Game talkAre MMORPGs games?

 Posted by (Visited 25590 times)  Game talk
Jan 292006
 

“Remember what the dormouse said” is wondering.

Well, I’ll give an answer.

No, of course not.

They’re a technology that simulates space virtually, and supports incarnation within that space via proxies that we call avatars.

The beautiful thing about space is that it can have many things inside of it. Such as buildings, people, and yes, even games.

These days, even most games aren’t games. They’re spaces with games embedded in them. The classic example these days is Grand Theft Auto, a game many say “feels” like an MMORPG done single-player.

The paradigm in these so-called “sandbox games” is the same as it is for the MMORPG: a space in which there are multiple activities. Now, some of these activities may be games (levelling up, completing a time challenge); some may not be (chat systems); some may seem more important than others, or have more development time associated with them… In fact, we frequently see that they even have a “magic circle” insulating them from

What we shouldn’t do is confuse the act of moving from one activity to another within the virtual space as being equivalent to playing a game. That’s why I try, when I have the luxury of being pedantic, to call most modern games “interactive entertainment experiences.” The thing separating XBox Live from a virtual world with lots of activities is the nature of the lobby.

Of course, the most obvious evidence that virtual worlds aren’t games is that there are lots of them that already exist that embed exactly zero games. There are virtual worlds that are exclusively for education, for collaborative writing, for nothing more than socialization.

It is reductionist for even game-centric MMORPGs to be considered to be merely games; even the most game-centric of them embeds some experiences that are not games, and of course, more can always be added. We tend to call a virtual world a game world when all the reward mechanisms are tied together into one game of advancement; that isn’t even the only way to make a game, much less the only way to make a virtual world.

Of course, the fact that MMORPGs aren’t intrinsically games doesn’t at all mean that if you choose to embed a game, you can pay it any less attention, or regard it as somehow less important. Arguably, we have regularly done games a disservice when putting them into MMORPGs, by failing to make the gameplay good enough and instead relying on the virtual world’s nature to prop up the gameplay. A good test for an embedded game in a virtual world would be to play it without the virtual world itself; if it’s fun enough that way, then we’re doing the game justice.

I believe that regarding virtual worlds this way opens up the door for a very different outlook on how to design them; the spread of possible worlds becomes much wider. If we let go of the notion that virtual worlds are games, not only will we get better virtual worlds: I believe we will get better game worlds too.

  84 Responses to “Are MMORPGs games?”

  1. I’m going to stick my neck out for Jack Ketch, attempt to define the difference and the overlap, and hope nobody decapitates me. Over on his web site, Raph Koster has carefully answered the question ‘ Are MMOs Games?

  2. How reliant I am on this blog now and how unreliant I was earlier! Hmmm…I’m wondering if I could just write footnotes in my thesis relating to some of my blogposts and the discussions there…you think that’s allowed? So I don’t have to copythe whole thing? Not that I’ve had a whole lot of discussions here…which I suppose is another disappointment! Who would have thought that a one year old could be this depressed on her birthday?!! I was however filled with fond memories of a time when my dear

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  6. education, for collaborative writing (anyone remember HotelMOO?), and so on. It is just as much a disservice to the field to call all virtual worlds games as it is to segment the field unnecessarily, apoint I have made before. To state it in another way, virtual worlds are their own thing, and they have more in common with media than with message. They are more like television than like I Love Lucy. They are more like newspapers than like

  7. Why are “space” and “game” mutually exclusive?

    Does chess cease to be a game if I start chatting with my opponent?

    Of course not.

    As far as design possibilities I think you can also go astray by leaving behind the word “game”. This whole exercise seems to be to be a syntactic dodge that leads to: I don’t have to worry about all that game stuff if I don’t want to. In some cases, no you don’t, but I think you need a better argument for not talking about games than the fact that some virtual worlds aren’t gamey.

    Yes, social stuff is important. Yes, not everything has to be part of the game. But I don’t see the need to well, twist the language this much, except to further one bias over another.

  8. They’re games for some people, not for others; they’re games at some times, not at others. The y have a magic circle whatever, though.

    Richard

  9. Lets apply Raph’s point to an example: World of Warcraft. It’s a virtual space where people can socialize, group up and do activities together, etc. There are lots of fun things to do (questing, raiding, battlegrounds, PvP, run instances for XP or money or boss loot, travel around to see the world, buy items, and learn new skills). Its fairly easy to switch from one task to another (hearthstones, portals, gryphon travel, mounts, etc). Most of the activities people do in WoW have the shape of games. Some of these games have a definite beginning and end (battlegrounds, instances, quests) whereas others might not (PvP at Tarren Mill). But they all fit the pattern of something interesting/challenging for the player to do, with conditions for success and failure (and sometimes rewards). Some of the games require skill or discipline to succeed at. Others just require an investment of time. Most of these games contribute in some way to the meta-game of “improve my character until he is Uber”. And THAT is what most people would think the “game” of World of Warcraft is. But the socializing and forming friendships and so on, is not part of any “game”. That is something that occurs in the *context* in which people play the game–in this case the virtual World of Warcraft.

    In other cases, such as board games, you could also distinguish between “the game” and the context in which the game is played (your livingroom on Friday afternoons with certain friends). The game takes place in the context, but there’s much more than “the game” going on in that context. And it’s the same with something like World of Warcraft. Worlds make good contexts in which to do things (including play games). But games don’t, because a game has a particular structure and particular rules etc.

    World of Warcraft is more a virtual sandbox than a game. It does include some shiny toys which can be played with (alone or in groups), but WoW is a *context* for playing with these toys, or for doing other things like socializing.

    Side note: As a player I definitely find that MMORPGs remain fun longer for me if I treat them from day one as a big sandbox full of shiny toys, instead of as something I can “win” by becoming “uber”. To me, the difference between amusing oneself with the toys and grinding out a maxed Uber character is a lot like the difference between “play” and “work”.

  10. In my efforts to communicate the nature of our product to the team I work with I have found myself using a similar phrase, altho instead of saying

    a technology that simulates space virtually

    i call it “a medium which deliver several channels of communication” altho I dont
    consider this to be a definition, just a vision of the target product.

  11. MMORPGs are games. That’s what the “G” stands for.

    Virtual worlds, however, are not necessarily games.

    (Presented by the Association Rallying for More Precise and Informative Terminology.)

  12. It is reductionist for even game-centric MMORPGs to be considered to be merely games; even the most game-centric of them embeds some experiences that are not games, and of course, more can always be added.

    It’s funny, just yesterday, I was contemplating this very thing.

    I have a rogue, on WoW, and she has been quite cheerfully running about, collecting Ancestral Coins for the Lunar Festival. Only, being me, and loving diving into dangerous places as much as I do, I’ve been sneaking around, trying to get some of the most difficult ones. (And being only level 42, many are excessively difficult.)

    Little Railee has been shimmying along cliff faces, running through enemy cities with her hair on fire, chased by giants, knocked off of mountains by evil albino hippogryphs, and pinned against walls by packs of slavering hyenas. She showed a higher level druid how to best sneak past a group of monstrously higher level nagas, and then teamed up to fight the two that attacked, when they reached their goal. She rescued lowbies who were blithely charging into dire peril, and skated across a frozen lake full of murderous ghosts.

    All-in-all, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had in one of these games. Yet, it’s not collecting coins that makes it fun. Honestly, I hate playing most collect-the-coin type platform games. They bore me to tears. In an MMO, however, this otherwise mundane coin collecting activity can become almost epic. You’re not just collecting coins. You’re journeying across perilous terrain into almost certain doom, with nothing to protect you but your flimsy armor, and the optimistic belief that you can find some clever trick to get you to your goal at the end of the road — assuming you make it to the end of the road. You may even make some friends and enemies along the way. The sheer openness, complexity, and richness of presentation provides a compelling array of possibilities that has more in common with reality than it has with most traditional games.

  13. I regard them as tennis courts.

    You’re supposed to play a game in them, but you don’t have to. You can play a match there, with a referee and ball boys and foot faults, but you could also play “King of the Hill” (one on one, but one side is a line of people waiting to play. Whoever wins gets to be “king” and remains so until defeated.) You could also play a kind of pseudo-dodgeball, you can use it to train dextrous running, you can use house rules, etc.

    You can also bring a picnic basket and have lunch in the service box. You could rollerskate on it, even though they tell you not to. You could meet a shady character there and exchange unmentionables.

    Tennis court is a place. You’re supposed to play tennis, but that doesn’t mean you are.

    (The Tennis Court Analogy, mine! I’ve posted it on Terra Nova (I think) and used it in a speech, so there.)

    An MMORPG is a tennis court. A virtual world is, well, anyplace it wants to be. A park.

  14. Its next to impossible to explain how an mmorpg is “more than a game” to anyone except vets of the genre or extremely open minded visionaries. Neither of these two kinds of people tend to sit on the investment finances for these kinds of games so you have to dumb the vision of the product down to make your “hooks” understandable to “dummies” (if I may use such a word to describe the people with the moneybags?).

    Saying “We will make the most awesome game ev4r which will yield a 10% ROI per month” probably works better than “We will make the best 3vor Virtual World which will yield a 10% ROI per month.”

