Ooh this was interesting. And odd. Jim did a good talk on How You Should Make Your MMO More Socially Networked, like they have - but had no stats to back up why. I mean, instinctively he's probably mostly right, but when I asked him what kind of player conversion he was seeing in this new social network layer on his game, the answer was, "we don't know... yet... but we think it will be a lot, going on the number of forum posts we have".
Anyway. Here are some notes - NOTES mind, he was way more verbal than I could capture.
Turbine: The collision of virtual worlds, online games and social networking.
The collision that's occurring here is rich, robust and powerful.
We make MMOs. Our tech platform is something we're incredibly proud of: we call it our 5th generation MMO engine: any number of worlds, and any number of users, at any point in time.
As we look at our products and services, we focus specifically on "iconic content": very powerful content people are already aware of, e.g. Lord of the Rings. MMO of the Year 2007, btw.
One of our particular perspectives on the space is that each is an evergreen property: each will live and thrive for many, many years; it's conceivable to us that each of these worlds will be enjoyed for more than a decade.
We need to talk about the consumer, and the community.
Today, social technology has fundamentally altered the means by which people communicate. A fundamental change in communication through technology means a fundamental split in the population. There are those of us over 30 who have learned to become digital, networked, participatory, co-creative. This is fundamentally different from anyone born 1995 on. That generation is the born-digital generation. They are different. They do not learn to operate like this, this is how they live.
This drive to live in an online world: people are living their lives publicly but in a digital space. Everything they have is elevated into a public digital sphere via facebook or myspace or similar; we believe that for the foreseeable future that this digital community, that digital place, is the place where consumers will perpetually and forever forward define their behaviours and passions.
So as they define these passions in this online ecosystem, and the dynamic has shifted. This is the advent of the community-based consumer. The customer has become the company, the community has become the brand for that customer. The importance of that community can not be overstated. In the born-digital generation, the community demands that it be open - which is a conflict to MMO traditions.
Worlds are going to have to turn themselves inside out. What was once closed, will have to be open.
Our bias as an MMO company is that the MMO genre has a specific role to play here.
There are three broad worlds we need to talk about:
- social networks
- virtual worlds.
Each of these worlds have existed in their own ecosystem. The MMO space is where these worlds come together.
Let's talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each genre:
They're easy to use, they're lightweight online destinations for users to create and share real or virtual world identities. They're the telephone of the 21st C. "Get off your facebook page and do your homework". They're THAT important.
Weaknesses? Generally limited in scope. Very little immersion, no persistence and no real native hook for establishing a broad community other than your own network of friends. We can use these to target specific groups though, and to talk 2-way with our consumers. Social Networks reached over to the game space and pulled games and gamers into their networks in order to drive growth.
These are a little bit different. Open environments, heavily themed around user generated content, and tend to be 3D. Second Life is the most noteworthy example.
The weaknesses are also there: VWs usually lack a rich broad theme of content. There is a sense of when entering, of "now what do I do?". They're the mall of the 21st C. A place to go and hang out. They reach across into the game space too, injecting game play into the VW in order to find more to do.
VWs have one compelling advantage above game space: they lend extraordinarily well to advertising models. Brands can inject into these worlds very easily.
Games. What do they have that social networks don't have or that VWs don't have? First, they're immersive. There is no sense of "what am I supposed to do": it's a themed, directed entertainment experience. At the same time, the space has weaknesses: they tend to be shorter lifecycles. There's no native community-building in the game structure. Great biz opportunities: easy to monetise, and there are in-game advertising opportunities.
So what is occurring here: you have VWs, Social networks and Game space: MMOs are the meet point for all three. As these three worlds combine, the MMO becomes a unique meet spot and launching pad to take the best of these worlds together.
The traditional MMO needs to evolve however, to take advantage of the born-digital generation. MMO 2.0: the Ultimate Community.
It needs to step out of its shell, and there are several themes to this.
- needs to become cross-platform. It necessarily needs to be on the console.
- needs to address its audience by moving to a more mainstream client. Heavy client requirements, non-open? No. Easy access.
- needs immediate interactivity and feedback.
- needs more accessible pricing models.
- needs to be fundamentally web aware: web aware is the key point.
Turn the game inside out! Sounds simple, but it isn't.
- expose the in-game social tools and networks up to a web 2.0 layer
- share the rich data and real-time tools. What's happening in game world needs to read up to the web layer immediately, no delay.
