The virtual reality landscape is changing. It’s getting progressively more difficult to tell the difference between what is a game, and what is a legitimate occupation. As virtual entrepreneurs become more and more frequent; stepping away from black market activities like gold farming, gray market activities such as the sale and trade of virtual items on eBay, MMObay, and Playerauction.com and stepping into platforms like Second Life, Entropia Universe, and Afterworld who by design legitimize monetary trade for items, the question of what rights a player has and what rights the developers of the game platforms have become increasingly important. Monetization of online media also poses a new problem: government involvement. How is that going to take place, and under what circumstances?
As the basic nature of Virtual Entertainment changes so too does its face. The picture of the pimply faced teenager living in mom’s basement and subsisting on a diet consisting of mountain dew and pizza crust is giving way to a more mainstream image. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is now being advertised during prime television watching hours on many cable networks in the United States. In December, 2008 Microsoft’s video game company Massive signed a multi year contract with Blizzard Entertainment to advertise within the World of Warcraft service, though not within the game itself.1 While Microsoft announced Massive’s closure in 20102, it was not because in-game advertising had failed, but because it seems it had become successful enough for game publishers to start advertising campaigns on their own, keeping a larger cut for themselves.3
With 12 Million subscribers worldwide4, it may seem like World of Warcraft is the only kid on the block, but that’s far from the truth. Figures released from the publishers and published at www.brighthub.com for 2010 put the top 10 subscription based games at a total of 16 million subscriptions5. This count does not, however, include social games like Second Life, or Free to Play online games. Social gaming, including Second Life, Blue Mars, and similar platforms is far greater, with claims of 1 Billion users in 2010 according to British Analytics company KZero.
What I’m building up to here is that, with at least 16 million subscribers (probably closer to 20 million6 as of 2008, and an estimated 40 million as of 2010), plus a multitude7 of social gamers, the Virtual Entertainment industry isn’t in the same place it was when Ultima Online was first launched to mainstream success in 1997 with 100,000 users. Publishers, entrepreneurs, and independent software entities seem to have caught onto this trend. Players are of course aware of it. There however seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding one particular question: What do we want to do about this?
This is where I feel an advocacy group comes into the picture. Through educated and open-minded advocacy what has been the topic of discussion on conventions, message boards, mailing lists, and board meetings can take the next step. Ideas can be conglomerated, process flows can be refined, and in the end our expectations as participants, producers, developers, and advertisers in this medium can be identified, addressed, and expressed.
It is our responsibility to make this evolution happen as engaged participants in this industry. Whether we are everyday gamers or something more we all enjoy this medium and wish for the best success possible to arise from it. This is not just our responsibility to do this though, its good business. If we don’t make this happen, someone else will. With international boundaries being crossed, poor protection offered through corporate licensing agreements, and significant amounts of money changing hands it is only a matter of time before government forces step in and begin the process of regulation, if they haven’t already.
Do we allow others to shape our future, or do we take the reigns, assume responsibility for our own actions, and shape it ourselves as much as we are able to within the scope of the law and community expectations?
1 “Massive Inc. and Blizzard Entertainment Form Multi-Year Advertising Relationship.” In Massive Website. 3, Dec 2008. 17, Dec 2010. http://www.massiveincorporated.com/press/12.03.08.htm
2 “Report: Microsoft to close in-game advertising company Massive.” In ars technica. Oct, 2010. 17, Dec 2010. http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2010/10/report-microsoft-to-close-in-game-advertise-company-massive.ars
3 This is an assumption made by author Ben Kuchera at ars technica. Some might think it rather obvious, others might think it rather erroneous. Of course a quote from the industry to this effect would be foolishness. We are left with informed guessing.
4 “World of Warcraft Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide.” In Activision Investor Relations. 7, Oct 2010. 17, Dec 2010. http://investor.activision.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=515825
5 “MMO Subscriber Populations.” In Bright Hub. 1, Mar 2010. 17, Dec 2010. http://www.brighthub.com/video-games/mmo/articles/35992.aspx
6 “MMOG Subscriptions Market Share – April 2008.” In MMOGCHART.COM: An Analysis of MMOG Subscription Growth Version 23.0. April, 2008. 17, Dec, 2010. http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart7.html
7 Claims made by KZero I am assuming are not individual users, but rather individual accounts. Still 1 billion accounts is a lot to comprehend. In order to create this many accounts the actual user base is quite large.