    The whole sphere of association related to the word “game” takes the pwnage to the genre as a whole, its just impossible to develop the VW acronym to where its as powerful as the word game.

  15. Yes, other things can go on at a Tennis court, but:

    1) When you talk about “Tennis” people know that you are talking about the game.
    2) If the game of Tennis were not fun and enjoyed by many, there wouldn’t be tennis courts to go have picnics in.

    You claim it’s too reductionist to say that mmorpG’s are games (and I’m talking mmorpG’s, not VW’s). I’d say it’s the other way around — it’s too reductionist to say they aren’t. Take a restaurant, and get down to the nitty gritty details, and you’ll find that people do lots of things other than eating food there. And you’ll even find specialty restaurants that may only have smoothies or coffee or somesuch. But when you talk about “a restaurant” you still mean a place where people go to buy food.

    And as usual with reductionist versus wholistic arguments the answer is a little of both. You have to look at all the details and apply them to a particular case instead of making a grand judgement. In an MMORPG like WoW you simply can’t deny that the primary draw to the majority of players is the game. And ignoring that game will get you in trouble. But ignoring the details of socialization, the “space”, etc., will also get you in trouble.

    There is no single right answer. You can’t just say: VW’s without games exist, therefore I have an out if I don’t want to talk about games. Not talking about games requires demonstrating that we are in a context where the tennis court itself is more important than the game that is played on it. You can’t really say, “Tennis isn’t fun because the net gets in the way of having picnics” — that’s a category error. You can say that Tennis courts are better for having picnics than Squash courts.

  16. I probably should have altered the original question to not read “MMORPG.” Today, that term is widely used synonymously with virtual world, but clearly, it carries connotations of its own.

    WoW as a whole is analogous to the living room, not the chess board. The game of advancement you play within WoW is the equivalent to the game of chess.

    I am not at all saying that this gives you permission to ignore or minimize the game side. On the contrary: I think forcing yourself to look at an MMORPG this way will force you to regard each piece of gameplay as something in its own right.

    As an example — if the point is the chessboard and the things you can do on it, why is so much of our effort going into moving about the living room? Why do we make you go through the experience of moving tediously through space that offers no choices, and therefore cannot be considered a game?

    If you run with my metaphor, and say that the act of travel itself is not gameplay but maybe could become an embedded game, or that rather, as it is not a game in itself, it should be minimized, you start coming very quickly to some of the design considerations that took us a decade to achieve via slow iteration. The lens here, of seeing VWs as space with embedded activities, opens up doorways for us.

  17. I don’t think that requires rewriting language in a way that is counter to usage.

    It simply requires pointing out that the trappings of the game, in certain circumstances, can be just as important as the game itself. And that “space” is an important dimension of our online games.

    You still need to justify when and where you should consider the game versus the space. You can have those insights (that some online games are more worlds, and that the world aspects of the games are important) without having to reframe the entire language. Changing the language is probably just going to confuse/alienate people who think (rightly for them, and rightly by usage) that they are playing a game and occasionally dabble in extra-game activities like chatting to their opponent/partner or getting a prettier chess board to play on.

  18. So again, I agree that I shouldn’t have used the word MMORPG above (which is what I get for writing when I’m up late and suffering from a cold).

    That said, I don’t think that’s at the core of what you’re disagreeing with. You’re using words like “trappings” which indicate that we’re not just talking about language usage.

    The GAME is the “trapping.” The critical, inevitable, core component is the space. The game is entirely optional from a design point of view.

    If what you want to make happens to be a virtual space with games in it, then great. The game is therefore incredibly important. But it is not an irreducible component of what virtual worlds are.

    These days, everyone conflates “MMORPG” with virtual world. That is what I consider to be the twisting of the language.

  19. I should have said context, not trappings, not that it would have necessarily changed much.

    These days, everyone conflates “MMORPG” with virtual world. That is what I consider to be the twisting of the language.

    But see, that’s exactly what I’m worried about, conflating the two terms. You can think that VW just means MMORPG. Or you can think that MMORPG just means VW (and I’m worried you’re headed towards the latter). Either is problematic IMO. The former threatens to ignore anything other than the game and the latter threatens to ignore the current genre and the importance of games for designs in that genre. We need distinctions and attention to both “game” and “space”. If I go far enough in one direction I can convince myself that it’s all space. If I go the other directon, I can say it’s all a game: navigating a world is just as much a game in an MMORPG as it is in an FPS and chatting is merely a game of obtaining attention from other people by being interesting/funny/clever. Either is being reductionist though and doesn’t really get us anywhere, IMO, when both sides are important.

    Why does an MMORPG or VW need space, by the way? To justify that for all designs (existing and possible) I think you’re going to have to water down the word “space” so much that it’s really not that different than talking about chatting as an instance of a game.

    Instead of a revolution of language, one way or another, can’t we just say, “space is often a very important design consideration when building your MMORPG or VW”? That’s a lot less controversial but seems to be the core point of what is being said. Anything beyond that just seems to indicate bias to only design to one end of things.

  20. So, uh, is a ‘hub-style’ platform game like Mario 64 a virtual world then? Because you’ve got a spawling overworld to jump/wallkick/whatever around in, and then there are places within that overworld that lead to the ‘actual’ game?

    Picking Mario 64 because the castle “overworld” tends to not follow the conventions in the ‘actual game’ – Mario’s controls and the physics are the same, but there aren’t any enemies or obstacles to avoid.

    –GF

  21. Glazius, your example is perfect for clarifying my responses to Gabe.

    Correct, Mario 64 is an interactive entertainment environment that happens to embed a really big game. There is no game to the spatial environment in the “overworld.” This is very directly analogous to the way an MMO works.

    However, it’s not a virtual world by my standards because my definition of virtual world involves multiple participants and persistence.

    In most of our MMOs, the dominant embedded game is really a 1-6 player game of PvE. Everything else (equipment, loot, XP, etc) is just an elaborate ranking and tracking system. The actual game is the 1-6 player game of PvE. It’s not even a “massively multiplayer” game most of the time.

    Gabe, I resolve the whole space vs game thing by saying that spaces can have games in them. The definition of “space” within a game is to my mind very specific, and often makes use of non-spatial topologies (for example, “space” in the traditional sense is largely ignored in the 1-6 player game of PvE monster-bashing).

    As far as requiring space as part of the definition — it’s a completely arbitrary line, just like persistence and avatars are arbitrary lines. It is, however, the line that excludes stuff like this blog. 🙂

    We could definitely argue stuff like whether moving through space in an MMO is as much of a game as moving through space in an FPS — I would say the answer to this is generally “no,” though some games, like BF2, start to push at the boundary there. In FPSes, there’s singular clear reasons to move through the space: to line up a shot, and to prevent a shot from being lined up. To collect an object. I’m trying to think of any more… In a virtual world, there’s no such clear list.

    I am not trying to convey any bias by stating it this way, though. It’s a matter of having clear terms:

    Games have a sense of topology to them that may or may not be represented as space.

    A space can be defined as a virtual simulation of “spatiality.”

    A space that is not a game in itself may embed games within itself.

    Many games are not embedded in any such simulation.

    Many games, particularly today, are. In fact, many of these may actually have multiple different games embedded within the same space.

    Some spaces are persistent and have avatars — we call those virtual worlds. We call the ones with certain types of games embedded “MMORPGs” and we call the ones with other types of games other things, but they are all still virtual worlds.

    None of this says anything whatsoever about biasing your design towards making a cool space or a cool game. It’s just the “physics” of how things work, and what is “inside” what.

  22. I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. What is obviously “the physics” of the thing to you is to me just one of a number of ways of defining the relationship between two things. I’m not about to stop calling Tennis a game just because someone has a picnic on a Tennis court and thereby it occurs to me that we could define Tennis as an embedded game within the context of the “space” of a court, a gymnasium or a city. It just doesn’t strike me as terribly useful to do that. You, it does. And on the things that matter, I think we agree. I certainly think that “space” is important. I just don’t want it to become so important that it ever gets in the way of “game” or for arguments like this to be an excuse, lacking other evidence, of pushing “game” aside. I think a lot of mistakes have already been made in that direction treating space as existing in and of itself and not as the dual to gameplay (Does foreground exist before background? Is either primary to the other?).

  23. Interesting.
    Coming from a pen and paper roleplaying background, where I had a few campaigns that I was gamemaster for, this concept is practically intuitive.

    Of course, the terms I use differ slightly. I think of the ruleset, physics, and gameplay design as the “game”. The virtual space is the “campaign setting”, which provides a framework for the players to engage in a variety of “adventures” during which, of course, they engage in various activities (i.e. your games) such as crafting, barhopping, combat, investigation, exploration, and even just socializing.

    The activities are what players focus on. Activities therefore have to be consistent with the game setting, engaging, mentally challenging, and frequent. If this is not happening, if a campaign or virtual world doesn’t provide this, then the players will start focusing on the game mechanics and demanding changes.
    Worse, the “game master” (i.e. development, management team) might sense the loss of interest and start changing the game wildly, without any plan or regard for the feelings of the players. I briefly played in a D&D campaign like that… it’s a horrible experience, but it taught me what not to do in my own campaigns.

