There’s an old saying that goes something like this. If I have an apple and you have an apple and I give you my apple, you have two and I have none. If I have an idea and you have an idea and I give you my idea, we both have two. For a long time this basically was a separation between the tangible and not but in today’s world, I have a bank full of intangible swords and there is an infinite supply (or near enough) of digital books. In that train of thought, what you really are exchanging are concepts or frameworks.
This translates well into games so that two people who play the exact same game, the exact same way come out with different results. You might come out of Tomb Raider antsy from the fighting or wondering about the next step. What you are given is not necessarily what you actually receive, or interpret to receive.
If we move back a few years in the MMO space, when the time and social requirements were much more stringent the game didn’t provide you content as much as the people consuming the content provided it. In my UO days, you could spend hours just sitting in the guild castle, talking with friends, working on some skills, maybe bring in a dragon to fight. In contrast, today’s game is a wham-bam thank you ma’am affair of instant everything.
We’ve been down this road before but gaming is a reflection of the times and as the average “core gamer” age (~30) increases, it is extremely evident that they have less and less time to play. Today’s younger gamers have thousands of venues to compete for their attention – Twitter, Facebook, all the Internet, Netflix, smartphones, tablets. When I was younger, I had to leave the house to see friends. As a quick aside, Keen mentioned recently that he’s finishing up grad school this week (congrats!). That would make him 22-24ish. His experience in UO would have made him around 6-8 years of age. It’s safe to say that UO had a different impact at that age than when I was playing (16-18) – especially from a social perspective.
For example, my largest gripe with SWTOR wasn’t that the game had bad ideas, just that they were poorly implemented from a social/time perspective You were rarely able to find the social aspect while leveling (due to having a companion, very heavy instancing, low difficulty and no tools) and it stuck out like a sore thumb at max level when you 100% needed a social framework. The time aspect was inversely proportionate to the fun factor. You spent more time waiting around (again, with no social) for the fun to start – or even to get to the fun. Sadly, the necessary game updates came 6+ months after launch and 90% of the playerbase had left by that point (they went from 211 servers to 23 in 6 months, now 20). I firmly believe that the single most important reason Rift is not yet F2P is because of the social/time aspect being a core concept of game design.
Now TESO and Wildstar are both coming in with some new concepts to a genre that was originally founded on the social aspect. I’ve heard aspects from Wildstar as to how the social portion is going to be important, in a non-combat way, but next to nothing from TESO. I have my fingers crossed that both can maintain that core concept, with a little tweaking, in order to make either successful in the long term. I mean, I don’t log in to kill the big bad guy for the 30th time, I log in to talk to my friends for the 300th time.