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RIft has been adding more and more integration with Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, WoW has made a number of moves over the past year towards “encouraging” players on to their own RealID system and turning that into more of a social network tool. What both of these have in common is the (pretty widespread) belief that social networks are the future. However, the philosophy behind the two approaches is quite different.

The Rift approach is to help players feed their gaming habit into the existing social networks. Trion don’t control that social network so they don’t make a penny out of doing this directly. However, by making it easy for their players to broadcast their gaming triumphs via Twitter and Facebook, and to send their in-game video straight to Youtube, they get their game publicised to all of the player’s friends who aren’t already playing Rift. They’re using the existing social networks as a marketing tool.

The Blizzard approach (and Activision’s one with the new COD subscription option) is to build a new social network for and of gamers, which they control. By definition, these networks will only consist of people who are already customers – but once you have a social network it can not only help retain those players, it can be monetised the same way existing social networks are. If Facebook looks like a profitable venture (and a lot of investors have bet a great deal of money on that), then having your own tame Facebook has got to be equally profitable, right?

For what it’s worth, I think the Trion approach is the smart one. Social networks depend on – wait for it – network effects. The more people you have, the more appealing they are to join. The players prone to social networking are probably already on Facebook and aren’t likely to want to keep two or more separate social sites updated.

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