Oh boy, what a simple title for what would fill books in content! First a definition. Social economies are those that are based on intrinsic values, i.e. of no physical value. A hug, a smile, but not a sword or a house. They can however be composed of extrinsic items, in part, such as a village.
MMOS succeed or die on social economies. Otherwise, they are just large group single player games. Like Diablo3. A true MMO rewards you for making relationships and sustaining them. It’s the reason you log in, more than the shiny object on the corpse.
Outside of MMOS this is how social circles work. You are a part of a greater whole. You give time/affection for the promise of some in return at a later date. What else explains helping to move a friend in the pooring rain?
Take a step back to Ultima Online. Arguably designed with little foresight into the masses, it provided a basic toolset for social economies. Extrinsic value was so sparse, essentially only the house was a stable investment, that people used the tools to build more than the sum of parts. Entire villages sprung up with dedicated causes. There was one that had hundreds of books written by other players. Another was a rune set for practically every screen in the game.
EQ1 kept that up with an artificial group requirement wall. If you wanted to progress you needed a social group. I spent a lot of time in Guk with no experience gain to help guildies. Horizons (remember that one?) was all about this and had next to nothing to do otherwise. Sort of an odd Second Life I guess.
Wow changed this model drastically and more and more so every patch. Today you can do evertying in the game with no social investment (save minor parts). When you’ve had your fill of the trough, there’s no need to log in, making for empty guilds and empty servers. They tried to fix it but guild levels, achievements and transmog suits are a poor replacement for friends.
This is a hurdle next to no game has been able to overcome, en-masse. And that’ll be the topic of the next post.