Are Social Networking and MMORPGs the same thing?

There is a theory going round that the big social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo are a fad that has had it’s day. That the members have had their fun and are moving on to pastures new. This would be good news for the computer games industry because the time taken up by social networking has bitten deeply into computer game sales over the last 18 months or so. Also bad news for game marketing as these sites have been a fertile ground for some subversive promotional activity.

My theory is that the big social networking sites are really just MMORPG lite. And the lite bit has not been enough to keep a lasting hold on members. Firstly you have the task of building your profile (creating a false identity or “role”) then you need to go out into the game and start collecting “friends” and can engage in combat on the “forum”. There is even trading, but unfortunately it involves real money, a fatal flaw in the game design. You can also form clans or “groups” as they are known.

Coming at it from the other way, there is some consensus that one of the reasons World of Warcraft has outperformed it’s rivals so much is because it incorporates such a high level of social networking. In fact it really is a virtual community. Also Valve games have recently built social networking features into their Steam game service, which is growing in strength to be a very significant player.

So what I am trying to say here is that gaming definitely needs to move a lot more towards the social networking model, both in nurturing the community around the game and within the game itself. Xbox live, for instance, really needs a major upgrade in this direction.

As for the big social networking sites, well maybe they should introduce more gaming elements. Like a fictitious currency, character levels and a few quests.

Maybe the social networkers and the MMORPGs will both evolve so they meet in the middle and become the same thing!

So is this barmy or do you detect a gem of truth? Let us know by clicking the comments button.


  1. What do you think about Sony’s Home concept as compared to Live in this area? It does have a lot of the social elements although it seems to me to be too dependent on the graphical world interface. Although it is similar to something like Second Life which is quite popular I think a lot of people would prefer a more text and image based system like a myspace or facebook. Probably something in between Home and Live would be better than either of them alone.

  2. Thanks for this Thom,
    That Home works as a virtual PSP shows Sony’s determination to flog a dead standard (or two).
    That the client runs on mobile phones shows that they have a good idea where this is all going.

    I think you could be right, that it is too graphical. However it is much more Web 2.0ish than Live, which is geared round functionality so cannot be as rich.

    Perhaps Microsoft and Sony will each move in the direction of the other till they find out what the gaming public really want. Obviously the whole industry is just starting to find it’s way with these services.

    It will be very interesting to see what Nintendo, who have a much purer take on gaming, come up with when they decide to compete in this area, as they must.

  3. I’d doubt those social networking sites mentioned are part of a “fad that’s had its day” at present, especially with Facebook and Bebo rising and rising month on month (however, I’ll concede you might be proved to be correct on Myspace in the near future, as it becomes more and more an outlet for PR and marketing messages and less about the community).

    Don’t forget this is also an English-centric view. We’ve got to appreciate there’s also the multitude of other huge social networking sites that continue to expand – hi5 (big in parts of central/South America/Asia), livejournal (esp. in Russia), Orkut (India), Skyblog (France/French-speaking countries), Studiverzei (German-speaking countries) etc etc. Additionally, there’s also a case to be made for Youtube to be called social networks (channel pages on there are incredilby similar to Facebook channel pages), the same with Flickr.

    As for the fictitious currency idea, goods to purchase etc, Facebook has a very basic version of this with virtual ‘birthday cakes’, icons and little fun extras you can buy for a dollar for your own channel or your friends’. I doubt it makes them much cash at present but it’s the start of something that could open up into something much bigger in the future.

    Social networking is here to stay in one form or another and while I wouldn’t be surprised if Myspace is one of the high-profile web 2.0 sites that go into freefall like (a *very* early attempt at social networking) rose and fell during web 1.0, it’ll continue to grow in the near to mid-term future.

  4. Hi Peer, thank you for your contribution.
    There is a lot of fad to the current social networking craze, just like hula hoops when I was young. Like all fads it will fade away (in it’s current form).
    What these sites offer is not enough. The “friends” that you collect are only semi real so they do not compete with everyday life. But the “gaming” element isn’t as strong as, say, WoW.
    The failiure of Second Life (it is deserted now) shows that people want to get more out of something they spend a lot of time with. And that means more fun.
    There is no doubt that social networking and MMORPGs will evolve. Probably in each other’s direction.

  5. Bruce-

    What a great point you mentioned in regards to social networking and MMORPG’s. I was thinking of the same elements and evolving it into something bigger. I would like to share you some of my ideas. Let me know and thanks for your blog.

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