Community Analysis: WoW, Xbox, 3 Rings, PMOG
Many of us have friends offline. We went to school with them, we met them through our parents, we bumped into them at the park. Lots of ways to make friends.
Transitioning those friends to "online friends" is tough - you have to find out if they have the right computer or console, then you have to get some kind of a friend code that allows you to make a connection. Email is a fairly useful lingua-franca, but I've met alarming numbers of teenagers who don't use email at all these days.
So with so many online games today, it's a miracle to find and play alongside anyone you know. This is one of the things I just hate about World of Warcraft - I would love to play. But should I play on the server with my nephews? Or on a server with game critics? Or on a server with international friends? Why do I have to choose which one to be friends with? And have separate characters to interface with each group.
Xbox Live has fabulous means of watching any kind of friend. What are they up to? Can I join them? How are they doing at their games? It's a sort of light-touch online friendship. Light co-presence.
But Xbox Live needs richer real-time grouping. I couldn't gather more than one other friend in a voice chatroom during an online game. We were split into separate teams and couldn't talk. We had to get ourselves back into groups after a match ended, if the host wanted to change the game settings. So there was a sense that we were at an online gaming party, but we had to keep leaving and re entering the party, and we could never been in the same room.
In YoHoHo Puzzle Pirates and Bang! Howdy I didn't know anyone there immediately. I made some friends in Bang! Howdy, and I could find them later. But it was generally somewhat sparsely populated-seeming. It would have been nice to see a central gathering place, where the bodies mill about in Bang! Howdy. Then again, in Puzzle Pirates, I was quickly thrown into a large area with bodies milling about and I wasn't able to make much of it. Except other people had much bigger parrots than I had, and better clothes. Something to aspire to, I guess!