Not an MMO anymore

 Posted by (Visited 23141 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Nov 122010
 

Dusty Monk has a thought experiment up where he describes an MMO of the future. Core bullet points:

  • a single-player or co-op multiplayer campaign you can play through that is heavily narrative
  • a matchmaking lobby where you can select between types of games to play with other players
  • games include group PvP matches or co-op matches against the AI
  • A UI screen where you purchase upgraded gear and character attributes for real money

As he describes the game, it of course sounds like an FPS game with matchmaking, and that is exactly his point.

He’s not really advocating the evolution of the MMO in this direction; he’s merely saying it is inevitable.

But I think that it is also important to note that this isn’t a virtual world at all.

After all, there’s no world there. There is no simulation of a singular shared virtual space in which multiple users interact, which remains regardless of whether a given user is present.

I prefer to take the opposite lesson from it: that rather than MMOs absorbing the lessons of console games, as Dusty Monk puts it, that console games (and indeed, console’s online infrastructure) have absorbed many of the lessons of MMOs: persistent identity, currency, character development, badges and user history, guilds…and yes, the revenue models too.

What hasn’t been conquered, still, is making alternate worlds accessible enough to broad audiences.

So what Dusty Monk describes isn’t a future where MMOs evolve to be like console games. He’s describing a future where the market has retreated away from MMOs themselves, from their intrinsic nature, because the market couldn’t crack the problem.

  64 Responses to “Not an MMO anymore”

  1. For the opposite view, check out the second half of the Unity Unite conference keynote, in which Jesse Schlle talks at length about how he sees things (primarily avatars, but it could be extraploated that a WORLD could follow suit to accomidate the avatars) moving towards MORE persistance.

    http://unity3d.com/unite/keynotevideo_b.html

  2. He’s describing a future where the market has retreated away from MMOs themselves, from their intrinsic nature, because the market couldn’t crack the problem.

    Or perhaps this is simply an unbundling of the MMO-as-a-package-of-games?

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Raph Koster, Dave Mark. Dave Mark said: RT @raphkoster: Blog post: Not an MMO anymore https://www.raphkoster.com/2010/11/12/not-an-mmo-anymore/ […]

  4. It may be “inevitable” that there will be products of that nature. They may be marketed as MMOs. If so, it means there will be an additional type of “MMO” available. It does not mean that existing types will disappear, or that new ones examples will cease to appear.

    The history of entertainment media is accretive.

  5. It sounds more like what Sony Home or XBox Live could evolve into – not a MMO, not a game, but a game community portal.

  6. Doesn’t that mostly describe Diablo?

  7. This describes Global Agenda to a T. Like you said, there is no world there, just a theme. And yet the biggest selling MMO ever is a world, despite the popularity of FPSs and lobby style MMOs such as Guild Wars.

    I just think instead of trying to create 200 million+ worlds right off the bat, future MMO designers will start with a well working mechanic (like Vindictus) and grow their world around that.

  8. Several years ago, Henry Jenkins made some noise about the idea of “transmedia” and highlighted The Matrix franchise as a forerunner of this. Considering what CCP is trying to do with DUST 514 (and what Sanderson is doing with his Cosmere concept), I think Morgan is on the right track: the notion of a world is going to be an abstract tying-together narrative around several games with various genres.

    You’ll undoubtedly still have persistent worlds/games, but they’ll increasingly have data traces walking back and forth between more ephemeral media with different kinds of effects. None of my friends have gotten Settlers 7, but its integration with Facebook (the main reason I didn’t buy it myself) suggests the foundation for an MMO. There might be a zombie MMO that tracks outbreaks based on Foursquare updates, for instance. (Granted, the zombie craze seems to be dying down, so maybe that won’t happen.)

    You might have static media like books and movies that depict the history of the MMO… or perhaps next generation Kindles and movie editors will allow you some kind of feedback effect on the world they were spawned from. Instead of having to tediously grind crafting trees, you might instead be able to set a production capacity based on your high score in a standalone puzzle game. Large-scale battles might be crowdsourced out across a week or a month during which various strategy and tactical games could be brought in and amalgamated into a decisive result.

    …okay, I didn’t remotely anticipate this kind of creative outpouring when I started this comment, heh. How’s about I just stop here and someone can go make it for me, yes?

  9. “…because the market couldn’t crack the problem.”

    Or the perceived problem ceased to be a viable market …

    I definitely think MMOs have a future, but it’s a future fraught with higher user expectations, tougher competition (albeit from other types of games) and a radical departure from a customer value/payment model (to micro-transactions – away from subscriptions) for all but the largest and best established.

  10. The lobby is the world. It’s the persistent shared space. Everything outside the lobby is instantiated.

    It’s similar to the Guild Wars model. Once you step outside the city gates, you have the world to yourself. But the moment you step inside, you can interact with everybody else in the city.

    But it’s worth noting that the producers of Guild Wars appear to be backing away from this model for GW2, in favor of providing more ways for players to meet and join forces in the field.

