In the previous post, I covered the definition of social economies in terms of gaming and hopefully provided some framing to the concept. This post is going to cover the history of social economies to provide some better context as to how we got to where we are.
Believe it or not but humans require social interaction. 100 years ago, your social framework was the village. 50 years ago it was what you could phone and maybe drive to within a few hours. 20 years ago it was what you could fly to. The Internet really only took off 15 years ago and that was through dial-up. Broadband internet is still not common for everyone. The ability to contact other people, over extreme distances, is really only standard for people under the age of 1. Anyone older than that, you will have spent the majority of your social time in face to face or phone conversations.
Today, nearly everyone has easy access to some form of internet, a smart phone and free web services to keep in contact with others. Just 7 years ago, that wasn’t the case.
I want to stress the following fact that many people seem to forget. Facebook, arguably the largest single impact on social economies, launched to the public in 2006. It turned a profit in 2009. We are pretty much only 5 years into the “social media” phase. Anything before this time was considered niche and geeky. I consider this the watershed moment for social economies.
So back to basics. Before MMOs we had D&D and tabletop games (like Warhammer). These were competitive games certainly, but operated with a set of rules rather than a pre-defined path. There was no “one right way” to run an Orc army. This meant that strategies and discussion occurred between the players and that the actually gameplay was secondary to the social interactions. I didn’t play D&D with strangers just to get a D&D fix. I played with friends.
MUDs came about and for the most part were based on D&D structure, minus the grouping aspect. They were glorified chatrooms really – like IRC in the day. Ultima Online was the first (not really, Meridian 59 was there before) game to provide a fully interactive game with social elements. Launched in 1997, these were the dial-up days. A lot stunk about the game but there was freedom, lots of freedom. Social boundaries were established quickly – PvP clans, villages, mentors, dungeon runs. You could play alone but again since there was not destined path, people naturally got together to try new things.
Remember ICQ, MSN & AIM? That was the Facebook of the day. Ventrilo, Mumble and Skype all came later. General chat channels didn’t exist until EQ. PHPBB was making thousands on guild websites. If you wanted to talk to someone, you did it on the web, not in-game. This also meant that the social bonds you made were available in other games and at times where you were not playing at all. You didn’t need to play EQ to keep in touch with your UO friends.
If you look back before 2006, contact with people not in physical proximity was technically challenging: you needed hard to find quality internet, a desktop application (or website forum), non-game related contact information and good typing skills. This “barrier to entry” meant that those who were in the game, wanted to be in the game and had a vested interest. They wanted to participate in the social economy of the day and made the non-negligible effort to get there. Up until 2006, there was common ground to build on.