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Last Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Online worlds draw gamers closer
The recent Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival brought together publishers and developers to discuss all things gaming. In the first of a series based on the EIEF sessions, Radio Five Live's Phil Elliott looks at how online gaming is changing the way we look at games.

Everquest 2 screenshot
Gamers are creating networks of friends in virtual worlds
MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, are becoming more and more popular with gamers across the world.

Titles such as Everquest 2, World of Warcraft and Star Wars: Galaxies seem to have hit the jackpot, not only in terms of box sales, but also the number of monthly subscribers they are attracting.

The thought of shelling out around 10 per month, on top of the 30 already paid for the game should turn people away from such adventures.

But clearly the compulsion to play as a virtual character in a virtual world, full of other people's virtual characters is enough of a draw.

World of Warcraft alone now has more than 3.5 million subscribers across the world. Do the maths and it amounts to a lot of cash coming in each month.

Ian Sharpe, Director of Business Development at GamerTV is a firm believer that MMORPGs are changing the way we play.

"You don't have to get a friend around to your front room any more, you can just log on, hook up with people you haven't seen for years and still have a shared experience with them," he said.

"More than that, people are banding together in guilds and having group activity."

Evolving language

The lure of the MMORPG is also having an effect on the ways in which we communicate. In the same way as text messages on mobile phones spawned a new language of abbreviations and short cuts, the immediacy of written chat in MMORPGs goes a step further.

World of Warcraft screenshot
World of Warcraft is hugely popular in China
Anybody familiar with Instant Messenger programmes or chat rooms may have already used terms such as "lol" (laugh out loud) or "brb" (be right back).

But this language is expanding rapidly as gamers try to find ways to type more rapidly, trying to attain a level of speed more usually associated with speech.

"Languages evolve and adapt," said Mr Sharpe.

"One of the fascinating things about when you do type - and we all know this from when we've received e-mails from colleagues that are a bit sniffy - in black and white things do sometimes come across as a little bit harsh."

"So what people have done is learn to use smileys [made up from punctuation marks], which are the little faces with a wink or a smile which indicate mood."

What some will see as a spectacularly relaxed use of the English language will be a worry for some.

For others, it is the only way to communicate effectively in real time with friends and other gamers who could be sitting a thousand miles away and whose first language is not the same as yours.

Small world? You bet.

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