Exceptionalism

 Posted by (Visited 15533 times)  Game talk
May 152006
 

In the apparently neverending discussion thread on the Metaverse Summit, I seem to have been assigned the role of Second Life skeptic or even opponent, despite this not being my intention. In fact, it’s rather odd, since in some circles I am considered a staunch SL defender, whereas in others I am the skeptic…! I guess I have different avatars for different social worlds…

In a post over at his blog, Cory Ondrejka writes,

Would you be willing to give up on online game exceptionalism? 🙂

This is driven, of course, by the comments I made in the thread, that offered up the following intentionally contentious statements, which I have re-edited to fit in the context of this post (and make it seem less like I am picking on Second Life!):

  • most people find game worlds to be more fun than freeform social worlds
  • game worlds have historically been what has driven adoption in virtual spaces
  • the gameworlds have historically been what has driven lasting innovation
  • the future of the metaverse is going to come from gameworlds, not freeform social worlds

Now, let me preface this by saying that the distinction between “game world” and “social world” is a fuzzy one anyway. I’ve written before about how I consider virtual worlds to be, well, virtual worlds, and the uses they are put to via embedding activities in them to be the things that drive typology. For the purposes of this discussion, however, let’s say that “game world” means a virtual world whose initial design was primarily intended for entertainment, as opposed to a social world whose initial design was intended primarily for socializing.

This typology echoes the classic text world distinction between MUDs and MUSH/MOO worlds. But MUSHes and MOOs, although basedon codebases of similar capability, in fact had fairly different sorts of usages. In fact, I’d got further, and identify the following core archetypes for world design practices, located along a spectrum:

  • game worlds epitomized by the MUD model but also represented by games as diverse as Multiplayer Battletech and Air Warrior. These are characterized by there being a core, overarching game mechanic that sums up the principal activity of the world. They are the easiest to grasp since they analogize directly to familiar game types. They are also easy to deride, these days. These typically feature heavily “goal-oriented play” (cf MUD-Dev) and “hard fun” (cf Lazzaro) characteristics. EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lineage, and so on.
  • worldy games, which are intended as recreational immersive living in fictional universes, modeled via game systems. These will typically encompass multiple, frequently radically different game systems. They are still games, but will emphasize freeform, non-guided play and “easy fun” (cf Lazzaro again) much more. Sandboxes, rather than theme parks, but with a bunch of toys tossed in. There’s a wide spectrum here, but I would classify Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies (certainly pre-NGE, but even now to some degree), A Tale in the Desert, and Eve Online in this category. For that matter, Puzzle Pirates too.
  • themed social worlds are epitomized by the MUSH model. Although the technical capabilities of the MUSH codebase was comparable to that of the MOOs, in practice most MUSHes were not used in that manner. Instead, MUSHing came to mean collaborative roleplay. Carefully constructed worlds with thematic consistency, systems designed to enhance that immersive experience, and relatively little engagement with “game systems” in the traditional sense. In the name of consistency, user creation options are generally curtailed administratively. Worlds such as Underlight come to mind for modern examples, as well as much of what is done by Skotos Tech. Think virtual LARPing.
  • freeform social worlds were represented well by the “talker” style of text mud as well as many MOOs. Often, they didn’t include any user content tools, but their presence was usually found. I’d call There one of these (in the past I’ve said it was like a MUSH, but it doesn’t have that emphasis on the fictional theme), as well as that new PCD Lounge I referenced earlier today. Habitat and The Palace fall here as well.
  • builder worlds are what many associate with MOOs. LambdaMOO is today the archetypical example, but in the graphical worlds, we’ve seen OnLive, Alphaworld, and today Second Life. I tend to think of these as almost wrapping the spectrum around to the other end, since builder worlds often seem very “gamelike” to users, and the user content stuff tends to get echoed in a weird watered down way by the crafting systems in the game worlds.

You’ll notice I left “mirror world” out of the above. I can see any of the above being set in a mirror world, really, though clearly mirror worlds are better for some applications than others.

You’ll also notice that I left the question of display method and simulation type (2d or 3d or textual) out of the discussion. The answer to this is of course to use the right simulation model for the desired design intent.

This spectrum also assumes right off the bat that some virtual worlds are intended to hold games and some aren’t, using the “place” model that I advocate along with folks like Dr. Bartle.

Given this framework, what was I trying to get at with my bullet points?

