Last night my character on World of Warcraft (a Paladin called Kalevipoeg), reached level 60 -- the highest in the game. So far, it's a "research" project gone awry, and something that explains why blogging dropped off over the last six months. When you start the game you believe it ends at 60, but it turns out there is much more (large scale raids, epic gear). The game, as designers intended, has become more interesting. Coordinating 40 people to take down a big bad guy, when some are strangers and all with different skills and capabilities, is a very different experience.
But the most fascinating part of the game to me lately is what designers never intended. In WoW, you have to cooperate to advance. Most of the activity is in adhoc groups acheiving goals to receive loot, some of it very rare. So when a rare drop happens, norms that transcend the loot rules encoded. A manual dialog on who is a fit for the loot ensues, with ties broken by roll. Large scale raids have a handful of drops to divy up, so whole systems are invented by groups. With DKP points assigned by convention, a manual auction takes place that rewards participation over time. Users that break these rules are labeled Ninjas and face banishment from the guild.
The gaming industry has realized the value of user generated features for some time now (AddOns, Level Editors, etc.), but I find fascinating the areas designers choose not to code. For users, they are perhaps the most important, the Point of Reward, but they are left to their own devices. A large scale raid loot distribution system is not supported by their Auction House platform, but instead is left to users to create their own market through conversations.
I still have issues with WoW's disconnection with real life, failure to augment it, let alone provide incentives to live it better. I believe it provides good simulation-based training, have made connections there as happens with all social software, but it still comes at a cost great enough that I am unsure of it's return.
Ah, hell, it beats TV.