    In the best “virtual world” or “mmorpg”, the game mechanics should be transparent so that the player can plan character development around them, and so that nothing in terms of the game mechanics is a mystery. The mystery should be in the activities themselves, the “content”.

  24. Gabe, that stirs an interesting thought in my mind: You wouldn’t stop calling Tennis “tennis” because it IS the game. But, since we CAN have a picnic on a tennis court, should we stop calling it a tennis court because we can do other things there? (Which is, maybe, your argument.)

    But we’re also talking about spaces that are specifically designed for the game: tennis. Go back in time and the space wasn’t defined as such. It was a space (a field say) where almost anything could happen: someone puts up a net and plays tennis; mark off two end zones and play football; lay down blankets and have a picnic; set up cannons and rows of rifelmen on either side and have a war…

    Am I on the right track? Or did I miss the point completely. Anything can happen in the virtual space so why tie them strictly to games? We probably tend to do that because that’s been the specific purpose of such virtual spaces so far (or at least to the largest extent).

  25. Here’s a question for you, Raph. Players on the dev boards routinely request lots of mini-games. I remember for SWG that there was great sentiment for including sabacc. Eventually SWG did include gambling games. EQ has the gems game for killing downtime.

    The question is, and I’m sure you track it, how much do players really play the mini-games?

    Does it change if the mini-game affects the macro-game (gambling in SWG which affects your creds versus gems which is just for killing time)? Would many players spend much time in an MMO playing games that are available outside the MMO, a player-versus-player texas hold-em tournament held in the Mos Eisley Cantina? A chess table set up in a courtyard in Ironforge?

    Last and and completely btp, I’ve been thinking a lot about the popularity of online Texas Hold-em and what you used to say about ideal PvP games. I remember that if a PvP game is too skill based, then you get results that are too skewed toward the most skilled players. Of course, Texas Hold-em introduces enough random chance so that the unskilled can compete pretty successfully, especially on a short-term basis, with skilled players.

    I think a PvP combat system that used a lot of the dynamics of Texas Hold-em, large number of shared “cards” versus small number of individual “cards”, the ability to signal your opponents through “betting”, etc, would make a successful tactical PvP combat system. Probably not twitchy enough given current tastes and trends. 😉

  26. […] http://www.raphkoster.com/?p=297“Remember what the dormouse said” is wondering. […]

  27. Baj, I think most mini-games aren’t played that much. But keep in mind that I am not speaking of a minigame here. When I say “embedded game” I mean everything from “crafting” to “combat,” as well as including things like “rolling dice.”

    My perspective on this is very much driven by my broad take on the grammar of games. Games themselves have very particular topology…

    …and Hurrah for the tennis analogy, because that’s not only exactly the point I was going to make, it resonates because I used it as an example in the PARC talk.

    The “space” in an ad-hoc tennis court — or even in a purposely designed one — does NOT match the topology of the game of tennis. In fact, the real world has real trouble with the topology of tennis, which is why we need linesmen watching the boundary to fix uncertainties. The actual space of tennis consists of two rectangular granular spaces (nodes) each bounded on two sides by one class of void, and bounded on the third by a void designated as a goal line. The game proper is played by pushing a particle with a vector (direction and force) that obeys standard rules of physics and that is influenced by gravity and spin, into the opposing node, with the objective of its bounce carrying it to the goal line and not the void. Everything outside the white lines is non-existent to the game, real as it might be and as much as a consideration it might be in the design of tennis courts. It’s also what I term a “symmetric” game.

    A tennis club is very analogous to an MMORPG that has combat at its center. Yes, the purpose for the space’s existence may be the tennis, and tennis should be considered incredibly critical — it must work well, it must be fun, and so on. The tennis club may offer showers, food, and other such activities, demonstrating that as a space, it can handle multiple activities. The tennis club may be “massively multiplayer” as a space even though the game of tennis itself is not anywhere near that.

    I am not suggesting we stop calling tennis a game. I am saying we stop calling the tennis club a game.

    Oh, and on Texas Hold’em… I play poker the old boring ways, so I am not familiar with it really. That said, given the number of tourneys and and the utter incomprehensibility of the jargon, it sounds heavily skill-driven to me. 🙂

  28. Wolfe said:

    Its next to impossible to explain how an mmorpg is “more than a game” to anyone except vets of the genre or extremely open minded visionaries.

    Oh, now, I don’t think that’s at all true. My Mom, who has never even played one of these things ever, intuitively grasps the placeness of MMOs. She will say, “Your father is down in that place,” or “Your father has his head down in his world.” She often uses the word “lost.” She marvels at the size of these places, and how we can find ourselves lost in them for so long.

  29. Raph… SWG was my first MMORPG and I really enjoyed the time I spent playing with friends and family. I became the owner of 10 accounts, all my kids played this game with me including my wife, brother and relatives. I invited more than 20 friends to play this game with me. As you know now the game has changed to CU then to NGE. I did not realize how important this MMO was to me and my family. This game really change my life and the way I see things. Now I wish there is any hope in saving this game. 90% of the community want to play again SWG but they want the Pre-CU. How hard is for SOE to bring back Pre-CU?

    You dont have to answer but many players have faith that SOE will reconsider and bring back Pre-CU system.

  30. I think i forsee moderated comments. Cross my palm with silver, dearie.

    (Nuts, i promised the furi dai i’d never stoop to telling fortunes, it’ll be lucky heather next….)

    Anyway. Let’s use the TV analogy again. An MMO is a channel. Games are carried within the channel. The primary focus of the Puzzle Pirates chanel, for example, is puzzles. The primary focus of the WoW channel is combat. The primary focus of the EVE channel is trade.

    The WoW channel doesn’t really do Trade shows but it does devote a minor part of its programming (see what i did there?) to Crafting. The SWG channel does Crafting far better but pretty much everything else in it sucks these days. Most people probably wouldn’t bother switching over just for a brief bit of crafting. A lot of people like the Trade in EVE but switch back to WoW for the combat aspects (i do this myself, actually). And of course, i know which channel i need if i fancy a little puzzle-solving.

    Sometimes, i can even flip into Savage for some good old-fashioned RTS action.

    I predict (more silver, please) that one day, we’ll be able to buy mix&match subscriptions to entire stables of MMOs (and i don’t just mean the 2-trick pony Sony call a Station Pass) each of which specialize to some extent in the delivery of a certain type of game.

  31. I think most people here are ignoring the aspect of the meta-game. This is one of the reasons why the “magic circle” theory gets a bit sticky, because the meta-game often doesn’t fit into a neat little circle.

    This means there’s more to the game than just the game. Raph mentioned this in his PARC talk, where training should be considered part of the game, for example. But, you could also include things like rivalries, which are technically outside the game, but definitely have an impact on the game itself. If I’m playing against the person that knocked me out of the bracket last year, I might play a little harder in order to beat that person. Some of what we might think of as beyond mere gameplay, like communicating with other people to sell crafted items; form a group; find out gossip; whatever, could be considered part of the meta-game.

    I think many people here have also pigeon-holed games into too tight of a corner. Let’s take the game Monopoly; can we all agree it’s a game? Yet, I could play it to dominate my opponents, I could play it to meet new people and make friends, I could use it to prove my superiority at math, or I might play it to examine the rules a bit better. Or, I could tip the board up and put it on my head like a hat. Do any of these ways of playing (or not playing) the game suddenly make Monopoly “not a game”? I don’t think so. Yet people are arguing that since you can play almost any virtual world in a variety of ways, they’re not games.

    This isn’t to say that every virtual world is a game. As Raph points out, there are other uses for virtual worlds. But, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that online RPGs aren’t games (even beyond the meaning of the “G”) just because they’re particularly versatile games.

    Of course, I don’t believe calling something a “game” is demeaning. But, that’s a minority opinion compared to the wide world out there.

    Some more thoughts for discussion.

  32. I wish that a football analogy had been used instead of tennis.

    For you see kids play football “game” at the location “space” available when they get the desire to play. In the streets, in the back yard, at the playground, in a park, etc. The rules are modified for the location and the number of people playing. Rules such as tag instead of tackle, 5 second rush, passing only, out of bounds markers, end zone markers and probably many other I don’t recall or didn’t experience.

    Of course those spaces can be used for many other things besides that game.

    So you know what I think? The players don’t care all that much about the space, they only care that the game they are playing is fun.

    Reading Raph’s orginal post before hitting the submit button I realize I’ve come to the same conclusion and restated almost what he said.

    Create a game that is fun for the players regardless of the space it is played in and you’ll have a winner.

  33. Tess mom is a visionary, maybe? Altho I guess she is a vet of the genre by proximity 🙂

    Whenever I argue for what makes online gaming interesting to anyone who dont know squat about them I have to use references into real life. Such as:

    – I learned that in an environment with teleportation and without border stations humans tend to migrate to where the living condidtions appear better, very fast.

    Learning about the nature of humans is one of the great gifts of online environments. But you cant use that as a good argument to make anyone start playing an mmorpg, you have to convince them its a game, by using game terminology and thereby fudging up the neat definitions Raph preaches. Is it reasonable to believe that the coming years will have shown the general populace that virtual worlds are more interesting than games?

