[MUD-Dev] The audience is the medium. For now.

Ted L. Chen tedlchen at yahoo.com
Tue May 7 16:29:42 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


I'm new on the list so bear with me if formatting and structuring seems a
bit off while I get used to the existing standard.

From:  John Szeder

> With the recent discussion revolving around explorers, and Nick
> Yee's studies, etc, it raised an interesting question in my mind.

>   How many people have experimented with having a venue for
>   "Observers" in their game?

> Admittedly you have GM tools etc that let you be invisible, and in
> Ultima Online you can ghost around with impunity as well.

>   Has anyone really cottoned to the idea of enabling this more in
>   their games?

> A lot of people who I talk to who are outside of the hardcore
> gamer area struggle with the notion that the audience is the
> medium.

>   Why not introduce the concept of an audience into the game?

Just to deconstruct, a key factor of this idea here is that
Observers cannot influence the mechanics or interact with the game
in any direct way.  So why would an Observers be drawn to the game?
Taking a cue from non-interactive media such as movies, I posit that
the basic draw is the ability to see character actions translate
directly into consequences.  Movies that distinctly lack this
behavior are said to be 'confusing' and possibly 'artsy' (in a
derogatory fashion).

However, this seems to be only a necessary condition to draw a
majority of Observer types to watch it, not a sufficient one for
critical acclaim or retention.  The sufficiency comes when you
factor in an implicit generation of intent.  That is, the Observer
attempts to map some form of goal or intent on the character's
action and then measures whether the action->consequence was
effective in matching those goals.  If not, then the Observer chalks
it up as a bad choice.  This opens up many possibilities such as
internal score-keeping (as done when watchers of a football game
critique a bad play) or a meta-game where the Observer plays a guess
and check game with the system that she is observing (the
suspenseful climax of guessing who is going to be voted off the

  << on a slightly related note, one might argue that The Sims
  employs this intent-action-consequence in a low-level form to
  capture the attention of Observers.  Our hand of god mucks things
  around a bit, but ultimately, we're observing our Sims through the
  intent-action-consequence triplet. >>

> There is some talk about a Starcraft channel someplace overseas,
> as well as the new game channel people talk about over here.

These channels will offer a basic action->consequence stimulus to
the Observer.  However, when the different types of
"action->consequences" have all been seen, the Observer will lose
interest unless there is something else to preoccupy her.  This is
where inferring the player's intent is important and something I'm
unsure as to whether these game-channels can portray through the
limited expressionism of the games they play.

Granted, intent inference can be based on shared-experiences between
two people who've played Starcraft.  But the general public,
especially those outside of the hardcore gamer area, will not share
these similar experiences.

> In a persistent world style game, how many people would pay a
> reduced rate of 5.95 a month to have the ability to ghost around
> the world and watch things happen?

>   Even more to the point, what if you tied into the ability for
>   audience people to award points periodically to players they see
>   doing cool things?

> Essentially you would get people being able to along on these big
> plane raids and experience vicariously the thrill of killing some
> of the really big nasty monsters.

> There are downsides to the idea of course. Some people don't like
> being watched, and others are busy doing... well... what lots of
> people like to do when they think no one is watching.

Unless we can convey intent in our games (like good actors can on
the silver screen), then I don't think people would consistently pay
$5.95 a month.  They may pay it once, treating it as akin to seeing
a cheap summer blockbuster, but retention would be difficult at
best.  The question to ask is "is there value in seeing it again?"

Which leads to a concern regarding the content that the Observer
is...  well... observing.  In TV reality shows, which this form of
entertainment would be drawing a strong analogy from, a lot of
editing takes place.  After all, a full day or weeks worth of
material is compressed into a one hour show.  Additionally, the
editing pace and selection also imparts a bit of control over what
the Observers infer about the characters.

When we map this to a gaming world, we find a startling lack of
editing.  Everyone here is familiar with the long trek in the desert
idea, and if it isn't fun for some players, how can it be fun to
watch?  Not to mention that big plane raids may be sporadic, both in
time and in space.  Unless a strong mechanism is in place in
determining where the 'fun parts to watch' (possibly different from
fun parts to play) are, observer modes put the onus of editing on
the Observer.  And as someone who has had to edit home movies before
(oh yes, my insane plea to authority here), editing is a very boring

And we haven't even gone into the topics such as propriety of the
content (which you lightly touched :) upon), or even content
continuity and cohesiveness (are we watching a mosaic, or a
progression of events?)

> I am certain that I am going to catch some flak here from the
> "this is bad for the community" crowd too, but I am not sure on
> what basis.

It's not a bad idea to explore.  It might get the juices flowing on
better communication of intent in online games.  Emotes currently
serve this purpose, but don't translate too well for casual

Perhaps an argument can be made for something less extreme than a
full-fledged non-player observer mode.  That is, take the case of
big events that players flock to where big MOBs are on a killing
spree.  A lot of criticism from players is that they're missing out
of the event once they get killed by the MOB and respawn at their
last bind-point.  A possible solution to this complaint that borrows
from the Observer idea can be to let players linger their view at
the location of death to watch how their actions have translated
into consequences.  This partly side-steps the intent inference
issue as it's the player that judges her own
intent-action-consequence triplet.  It also nicely avoids the
editing problem.


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