We mentioned Pascal Luben's series on the 'megatrends of gaming' back when it kicked off with part one; since then, he's done a second part and is now back with part three.
Unsurprisingly, multiplayer gaming is a big trend — big enough to get a whole essay devoted to it. Luben looks at a number of issues and (future?) developments in the multiplayer arena. Of particular interest was his discussion of how to create a satisfying experience for veterans and newcomers alike:
Online gaming is sometimes like a jungle. Anonymity, coupled with an absence of regulation or any real consequences, tends to encourage all of the excesses of behavior characteristic of humanity. If multiplayer gaming is to become a mode of play accepted by all, it will have to become more civilized in the process.
Design solutions to such behavior problems are not so obvious. On Xbox Live, Microsoft allows players to rate each other, but this is effective only against the most blatant kinds of abuse. Another possibility lies in developing games that are reliant on cooperation, rather than on having the players confront one another.
Lastly, games should feature ranking systems only if they target hardcore gamers. Only these players really care about leaderboards. Experience has shown that ranking mechanisms tend to incite the most aggressive and least honest of players to cheat and take advantage of all of the exploitable quirks present in a game.
I'm looking forward to his next installment of the megatrends series, but until that comes out, part three is worth a read if you're interested in some of the issues facing multiplayer gaming — both now and in the future. Luben has some nice observations about the state of things currently and some potential solutions to the problematic elements.
The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 3 [Gamasutra]