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Oct 01, 2009



On line communities? Come on Ren?


We all hear you, Ren...


I've been thinking about (and working on) this too, Ren. And there have been way too many presentations pointing out the numbingly obvious -- at least, obvious to those of us who have been paying attention for more than a few months. To be fair, every generation (as you've listed them above) comes up with the same breathless wide-eyed amazement at their incredible discovery of online communities, games, revenues, etc..

True to human form, everyone from generation n-1 or earlier decries the late realizations of the newcomers as we scoot over to make room for them, like people looking sideways at those loudly entering a movie already in progress.

And yet, with each generation there are tectonic shifts, and this current time is no exception. Not to go too far back, but many of us here are on record as thinking WoW would not break a million users. And for a long time TN -- like much of the gaming/VW media -- has been accused of being all about WoW and SL with minor field trips to talk about EVE or a few other games. How many even paid attention to the early days of social games, and how many of us thought that somehow these casual games were just a bit below our notice? This is an attitude I see even now -- "oh right, games on Facebook. Well those aren't really MMOs or virtual worlds." Right, as if we get to be the arbiters of how this area evolves.

What strikes me most is that while the orthodox MMO/VW crowd (and my, can we be orthodox) puzzles over the long-term fate of WoW, Warhammer, and Conan, eagerly awaits The Old Republic, and pokes now and again at this odd free-to-play stuff, the new kids with their shiny casual/social games are out actually bringing the online community experience to many times the number of people we ever did.

Remember how before WoW, Everquest was this daunting mass of players, almost 500,000 strong? There were rumors from Korea that Lineage had more, but no one could really be sure, and so mostly we didn't believe it. And then WoW became the 500-pound gorilla, the big Kahuna. It made what seemed to be an impossible and impenetrable wall of a million players -- then two, then five. Now, almost five years after its launch, the game is a juggernaut approaching twelve million players.

All great, for its generation. But let's put it in perspective. In three months the number one social game on Facebook has gone from zero to over 50 million players. Not registrations, but actual unique monthly players (about 20 million daily uniques). As for breadth, WoW would rank about #18 on the list of Facebook games (by MAU), and Everquest at its height would rank somewhere below #200 (right around "Doorbell" or "Send Tattoos"). We're all playing in a much larger pond now, like it or not.

So yes, while there's a lot that's being said that's stupifyingly obvious... we who have been around the track a few times may also be missing some obvious things. We (and I mean us, as writers and readers at places like Terra Nova) need to be careful that we don't roll our eyes and discount yet-another-speaker making a hash of the history that we lived through, and in so doing slip from our jaded impatience at the newbs to simply being cranky.

To put that another way, is it more important for us -- individually, academically, and collectively -- to stay current with how people are creating and using online community now, or to mistake debating the minutiae of tank/dps/healer combat forms so ritualized as to rival Japanese opera with actually looking forward?



I liked your insights on the matter. I was trying to puzzle out myself where Facebook games fell into the picture. I'm a bit of a tail-end of the first generation, myself, starting out on MUDs (I miss you, ROM2.4), and very reluctantly moving into the world of 3d MMOs – beta tested Meridian 59, played Asheron's Call for a couple weeks, and years later started on WoW and EvE (which were the first 2nd generation games I actually enjoyed).

But as reluctant as I was starting out with the 2nd generation, I still recognized them as being another step in the ladder of virtual worlds, even if I didn't like them for quite awhile. While I understand that social networking is "a big thing", I'm not sure that I could ever see it as a big thing in virtual worlds – at least, not as it is right now.

Just looking at the lineup of games, many of them are single-player with the only interaction being either some form of achievement system integrated into Facebook, or limited interaction in some virtual space, generally of the type from turn-based gameplay that co-existed in the MUD days, and eventually became web-based. To me, many of these attempts almost seem like a step backwards. But at the same time, I think its part of what attracts the casual-style of play that hooks Facebook users.

Then again, sometimes you have to take a step back before going forward. I could easily see something like this becoming the next generation in virtual worlds and even MMOs. And really, it wouldn't take very much. If you could pull the power of social networking _into_ existing MMOs (or create a new one with it nicely integrated), I think it could provide for a much more rich experience. I haven't checked, but I bet addon's already exist to post to Twitter or Facebook from inside of WoW. But what I'm suggesting is going one step further and making it part of the environment itself, seamlessly integrated.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I think Facebook may be a step in some direction. But, I also think it has a lot further to go in order to stand on its own as a virtual environment for game play. As you mentioned, it's not like we get to choose the direction of evolution. At the same time, some consensus is necessary in order to define a term, and a field – so there needs to be a line somewhere, even if it's a rather gray one.

I would almost look at social networking as a step evolved from newsgroups and email lists. It has many of the same type of back-and-forth interactions, threaded conversations, and even sense of identity. The major enhancement has been ease of use and inclusion of additional meta-data and relationships. But if we were to look at it from those roots, would you consider people playing a game of chess on a mailing list as a virtual environment? If not, what about a table-top RPG or war game? Are these environments part of the mailing list itself or something extra on top of it, merely using the list as a communication method?


Good points - I"m not saying there is anything wrong or inferior with the current generation of online experiences that blur the MMO / Social / Casual / SNS distinctions. The reason I sit through all these presentations is because I'm trying to learn more about them.

What's more, I'm sure I said here on TN that the new generation of virtual spaces would most likely be rejected by a certain group of the creators and fans of the previous generation just like those into 'rock music' often reject 'dance music' as not real.

Having said that, we are now in an age where nothing ever seems to be out of style for too long and everything is a re-mix of something else, so the simple rejection of the previous form is becoming a thing of the past.

Maybe each generation needs to claim the space for it self, tell itself that it invented things, maybe that's what makes it exciting. I dunno.

So I'm all for playing and using what ever is the latest if only to see what it is - but it's nice to know where things come from too.


Thanks for the post Ren. In the early 90's I spent a lot of time in a MUD (well, it was a MOO actually but let's not split hairs)and I still argue it was the best social networking / virtual worlds experience I've ever had.

The MOO in question had nothing to do with gaming: it was the hangout space for 50 or so musicians alpha and beta testing a music collaboration tool that allowed people to make music together across the net. So for me, the power of virtual worlds have been their collaborative power, because I've known nothing else.

I agree whole-heartedly with the frustration of people re-writing a history they're not even aware of - from what I see it seems to occur more often than the stereotype of the hardened net veteran refusing to move from IRC to Second Life ;)


Since when did Second life invent user generated content?

I spent a good amount of the 90s kicking around in TinyTIM building shit with other people in the community. Stupid contraptions or wierd labrynths or whatever. Second life wasnt even the first 3d version. In fact I cant think of anything that was innovated by it, other than the reality distortion field of hype it generated before it seemingly flopped and disappeared off the radar.


@DMX - yes. that was my point.


er... didn't it all start with the Well? No, it was phone-in party lines... wait CB radios... telegraph, the printing press, cuneiform, cave painting... story-telling or maybe story-grunting around the prehistoric fire.

Its either that or you have to say first there was God and he created the first virtual (or shall I say synthetic) world in 7 days.... hmmm. See, these presentations never go back far enough anymore... that's the problem.

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