    Personally, I think the future hits of the MMO genre are going to be permutations that none of us have thought of yet. And I expect some of them are going to be real forehead-slapping moments of clarity.

    You don’t lead by going where the herd is going.

  11. I just want an MMO in which most of Koster’s Laws are actually false. 🙂

  12. Michael, I guess you’re describing the .hack conglomerate 🙂

  13. Yukon hit on something important: “The lobby is the world. It’s the persistent shared space. Everything outside the lobby is instantiated.”

    One of the many ways in which common sense hasn’t yet caught up with virtual worlds is that it’s both technically easier and more natural to have many independent and transient virtual worlds than one singular and persistent universe. It’s what people want from a game (or really, from entertainment in general) — a “what if” experience that has a defined lifetime, even if certain traits follow a player from game to game.

    If you step back a little you realize that “independent and transient virtual world” is a pretty good definition of “game”, where a unitary persistent all-in MMO (or a Gibsonian cyberspace) is kind of weird and anomalous and even tedious, more like an afterlife or delusion.

    People had similar dumb ideas early on about 3D UIs, typified by the scene in Disclosure where Michael Douglas straps on a VR headset and walks through aisles in a virtual library, only to find what he’s looking for by opening a flat video chat window and having a conversation in English with a librarian AI. Just as three dimensions is not nearly enough to represent information storage, retrieval and analysis, one universe is also not nearly enough to represent the many desired “what-if”s of entertainment. Most MMOs have many servers, and even single-server MMOs have a multiplicity of instances and games, which reset, play, disappear, and repeat.

    It’s like, the real world already has persistence; it’s a feature, not a bug, when fantasy worlds transcend that limitation.

  14. He just described Guild Wars, which did to very well. ArenaNet is moving toward a more ‘proper’ virtual world in their followup though, so whether it does better or worse than it’s predecessor will say a lot I think.

    But I think that the question, the issue that you say needs to be cracked, may not be all that important. Do they really need to appeal to a broad market? Or do they just need to make decent money? Because if they just need to make decent money, something that has “only” half the reach of WoW is going to make you a lot of cash. And anything else that breaks out like WoW is going to make you more money than anything on the consoles can.

  15. It’s been bothering me for years as MMOs are published listing “Persistant World” as one of their features, but rather than meaning “A world where the changes you make persist in a virtual world.” it means, “A world that is always the same every time you log on.” The villain respawns after a few minutes, and you can’t drop anything on the ground.

    I was disappointed when UO added rapid item decay for objets on the ground, but I understood the neccesity. It stinks that few MMO makers are even willing to go that far, you can’t drop something on the ground in WoW or EQ. Most of the time you can’t even give stuff away, because it’s “Soulbound”.

  16. Raph, who do you mean by “the market”? In my mind, I think that’s a proper statement because the gamers have been as responsible as the game makers in the trend farther away from virtual worlds. So I picture this “market” as being the entire fold, makers and users alike.

    I see this “market” as being very immature at this point. For the vast majority, brought into the fold by WoW, this community hasn’t quite comprehended what the ramifications of their world designs are. I see strong signs, from my perspective, that the community is evolving and figuring out the basics. But not the answers. Not yet. Most seem to need to see the answers to get it. But where are they going to see that at?

  17. I’m thinking about television.

    When television first debuted, the programming largely followed the models of entertainment formats that preceeded it — live theatre, radio dramas, and cinema. It took both time and technological advances for television to build an audience and find its own artistic voice.

    But broadcast television was in a plateau state of mediocrity for many years, until the advent of cable. As broadcast started to lose viewers to the new format, they were forced to step up their game with sharper comedies, compelling serial dramas, better effects, better writing, better production. With the introduction of video recording and the fast-forward button, even commercials have been forced to become more entertaining.

    I think the MMO industry is in similar straits, with social networking games taking the role of cable as the competition. To survive, the MMO may well need to borrow some tricks from social games. But the primary key is quality. You can’t coast on “good enough” or “we’ll finish it after launch” anymore.

    If you build it, they will come. But if you build it well, they’ll come back with friends.

  18. Yukon, I look at it in a similar, but different, fashion.
    Ideas, things, come from somewhere. For a diverse “virtual world” you need different things to entertain and capture a diverse audience.

    You have input from Single Player Games.
    You have input from First Person Shooters.
    You have social/friendly input from Social Games (and even message boards and the like communities).
    You have conquest from War Games.
    You have production and trade from Strategy Games.

    The big thing that’s missing is the social interaction that allows it all to come together. I don’t think that this has ever been done before, except as experiments in small spheres. (Thinking of some of Raph’s stories in MUDS.) This is where new ideas need to be brought forth, yet this is where the “market” has given up and started backing away, leading to more backing away from.

  19. Given that a rough half of the stated “inevitabilities” are at a layer above the game proper (matchmaking/friend-finding/guildmate-tracking interface, and the move away from the subscription revenue model), I don’t think a lot is really being said.