    (When I hear that kids in school say “my dad is the coolest cause he has a lvl 60 warrior”, rather than “my dad is the coolest cause he is a cop” I believe it might be.)

  34. Psychochild: You do know that your association spells ARMPIT right? Might want to switch a letter around or something. *chuckle*

    As for the post, I tend to agree with it though I see MMORPGs as a ‘space’ where the developer can entertain or provide ways for the avatars to entertain themselves. To me its more akin to the movie set that can be used over and over again to tell a different story or develop a different plot line. I think we do MMORPGs a disservice to call them “games” because they are so much more than that. You don’t see weddings happening in Battlefield 2 or Half-life. MMORPGs are much more than just a game to nearly all its inhabitants.

  35. I do like the word “metagame” better than “space”. As a lot of what makes MMO’s interesting isn’t just about “space”, it’s about relationships and other emergent properties of the game. An MMO where every player played an alien gasbag living in gas giant, unaware of “space” in any traditional sense, could still have a rich metagame. About football we could talk about the relationships people have to watching the game, going to a stadium to watch football, about hiring coaches to call plays or about trades among football teams but all that is best described as “metagame” to me rather than “space”.

    I also agree that “game” isn’t demeaning to me. For what it’s worth, the first entry of the American Heritage Dictionary definition of “game” is:

    An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; word games.

    To many I think that “game” is more inviting than “virtual world” as they feel/worry that the latter is not as concerned with being amusing or a “pastime”.

  36. Whats really sad from a long term MMORPG gamer standpoint, is when I read otherwise seemingly knowledgable people treat the development of gaming communities/socialization as a dirty side effect of a persons interaction with the “game” and the “virtual space” which encloses the game…..
    Perhaps in creation one forgets that ones paying customers come to ones games not only for the “MMO” hell I can get that from a FPS…but for all the “iterations” (to use a term thats been recently loosly thrown around)of the “RPG” portion, and all it includes the community, crafting, businesses, socialization, empire building which is encompassed in this term.
    Staying off the Reasearchy and Overintellectualization and sticking with the “Fun” might be a better tact or activity than argueing semantics…..after all Id like to think as a gamer that designers are more concerned with designing fun game play than being linguists….leave that to the Ivory Towers at Universities…..

  37. Hahaha, man you found the wrong site!

  38. I don’t think “game” is demeaning either. And I obviously don’t think that fun is unimportant, since I wrote a whole book about it.

    I’ve often said that virtual worlds are going to have to include games in order to reach wider audiences; that worlds without games just don’t have enough to do.

    Then again, I look at something like mySpace and wonder if I was dead wrong about that. 🙂

    Gabe, the reason I use “space” is just because that’s what it literally seems to be. When you talk with people about what the essential elements in this medium are, “placeness” is always right up there as one of the defining characteristics. A sense of place, of space, of world.

  39. I’ve often said that virtual worlds are going to have to include games in order to reach wider audiences; that worlds without games just don’t have enough to do.

    Games only? Or will (mere) activities suffice? (MySpace includes games too.)

    Then again, I look at something like mySpace and wonder if I was dead wrong about that.

    Game-wise, the major difference between MySpace and EQII is that the mini-games (chess, cards, etc.) in mySpace don’t affect or interact with one another, but the sub-games (combat, trading, etc.) in EQII do. Ex: A player in MySpace can’t win virtual money in cards and then use it to buy a better virtual chess set.

    Space-wise, EQII has many “bells” that you can ring to get instant ship/air transport from point A to point B. MySpace has “bells” too, except it’s “bells” appear as menus, not 3D objects, and are organized by game category, not location in the world.

    In the long run, MySpace and EQII are competitors. (I had written up a longer explanation of why, but it stated too much obvious stuff. I can go into detail if people wish.)

  40. I agree they are competitors; I don’t think they are the same thing. But add “space” to mySpace, and watch out… 😉

  41. Kressilac wrote:
    “You do know that your association spells ARMPIT right?”

    By design. 😉

    Darklief wrote:
    “…after all Id like to think as a gamer that designers are more concerned with designing fun game play than being linguists…”

    What’s wrong with linguistics? 😛 (Says the person who had many course hours in linguistics at the university.)

    Seriously, though, this “linguistic” argument is actually important for development. In one of my recent blog entries I talk a bit about defining a game and how it relates to designing a better online game. In addition, having proper definitions is important because one of the most vital roles of a designer is communicator. If one of us designers has a revolutionary, earth-changing idea but can’t describe it to anyone else, it’s the same as if we never had that breakthrough. So the discussion between “virtual worlds and spaces” and “games and metagames” is actually important for us to really understand what that nebulous “fun” thing really is.

    Raph wrote:
    “When you talk with people about what the essential elements in this medium are, ‘placeness’ is always right up there as one of the defining characteristics. A sense of place, of space, of world.”

    On the other hand, there are quite a few failed dot-com business plans that were sure that the way to get people online and shopping was to add a sense of “place” to e-commerce; in other words, to make shopping online more like shopping offline. People spent a lot of time and money making it so that you went through a virtual shopping center pushing a virtual cart between virtual shelves showing off virtual objects representing products. Needless to say, these projects all failed miserably.

    While space is important in some situations, I don’t think applying it universally is the silver bullet. For example, why does my IM program need a sense of “space” to be valid? Adding space to an IM client actually negates some of the advantages: it’s a light-weight way to chat with someone in nearly real-time. Or, to use your own example, why does MySpace need a better concept of “space” in it? Isn’t it doing quite amazingly as it is? Could they really be attracting more people if they had the concept of space? I’m not so sure….

    Even in multiplayer online games we see that space isn’t the end-all. Browser-based games do a fair amount of business while having almost no sense of “space” as most people consider it. It’s the light-weight nature of being essentially spaceless that helps keep margins low and the games profitable.

  42. […] Related, ref. “Are MMORPG Games”. […]

  43. I agree that there are many things for which space is a downside, rather than an upside. However, I don’t think “personal space” is one of them.

  44. When you talk with people about what the essential elements in this medium are, “placeness” is always right up there as one of the defining characteristics. A sense of place, of space, of world.

    Sure. But another thing that people might say is a defining characteristic is “levels” or “hotkeys” or “quests”. There are lots of interesting metagame elements to these games: RMT’s, users with multiple accounts, alts, communication in and out of the game between players, time zones and players from different regions, etc.

    These are all different aspects of the metagame and all important to consider in their own right. But why is space any more important than any other metagame element? And why should the existence of a metagame make a game no longer a game?

    You say that MMORPG’s are “…a technology that simulates space virtually, and supports incarnation within that space via proxies that we call avatars.” It’s not that this is wrong, it’s just slightly arbitrary. Why not say that MMORPG’s a technology for pushing packets around the internet? I could start talking about how an MMORPG isn’t a “game” but just a client talking to a server.

    At times it is important to talk about the space of our games. And at other times it is important to talk about our games as clients and servers. But they’re still games even though they have these other characterizations. Instead of rewriting our language we just need to pick out those emergent properties of our games that are important and then figure out how best to handle them.

    And yes, some of these properties will be shared with products and creations from other spheres. But just because Amazon and MMORPG’s both have customers and both use clients and servers doesn’t make Amazon not a store or an MMORPG not a game. And it doesn’t make those shared properties somehow more important than those areas where they differ. MySpace and blogs do have some vague similarities to an MMORPG but it’s still very different and I don’t think those will be competing anytime soon. MySpace is a way to chat and show people parts of your real life. MMORPG’s are a way to play around in made-up worlds and take on challenging gameplay with your friends. Blogs are just a way to waste time when we should be doing something else. 🙂

  45. Levels and hotkeys and quests aren’t common to every single MUD and MMORPG. The elements I listed are. It’s not THAT arbitrary. I came up with that list by surveying the history of virtual worlds and arriving at common elements.

    Usually, the one people debate isn’t “space,” it’s “persistence.” 🙂

  46. MySpace and blogs do have some vague similarities to an MMORPG but it’s still very different and I don’t think those will be competing anytime soon.

    I understand why you may think that MySpace and EQII are different but…

    MySpace is a way to chat and show people parts of your real life.

    And virtual worlds aren’t used for chatting? Large amounts of what happens is just socialization.

    MMORPG’s are a way to play around in made-up worlds and take on challenging gameplay with your friends.

    And playing MySpace’s card cames (which I assume are multiplayer) don’t allow for challenging gameplay with your friends?

    Blogs are just a way to waste time when we should be doing something else.

    And you’re claiming that MMORPGs aren’t a waste of time?

    Some history…

    Back in the days of 300 baud modems (circa 1985-1986) I wrote my own BBS, which had forums and E-mail. As a differentiator, and because I was interested in CRPGs, I added a small (and lousy) CRPG to the game. This made it a text MUD, although very simple and with only one phone line. I even added a Risk-like economoics and conquest game, but the lack of graphics completely killed it.

    I am now creating a graphical MUD. Loh and behold, I’ve added in-game forums and E-mail. I also have a feature that isn’t too far from a blog. (Although I don’t plan to, it would be trivial (about a days work) for me to add full blog functionality. A few more days would let me sync the in-game blog with a WWW blog.)

