[MUD-Dev] Re: Fantasy clich=?ISO-8859-1?B?6Q==?=s (was: Acting casual about casualgamers)

Ananda Dawnsinger ananda at greyrealms.com
Thu Jul 13 01:59:48 New Zealand Standard Time 2000

>From: "Zak Jarvis" <zak at voidmonster.com>
>To: <mud-dev at kanga.nu>
>Subject: RE: [MUD-Dev] Re: [MUD-Dev] RE: [MUD-Dev] Fantasy clich=E9s (was:
Acting casual about casualgamers)
>Date: Sun, Jul 9, 2000, 2:00 AM

>> From: Travis Nixon [tnixon at avalanchesoftware.com]
>> Sent: Saturday, July 08, 2000 6:33 PM
>> >From: Raph Koster <rkoster at austin.rr.com>
>> >Date: Saturday, July 08, 2000 6:17 PM
>> >Just as a counterpoint--I've seen the argument advanced that
>> >one reason why Asheron's Call isn't doing as well as the
>> >other MMORPGs is that its fantastical elements are too
>> >unfamiliar. To people other than the hardcore players, AD&D
>> >fantasy is as fantastical as they are really able to stomach.
>> >(It took a stage production of THE HOBBIT for my dad to be
>> >able to stmoach any sort of fantasy whatsoever. When I asked
>> >him why, I was told, "because the names and creatures are
>> >just too weird.")
>> I think this actually frightens me more than anything else.  The
>> fact that we may be locked into "traditional" fantasy simply
>> because the players don't want anything that deviates by more
>> than a little. :(
>Agreed.  This is an area that bugs me too. I'm not completely certain that
>this is a law of nature -- I mean, Star Wars became a hugely successful
>franchise and it wasn't working within well established conventions. Myst
>is one of the best selling games of all time, is solidly fantasy based, an=
>has not a single elf, dwarf or halfling in it. Both have a plethora of
>invented terms and names.
>Clearly it's POSSIBLE to escape convention, and to do so in an extremely
>populist way. I'm curious what factors let people get away with it. I've
>got my theories, but I'll withhold them for now. I'd like to see what othe=
>people think.

I gather the Wheel of Time books are another example, though I haven't read
them myself.  In a similar, though non-fantastical, vein, everybody thought
Titanic would be James Cameron's downfall -- yet it blew away engineered
box-office successes like Armageddon and Independence Day.  And who would
have thought that Sixth Sense would be in the top ten on the world top box
office chart?

You can pretty much guarantee a great success by giving the audience what
they're asking for (in our case, AD&D fantasy) and doing it reasonably well=
 But I think the only way to start a phenomenon is to give the audience
something they haven't thought to ask for.

Of course, most products that try to give the audience something they aren'=
asking for end up obscure and forgotten.  To get a phenomenon, I think you
need two things:

-- The project needs to be really good.  "Pretty good" isn't good enough. 
Though you can afford to botch things up a little bit (take Titanic's
dialogue... please...) overall it has to be good enough to knock people's
socks off.

-- The project needs to be accessible.  It has to be straightforward, not
needlessly complicated.  It can't rely on previous knowledge or a fan base'=
familiarity with tropes.  Its appeal needs to be universal ("everybody like=
romance and mystery") and not narrow ("fantasy fans love swords and magic")=

I like Asheron's Call a lot, and I'd say it's very good -- the best of the
MMORPG lot, IMO -- but I don't think it's good enough to be a phenomenon. 
The graphics, especially the character graphics, aren't quite good enough
yet, and the world is a bit thin.

More damning, AC is definitely not accessible -- it's the most daunting of
the Big Three.  Most people know just enough about Asian (Sho) and
Middle-Eastern (Gharu'ndim) culture to not be quite comfortable playing
characters of those races.  And the game system is a real trial-and-error,
learn-by-doing sort of thing; unless you have a veteran helping you out,
you're probably going to go through several characters before designing one
you want to keep.  It's the kind of game where you never quite realize how
much you don't know, which may be delightful for the hard-core explorer
veterans, but will be quite daunting to those just starting out.

So AC, like most things that are good but not particularly accessible, is
something of a niche market.  A "cult classic," if you will.  I'd be curiou=
to see the results of a customer satisfaction survey; my sense is that AC
would beat the pants off Everquest.  (But not necessarily Ultima Online,
simply because at this point it seems to be primarily the loyalists who are
still playing.)

Of course, customer satisfaction doesn't necessarily matter if you're
selling in bulk.  (Who cares if Independence Day is *good*?  It *rocks!* 
You *have* to see it!)  But when you have to provide customer service, it
does help if the customers are reasonably satisfied.

EverQuest is an Independence Day, an Armageddon, a Jurassic Park.  We
haven't had our Titanic or Star Wars yet.  I suspect that when it comes, it
may well have more in common with Federation than with EQ or Gemstone.

   -- Sharon

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