Video games used the sharing economy before it was mainstream

Uber is fantastic and convenient. Uber has too many legal issues. Uber is creating new jobs. Uber is what happens when people can no longer afford to own things… Make up your mind, internet!

Among all the arguments for or against the sharing economy - and everyone is entitled to their own opinion - some people took the time to actually define what the hyped up term really means.

What is sharing?

If I let a friend stay over for a night, I am sharing my house, right? But is it still sharing if a bill is waiting for him after he gets out of the shower? If I give some of my dinner to my neighbour because I have some leftover fried rice, is it sharing? What if I ask her for her 'leftover' change then? Indeed, my boyfriend might be upset if I asked him to pay me for the cake I said I'll 'share'.

We just discovered that anything that involves a monetary transaction in return for goods or services is not sharing - it would be renting.

The name 'sharing economy' is deceiving

Does lending your copy of Pride and Prejudice to a friend qualify as sharing knowledge? What about sharing this article with a coworker over social media?

Sharing something for free is sharing, right? But how can it be included as part of the sharing economy? The word economy usually implies involvement of financial resources.

However, we need to remember that the term 'economy' refers to all resources, not just monetary ones. It is the production, consumption, exchange and allocation of natural or man-made resources, be that goods or services.

The real sharing economy

So among the hundreds of companies trying to ride the sharing economy train, we should only have a few that actually satisfy the criteria: there needs to be an exchange of information, knowledge, skills, or assets, but there cannot be an exchange of money. That means couchsurfing should be classified as part of the sharing economy, while Airbnb should not.

Now, with that clarified definition of the sharing economy, we can move forward and talk about what it's really about, in its purest form.

Sharing economy in virtual worlds

It seems to be easy to forget about money when we escape our human world. In space? Who needs a credit card when everything you can buy with it is back on the little round blue ball you see out the window? In a virtual world where protecting your land and collecting your raspberries at the right time is most important? Who cares about the change in your pocket - you can't buy virtual fertilizer with it anyway!

Actually, online multiplayer (MMO RPG) games - such as World of Warcraft and DotA - have a lot of lessons to teach us. Sorry, critics, but virtual reality games aren't all bad, and our children could be learning valuable life lessons from them, if they apply their experiences in the right context.

In our opinion, video games embraced the sharing economy concept way before everyone started making arguments for or against it in our world. And they actually got it right, acquiring thousands of players, engaging them and shaping a powerful online community.

Let's explore just how the gaming industry uses elements that are distinctive to the sharing economy inside online multiplayer games.

Exchange of resources and value

In a sharing economy, there is a variety of different exchanges between consumers - from material possessions to non-material concepts such as social rewards and recognition. In games, you would gain items from quests, exchange them with other players, share them by dropping them and letting someone else pick it up, etc.

Because the incentive system in games is often earning points and leveling up, ownership of items is not a primary goal for players. They would rather possess something if they need it to achieve something at the time, and then give it away or exchange it for something else more useful in their future endeavors. Why let it take up space in your inventory, right?

Reducing waste and re-distribution

In the sharing economy, waste is viewed as resources in the wrong place. While in the real world, it is uncommon for people to give away things they don't need (with the exception of clothes donation boxes and furniture you find on the side of the road), in a virtual world, it is perfectly normal. That old dagger is taking up space in my inventory, so I will throw it away and someone who needs it will pick it up - no waste.

Shared ownership also is common in games. In an augmented reality game, Ingress, for example, you share ownership of portals with other players. Owning them by yourself is possible, but not practical and a waste of your own resources. In our world, this is much like owning your own car - you have it, drive it for an hour every day, and pay $20 for parking every day. It's possible, no one is stopping you from doing it, but it's not the most efficient way to spend your resources. Ride the subway instead, and then take your children to Disneyland this summer.

Learning from one another

A sharing economy is where information and knowledge is shared openly and freely, wisdom is passed on from person to person, and learning from one another is commonplace. Information inside people's brains is a valuable resource.

Similarly, online gaming communities have been utilizing each other's unique experiences and understanding of the game to succeed themselves. Sharing information on where to get a specific item, co-creating a team strategy to defeat an enemy camp, or even watching tutorials made by other players that have gone through that part of the game earlier - these are all normal behaviors within gaming communities.

Transparency and open communication

Good communication is vital for a sharing economy to prosper - to be operational, efficient and sustainable, the system needs transparency. This way, its participants are able to make informed decisions. In a system that is based around sharing resources, openness is a must.

Compared to the human world, virtual worlds are programmed in a way that makes it easy for everyone to access information about the world, missions, items, and other players. Conversing with individual players or groups is simple, as there are channels for these chats. Examining items and players is one of the basic actions - you are able to learn about their abilities, skill level, etc. with just a click. Compare that to the pain of the real world, where you have to examine the item you are thinking of buying and read online reviews to determine how good it would be for your purpose, or engage in a very long conversation with someone you are thinking of collaborating on a project with, and then try to figure out if they were exaggerating or lying about anything… Personally, I would love to live in Azeroth if it meant always having access to true and honest information.

Distribution of wealth and power

A vital element in a sharing economy model is the decentralization of power. The community collectively owns things, and therefore collectively makes decisions concerning the community - there is no singular controlling body in power.

Decisions such as whether or not to accept a new member into a guild, or the optimum strategy to attack an enemy base, are not made by a one 'dictator'. Instead, it is a democratic decision, in which the guild members take part. Usually, players with more rank or experience have a heavier influence, but that is due to their experience and involvement within the group.

Community and culture

That leads us to a sense of community. Most gaming communities are very tight - players spend multiple hours every day together - online - and build up trust and share their virtual lives. There is a 'we' culture, because each individual knows that they are better off to be inside the group, than be outside, by themselves. The group is stronger together, it protects an individual player, and the player benefits from communicating with, sharing with and learning from other players in the group. He or she is nurtured within the group, and soon becomes an important asset to the community.

This is the culture that is ideal for a sharing economy. People within the community need to be open, honest, and respectful, in order for trust to be built and the community to operate smoothly - without this kind of culture, it would never work.

For example, there have been cases at Couchsurfing, an online community that allows travellers to find a stranger to stay with while they are travelling, where community members did not respect the accepted rules of the group, and it broke down the flow of the system. Similarly, when players of online games betray the trust of others within their guild, they usually get banned from the group.

Shared vision and futuristic outlook

Last but not least, individuals in a sharing economy are not similar in many ways - they come from all different social backgrounds, have varied interests, live different lives. But one thing unites them - they all understand and share the vision of the community. They see the purpose in the existence of the community, and understand that they are just one piece in the ecosystem that needs to be sustained.

Similarly, gamers are very diverse, and united by their commitment to their mission in the game. With their teammates, they strive towards overcoming challenges together and winning more and more missions. They know that a short term win is nice, but it's important to look towards the future and keep winning. This futuristic outlook within the game motivates the players to act in the best interest of the community.

Gaming communities have been living in a version of the real sharing economy for years - since the very beginning of online multiplayer games. It is actually something that makes these communities unique.

2PS is a real world community of business professionals, but it is governed by concepts borrowed from these gaming communities. By taking inspiration from video gaming algorithms, our network of consultants is a good example of the real sharing economy.