The arts in MMOs

 Posted by (Visited 11059 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 052006

The system described here and here is a lot like what I originally wanted for musicianship in SWG.

Players with higher composing skill would have had access to more buttons in the composition window — stuff like alternate scales, keys, multiple instruments, etc. The composition would be rated in difficulty based on which tools were used to make it.

The ability to add lyrics so that they could be synced up with the song, and use the /sing speech variant (it had notes on the chat bubble border, so you could tell it was sung)

A datadisk would have been generated which then a musician could add to their collection. If they had sufficient musicianship skill, they’d be able to play it. A small performance royalty would go back to the composer every time the song was performed, so that popular songwriters could earn money as they went.

This all fell afoul of legal concerns, of course. There was the fear that someone would simply replicate a song from the real world, thus leaving the game operators liable for copyright infringement.

This applied also to the Writing profession I wanted. Originally, I had hoped for a Holonet in the game, which would essentially be embedded forums/blogs. Each article woud have ratings at the bottom so that user could thumbs-up or down the article — no close button, you had to rate to get the window to go away.

As you got good ratings, you would be able to create your own channel (think “site” with multiple authors) and charge credits for access to read — even have stuff sent to your in-game email as a subscription. I hoped for in-game news to be disseminated this way; the idea was to provide the Lums of the world a way to profit in-game from their commentary which was so popular outside the game.

Of course, many would argue that it is attention to this sort of thing rather than combat that ended up causing SWG’s troubles. 🙂

It raises the broader question, though, of whether there’s a place for the arts in an MMO. I tend to think there is, because we see so much mashup and appropriation based art surrounding the games. Aside from rant sites, we see machinima, we see artfully decorated houses, and of course, one of the very first manifestations onf player-created content in UO was players spelling out dirty words with fish on the bridge to Britain.

The logic in supporting this stuff explicitly is that it’s among the most popular stuff in the game. Players love the movies, the music videos, the goofy screenshots, and of course, the rants and humor pieces. The people who engage in this sort of creatvity are key influencers because their humor and affection for the game spreads well beyond the game’s confines.

But within the game, they get no recognition at all. In fact, usually their work isn’t even viewable within the game, though there are exceptions, such as the occasional in-game theater troupe. Again, though — without in-game tools to support it, doing theater in the game is hard. Tools like lighting and other stage controls, automatic script recital so you don’t have to retype the whole play as you go, special effects you can use, and the ability to charge money for attendance.

One notable exception to this, of course, is what dancers managed to do in SWG. The essential tool turned out to be just the ability to form a group of 20 that would coordinate movements automatically.

Is it all a waste of time? I don’t know. Certainly one thinks that the core gameplay must come first. But so many of the most memorable things I have seen in online worlds have had nothing to do with the game proper, but with these moments off on the side…

  44 Responses to “The arts in MMOs”

  1. s starting to reveal small bits about the original design of SWG (a game I very much miss). Raph discusses what he had wanted for a musician system in SWG and the problems encountered. Really though, this post was inspired by the comment by Chabuhi: “The problem I have with user-created content is the amount of crap you have to weed through to get to the gold.“ I suppose wading through crap content in a world like Second Life could be tough (since, as I understand it, there is nothing but

  2. When I first started playing SWG, I was an Entertainer and, more specifically, a Dancer. A fat, balding, old human male dancer but a dancer never the less. I never made any money – who’d pay to watch the fat bloke dance when there were scantily clad and ultra slim females to flirt with and molest. But that was of little concern because I had fun. Lots of fun.

    It’s a shame that copyright issues and legal concerns tied up the musician skills because I know a lot of people who would have loved to have been able to do that. Likewise, a shame that any form of in game “creative writing” content didn’t get implemented (although reading the SWG forums regularly leads me to think that’s probably a blessing in disguise).

    I still play SWG and the fat man is still around although these days he doesn’t do so much dancing (he’s old and stiff). But thanks for the many splendid days of dancing and drinking until the sun came up again.

  3. Damned be the law!

    A brainstorm my friend and I had was toying with ways you could input music using a client for a MUD. We mostly concluded with the agreement that, technically, yeah, it was definitely possible. I never realized it might have copyright problems.

    IANAL, so I’m not sure, but wouldn’t something like Second Life’s release of intellectual property to the players mitigate it? Then the player who put it in would be liable, not the company hosting the world?

  4. Another great example of a publisher missing the point entirely. In-game created content can do two things; provide value in game (as Ralph says, above), and can also travel out-of-game. The biggest “mash-up” that we’ve got coming is the one at the line between VW’s/MMO’s. “I’m not a Second Lifer, but I watch one on YouTube.”

    The “Fett’s Vette” is a great example of some really talented, directed, focused people putting a bunch of time into a pretty tasty little video. Now… If you’re Lucas Arts, you can either get all hot and sticky about copyright violation… or you can let your users post to somewhere clearly separate from the license-dominated section of the store… and take a cut of the advertising moolaka.