    MMOs key distinction (versus action FPSes and “console games”) is indefinite persistence. As soon as you have my character instead of a character (and that more personal sensation of identification and ownership), you have a demand for progression/advancement and a demand for customization/specialization (even if these are non-game-affecting). Stat-tracking and achievements are a minimal form of this; MMO character advancement systems are highly evolved, intricate, and advanced form. Some absorption of the latter by the former makes sense.

    Parallel-ly (is this a word? 😛 ), the statistic-mediated interactions between characters in MMOs (whether between characters or the environment) is a fairly primitive system that was technologically necessary up until a short time ago. Levelling is a solid mechanic, but it’s how old? A gradual adopting of the more organic interaction mechanics evolved by FPSes likewise makes sense.

    The interactions go both ways, as each type of game evolved under different environmental pressures. This is separate from the meta-layer of convenience that allow people to quickly find their friends and choose the portion of the game they want to play. In this case, the only difference is that non-persistent games don’t have a fiction to break when they do this (you want to have a 4×4 match in the abandoned cathedral? Just pick the map and the players from this handy list), which hasn’t prevented MMOs so much as slowed them in taking it up. And in both cases, this is becoming less an adoption from each other as it is now an absorption of the evolved social media platforms that allow players to much more easily communicate and coordinate. (A third circle for the Venn diagram, in a sense.)

    Which all is to say, I have the same concerns about the original article, that it’s only looking at things from a single, somewhat narrow perspective. Not wrong, but missing part of the picture.

  20. I’m amused to note that P+P RPGs aren’t in your list, Amaranthar…

  21. I think it comes designing down to the player. Having structure to guide players that need/desire pathways vs. openness for those looking to explore/socialize. Having a lobby with a back exit.

  22. They can be, Michael. But I felt that “Single Player Games” covered that base.

  23. I don’t agree with the original premise, mostly because I don’t consider “MMO” a genre. It’s just a platform upon which collaberative RPGs became the dominant experience. And even the platform itself can be split between the player motivation models and the underlying architecture.

    In other words, I consider “MMO” the promise of the experience.

    Concepts of short, medium and longterm investment in a persistent account alongside other persistent accounts works in any game mechanic, or at a meta layer that connects games. MMOs haven’t been held back by the “MMO” but rather the “RPG”. Meanwhile, Call of Duty, Zynga and whole websites with metagames continue to break records using conventions without ever words like “massive” and “multiplayer”. The “MMO” brand has been held back by “RPG”. But the underlying concepts have long since left MMORPG behind.

    It’s through these other genres that I think alternate worlds are accessible. Sure, Farmville isn’t Ironforge and City of Wonders is no Civ. But they’re both a heck of a lot more accessible to a far wider array of people too. They’re worlds in the way those audiences want worlds.

    If by “world” we mean simulated ecosystems of vast scope, yea I agree the appeal for those hasn’t broadened. But here again, I think that isn’t about the world but rather the game mechanic and playability offered within them. Otherwise, they’re scientific simulations, which just makes them niche for a different reason I guess 🙂

  24. singular shared virtual space

    Your definition of “world” seems to be a simulated 3D space. Which seems to me about as antiquated as the “desktop” model for PCs. It made sense to think of your PC as a “virtual desktop” with folders and files, but no one’s bemoaning the death of that metaphor.

    A virtual 3D space simply isn’t the best way for people to interact with each other and technology, which is why VRML and the like never caught on. In real life, we’re stuck with it, but online interactions can be much deeper. When you use Facebook, you aren’t walking around a virtual space. If you were, it’d be less immersive, not more.

  25. Not 3d, but yes, a simulated space. To broaden the definition of virtual world to include any sort of virtual community just muddies the issue.

    I already wrote about whether placeness was important… Check the blog archives for placeness and for virtual worlds being over… 🙂

  26. But I felt that “Single Player Games” covered that base.

    Er… the single player games with a Guy Behind the Screen and a bunch of people around a table rolling dice, making cryptic remarks, and jotting down notes on their sheets? Occasionally spiced by the fellow who insists on wearing a dark cloak and speaking with an unconvincing rasp?

  27. Er… the single player games with a Guy Behind the Screen and a bunch of people around a table rolling dice, making cryptic remarks, and jotting down notes on their sheets? Occasionally spiced by the fellow who insists on wearing a dark cloak and speaking with an unconvincing rasp?

    Yes, Michael, the single player games where people get on the internet or read articles and talk about what to do in their shared experience, and these days play also in multi-player mode. You know the game style that the majority of MMOs are trying to emulate with zones and groups and instances, having given up on “massive multiplayer” and even “place” because they just can’t figure it out.

  28. It hasn’t gone free to play, but since the Looking For Dungeon tool came out last winter, this is pretty much the WoW paradigm. Dalaran isn’t a city, it’s just a graphical lobby.

