MMO 2.0

When it comes to massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and market share, it's pretty clear that "World of Warcraft" is king. Its subscriber base is bigger than all its top competitors combined, and its lead seems to grow more every month. But although "WoW" has the biggest player base, this week there was a low-profile announcement that could fundamentally change the way MMOs are played.

April 28 was the fourth anniversary of "City of Heroes," a relatively small MMO with fewer than 150,000 subscribers that allows users to create their own superhero or supervillain and fight for justice or world domination on the streets of Paragon City. To mark that anniversary, lead designer Matt Miller, who goes by the alias Positron, wrote a retrospective on the official forums, noting that over 32 million characters have been created and players have spent a combined 29,200 years playing "City of Heroes."

And then, with surprising insouciance, he offers this tidbit:

I can't tell you how excited I am for our game's future, and although we have some major announcements yet to be made, one of the things I can talk about is a feature that we are planning. Similar in concept to our character creator, it allows you, the players, to create missions and story arcs for your characters and others to participate in. You'll be able to pick the map, villain group, and objectives, as well as write the dialog and any clues needed for the missions. When you are satisfied with it, you can upload it and have other players across all servers play it and rate it.
If this experiment works out, it will be a Very Big Deal for the future of MMOs--a major step in the development of user-generated gaming.

One of the inherent limitations of MMOs is the generic nature of the stories being told. When you create a character in "World of Warcraft," or any other MMO currently on the market, the adventures that character will experience will rarely differ in any substantive way from the experience had by any other character (assuming both characters spend the same amount of time playing). By putting the tools of content creation in players' hands, games will allow for a truly personalized experience -- a rare find in the gaming space, or in any entertainment medium.

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