1. Real time updates – the game and web pages like the web based user forum should use RSS and services like Twitter to feed updates to fan sites, the press, and gamers. When I completed Mass Effect on the Insane difficultly setting it would have been cool if all my friends got a text message on their cell phones telling them how I just wasted 20 hours of my life and it would be handy if I could grab an RSS feed off my favorite games to keep my Blog up to date. This is also an excellent way to share leader boards with the gaming community and press (first guy to score perfect on expert with Guitar Hero 3’s Through the Fire and Flames is news worthy enough to make the New York Times).
2. Permalinks – forum posts, game master site updates, news items, event information, press releases, etc. should all be enabled with Permalinks. Permalinks allow easy sharing of a specific part of a website or more importantly a web page or specific forum post. Game developers can extend this concept further by adding an option that allows a gamer to share a specific point or location in the game with another player (I like to call them “permapoints”).
3. The Wisdom of Crowds – make it easy for gamers, fans, and the press to build buzz for your game. Take advantage of services like ShareThis which allow one click buzz generation across many social networks and Web 2.0 sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, etc.. This feature should be handy wherever you have offered a Permalink or Permapoint.
4. Add default user participation in growing the game. The game should automatically get better the more gamers play it. Guild behavior was an early form of this point. Today user generated content (UGC) is the low hanging fruit and several games are riding this train (like Little Big Planet). Gamers should comment on game weapons and quests as they engage with them making each item richer as they go. Give gamers the ability to tweak game content as they work through the game, if I kill an orc offer me the chance to modify one thing about it that is randomly inserted into the next orc someone runs into. Let me name a creature or my horse then let someone else find it. Don’t overlook the chance to let player characters take over traditional non-player character roles – who wants to hear the same dialog every time you visit the shopkeeper. As a side dish to this strategy think about building game features that adjust game play as users work their way through the content – don’t let the early players have all the fun and then post all the spoilers online, change the story and outcomes on the fly.
5. Leverage tags in game and at community websites to create a folksonomy specific to your game. Everything a user creates or interacts with should be taggable by the user – forum posts, inventory items, monsters, map locations, etc.. This database of tags should be accessible by all gamers and fan sites. Tags make it easy for gamers to find things the way gamers think about things which is not always the way game developers think about things. Tags also self prioritize allowing gamers and game staff to find important items quickly (plus marketing and community management can see what gamers are thinking about most). Tags should be sortable by time stamp, popularity, and alphabetically at a minimum.
6. Open Source – there is a reason that the biggest Web 2.0 sites embrace Open Source software. Massive scale, particularly when the core service is free to use, requires very low capital and operations cost. Try to keep your operating system, database, and programming tools free. Popular web languages like Perl, PHP, and Ruby on Rails lend themselves to dynamic nature of Web 2.0 sites – when you need to update daily or even every hour scripting languages start to show their strength in spades.
7. End the software release cycle – operations must become a core competency. In 3 years, daily release of content will be the basic hurdle every MMO video game company will have to deal with if they want to stay competitive. Now is the time to learn how to do it. As the free to play business model takes over it will be important to leverage the concept of keeping the game service in Beta on a permanent basis. Changes will have to be made so quickly that QA departments will need to be expanded to include the game users. Game updates should be easy to make and roll back with minimum disruption to game play, ideally none.
8. Design for hackability and remixing so that fan sites and hard core players can leverage meta data and game data to build add-ons, mods, and cool widgets for fan sites and smart phones like the iPhone. Simple things like server status, number of players currently playing, inventory counts, player achievements, chat feeds and the like should be available to the community as APIs or web services or ideally simple RSS feeds. Let gamers embed your game world into theirs.
9. Software above the level of a single device is a core Web 2.0 concept. Do not just think about the PC or the console. Think about letting players engage the game no matter where they are or how they are connected or even if they are connected. Let a gamer play on his iPhone with players who are playing through a web browser with players who are playing a client version of the game, even if this means that the iPhone player can only chat with the other players or sell items out of their inventory.
10. Design your game so that it ends up creating a huge set of hard to recreate data. Facebook is valuable because it contains the activities of over 120 million members. Bejeweled could have a database of over 300 million gamers if a simple data collection system was built in. It would be awesome if I could go to Bioware’s website and pull my complete gaming history like what missions I accomplished, which enemies I defeated and how, and my inventory collections. Comparing myself to other gamers would be great too.
I can wax on, but 10 items should be enough to get things moving down the right path for most games, any one of which would be a huge improvement on current fare.