    Some theory…

    Simply put, people play online games because of the other people online. The other players make or break the experience. If EQII (or any MMORPG) had built-in blogs, and I could easily see the blogs as PCs wandered by, then I’d still be playing. Why? Because I’d be able to quickly eliminate 90% of the players as “not interesting to me, don’t bother talking or grouping with them”. As it was, 75% of the time that I grouped with random players, I was sorry I did.

    To flip it around the other way: If you’re in a chat room and meet someone you would like to hang out with, as Raph pointed out, there’s nothing to do. What if the chat room included some games? MySpace does include games for this very reason.

    For more detail see http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/DatingGame.htm.

  47. And virtual worlds aren’t used for chatting?

    Of course. The paragraph you are quoting starts with the statement “yes, some of these properties will be shared with products and creations from other spheres”. That overlap doesn’t define MySpace and EQ2 though. It is merely one property that both share. And use in very different ways. For different goals.

    And playing MySpace’s card cames (which I assume are multiplayer) don’t allow for challenging gameplay with your friends?

    If you add a link on your MySpace page to a game it doesn’t suddenly turn MySpace into an MMORPG (and really, that’s all the games on MySpace are, links to other existing game technology). It just means that Item A and Item B have at least one vaguely similar component. That’s all. And it’s enough for that to be the extent of the relationship. “Space”, socialization, people, are still important aspects of MMORPG design and we can talk about them as such. It’s just not the case that we need to rewrite our language the moment we realize that one of these particulars is important (or can be shared, to a certain extent, with other entities) no more than we need to stop calling Football a game just because people sit and bars and talk about it or stop calling Tennis a game just because someone has a picnic on a Tennis court.

  48. I got tired of reading the comments roughly halfway through and started skimming. The reason I used a Tennis Court analogy is because I play tennis, and I don’t play football. A football stadium IS a better analogy: don’t they sometimes hold events completely unrelated to football there?

    No one is saying that tennis is not a game. No one is saying tennis stops being a game because the SPACE is used for something else.

    Let’s throw up some definitions:
    place, n: a virtual or physical volume of constraint in which actions may be taken.
    game, n: an activity with a beginning and an end governed by arbitrary rules.

    A place is not a game. That’s not possible. A place is somewhere you can be. You can’t be in a game. However, you can follow the rules of a game while in a place.

    Once, while playing Magic: The Gathering, I arrayed the cards in a battle formation and advanced them forward to meet their opponents and arbitrary dictated conflict outcomes by whim. I wasn’t playing the game, but I was using the objects present in the place (my room) to play a different game.

    It’s like playing tennis with baseball bats (*wince*). Or playing flag football instead of full-contact.

    Think about it this way:

    You have a field of grass. You cordon off a section of it. That’s a place. If you get a picnic basket and spread out a cloth on it, then it’s a picnic area. If you draw endzones and yard lines, then it’s a football field. If you put up a ground-level net and draw boxes, it’s a grass tennis court. If you put up soccer goals and draw some more lines, it’s a soccer field.

    But it’s just a field of grass. The same field of grass.

  49. Ralph,

    Seriously, it is time to step back for a moment. Debating on lexicography will not get us any closer to making great games. As you have said, an MMORPG is not a game, only a service. While that maxim should be taken to heart, there is more to “game” than just theory and lexicon. Rather, the lexicon should not interfere with the theory.

    To emphasize, what is a game? By your strict definition, a game has boundaries and rules, something that must be followed. However, by the players of a game, we find ourselves in some strange territory. Taking the tennis example, you implicitly state that only the players who participate in moving the tennis ball within strict boundaries, those that are sided by 3 identical void conditions and a goal line. This is accurate, but I would have to argue that tennis is more than a definition of physics or game terms.

    Something you are familiar with, crafting. For instance, if I make tennis rackets or string them for a living, am I somehow removed from the game of tennis. My abilities, in crafting rackets or stringing them, directly impacts the physics of the game and how it is played!

    Further, you state that the living room is not a part of a game of chess. I beg to differ, as I have been an avid chess player for most of my life (I started when I was 10). My surroundings actually do matter when I am playing, and chatting with my opponent matters as well. To further the point, look at football, where thousands of fans do actually impact the game being played by no more than 22 people at any given time.

    MMORPG’s are a game, despite their VW component. VW’s don’t need to be a game, look back at MUSH’s. But, I must argue, MMORPG’s are games, as an entity and taken in the whole. As a previous poster noted, this is Meta-game. Like it or not, its what games have become (for instance, the Monopoly Challenge). Games have, and will, become more than what we make them. The term “game” means so much more than it did a decade or a century ago.

    Lexicography is great for Oxford, but I don’t see where it gets us in making great games.

    -ds

  50. Lexicography is great for Oxford, but I don’t see where it gets us in making great games.

    Well, first, great games is not the long and short of life as we know it. They’re a crucial component, to be sure, but they have the potential to do much more than giving us hours of pleasure. Maybe the first step to making great games is realizing that what we’re creating aren’t actually games, and thus, cannot be great games? Etc., etc.

    General idea that the place has an impact on the game.

    Anyone familiar with classical mechanics should be able to understand the concept of a “system”. Anyone who’s dealt with systems knows that a system always exists in an environment (except in one special case: the universe, but we’ll ignore that).

    If you consider a VWs a mere component of games, I consider that to be tantamount to saying that the environment is a mere component of the system. That’s a usable perspective, and it is used, but I think it’s incorrect. And further, I think that being correct isn’t trivial, as it might be considered when talking about “making great games”.

    Does the environment have an impact on the system? Yes. Of course it does. And when you design the system, you have to factor in the environment; otherwise, things screw up, like the “12th man” phenomenon in the Seahawks game. The system (the game of football) didn’t account for the ability of the fans to distract the players.

    But despite that, the environment does not actually impact the NATURE of the system. It merely impacts its usage. In the idealized, raw form of concept, a game has no environment. That’s what beta testing is for: how does it stand up in an environment?

    So what are we talking about here?

    If you strip a MMORPG of all of its game mechanics (leaving only social devices, navigational systems and pretty graphics), is it still a VW? The answer is yes. Why? Because the MMORPG is inside the VW. If you strip the de-gamed VW of its social functionality, is it still a VW? The answer is yes. Why? Because those social mechanics have nothing to do with place; they make it alive, but they do not make it exist. A VW stops being a VW when it no longer exists.

    To me, it’s also completely fair to say that our lives themselves are a part of a great game. That’s not to say there are players moving us around like pieces; players are not required as part of a game. It means, by the carelessly thrown out definition I gave two posts above, that there is a beginning, an end, and arbitrary rules (the laws of physics, though there may be others, as I’m coming to believe from Robert Rosen) that the whole activity of life is governed by.

    And in practice, this activity of life, this game, is impacted by the environment we’re placed in, this universe, this solar system, this Earth; but the activity of life would have the same rules if it were to move to Mars, or to some other universe, or to another star system.

    So is tennis affected by the way the rackets were made? No. The rules do not change based on whether it’s Prince or Wilson. But when tennis is played, then the environment matters.

    A Diku-descended MMORPG retains the core mechanic of “kill mobile, get experience”. This does not change whether you’re in Azeroth, Norrath, or Hoth. There are some differences; that’s why they’re different MMORPGs. They have different environments; that’s why they’re different VWs.

    Take a look at the various worlds generated by the same codebase. They’re all text MUDs, of course: a MMORPG always develops its own, to my knowledge. But you can find hundreds of DikuMUDs with identical mechanics, but different worlds. The game is Diku.

  51. Richard Bartle covers this topic very well in his book, “Desiging Virtual Worlds.”

    Any MMO, whether MMOG, MMORPG or MMOYTBD, is a place. If it has an overarcing game, it’s also a game. There’s no reason something can’t be both. The ‘O’ is the place (online) and the ‘G’ is the Game.

    If I follow everyone’s logic, making a failed MMORPG would alter a game into just an MORPG.

  52. Levels and hotkeys and quests aren’t common to every single MUD and MMORPG. The elements I listed are. It’s not THAT arbitrary. I came up with that list by surveying the history of virtual worlds and arriving at common elements.

    I intentionally chose those that I didn’t think that most people HERE would agree with but that I thought many players would think of. I’m not saying that these are defining concepts but rather that many players would say they seemed to be defining points of the games they, in particular, had played (which seemed to be your criterion in the passage I initially quoted).

    “Space” is indeed a common component of these games. If I’m disagreeing there it’s only at the very nitty-gritty. But “space” still is just one of many shared properties. My real example for arbitrariness was the client/server one. Using a client/server model is another property that applies to all MMORPG’s (or alternately VW’s). But neither space nor client/servers suddenly makes these not games, or become the primary, defining property. MMORPG’s are games. They define “spaces”. And the use clients and servers. All three true statements, each very important for specific contexts and none of them exclusive with the others.

  53. Ralph,

    Seriously, it is time to step back for a moment. Debating on lexicography will not get us any closer to making great games. As you have said, an MMORPG is not a game, only a service. While that maxim should be taken to heart, there is more to “game” than just theory and lexicon. Rather, the lexicon should not interfere with the theory.

