RSS in Gaming, Part 2

Earlier this week I posted a simple idea: RSS in gaming. More specifically, I spoke about RSS in Massively Multiplayer Online games; but, why did I choose to limit the scope of the article to community based games, and what exactly does the future hold?

To answer the first part, you have to understand that RSS is a very fickle medium. It prospers when there is a ton of content, and it dies of starvation when there is nothing to syndicate. The term “community based games” can mean a lot of different things, including FPS games, since companies are getting into the habit of offering a community in addition to the actual game; however, instead of having a community slapped on top of the game, MMOs (and, more specifically MMORPGs) are virtual communities.

Communities do one thing extremely well: sharing information. If you look at any MMORPG today, the entire game is built around players meeting other players, completing quests together, helping each other, and generally just network with each other. This leads to a ton of information being exchanged. It’s so much information that there simply are not enough hours in the day to track and understand the information.

That’s where RSS steps in – it’s a tool to help you contain, track, and understand the massive amounts of information being thrown at you. In my last article about this, I gave some quick examples of how RSS could be used, but now I’ll list some specific details on how this can affect you as a gamer.

Updates
Tthese are the bane of the MMORPG, and they happen so often that it often acts as a detriment to any given game. I did a fresh install of Final Fantasy XI to prove a point: it took 5 hours on my cable modem in order to download all of the updates to PlayOnline and Final Fantasy XI itself, not to mention the time spent installing the software. To top it off, I could only download and install the updates when PlayOnline – the launching program which allows you to access Final Fantasy XI – was active. So, not only did I have to waste time waiting for the damn thing to update, but I actually had to be awake to launch the program.

How RSS could help
Simply put, RSS allows one to download content automatically and store it on their local drive thanks to the wonderful enclosure tag (whom we owe to Adam Curry and Dave Winer). originally made for podcasting, the enclosure tag can be used for so much more, including a standardized way to automatically update a program, Imagine just leaving your news aggregator on overnight, and waking up to find that not only has a 200MB patch been downloaded, but it has also been installed and you can play the game without having to worry if your system is up to date.

Game News
There is always something new going on inside the world of an MMORPG, including updates, events, and news. More often than not you read this on a “Message of the Day” type of posting before the game loads, which means they’re usually short, to the point, and never expand on any ideas or topic, so you have to take them “as is.”

How RSS could help
The best use for RSS is in news syndication, and what better way to keep on the days events on your MMORPG server than to subscribe to an RSS feed that updates once an hour? Not only would you be able to read the standard message of the day, but imagine reading a developers comments on the news which expand on the basic topic and tell people what they’re really going to see. It leads to a much greater interaction between the developers and the community, and I am of the full belief that the new ticket to success is direct communication.

Of course, these are just basic ideas that only partially help to contain the information. The bulk of the information is still left up to the player to find and maintain on his own inside the gaming world. The main idea that I have is expanding the game beyond its virtual borders, and I believe that content syndication is the first step in that direction.

How would that first step be implemented, you ask?

Inter-Game Communication
I’m not talking about global chats. Instead, I mean the various person-to-person means of communication that the games have (all of which are a variation of e-mail, by the way). There are many clans within games that communicate a lot. Sometimes they share so much information that it’s almost impossible to keep track of it, so most of it goes ignored, or an ungodly amount of time has to be spent sifting through the crap to get to the facts.

How RSS could help
I think the obvious answer here is that RSS, by its very nature, solves this problem by having the data stored outside of the game world so the gamer can sort through the messages at their leisure, which may be away from the game.

In-Game Events
There are a ton of in-game events. Shopkeepers, NPCs, auction houses, and the like all come and go with new items to sell, updated inventories, and everything else shops do. Players can spend hundreds of hours just standing around sorting through the mess of items for sale, and it can get very tedious.

How RSS help
Are you seeing a pattern with content syndication yet? No? Well, RSS helps by letting people see up-to-date states on merchandise. But, aside from the syndication aspect of this, it can also allow for in-game merchants to send players advertisements – such as a huge, once in a lifetime sale at a known merchant – without being disruptive to overall service; for example, let’s say that when a player gets an updated list of prices from a merchant via RSS, there is an additional headline, and in that headline is a sales pitch for X’s bazaar, which is having it’s yearly promotional sale. Or, a merchant and advertise that it had found a very rare item and is putting it up for auction. Not only does RSS help with information overload, it adds features to the game – something MMO players always look for.

What else is there? Obviously, there’s a ton of stuff that I’ve left out. in fact, you could take this idea one step further and go for even more cross-platform interaction, such as what the guys at FrogHop.net are trying to do. I feel RSS is a very important stepping stone to expanding these games beyond their virtual limits.

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