MMOGS – An important phenomenon

by tom on June 15, 2005

As the second post for this site it might appear to be a little odd to be thinking about Massively multiplayer online games but I think they are important for several reasons

1. They raise questions that blur the line between a real and virtual world. My understanding is that in some of these games, the role playing type – it is possble to acquire virtual weapons of such value that you can sell them on eBay. So much so that eBay made millions last year selling these ever so unreal items! Sony has even created an auction site going forward to derive a revenue stream from it. Taking this to another level there is mention on slashdot of a company offshoring “production” of these items by employing staff in low wage countries to play the games and generate the items…….weird. Thinking it through Sony can “produce” items for sale by auction and make even more money……it boggles my mind.

2. The growth of their popularity extraordinary Subscriptions_21524_image001_1

See here for details but if you are an investor and can find an underpriced investment opportunity it has to worth a risk. A fee to join the system and then monthly fees thereafter.
A software company’s dream!

3. They are synthetic economies / they might be virtual but they are world’s in which kids and adults spend a lot of time interacting. Not all of that interaction is exactly peaceful

This item is what I am really interested in. What learnings can we take from these virtual worlds when one thinks about the real world and you want to create a virtual space for dialog? Anonymity is an interesting idea. More than a few adults play these games, a hobby that perhaps the VP of X might not reveal to many people yet he or she doesn’t have to – The person can hide behind a pseudonym.

Moreover, the ways people can interact and the outcomes, the winning and losing, the impact of this winning and losing is, for the most part, consciously designed into the game.

And as (2) suggests – There is a lot of time and money that has and will continue to go into this design and development in the future. I for one would like to learn more about how this could be useful in the much less financially well supported world of conflict resolution research……..

Could you create a negotiating space that was safe by designing it according to rules that permitted the parties to interact without harming their real world identities?
Could anonymity permit someone to test ideas that in public they couldn’t?
What incentives could work to encourage dialogue and deliberation?
Could you tweak the incentives at different stages in the process?

For those interested in this there is much more detail of the concept and its antecedents on the awesomely edited and comprehensive wikipedia page linked above.

Other sources:

Randy Farmer, a legend in the field and a creator of Lucas’s Habitat perhaps the first MMORPG (created before I left high school) and now involved in Yahoo’s 360 perhaps suggests that at least one large company is benefitting from more than a few of the insights from the early games.

For those theoreticians a websearch took me here. I’ve not read it in detail but it looks interesting.

Some people at USC are looking at this from a public diplomacy standpoint though nothing has been published yet.

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