Nov 212014

500px-WOW_logoTen years of World of Warcraft. Well. So many thoughts.

WoW has always been a contradiction of sorts: not the pioneer, but the one that solidified the pattern. Not the experimenter, but the one that reaped the rewards. Not the innovator, but the one that was well-designed, built solidly, and made appealing. It was the MMO that took what has always been there, and delivered it in a package that was truly broadly appealing, enough so to capture the larger gamer audience for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a knock on it. If anything, it’s possibly the biggest game design achievement in all of virtual world history. After all, we’re talking about taking a game skeleton that was at that point already almost a decade and a half old, one which had literally had hundreds of iterations, hundreds of games launched. None of them ever reached that sort of audience, that sort of milestone, that sort of polish level.

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Nov 302011

I was sent a link to this set of YouTube vids on the history of the MMO genre from MUDs forward. It’s worth a look, even if only to get  a rare glimpse of actual video footage from some of the older games that many folks today don’t even know existed (after all, WoW invented the genre, right?)…

Among the oddities, errors, and omissions:

  • Leaving out Kingdom of the Winds, which predated Lineage.
  • Leaving out kids’ MMOs entirely, especially Club Penguin.
  • Saying that the Ultima Online team had never made anything multiplayer before (Ken Demarest, mentioned in the documentary, left very shortly after UO actually had a team put together — and the original core team that was assembled on the programming and design side was all MUD/MUSH/MOO veterans except for one guy).
  • Saying that Meridian 59 going flat fee was what opened up that business model… I’m fuzzy on this, but my recollection is that M59 was not flat fee at launch… it happened later. And for a while they had a weird complicated fee structure…
  • Leaving out Kart Rider, the genre explosion, and the rise of free-to-play in Korea… it just sort of stops short at Lineage there. Instead F2P seems to all be attributed to Runescape, which is a real misread of where the lines of influence actually flowed, I think.
  • No mention of key non-game worlds like Second Life and Habbo Hotel. I suppose this is excused by the emphasis on game worlds, except for the mention of Habitat.

As a side note, on the graphical MMO explosion — even though a bunch of titles launched in a very staggered way that is covered in the documentary, I think that in practice just about all of them started development around the same time. It’s just that some of them finished faster.

There’s definitely a book to be had about everything in this history… someone (not me) should go write it. 🙂

Vids after the fold:

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Jun 022009

Still confused about this use of the word persistence; coming here with the dictionary meaning and trying to understand a seeming contradictory concept.

— David, in a comment in the earlier post

The technical sense of the term arises from “persisting something to the runtime database.” The base states are usually in a template database of some sort, along with all the other static data. The template database is read-only as the game is running, and only developers get access to it. The runtime database is where everything that players do goes. (See here and here for more).

The base data in the static template database doesn’t count as “persistent” or “persisted” because it’s actually baked into the world’s rules in some fashion, as a starter state. Delete everything in the runtime database, and that map will still be there, usually. You will have playerwiped WoW, but the world of WoW will still be there: every loot drop, every monster, every quest, every house.

The virtual world definition of the term means “to save changes on top of the base dataset.” So a base character starts with no real gear and newb stats, and a designer sets that up in the template database as the definition of a newbie character. But we save their advancement. That’s persisting a character to the runtime database. The stats and gear might go up OR down, but they are different from the base.
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May 052009

Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research has published a special issue, EQ: Ten Years Later. Among the articles:

  • Nick Yee on “Befriending Ogres and Wood-Elves: Relationship Formation and The Social Architecture of Norrath”
  • Greg Lastowka on “Planes of Power: EverQuest as Text, Game and Community”
  • Sal Humphreys on “Norrath: New Forms, Old Institutions”
  • Lisbeth Klastrup on “The Worldness of EverQuest: Exploring a 21st Century Fiction”
  • Bart Simon, Kelly Boudreau, & Mark Silverman on “Two Players: Biography and “Played Sociality” in EverQuest”
  • Eric Hayot and Edward Wesp on “Towards a Critical Aesthetic of Virtual-World Geographies”

There are also interviews with Chris Lena (with whom I worked in the R&D group at SOE back in the day, and who was producer on EQ for years); and with Brad McQuaid and Kevin McPherson. The interviews don’t appear to be recent, but they still give some great insight.