    [Shameless plug alert] I just blogged on the idea that one of the things games need to get even further into mainstream economics are ways to include more advertising/marketing ops within the games/worlds. Not stupid, obvious, “billboards.” But new ways that make sense within the venues offered. The system Ralph mentions, or one like it — some way for game users to create original music in-game — provides one such possibility. The aggregation of all the user content generated in-game could be collected in an iTunes-like space, with some portion of the revenue going to the users, some to the publisher. And the real benefit to the publisher would be the increased “stickiness” and social share that their game would accrue.

  5. “Is it all a waste of time? I don’t know. ”

    No Raph, it wasn’t a waste of time. Not at all. The entertainer professions as they were implemented were, for the social gamer, just the most powerful draw in *any* MMO that was doing the rounds. We had so much fun and I’m genuinely saddened to find that it could have been so, so much more.

    Is there a place for the arts in MMOs? Most assuredly yes. Is there a willingness and an ability to bring in a system that is more than ‘just’ a limited /dance animation? Well… least said. 🙁

    Moving away from SW:G as it’s a pretty highly charged topic still and just thinking in generic game terms, a ‘bard’ class who could produce some sort of ingame media, be it a written piece or a recording of some musical performance, would add such depth to the game world.

    I think one of the attractions of crafting in MMO’s is being able to leave an object in the world that at least has your name on and maybe reflects your attention to detail (or your willingness to stack em high, sell em cheap), likewise in EQ2 the objects with player names that appear teh first time a named MoB is slain.

    Oh aye… just imagine it, a theatre with real performers, a holovid of the performance, a museum of playbills…

    Where doI sign up?

  6. Raph, are you crowd-sourcing?

  7. I’m not right now. 🙂 But I can certainly see myself doing so eventually…!

  8. “Of course, many would argue that it is attention to this sort of thing rather than combat that ended up causing SWG’s troubles.”

    The thing I miss most about SWG is the extra bits that made it a player owned world. Housing as display, not just an extra bank, clothing for the sake of aesthetic appeal, genuine player shops, player cities and the entertainment professions. Of course, I would have to agree that the game aspects weren’t well fleshed out, and that could be attributed to attention given elsewhere. But then, I would say that the combat game aspects didn’t substantially improve over time anyway, and in fact got worse.

    What drove me away ultimately was not the ground based game, but how utterly devoid of anything BUT combat the space game was; I had high hopes of guild owned space stations, or at least dockable capital ships. Player cities in space, basically. I cancelled not long after the JtL beta started.

    I await the game that can manage both an excellent goal-oriented, rewarding game while still being part of a greater world that players can feel some sense of ownership in. Well, mostly I look forward to the time when I can host part of a world myself, and link my part up with other peoples’ parts. That will be the day that we have both ownership and all the content we will ever need.

  9. Hmm, I’ve been looking up the legalities of performing music, and now I’m horrified. Seems I’m almost a hardened criminal for humming a tune as I walk down the street… What a lovely world we live in.

    Still, on a more objective note, if music performance was limited to in-game interpretation, with no ability to use outside music files, I would think that the author’s rights groups should be fairly willing to either waive copyright issues entirely, or provide a blanket licence at a relatively low fee. Has anyone actually asked them?

  10. Yeah, actually. I asked them. ASCAP, specifically.

    They were indeed willing to work something out. The issue, as I recall, was more on the side of the legal department at LEC, which is justifiably very concerned about being a big fat target.

    There was also (are you ready for this?) the fact that by “fixing” the performance into a digital form, it was technically undergoing publication, and therefore you’d also need the publication rights from the Harry Fox Agency (!).

  11. Great read, Raph.

    I’m sure every (former) SWG-player will enjoy every article you’ll post regarding the designs in that game.

    As a former CH, I would LOVE to read about what your goals were for the profession, and also, your thoughts about what the profession eventually became – in the game. 🙂

  12. To me, the arts were what made SW:G “alive”. Decorating houses, hanging out at the cantina in my guild’s town chatting with other players, spending quality time with an ID. It really added to the game. IMHO

  13. Awesome post Raf. What you are talking about is bringing community into the game and more specifically the game play. Of course there is room for that and I would argue that in an age of myspace, flicker, you tube, etc successful games are going to require that kind of interaction. But it probably isn’t going to happen first in a world like SWG where its franchise is best known for star fighting and light sabers.

  14. and of course I mean Raph 😉

  15. Any ideas on how the Marvel vs. NCSoft IP case dealing with City of Heroes’ character generation tool might affect this debate?

    Details: Marvel sues NCSoft because CoH’s character generation tool could be used to create characters resembling those copyrighted by Marvel comics. I’d heard the suit was struck down, but not much more.

    How does that precedent affect things here?

