"We're witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments." Edward Castronova
(Ed's an economist that studies online games. I met him at a Highland's conference a couple of years ago, smart guy).
Here's a video of Jane McGonigal at the 2010 TED (the conference for tech, entertainment, and Wall Street elites to rub elbows) conference. In it she talks about the power of online games. Worth watching.
Some useful stats from the presentation include:
- Active online gamers spend 10,000 hours of play by the time they are 21 (almost as much as the time spent in school).
- There are 500 million active online gamers worldwide (that will grow to 1.5 billion in the next 10 years).
- 3 billion hours a week are spent playing online games.
She also hits on some useful observations: people game to this degree because it makes more sense than real life and that gaming is a form of personal super empowerment.
However, at this point the presentation breaks down. McGonigal then proceeds to think of ways gamers can be used to do things (which plays well with the users at TED). While I give her props for thinking about ways to generate ideas on how to fix global problems, she entirely misses the big idea.
Here's the big idea. For active online gamers real life is broken. It doesn't make any sense. Effort isn't connected to reward. The path forward is confused, convoluted, and contradictory. Worse, there's a growing sense that the entire game is being corrupted to ensure failure. So, why play it?
They don't. They retreat to online games. Why? Online games provide an environment that connects what you do (work, problem solving, effort, motivation level, merit) in the game to rewards (status, capabilities, etc.). These games also make it simple to get better (learn, skill up, etc.) through an intuitive just-in-time training system. The problem is that this is virtual fantasy.
So the really big idea isn't figuring out how to USE online gamers for real world purposes (as in the dirty word: crowdsourcing -- the act of other people to do work for you for FREE -- blech!). Instead, it's about finding a way to use online games to make real life better for the gamers. In short, turn games into economic darknets that work in parallel and better than the broken status quo systems. As in: economic games that connect effort with reward. Economic games with transparent rules that tangibly improve the lives of all of the players in the REAL WORLD.
This isn't tech utopian. It's reality. The global electronic marketplace and the political system that currently dominates our lives is at root a game but with hidden rule sets. As a result, it's a game that being run for the benefit of the game designers to the detriment of the players. The reason we keep playing is that we don't have any choice. Let's invent something better and compete with it. Let's provide people with a choice.