For the staunch devotees of MMORPG gaming, it can be said that the game matters. You invest a lot of time into playing a game, acquiring new skills, growing stronger, and fulfilling dreams of adventure. You derive enjoyment from that time spent. What a good number of people don't realize is there are times when they're not playing the game, but the game is still firmly entrenched in their consciousness as a result of their present activity. This is the power of the Meta-Activity, and it's a concept we'll be delving into today.
I use the term Meta to refer to a number of different things, such as the metagame and a metamarket, but the basic idea is that meta-activities are abstractions from the game you're playing and are used to complete or add onto the game's sense of enjoyment, persistence, or scale.
There are a variety of different meta-activities, so let's take a good look at them, and discuss their value in relation to games.
The MMORPG Blog or Website
Of the different meta-activities out there, perusing an MMORPG website or blog is probably one of the biggest things that adds enjoyment to the game. In fact, if you're reading this right now on the site it originated from, you're already enjoying content provided by the premier MMORPG news website. If you write about playing games on a publicly visible blog, you're also engaging in a meta-activity, one that engages the community at large on a variety of games.
If you join the power of an MMO news site with the opinions of a blog, you have a meta-activity that keeps a game fresh in the mind of an individual, and that can be used to turn public opinion for or against a particular agenda (with the help of the next meta-activity below).
The Game Forum
Of all the different meta-activities out there, it can be argued that the forums of a game are not only the most widely known, but also the most wildly contentious. It is a source of information for some, a place for opinion sharing for others, and a land of drama and “sweet, delicious tears” for many.
Threads on forums can be constructive, such as decorators in EverQuest 2 banding together to build a superhome for a six-year old player with cancer (My heart goes out to this boy and his family). They can be destructive, such as when Blizzard wanted to employ RealID and Blizzard employee Bashiok posted his name on the forums, prompting folks to find out more about him and harass him until Blizzard nixed RealID. Lastly, they can also point towards an agenda which, if you check EVE Online's Jita Park Speakers Corner for Council of Stellar Management Candidates, can be pointed for or against entities, ideas or specific people.
Apps and Metadata
Two of the more intriguing new additions to the meta-activity listings are apps and metadata listings. Apps provide users with some of the functionality in-game, such as auction house access or guild chat, on a mobile platform, while metadata listings are essentially information databases that include items, quests, guides, and even individual character information if you include WoW's Armory.
In addition, there are add-ons or programs for some games that are developed in order to provide additional functionality not currently present in a game. These include skill planners and statistics trackers in EVE Online, UI modifications, and that Peggle add-on for WoW that haunts my dreams.
These are all very useful, though I will admit that something like the RIFT Mobile App, which has its own mini-games that give in-game loot, is a stroke of genius to keep people thinking about playing RIFT, if only to grab that loot from their mailboxes.
The Alternate Reality Game
To be honest, I've never really played an alternate reality game, unless it's one of those three-kilometer runs where a “runner zombie” is chasing you (I tend to lose those and get turned into a zombie because I'm not allowed to bring a bat). That said, alternate reality games like the ARG for The Secret World are actually intriguing in that they create buzz about a game or game feature that has yet to be released.
The Metagames and the Metamarket
Perhaps the crux of this little celebration for meta-activities is based upon my current appreciation for EVE Online. My sub is a month old, and yet I've experienced and thought more in this game than I ever expected to.
The metagames I refer to here are the unintended consequences of playing games with a complex economy. These include the spreadsheets made to calculate profits, the scams that people sometimes fall for, and the instances of corporate espionage that take planning outside the game in order to execute within it. While I do not actually like scams and corporate espionage, there is a certain fascinating aspect to it from an academic or otherwise detached standpoint.
The depth of these activities can be staggering, mostly because the enjoyment comes less from playing the actual game, but from fulfilling an in-game objective through various (and sometimes less than nice) means. Strangest of all is the fact that these are all valid ways to play the game.
For me, the real strength of persistence in EVE comes with the metamarket. If you'll note, Pilot License Extensions (PLEX) can be purchased through real money or in-game currency called ISK, at a rate of currently 450 million – 500 million ISK.
Because we know that a PLEX, which can also be paid for in real money, has a corresponding ISK value range, a secondary market has come out of it where ISK is the payment of choice. Online lotteries have people paying in-game ISK to earn a ticket for a much more expensive in-game item or even for a PLEX. Doing the math, a 475 million ISK PLEX lottery for only 16 participants with a 35 million ISK ticket fee means the lottery maker gets 560 million, which leads to 85 million ISK in profit.
Furthermore, news sites reporting on the chaos of CSM elections and wars in EVE Online can pay for content or information through ISK. Of course, some people write for fun, but when there's some in-game profit involved, it also adds a bit of tension to the proceedings of covering interstellar news.
Meta-activities and Longevity
Depending on what game you play, the various meta-activities you have available to you will differ. What remains, however, is that a game and its meta-activities provide for each other's benefit. A game needs to be strong on its own merits, but for it to be a truly long-lasting and prosperous game, it also has to have aspects beyond the game that allow people to connect to in different ways to their pastime. The meta-activities feed back into the longevity of a game, because it's in an individual's mind longer, and the continued existence of good content for an MMO allows for further Meta goodness.
The meta-activities listed here are only a handful of the different possible things we can do outside the game that make us love a game more, but you'd be hard-pressed to find examples as prevalent as these. For now, let us celebrate the power of the MMORPG meta-activity, because these activities enrich the game spaces we have come to love and be a part of, and give us a reason to keep delving dungeons beneath inn-keeps, crafting cars past the apocalypse, and flying frigates through low-security space.