  16. There was also (are you ready for this?) the fact that by “fixing” the performance into a digital form, it was technically undergoing publication, and therefore you’d also need the publication rights from the Harry Fox Agency (!).

    Surely if the performance has to be played note-by-note every time, it doesn’t count as fixed? Players could make macros to play a specific piece of music, but there isn’t much scope for mass reproduction there. Plus the fact that it can’t leave the game enviroment, except through external recordings, which are surely a personal liability rather than a liability for the developers?

  17. The arts made SWG. They were a huge part of the player content of the game (along with the drama and politics). And to me, there’s a big divide between “player content” and “premade content”…and that is often the same as the one between “interesting” and “boring.”

    Am I the only one that gets almost no enjoyment out of most static content, because there’s nothing I can’t read about on Stratics? And most computer-generated dynamic content is so limited/meaningless.

    But visiting a famous player museum, or laying seige to a well-known player town…that’s the fun stuff. That’s what I remember. Not doing generic mission #47 for Darth Vader at the Imperial Theme Park.

  18. The problem I have with user-created content is the amount of crap you have to weed through to get to the gold. Without a doubt there are some amazingly creative and talented players who create some fantastic stuff in worlds like Second Life. Then there are amazingly imaginative people who lack the skills to manifest their visions, yet they try (bless them) and while their efforts are obvious, the end-product is just garbage.

    It gets too much into the sandbox for my taste. Yes, I know, “change the channel if you don’t like it,” but in some implementations you can’t switch it off. It’s just there.

    I’m not claiming any artistic genius myself — I have my areas of expertise: drawing, painting, sculpting — no. Writing — yes. Programming — no. Music — yes. Interior design — no. Eating — yes. Cooking — no.

    I understand that you need to open up the sandbox in order to reach those talented few who are going to bring the good stuff to the table. I guess I just feel like that also creates a lot of litter. But, how do you really control it? If you make the tools too hard to use, then you risk cutting out the talented folks who simply can’t grasp the tools. So, then I suppose the rating system would be the most useful control (depending, of course, on how many thumbs-down it takes to purge the object from the world).

  19. It’s really interesting to read about some of the thought that went into SWG (even if those thoughts didn’t materialize in-game as hoped).

    For me, the core SWG game was relatively standard-fare … it was all the extras, like dancing, musicians, complex crafting and economy, even fireworks, that helped make the game into a multi-year obsession.

    The problem I have with user-created content is the amount of crap you have to weed through to get to the gold.

    I think that’s actually, a good thing. Many have said that MMO’s lack meaning because the world doesn’t reflect the accomplishments of the players. Nearly everyone on the server completed the Hero of Tatooine (how can there be 10K heroes of Tatooine), we all did the theme parks, etc.

    But with things like music, crafting and fireworks, there’s actual opportunity for meaning.

    As an illustration … on the server I played, there was the weaponsmith Stettin. Many considered him to be the best weaponsmith (how is that possible, given that all aspects of crafting were available to everyone). Many considered his reputation to be over-inflated. But everyone knew about Stettin, his store and had dropped by to view the amazing weapons on the wall. He was talked about. Stettin was important to the world. He was, in some senses, a real virtual hero and part of the unique story of the server.

    This isn’t quite the same as having freedom of composition for music, but it leads to the same place. Sure, there would be a whole lot of crap music (just like there were a whole bunch of poorly stocked over-priced weapon stores). But eventually, someone’s rises above the rest. They become part of the story.

    While I don’t recall the names of the toons, there were examples of this even with the limited music available in SWG. I recall one ‘band’ rose above the rest and became sought after to play at events. Imagine what might have been possible had there actually been more artistic freedom in the game.

    There was also a wookiee, famed for his fireworks, who was similarly sought after for events. Fireworks were easy to make. And yet there was only one famed wookiee pyrotechnician.

    One cannot have exceptional player content unless there is a background of crap. The crap is largely ignored. The exceptional rises above and the creators gain a reputation that adds to the story of the world and the enjoyment of other players.

    So I say, let there be crap … it’s the foil that makes greatness notable.

  20. 90% of everything is crap, so what? Do the 19 million blogs about “Johnny said hi to me in the hallway” stop you from enjoying this one?

    [soapbox]Give players the means to do it and all you need to do is prod them in the right direction. Developers should be architecting the world, not trying to fill it.

    I *regret* seeing it used as a cop-out for those who would rather be making single-player or limited multiplayer experiences

    This applies to static quests just as much as instancing: limited-mp content in a massively-mp game.[/soapbox]

    Player content is just inherently more interesting for some reason. Maybe because players can relate to it more. Maybe because it creates a sense of community in a way grinding computer-generated missions can’t.

