Games on the computer
With millions of gamers fighting, purchasing, crafting, and selling in a variety of online contexts, electronic game worlds have earned billions of dollars. Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was one of the most popular. From 2007 to 2010, the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) attracted millions of subscribers, bringing in an estimated $1 billion in retail sales and subscription fees per year. MMOGs are distinct from regular computer games in several respects. First and foremost, all MMOGs require Internet access, as the games can only be played after logging into the server that hosts the game world (popular MMOGs require dozens of such servers to accommodate their larger player bases). Second, the social networking component of communicating with thousands of players around the world frequently takes precedence over the game’s substance. According to a 2006 research, about a third of female players and nearly 10% of male players have dated someone they met in a game. Third, most MMOGs are subscription-based, with a monthly fee in addition to the initial game software purchase price. To make these monthly fees more bearable for players, some businesses give frequent downloaded “patches” of new game content, while others offer their games for free to gamers who are prepared to put up with a barrage of in-game commercials.
From MUDs to MMOGs, there’s something for everyone.
Despite the fact that World of Warcraft and other MMOGs make use of the superior graphics and high-end processing power found in today’s PCs, online gaming has its roots in some of the oldest computing technology. ARPANET (see DARPA), a forerunner to the Internet, connected numerous institutions in the United States by the late 1970s. ARPANET’s architecture allows users to connect their computers or terminals to a central mainframe computer and communicate in near-real time. In 1980, ARPANET was linked to the University of Essex in Colchester, England, where two undergraduate students had created MUD, or “multiuser dungeon,” a text-based fantasy adventure game. Online gaming began when the first outside users connected to MUD via ARPANET. Other programmers soon added graphic embellishments, chat functions, and player groups to the basic MUD design (or guilds). These fundamental characteristics, as well as the fantasy setting, were carried over into the following generation of online games, the first real MMOGs.
The emergence of virtual economies
The emergence of secondary economies outside of gaming worlds is another challenge that game producers have had to deal with. The designers of Ultima Online were the first to notice this phenomenon at work when a castle in their game world sold for thousands of dollars on eBay. By 2006, the market had grown to a size of more than $1 billion. Players spend hours in-game accumulating wealth, seeking for rare weaponry, and acquiring power and reputation for their characters in order to sell the rewards of their labours for real money. The buyer and seller agree on a purchase price, the funds are transferred electronically, and the transaction is completed in the game world.