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Bill Murphy: A Steam Dream

Columns By William Murphy on April 28, 2011

A Steam Dream

This is going to be a short and sweet article this week.  And you can thank me later for it.  Sean Stalzer has touched on this issue before, but there’s a big missed opportunity within online gaming: a unified community.  Essentially, I guess you could say that MMORPG.com and other genre websites fill this role, but all we can do is offer articles to read and a forum to chat about games in.  What I’m talking about goes much further than that.  Look at a Steam for example and the way all games purchased through it share a community.  You can chat with any of your friends across any game they’re playing, so long as it’s a Steam-bought product.  Meaning that no matter what game you’re in, you can always stay connected to your friends and be ready to switch titles, so long as they’re logged into Steam or playing a Steam-activated game.

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My question is, when is the MMO community at large going to recognize that this kind of broad interactivity is essential for community building in an age where many players subscribe to our play many games?

Right now some guilds and players take this matter into their own hands with services like Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, allowing them to keep in touch via VOIP.  But what if my friends aren’t part of any guild, or what if I don’t want to be logged into sometimes annoying VOIP just to keep in touch with my mates across different games?  I want to be able to Shift+Tab to pull up my friends list and ping people that are logged into some other game.  I want to see where my usual suspect friends are before I log into one game only to see that I should maybe pop into something else because that’s where the “crew” is hanging out. 

In this day and age of several top-shelf MMOs sharing the marketplace how can we not have a unified chat client that can be shared across all games?  Essentially what we have right now is an industry focused on competing with one another in every sense of the world.  Competition is healthy.  Competition is great.  I’d hate for MMOs to become anything like the NFL videogame world.  But MMORPGs are games that thrive on community interaction.  If there’s any one area that developers need to put aside their differences with for the sake of their customers it’s the community side.

Going one step beyond, what I hope to see one day is the ability for you to take your guild and your connection to your MMO friends with you on your phone.  It’s the logical progression.  World of Warcraft is already doing this with their portable chat service, and really maybe it’ll take someone the likes of Blizzard to actually get this sort of feature going.  I don’t get to play a lot of games anymore.  I get maybe 5 hours a week I can dedicate to good solid playing, without it being for work.  This is a fact I’m okay with, but I’d like to be able to stay in touch with all the people I consider my friends whether I’m online or not.  If I can do it with Steam, or on my phone with eBuddy, why can’t I do it across all MMOs I play?  And why can’t I stay in touch with these worlds from anywhere but my PC or laptop? 

It’s probably a pipedream, really.  This would require a unified login for any number of games, and there’s very likely a security issue involved that I’m unaware of too.  Maybe it’s best we leave the whole thing to a company like Valve and their Steam.  Again I think it’s a massive missed opportunity, but if Steam’s the best we can do for a while… please studios, start releasing more of your games on the Steam Store with its functionality.  I mean, that is unless you’re all willing to play nice and create a shared community for your players to coexist within.  Fat chance right?

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.