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Social gaming worlds as hybrids of MUVEs and MMORPGs

Several social gaming worlds and their fans have come to my attention within the past 24 hours, and I wish to discuss them here briefly before my hyperlinking mind wanders and sticks unto the next pretty webpage.

First, my friend turned me on to a virtual world that does not require any downloading to play — it exists entirely in web browsers, as they tout in their advertisements.  Small Worlds, found easily enough at, is a customizable world that appears to be a hybrid of Second Life style MUVEs (multi-user visual environments) and World of Warcraft MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games).

In Small Worlds, you begin with a customizable avatar, a customizable pet, and a customizable house — basic features for beginners, more advanced features for VIP members who subscribe on a monthly basis.  The house becomes your base of operations for meeting and entertaining friends, showcasing your decoration desires (i.e. your identity performances), and for setting off on quests to earn money. There is also the ability to stream video and music into your house based on your programming of the playlists.  Other places of innovation do occur — however, as in MMORPGs, the innovation is constrained by the parameters established by the game’s creators.  Yes, you could design and upload your own game for the arcade, but you cannot design your own arcade.

My friend and I are turning to this game because of the customization aspect — to create in a virtual world what we would like in a physical world if we didn’t have the limitations we do — as well as the integration of quests to earn money to further our customization goal.  We had been playing a social game on Facebook called YoVille from game developer Zynga .  YoVille has only the social interaction and customization aspects to it — earning money was difficult, and some items, such as pets, could only be purchased by giving Zynga actual dollars.  Small Worlds makes the earning of money easier, and because it does not run through Facebook it has better graphics and a more complex virtual world.

Second, a friend on Facebook (which translates into someone I only know because we play apps together there), posted a link for a blog that has been running for almost a year now.  The blog,, discusses social games.  Looking over their site, their definition for social games is any games that occur in a virtual environment/world in which at least two people have to interact in some fashion (sychronously or asynchronously, central or peripheral to the game’s focus) in order for the game to proceed to its fullest potential.  Thus these games range from applications on Facebook to various online puzzle and card games to more standard MMORPGs.

Being exposed to these two recent “findings” has led me to ponder if such social games as hybrids of MUVEs and MMORPGs, to differing extents, are more popular…That is to say, naturally MUVEs and MMORPGs are in some way social games because people must interact together to fully appreciate what the space/place was constructed to provide.  But where MUVEs do not have a centralized gaming foundation to structure a person’s interaction with it, and the design of MMORPGs traditionally centralize the gaming events over the socialization, hybrids such as Small Worlds appear to balance these two polarities.

There is a difference in the gaming community — meaning fans, designers — between hardcore gamers and casual gamers.  Hardcore gamers spend a lot of their resources in the pursuit of their gaming desires; resources that include time and money.  They will go into an MMORPG like World of Warcraft and spend several hours a day there, defeating monsters, building items, joining guilds.  They will go into an MUVE like Second Life and design an island, go to clubs, get married.  Or they’ll play PlayStation 3 and X-Box 360 for their realistic graphics, intricate control systems and lengthy RPG or FPS games.

Casual gamers, on the other hand, prefer games that they can play for perhaps an hour a day, preferably less — short bursts of time in comparison to hardcore gamers.  They do not seek to have a huge investment in the game of time and money.  So online card games, puzzle games, Facebook apps, and places like Small Worlds can be more desirable for them — social games that do not have a lengthy learning curve to play the game.  They are the Nintendo Wii players of the gaming community.

Of course, this does not preclude the casual gamers from spending their short bursts of time with the Worlds of Warcraft or Second Lifes of the internet.  Or vice versa – already today I was attacked by a VIP member in Small Worlds who was high level and throwing fireballs at me while I was just trying to shop.  He also made my head big — I wonder if he was flirting…

But to return to my pondering — considering the gaming community, there is a tension between hardcore gamers and casual gamers.  Hardcore look down on casual as not true gamers, just interlopers who do not understand what it is to truly be “a gamer”.  Casual look down on hardcore for spending a lot of time and money on endeavors that are, after all, “just games”.

But how many of their of either camp, and which camp is the most likely to increase in numbers by drawing in people who don’t game at all?  That is to say, which type of virtual gaming has the most devotion — traditional MMORPGs, MUVEs, or the hybrids like Small Worlds and Facebook apps?  And just how permeable is the distinction between hardcore and casual in places like Small Worlds?  What makes the one become the other?

I’ll look around Small Worlds more, see if I can start to answer these questions.  If you care to join me, look for Carrielynn Darcy and her little cat Smallville.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Hybrid virtual worlds « A Stranger in a Familiar Land linked to this post on 2011/02/17

    [...] it all starts back here, with my musings on what are hybrid worlds compared to gaming worlds and social worlds.  This conceptualization of hybrid worlds was later [...]

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