  21. In my opinion, what caused SWG’s problems was not too much attention paid to the arts, but too much attention paid to combat (especially ‘leet’ combat. In my opinion TOO LITTLE attention was paid to entertainers. Entertainment is one of the main pillars of Star Wars. When the first movie came out the cantina was one of the high points of the film because of the diversity it brought to the sci-fi genre. Before Star Wars sci-fi films had one alien or maybe two, but Star Wars gave us a galaxy full of alien species and the cantina brought them all together. When the SWG developers slowly killed the entertainer professions the overall game was doomed. Mark my words: if entertainers disappear altogether from SWG the game as a whole will not last much longer. Without packed cantinas (and a reason to fill them) the game becomes just another PvP game. Without cantinas full of different species it’s not even really a Star Wars game anymore. The cantina is as important to the feel of the game as is a lightsaber or an X-Wing.

    The developers killed the entertainer professions primarily by allowing too many cantinas. The creation of player cantinas tended to dilute the already sparse populations in the NPC cantinas, leading to a situation where people couldn’t find an entertainer easily. Then entertainer terminals stopped paying a living wage so many entertainers quit because they were reliant on tips which were never forthcoming. Then the hologrind made cantinas annoying, and increased the combat-orientated players even more dismissive of the entertainer playstyle (which they never understood). This is how non-combat play died in SWG, and it’s leading to the death of the game. The developers have always been looking in the wrong place to solve the issue of players leaving the game. It’s never going to be solved by tweaking the combat system. Combat is not really where the Star Wars ambience comes from. If they continue to fix the wrong parts of the game SWG is doomed.

  22. There is definitely a place in MMOs for the arts. As usual, they have flourished in text MMOs for a long time now. For instance, just in our four text MMOS you can find a code-supported theatre (props, charging for admission, effects, costumes, masks, hell, even box seats for rich players), the ability for players to create truly custom clothing patterns (not merely the ability to stick together pre-made parts) which they are then the sole creator of, the similar ability to create furniture, wooden carvings, completely custom player-created dwellings, books, jewelry, etc etc. It’s sad that equivalent implementations haven’t taken hold in graphical MMOs yet, but until there’s a large market for something besides monster bashing, I’m not sure we should expect to see it much.


  23. I think if SWG proved anything it proved that there IS a large market for something besides monster-bashing. When SWG first started there were lots of people dancing and playing in the cantinas (I was one of them). The problem was that these professions were not adequately supported, neither by the combat-orientated players (who often couldn’t even imagine why anyone would like to hang out in a cantina rather than hunt monsters or play PvP), nor by the developers (who seemingly exhibited the same lack of imagination).

    Entertaining to heal wounds and for tips will only get a player so far. If there’s no meaningful content (i.e. entertainer quests and theme parks) for those who have reached the top of the entertainer professions, then eventually being a mere servant to the combat professions is going to get boring. At each step of the game’s development I urged the developers to make Jabba’s Palace (which was already a fully-implemented combat-orientated theme park) accessible by enabling entertainers to play music or dance for Jabba and his cronies. This was a relatively simple addition – the devs wouldn’t have needed to build any major buildings or extra NPCs, and iot would have made complete sense in terms of the Star Wars backstory (Jabba loves to be entertained), but this advice (and similar ideas from other players) was ignored. Instead we (eventually) got lesser quests which failed to give entertainers the Star Wars feel that a Jabba’s Palace entertainer quest would have undoubtedly given. The Jabba’s Casino quest was a much harder thing to implement, but it was promised, then it was shelved because, surprise surprise, it was found to be too much work. It often seemed that the developers preferred to spend MORE time and MORE effort building content that didn’t immerse the player in the Star Wars lore, rather than making a simpler change that fit right into that lore.

    Now, three years on from when I first suggested it, entertainers still have no access to Jabba’s Palace, other than by shooting animals (many entertainers don’t pursue combat skills), and there is no other meaningful entertainer content. Also, because combat ‘leets’ were spitting blood about having to spend 5 minutes away from combat getting the occasional buff, entertainers have had their links to the combat community effectively removed.

    My point, in terms of non-combat play in general, is that unless such play is actively supported by either the devs or other players, it will always ‘seem’ unpopular, no matter how popular the concept actually is. Any idea, even a great one, needs support. Just as a gardener doesn’t plant a rosebush without watering it, pruning it and feeding it, you can’t just implement an innovative new concept and expect it to thrive on its own.

  24. I think you’re going to find that your blog readers tend to be a self-selecting group which I bet has a greater interest in the arts inside MMOs than the general public. 😉

    Personally, I think that the arts have the potential to extend the reach of your game to a wider audience, and also create new ways for players to feel an emotional investment in your game. So, there are good reasons to spend time on this.

    A Tale in the Desert is the only game I know of where artwork is an actual game mechanic. Really, if you provide means for people to create art, it doesn’t even need to be a game mechanic. People seem to be perfectly happy to produce art with no other payoff but the admiration (or, in some cases, annoyance) of their fellow players.