  • That embedded entertainment content is required to reach mass markets. Historically, there’s been a curve to the usage of that spectrum; it’s been way high at the game end and rather low at the builder end. Even pure talkers have usually done worse than the worldy games, for example, and in the mass market game biz and its fandom it’s common to see worldy games dismissed as being too niche these days. Most people are consumers of entertainment, not producers, as has been observed many times.
  • Hand in hand with this, we have typically seen that it has been gamey worlds driving adoption of virtual worlds in general. Many people, as they burn out on the games, slide towards the other end of the spectrum. Really jaded folks are quite happy to log into their world of choice and use it as a talker. There’s a creation gap at the very end, however, a gate that tends to be difficult to get through simply because of the difficulty of learning and then successfully using content creation tools. People enter through the games, which are easily grasped, relatively unencumbered by philosophical notions of the future of virtual reality, and marketed to average people via more mainstream channels.
  • There is no doubt that the true sources of innovation lie on the right side, not the left. It’s at the fringes that we find most innovation. But the drivers of lasting innovation are the games, because it’s not until a given innovation is pushed by games that it is likely to stick around. There’s countless innovations in smaller worlds that never see mass acceptance because of the smaller size of the audience. Many innovations are evolutionary dead ends, and we mustn’t forget that evolution isn’t about progress.
  • Finally, I asserted that the future of the metaverse will come from games. The reasons why are implicit in the above three points, and the real thing I wanted to get to in this post.

First, we need to take a hard look at these characteristics of the market:

  • There are 10 times more consumers than producers. This is not a made up stat, it’s reflective of what has been seen in countless systems that provide user-content-creation capabilities. Now, this is a scalable figure — I’ve picked an average here — because the ease of content creation affects it dramatically. Way less than 10% of users make Quake maps, because it’s just damn hard. On the other hand, something like The Sims with its relatively low barrier of entry permits a higher percentage of user content contribution.
  • There are 100 times more consumers than good producers. The good ol’ Sturgeon’s Law thing.
  • At any given time historically, these numbers have been reflected in the populations of virtual worlds specializing in one part of the spectrum versus another. Not for individual worlds, but in the aggregate.
  • And yet, there’s a tremendous impetus on the web towards user-created content, and it’s a prncipal driver behind the success of sites ranging from eBay to Amazon to Flickr to Technorati.

The thing we must not lose sight of here is that content creation is a skill just as much as being a badass game player is, and it’s therefore subject to the same power law sorts of success rates. “The average person is below average” is my favorite way of couching this: the median player will be below the mean.

That doesn’t mean that I am not a believer in user content; far from it, I am a huge advocate. You get a large enough install base, and your 1% starts being a rather large number. I am, also, a huge fan of worlds that are not on the very left side of the spectrum; I favor worldy games, myself, and the last world I was seriously hooked on was actually a talker in this nomenclature. In fact, I usually get yelled at for not being content-centric enough, because my design interests really lie along the empowering-users side of things.

But let’s look at some of those sites that are using the user content concept, and see how they do it. eBay is a store where people primarily resell other people’s creations. Technorati is a search engine based on finding commentary on other people’s writing. Amazon is a site that uses user reviews of other people’s products. Flickr, Google, and actually all the Web 2.0 sites are embraced because of the way they feed data out, allowing people to build on what is there. Even creative geniuses are imitative, and user content works best in a context of fandom. Most of the truly amazing successes in the user-created web have been built out that sort of relationship, and it’s no accident that the top blogs — hell, top websites — all tend to be aggregators.

So, in response to the exceptionalism question: it’s not quite true that I am an exceptionalist as regards games; say, rather, than I am a content exceptionalist, because good content is what drives eyeballs, now, then, and forever.

  46 Responses to “Exceptionalism”

  1. Original post:Exceptionalism by at Google Blog Search: online games Pages: Start

  2. investment starts to flow again. Yet these social services and community games may be nothing in 2-3 years. Honestly. Who remembers Excite, InfoSeek, NorthernLight or AltaVista, or any other search engine? I think Raph is correctwhen he says today, “the future of the metaverse is going to come from gameworlds, not freeform social worlds.” Games bring with them rules, a lingua franca for online transactions and communication, and most importantly, a familiarity with the interfaces needed to

  3. Raph Koster has a very interesting discussion going on about online worlds and the march toward a Metaverse. There is also a related discussion about”exceptionalism” in regards to the Metaverse discussion. I really don’t want to say much about it here, other than to point you to the discussion. This is for a couple of reasons: I can’t bring myself to philosophize about games the way these guys do.

  4. remember them? — who just stare, mouth agape, when i tell them how much i work. (god bless my wife for putting up with it!) there are others like me out there. in fact, there’s a ‘game’ full of them. but,as i said in the comments on raph’s musings: in real life, the masses are basically sheep. the ’shepherd to sheep’ ratio sits at this 1% range. second life is a ‘game’ (i use the term very loosely) with too many shepherd

  5. Wow. That’s pretty heavy, Ralp. Had to read it twice and then ponder it after that. The piece I’m missing in your formula is economics. I get that embedded entertainment gets you to the masses, that game worlds drive virtual world improvement, and that (at least so far) we’re seeing the innovations from from games …

    But then you throw in the laywers, real estate agents, and anyone else who sees the financial prospect of a place such as SL, and all of the sudden you have the metaverse is driven to fruition by the mere fact it has earning potential. Maybe I missed it somewhere, but that’s the risk as I see it. Or perhaps not risk, but the variable that calls for attention in you formula/logic.

