From a functional standpoint, MMOs are fascinating as they are one of the most successful of the financial forays into online social engagement.
The earlier model of social gaming worlds would be the subscription model (Everquest, World of Warcraft, EVE…) where you pay a fee to enter and play the game. Given that MMOs are incredibly expensive to develop (same as a high-end Hollywood movie—60-90 million USD), and there is the cost of maintaining the system (upgrades, control) they needed a robust guaranteed means of income.
With increasing Web 2.0 access a second model has grown and now dominates much of the market—that of “free to play” but to save/enhance/progress in the game it involves payment. This coincides and has been driven (in part) by the growth of portable (phone) gaming in contrast to the traditional PC. The chance of catching a huge global market if popular (Minecraft anyone?) means that a new set of paradigms in game design grow up—graphics drop in importance, but other aspects of story or game play take precedence.
The need to design compatible cross-platform (phone-PC-console) versions that are all attractive and compelling puts even greater strain on game design companies, dramatically raising the costs of developing A new product. Another developing threat is the independent development of games in APPs, which can be done by a small team for small cost (Forge of Empires is a good example).
This pattern has some analogies to popular music—the big labels vs independents—who wins ($$$), who loses is much less predictable than just 10 years ago. All of which increases the risk of MMORPG development dramatically.
Social Research: There have been several major areas of interest in the study of MMOs. A few games (especially World of Warcraft-WOW) has been the subject of several ethnographic and sociological studies [Nardi’s 2010 My Life as a Night Elf Priest; Bainbridge’s 2010 The Warcraft Civilization; and Pearce’s 2009 Communities of Play]. All of these studies focus on the users (gamers) and their social dynamics.
There has also been a large but not coherent amount of research done on the social-psychological aspects of intensive gaming, much of it driven originally by concerns about the social impacts of playing very violent anti-social games (much of it around Grand Theft Auto in its various versions).
In another direction, work by Nick Yee and others on the Daedalus Project, studying gamers and gaming motivation [why to people play games and what do they want from a game] came up with interesting findings. He has expanded this into a career with his company Quantic Foundry [http://quanticfoundry.com/] and with his 2014 The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us-and How They Don’t.
I would recommend that you go to the QF website and take their survey as they give you where you fit in the ongoing gamer motivation study.
Assignment: Please watch his recent presentation on YTube “Gamer Motivation Profile Findings” https://youtu.be/YZwiQd-0xqQ?t=6.
The last area of [very limited] study has been the cultural impacts on gaming—some of which Nick refers to in his presentation. We will get into this more next week.
Remember the Hangout session Wed 12:30 where we will look at issues of motivation. If you haven’t already, go back and watch the EVE vid clips I sent several weeks ago.