Successful Communities = Successful MMOs
Continuing along with the premise that "Successful communities are the lifeblood of a successful MMORPG", I want to explore a common problem some MMO gamers have and provide a possible solution. The problem is the dreaded issue of having a significant other that does not play games. Or better said, a significant other who doesn't believe they play games or who does not view what they do on Facebook as playing games.
While there remains a very large component of the online gaming world that is unmarried or still in college (or younger), a very fast growing demographic among gamers are the mid-20s to mid-30s who are married. I know in my time playing MMOs and being in a guild, I have seen plenty of cases where former 18 year old, stay up all night, raid until you can stay awake anymore members have finally 'grown up' and obtained a job and got married. Many of those cases result in the MMO player 'taking a break' from gaming. One of the primary reasons that happens is due to pressure from the spouse who is not a gamer or does not view his/her gaming as in the same category as the MMO gamer.
When members of a guild 'take a break' or quit gaming entirely, that can break down the social fabric of the community. If that person is in a key role, such as the primary main-tank or a key leader of events and raids, then their impact can often be immediately felt. Even for members who do not play such a central role, they remain an integral component of the spider-web of relationships that are created within a community. If enough of those strands are cut, the spider-web will fall apart and blow away in the wind.
While there are plenty of other contributing factors to the implosion of a community, losing key members from the game itself is one factor that communities frequently deal with, it is also one that the communities themselves often cannot directly address. Rather, communities are at the mercy of the natural forces at work on our lives. While some communities weather the ever-changing tide better than others, the reality is that as communities undergo change, they are placed under stress. That stress can lead to break-downs in the social fabric. Since this particular stress is beyond the player communities ability to fully control, the logical question to ask is... what can developers do to assist in this area?
I believe the answer to that problem lies embedded within a statement I made earlier in the article which was: "(the significant others) do not view what they do on Facebook as playing games." The vast majority of people who regularly access the internet in the western markets do in fact play games. They, however, play things like Farmville and other such games from companies like Zynga and Playdom. So the first major barrier (getting them to actually play games) is already overcome.
One of the big reasons one person in a relationship wants the other person to quit gaming is the lack of a common, shared experience. One person is raiding a dungeon or fighting over a rift or engaged in massive group warfare while talking to people in Ventrilo and building positive, fun, shared memories with a group of people. The other one is planting and harvesting crops and updating their status often with an entirely different collection of friends. They are each enjoying their 'gaming' time but there is absolutely no link between the two experiences much the same way two people watching two different TV shows in two different rooms of the house wouldn't feel like they had a shared viewing experience.
Thus, the second major barrier (getting them to equate what they do to a shared, positive, fun experience with their significant other) is the real challenge. Currently, many of those significant others do not equate that entertainment with the 'hard core' MMORPGs that their spouses and significant others play. There are, however, many parallels between the two gaming populations and some natural synergies that can be tapped into in order to build that shared experience.
I don't believe that there is any one perfect answer to this challenge but I think there are some interesting ideas that could/should be explored and piloted to see which ones have the most impact. To refresh... the problem we are trying to solve is to reduce the pressure from one person in a relationship on the MMORPG gamer member of the relationship to quit gaming. I contend that for some of the gamers facing that challenge, the real issue is the significant others lack of a shared, positive, gaming experience between the two of them but that the core building block of a solution (both people having a desire to game, in their own way) exists.
The most successful MMORPGs of the future are likely to be the ones that solve this puzzle. I would think that answers to this puzzle would include a solution that involves a linked "social media" game experience with the MMORPG game experience. Imagine for a second that there exists a link between Farmville and your favorite MMO. Imagine your significant other is a big fan of Farmville. If the could be 'recruited' into your guild and if their actions in Farmville could turn into actual results within the MMORPG then you begin to lay the foundations of a shared experience. Certainly more needs to be done than having some herbs show up in a guild bank so your MMO guild can make raid potions but the general idea would be that the MMORPGs success could give the XYZ social media sister application some sort of bonuses and benefits while at the same time the social media sister application could supply something to the MMORPG.
Creating that kind of symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship now means that communities could expand to be inclusive of those "casual" and "social" gamers. Now the significant other doesn't just play XYZ social media game but instead they are part of a guild that plays several games. They are not only part of the guild but they are a contributing member who can be given recognition for their role in the entities success.
What are your thoughts? Is there even a need to address the lack of a shared gaming experience in relationships where one of the people does not view themselves as a gamer (yet they perhaps spend hours on Angry Birds)? If there is a need to address it, are there other ways to link the gaming experience the "non gamer" does enjoy with the MMORPG experience in a way that is meaningful to both people? If those were linked would that have a positive impact towards reducing the pressures on the MMORPG player to leave gaming or reduce their play time?