Online Gaming – Re-developing the WWW

Over the past 10 years I’ve reviewed 1,000s of guild websites. With a background in web and graphics design I see every website as a potential piece of art. Some are pure function, others are pure art, and then there are the masterpieces that balance the best of both. These works of functional art are the cornerstones of creativity that drive the web forward. Like Prometheus, they offer the fresh fire of ingenuity to the web. As was the case for Prometheus, these designers pay a price, their unique ideas lose their novelty and become mainstream.

The last few years, web content has undergone an incredible change. These changes have impacted business sites and especially influenced what is generally accepted as good business practice. The question that I pose is who/what is responsible for these changes in practice and technology? Initially the seemingly obvious answer would be the companies themselves. After all, who else could afford the costs of research, development, innovation and new technology? While I believe there are a few limited standouts such as the incredible work done over at 2Advanced, the modern business site and the websites of the future owe the bulk of their current success and form to the online gaming community.

Consider the classic business website up until a year or two ago was designed to cater to the lowest common denominator. Business websites had to be designed so that they would load quickly on 56k connections, sized to fit on 800×600 screen resolutions, and typically operated under the assumption that super clean, simple and straightforward was the way to go. To a certain extent this is still the case. Even leading edge companies are still confined by the simple reality that they are catering to a general audience and have to make allowances to that end. So, where then can we find Prometheus?

A possible answer – Internet based multiplayer games and more specifically the user created communities that have evolved around them. Blizzard just announced that World of Warcraft has over 9 million subscribers. While one of the most popular, World of Warcraft is only one of hundreds of immensely popular online video games. Unlike professional businesses the social communities (guilds & clans [p.7] specifically) that are run and established to support virtual gaming communities are only limited by their creativity.

Due to the demands of modern online video games such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, Counter-Strike and others most gamers have high speed DSL or Cable internet connections (Example: only 6 out of 290 respondents had 56k in my research [p.66]). They also typically have significantly more powerful/state of the art PCs than the average web user. These machines are specifically built with extra/faster ram, faster hard drives and powerful video cards. The result? The base audience for gaming websites is significantly better connected than your average consumer.

That’s not the end of it though. Not only are gamers machines and connections faster and more powerful than the average web users, the target audience for web designers is completely different. Where a business typically is targeting everyone with their website, online gaming guild/clan websites only target a very limited audience. To that end, if 80% of web browsers cannot view the website because of speed/performance issues. So be it.

The final key component of the equation is demographics. It’s no secret that a large percentage of the gaming population consists of young tech savvy adults and IT Professionals. The result – an incredible accumulation of talent and creativity. Could there be a better environment for invention? Is it any surprise that these, the “go to” people of the tech world, are in their spare time, by proxy creating the future of the business web?

They have the expertise, they have the hardware, they have the time, they have the passion and they have the energy. Is it any surprise then that gaming sites have had media rich flash intros, embedded music players, integrated video, etc. for years? For these virtual adrenaline junkies it’s all about performance, appearance, and attention. Still skeptical? Consider the influence gaming has had on the computer industry with the huge success and recent acquisition of Alienware by Dell, not to mention the parallel launch of Dell’s XPS line. Or look no further than the recent VoIP feeding frenzy. Gaming software like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo has been used by gamers for years.

There is no question that there are other areas, which are contributing to web innovation, but in the grand scheme of things I’ve become a firm believer that the gaming community is the key contributor. What are your thoughts?

Personal note: future concept to explore stemming from this article. The concept of web spheres. IE: the business web, the gaming web, the media web and how they influence, evolve and interact with each other.