    Anyway, great post. Really got me thinking.

  6. I’m also going to read this about 10 more times before commenting more fully but I do see a big problem right off the bat which is why SL or its step children are likely to be at the cutting edge rather than more MMORPGy gamey games — it’s the attitude toward the consumer as “the masses” who require entertainment of the lower cultural variety (heavy theme or RP, shooting games, cybering, etc.) before they’ll come in the door in mass numbers. The blingtards, furries, vampires, Gor and norms of SL, of course, with very elaborate worlds they make themselves would beg to differ of course, but even if they do get bored and sneak off and play WoW and use SL merely on maintenance day at WoW to talk about WoW and copy WoW ideas into their SL wardrobes, the fact is, people like making stuff themselves a whole bunch. Remember the Kodak camera. People got to record their family history — and hey, any history — and their acrobatic sexual postures too — *by themselves*. This is what Will Wright first did with the sims, took entertainment out of the hands of elites like Hollywood or the game devs like at UO, and put it into the individual’s hands so he could conceive, write, script, stage, and enact his own movie. SL takes it even way further and then warps it back into RL. The aggregate of a lot of individuals having the freedom to make their own stuff and not be trapped in the deadening treadmill of goldmining and goldselling on very limited third-party sites, people doing more interesting stuff that won’t be 6 million right away at first, those are the masses that will effect the global change. I don’t even think Cory Linden’s right that your all’s games are going to just be pwned by LL and put on their platform, it’s more like games are going to get all different and be everywhere, like I said the gas station having a gold rush where you get the ore to be a credit on your cell phone bill, etc.

  7. you throw in the laywers, real estate agents, and anyone else who sees the financial prospect of a place such as SL, and all of the sudden you have the metaverse is driven to fruition by the mere fact it has earning potential.

    Don’t dismiss the earnings potential of the other models. The earnings are perhaps distributed differently, but scale is its own argument.

    the fact is, people like making stuff themselves a whole bunch.

    Oh, absolutely. Remember, I am the one who said this:

    Let me say, sir, that I really sympathize. I’m an artsy type, as Jessica is fond of reminding me, and you know, I have an MFA. I spent much of my life training to write crafted experiences. There’s an intense amount of learning and craft and skill that goes there, and I hate to say this to say this to all the film directors, writers, poets, um, painters, and everything else out there in the world: get over yourselves, the rest of the world is coming. Okay? People value self-expression. Is story going to go away? No. Is careful crafting going to go away? No. Are the professionals engaged in that going to go away? No–well, except that IP, the concept of intellectual property, may; but that’s a whole other side discussion.

    The thing is that people want to express themselves, and they don’t really care that 99% of everything is crap, because they are positive that the 1% they made isn’t. Okay? And fundamentally, they get ecstatic as soon as five people see it, right?

    I am on your side on this issue. However, I am also very aware of the obstacles.

    Remember the Kodak camera. People got to record their family history — and hey, any history — and their acrobatic sexual postures too — *by themselves*.

    I think there is a HUGE difference between recording and creating. It is, in fact, basically the same distinction as I am making in the post regarding derivative works.

    This is what Will Wright first did with the sims, took entertainment out of the hands of elites like Hollywood or the game devs like at UO, and put it into the individual’s hands so he could conceive, write, script, stage, and enact his own movie.

    Sims is exactly an example of my argument. 🙂 It’s a game, and paackaged as a game; it’s got a very low barrier to content creation; and the only things you can make with it are derivative works. Taking it further makes it harder, thereby allowing fewer people to do it.

    I don’t even think Cory Linden’s right that your all’s games are going to just be pwned by LL and put on their platform, it’s more like games are going to get all different and be everywhere, like I said the gas station having a gold rush where you get the ore to be a credit on your cell phone bill, etc.

    I agree with this, actually. 🙂

  8. I just wanted to chime in with a brief quip:

    The future of the metaverse is going to come from gameworlds, not freeform social worlds.

    The valiant destiny of humankind relies on bandwidth; thus, the wings of whatever arises from whatever ashes shall be clipped by the shears of physics.

  9. Raph wrote:

    most people find game worlds to be more fun than freeform social worlds

    You could think of this in another way: Most people already live in a free-form social world (aka: RL) and want to visit game worlds as an escape. People actually prefer the free-form social worlds, but since RL is free and has superior eye candy, people don’t go for the virtual implimentations as much. Killing orcs and flying spaceships, on the other hand, aren’t doable in RL.

