Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Time Spent Playing Online Games

Yesterday an article was published on Gamesbeat quoting an NPD Group report outlining January statistics about video game sales and the amount of time people spend playing online games. The gist of it:

Market researcher NPD Group said that the average number of hours spent on online gaming has risen for the third consecutive year. That bodes well for this fast-growing segment of the game industry, which includes everything from casual online poker games to hardcore multiplayer online matches on the game consoles.

The statistic is promising for the games industry, but how much can online gaming change society?

World of Warcraft, the most successful PC-based Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game of all time boasts in excess of 11.5 million subscribers, a small number compared to the world's current population of 5.6 billion people. It's a number that doesn't carry a lot of weight until you start doing some good old fashioned math.

First get statistics from Xfire, a game community and chat program that tracks the time its users spend playing games. Warcraft is their top game in terms of time spent for the last 1,615 days. Daily, 57,572 people using their service spend 15,790,298 minutes playing the game. That's 4.6 hours per person.

It's not accurate to apply these numbers to all 11.5 million subscribers, but it's fair to compare the 4.6 hours a day spent playing to the more than four hours a day the average American watches TV. Then take into account the thousands of other online diversions available, from Farmville to Poker, and it becomes easy to see how powerful online gaming is and how it is infiltrating society.

I believe that power will result in cultural fallout and societal change. The trick is to pick what the 'tipping point' will be: the point at which that power manifests in society.

I think it will be when virtual achievements gain status in the real world. This can already be seen in game communities where top gamers get hero status, but it will be a tipping point when online achievements change the real-world status of the average Joe.

Put another way, anyone can play an online game, and become notoriously good at it inside the game world. But the tipping point will have occurred when that person feels no societal restriction on wearing a t-shirt with his gamer name on it in public. Another sign could be that it becomes acceptable and preferable to use ones real name instead of an alias when competing online.

It's hard to imagine the world after the tipping point because the gap between the real world and the virtual world is significant. As time progresses, and as technology evolves, the gap narrows. I don't think my generation will see it, or even the next. But their children will grow up in a world so vastly technologically different that its possible, and even probable.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

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