[MUD-Dev] Another Reality Check [was Re: Black Snow Revisited]

Dr. Cat cat at realtime.net
Fri Apr 5 10:58:39 New Zealand Daylight Time 2002


As usually there's more traffic on MUD-Dev than I can keep up with
and reply to on my current schedule.  But I've noticed a lot of doom
and gloom talk about "what happens if Black Snow wins", ranging from
the more restrained and plausible "less investment by big companies
and less new games coming out, though there will still be some" to
the more exaggerated claims that it'd be some kind of industry
wrecking apocalypse.

Seeing such thinking, I can't help but notice what the industry was
like back *before* the courts ruled that people could continue to
sell their in-game stuff, much like, oh I don't know, like they did
in all those years before a court had said whether they could do so
or not.

Years in which Black Snow and other individuals and small, flaky
companies sold stuff from Ultima Online, Everquest, Anarchy Online,
Asheron's Call, Dark Ages of Camelot - and I would assume from
Lineage as well.  Some periods of time when Ebay sales were limited
to those people who managed to sneak through without getting caught
- and other times when people were allowed to sell on Ebay freely
and without restriction, because the game companies had yet to start
trying to stop that from happening.

Correct me if I'm wrong here...  But during those years, didn't just
about all of those games make millions of dollars in profit per
year, in spite of this "profitability wrecking" activity?  Perhaps
some of them might have made more money had this not gone on - but I
think they all produced a quite acceptable Return On Investment.
(Well, maybe not Anarchy Online, I dunno there.)  So whence the doom
and gloom should the status quo merely continue?

Sure, if a judge says "No more arguing, they can keep doing this
forever", there might be a little more of it.  But I think it's
already peaked at the level of market demand on some of the earlier
MMORPGs, during the times of "no restrictions yet", and they still
remained profitable even with frenzied levels of buying and selling
sufficient to earn mention in mainstream news magazines.  Why could
they not acheive such levels of profitability again in a world after
such a legal ruling?

Further, I'll note that the amount of player buying and selling, and
the prices they get (and thus the feasability of making a Black Snow
type of company and doing it for a living), this is largely a
function of game design, and thus controllable by the developers and
publishers if they ever actually figure out how their own industry
works well enough.

Certainly nobody has sold anybody anything for an exorbitant price
in Furcadia.  We certainly have our share of fanatics who've been
playing the game for over 5 years and who have money to burn.  This
is a function of the game design not making anything "worth" a lot
to the players without also making it reasonably possible to acheive
or acquire without having to pay an arm and a leg or wrestle with
other players for a way-too-limited supply, while most go without
what they really want.  Now that we support custom portraits, we've
seen a lot of the better artists there start drawing portraits for
people at prices ranging from $2 to $15.  Hardly anything that's
going to mess up our game world or our business - in fact I think it
enhances it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about putting in the attention
currency I've wanted to do since we started...  It sticks in my craw
to think of Will Wright getting his attention currency game out to
the public first.  :X) I was thinking just the other day that I
might allow people an option to purchase some extra game money from
us for real cash.  Which immediately leads to thinking about how
much in the way of problems and complaining would this cause, and
can those be sufficiently minimized.

Right away I thought of Matt's experience with Achaea.  Where it
apparently works just fine.  I'd probably sell our currency for even
less than he charges for his.  One obvious consequence of this is
that it puts a cap on the price any player can get selling the stuff
on Ebay.  Black Snow isn't going to come along and sell a hoard of
coins for $150 if Dragon's Eye Productions will let you buy the same
number of game coins for $10.  The kind of profiteering you see in
situations of high scarcity simply wouldn't arise, nor would all the
attending negative consequences.

I'm in a bit of a different business than Sony is with Everquest,
where they are playing the Kings Of Scarcity.  They've discovered
that the hard core gamers will put up with being in a state of
anguished wanting and desire for months, even years in some cases,
if only a few amongst their number can acheive momentary bliss (and
bragging rights) by attaining the much cherished and sought after
Blue Sword of Graulnifaugrybr, before setting it aside and focusing
on a new longing for the matching helm and armor.

That's fine for hard core gamers.  They're WEIRD.  I'm in the
business of trying to please the mass market audience, and they
require something a little better out of their entertainment.  They
only reward an enterainment with Big Commercial Success if it can
succeed in giving MOST of the audience the experience of
"satisfaction", not just a small minority.  How many people walk out
of a comedy or movie saying "I didn't get what I was trying for,
'cause the guy three seats down from me got it first" or "I made
good progress, if I keep coming back to the sequels to this movie
for another 8 months I might finally accomplish the big laugh I'm
hoping to get out of this"?

Here's a potential law for Raph's list, if somebody hasn't already
observed this: It is far harder to achieve satisfaction of the
majority of your game's audience if the fundamental mechanics of
accomplishment are competitive in nature than it is if the game is
primarily cooperative and/or social in nature.

To date, most games seem to be divided between "competitive without
actually 'killing' each other" and "competitive with killing each
other", or perhaps just dividing the two options up like the smoking
and non-smoking sections of a restaurant.  How many big budget
cooperative or social games have there been?  There was Habitat,
which went from Lucasfilm to Fujitsu, and ended up as Worlds Away /
Dreamscape.  Perhaps you could count The Palace as well.  What else?
Active Worlds maybe.  Until The Sims Online, I don't think we have
any high budget, high profile game aiming at this space.  The only
big social game success stories are little 2-4 player games.

I think it will change everything.  I sure wish I could have gotten
the budget to do it first, as I always intended to.  Nothing left
now but to try to do it better (or maybe just charge less - I seem
to have gotten that part down, at least)!

I think games like The Sims Online, or if not then some successor,
will come along and vastly grow the size of the online games market.
And the problems of the "pleasurable anguished longing" games like
Everquest with the Black Snows of the world, whether the judge rule
for or against them, will be a blip on the radar, something that
grows and thrives only in that particular weird niche market, which
will be a small portion of the industry once it figures out what
most people really want, and gives it to them.

*-------------------------------------------**-----------------------------* 
   Dr. Cat / Dragon's Eye Productions       ||       Free download!
*-------------------------------------------**   http://www.furcadia.com
  Supporting user-created graphical worlds. ||  Let your imagination soar!
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