When I was an undergrad, the president of the university I attended offered financial incentives to university clubs. The idea was that if you got students to join a club, and therefore gain a social network, they'd be more likely to stay at that university. I don't really know if this ended up being successful or not, but we did put that money to good use. :)
While I think creating a social network within the classroom can be immensely useful, it's somewhat more difficult than creating one within a game. The one factor that stands out to me is freedom of choice. In a game (which is about as "at will" of an activity as you can get), you always have the option to leave. If a you don't get along with the rules/people in a certain guild, you can leave and find another. Or just leave entirely. In a classroom, you're kinda stuck with the people who just happened to sign up for the same class. You can't really leave (well, you can drop, but you lose money/credits), and you can't really kick someone else out for not playing nice.
I see social networks work both well and poorly in my game design class. I have students work on several of the projects in groups. For some people, loyalty to the group motivates them to get stuff done and come to class. In other cases, this backfires when students don't feel loyal to their group, which can lead to people skipping class and dropping (often the thought of being held accountable to a group seems to be overwhelming).
I do try to encourage group loyalty in my class, by getting the students to interact with each other and play each others games throughout the course. They're always shy at first, but usually by the end, those that remain are quite comfortable playing, watching, helping each other, and offering critique. I've had students stay late after class to help another student figure out how to do something. However, I always have a number who skip "play-testing" days, likely because they're not comfortable with being "judged" by the group.
I have to say I did not yet read through it thoroughly, though I did go over the most interesting points, and I have witnessed similar things to happen a lot.
Especially the point made close to the end of the conclusion, that even if many new games come out, people do tend to go back to World of Warcraft, that seems to be the "de facto", while the new games often don't manage to get much of loyalty at all, and often the big crowds fade away after the instant couple months.
I have had certain kind of theory myself, not sure if it could be really researched or scientifically studied, but I have witnessed these feelings in myself, and also in other people, friends and guildies, who might have started with other games. This often applies many times to people who started with World of Warcraft.
The theory goes somehow like this:
The first MMORPG game that you start with, often gives you the most "WOW!" feeling (pardon the WoW pun) .. for me it was Dark Age of Camelot, several years before WoW.
And for most people it is this first MMORPG that they venture into, that often manages to hold their interest for quite long time, because there are so many new things to explore that you have never seen in any game before. The whole social thing of playing online with hundreds of even thousands of people on the same game world (server) can be really strong thing emotionally when you experience it the very first time.
However, this strong emotional "wow" feeling is very difficult to replicate anymore when you venture into newer games. I have found that often when a new game is about to launch, I have the feelings that I am almost like expecting to experience those feelings of venturing into a new world, once again ... but it just doesn't feel anymore the same, because I have experienced similar things in so many games before.
And I have often heard similar things from friends, or you can see in the "general chats" or such, that people often compare things to World of Warcraft like "this game is so and so bad, because World of Warcraft did this and that better". And I think many people who started with WoW, experience same things with newer games, that they would wish to find that special feeling of first time playing a MMORPG, that intense feeling of something so thoroughly new, but it can't be really achieved because you already experienced that in WoW. So the best what you are left is to compare your experiences to what you have already experienced before.
For me, World of Warcraft only held my interest for about 2 or 3 months because I felt that I had experienced all that before.. surely WoW did many things in much more polished and better way to give certain "flow" feeling, but it was not a new experience for me and that intensely deep emotion of venturing into something truly new and exploring new things, it was missing, and in that way I didn't feel that special about WoW as a game.
And also, another point that the article discusses that is really interesting to me.
The MMORPG games have focused in the past decade more and more to open up to soloing content. You can most often solo the whole levelling up process without even having to do things in groups. So basically you can play an massive multiplayer game without ever doing things "multiplayer", and I have noticed this affect many kind of things, such as total lack of social skills ... when people need a group to do things, there are often players who don't even send you a message, not even a hello.. but they just click on "invite to group" ... almost as if the other players around in the world are just a digital commodity to help further their solo adventure. Many will leave the group task without ever saying "thanks" or "bye" or "have a good day".
I can see from the game publishers point of view that this idea of providing lots of things that a player can do alone or solo, it's a good decision economically - or at least in short run it can seem to be so. Because trying to create a group in MMORPG game can sometimes be a daunting or tedious task and at worst the waiting time can start to form hours and hours and hours of your playing time.
But also, I noticed that compared to the first MMORPG games over decade ago, the players seem to have grown more impatient, more fast paced, while waiting for a group to build up, it's too much often to ask for people to just stand around for 5 or 10 minutes, but they will run around to do solo content while waiting ... which can be perhaps good or bad things.
But then the most important thing, that is talked about in the article, the loyalty to the game.
When you don't have much need for person to actually complete tasks in groups, but you can spend bulk of your time in an MMORPG to solo things... guild being often just a chat channel that people can talk over while everyone is scattered in the game world doing things alone, instead of actually actively trying to organize to do things together...
And when people run out of interest to do things along, doing the solo grind just like many other games before, they kind of find they're more interested in other games, or more interested to "go back to WoW" ... and often at that time the guilds start to fade away, when less and less people log on, because they have already got bored or lost interest.
And when the guild gets very quiet, the last really social aspect the "chat channel" nature of the guild starts to go away too, and there is very little reason for the remainder people to stay in the game anymore either.
I have witnessed just this kind of pattern happen perhaps at least in the last 5 or 6 MMORPG's that I tried out, people solo a lot, they get bored, the guild fade away, and eventually disband, and by that most people have already moved on to other games or back to WoW.
And I think the game publishers should really start to open their eyes, this whole "soloing in MMORPG is great because people don't want to group up to do things" has been in my eyes a big corruption and cancer to the whole MMORPG genre... Soloing of course up to a point is good thing, but taking away the necessity to group in MMORPG game has lead into many negative things that I mentioned here too, but also to the points mentioned in the original article, that I do agree with ...
I think there is a correlation between game loyalty and support from guilds, and I think moving emphasis back onto giving players actually more group content in these multiplayer games, would start to solve this game loyalty issue too.
Game-based learning enthusiast, virtual learning environments creator, and an avid MMORPG player
WoW does seem to be the baseline against which other MMORPGs is measured. When I first ventured into an MMORPG (Runescape) and then jumped to WoW, I only took the occasional glance back.
I'll admit, by the way, that I am one of those who does not do much group work with my Guild (unless you count my mom and sister). I'm sure I'm pretty frustrating to Kae and Abacus. :-) I am extremely introverted in the world of MMORPGs. That being said, WoW and its ilk have helped me step out of my comfort zone in a big way.
I think the other thing that keeps players loyal to a particular MMORPG is time in game. People, after they have invested time/money/etc, will go to great lengths to justify keeping whatever they've invested in. This could be another aspect of the loyalty you mention.
On another note, I've taken students into Second Life and have observed the same behavior. Most students spend a lot of time customizing their avatar. Others spend very little time. A few spend time finding the most ridiculous extreme possible. The last group, I've noticed, do not have much immersion in Second Life in terms of acting like there are real interactions with real people. In other words, they tend to grief.
I've also noticed another type of student in Second Life that is sort of similar to the extreme-avatar type. Some students are very goal-oriented. They barely adjust their avatar. They ask exactly what the goal is in Second Life, pursue it as quickly as possible, achieve it, and log out. In my mind, they get as little benefit from Second Life as the would-be griefers do. Both are kind of frustrating.