I’m attending Digital Hollywood today, a conference allegedly focusing on the intersection between Hollywood content and digital technology. One panel particularly caught my attention, since we’ll be speaking next week at the ION Game Conference on a similar topic: “Innovation in Games, Game Networks and Social Gaming – Massive User Communities and Commerce.” This panel brought to light how online communities and content can have an impact on each other, as well as pointing out a few more trends in the online space.
The online or social component of games is what makes them viral or “sticky.” Gene Mauro of Bunchball discussed how the internet creates a new form of social status online. People can invest in online communities and build equity online, the same way others might buy a BMW to gain status in the real world. Chris Donahue, from a company that legitimately sells gold and other virtual goods online, noted that users ascribe value to his product, rather than it having any inherent value. Of course, something like WoW gold has value in-game, but only if the user values the experience or status you get there.
How does this tie in with story or content? The developer behind NBC’s THE OFFICE virtual world/experience incorporates fans’ love of the show into an interactive, game-like experience. Fans create video, mashups, and answer trivia to earn virtual bucks that buy merchandise. Connection to the content reinforces the social status loop, which in turn reinforces the connection to the content. While this example may seem like a fabulous reason to license existing properties, games have shown they can develop fans of original content as well.
The biggest changes in MMOs especially will have an impact on community, story, and design. While the subscription model of MMOs encourages and caters to the hard-core player, the free-to-play models work better for other types of players. Would that mean fewer WoW-esque MMOs, both in terms of story and design? Another trend online is the growth of asynchronous play, like with Scrabulous. What impact will this have, if any, on MMOs, which historically encourage synchronous play? What do you think?