    As far as copyright concerns, while IANAL, I think it should be easy to make the argument that online game providers qualify as “online service providers,” for purposes of the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act. As long as you adhere to the safe harbor requirements of the law, you should be fine (in the US, at least).

  25. I think you’re going to find that your blog readers tend to be a self-selecting group which I bet has a greater interest in the arts inside MMOs than the general public.

    I completely agree with you, actually. I wonder how much of that group is a different but overlapping group than current MMO players, though.

    And what other activities are there that broaden the scope of the userbase? For example, we know that the raiders and the soloers are enjoying two very different games, albeit with most of the same mechanics. How much of the high-level SWG economics game is a game that is only catered to by EvE, old SWG, and maybe ATITD, and which could be a much bigger audience if only the players of Settlers and city sims knew of it? Who knows.

  26. […] Raph’s Website &raquo; The arts in MMOs posted by majcher-w at 2006-07-06 14:37# <majcher-w> the music licensing stuff in here is especially depressing.<emers8n> Just like real life!<majcher-w> right, right.<emers8n> Guess what, guys. If you simulate boring stuff in real life, you just make the game twice as boring. […]

  27. Personally, economics is not my thing. I’d rather have someone tell me a good permanent trade route that just pays my way rather than spend hours looking for a big money-making scheme. Anyway, I never really got the impression that SWG was really an economics game – the economic model never settled down enough for me to see how any real market economy was there. It just seemed to be driven by what the seller demanded. One day you’d see an item costing 1000 credits and the next day it would cost 3000, then it would dip to 200. This might have been a facet of the limitations of the planetary terminals though. But I never got the economy feeling that EvE gives, for example, where the ecomomy really seems to be driven by supply and demand.

    I believe that there’s great scope for getting non-gamers (not just sim city fans) to enjoy MMORPGs if more attention was to be paid to the creation aspects. In sim city type games the sense of actually living in the city you create isn’t there, but in an MMORPG it can be a first person experience. For example, I had never thought of building my own home in a game, and I never liked sim city type games, but when I got SWG one of my big accomplishments in the game was building my house with a view of Jabba’s Palace and furnishing it. Of course, since I was a poor entertainer I couldn’t pay the bills and I lost my house after 6 months (which was one of the big reasons why I quit the game), but it was good while it lasted.

    I think if there had been any way to customise artistic stuff in SWG that would have drawn more people in. When I built a slitherhorn the best I could do was to name it. There was no way to import my own textures (or even choose from a few stock textures) or alter the sound to be higher or lower pitch or to be flat or sharp. There was no real sense of accomplishment in crafting instruments – you could use poor quality materials and the instrument would look exactly the same as an instrument made of high quality materials. Even crafters who had a lot of scope were fairly limited – as a master droid engineer I had a limited colour pallette, no ability to import textures and no ability to create any of my own content for the droid.

    Another thing that would draw people to the game is simple everyday activities like sitting down. When she’s playing games my wife often says “Dammit! I just want my character to sit down”. Often games just don’t let you sit. SWG let you sit, then warped you 12 feet across the floor so you looked ridiculous, so it was as bad as not letting you sit in the first place. Seemingly inconsequential details like this turn people off. Here’s another thing: I would have liked to read a book or read a newspaper in-game every day to see what was happening online. The game “Omikron” had such a feature and “The Last Express” also had such a newspaper. Speaking of “The Last Express”, I think MMORPG game developers could gain from taking a look at it (it still plays on WindowsXP). This game was a great one for my playstyle, and I think a lot of non-gamers liked it because there was very little fighting, few puzzles (and all fairly simple), and the game’s focus was character interaction and just drinking in the atmosphere. Games don’t need to be about fighting to be attractive. Surely the adventure game genre proves that.

    Another thing that I think would be a good addition: a training droid. Again, “Omikron” had such a feature. You could train with an NPC (without the threat of a lost life) before going into real combat. This would draw newbies into the game and make real combat more attractive. In two years of SWG play I never once played PvP because it just seemed a thing for leets to do. A NPC combat trainer could give tips and experience that would level the playing field a bit for new players.

    Then there’s gambling and card games – mini games within the MMORPG. This is potentially a huge draw. SWG had gambling, but as in reality you could never win long-term. This was a mistake. Gamers don’t tend to be gamblers. No gamer is going to gamble when loss is virtually guaranteed. The gambling should have been set so you had a better than 50% chance of winning – not enough to make a fortune, but just enough to keep a few players in the casinos making a living wage. Then, why not have card games where players can play one another? Star Wars has a couple of different card games where the rules have been codified. There’s a ‘Pazaak’ card game, and KotOR even had the code to make it work, yet SWG had no way to play cards against even an NPC, let alone another player. If mini games could exist within a MMORPG some people would play the game JUST to play their favourite mini game. Heck, I’d be at the Pazaak tables all day. In SWG we (eventually) had swoop races, but again the leets would make the record for the day, usually there were no NPCs racing so you couldn’t even gain a bit of a feeling of accomplishment by beating NPC racers. So most players would emerge from a race depressed and feeling that the game was empty except for the leet players who turned up as soon as the servers went online and took the record.