    Continuing with this line of thought, builder worlds, like SL, are popular because building in RL is very expensive.

  10. the future of the metaverse is going to come from gameworlds, not freeform social worlds

    “game world” means a virtual world whose initial design was primarily intended for entertainment, as opposed to a social world whose initial design was intended primarily for socializing.

    Oh, I’m starting to agree again.

    Btw, people don’t want to visit game worlds as an escape. That would be too bland. People like game worlds because they communicate better.

    It’s about myths and suggestions we all share, that’s why a game world needs to “reach”. There must be both something familiar and unfamiliar.

  11. […] Comments […]

  12. Mike Rozak wrote:

    Most people already live in a free-form social world (aka: RL) and want to visit game worlds as an escape

    I don’t think that’s true. There are very specific and exact rules to RL ranging from Gravity to Property. If you put people in a place where there are no rules, they have no idea what to do.

  13. […] Exceptionalism on Raph Koster Exceptionalism on Raph Koster Quote: […]

  14. If you put people in a place where there are no rules, they have no idea what to do.

    Yes they do: They build porn shops. I’m gonna get yelled at for harping on this again, but at least for my experience in a builder world (SL) there is an overabundance of porn shops. Why? I’m not sure, but it seems logical that porn is somewhat easy to do from a content “creation” standpoint, but moreover it’s because porn is so widely consumed. The builders who focus on porn probably do so because they’re guaranteed an audience and they can long-tail like crazy to make there virtual cash.

    I think this supports Raph’s assertion that more people are more interested in consuming than in creating, or maybe his point that few people are really good at creating content. If everyone who wanted porn could create it themselves (and, really, that ought not be a hard task) then they probably would.

  15. Metaverse Grudge Match

    In the wake of the Metaverse Roadmap (are you tired of hearing about this event yet?) a really interesting distributed conversation has developed that has as its main interlocutors massively multiplayer game designer Raph Koster, chief technology offic…

  16. To be totally honest (and a little more blunt than is probably polite), I don’t really see anything special about Second Life. All of the emergent behavior that makes virtual worlds so fascinating just stems from the real people involved. Regardless of whether it’s with a 3d avatar they put together, a character wearing +1 dungarees of uberness, or with multicolored text scrolling up a screen at an alarming pace, it’s the same thing with different window dressing.

    Some of my friends are in love with City of Heroes and think it’s got more replay value than any game ever made. Some of them play Second Life and think it’s entirely the bee’s knees. One of them even plays Medievia and thinks it’s the most brilliant original game on the face of the earth. When I ask them what makes “their” game special, they all either say “because of the people I know” or “because nothing else is like it”. One thing in common between all my friends who say the latter, though, is that it’s the first massively multiplayer game they’ve played. The first time always comes with a feeling that’s never quite duplicated.

    I don’t mean to be ragging on Second Life, and there’s a good chance I’m just missing something, but I don’t see anything “new” about it. All I see is a new spin on marketing and a strong embrace of monetary trading. LambdaMOO’s had player building since the dawn of time give or take a day or two — not in 3d, granted, but the ratio of text mudders to decent writers is higher than the ratio of computer users to decent 3d artists. Trading money for virtual items has been going on illicitly since virtual items came to be, and off the top of my head Achaea has been sanctioning such (although only with the administration, not player-to-player) since early in its life. The community-building and player governments and such exist in virtually every game less the most restrictive, and even then people tend to find a way through forums and email politicking and what-have-you.

    It just seems to me that the hype about Second Life just seems to be talking about the same neat stuff that appears any time you put more than a handful of people together and let them talk.

  17. I can’t put together a coherent thought, not last night, nor now, but I thought I’d point out that the words “mythical”, “story”, and “escape” definitely have something important. And I’d reference Bartle’s mapping of the Hero’s Journey onto a player’s experience.

    The idea is to explode from the real (Primary World) to the fantastic (Secondary World, in Tolkien-speak) and do weird things like “Ooh, magic” but without the mind-blowing-up of unreality beyond what their mind can imagine for them. We can imagine being an Elf; that’s just a stereotype. It’s harder to do weightlessness; we can do it better now because of lots of movies.

    And besides… it’s too much work to imagine how life would be like without gravity. Since, you know… there wouldn’t be any planets, either. =P

  18. Yes they do: They build porn shops.

    If you put people in a place where there are no rules, the people create rules to follow, enforce, violate, change, revoke, and ignore. People create options. That’s why we have so many laws, so many brands, so many religions, so many genres of music, so many types of games, so many ways to play, so many ways to kill and be killed… We are naturally inclined to provide ourselves with a variety of options. We personalize our existence in many ways. We live in the ultimate virtual world using the ultimate interface characterized as perception.

