I’ve always thuoght that metagaming was the real challenge in an MMORPG. The game itself is what it is; do quests, kill stuff, conquer the world, etc. What distinguishes any game is the metagame – a game about the game – that grows around it.
You can call it community, call it offtopic, call it whatever. Since we, as players, cannot directly change the game, the metagame is where we thrive; it’s wholly us.
Since I started in World of Warcraft, my troll priestess has been in two guilds which were started with the best intentions, but for one reason or another, didn’t make the cull. The leaders drifted off.
Four of us were left in a guild with no leader. I volunteered to look for a new home for all of us; I researched the guilds on the forum for my server, grouped with several of them in-game, and negotiated with the recruiter for one of them to bring all of us on. Sunday, during one of their guild get-togethers in Thunder Bluff, we were invited to share our stories and join The Ghost Watch.
It was a lot of fun. But, it was purely in the metagame. It would have been as fun on an IRC chatroom.
Game companies are not unaware of the metagame; the guild structure shown in all current MMORPGs shows just how seriously the makers strive to be the catalyst for a metagame. WoW’s auction house (and the auction counter in FFXI, and the Bazaar in EQ) provide another metagame, that of gaming the economy.
Could the success or failure of any recent games be due to its lack of metagame? It’s something for nascent designers to consider.
WoW check: Kanda Der’a’Zun, troll, is halfway through level 33. She has about 15 of the 90 gold needed to buy her mount at 40. Things aren’t looking good, and I fear I’ll hit 40 before getting 90 gold.