Recent posts by Chris Brogan, Vladimir Vukicevic, and Shana Carp have discussed the evolving role of games and their relationship to modern web businesses. I have had the opportunity to spend much time thinking in this space as a long time gamer and more recently, intrigued by opportunities in collaborative design and nurturing creativity.
My Gaming "Expertise"
Warning unless you are interested in gamer or my specific psychology you may want to skip this section.
In my personal history I have enjoyed a number of tabletop games (the gambit from Monopoly-Dungeons & Dragons) and a large number of console, computer, online and Massive Multiplayer games. Most recently World of Warcraft (WoW) has been my default game choice, and although I've grown bored with it on and off over the years (I first played its release in 2004) it's still the best show in town for multiplayer gaming. One of the nagging questions that surrounds game play, is what keeps bringing me back? The social aspect (some friends play) is part of that answer but there's something about the psychology of gaming that makes it appealling to me.
My first instinct when trying a game is to learn about the system from varied perspectives (optional choices). A continual style I like to seek out is a smooth rhythm of game play with minimal down time or waiting. I've become bored if it's too smooth so there's fine tuning involved, and I prefer to do the tuning. This can be achieved through a diverse creation system, the ability to change option decisions or simply by selecting characters and playing them (players prefer dynamic choosing). Different characters are referred to as alts, short for Alternate character.
Beyond my curiousity in experiencing the game from many different perspectives there are a couple of driving motivations I pursue. In the virtual landscape of a game, I strive for two major "simulated improvement" goals for characters I play: Looking cool, and performing well in group events (instances, raids). Games that don't have these elements, quickly bore me. As an extreme case I relevelled a warlock from 1-80 in WoW because I think blood elves look cooler than undead (the other lock is level 71). These two features are sometimes in opposition and I'll tend to side with numerical efficacy over aesthetic quality, but there are examples where I've leaned in favor of appearance over performance. The larger scale events (raids) require many hours of dedicated play to have adequate gear and some learning of the specifics of encounters (it's much like virtual dance choreography). The greatest opposition usually encountered is the time sacrifice required, or over tuning the game system in a way that seriously hampers the "smoothness" quality I referred to earlier. And of course when all is said and done, your time spent in the virtual environment is only as valuable as the friendships you forge (friendships last much longer than the average game).
Opportunity is Knocking
A diverse offering would include multiple levels of engagement, from simple cooperative mini games all the way to large scale, virtual worlds with a seamless transition between the game spaces.In it's essence the Internet is a set of protocols which allows for data description and communication (on top of physical links). The opportunity for game creators is laying down the foundation for connective, enduring games. We are obviously a culture intrigued by gaming on many levels. But within each "walled garden" our game experience is wiped clean and we begin the treadmill "mini game" once more. Most levelling time is far longer than is needed to understand essential game play, in fact the form of gameplay shifts from solitary to group/large group and earlier playstyle must be relearned.
I'm not suggesting players start out with maximum level in all connected games. I'd prefer a dial to synch up with friends, City of Heroes made some strides here with sidekicking. But it would be appreciated by players/users if there previous achievements weren't valueless in other games.
A breakthrough in game design is introducing real value creation in virtual game environments and allowing players to own part of this value. A simple "game" already does this, reCaptcha challenges translation of difficult to read text, providing a service to businesses that wish to verify user presence, and at the same time is improving automated learning algorithms for text recognition.