As many of you might know I have played World of Warcraft very actively for the past couple of years. WoW is one of the most popular and most successful online games ever, and is estimated to bring in over half a billion USD of pure profit every year. That's essentially the equivalent to a Hollywood multi billion dollar franchise, or a super blockbuster movie like Titanic or the Spiderman -movies.
I have played in a finnish guild called Sisu with a group of friends some of whom I knew before I joined them in WoW. Many guild members are prominent tech industry veterans, with a few CEOs in there as well. The group has been playing together for something close to 6 years now.
Sisu used to be among the top 200-300 guilds in Europe (out of about 115000 guilds), which is another way of saying that the guild is pretty good and badass ;) (currently due to some slacking the guild has dropped to rank number 662, according to www.WowJutsu.com)
WoW is only the latest in a long list of games I have played pretty intensely over the years. The first online game that started the "serious addiction action" for me was The Royal BatMUD, which has to be one of the oldest still very active games in teh interwebz. I started playing it back in 1993 and never really quit; in fact I'm online there right now.
In many ways playing these games and observing what goes on in them has helped me a lot with understanding the mechanics behind why and how online communities function and how large independent customer masses can be motivated to work towards a satisfying and commercially viable goal. These games often understand player/user psychology and motivational factors far better than many social websites ever do - and this is apparent from their design and mechanics. Unfortunately sometimes the stuff is so complex that in order to make good reflections and analysis on it you will have to actually play the game with high intensity yourself.
Some of the best academic studies about motivation/psychology in gaming are being made in Finland by the University of Tampere's hypermedia lab. Here's their research page. Another excellent source of academic stuff regarding this topic is HIIT, the Helsinki Institute for Information Tech. Their research is here.
One central thing that online games, World of Warcraft included, do particularly well is understanding the motivational factors every step of the way, and designing the end-user experience to really cover everything from first encounter with the game up to super-advanced level of having played everything there is to play of it. Many web 2.0 sites have massive learning experiences to go through if they ever hope to reach a level of "social design" as good as in online games.
Some summarized findings on what online games frequently use and do very well, and what web 2.0 sites should learn about:
1. Consumers have different motivational backgrounds to come and use your stuff. Some are there to just try it out. Some are there because a friend forced them to come and take a look. Some are there from a seemingly negative reason: egoistic perhaps. etc.
2. There cannot be any gaps in the experience of the consumer when he goes through all levels of usage and content in your site: if there are any significant gaps you will start to lose and "leak out" customers.
3. Social online environments are inductive and relativistic by nature: everything in the design/experience affects everything else in the design/experience. You cannot use traditional engineering -type processes to get this stuff right.
Here's one classic 4-field tool that might help you to figure out your web 2.0 service better in terms of consumer motivational factors:
(Original concept by me, visuals by Ego Beta)
Like in online games, also in web 2.0 sites, the consumers are often there with no strong motivation to do anything for you unless you impress them first. However the willingness and readiness of the consumer to spend either time or money on your thing varies.
A person who is there because of social pressure, may be very willing to spend some money on the thing right away, and immediately buy some acceptance of his friends through that. While a student who has little money to spare but plenty of free time might be willing to give up 20 hours / week for your service, but would not buy anything from you, at least not until he's so addicted and "into" the whole thing that the buying comes as a result of the classic thoughtprocess "I spend so much of my time here, so maybe I ought to buy something to make it a better experience for me".
Web 2.0 sites have tons to learn from online games, and one of the biggest learning experiences you can have is: designing your service in such a way that it can get consumers from all variations of motivational backgrounds included and "sucked in" to the system; eventually pushing them towards the "happy corner" of an advanced user who spends both; his time and his money in your service.
There are many more things you can extract from World of Warcraft into web 2.0 commercial systems design. This was meant as an introduction post about the topic, and perhaps IF I get some good comments I might revisit this theme and talk about the other stuff more specifically. Meanwhile I suggest you start playing WoW or some other game, and start learning this stuff out. It's an investment, and it can be quite valuable, if you are being smart about it ;-)
As an anecdote: Why do you think world-famous people like Joi Ito and Vin Diesel play WoW? Joi has his own guild of about 300-400 people (Joi is the Guild Master of a guild by the name of "We Know"), and Vin Diesel apparently plays the same class I'm most familiar with: the Shaman.