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Videogames and Blogs: The Disconnect

Games are the fastest growing sector in entertainment. Blogs have captured the mediasphere. Until now, never the two shall meet.

Of all the topics bantered about in blogs – politics, music, media – one seems woefully underrepresented: videogames.

There are some exceptions. Weblogs, Inc dutifully offer blogs such as Joystiq, a site that chronicles game industry goings on and issues, And sites like Gamespot provide blog-like dispatches. But for a subject that inspires such slavish devotion some observers believe the videogame makers are squandering an opportunity by not incorporating blogs into the games themselves.

Into the games themselves? Indeed. Why not place a blog within a massively multiplayer role playing game, the argument goes, where participants can offer fellow players advice, comment on game play, give tips, or spout off on any topic they choose? It seems like a natural extension of the kind of enthusiasm usually found for these games, say proponents, and could help foster a stronger sense of community within the game.

Alas, few are looking into this at the moment, but some observers believe it won’t be long before game players find blogs in the games themselves

“I can see [incorporating blogs into games] happening down the road,” says David Swofford, director of PR for game maker NCSoft North America. “But nothing we have that’s being designed right now incorporates them.”

South Korean NCSoft is arguably one of the most powerful online gaming companies in the world, anchored by its Lineage series, which has several million devoted players. Its North American operations are run by Richard Garriott, maker of Ultima, the first commercially successful massively multiplayer role playing game (MMORPG). NCSoft is also the distributor City of Heroes.

While in-game blogs have been slow to develop from the corporate side, players and fans are certainly open to the idea of blogging about their virtual lives.

“That would be a good idea,” says Tom Zjaba, the man behind the classic videogame and comics blog Tomorrow’s Heroes. “Anything that would make a game more interactive and make users more a part of it would be a good thing. I wish there was something like that.”

Charlene Li, an analyst who covers blogs for Forrester Research, believes that the first major game platform to incorporate blogs will be Microsoft’s Xbox, given that “community” has been part of its design since it launched, with Xbox Live, and user identification tags that work across different games.

Representatives of Xbox and Playstation didn’t respond to interview requests by press time.

Ultimately, whether or not designers incorporate blogs into videogames may come down to whether it’s enough of a draw to encourage sales.

“The reason we don’t have more community elements like blogs in games is because the publishers haven’t figured out how to harness it and make money off of it,” says Li.

But with more videogames these days selling advertising through electronic billboards that dot the game’s virtual landscape or by selling the right to play a band’s song during game play, it’s not too big of a leap to try and sell advertisements around an in-game blog. Everquest even bridged the virtual and real recently when it included a feature that allows users to order Pizza Hut pizza from within the game and have it delivered.

Of course, videogames and blogs do have a bit of a checkered past. In late 2003, Electronic Arts, maker of The Sims, banned a user of the popular game after that user’s blog told of some of the unseemly activities – such as virtual prostitution – happening within the game’s confines. Bringing blogs within a game’s walls may make the line between free game play and policed game play a little blurrier.

Zjaba of Tomorrow’s Heroes says that when he was trying to sell items on his site, he found the cheapest form of advertising was to create compelling content on his site, which drew traffic better than any ad campaign he tried.

Everyone contacted for this article expressed interest in seeing more game-specific or within-game blogs. While it may be awhile before we see blogs within games, one thing’s for certain: there’s plenty of room for them and, well, there’s interest in blogging.

“Video game blogs are on the rise,” says Swofford. “The segment is growing.”
 

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