  29. I can see the point with tabletop RPGs — they’re multiplayer, but not massive. In effect, they’re a fully-instanced world, with each GM and campaign being an instance: your group can explore the world from pole to pole, but you’re never going to stumble across the players from Fred’s campaign down the street, even if they’re playing the same setting.

    I think we’re artificially limiting ourselves if we insist on either/or in this debate. You can have a mixture of instanced and persistent content. Further, you can design and balance it so the persistent component is something more than an unavoidable space you must travel across to get to the real adventure.

    I’m thinking of City of Heroes during the Rikti invasions. The bulk of the mission content is in instanced settings, but during the invasions most players set that aside for the sheer chaotic joy of piling on the evil invaders. You don’t need an invite, group or guild to join in. You don’t need to be sidekicked, you don’t need a particular level to make a difference, thanks to a system that scales damage on the fly for the individual. You just charge into the fray and do your part to save the world.

    I’m in favor of future quest systems that are adaptive and strongly personalized to each player, and that can work against casual cooperative play. But it doesn’t have to. You can weave vastly different threads into beautiful cloth. Just find a way to produce millions of unique personal narratives and join them into a coherent whole. Nothing to it 😉

  30. @Anthony,

    I think it’s arguable that facebook interactions are particularly deep though. In fact, I think it’s very easy to argue that the lack of placeness, as Raph would put it is increasingly leading to much *shallower* interactions. Many more of them, more breadth to them perhaps, but much less depth. Facebook is not a replacement for direct interaction, it’s a tool to “refresh” extant relationships, or open doors to new ones, in a very shallow way. Good for maintenance and networking, and little else.

    Without the constraint of space, without the constraint of having a limited zone of interaction, being able to really pay attention is almost impossible, and without that, there is no sense of the other person, as another person, rather than as a status update. And that’s not to even get into the impact of location (in the sense of the overall environment), body language, and positioning in terms of communication. These things all matter. You’ve lost an entire channel of subtext and emotional color by removing that physicality. You cannot get it back without simulated space.

    If you care about depth, and are trying to deal with the issue of distance, simulated space is your best option. The reason why these do not succeed as much as say, Facebook, nor would you attempt to make Facebook into a space, is because it is serving a very different need, and one that most people don’t care about. Facebook is a supplement to, not a replacement for, face to face interaction. Simulated space moves toward a replacement, and most people are happy enough with the real world for that.

  31. Alex,

    One of the many ways in which common sense hasn’t yet caught up with virtual worlds is that it’s both technically easier and more natural to have many independent and transient virtual worlds than one singular and persistent universe. It’s what people want from a game (or really, from entertainment in general) — a “what if” experience that has a defined lifetime, even if certain traits follow a player from game to game.

    Um, this has been a known design pattern for decades. You’re describing Diablo, for example. Or every FPS multiplayer experience ever made. In fact, you can find the diagram of it on the pages of my abortive book on VW design on this website — written in 1998, and it was old then. https://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/book.shtml

    There’s no “common sense catching up” factor to it… The experience provided is qualitatively different. There are many gradations of persistence in VWs, including actual world state, character state, and so on. Lobbies (and instances), however, have zero persistence, and there is no sense of the character’s persistence being tied to the lobby.

    There’s a not inconsiderable amount of folks who think that instances don’t belong in VW’s either. I don’t share that feeling, but I have written before about their commonality with embedded games.

  32. Darniaq! Where have you been, man? 🙂

    I agree with what you are saying (see “Are virtual worlds over?”) but at the same time, I think there are times for precise technical terms and times when using them makes one miss a larger point. When I say “American Idol is the world’s largest MMO” then I am being loosey-goosey about it. But when we talk about a persistent shared space, then we’re getting more precise.

    You are absolutely correct that virtual worlds (always a better term) are a platform, a medium, rather than a genre. RPGs are one sort of possible application or content delivered. What remains an open question is whether there are any mass market uses for virtual worlds.

  33. Is the internet a virtual world?

  34. From #28,

    I think we’re artificially limiting ourselves if we insist on either/or in this debate. You can have a mixture of instanced and persistent content. Further, you can design and balance it so the persistent component is something more than an unavoidable space you must travel across to get to the real adventure.

    One of the design thingies in my MMO was the idea of having players gamemaster their own little stories. We didn’t get far enough to decide whether or not it would be a full instanced effect, but since we all disliked instancing on principle, the capacity for these stories to be intruded upon would probably have been chosen.

    I’m in favor of future quest systems that are adaptive and strongly personalized to each player, and that can work against casual cooperative play. But it doesn’t have to. You can weave vastly different threads into beautiful cloth. Just find a way to produce millions of unique personal narratives and join them into a coherent whole. Nothing to it

    This sounds hard, but it isn’t. This is how college is supposed to work. Lecture halls are just semi-permeable instances, you know. So are football games.

  35. The internet is icing on the cake of reality!

  36. What remains an open question is whether there are any mass market uses for virtual worlds.

    Remind me… what are we aiming for in terms of “mass market”? WoW has 12 million players. That may a far cry from Facebook numbers, but it compares favorably to a LOT of things that are already considered “mass market”.

