you’ll pretty much be seeing what kind of discussions we have. Feel free to chime in!

  14. You make a good point but at least for me I don’t totally agree. :)

    Whilst I can see that social networks are used more for chatting about MMO’s and maybe even uploading pics/vids and the rest, I still prefer in game chat while playing.

    The main reason I play MMO’s is my guild, we have been together for about 6 years now and we try new mmo’s together. This has solved the longtime problem you mentioned in your post, that of friends drifting apart when not gaming together. Many of us do have twitter and google+ to do the same but the main focus is always our site.

    We recently arranged 2 nights a week (when people can make it) in LOTRO as it’s F2P and allows us to get together at no cost. The first few nights have not involved any grouping as we made new characters and we are all too low really for any good group sessions. What has happened is a lot of lively guild chatter which is why I love playing with our lot so much in games.

    I would say for me the social network aspect is talking about MMO’s with those I don’t actually game with, like yourself. It does mean I see a wider view of games as a result and yeah that is social interaction around MMO’s but it doesn’t take over the primary social functions for me.

    In my guild at least the main area of discussion and way of staying together is still our forums. Having had a few RL meets, staying together for a week I think helps as well.

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