I think that used to be true of video games too. The (enduring) impact of a video game is cultural. You could frame it as, "How does [the game] let different players interact, come together, be playful, etc. in a social sense."
The Master and the StudentTake the arcade classic, Super Street Fighter II. It has this simple mechanic where 1 credit buys 2 players a best-of-three match.
The master camps out on the machine - he plays for free the whole day. One by one, the students come up to feed the machine a quarter.
Round 1: The master refuses to attack. He ducks, dodges, feints and runs. But without attacking, ultimately the score will be Master: 0, Student: 1.
Round 2: The master attacks, but only using one technique. Punches, or fireballs. Whatever is the student's weakness. Of course, Master: 1, Student: 1.
Round 3: It's on! In the deciding round they have a real fight, with the master either exploiting or avoiding the student's weakness depending on his temperament.
What's fascinating to me about this, is the community of players that it builds up around the game. There's this implicit trust that builds up around the master/student relationship that carries forward when the student becomes skilled enough to provide a challenge to the master.
Players can have a dialog about the game, even when they're not actually playing. If you're on the bus, you can still have a social moment with another SFII player.
The MetricsThese days, we all love our metrics. MAU - Monthly Average Users. How many people (in numbers) are playing your game?
I think sometimes we get so blinded by the ability to measure what our players are doing, we forget to look to the quality of the interactions between our players, and (to some degree) to the qualities of the players themselves.
Take a closer look at those SFII masters. They played that way because that's how they learned to play. It was cultural. But they were also self-selected because they were the players who wanted that kind of experience. They're the kind of players who foster new players and (through their actions) create a strong community.
Your can't write a metric to capture those kinds of qualities. (And even if you could, what would you use it for? It could only tell you about the community you had in the past, not about the one you're going to have in the future.)
A recipe?Bringing it full circle, I believe that video games are still about bringing people together. The games that do that well are the kinds of games that I want to make, and the kinds of games that I'm trying to make.
Of course I want a large community around each of my games, as measured by MAU.
But before that, and more importantly than that, I want a strong community around my games, as measured by good-vibes and actually talking with real people.
Now it's your turn to help me help you : How do you build the right community around your game?
Let me know in the comments below, or drop me an email and lets talk!