You ever have that moment when a bunch of enthusiasts are anticipating something and talking about it excitedly, and some other person takes that as their cue to wander over and inform everyone that in fact ItemX sucks? It’s happened to me, and it’s super annoying. The naysayer should just mind their own business and let people have their fun, right? Also, apropos of nothing, I played more of the Guild Wars 2 beta this past weekend and la la la la la la la la I have nothing to say.
In the last few weeks both The Mighty Viking Hamster and tl-dr have written that allowing external access to in-game communication between guildies would benefit both players and companies. I have to admit when I initially read Mr. Hamster’s post my first reaction was, “well that sounds like a money-losing proposition” which I realized later was the same short-sighted thinking that I usually mock CEOs for here.
If in fact having an active peer group is a large part of MMO retention — and I suspect it is — then on its face it seems counterintuitive to let people have access to said group outside of your game. You want to hang out with your game friends? Pay a sub and log on like everyone else! (For a genre that frequently relies on user generated content to survive, from guild leaders to machinima creators, MMOs are pretty eager to set up a tollbooth on the highway to fun.)
When we generally stopped playing WoW, someone had the bright idea of setting up a guild channel on IRC and while not an in-game resource it did give me some insight into how such a thing could benefit a company. Basically, out of game chat is a great promotional tool. I’m at work, say, and someone at home types to chat, “Hey, I just did this RIFT event and I unexpectedly got an awesome pet!”. Those of us not in the game ask a few questions, maybe get a quick screenshot from the player. Other people log on and we tell them the news. By the time I get home, there are 8 Cats in Shimmersand trying to get a baby cow of their own.
Seriously, CEO people, you have not seen a hype machine in action until you see a group of people who are stuck at work for another six hours get fed information about a new game or feature by someone who is playing it at the time. It’s vaguely terrifying.
During my serious raid leading days people would disappear without a word sometimes because they weren’t able to raid anymore and felt too guilty or that we were too much of a raiding guild to stick around as a casual member. I always thought that sucked, and it would have been nice to have a way to socialize “casually” with people who were in-game. A linked external chat also would have been a great timesaver for getting new folks adjusted to the guild. I could have done some of my community work without having to log in, which would have helped curtail my own burnout.
tl-dr makes the point that a good chat service should be tied to the game and not a third party, like IRC or Steam, and I generally agree. I think that gets a little challenging in the modern MMO paradigm of “gaming communities” and playing more than one game at a time, and I’d hate to end up having to be logged in to 5 different game-specific chat clients at once. However, I think the success of Real ID raiding in WoW shows that there is still a lot of money and retention bonuses to be had in advanced chat systems.
If I can quit a game but still talk to the folks who play I am much more likely to be informed about the latest features and when the time comes to play something again it will be much higher on my list than one where I don’t know anyone who is currently playing. IRC does this for us, but it’s super old school and not easily managed while playing a full-screen game. Steam and Raptr are fine chat clients, but are awkward or not usable for drop-in group chat. In short, as tl-dr said: “Just build it already!”