  37. Hi Raph 🙂

    Lobbies (and instances), however, have zero persistence, and there is no sense of the character’s persistence being tied to the lobby.

    I’m not sure I agree, because of Diablo II, and any game lobby during server downtime 🙂 Your character isn’t there, but you are. The username is a veil of anonymity, but you’re as much a part of this stream as you are in the /ooc or /shout channels in an environment. Heck, Twitter is a meta lobby after a fashion, disconnected though it is from any one game.

    But back on virtual worlds and mass marketability, couldn’t it be argued we’ve already achieved that, at least insofar as how the “market” has wanted virtual worlds? Virtual worlds are marketed with game play atop them, giving game-related purpose to that world.

    Or are you wondering if there’s mass marketability for a virtual world that exists because it is a virtual world at all?

    >Amaranthar wrote:Is the internet a virtual world?

    That’s an interesting philosophical question. I personally don’t feel it is, because it exists above/below all of the internet-enabled experiences people have. I liken it to the universe itself, with experiences being the planets, and experiences that connect planets being solar systems. Actually, isn’t there some crazy complicated mindmap-type diagram that depicts that?

  38. MIchael and Yukon, I’m curious how you guys mean this personalized quest idea. I have one that I never thought of in that sort of way, I guess I never put a term to it. Mine is basically sending players out into an interactive world seeking things/knowledge that’s there for anyone to find, but has more meaning to the questing player because of their quest.

    So, what do you guys have in mind with your ideas?

  39. I’m curious how you guys mean this personalized quest idea.

    Short term, I’d like to buy all the NPCs glasses. By that, I mean that they read the character’s gender, species, profession, and maybe run a quick scan of badges and accomplishments, and modify their interaction with that character accordingly. At its most basic, this means the quest text (and mob dialog, and cut scenes) always refers to you with correct pronoun. More to the point, if you’re a dwarf travelling through an elvish forest, NPCs might express attitudes ranging from distain to bemusement to enthusiasm, depending on the personality of the speaker. At this stage the quest is structurally the same, but there’s a greater sense that the world knows you’re there and acknowledges you as an individual rather than Generic Adventurer.

    But longer-term, I’d like to see a quest engine capable of building an adventure from the ground up based around a given character or party. For example, my character Brother Duncan walks into a shop. The game knows all his stats, but it also knows that he’s a former con artist whose order grew from a scam into a sincere if somewhat chaotic force for good. It also knows that he fought in the battle of Trinsic, during which he was slain in single (foolhardy) combat with Malabelle and later resurrected. Churning the data, the game dispatches an orphan to beg Duncan for some food. In return for food, the orphan tells Duncan a ghost story of a strange, malicious spirit haunting the streets of Trinsic at night, a banshee keening for her lost lover. If Duncan decides to follow up, while searching for the spirit he encounters a band of his former criminal associates who hint at a robbery at the Trinsic bank. Duncan can choose to fight them, but the quest also affords him an opportunity to con them into abandoning the heist and helping him track down the spirit of Malabelle.

    And when he finds her, she remembers Duncan, remembers killing him, and cackles gleefully at the opportunity to do so again…. even if the Seige was ten (real) years ago.

    It is my belief that a system like this is already possible with current technology. Whether it is practical or profitable at this point in time is another matter. But I feel it’s a worthy goal for the narrative quest form.

  40. Well, I play extremely few actual MMORPGs, so the references and jargon I go by tends to be a little off-kilter: so when I hear “quest”, I don’t really have something concrete invoked. I definitely don’t have random NPCs standing in one place all day with explanation points over their heads in mind. 😛

    In order to have strongly personalized content, you need an environment that is capable of playing funhouse mirror for the player: largely dependent on their input, but with a strong enough coherence of identity that it’s actually an interesting reflection. This is the purpose of roleplay: fleshing out an archetype with your own personality and forcing it to stretch and struggle as it contends with situations intended to push your limits.

    I have lately been thinking about the term “intimacy”. It was brought up by a blogger with respect to how education should happen, and I’ve begun to wonder how the idea applies in other areas. The school that this blogger (plug: http://stevemiranda.wordpress.com/ ) runs creates a highly personalized experience for every student… not by developing content “procedurally” but by cultivating a sense of responsibility and ownership in the students. So the students’ experience is naturally personalized because they’re moved to take control of it… and that control is granted. Guided, but granted nonetheless.

    Can we mimic this in the online game space? I think so. There are a lot of entrenched design patterns that we’d have to throw out (the leveling system, first and foremost), just the same as there are a lot of pedagogical patterns we’d have to throw out to reform education. (Yes, there are such things.) And then you have the issue of scaling to massive, which I don’t know enough about to forecast. And other gigantic hosts of problems that I don’t have any answer to.