    Conflict arises when we want others to choose options based on our preferences. If you put people in a place where there are no options, the people will create options. And that’s where conflict occurs. That’s why when people choose a religion, they create denominations and denominations of denominations, and so forth. Being limited to one option is called death, and even the suicidal seek to create options beyond that limit.

  19. an easy way to look at it is:

    in real life, the masses are basically sheep. the ‘shepherd to sheep’ ratio sits at this 1% range. second life is a ‘game’ (i use the term very loosely) with too many shepherd’s and not enough sheep. it’s just not any fun for folks who aren’t ‘shepherds.’

    the breakout mmo — no. wow isn’t even close to mass market. 6 million subscribers is a dew drop on the mass gaming scale. hell, there are that many xbox 360’s out there and the generation/console is only 6 months old. — will be one who builds deep community tools like second life, but also has entertainment/plot layered throughout.

    the growth of second life, while impressive to some i suppose, is nothing. it’s a bunch of ‘constructionists’ glad-handing each other. sort of reminiscient of this whole ‘web 2.0’ thing. nobody cares but the elite cadre who ‘get it.’ the people who build in game are going to be the same entreprenural folks who build in real life. you need the non-builders in there too. it’s called a ‘consumer.’

    this: http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?&range=1y&size=medium&compare_sites=&y=r&url=travian.com#top

    that’s an inkling of what mainstream adoption looks like. that’s what success looks like. and — i would bet — most of you guys have not even heard of travian yet.

    oooh! second life’s growth only tripled in a year? yet it’s free? that’s so cute!

    you want to talk about real mass adoption? you talk about myspace — which, by the way, succeeded due to similar priciples of second life, only shrouded with the ‘magic entertainment bug’ of music. musicians were the shepherds, consumers the sheep.

    people went in to be entertained and stayed to create content.

    the simple act of ‘join us and create!’ doesn’t work. it’s a long, slow, hard adoption curve you fight once you get outside of the ‘cool kids.’ i would imagine why that’s why there are only 60k active folks in the last 60 days in second life.

    god. that just makes me chuckle. bragging about 60k users…. all this second life navel gazing just makes me laugh.

    m3mnoch.

  20. Abalieno said on May 15th, 2006 at 11:08 pm:
    Btw, people don’t want to visit game worlds as an escape. That would be too bland. People like game worlds because they communicate better.

    If there is a single thing that should be rule #1, it is: don’t try to assign universal motives.

  21. >Most people already live in a free-form social world (aka: RL) and want to visit game worlds as an escape

    Sure, but most people spend 10 days working at their computer screen, in RL, either in RL jobs or at home telecommuting or just catching up, and anything that makes that better, faster, more enjoyable, more tolerable will win. That’s what the social worlds can offer to the extent they get away from the gaming worlds.

    The social worlds and 3-D web technology platforms, especially if they don’t fork off too far away from each other in development (i.e. destroying the worldness to create the consumer shopping technology), are going to create the space that people who have to work and “monetarize their time on line” are going to be able to, allowed to, encouraged to, paid to go to.

    David Linden talks about SL as being a “monetarized socializing platform”. Pretty dull stuff when you’d rather be in the Ruins of Ravenwind with a bear, perhaps. But if the Atrium of Ravenglass is part of what makes you able to make a RL living AND becomes a place other people can add to their MyWorlds list or Worlds for Windows bookmarks where they can *get things done* we’ll all be in a very different place.

  22. but most people spend 10 days working at their computer screen, in RL, either in RL jobs or at home telecommuting or just catching up, and anything that makes that better, faster, more enjoyable, more tolerable will win.

    The success of WoW has at least partially been credited (sp?) to the “alone together” phenomenon. The idea that people don’t want to be social all the time. They want to do stuff that’s not with other people… but they also want to be with people.

    So maybe that model’s exactly what will lose. Or more to the point, maybe neither will lose.

    If you put people in a place where there are no rules, the people create rules to follow, enforce, violate, change, revoke, and ignore.

    They also, more importantly and more frequently, import rules from other spaces. Primarily from RL, but also from past games and VWs and any other space they might have picked up ideas from.

  23. most of you guys have not even heard of travian yet.

    *raises hand* It’s rather well done.

    I know I will thrill m3mnoch by mentioning this, but the entire genre of web-based persistent games is just booming right now, quite under most people’s radar.

  24. nah. not thrilled. web-based, passive mmo gaming is dumb. nobody in their right mind would have anything to do with it.

    there’s nothing to see here. move along.

    m3mnoch.

    [aside]
    /whines

    duuuuuuude… it’s okay if some lunatic nobody has ever heard of (me) is thinking it’s rad and raving like a madman. but, if someone all high-profile and stuff like you starts talking about it, it’ll raise too much awareness too quickly. we’re not ready for that yet…. almost. but not quite.