    Frabble zorkmid neena tootie wopwop.

    There, now that that’s been refuted, we can-

    Huh? What do you mean, you don’t understand it? The lexicon should not interfere with the theory!

    Something you are familiar with, crafting. For instance, if I make tennis rackets or string them for a living, am I somehow removed from the game of tennis. My abilities, in crafting rackets or stringing them, directly impacts the physics of the game and how it is played!

    And when Dunlop wins the Australian Open, you’ll have made your point.

    Further, you state that the living room is not a part of a game of chess. I beg to differ, as I have been an avid chess player for most of my life (I started when I was 10). My surroundings actually do matter when I am playing, and chatting with my opponent matters as well. To further the point, look at football, where thousands of fans do actually impact the game being played by no more than 22 people at any given time.

    Thousands of fans impact the game being played, only because football is played by humans. Players could also be distracted and/or demoralized and/or energized because the quarterback’s wife and kids got run over by a Humvee the day before, yet the rules of football inexplicably exclude any mention of rampaging Humvees.

    –GF

  54. So is tennis affected by the way the rackets were made? No. The rules do not change based on whether it’s Prince or Wilson.

    Actually, yes. Tennis has been very effected by how rackets are made and strung, and why I was using it as an example. It is a large factor in why we see 150 MPH serves now. Further, the physics in how the racket is made effect the game of tennis purely through mathematics.

    The rules to the game don’t change, but the strategy, and hence the gameplay, does. So, in my opinion, the “game” is still larger than what is happening on the court.

  55. Thousands of fans impact the game being played, only because football is played by humans. Players could also be distracted and/or demoralized and/or energized because the quarterback’s wife and kids got run over by a Humvee the day before, yet the rules of football inexplicably exclude any mention of rampaging Humvees.

    Normally, I don’t reply to these things. However, it seems to me that the scope of the arguement was on what excatly games encompass, what our boundaries are in games, and for this reason, I think that my reasons are valid. Simply, the game is larger than what our terminology can define.

    If we want to zero in on specifics, my arguements on gameplay, might not make sense. However, if we want to debate semantics, my arguements make perfect sense. That is the essence of my arguement, debate gameplay and not word definitions.

    In my opinion, we are going backwards by narrowing our scope on what games are. Perhaps we can expand our views on games, what they entail, and the same time not limiting our scope in definition of “game”.

  56. dsutton >

    Give me one example of something that’s not in a game.

  57. […] Michael Chui on Are MMORPGs games? […]

  58. Is not the space in a MMORPG a product of the needs of the game?

    Returning to the tennis analogy, you can set up a game of tennis in a variety of places and you can use a tennis court for a variety of activities that aren’t tennis, but the tennis court was built specifically to play tennis on.

    The analogy fails here because a MMORPG can’t really be played without the specific play space built for it.

    While the virtual space that a MMORPG uses does not have to be used for the game it was originally intended, the space wouldn’t exist without the game.

    I think it is safe to say that the play-space of a MMORPG can be used for activities that aren’t the game the designer intended, but almost any activity that does take place is primarily…

    An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; word games.

    A game can and often does consist of numerous smaller games. By being a collection of smaller games, the larger game doesn’t cease to be a game.

    Because not all the smaller games of an MMORPG are intended or planned activites by the designer, does the whole then cease to be a game?

    I don’t think so.

  59. Most sports cannot be played without a playspace set up expressly for that purpose.

    How do you net fault in tennis? How do you know where the end zones are, or the goal posts for football? How do you spike in volleyball? What is “out of bounds”, without bounds?

    MMORPGs rely on a more complex and difficult architecture than lines on the ground and nets in the air and sticks standing up, but that doesn’t make them different.

    So the answer to

    Is not the space in a MMORPG a product of the needs of the game?

    is “not necessarily”. It is now; it doesn’t have to be. Consider There.com. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner; it’s a classic example of a world without a game. Then again, I’ve never played it, so I don’t know. I have, however, played Second Life, and its inhabitants are said to bristle at the suggestion that you call it a game.

  60. An MMORPG and the virtual space that accompanies it are created for the purpose of gameplay and entertainment. However, a virtual space does not need to only be the product of a MMORPG.

    You could create a MMORPG that utilises a greater virtual space – akin to a sub-game within something like there.com or Second Life. This wouldn’t be too different from LARPers using a park to role-play in. It wouldn’t make that virtual space into a MMORPG any more than LARPing in a park makes the park a fantasy world.

    The real-world analogies fall over with the introduction of the virtual. A virtual space is created with a purpose – be it for socialising, as in there.com or Second Life – or for playing a provided game, as in an MMORPG. Without the purpose the space doesn’t exist. The purpose creates the space, rather than the space being borrowed for a purpose. A real-world tennis court doesn’t cease to exist if people stop playing tennis there – the land remains. In a virtual environment, a space that fails at its primary purpose typically ceases to exist.

    The space within a MMORPG is an extension of the game. If it is used for other activities, I don’t think that nullifies the existence of or validity of the game or makes the space classed as something other than an extension of game. If the space is only used for non-game activites, such as becoming purely a place of business, then the label MMORPG no longer applies to the service being offered – even if that online service is financially successful.

  61. Most sports cannot be played without a playspace set up expressly for that purpose.

    I suspect when augmented reality comes into play, one of the most popular ‘applications’ will be some sort of collaborative sports game, where the system itself acts as the referee.

    I am hard-pressed to think of a sport that is _not_ played in a space. Games like Tag, I suppose, have boundaries only by convention. But it would be possible to have, say, robots play soccer (or something like it) with the field boundaries or even the ball existing only in the ‘shared illusion’ of their programming. I wonder how it would look from the outside.

    –GF

  62. Just got the ATitD newsletter and thought immediately of this thread. This kind of stuff is definitely outside the confines of mere “game”:

    A Tale in the Desert will celebrate its 3-year
    anniversary next month. In that time I’ve done a lot of interviews, and
    one
    question that inevitably comes up is “in what ways has the game gone
    differently than you expected?” My answer often takes the interviewer
    by
    surprise: I fully expected this unique form of in-game democracy that
    we
    use, to breed an ever-growing, increasingly intrusive government, just
    as
    real-world democracy often does. In fact, one big advantage I saw to
    Tellings was the chance to undo the implosion that I thought was
    inevitable. The culture that evolved in ATITD was just the opposite,
    and I
    still don’t have a good explanation. The force of law has always been
    applied with the lightest touch. And it’s not just in law that Egypt
    has
    been cautious…

    In three years we’ve elected about 20 Demi-Pharaohs, players with the
    power to permanently exile up to 7 of their countrymen. And in three
    years,
    that power has never been used…
    Until this week. The circumstances were unremarkable. A player, Pili,
    was
    accused of griefing by another player. This other player contacted
    Demi-Pharaoh Deeva, who investigated, and determined to her
    satisfaction
    that the griefing did in fact take place. She traveled by chariot to
    Sinai,
    and used the power of the Demi-Pharaoh to permanently exile Pili.

    I wonder what this all means. Is it just a single griefer that will
    soon
    be forgotten, or have we broken a taboo that has existed now for three
    years? Are we now more willing to let power be wielded? This newsletter
    is
    going out to over 40,000 people. If one of you could take a moment to
    file
    it away, and observe the character of Egypt over the next year, I think
    it
    would be a most fascinating study. Let’s have a chat a year from now.

    What’s your prediction? Is this a the breaking of a dam or a unique event?

  63. Lots to discuss in Don’s comment…

    An MMORPG and the virtual space that accompanies it are created for the purpose of gameplay and entertainment. However, a virtual space does not need to only be the product of a MMORPG.

    Very true. However, purposes and actual uses often end up being quite different.

    You could create a MMORPG that utilises a greater virtual space – akin to a sub-game within something like there.com or Second Life. This wouldn’t be too different from LARPers using a park to role-play in. It wouldn’t make that virtual space into a MMORPG any more than LARPing in a park makes the park a fantasy world.

    Agreed. This is essentially the same argument as what I have used in saying that you could put every game ever made into an MMO.

    That said, this inherent capacity is exactly why I say that considering the virtual space to be a game itself is a categorization error.

    The real-world analogies fall over with the introduction of the virtual. A virtual space is created with a purpose – be it for socialising, as in there.com or Second Life – or for playing a provided game, as in an MMORPG. Without the purpose the space doesn’t exist. The purpose creates the space, rather than the space being borrowed for a purpose. A real-world tennis court doesn’t cease to exist if people stop playing tennis there – the land remains. In a virtual environment, a space that fails at its primary purpose typically ceases to exist.

    It may also get appropriated for other purposes, as spaces in the real world do. In fact, even in the most gamey worlds, often the purposes intended by the designers are not the ones pursued by players. EverQuest started out without having designed “raids” — they were a spontaneous creation of the playerbase unforeseen by the developers.

    The space within a MMORPG is an extension of the game. If it is used for other activities, I don’t think that nullifies the existence of or validity of the game or makes the space classed as something other than an extension of game. If the space is only used for non-game activites, such as becoming purely a place of business, then the label MMORPG no longer applies to the service being offered – even if that online service is financially successful.

