[MUD-Dev] Re: MUD-Dev digest, Vol 1 #303 - 17 msgs

Baron Baron
Tue Apr 3 12:08:32 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

Dr. Cat replied:
>> Baron, Jonathan

>>   3. An online gaming world must offer a departure from the
>>   physical one.  No, it needn't be pre-Christian medieval fantasy,
>>   the air war in the 1940s, or adventures in imaginary realms of
>>   imaginary galaxies.  The very extremes of our game worlds to-date
>>   may well have limited our audiences.  Nonetheless, there must be
>>   a departure.
<....> > The further you move along the "departure" axis, the more you
appeal > to the hardcore sf/fantasy/weirdo geeks like me - and the
more you > start to be "too strange" to appeal to an increasing
percentage of the > masses.

That was precisely my point.  As game developers we too easily grow to
accept, as cool, settings that are abjectly horrific to regular folks.
I made this point at last year's GDC when I asked the audience to
imagine knocking on the door of their neighbor and offering them this,
whereupon I displayed a series of screen shots from contemporary
online games.  It was the only thing that got a good laugh, because my
message was not exactly what the audience wanted to hear: we're too
extreme for a broader audience.

> Is the optimum "level of departure" different for an online game
> than for a single player game?  Yes.  But I would argue you've got
> it exactly backwards.  A single player entertainment experience will
> tend more towards escapism and wild flights of fantasy, because it
> can't offer you deep interpersonal interaction.  Entertainment media
> like IRC or telephone calls offer NO window dressing or built-in
> fantasy or "departure" elements, and yet they're extremely popular.
> Phone calls, I would argue, are the ONLY entertainment medium with
> grosses in the twelve-figure range!

I don't believe that either Raph or myself addressed the matter of how
much departure you needed in single player games versus online games.
It's painfully obvious that you have to work harder to achieve
engagement in a stand-alone game because you must allow the player to
escape from the also painfully obvious fact that he/she is alone in a

Your point about the telephone is interesting.  It took many years,
and all sorts of profit-free investing to convince people that they'd
either want or need to communicate with people remotely.  The
telephone, as a home appliance, was a very hard sell.  While I would
not be so crazed as to speculate that the MMOG medium will one day
gross twelve-figures, I do maintain that when we manage to get clever
enough to entice a broad audience to experience the essential
qualities of the medium, it will become at least as popular as premium
channels on cable, in not more so.

> Talking to other people is so desirable that less "departure" is
> needed to make an experience satisfying.  And too much departure may
> detract strongly from the experience.  Most humans strongly seek
> conformity, and are loathe to appear weird or outside of the
> mainstream.  Geekish, nerdy, dweeby, socially inept, an outsider,
> DIFFERENT.  If you make the "We're all stange alien floating eyes
> with tentacles chat-room", you'll find it isn't as popular as the
> "We're all average people with normal jobs chatting about local
> restaurants, new movies, sports, or those normals jobs we have while
> looking like humans chat-room".

Let's get under what you're saying.  What's behind the search for
conformity?  The need to belong.  Even more than our off-putting game
worlds is our frequent failure to understand our medium's power to
deliver that.  Instead we offer trials of torture, humiliation or, at
the very least, confusion as our unintended rites of passage prior to
giving players even the slightest opportunity to belong.  Other,
earlier games (e.g. Multiplayer EGA Battletech on GEnie) did a much
better job of that.  This failure, as much if not more than our
strange game worlds, turns a larger audience away.  What we can do,
that a chat room can't, is to accelerate the development of enduring,
complex bonds among people.

Finally, regarding the strange world issue, you stretch the point to
an extreme.  We started out talking about the least strange of all
game worlds to-date: The Sims.  Each game world, online or off, has to
appeal to a fantasy.  Until Deer Hunter, Trophy Bass Fishing, or The
Sims came alone, few have appealed to mainstream fantasies.  Simply
put, I feel The Sims offers a fantasy that will suffer difficulties if
taken online.  So would the other examples I mentioned.  The right
fantasy, with kinder social development mechanics, and managed
conflict that's more engaging to the larger world could become the
most important consequence of the wired home.

BTW, I still have that green origami dragon you left on my desk when
you visited Kesmai those many years ago :)

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