  25. the breakout mmo — no. wow isn’t even close to mass market. 6 million subscribers is a dew drop on the mass gaming scale. hell, there are that many xbox 360’s out there and the generation/console is only 6 months old. — will be one who builds deep community tools like second life, but also has entertainment/plot layered throughout.

    I agree with this completely. The reason SL never appealed to me is that there didnt seem to be anything to it. A VW that’s centered solely on user created content seems just as shallow as one that’s focused on killing orcs. When a game comes along with a strong setting, but also allows a wide variety of user created content-within the limits of the setting-I think it’ll blow WoW and SL away.

    I’ll use Starcraft as an example of what I consider a good balance: you get the official Campaigns as well as the tools to make your own maps, scenarios, etc. You have guaranteed quality content for those of us who like PLAYING, as well as tools for you creator-types to make content with, which gives us player-types more to do. WoW is just the Campaign. SL is just the map editor. User created content is great, but, to me at least, its not enough.

    I do see a big problem right off the bat which is why SL or its step children are likely to be at the cutting edge rather than more MMORPGy gamey games — it’s the attitude toward the consumer as “the masses” who require entertainment of the lower cultural variety (heavy theme or RP, shooting games, cybering, etc.) before they’ll come in the door in mass numbers

    The thing is, without a theme like Fantasy or Sci-Fi, what gets someone to log in to your VW?

  26. A VW that’s centered solely on user created content seems just as shallow as one that’s focused on killing orcs.

    I asked a friend who played WoW why he didn’t take a look at Second Life a few weeks ago. His explanation was the fact that there were constantly “things to do”; he was given quests and such to always be doing.

    The thing is, without a theme like Fantasy or Sci-Fi, what gets someone to log in to your VW?

    Excellent question. My response is another question: why does it have to be a theme? Fantasy is not a question of time period; there are sci-fi stories set in the past and fantasy stories set in the future. Fantasy is a mindset, really.

  27. >I asked a friend who played WoW why he didn’t take a look at Second Life a few weeks ago. His explanation was the fact that there were constantly “things to do”; he was given quests and such to always be doing.

    But there’s always things to be doing in SL too. I’m perplexed by this. I do realize that quite a lot of people like to be told what to do *and* tell others what to do. Well, ok, then there are people who like neither and just do their own thing.

  28. “Motivation”

    SL lacks motivation.

    Which is the difference in a “game”.

    It’s why RPGs are strong: Why I’m here? Who I am?

    People like to define themselves. But firstly you need to give them a context where they recive suggestions and that communicates with them.

  29. But there’s always things to be doing in SL too. I’m perplexed by this. I do realize that quite a lot of people like to be told what to do *and* tell others what to do. Well, ok, then there are people who like neither and just do their own thing.

    But this is where the worldy games have an advantage for content-consumer; there’s forces directing you to ‘do stuff’ in Eve or ATitD, which do not exist in SL. The people who make their own internal objectives and goals (‘I want to own the most popular strip club ever!’) do fine in that situation, but people looking to be entertained wander around, get bored, and leave (or play Tringo as casinos). One solution I can see to this, is to allow the content-creation players to create directed content for other players (a can of worms, but still). Whether it’s treasure hunts, construction help, or wearing a chicken suit to advertise a shop, something that rewards people for investing time. Of course, in the real world we call such things ‘work’. And in WoW, we call them ‘work’ … err … ‘quests’.

  30. I was equally perplexed, at the time, but Abalieno and James address it quite well. There are two problems with the idea of “handing the power to the people”: (1) the people generally don’t care enough to want it, and (2) the generally turn out crap.

    You can deal with that, sure… but you have to recognize that it will happen and account for it. But it’s also simply not possible to drop a world down on the users and expect them to build a wonderland; they… don’t. And I hate that they don’t.

  31. (1) the people generally don’t care enough to want it, and (2) the generally turn out crap.

    There are some very talented people who turn out some great stuff in SL, Entropia, The Sims … etc. I think one problem the builders face is they lack any sort of real filtering in-world. The stuff is just *there* because someone was doodling with their 3d tools. The Sims is able to filter content, but I realize that’s a bit different since (as far as I know) you’re not actually creating content WITHIN The Sims.

    I think another thing the builders lack is some level of consistency throughout the map. There’s geographic consistency (or continuity, more appropriately), but you can have Slitherface’s Leather Shop next to the Bayside Ecumenical House of Worship. Such a juxtaposition can be jarring, and I think people look for themes, or at least are more comfortable with consistency.

    I think the radical diversity of themes in builders can be a stressor. It’s like walking down the street and seeing a different parking-lot carnival every block.

    And people need guidance, and they need it more than in the form of notecards or volunteer mentors. Look at the newbie tours in the worldy mmo’s … the player is directed. They know what their “purpose” is in this world. SL has a tutorial that is really good at teaching the new user how to affect their avatar, and how to get around and interact with things. But you don’t really know what to do after that. Some may argue that’s the fun of discovery, but I think most people need more structure than that.