    This brings me to another point: the need for NPCs who actively participate in gameplay. As I said before, despite the fact that NPCs did wander around the cities a feeling of emptiness permeated the game – no NPCs to race on the swoop tracks; no NPC combat trainers (NPCs handing out missions don’t count); no NPC gamblers in casinos; no NPC entertainers in theatres doing shows; no NPCs fighting a GCW battle, no NPC shootouts in casinos, etc. People wandering around don’t really cut it anymore – there needs to be interaction going on, whether it be with other NPCs or with players. Once a game world is packed with players NPCs aren’t needed as much and they can be removed when necessary, but as a game is getting its audience NPCs are essential to give the feeling of a real working world, they also set the market as it’s developing. For example: the lack of NPC entertainers was always been an annoyance in SWG – if players needed a heal at off-peak times there’s often no live entertainers. An NPC entertainer giving out heals for an exhorbitant price (so that the prices of real live entertainers weren’t undercut) would have at least made heals available in off-peak hours.

    All of these things could make MMORPGs so much more fun, and would increase the longevity of the game. These aren’t new ideas – they’ve all appeared in one game or another, but in order to draw people in they must be implemented in full, and not piecemeal or half-way as they were in SWG. If a feature is implemented it must be fully implemented and the urge to tweak it post-release must be resisted. Too often in SWG we got features half-finished and these features gained fans, then, because they were half-finished they had to be tweaked and some players were disappointed with the results. SWG was full of such things. For example, the mission terminals: you never knew from day to day how much they would pay, or whether it was even worth it to lose potential tips to do a terminal mission. At one point we had big-payout missions to other planets, which were great, then these mission types were removed by the devs without adequately examining the consequences (which were dire in this case and – in part – led to the AFK macro problem and the overpopulated cantinas in Theed and Coronet and a lack of entertainers anywhere else). One day mission terminals would be a nice way of making money, the next they were useless. Some things shouldn’t be fiddled with too much post-release.

  28. I think you’re going to find that your blog readers tend to be a self-selecting group which I bet has a greater interest in the arts inside MMOs than the general public

    “regression to the mean” notwithstanding IMO I think that number your looking for is very high Raph. Of course we cant verify it yet with hard numbers or valid statistical extrapolation, but my gut tells me and my experiance as a player tells me that the only available refuge for Economic Players (generalizing terms here to differentiate player types)was EVE. Crafting Players had none (EQII? WOW?) but maybe settled into other games. Art/Entertainment Players? Im not sure they had one. For some thier option seemed to be “I’ll settle for this or that game for now until I find something decent that comes out” for some it was “Im not going to play anything until I see something similar”

    I guess what Im trying to say is there are a lot of players waiting to migrate….what they migrate into and for how long will depend much on how the developers handle a somewhat angry/bruised/bored and damaged userbase (but likely more rabidly loyal), looking to recapture a feeling of community that non-combat activities end up supporting

    I think PotBS is getting close (could be closer) to this, this is where youll see some of these people your wondering about.


    I can verify for you that there was a very intense economic game in SWG.

  29. I think it’s telling that one of the first things anyone does in a new game any more is type “/dance” to see what happens. Consider Guild Wars: Factions, where the “hook” of the Collector’s Edition is not a unique piece of loot or unique skill – It’s the ability to summon a set of spectral backup dancers. What’s it say when one of the most popular features of City of Heroes is the variety of dance animations and boombox music tracks? How about when the game spills over into real-life and my daughter rolls her eyes at me for doing a CoH dance to some funky rock song?

    Arts are as big a part of any MMO as the developers are willing to let them be. It’s true that the number of artists in any particular game might be small and quality artists even smaller. It should hardly be surprising, given that real life is much the same. We all know someone who “plays at” a musical instrument or a craft of some kind, but how many do we know that pursue perfection of the skill or attempt to make a living at it?

    Regardless of that, the true benefit of the arts in the world (and by analog the virtual world) is that the end product is enjoyed by all of the non-artists. If there’s a problem with arts in MMO’s, it’s not that you’re putting in a huge investment of time and resources for a small community. Claiming that an “arts profession” is a waste of time because there will never be more than a handful of artists is missing the point. That handful of artists can, with their contributions to the game environment, have an impact on everyone else in the game that far exceeds the same efforts put into the ultimately self-serving goals of killing and/or destroying lots of crap in the game.

    “Arts” is a fluid concept, also. I’d submit that the top smiths in SWG, the guys who made their reputation by creating the very best of the best and whose game play was the pursuit of perfection moreso than credits; those guys and gals were artists every bit as much as the entertainers who organized the bands and the dance troupes. In any sort of craft, being at the top of the field requires that you have an artisan’s outlook as much or more than a merchant’s outlook.

