30 Aug 2011

Google Cannot Make Good MMOs

I’ve been mulling over a question for a few days about how we choose which MMOs to play. What draws us to one game world over another, how some attributes are more important to each of us than others. I’m going to be writing more about it towards the end of the week, but I wanted to share a bit of a prelude today.

You see, today I finally added my name to the list of people who have deleted their Googe+ account. I’d grown weary and tired of the constant non-arguments about why they want to prevent pseudonymity. A ZDNet article made it fairly clear – Google+ is an identity service first and a social network second. Now things make sense. I don’t need another identity management service, so I nuked my account.

I can already hear you wondering “But Gaz, what does this have to do with MMOs or gaming at all?”

An MMO at its most basic is a single player role playing game with a multiplayer chatbox. Slightly more advanced games invoke more social network features – friends lists, guilds and so on. Games developers realised early on is that it doesn’t matter how gamers identify themselves to each other that matters – it’s what they experience while playing the game that’s important.

There’s also the feeling of character, of a place having a vibe or a soul to it. Game worlds are able to create that vibe and wrap it around us as we explore. It hooks us in, encouraging us to come back and rediscover that vibe. Each MMO is different – Rift has a different feel to Warcraft, which has a different feel to Lord of the Rings Online and so on. Log in to any of a hundred different worlds and you’ll get a range of different feelings.

Contrast this with Google. Simple, plain and utilitarian. If Google made an MMO it’d be the most finely balanced and responsive game you’ll ever play. It’d be flawless in it’s design and construction. It would also be utterly bland and boring to play. There would be no soul, no hidden smiles. Just tones of white and off-white, with four-colour icon highlights in a few minor locations.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Google products are great. I use Gmail daily, while this very article was drafted in Google Docs. I have an Android phone and Chrome is my default browser. You could even say I like their stuff. But while I’m passionate about gaming, about new releases and about the experiences gaming has shared with me, the same cannot be said of anything from Google.

Why do game developers have more success than Google in creating passion in the players? Ultimately I think it’s that Google just doesn’t get people. I’m not saying that game developers get it right all the time, but they do tend to have a stronger relationship with their fans. It’s that very relationship that will keep gamers playing an MMO long after Google+ has been closed up.

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