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MMOGs: The Parallel Universe

Posted on Tuesday, Dec 4th 2007

By Gabe Zichermann, Guest Author

In 2006, nearly 16 million people subscribed to paid MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games), spending nearly $700 million to play in parallel universes ranging from the absurd to the quotidian. Tens of millions more are casual MMOG players in worlds that don’t require subscriptions, and still more play one of hundreds of Asian-based MMOGs. Even if you’re not an active player in Nexon’s Maple Story or Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, you’ve undoubtedly been touched by the phenomenon — as a parent, friend, widow or even a recovering player.

But what is it about MMOGs that attract so many players and what opportunities are left in an industry that has attracted so much attention? MMOGs, it seems, tap into a combination of factors that appeal tremendously to gamers of all ages, genders and income levels, even though the average player is a middle class white male between 18-30. Those factors include the challenges, sociability and anonymity built into most MMOGs, providing a social outlet that has both structure and opportunity for growth/change.

In parallel, the MMOG market is evolving beyond its shooting/questing roots to broaden its appeal (a common theme throughout the games industry). The rampant success of broad games like Second Life in the US and Habbo Hotel worldwide have spurred developers to build ever more accessible MMOGs, stretching the definition to include virtual world games and community-centric games based on familiar themes. In a future article, we’ll cover the topic of funware/social games that have become the logical extension of MMOGs.

In this broadening of MMOGs, many new startups are vying for consumer attention and revenue. These run the gamut from original concepts like café.com to the “multiplayerization” of well-known games like Connect Four or The Price Is Right. Additionally, some new startups have emerged that offer a Web2.0 framework for multiplayer and community features typically found in MMOGs, like avatars from Meez and prizing/badging from Kongregate. In fact, a recent transaction involving the sale of 700,000 subscriber-strong Club Penguin to Disney for $350 million in cash plus a $350 million earn-out has helped by putting a real pricetag on the casual MMOG player.

Ultimately, the MMOG future is writ large, and each day seems to bring a new entrant to the fore, most effectively chronicled on the blog, though it doesn’t purport to cover everything. And with each new MMOG, another family joins the ranks of the guild-addled and realm-obsessed. Is yours next?

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