    I don’t see how you get from the preceding to your opening sentence in this paragraph. The reason for creating the space does not make it an extension of the embedded activity, particularly since you’re almost certainly not going to stop at just one embedded activity.

    I realize I am sounding pedantic on this issue, but there’s a couple of reasons:

    • I honestly do believe that having precise understanding of how things work can in fact assist us in creating more fun experiences for users/players.
    • I think this issue is going to be central to my next book, which I am researching now. 🙂
  64. But will it be central to your next game, that’s what we all wanna know. wink wink, nudge nudge

  65. Yeah, I think it will; I mean, it makes you look at the process differently. To me, thinking of a virtual world as a space, and making the mental adjustment that, say, all of EQ, with all its interdependencies related to combat, is a sub-game, and that other subgames can co-exist… that’s a mental shift for me, and it opens up all sorts of ideas.

  66. I don’t see how you get from the preceding to your opening sentence in this paragraph. The reason for creating the space does not make it an extension of the embedded activity, particularly since you’re almost certainly not going to stop at just one embedded activity.

    Is client not part of, or an extension of an MMORPG? A server, even if it serves more than one MMORPG? Why should it matter if there are more than one activities that happen out of that space? Why can a “game” not consist of multiple activities? How we determine where to start cutting away activities as different? In the boardgame of Settlers of Catan, does negotiating trades of resources count as a different activity than building cities? Setting up the board? Table talk?

    Just got the ATitD newsletter and thought immediately of this thread. This kind of stuff is definitely outside the confines of mere “game”

    Why is that stuff not part of the game? Why does “game” have to be defined so narrowly? If a boardgame designer designs a game that is played differently than was imagined, or develops a certain subculture the designer didn’t anticipate, is it not a game? Who says that games have to be so narrowly defined as working only as intended by design and no differently.

    I’m reminded of very intense sports fans who can go on and on about how “it’s not just a game”. Talk to a rabid British Football fan long enougn and you will start to hear about how Football is an analogy for life, a way of life, whatever. Or you may get a similar reaction from a Red Sox fan. But in the end, the culture of fans and the activities that the players are engaging in out in the field are duals and parts of the same thing. And we call that whole thing, the game of Football (or Baseball).

    You also get the same sorts of comments from academics who have worked in the same field for decades. After a while, whether they study social sciences, literature, mathematics, physics, whatever, they start to think that all other human endeavors can be defined under the context of the one field that they are an expert in. It’s good to have specialists, but if specialists forget that they are just working as part of a larger framework then I think they can just get bogged down trying to unneccessarily inflate the importance of their contribution to a larger whole.

    And that’s what I am trying to get across, that we shouldn’t inflate the importance of one or the other parts of the whole just because we are really interested in one or the other. We can make distinctions, valuable distinctions, such as distinguishing between the rules of gameplay and the constraints that players are under versus the players themselves and the extra-gameplay activities they engage in. That is an important distinction but one that should be put in a proper context. Let’s seperate out all the bits, then figure out when we need to talk about one bit or the other. Not bicker over which bit is most important or is the “definition” or “basis” for what our games are.

    With the game of Football we can talk about the gameplay when we are discussing the best way to position players, or training when discussing a certain player’s performance and we can talk about the subculture when we talk about hooligans committing vandalism, or betting pools on a game, or whatever. For any given subject we need to determine what part of the game we are talking about and how we need to apply what we have learned about that part of the game. And we need to determine all of those different parts and make sure that we are aware of them when making our designs. But we don’t need to try to make one or the other seem like the only or the most important of them all.

  67. Is client not part of, or an extension of an MMORPG? A server, even if it serves more than one MMORPG? Why should it matter if there are more than one activities that happen out of that space? Why can a “game” not consist of multiple activities? How we determine where to start cutting away activities as different? In the boardgame of Settlers of Catan, does negotiating trades of resources count as a different activity than building cities? Setting up the board? Table talk?

    All excellent questions.

    A game can and does consist of multiple different activities; I think the question is how these activities impact each other, whether they are bounded by the same topology and whether they share any assets. For example, it’s pretty easy to see that the choice to bash versus headbutt in MMO combat is a choice that is tightly linked; the “:bash” and “headbutt” attributes are closely related, operate within the same framework, and so on. On the other hand, crafting the sword that you’re using is more weakly linked. In some fashion, it’s qualitatively different. We could in fact regard the subgame of crafting as having had an output — the fact that a different subgame uses that output for a purpose is a different thing from being part of the same subgame.

    This is all stuff we kind of know intuitively, I think. We know that crafting and combat are separate subgames, that they operate within different spheres, whereas, say, different classes engaging in combat are actually the same subgame.

    At some point, we’re connecting up subgames into a whole. I think all games are built that way, cf Grammar of Gameplay. The question is really what sorts of connections exist, and how “tight” are those connections. I bet we can arrive at dividing lines that tell us whether something is part of the same “game” or not. That alone would help us as designers quite a lot, because it would make clearer what activities are central, what activities are overly interdependent, how our choices to cut or expand cascade through the system, and so on.

    Looking at games formally, I would definitely say that a given game is bounded by a circle of formal rules. A given game has physics to it. In chess, pieces do not slide in analog fashion across the board; that may be a representation convention based on our real world physics, but the world of chess does not resemble that at all. It’s a system of fixed, quantized nodes. That’s an example of the kind of topology that games use internally, versus how we tend to think of them.

    Because of that sort of gap, I don’t think that representation is necessarily core to what a game is. (So no, a client is not part of the “game.”) That doesn’t mean that the game experience isn’t hugely shaped by representation, because of course it is. I’m not minimizing that at all. But I do think we need to understand representation (and the design of said representation) as being a different discipline from the design of the game proper.

    (I realize I am using a very narrow definition of “game” here — if there were another word, I’d use it).

    Tabletop chatter in this view is clearly not part of the game of Settlers of Catan. There are no formal or informal rules defining the tabletop chatter that are implicit in the abstract construct that is the mathematical relationship between the tokens within the game’s topology.

    Sometimes, there are rules that seem very very external — the aforementioned example of training being included as part of the rules in each sport, for example. The manufacture process of a tennis racket is formally defined, and it does absolutely count as “part of the game” because the game itself (at least in ranked play) makes assumptions about the regulations governing physics. A wooden paddle would violate that enough to make the game stop being called tennis.

    (Perhaps a better example is handball versus racquetball: the formal construct is all identical except for the use of hands versus racquets, and the size of the ball).

    Gabe, you end up saying we shouldn’t elevate one element or the other to primacy — that’s not really my intent here. (And for that matter, I think that ATiTD is in fact designed such that the politics are “part of the game”!) Rather, what I’m saying has a lot more to do with understanding how tab A fits into slot B.

    Games come with a very specific sort of space as part of their intrinsic nature. The generalized sort of space we tend to think of is very different from the internal spatial logic of games (which is often not even Euclidean in nature). We can embed game topologies within spaces, virtual or real. That doesn’t assume primacy — rather, it means difference. And I think regarding games this way opens the door to possibly making better games using this understanding.

  68. BTW, I see a lot of commonality between what I am saying and what Chris Bateman called “immersive menus” in his book 21st Century Game Design.

  69. Why is that stuff not part of the game? Why does “game” have to be defined so narrowly?

    I’m pretty sure that when people say things like, “the NFL is more than just a game,” or when I posted what I did about this occasion in ATitD, they aren’t necessarily trying to define “game” or even say that their game isn’t a game. Saying something is “more than just a game,” is usually kind of an expression for a game in which human emotion plays an important role.

  70. Why is that stuff not part of the game? Why does “game” have to be defined so narrowly? If a boardgame designer designs a game that is played differently than was imagined, or develops a certain subculture the designer didn’t anticipate, is it not a game? Who says that games have to be so narrowly defined as working only as intended by design and no differently.

    I want to point out, very simply, a logical leap you made that you don’t seem to have noticed.

    You started out with “the game”, and then moved to just “game”.

    If a boardgame designer designs a game that is played differently than was imagined, or develops a certain subculture the designer didn’t anticipate, is it not a game?

    Is it the same game?

    That’s a large part of my point. A space can have multiple games. And other activities, like socialization. And the reason it can have multiple games is because it is inherently and definitionally separate.

    There might be a hierarchial structure to the games: some games might be super-games, like MMORPGs; some games might be sub-games, like the game of defeating a mob; some games might be emergent and unpredicted, like the game of competing with a friend to see who can kill more trolls in ten minutes.

    They’re all games. Some of the games are part of other games. But they’re also different and distinct games. Monopoly is a game. If play by house rules (like saying landing on Free Parking gives you all the tax money), then it’s similar to Monopoly, but it’s not official anymore.

  71. I wonder if a lot of the disagreement in this thread stems from two different usages of the word “game”.

    To players, the word “game” means something like “piece of software I run on my computer to be entertained, in which I can control a ship or a guy or something, and somehow compete or try to win”.

    However, I suspect what Raph means when he says “game” is closer to “fun activity for the player with a defined set of rules and some sort of goal”.

