Originally, this week's column was going to be a technical how-to, but a series of snafus -- not the least of which included me slapping my head and going, "You moron, combat logs changed after patch 2.4. That's why this new analyzer you are looking at is barfing on your Karazhan logs from February." However, my focus changed when, like many of the Faithful, I turned my attention to the West Monday to see what our Leader had to say.
Frankly, all I wanted Jobs to say was, "with iPhone 2.0, now you can sync iCal tasks to the iPhone." I didn't get that. Instead, I got a bunch of technical jargon that went over my head. Really, who did he think he was talking to, a bunch of developers or something? When a couple of game developers got up to show off their new iPhone apps, a light bulb went off for this week's late column.
Now, I'm not saying we should be playing World of Warcraft on one of these gadgets. All we need is some idiot wiping on Flame Wreath because he or she sneezed while holding an iPhone. But while MMOs are social games, every one of them generally does a crappy job at handing actual community building. Every MMO I've played requires you to form the heart of your community -- usually your guild -- via a 3rd-party source.
I'm going to talk about what I think MMO companies can do to bring these tools in-game, and how I'd want to use my iPhone to interact with it. I'm going to use WoW and Second Life as examples, but you can insert any MMO of your choice here.
Picture this. It's a sunny Saturday and I'm at my in-laws having a cookout. I keep making "hurry it up" motions to my wife because the deal we brokered is we'd get there early so we can leave in time for me to my raid at 7:00. It's 6:00 now, and we're really tight on time. We get home, I check the guild message boards and guess what -- the raid has been canceled because the idiot tank signed up for two raids at the same time.
There's a few problems with this (and, yes, I know me leaving the cookout for WoW is one of them, but roll me with me folks). I've got my iPhone with me, but my guild's web page is a beast, even on Safari's "it's the real Internet," and there was no way for me to get a notification without checking that web site.
Here's what I'd to see: the guild tab revamped so a raid leader can post a raid and I can sign up with the character I want (make it so I can select from all characters on that account), and make that tab accessible from a web browser -- particularly an iPhone-happy page. To put some icing on that cake, let officers push out changes via e-mail to the e-mail address my WoW account is tied into, which will also drop a note to their in-game mailbox. You could also set up an option to get a text message on your cell phone. Naturally, you can opt out of the notification all together if you wanted to. We also shut up those guild members who steadfastly refuse to go anywhere near the guild website, yet feel left out because "no one tells them stuff."
This solves some issues: You don't need to organize raids via a 3rd-party web site, and I can get notified of changes in a timely manner. It also gives me a way to interact with the game without being logged into it. We can go further with this by reading guild notices, interacting with the Auction House, etc. All via iPhone-happy web pages (which means they'll work just fine for you non-iPhone users).
That's where I see the iPhone influencing MMOs. Give me a way to interact with the game on a certain level from the device. The screen and network connections aren't good enough to play (it might be with 3g, but that's not even close to being Nationwide). Yeah, I know, people have said Second Life over 3G is possible, but that UI is a dog even on a large monitor.
Second Life is actually fairly close on this level. If someone sends me an offline private message, I'll get it via e-mail and can even reply to it. Same thing with group notices. So, if I'm in a hurry to get to a discussion at a writer's group I'm a part of and it gets canceled, I'll get the notice without having to log into the game. However, a lot of notices have an attachment that I can't read offline, usually a notecard -- don't get me started on the spelling and grammar on half of them. Really, people, would it kill you to type it in Word and cut-n-paste. What about friends requests? I'll get an offline that Luvs2splooge wants to be my friend, but I need to log in to accept it. If I want to tell someone I'm running late, I can't send them a message; I can only hope they've sent me an offline within the last five days, and that I've kept a copy to reply to.
A decent amount of Second Life is almost akin to Facebook. I'll chat with friends, listen to some group chat, etc. Facebook, though, has a fantastic iPhone optimized page. It would be great if there was a similarly-formatted page for Second Life so I could accept group invites, send/accept friends requests, read attachments, etc.
When you think about it, though, the idea of an iPhone-optimized page is so iPhone 1.0. The App Store for the iPhone launches July 11th, allegedly. What if Linden Labs made a little iPhone app that let me view my offline messages, read attachments to notices, accept/decline/propose friends requests, and chat with my friends. I've got a long commute on a train, and there's only so much tweeting and RSS reading I can do. Same thing for World of Warcraft. Give me a little app that lets me manage my raid commitments, lets me view my auctions and bid on items, and maybe even listen in guild chat. If you're guild is like mine, guild chat is light on the gaming and heavy on the funny.
Cell phones are already so integrated into our lives, and as Smartphones like the iPhone continue to come down in price (don't get me started on how the increased data cost for AT&T's 3G network means you're paying more for the iPhone 3G), "Enterprise-level" use won't be something limited to workaholics. Everyday users will be getting in on the idea of push email and apps that run on their phones. So, how about it MMO developers, can we get some way of handling administrative tasks via my iPhone after July 11th? Pretty please?