By Mark Ramirez
May 2, 2006
Online games are an extension
of the real world. They enriched the lives of many people by providing them
with a sense of ownership.
As of today, there are dozens of Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games
(MMOPRG’s) slated for release or in beta. It is hard to decide on which online
game to play. And most of us don’t have the time or money to play more then one
game at a time. With all the competition, software companies need to come up
with more creative ways of distinguishing themselves from each other and
retaining their player base.
After all the hype from the initial release of a game subsides, what keeps
players engaged in the virtual world? For one thing, the game has to be fun and
must continue to be fun. Beyond that, the players need to have a sense of
ownership – they need to have a tangible connection and personal investment in
their online world.
Online games are an extension of our real life. What keeps us happy in the real
world will often translate to what keeps us happy in the virtual world of a
game. We like to feel special and have the ability to express ourselves in our
own unique way. We also enjoy the freedom to choose of what we do with our
possessions and time.
One of the most important aspects of a game is being able to customize the
in-game character. Having a unique avatar or graphical representation helps
players stand out. It is a key element that defines the identity of a player.
The latest online role-playing games let you tweak a multitude of physical
including hair color and style, facial characteristics, height, weight, age,
and gender. This lets players create a unique, one-of-a-kind avatar that
defines them in the virtual world.
As voice chat is becoming more common in online games, players are feeling a
need to customize the sound of their voice. These gamers may have spent a long
time customizing the look of their avatars, why not have voices to match?
Voice-changing products like MorphVOX from
Screaming Bee allow these players to have a unique
voice that matches their in-game character, whether they choose to be a mighty
giant or space adventurer.
Opportunities to improve a character’s abilities or skills are an important
feature of an online game. Just as in real world, people like to have the
option of changing their lot in life through self-improvement. Between gaining
skills and “leveling-up”, their online character continues to grow and improve.
Another way to customize character in game is providing a variety of clothing
and possessions. Just as someone can look and dress a certain way in real life,
their character in game should have the option to wear variety of clothes.
Unique clothing combinations provide a form of self-expression, define your
character’s style and allow people to find you in a crowded tavern or
spaceport. And depending one’s mood, it is nice to have a variety of outfits to
wear for in game hunts or special events.
A game with variety of loot and goodies is a big draw for gamers. Much of the
excitement and interest in online games stems from the opportunity to discover
new and cool treasure. People will literally spend hours and days of their real
life “camping” spots on the virtual world of a game to find the latest and
greatest loot or treasure.
Having a place to call home is no different in an online world. Players
appreciate games that offer player housing. Customizable player housing can be
so important that the people will continue to pay monthly fees for a game that
they’ve stopped playing in order to keep a house that they worked so hard to
acquire. They may often trade property to other players for exorbitant virtual
or real dollars.
Different Roles for Different Folks
Just as in real life, gamers need a purpose. After some time, all the
leveling-up and acquiring new possessions can lose its luster. Online games
offer professions, player driven economy, and guilds to provide players with
roles and, moreover, a way of creating a virtual society.
Interdependence on other players keeps people engaged in games because they
have a tangible purpose or role in the virtual world. Some choose to be
merchants who sell various goods, such as food, clothing, and weapons to other
players. In return they barter for money or goods. Others can choose to be part
of a guild, working for a common purpose or hunting together in larger groups.
Online gamers will often form long-lasting friendships as a result of their
time in these vibrant virtual societies. You may see the same players move from
virtual world to virtual world as the latest online game is released. And in
the real world, these same people will choose to spend time together and
support each other in both good and bad times.
Going Beyond the Virtual World
The success of an online game in developing ownership can be measured by its
ability to go beyond the confines of the virtual world into the personal life
of a gamer. Online games haven’t isolated people as some people may argue. They
instead have enriched the lives of the many players who have invested time and
energy into these rich worlds.