- your character in the game world needs to exist in the web 2.0 space; mobile tools need to be injected too.
- in-game, you need more social structures. There's tremendous structure there too, but more devices are required: music systems, housing systems, user-configurable experiences, and the ability to link into other networks.
So how do you turn the game inside out?
Here's a preliminary version of something we're doing with LOTR and all of our games: this is a fully featured, rich, robust social network, but the difference is this is themed directly around the community and content of the MMO.
What is happening in the world is automatically published directly up to this web layer.
This creates a fundamental shift in the future of MMO: the born-digital community demands that they be able to share and distribute their experience more broadly across the ecosystem. The features here are what you'd find in YouTube, myspace.. but it's datalinked with the underlying game network.
It's a community, and a communication with the community. We can inject and insert live news feeds; you can display your character(s). You can have profile pages around each character. Here's the ability to insert yourself, the player, behind those chars. Friends list. Live Character Achievement feed: the game engine populates the game data directly into this social network.
How do you inject advertising biz models that aren't in conflict with the game world? In LOTRO it would have been very difficult to insert a coke bottle in-world; but in the social network space, where a lot of the communications will take place when not in the game, that type of ad model is natural here and one you see across web 2.0.
Player Groups and Leaderboards are inserted. Your player blog: this is critical. More advertising; video posting: why move to YouTube when you can post it here to a community who cares? And lastly, the ability to post screenshots, directly.
You have to alter your engineering and build your fully featured social network that reads from and writes to the originating game. Why? because the born-digital generation wants to share. They live a public life.
We took the Google Maps API and applied it to our digital world space. You can use the Google Maps functionality around the virtual space. People are annotating the map, and talking about how they move from point A to point B: this can now escalate up to the social network we discussed before.
Other examples: what you do inside the world needs to be shared. Your persona is often criticised as not being unique enough, but this is critically important that players can escalate their character up into 2.0, and that the character can look really unique. No one wants to look the same up there. Personalisation toolsets are critical: the LOTRO outfit system allows you to change your look and feel without changing the stats. It creates uniqueness, personal flair.
Music: LOTRO has a rich and robust music system. Why? Music is social by nature. It creates a social experience. It allows players to compose music in that world, to play music in that world, to perform it with others, to share it with others. This is a fundamental social dynamic. Search on YouTube for LOTRO music, and you find thousands and thousands of vids of players performing music in-world. Gameworlds have not provided enough mechanics to date for this. This is just going to continue to grow.
Ohmigod. Here's Still Alive played on the lute in-world.
Last example of social tool example: the concept of a wiki. This is a screenshot of the LOTRO lore book: a wikipedia built by the players about the world they inhabit. This is now the number one online destination for anything to do with LOTR or Tolkein on the web: you end up here first.
How does all this stuff.. what does it look like when it's all done? Here's how it's done:
The green circle is core content: LOTR, Warcraft, whatever it may be. Surround that with traditional MMO mechanics: you don't need to replace these, you just need to make them better and more accessible. Around that we have in-game social events. The lore book, the character customisation, the music system.
This whole platform needs to speak to any platform out there: PC, Xbox, ps3, Wii. But this is below the covers: you need to take and build a fully featured social network which moves this stuff into the public sphere. This is naturally horizontal - you can link into facebook or myspace, etc. You create a bidirectional ecosystem: seamless community in game space and web space.
You generate content-affirming feedback loops: the game gives to the social network, and vice versa. Things go viral. Some people are voyeuristic by nature, but might be intimidated by the MMO: this system allows people to ease into the system. MMO 2.0 is a cross platform game world that speaks up to the web 2.0 layer, allowing you to inject biz models and advertising that are not appropriate in the game layer.
The Future. Where does it go. You will end up with compelling worlds that inspire exploration, creativity and community. You'll have flexible thematic content for a sense of purpose for users. There's the opportunity to share goals and motivation with likeminded users, in-game and out-game too. The opportunity for users to sustain and extend the persistent world: where that ends and leads, we don’t know, but we do know it'll be richer, more powerful, more enriching and more viable from a biz perspective than any of the single elements alone (VWs, social network or game).
If you take an MMO and evolve it to MMO 2.0 the richness of the community will give back to you for years and years and years.
Don't miss Simon's writeup. He actually did some thinking, instead of just typing.