This is the final post in the Social Economies series, where we covered definition, previous history and current state. This post will focus on the speculative future and provide some suggestions developers may want to consider.
First we need to address the elephant in the room and that’s the gamification/RPG trend. The gamification trend alludes to what seems to be a start, end, goal and reward process for many services. Fitocracy is a perfect example, where you get badges for doing exercise. The RPG trend is linked quite heavily and this refers to the “level up” feature in nearly all games and quite a few services. COD took this to the extreme and now every game seems to have this feature baked-in. The concept of a “ding” upon level up is so pervasive today that it has lost most of its meaning.
The baby elephant underneath the big one is the F2P gaming trend. These are designed to be extremely consumable products focused drastically on the short term. They are generally just like junk food; you get a fix and move on. There are hundreds and hundreds of games that fit this mold and very few MMOs, in the West, are designed with F2P from the start. They are magically reverse engineered with varying results. Some give everything away, some put up massive pay walls. Eastern games are nearly all F2P from the start and have very short life spans. But the culture there accepts this model. I won’t go into more detail about it, since our culture in the West is quite a bit different.
We’ve addressed the fact that social economies are dependent on people investing time to get results, regardless of the game structure around them. The reward structure is primarily intrinsic but can be supplemented with extrinsic rewards as a “selling feature” of a game. In this I mean that if Game A has a functional social economy that took 2 years to build, Game B needs to offer a more improved economy. In actual fact, this is simply not possible but due to the two elephants in the room, that often doesn’t matter until month 2 after release.
So how does a new game coming out attract, and more importantly, retain players? It honestly cannot be a new shiny, as there just aren’t any left. People have shot, sliced, danced and dinged their way through online games for 10 years and the market is just too saturated to sustain any more. A new game needs intrinsic rewards that players value.
They need strong social bonds at an early point in the game – such as through a mentoring program. Mentoring allows players of any level to get together and play together, with only small limitations. I played with my brother for a long time but the level difference was always a hurdle we could not cross. Mentoring, or level scaling play, is a no brainer.
They need synergies for social groups at an early level. This can be done in a few ways but one idea I’ve had for a while is group/friend experience. Similar to guild levels, the more you play with another person, the more options you have in interacting with them. This could be a feature that allows you to copy their dye set, improves travel time when in range of each other or more social emotes. This would again be account based because your friends are people, not avatars.
They need a framework of social tools. They need to integrate into services that are not tied in-game, like the RIFT mobile application. It lets you participate in game and stay in touch with friends and guildmates. This allows you to maintain social bonds in and out of game. In-game guild and group tools are also required and they must be available from the start and be intuitive. Games need a no-tap rule and shared loot. They need grouping tools to easily put people together. They need teleportation tools to get friends together over long distances.
They also need a system of control for social interactions, policed in-game. League of Legends has a tribunal system that works fairly well. New games need an in-game, per account, reputation score. People that are continually kicked, or who do nothing but harass other players should have a penalty for that activity. UO tried this by not allowing PKs to go into towns but this was per character. A per account penalty (which is what the XBOX One is doing) can easily weed out the trash that makes social activity difficult to maintain. Gaming restrictions would be minor at the start (limited trade) and major at the end (Killed on Sight).
These are not exhaustive options and they are not extremely demanding. They do however require a paradigm shift away from the per-character mindset to a per-player mindset. If people suddenly feel a responsibility for their actions and therefore a value to them, they are more willing to invest in a game. The future isn’t doom and gloom, we’re simply in a dip of game development while society as a whole learns to live with digital social economies.