BMQ: Back when designing EverQuest and coming up with the various playable races, we looked at the more human-like races and decided purposely to make them in appearance similar to real world races. This is true also for the architecture, a lot of the background, etc. But the important point is that what we were trying achieve was familiarity. In other words, the Barbarians in EQ might have had a Scottish flavor to them, but they are not Scots; likewise the pyramids on Luclin might appear to be Egyptian in flavor or style to a degree, but there is no real relationship. This allows the game designer (or fantasy author, for that matter) to create races, cultures, architectures, etc. that draw on the richness of the real world in terms of depth, without actually being constrained by actual real life history or stories or, hopefully, if done right, too many preconceived stereotypes.

Game talkThe ludic fallacy

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Dec 092008

I was just pointed to this wonderful essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.

First Quadrant: Simple binary decisions, in Mediocristan: Statistics does wonders. These situations are, unfortunately, more common in academia, laboratories, and games than real life—what I call the “ludic fallacy”. In other words, these are the situations in casinos, games, dice, and we tend to study them because we are successful in modeling them.


It’s not the only ludic fallacy I can think of. Recently I had a discussion with a management and leadership consultant, and we were discussing the generational characteristics of Millenials versus Gen X in the workforce, and we were talking about how a gamer mentality may have affected the way Gen Y behaves in the workplace: more likely to follow the rules, more likely to work in teams, more needful of reassurance, less creative and risk-taking, less likely to see the full scope of irreversible consequences of a choice, and less likely to see things in shades of gray. In a way, these sound like thinking trained by games. Continue reading »

Game talkWhy are corpse runs bad?

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Nov 172008

In a recent discussion over at f13, folks are cataloging “design errors” from past MMOs. And one of the ones cited was the notion of a corpse run. For those not familiar with this concept, this is where your character dies, leaves all of their stuff at the corpse, and you have to run back to where the corpse is to pick up your gear.

I argued that corpse runs shouldn’t belong on this list. It’s like calling the telegraph a design gaffe because phones replaced it. Corpse runs were (mostly) all there was at the time, and under the philosophy of “don’t change what works” would have been everyone’s default choice back then.

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Jun 272008

As part of the ongoing raking over the coals of Richard Bartle for saying the obvious (yes, you can tell what side I am on in those debates!), Steve Danuser says over at » Sacred Cows

I get tired of people implying that today’s MMOs owe their entire existence to the MUDs of yesteryear. Sorry, I disagree. The gameplay style of EQ or WoW is obviously influenced by MUDs, but I propose that MMOs would have evolved anyway.

And Ryan Shwayder posts in comments saying

Ultima Online is a direct descendant of what MUD? I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m just saying that I don’t know what particular MUD had a profound influence on that game. It seems like the MMO industry was born of different influences; EverQuest from DikiMuds, Ultima Online from Ultima games. Not all MMOs have a lot of direct comparisons to MUDs, so I think he’s right that they’d exist whether MUDs did or not.


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Apr 172008

Given the recent hack to the blog, and also given the recent news of the decompiled Eve Online client, it seemed like a good time to go over some of the ways in which a virtual world gets hacked.

The interesting thing, of course, is that all the hacks I am going to talk about are actually not hacking the virtual world at all; they instead attack the client, which is your window into the world, and also your waldo, your means of exercising control over what happens in that world. And that’s because…

The client is in the hands of the enemy.

The Laws of Online World Design

You’ve probably heard that before — I wasn’t the first one to say it, but it constantly gets misattributed to me. That particular phrasing may have originated with Kelton Flinn, but I am sure many of us came up with it independently.

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