[MUD-Dev] Evolutionary Design

Derek Licciardi kressilac at insightBB.com
Thu Jun 13 00:39:46 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: Dave Rickey
> From: "J C Lawrence" <claw at kanga.nu>

>>   http://www.gamedev.net/reference/design/features/evolution/
>>
>> --<cut>--
>>       Evolutionary Design

> I'm going to snip the article, in the interest of addressing an
> issue the author didn't: Treating the game design process itself
> as an adaptive landscape has merit, but it fails to note that it
> is a landscape of an unknown number of dimensions.  There's
> something big about the Sims I've never seen anyone comment on, a
> dog that isn't barking: Where are the clones?

> Think about it: Here is the biggest game of all time, and nobody
> has copied it.  As far as I can tell, nobody even has a Sims clone
> planned.  The Sims has adapted in a direction the rest of the
> industry appears unable to even perceive, never mind imitate.  We
> know the Sims is a big hit, we have lots of guesses as to why, but
> *nobody* can even convince themselves they know how it does it
> well enough to think they could do it better?  WTF?

> Why haven't more MMOG's come out?  It's been 5 years since UO
> proved there was real money in it, 3 since EQ and AC proved it
> wasn't a fluke.  Sure, there's some true second generation
> products planned for release in the next year, but where *is*
> everybody?  Several times I've watched the evolution, some exec
> looks at the revenue stream of existing games, starts to salivate,
> puts things in motion...and then nothing.  People talk, wave their
> hands, and then realize that they actually don't have any idea
> where to even start.

> The Sims, and MMOG's, are outside of the traditional game design
> conceptual framework, not just in distance or direction, but in
> *dimension*.  It's like trying to wrap your head around a
> tesseract or a klein bottle.  If you can "see" in that dimension,
> it's as obvious as good new ideas always are, and if you can't, it
> doesn't exist for you.

I'd like to back this up a bit with some anecdotal evidence from our
experiences with Ages of Athiria and trying to obtain funding for
our project.  When we first started this project, we decided to
center our design on the community and simulation side of Raph's MMO
design triangle.(All games to date are centered strongly on
gameplay) Our philosophy was simple, give the players the tools they
need to interact with a well-defined world simulation and with each
other and there's a good chance entertaining things will happen for
all those involved.  Inject story line and plot where necessary to
keep the action in the world flowing if it hits dull spots.  Simple
enough.

We put together a set of design docs for the game that we think
demonstrates a revolutionary step in the genre.  We built a business
plan, a financial plan, an executive summary, market case studies,
news clippings from every research firm known to man and a pretty
solid team to start the project.  We've assembled everything my
business degree and venture capitalists in and out of the games
industry tell us we need to get 'money' to listen.

Well as it turns out, the money listens but can't *see* the
idea.(Black box your skepticism that our design can be
revolutionary.  Its not really what I am trying to get across.)
Looking for funding from anyone in Silicon Valley, Louisville KY,
Boston MA, or Austin TX doesn't really change the outcome.  What
we're finding is that unless you can roll it yourself, have a Star
Wars license, or plan to do an evolutionary EQ clone, getting a game
funded is next to impossible from traditional sources of funding for
a startup company.  The few angel investors we have talked to will
invest in Gulf of Mexico power generators(built from large fans
placed in the currents) but can't *see* how a game could make them
significant returns.  Publishers are so product driven that any
budget over $2M is not possible for their corporate financial
structures.  From my research on Lexis-nexis.com even the current
MMOs rarely secured more than 2 million from a publisher stage
funding step.  Venture Capitalists don't believe that the game
industry can provide the level of revenues that they traditionally
expect.  Even if they do believe this, they have no experience
interacting with publishers and can't comprehend the lock publishers
have on a successful title launch.(ie publishers own the retail
shelves) The end result has always been the same so far.  "Nice
product, nice team, nice project plan but we don't have experience
in that field, we can't validate the idea with any reassurance, ..." 
a.k.a "We don't know where to begin with a company like yours."

All of this is going to change over time, I hope. (not soon enough
for us or the future visions posted on the other thread) Prior to
MMOs neither the revenues nor the need for greater than $5M project
dollars existed often enough in game projects for traditional
business to care.  Prior to the Sims, no traditional game seemed to
make enough money to make traditional business care.  Venture
Capitalists therefore largely ignored the game industry. (Again this
is what my research has found) As Dave points out, the money folks
can't *see* the opportunity and history seems to work against us
tremendously because unless the money folks can relate your design
to something, any amount of success that design could have doesn't
exist for them.  Its somewhat depressing when you think about it.
The technology exists, the talent exists, the bandwith exists, and
the designs exist but because the whole idea of an MMO is a number
of dimensions more complex than anything ever done before in our
industry, the money can't *see* the clear path to the rewarding
opportunity.  Because they, themselves don't know how to get there
and because of the Dotcom crash, money doesn't seem to trust a
vision it might not totally grasp.  For the sake of our growing
industry and for the fans, I hope what Dave has described changes
soon.

Still trekking along the long and winding funding road.

Derek



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