    In the days of Pac-Man, game software provided a playing area for the game and implemented the rules of the game, but did nothing else.

    But these days (at least since the mid-1990s) , the “software commonly known as games” had become so complicated and feature-laden that it was possible to do lots of interesting things with it that lie outside of the core “game” experience. (Machinima comes to mind).

    So now it seems useful to draw a distinction between the software the developers wrote, and the games that can be played within it. Most MMORPGs are a context–a world, a space–in which to play one of several games, but also in which you can socialize and experiment and play in other less structured ways than standard “game play”.

    This is all stuff we kind of know intuitively, I think. We know that crafting and combat are separate subgames, that they operate within different spheres, whereas, say, different classes engaging in combat are actually the same subgame.

    When I read this I immedately thought, “why is it that we have a crafting system and a combat system”? Crafting and combat are governed by different rules, but its more than that–we group the implementation of “crafting rules” into a “crafting system”, and “combat rules” into a “combat system”. Maybe this division is so common because they are actually two different games.

    I think the Tennis Club example is a good one. People join a Tennis Club so that they can play the game of Tennis–but also so they can socialize, be a spectator while their friends play the game of Tennis, etc.

    Here’s another example of a multiplayer internet game: Continuum. It’s a free 2D space combat game. The most popular server (Trench Wars) typically has 500 people logged in at one time. Different servers use different rulesets (even different graphics). Each server runs multiple “arenas” (which are like chat rooms). Each arena can be configured with different rules. Many of the arenas are for spontaneous events put on by the admins, but there are also many “drop-in” arenas open to the public and arenas which are designated for league play or tournaments or whatever.

    It’s reasonable to view Continuum as being a family of related games–all variants on the “fly around and blow up spaceships” theme, but with different twists. Different rulesets and different winning conditions imply different tactics. A “baseelim” match is very different from an 8-on-8 league basing match, which is very different from a “jav duel” which is very different from a “zombies” event or a “hockey” event or a “fishtank” event. Also, Continuum is very much a spectator sport. A basing match is played by 12 to 16 players but often watched by a half-dozen other players. Prominent matches such as league finals are often watched by over 100 people. The divisions and leagues are comparable to a school soccer league or something.

    Going back to the two usages of the word “game” above: Of course people call Continuum a game in the “piece of software” sense. For the same reason, they call Battlefield 2 a game, and World of Warcraft a game.

    But Continuum and World of Warcraft are both more like the Tennis Club than like the “game-theory game” of Tennis. Continuum is a PLACE where players can hang out, socialize, play scheduled or spontaneous games, or just fool around. I mean, there’s a subset of the players who are radio DJs or DJ-groupies, who have their own Shoutcast streaming mp3 channel and players use one of the arenas on the Trench Wars server solely to request songs. Clearly that is not part of the “fly around and blow stuff up” game, even though that game is the core experience of Continuum.

  72. Raph wrote:

    To me, thinking of a virtual world as a space, and making the mental adjustment that, say, all of EQ, with all its interdependencies related to combat, is a sub-game, and that other subgames can co-exist… that’s a mental shift for me, and it opens up all sorts of ideas.

    Which is another reason why trying to get some definitions, no matter how fuzzy, is useful.

    Ever since I decided to create a VW/game, I’ve been reading every game design book I can get my hands on. Only a few of them explicitely state obvious facts like “CRPGs are worlds with embedded sub-games. These sub-games are chosen for their synergies; ie: combat + trade enhance one another.”.

    Obviously, everyone who has every designed and/or played a CRPG realizes this at a subconscious/intuitive level, but people don’t tend to state it. To me, if I intuitively understand a problem then I only feel like I have partial comprehension; I like to have both an intuitive and reasoned understanding.

    Consequently, I’ve been trying to make my own reasoned understanding of what’s going on, posting thoughts in http://www.mxac.com.au/drt. From these I’ve made occasional posts to Mud-Dev. The responses I’ve gotten (mostly silence) make me wonder if I’m way off mark. Hopefully your endeavors will bear more fruit.

  73. I suspect what Raph means when he says “game” is closer to “fun activity for the player with a defined set of rules and some sort of goal”.

    Oh, yeah, definitely… that particular bit is pretty common to all the current definitions of “game” that float out there.

  74. Then from that definition, can the question be extended to cover other forms of RPG, such as pen-and-paper or LARP? Does it necessarily apply purely to the MMO- variety?

  75. PnP and LARP are two extremely interesting cases, not in the least because there are at least two definite places, but also that at least one is completely imaginary.

    If you can find a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay, “On Faerie Stories”, you’ll see what I mean far better. Someone used to have an OCR version of it on the web, but I’m having trouble finding it.

    Essentially, Tolkien puts together the idea of a “Secondary World” and mandates a suspension of disbelief by the Sub-creator, who in the case of PnP, is the DM. (I’ve never done LARP, so I don’t know how it works.) In an MMORPG, this is done by the designer, and then the computer systems support it.

    I’ve always thought of it as a kind of Platonic ideal: this fantasy land exists in a whatever dimension, and our access points to it are things like MMORPGs or novels or “Guides to the World of…” The place-ness of it, for me, isn’t “in cyberspace” or “in a computer”. It’s “in my imagination, shared to others through this medium of expression, such as a game or story or both”.

    In this way, you can say that Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft are set in the same place, as are the various Warcraft novels Blizzard has produced: the world of Azeroth.

    Geez I’m long-winded.

  76. […] February 3, 2006Blogged Out: Locking the Door to Your Virtual WorldWelcome to ‘Blogged Out’, the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week we look at �interactive entertainment environments�, OCD, and DRM. C�est nes pas un jeux Are MMORPGs actually games? Raph Koster took some time to answer this oft-discussed question on his website this week. He thinks, rightly, that MMORPGs aren’t games as such, even though there may be games within the environment they create. What is important, though, is to make sure that the games embedded within the virtual world aren�t simply propped up by the wow-factor of taking place in a massively multiplayer environment. Koster: �I believe that regarding virtual worlds this way opens up the door for a very different outlook on how to design them; the spread of possible worlds becomes much wider. If we let go of the notion that virtual worlds are games, not only will we get better virtual worlds: I believe we will get better game worlds too.� What is also important is to recognise that online games of this kind are increasingly social spaces, and what really matters is not �game� in the sense a ludologist would understand, but rather the methods and processes by which the MMORPG allows players to act, co-operate and compete within the social space. Getting the balance right, of course, is the real trick: just look at how many people are put off Second Life�s lack of �game� for evidence of this. […]

  77. > I’ve made occasional posts to Mud-Dev.

    I’ve seen them, but Mud-Dev hasn’t been letting me post for something like two years, and I haven’t really found time to go asking around to figure out what’s going on there. I tried to respond to your comments on voice chat in October, for example, but my message just disappeared into the ether.

    I agree that a lot of rules are just implicitly assumed without being stated, and I agree it’s a good idea to explicitly state them… because that’s frequently the only time you can tell when something is very, very wrong. There used to be a general assumption that a video game went on forever, and that difficulty was increased by making the game faster with each level. When you say that out loud, it sounds pretty silly, but as long as we just accepted it as how things worked… well, just look at the number of games that worked this way.

  78. […] Are MMO’s Games? – Interesting editorial on MMO’s […]

  79. > If we let go of the notion that virtual
    > worlds are games, not only will we get
    > better virtual worlds: I believe we will
    > get better game worlds too.

    When you start saying things like this, this is when you know you’ve completely lost touch as a game designer.

    This attitude explains only too well how Star Wars Galaxies became the empty and lifeless experience it is today and why players have abandoned it in droves for games like World of WarCraft and Guild Wars — games that never forgot they were supposed to be games.

  80. Obviously, I disagree. For several reasons.

    For one, SWG wasn’t representative of this line of thinking (which is more recent). For another, the failings of that game don’t have much to do with this line of thinking, either. (What does whether it’s a place or not have to do with a lack of content?)

    What thinking this way does is make you pay more attention to whether a given game within your world is actually fun enough to stand on its own as a game. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s a good enough game because of all the attributes that a space happens to give. For example, making do with a combat systems or a crafting system that taken in isolation, isn’t a fun game at all, but that we let slide because it happens to connect up with the larger game world.

  81. I’m still not convinced that a MMORPG as a whole doesn’t fall into the classification of game, world-space included.

    I do agree that the subsets of the game have to stand alone as games in their own right. Back to the tennis analogy again…

    A tennis tournament is in itself a game. However, if the individual games of tennis weren’t fun as a game in their own right, the tennis tournament would not exist – or if it did it wouldn’t be enjoyable.

    Such composite games don’t work if their components are equally un-fun.

    I like the line of thinking this argument entails, even if I don’t agree with your conclusions. Still the same reasons as I mentioned above.

  82. […] Check out what Raph Koster says about this. […]

  83. Thank you, Raph! I’ve been saying this for years. MMOs don’t even deserve to have RPG in thier name. There is no creation, no real interaction. How many of the people that you play with have you actually met? How many of them are in the same room as you when you play? You are doing the same thing that a million other people have done, exactly the same way- it’s more like reading a novel.

    Yes, you might be playing, but to play a game, you need others.

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