    So that was a little frazzled. 😀

  41. It of course sounds like an FPS game with matchmaking, and that is exactly his point. Thanks 😉

  42. Yukon, that a great idea. I’ve always wanted to see tags put to better use. For example, if your character is a high priest in a cult, and if he shows his insignia/relic/symbol, NPCs should react according to their own background. I’ve never taken it to that level as you did, though. I’m not quite sure of the specifics you outlined because I played UO and know about Malabelle and such, but I know you’re just trying to set up an example.

    Michael, it sounds to me like you’re thinking along the same lines as Yukon. Correct me if not. (I’m pretty sure you hadn’t seen his post yet when you posted, due to the “await moderation” feature here.)

  43. It is my belief that a system like this is already possible with current technology. Whether it is practical or profitable at this point in time is another matter. But I feel it’s a worthy goal for the narrative quest form.

    It’s definitely possible. One of my holy grails was to make a useful representation of a character’s personality as data, and for it to be developed organically from a history.

    The hurdle for this stuff isn’t technological: as long as we have enough storage space for the data and a fast enough way to search for the desired information (both of which are thoroughly solved problems), we can do it. Scaling that up to massive, again, debatable and probably not profitable. But in algorithmic terms, what we’re proposing here is not meaningfully different from what Google does: based on an input (the player’s character), find a document (a quest pattern of some kind) that’s ranked highest in relevance, and then feedback based on clicks (doing pieces of the quest) and modifications to the input (changes to the character).

    The difference is in the shape of the data. It’s a character gestalt, not a text document, being processed and stored and searched. It’s a lot more volatile. The fuzziness of the match is far, far more extreme. Etc.

    Michael, it sounds to me like you’re thinking along the same lines as Yukon. Correct me if not.

    I feel a level of disconnect from Yukon’s perspective, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not from disagreement but from approach: I tend to think about infrastructure, while he’s coming at it in terms of the experience.

    I mean, he flippantly pulls an orphan out of hammerspace, whereas I look at that and go, “That orphan came from somewhere. He has his own story. Why was the orphan in that shop? Why that story? How did he come by it?” And I feel that this stuff matters, because it’s a way to stretch Duncan in a completely different direction possibly contrary to his previous alignment. (And yes, I know you made that up on the fly; it was good. :))

    One problem with the personalized quest is that, executed poorly, it makes for fewer shared experiences. I think that can be surmounted… but it’s Yet Another Problem that needs tackling.

    Btw, Yukon, Amaranthar, I don’t have ways of contacting you guys outside of Raph’s site. My spam funnel is [email protected] if you’re up for a wave.

  44. back on virtual worlds and mass marketability, couldn’t it be argued we’ve already achieved that, at least insofar as how the “market” has wanted virtual worlds? Virtual worlds are marketed with game play atop them, giving game-related purpose to that world.

    What I meant was that the more mass market they get, the more of the core characteristics of virtual worlds they are losing, to the degree that they cannot really be called by that term anymore.

    That isn’t a negative judgement on the process of mass appeal… the new hybrid categories are fascinating and valuable evolutions. It MAY be a negative judgement on virtual worlds themselves, and whether they can become more mass market while remaining true to themselves.

  45. Remind me… what are we aiming for in terms of “mass market”? WoW has 12 million players. That may a far cry from Facebook numbers, but it compares favorably to a LOT of things that are already considered “mass market”.

    WoW in NA has a fraction of that figure. It is more on the order of a popular cable TV show’s ratings — a few million. Overall, the segment of the market where we can really say that virtual worlds are mass market and reach tens of millions is the kids’ market…

  46. It is my belief that a system like this is already possible with current technology.

    The reasons why NPCs stopped reacting to players individually in UO were

    – localization and building custom strings
    – content generation load
    – players found it annoying (!)

  47. I thought I was gonna be able to stick it out with the game until CATA, But honestly.. I’m just not having fun with it anymore. Its not an mmo anymore in a lot of ways. The Dungeon finger nailed the coffin in any social interaction outside of guilds, and when there is social interaction its in the form of complaining and yelling. Out of 10 dungeon runs, 1 group was talkative in a non threatening manner. All the adventure and such has been completely sucked out of the game. I wanted to hold out until the world gets revamped, but I just fear more of the same. It was once a fun game.. but now its just a lobby/game room.

  48. […] Koster has an interesting conversation taking place on his blog. The crux of it is this: are MMOs influencing consoles or consoles […]

  49. @guy burse- I guess making social interaction in games almost just like on message boards brings the same problems. The disconnect to “real people” is getting heavy.

    @Raph-

    The reasons why NPCs stopped reacting to players individually in UO were

    – localization and building custom strings
    – content generation load
    – players found it annoying (!)

    Isn’t this exactly what you’re lead topic is about? Taking things out of the MMOs because the problems aren’t being solved? We players have been saying something about this for a long time, you’ve probably heard it:

    “Since UO they are giving us less and less.”

    (And that includes UO itself, over the years.)

