Why Massively Multiplayer Games Are So Popular

Question: Why are massively multiplayer online games particularly popular in Asia?

Jesse Schell:  Part of the reason I think massively \r\nmultiplayer games are so popular in Asia is partly because the bandwidth\r\n and infrastructure is there.  They've had bandwidth and infrastructure \r\nthat has been miles ahead of where we've been.  So they've had more time\r\n to kind of work on it.  There's greater opportunity for an audience.  \r\nThen, on top of that, you have situations with copyright over there that\r\n are problematic.  The retail game model, the traditional retail game \r\nmodel, of selling discs in stores has very much been destroyed by \r\npiracy.  But a massively multiplayer game is not destroyed by piracy – \r\nin fact, it is enhanced by piracy because the pirates become a network \r\nto distribute the software.  The players have to connect online, and \r\nthere's no stealing the game because you pay as you play.  So I think \r\nthat combination, then you also consider the lower penetration of \r\nconsoles in Asia is something that kind of has pushed people more to the\r\n PC, and massively multiplayer games work well on the PC.

Then \r\nfurther, you can kind of take it to kind of a social angle.  Some people\r\n would suggest that people in Asia are more likely to work together on \r\nteams.  They're more comfortable working that way, and that's what \r\nthe... If you're gonna succeed in these games, it's about forming large \r\nteams and working together and succeeding.  It's a combination of \r\nthings.  One thing we're definitely seeing is almost everything that \r\ngoes big and succeeds in Asia starts to come over here.  We started to \r\nsee it happening... We saw it initially with subscription-based games, \r\nthen we saw micro-transactions taking off there, and now they're taking \r\noff in America and Europe, as well.

Why are these games so captivating?

Jesse Schell:  I think for massively multiplayer games, \r\nit's a combination of things.  One of the reasons people like to go to \r\ngames at all is games give you concrete achievement.  In life, we seldom\r\n get very clear, concrete achievements.  Anything you achieve, it's \r\nalways like Well, it could have been a little better.  But when you've \r\nmade level nine [clap] – it's level nine!  I mean, there's no you half \r\nmade it, or you sort of made it, or someone made level nine better than \r\nyou.  You made it.  Bing!  Gold star – there it is.  And people like \r\nthat concreteness.

So you take that factor of the concreteness, \r\nand then you combine it with a persistence.  Traditional video games – \r\nyou play them, you win them – it's kind of over.  You turn it off, and \r\nit's gone.  These massively multiplayer games are persistent.  You \r\nbecome level nine and you turn it off for three months – you come back, \r\nand you're still a level nine.  You can go to level ten.  These can \r\nbecome something that you do for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years if you \r\nwant to.  People like that; it makes it more solid, it makes it more \r\nreal, it makes it more meaningful.

Then you combine that with the\r\n social interaction where you have a lightweight connection to people – \r\nin other words, you don't have to go through the headache of forming \r\nsocial commitments, but you still get to do something meaningful where \r\nyou work together as a team, and you did something that you all can be \r\nproud of.  There's a lot of factors in there that... There's really a \r\nlot to like.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

The concrete sense of the achievement, combined with the opportunity for social engagement and a never-ending source of challenges make massively multiplayer online games a highly captivating form of entertainment.