The massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) podcasting community is incredibly rich. Taken together as a group, MMOG podcasts number in the dozens and feature some of the most dedicated gamers in the world. These players, and the medium of podcasting, have been playing a larger and larger role in the communities they serve. Whether they’re bringing people together via forums or offering high-level players unique strategies, the massive podcaster makes the game more fun for everyone.

I had the chance to speak with the hosts of several well-known podcasts about their medium and its potential. The creators of VirginWorlds, World of Warcast, GuildCast, EQ2 Daily and The Official SOE Podcast were kind enough to share thoughts on their time behind the mic.

The first question most everyone asks is, why bother? “I think it has to do with the commitment the community has, and the passion,” says Alan “Brenlo” Crosby , one of the minds behind The Official SOE Podcast. “They have a great deal of passion, these huge investments into these games, and they want to do more. They want to feel more a part of it, they want to contribute.”

Participating in and creating subcommunities is the chief reason massive podcasters get behind the mic. GuildCast creator Shawn was upfront about his goals: “When I started GuildCast … I wanted to create more of a community. Even after I started playing Guild Wars, I found myself still playing by myself. It just wasn’t cutting it for me. … I wanted to create something where people would have a common point of reference.”

Brent of the VirginWorlds podcast feels the podcasters themselves are ultimately the tie that binds. “I believe that podcasting builds community and trust better than any other medium online right now because of the personality involved. … Before the podcasting at Ziff [Davis] launched, most people wouldn’t have cared one lick if one of those people left the site. Now, though, if Jeff Green were to leave the magazine, people would be like, ‘Ahh!’ … It would be very disconcerting to the VirginWorlds listeners and browsers if Brent were not here tomorrow. There’s no replacement for that.”

But it does go beyond making a name for yourself. When “Starman” started World of Warcast, he had a very specific model to build on: “I wanted to do a [The] Screen Savers for [World of Warcraft]. That was essentially it. I wanted it to be fun, I wanted it to be informative, I wanted to bring a bunch of things to the table. I basically wanted it to be the place people would go to, to learn about the game, just like I would watch The Screen Savers every day at 7:00 to learn about technology. … I think, over the last two years, it’s really become exactly what I wanted it to be.”

A mix of community and information seems to be a winning combination for podcast subscribers, and speaks to the power of coverage by dedicated fans versus that of traditional gaming media. EQ2 Daily’s “Cyanbane” pointed out that, “Pre-WoW, I think that there was a disjoint between your bigger sites and players. You had the people who played EverQuest, and the playerbase that played [MMOGs], and then you had the people that played every other videogame. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re [a big site], you’re going to cater to the bigger market. And now that WoW has hit, you’ve started to see an upswing in coverage. Even still, it’s more looking for the press release kind of stuff. They’ll set up their hub and put up screenshots, and then a review, but then after that you don’t get much in the way of content.”

The hosts of Warcast feel this was the result of the way traditional gaming media thinks about MMOGs. Says “Renata,” “[MMOGs] are meant to be played in different ways by different people. In an [MMOG], you’ve got tons of different ways you can take the game. You can get into crafting, you can get into raiding, you can be a more casual player, you can do tons of alts [alternate characters], you can log in just every once in a while. There are so many ways to play the game – we don’t struggle with finding content. Bigger sites don’t live the game the way that we do.”

So, podcasters are playing these games for hours on end, pouring their heart into their shows; you’d think they’d have their minds on their pocketbook. Instead, passion for the subject matter seems to be the primary motivation for the most successful podcasters. If anything, getting money involved would make it less fun. As soon as money comes into the picture, so do schedules and forced production windows. “We work to a schedule that suits our need not to burn out,” says Starman. Cyanbane agrees: “We wanted every show to have lots of content; no regular schedule allows us the freedom to address news as it’s released.”

It’s this interest in keeping the podcast content fresh that prevents hosts from committing to the idea of a podcast-for-pay. Shawn would need to expand beyond his current setup to feel challenged by podcasting for a living. “If I had the opportunity to do podcasting, let’s just say podcasting in general as a career, I would not only do GuildCast more often. … I have so many ideas for other podcasts in my head right now, it’s not even funny.”

While there may not be money in independent podcasting, the medium is becoming very popular with interests who have already made a sale. SOE’s Crosby, when asked if he’d be podcasting even if it wasn’t a part of his job description, just laughed. “Actually, when we created the community department, there were no plans for a podcast. It came about because two of my community managers decided they wanted to try it. So they put together the first one, which we [called] podcast beta, and it grew from there. So this was never something that was mandated, we just did it because we love what we do, we love the communities.” Beyond SOE’s walls, companies like EA Mythic are turning to expensive podcasts to excite gamers about their upcoming products.

With that trend in mind, it was interesting to hear what the hosts had to say about the future. Brent and the VirginWorlds site are already paving the way, banding together with several other shows to form the VirginWorlds Collective. “There are people who guided me along the path to figure out what this whole podcast thing was. … Now that VirginWorlds is pushing 70 shows, there are several new waves of podcasters coming up behind me, pointing at me as an example. People ask me all the time, ‘How do I get started?’ and I got the idea to start this co-op or collective of podcasts. The podcasters would own everything; I’m not trying to sell ads, I’m just trying to build a community. That’s what VirginWorlds is about.” As established shows reach back to aid up and coming hosts, it’s easy to see the hosts’ dedication to the community isn’t one-way.

While everyone is hopeful for future, Cyanbane was especially prosaic. “I think you’re going to see the start of user-generated channels, like a consortium of [MMOG]-related video feeds. I don’t think it will be like your standard TV, but I think that people will really want to sit down and watch that. I think there will be a lot more user-generated content. I don’t want to say it will change the world, but over the next 10-15 years I think we’re going to see a ridiculous shift to micro-advertisements from Google and the like, attaching itself to user-generated content. I think we’re looking at people sitting down at their computers instead of their TVs.”

Whatever form the medium takes, the outgrowth of MMOG communities will continue in new directions in the coming years. Be it videos or podcasting, media-savvy community leaders will ensure the player base never lacks for something interesting to talk about in a pick-up group. As the genre widens, and titles other than World of Warcraft begin to attract attention, these communities will be on the forefront, helping players better enjoy their games.

Michael “Zonk” Zenke is Editor of http://games.slashdot.org” title=”” target=”_blank”>Slashdot Games, a subsite of the technology community Slashdot.org . He comments regularly on massive games at the sites http://www.mmognation.com” title=”” target=”_blank”>MMOG Nation and 1up.com. He lives in Madison, WI with his wife Katharine.

Putting the “Massive” in “Massively Multiplayer Online”

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