  32. Excellent question. My response is another question: why does it have to be a theme? Fantasy is not a question of time period; there are sci-fi stories set in the past and fantasy stories set in the future. Fantasy is a mindset, really.

    When I think of “Fantasy” i think of swords-and-sorcery, so that’s my fault for not clarifying. I guess setting would’ve been a better word.

    I think another thing the builders lack is some level of consistency throughout the map. There’s geographic consistency (or continuity, more appropriately), but you can have Slitherface’s Leather Shop next to the Bayside Ecumenical House of Worship. Such a juxtaposition can be jarring, and I think people look for themes, or at least are more comfortable with consistency.

    This is exactly the problem I was getting at.

    But this is where the worldy games have an advantage for content-consumer; there’s forces directing you to ‘do stuff’ in Eve or ATitD, which do not exist in SL. The people who make their own internal objectives and goals (’I want to own the most popular strip club ever!’) do fine in that situation, but people looking to be entertained wander around, get bored, and leave (or play Tringo as casinos).

    This is why I don’t think that SL will ever really top WoW, because there are more people looking to be entertained than looking to entertain. The game that tops WoW will be one that IS as entertaining as WoW with a robust set of content creation tools for those who look to entertain.

  33. I think one reason content creation in a defined world is better than in a free-form world is because of the necessary limitations a defined world imposes. I would think MMO creators who set up a world with a “theme” or setting would not want to include content creation tools that will produce content that differs greatly from that setting. Personally, I think this is great, because I believe limits foster creativity. It’s the old cliche that you have to know the rules to break them.

    Take for example the Halo 2 player icon creation system. For those who aren’t familiar, its incredibly simple: a two color background, a two color foreground, with the patterns and colors being chosen from a predefined set and pallette. Despite these limitations, I have seen players regularly create icons that can be really cool, really artistic, and even incredibly obscene. The fact is, these limitations are a challenge. One, I think, most players are happy to overcome. It is for this same reason I also love the character creation system in Soul Caliber 3. Sure it’s limited, but with creativity, you can create a diverse array of fighters. Other examples are of this are Fable, Starcraft/Warcraft (as mentioned by Rendakor above), and my current personal favorite, Animal Crossing.

    Animal Crossing: Wild World for DS is, by the way, quickly becoming an MMO. And not by design, mind you, but by natural evolution. With the DS’s wifi capabilities, players can visit eachother’s towns. Enter MySpace. People there are now posting their friend codes online with a time that other players can come visit them. There is also a AC community site with similar happenings. It fits the bill in all other aspects as well–avatars, items, equipment, NPC’s, quests… well, you get the idea. And the great thing about AC that makes it so much friendlier than most MMOs? It’s brilliantly simple and easy to play, with a great set of content creation tools. No intimidating learning curve. Just thought I’d share the good news.

  34. When I think of “Fantasy” i think of swords-and-sorcery, so that’s my fault for not clarifying. I guess setting would’ve been a better word.

    You perplex me. People log into a world based on its setting? That doesn’t seem right.

    There are some very talented people who turn out some great stuff in SL, Entropia, The Sims … etc.

    Well, I was referencing Sturgeon’s Law. Most created stuff sucks, but a percentage of it is good, and a percentage of that is excellent. I didn’t mean to be negative, just blunt.

    Authors, the ones who get paid that is, and other various types of artists, are typically in the top 50% as it is; for every author with a book on the shelves, there’s a hobbyist who writes stories on paper on in Word documents with no expectation of publication, except perhaps to personal friends. For every artist on Elfwood, there’s a doodler making stick figures in class; and someone looks over their shoulder and laughs, but publishing and making a living off it is a silly notion.

    World building almost certainly works off this same problem. One of the most pointed truths about Second Life is that it’s a segregated world. This can be seen as an advantage or a flaw, but it’s definitely not cohesive.

  35. There are some very talented people who turn out some great stuff in SL, Entropia, The Sims … etc. I think one problem the builders face is they lack any sort of real filtering in-world.

    And that great stuff can top commercial products made by full teams of professionals that worked on similar stuff for years?

    Becuase the point is all there.

    When something within these metaverses will have enough value to even hold as a standalone product, then people could get interested.

    But I guess that if people have the skill to pull that, then thay probably want to develop even their own tools to do exactly what they want.

  36. You perplex me. People log into a world based on its setting? That doesn’t seem right.

    I bought WoW because I’d played the WC RTS games and liked those. I haven’t played ATITD because an egyptian setting (or theme or what have you) doesnt interest me. Is that not a valid reason to choose to (or not to) play a game?

  37. In general, people buy MMOs based on what it says on the box, plus or minus any ties to existing products, like Star Wars or Warcraft. Sure, word of mouth is good, a website is a must, but if the box doesn’t speak to you, are you going to plunk down $50?

