Sunday, 3 July 2011

Virtual Role Playing - Real Life Rewards?

The online gaming industry dramatically exploded in the mid noughties with the introduction of MMORPGs (Massively multi player online role-playing games) such as World of Warcraft (WoW). The success of such game experiences correlates with the player's ability to be fully immersed in the content creation and control of the game thus turning a fantasy into virtual reality.
Role playing games have traditionally followed the same gaming formula or theme whereby players create their own avatar character and compete or fight against other online players in order to progress through the different levels. Some game elements also give players the option to build and create their own levels, which consequently means a prolonged game shelf life.

However the development of role playing games has seen them migrate to the domain of social media. For example social network Habbo recently discovered that their members were re-creating favourite TV programmes including ITV's dating game show 'Take Me Out'. More surprisingly teens were also actively running virtual stores including Tesco, McDonalds and Starbucks without any endorsement from the chains themselves.

I was intrigued by the popularity of social role playing amongst teens and wanted to find out why this gaming movement had become a trend amongst teens. Habbo stated the following reason behind the gaming behaviour:

"Social platforms like Habbo provide young people with an outlet to not only play but also to enact ambitions such as running your own Tesco’s store or McDonalds restaurant, where they take it in turns to play the roles of shop-assistant, customer, security guard and even shop-lifter"
You can read the full article here.

Social media has been criticised for being intrusive to people's private lives and is seen as an unsafe environment for teens who spend a huge proportion of their spare time on them. However one thing has to be said - social networks such as Habbo act as a life-simulator where teens can learn and practice a number of key developmental skills such as socialising, negotiating and communicating. In addition it allows teens to practice these interpersonal skills in an environment where they perceive the risk to be lower. For example the fear of embarrassment and lack of self confidence that many teens have may deter them from using the skills in real life situations.

In most real life situations, people are generally rewarded when the result of using negotiation and other interpersonal skills lead to success. Having mulled over this idea I began to question how brands could use this social role-playing trend to their advantage and came up with the following thought:
I wonder how long it will be before stores such as McDonalds/Starbucks etc start introducing points and prizes which can be redeemed in real-life stores for teens who generate the most virtual business in games such as Habbo. Rather than the number of friends you can get to like your page or asking people to check-in to places why not actually get them to generate virtual business in exchange for real-life rewards...now there's an interesting thought!

This blog has moved to www.laurarobinsonblog.com

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