    The point I’m making is that when considering the value of “arts” in a virtual world, you need to consider the equivalent value in the real world. The arts are a huge influence in everyday life, even if we take most of that influence for granted. IMO, the game that recognizes this and provides a viable and flexible means of artistic expression is one that will find itself being considered as the “richest” games around, even if only a small fraction of the playerbase is involved in producing the art in the virtual world.

  30. Allen – regarding the economy, I guess I’m going on my experience, which was mostly as an entertainer. The economy for materials used in making instruments seemed very unstable.

    Regarding play styles, I can attest to the fact that entertainer-style players have never had real options. I’ve tried playing a bunch of MMORPGs as a pacifist – the ultimate non-combat role. Although, as Slickriptide says, some games offer some tacked-on dance and music content, there is simply nothing that has ever come close to what SWG offered us, and now that SWG has basically made the entertainer professions unplayable I’m waiting for another chance to do something similar when another game gives me the option to play in a completely non-combat artistic role. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be anything on the horizon. As a player who finds combat utterly boring (because constant shoot-outs seem unrealistic to me, especially in the context of a role-playing game) I find the lack of designer/developer vision regarding the non-combat playstyle sad. I’ve tried playing numerous MMORPG games without engaging in combat, and most simnply don’t allow it at all. Those that do allow limited non-combat roles (like EvE) force you into a crafting or cargo-hauling profession – and what are the crafters making? Guns and ammo, armour and attack ships; and what are cargo haulers hauling? You guessed it – guns, ammo, armour and attack ship parts. It’s like nothing exists other than combat. One would think that designers could figure out some way of making something other than combat into a real goal for players, but no. Heck, even in SWG the entertainment player was really just a version of a healer for the combat characters. Fortunately the game allowed us (well those of us who cared to create a truly entertaining show) to concentrate on our art most of the time.

    There are games out there that are purely non-combat: look at all the Sim City type games; look at the civilian Flight Simulator games; look at adventure games such as The Longest Journey and The Last Express; look at sports games; look at computer chess games and card games; look at The Sims. There’s a world of gameplay that MMORPG developers are ignoring, seemingly because they can only imagine MMORPGs as glorified shooter games. Why does it seem that no big name MMORPGs have even tried any non-combat-related gameplay? Sure, non-combat items exist, but I’ve yet to see non-combat content that didn’t seem tacked on as an afterthought. It’s almost as if all MMORPG game developers simply can’t imagine how to build an attractive non-combat playstyle system. Look, it’s like this: if MMORPGs simply try to be first person shooters (as it seems they are) the genre will fail. Why? Simple – because first person shooters already exist, and they are surprisingly good at being first person shooters. Players don’t want second rate FPS games when they can get first rate ones.

    I see it as a lack of vision.

  31. As I alluded in a prior comment on player-created content I think you need to look at the goal of the player-content and consider what outlets are best for presenting it. It’s not just a matter of “can we add player content X” to an MMORPG. It is really a matter of whether MMORPG’s are a good place for that content or whether there are other mediums for that sort of creation that will be more successful.

    Personally I think that people creating and sharing music or art on the internet is fantastic. I just think that that people will tend to find it more rewarding to do this on MySpace and blogs (and further iterations of those technologies) rather than in MMORPG-style worlds. On MySpace you can use all of the tools you are comfortable with for making music, record the song you want, and then let people listen to it and/or share it on their own page (that could mean going to a studio with your band or just playing with music software). I think this is closer to how most people want to create and share music. Using gated approximations of music-creation tools in an MMORPG has a certain “coolness” factor to it but I don’t think it will be as successful at grabbing artists. In the end it will mostly just be a gimmick. With SWG we saw this as entertainment was more or less a “cool” gimmick and the largest issue with entertainers was an inability to affect the world around them in a meaningful way.

    One way to look at is just realizing that an MMORPG with a fleshed out music system is really going to reimplement a lot of music-creation interface and software that is already done elsewhere, better. There are lots of good music creation tools that exist in and of themselves. It’s probably better to just let people use THOSE and then provide them ways to share them and not bother with the worldly trappings.

  32. I think a huge factor here, though, is the “wish fulfillment” factor. A lot of folks can’t play guitar, but a lot of folks like playing Guitar Hero. A lot of folks might not be able to write or perform the music in a system such as that described, but a lot of them could take the datadisk and “perform” it using the standard musician system, thus getting the wish-fulfillment.

    I bet a lot of the folks who did dancing weren’t dancers, either.

  33. Yeah. I agree.

    However I think that the tools that you create for “wish fulfillment” are going to be different than those you create specifically for art creation. For the former I think there is *some* room in MMORPG’s but for the latter I think we’ll see that MySpace/Blogs/iTunes/Pandora/etc. are going to be the types of technologies that best fulfill the needs of the audience. The more effort you put into creating complex/powerful tools for creation, the more the MMORPG framework will be limiting to your audience and the more likely they will be to skip out and just use their own tools and post the results on MySpace.

