Boomjack is still on hiatus, but don't dismay--in his place you get me, Karen "Shayalyn" Hertzberg, and today I'll be your virtual Tattoo (except that I'm not short, I don't talk funny, and I haven't seen "De plane! De plane!") In a few moments, I'll welcome you to your very own fantasy island, but first let me take Boomjack's lead and share an epic video that has nothing whatsoever to do with what I'm about to talk about but should make you smile nonetheless.
This is why The Weather Channel shouldn't make meteorologists stand out in hurricane force winds.
A few days ago, Forbes reported that The Sims Social, a new Facebook game by EA and Playfish, had unseated Farmville as the social gaming experience with the highest number of Daily Active Users (DUAs). The Sims Social holds 9.3 million daily users (including me) in its sway, each stopping by for 2 or 3 play sessions of 15 to 20 minutes each day.
Yep, sounds about right. At least that's my experience. And although The Sims Social holds the high ground in a crowded social media gaming market--despite, even, having the term "social" written all over it--it hasn't proved to be a social experience for me. Sure, I visit my husband's Sim and stop in to chat up friends in their virtual houses, but they're not actually there to chat back. Their avatars are just interactive objects with no intelligent life (and in the case of some of my friends I use that term loosely) behind them. Even if my friends and I happen to be playing the game at the same time, we can't interact except through spamming one another's Facebook walls with gifts and requests for stuff to help us complete our achievements.
My days as a Sims Social player are probably numbered. Why? Because I miss online interactions with real people. And that got me wondering whether the reason I haven't been able to stick with a lot of the MMOGs I've played since my early days in EverQuest has to do with the very same dynamic. I don't mind soloing, but the real fun for me happens when I'm adventuring with groups. If my friends leave whatever game I'm playing, and if I'm not finding groups of people to game with who actually want to chat, joke, and occasionally boss each other around...I find myself growing bored and the next thing you know I've cancelled yet another subscription.
Tonight, on a whim, I followed a link on my Facebook wall to a new game I hadn't heard of before called VIE, for Virtual Island of Entertainment. The ad promised a "mature 3D virtual world and social experience that invites adults to escape and indulge in its island paradise." Although it sounded a little too much like Second Life for my taste (and my time in Second Life was limited to about 20 minutes before I uninstalled it), I decided to give it a whirl.
After downloading the beta client (I'm told beta just went live recently), I hopped in and created an avatar through a simple and not-too-option-rich interface. I won't go into any sort of preview of the game here, but I will say that despite some hiccups and confusion, and despite a number of loading screens and what, at least for now, seemed like a claustrophobically small game world, one thing pleasantly surprised me--there were people in this game, and they actually wanted to talk to me.
The intriguing thing about VIE was that from the moment I logged in people were greeting me. There were GMs (they had orange names) waiting to wave hello. Other players welcomed me in the local chat channel as well. As I maneuvered around the world, when I asked questions I got friendly answers, not just from the GMs (who are paid to be nice) but from the players. Yep, just like Fantasy Island, there were people who seemed genuinely glad to see me there. GMs and players alike thanked me for giving the game a try.
Will I keep playing VIE? I'm sure I'll check in from time to time to see how the beta's progressing, but I don't see it having much longevity. In the end, it's mostly not my kind of game. I'm not looking to dance in virtual clubs, drink virtual cocktails, or decorate a virtual suite. (Although, to be honest, decorating a virtual suite sounds tempting.) But VIE did remind me that I miss games with vibrant, helpful communities that encouraged player-to-player interaction rather than a Massively Solo Player experience. Many early MMO beta communities have had the same helpful, welcoming vibe I experienced in VIE. Of course, we're all too familiar with how that changes when the game goes live.
Is true social gaming a thing of the past? Can MMOGs ever recapture the days when working with other players was the surest, and in some cases the only way to make progress? What evidence, if any, have you seen of MMOGs moving back in that direction? Feel free to shoot me an email or post a comment.
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Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.