Rifts in Online Game Communities

Lately I have had a chance to venture back into the MMO space with RIFT.  You can check out some of the fun from the blog posts you can send directly from the game.  It’s surprisingly good, but that’s not why I’m writing.  If you do check it out though, get your trial here and help me get a doggie through their Ascend-a-Friend campaign.

Instead, what caught my attention was the reminder of how different game communities can be.  The FPS-centric clans on Xbox Live vs. the social networks on Facebook vs. the guild systems that dominate MMOs.  They are all very different.

What I find really interesting is how community is woven into the game design of each.  In the FPS genre, it’s pretty easy to be a lone wolf and still fully enjoy the game.  And since there’s limited gameplay downside for being a social pariah, some folks thrive in the role of griefer, and impose a community tax on everyone else’s enjoyment of the community. 

In the MMO genre, solo-ing really limits your ability to fully experience the game.  Questing is harder.  Dungeons are harder if not inaccessible.  And bosses can be nearly invincible without help.  In contrast to FPS, there’s a huge benefit to being a valued member of a community and a huge cost to being a jerk.  Net result?  Folks are a lot nicer in MMOs.

That type of behavior kicks up a notch when you move to the *ville type games of Facebook.  On Facebook, the whole point is to make friends.  And so the games mirror that with key design principles like Gifting and Inviting others to play.

Now, each of these communities is populated with “gamers.”  And there’s certainly a segment of the population like me that has a membership in each of those game communities.  But to lump all those “gamers” into the same “community” is a gross oversimplification.

Just like how it would be nice to carve up my Facebook list and my LinkedIn list into sub-groups to tailor how I interact with each, I look forward to the day where I can smoothly navigate between and across all the rifts in my gaming communities.  I will also watch with interest all the experiments, both successful and comical, as game companies try to blend these diverse communities and cross-pollinate features unique to each.

Until then, wtb [community] pst