    I personally think a lot of Everquest’s early market share is from their wisely puting a girl on the box

  38. Alright… sounds fair. I still maintain that “setting” and “theme” are two different things, but that’s a tangential argument; but I can see how people might log into a world based on that.

    I think I would have used “genre” for “fantasy”, “setting” for “medieval”, and “theme” for “swords-and-sorcery”.

  39. […] Raph’s Website » Exceptionalism ould you be willing to give up on online game exceptionalism? (tags: secondlife games social socialgaming metaverse) […]

  40. […] The beginning of Raph’s essay on exceptionalism goes straight over my head, but this paragraph spoke directly to what I’m working on right now: The thing we must not lose sight of here is that content creation is a skill just as much as being a badass game player is, and it’s therefore subject to the same power law sorts of success rates. […]

  41. […] Before I explain what Ben proposed, I’ll give a bit of background on what I view to be the importance of shared experience in virtual worlds for offline life.I gave a talk last week about one of the reasons I think virtual trade exists: trust. Researchers argue that the existence of established (and utilised) economic systems in online games demonstrates the trust that users/players have in one another: to deliver, to be honest and to reciprocate (if necessary). But it also has repercussions beyond economic motivations. The design of goal-oriented game virtual worlds, from EverQuest to Star Wars Galaxies to World of Warcraft, explicitly ensures that people socially interact. It encourages repeated interaction and ultimately the formation of close groups of often very tight friendships. In some cases, the friendships that emerge are reportedly more significant than offline relationships (see, for example, the work of Ba, Ducheneaut, Moore & Nickell, Yee; and for a great typographical distinction between game worlds and social virtual worlds, see Raph Koster’s recent post here).I propose that one of the reasons for this is shared experience. The goals of online games are tied in with drama and tension. People are jointly active in the defeat of enemies; they work together towards success and they share their spoils – sometimes even in joint stores. When they’re done with a successful raid, members of the party might ask people when others around to do it again. And if they turn up and everyone works for the common goal (whether you win or not), it’s more likely to happen again. And so on. And thus, a bond based upon shared experience is born – which can extend to different spheres, from playing together in different worlds or to networking in the real one. There’s a reason the digital elite call World of Warcraft “the new golf”. It’s because you’ve chosen to spend your free time with a group of people in a way which demonstrates your commitment to that person or to the team. You get to know them in a deep kind of way.I’d argue that this is a different kind of bond than one based upon chatting in a chat room. It’s task-oriented. It’s based upon doing. It’s not, “So, what bands did you see lately?”; it’s, “Hey, do you remember that time when we did…”. The former can lead to shared experience (and sometimes retrospectively offer examples of it). Another important layer in group formation for the WoW set is that the group is united against an enemy. There are clear distinctions between “us” and “them”. A final reason which I believe contributes to the strength of bonds developed in online worlds is that the interaction takes place on the internet. According to quite a lot of internet research, which is perhaps far too much to explain here, the anonymity of internet interaction has implications for the openness and honesty with which people talk about themselves with other people (see for examples the work of McKenna, Bargh & Green – oh and so many others…). The quick bonds which are formulated between people because of the shared successes are enhanced by the unhindered ways which they talk about themselves, and believe others are too.OK, now that I’ve covered the reasons hanging out with people in WoW may be more significant than hanging out in person, I’ll get to my point.What happens when parents get divorced? Say Parent A is given custody of Child and Parent B has visiting rights at weekends or holidays. Parent A doesn’t play Online Game X but Parent B does, and plays for a couple of hours every night with Child. Does that undermine the judge’s custody decision? Child isn’t spending time with Parent A when s/he is hanging in Norrath with Parent B, so if Parent A losing out on important time with Child while Parent B and Child are experiencing enhanced shared experience, what implications does this have for future custody rulings?Taking a more clear-cut (and probably less-emotional) example, what about virtual stalking? Or virtual restraining orders? As identities in cyberspace are mutable, real selves can be hidden by virtual selves. It is not the role of commercial companies to ensure that Account A is allowed to speak with/be within 10 miles of Account B, surely Account A playing with Account B under different cover is in breach of the court’s judgement? When will we see restraining orders including time spent in a virtual world?I don’t have the answers. I’m just posing the questions. If anyone can help, please do let us know. […]

  42. […] And if all the work is about breaking the technology, then maybe it’s more convenient to develop yourself that technology so that you can make what you really want. Makes sense? […]

  43. […] to it.  She gives presentations and workshops around the world, she’s cited by Raph Koster (https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/05/15/exceptionalism/ and others), her research is well supported, interesting, and […]

  44. […] last time I talked about this, it was May 2006. Since then, the industry has “boomed,” but in […]

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