  34. I agree with that. You’ll notice that the sort of tools I described would actually drive a real musician nuts. No access to different scales until you unlocked, so you’d start with stuff in the major key only. Limited array of keys to start. That means no modulations, for example. I’d probably limit triplets, that sort of thing. You want to provide something that has limits on the tools so that it’s harder to make something that sounds bad, so that the wish-fulfillment is there.

  35. Well while we’re on this subject about tools in/out of game. One thing I was always curious about, specifically r/t SWG.

    In SWG I did a considerable amount of Architect crafting, which I thought was wonderfully implimented. Now I like so many others always enjoyed the variation that could be had in furnishings. Specifically the paintings.
    One thing I always thought would have been a decent game related type of content would have been to let players actually “paint” (out/in game using tools) (SWG related) these paintings import them into the game, submit them to the Bestine Curator, and allow for a “vote” on them somehow. A percentage of the sales for the schematic/painting from the curator could go to the origional artist account…..much like what PotBS is doing with thier ship flags and etc.

  36. I agree with Raph about the ‘wish fulfillment’ factor. I’m completely musically inept, ditto dancing, yet I was a master dancer and master musician in the game. MMORPGs are the perfect place for someone who can’t dance or play to roleplay a dancer or a musician because these games are at heart roleplaying games. Musician is my ultimate role – I love pretending to be a musician even though I have no aptitude for music.

  37. One thing I can do in real life is draw/paint, and I’d certainly submit original artwork for in-game play money. I think I could probably make quite a bit of play money for selling paintings – enough to keep my avatar fed and to buy my musical instruments anyway. So in the best of all MMORPGs there would be scope for using one’s real life talents and for playing roles for which one is not suited in real life.

  38. The problem with current MMORPGs is that most developer-generated content goes into the process of mastering, and it is pointless. Once you master, all you can basically do is turn around and do the whole thing over again with a new character. This is the dirty little secret of online gaming.

    The thing is, MMORPG designers consistently fail to develop alternative content unconnected with combat or mastering that might make the game deeper. They concentrate on making the grind more interesting and making combat more exciting, but in the end the grind and the result of the grind is not why we’re here. What’s important is the game world and how much fun we can get out of it ‘outside’ the limits of the grind. If there’s nothing there, no matter how interesting combat is, and no matter how palatable the grind can be made, the game will still leave us empty.

    This is why it’s so important for game designers to develop minigames and non-combat content. But at the moment game designers are moving away from that. Instead they are focusing in on combat more and more, as if there’s something there that can fill the vast creative void that is at the centre of most MMORPGs. The thing is, the people who make these games are looking in the wrong place. It’s not about combat. The more they look to combat to fill that void, the larger the void will become. Until they figure out that it’s all about the richness of the world and the depth of our options, MMORPGs will always have that feeling that they’re missing something.

    The first game designer who realises the truth will be on the gravy train. But at the moment they all have a severe case of denial. It’s a truth that Raph used to know. I’m just not quite sure that he hasn’t forgotten it.

  39. If there’s nothing there, no matter how interesting combat is, and no matter how palatable the grind can be made, the game will still leave us empty.

    While clearly I agree with the idea that there should be non-combat content, I suggest that City of Heroes shows that it is possible to have a popular MMO without any interesting out-of-combat content to speak of.

  40. Hmm. I found CoH to be intensely boring. It’s just kill, kill, kill. Heck, there isn’t even a bar or tavern area.

  41. Ian-

    The thing with combat is, if you don’t get it right no one plays your game. And if there isn’t a ladder, people frequently quit when they get to the top of whatever ladder there is. Once the rewards stop flowing, they stop playing.

    And who’s to say that the non-combat aspects of the game are any more fulfilling than the combat aspects of the game? (Community, I know, but that can be transferred). The non-combat aspects can be mined out as certainly as the combat / levelling aspects can be mined out, and it’s tougher to tack a ladder on to keep rewarding people even after they’ve gotten all the fun there is to be had out of whatever core mechanic you present.

  42. I’m not saying that combat shouldn’t be done right, nor am I saying that there shouldn’t be a grind. What I’m saying (and it seems to be borne out precisely by the way you’ve misunderstood me) is that unless a game has depth, it really doesn’t matter how exciting combat is or how well the grind is designed. Combat and the grind are only tools to keep people playing long enough to invest themselves in the world (this is what game designers seem to have forgotten). But if there’s no world beyond the combat and the grind, then the player cannot possibly invest himself in the game.

    By the way, contrary to your first sentence, I’ve been playing SWG on and off for two and a half years without engaging in any combat whatsoever. So it wouldn’t bother me if a game had poorly designed combat or no combat at all as long as the game was fun.

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