  50. I mean, he flippantly pulls an orphan out of hammerspace, whereas I look at that and go, “That orphan came from somewhere. He has his own story. Why was the orphan in that shop? Why that story? How did he come by it?” And I feel that this stuff matters, because it’s a way to stretch Duncan in a completely different direction possibly contrary to his previous alignment. (And yes, I know you made that up on the fly; it was good.)

    We’re starting to see AIs good enough to pass a Turing test make their way into VWs like Second Life. NPCs with that level of ability to converse, coupled with the ability to recognize players, remember events, and learn from past experiences, would add a whole new level to the MMO experience.

    The Golden Brew had an NPC barkeep named Finlay, and once during a bug we lost him for a week or two. Just for fun, one of us (I think it was Joshua Rowen, but I could be wrong) created a character named Finlay, got screenshots of him posing in various locations around the shard, and posted an album of Finlay’s Vacation. The patrons loved it – suddenly this automaton permanently affixed to the bar had a life of his own. Finlay has returned to the current incarnation of the Brew…. only now he’s a parrot, and there’s been great speculation of how he came to be transformed.

    Finlay never sent us off on quests, but the Seers and Troubadours did. They were human volunteers with limited powers to generate creatures and objects for quests, and they often had intricate backstories of their own. The great advantage of human ‘gamemasters’ is the ability to shift things on the fly, either subtly steering the party to a preset encounter or writing an entirely new one in response to their actions. I suppose what I’m really asking for is an automated system that can do that for every player and party, not just the fortunate few that happened to be hanging around at the Brew when the Seer showed up.

  51. I’m not quite sure of the specifics you outlined because I played UO and know about Malabelle and such, but I know you’re just trying to set up an example.

    I know it’s a tangent, but here’s the story: Duncan is an actual character of mine, and he was at the Baja Siege of Trinsic along with most of the rest of the Golden Knights. We stood in good order against the first couple waves of undead, but since my connection was really bad, it started to get more and more like a chaotic slideshow as more players and undead appeared on the screen. Somehow, trying to escape the lag, I ended up seperated from the main battle, and stumbled upon one of the villains wandering about unopposed. My memory is fuzzy… it may have been Malabelle, but it may have been Jou’nar (a small part of my mind insists it was Minax, but I doubt it). Rather than beat a hasty and prudent retreat, I raised my mace high and charged.

    Fuzzy it might be, but that was my most memorable, and quickest, defeat. But I did manage to count coup before I fell!

  52. @Yukon, what level were you, and what zone were you in?

  53. @Yukon, what level were you, and what zone were you in?

    Hrmmmm? UO doesn’t have levels or classes… most of us were GM tank mages in those days. Nor are there zones. Sorry, sometimes I forget that “Siege of Trinsic” isn’t up there with “Battle of the Bulge” in instant name recognition 🙂

  54. What future? This is now. Dungeon Fighter Online. Vindictus, for example. World of Tanks. Pangya.

    They came about though more as a way to enable non-mmo games to be released in a pirate-heavy and non-pc owning culture, but they are probably more profitable and less of a hassle to release than traditional MMOs. I call them net games, and there are a ton of them.

  55. “Hrmmmm? UO doesn’t have levels or classes… most of us were GM tank mages in those days. Nor are there zones. Sorry, sometimes I forget that “Siege of Trinsic” isn’t up there with “Battle of the Bulge” in instant name recognition :)”

    Heh, what?! You mean UO didn’t have level grind to the point of social segregation and zones to enhance it, and you still had great memories of great game play?

    Actually, I was there and I’m just being a snark. Just trying to point out that the best game play has nothing to do with grinds and their associated hooks.

    But let me take it a step farther and suggest that, instead of game companies take more and more away from us players, they go the other way. They…*gasp*…give us more?

    And that Trinsic invasion can be used as a good example of how to go about it. Lets take it farther. What would have happened if upon his destruction, Juo’Nar (a liche who was a human antagonist earlier in UO’s game play) “shattered” into bone pieces, that layed on the ground for players to pick up as rares. Souvenirs. Valuable in that context, as UO had a great “rares” feature.

    And what if those bones of Juo’Nar could be joined together by players, a ritual or powerword spoken, and he comes back? If clues could be left in the game as to the possibility and means?

    Of course, most game develpers will instantly start thinking of problems with doing that. And most of them will conclude that it “can’t be done.” But I suggest that if the game were built around this sort of thing in the first place, it can be done.

    What if special things never decay, never leave the game world through quitting player’s inventories, and ongoing scenarios are built around such things?

    What if it’s up to the “good guys” to seal away Juo’Nar’s bones, hide them, guard them, from the “bad guys”?

    What if standard trade constructions are made via the same mechanisms. Put things “in” a workbench, “do”, and you get a thing. The same as putting Juo’Nar’s bones in a Blackrock coffin, place runes “in” it to seal it, and “do”, and presto! Juo’Nar is back. And Juo’Nar the NPC is seeking recruits for his evil, “tags”. While Juo’Nar the GM can refer to this list of such Tags and go from there.

    What if a game were about the experience, the history, the happenings, the world around the players? Instead of about levels and hooks and ladders and repetition?

    Am I just dreaming? Is this sort of game never to be? Will no one with the funds (aka big corporate gaming companies) ever decide that maybe players might want this sort of game?

  56. UO had a great “rares” feature.

    Technically, no it didn’t. Rares were 100% emergent behavior by players.

    We did have a few spawn bugs though. Which resulted in rares. 🙂

  57. Well, Raph, you guys did put in those once a month spawns and variants, correct? Or was that a result of the emergence of player behavior rather than at release? But if it was an afterthought, then I don’t understand the “Gold Belt” which I always thought was in at release. I mean, why was it there at all if it was just supposed to sit there with no meaning and no context.
    At any rate, it doesn’t matter what intent was or wasn’t, UO still had that great rares thing as a feature.

  58. You don’t need much in terms of funds. You need to find a couple solid programmers and pay them to work for perhaps two months on a prototype. Then you take that and market it and see if you can pull in more people to work on it. You demonstrate a revenue stream and get investment from the players. You work your ass off to break even, and then you push a marketing campaign as hard as you can afford. Your servers go down under the load from the hordes of happy players and in a public statement, you explain exactly why you didn’t have enough money to support so many and thus sign up more of them as members of your co-op and manage to expand and still barely break even. This consumes the rest of your life, you have an affair with your cofounder and the resultant pregnancy destroys both your marriage and your fledgling business, and er, wait, wrong story. Was reading Hacker News. :p

    But really. If you want it badly enough, do it yourself. Make it open source. If you break the stage of working prototype, people will contribute time and money. If you show people it can be done, they will help.

  59. Am I just dreaming? Is this sort of game never to be? Will no one with the funds (aka big corporate gaming companies) ever decide that maybe players might want this sort of game?

    I’m not convinced the big companies will. They might, but their approach is generally slow, risk-adverse, hierarchical and expensive. Too many of them have decided that the path to glory is to retool the virtual world into Facebook 3D.

    On the flip side, the tools to create and publish content keep getting easier to use, and independent games are getting a level of polish they’ve never had before. You can still tell the difference between an AAA title and an independent (in most cases), but the quality gap is getting narrower.

    I think the likliest source for the type of game we’re envisioning is a kid in a basement, or six kids in a tiny studio, who are smart enough not only to revolutionize the genre while holding true to its roots, but to cut clean, modular, easily-scalable code and utilize free/cheap marketing techniques to their fullest.

  60. This consumes the rest of your life, you have an affair with your cofounder and the resultant pregnancy destroys both your marriage and your fledgling business, and er, wait, wrong story. Was reading Hacker News. :p

    I was going to make a joke about spawning child processes and memory leaks, but non-programmers wouldn’t get it and programmers would chide me for not telling it in hex.

  61. What I meant was that the more mass market they get, the more of the core characteristics of virtual worlds they are losing

    Chris Ulm and I had an argument at the [a]list summit in August after a panel during which Min Kim used the term “mass market”. My argument was that there is no such thing because just as cultures have co-cultures, markets have segments. You build products for, and market to, segments because you know that individuals, who comprise segments, have different needs, wants, and interests. Of course, you could say that the crossover needs, wants, and interests are what define a “mass market” but I don’t think you’d find that products with such broad aims produce great customer loyalty. So, what I want to know is: What’s “mass market” to you, in this case?

  62. Morgan’s on to something. The “mass market” itself, especially in entertainment, has been evolving towards experiences and products that are tightly targeted, self-selected, and personalized towards the audience’s taste.

    It could be that the MMOs and virtual worlds that break out are the ones that stop thinking of themselves as a cable series and more as a cable network or cable service provider.

  63. What fearfully interesting discussions you guys have! I just stumbled on Ralph’s website while I was tootling around the interwebz musing about MMOs and virtual worlds, and I’ve just spent the last couple of hours following some of these fascinating exchanges.

    One thing I’d say to maybe add to the discussion – I think two things that I haven’t seen mentioned hardly at all are “story” (or “lore”) and art design. To me, a virtual world is more than just a shared or persistent space, it’s also to do with the sort of background tapestry that’s made by the lore and by the looks of things (the “gestalt” might be the right word).

    One is attracted to a virtual world, IMHO, because one has some affinity for the “stuff that’s happening/has happened” in that virtual world, and/or for the look and feel of it. (Outrageously spikey armour and cutesy creatures happen to be “in” at the moment 🙂 )

    Otherwise you might as well be playing Pong or fiddling with a database.

    And the flip side of that is – are you (as a game designer) going to luck out on the artists and writers who just happen to have a hotline to the Zeitgeist (or, perhaps also, to the deep yearnings and hankerings of our evolutionarily-designed biology and psychology)?

    All rather imponderable and mysterious (but of course I would say that, as a musician 🙂 ).

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