[MUD-Dev] The Skaff Effect

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Fri Dec 12 18:30:55 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


From: http://www.bastionpress.com/column.htm

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator
http://michael.tresca.net


The Skaff Effect
by Jim Butler
December 11th, 2003

Some time ago, I talked about EverQuest and why I was leaving the
game. (You can read all about that here.) Well, that's been more
then a year ago, and I thought it was a good time to discuss why I
went back to the gamer's Evil Empire.

EverQuest still has all of the same problems that made me leave the
first time. It's trade system is painful to advance in, their
customer service is about the worst I've seen, the economy is badly
broken (and getting worse each day), power-levelers and loot farmers
make the game un-fun for everyone, and the best parts of the game
aren't available until you've reached 50th level (and some would say
even higher then that).

Sony learns from other products released into the marketplace, and
they continue to watch new developments from new games and absorb
the more innovative features. When Dark Age of Camelot added a
compass to make it easier for new players to get around, EQ did the
same thing within a few weeks. As more and more games came out that
had casters sit and med for spells, Sony dropped the spell book that
filled the screen (Staring at a screen that contains your spell book
wasn't much fun, especially when the orc would walk right up to you
and smack you without you seeing him). The list goes on.

I still think that Gemstone IV is a better game on many levels
(primarily immersion into a living world where your actions matter),
but it's harder to get today's consumers interested in what is
largely a text-based game. The only other game I've seen do as much
with story and world development is Earth & Beyond.

Alas, all of the other game companies striving to take market share
from Sony continue to fight a losing battle. The amount of
innovation (and sheer content) required to upset Sony as the number
1 MMORPG is a huge barrier to taking loyal customers from EverQuest
(not to mention the huge time and emotional commitments to their
characters).

There more then 50 MMORPGs available or due out in the next year or
so.  There are 30+ more that are currently in development with no
set release dates. The online gaming market is starting to look down
the barrel of the same over-production gun that the d20 and
traditional RPG marketplace has been sorting through this past year
(though their retail and distribution chains seem stronger). While
many of these games will launch before they're ready (ultimately
dooming their chances for long-term survival, but allowing Sony to
see what innovative new features they posses), there's always the
chance that one of them will prove to offer a new feature or play
set that can change the balance of power in the online realm.

The belief that one's product is the innovative and ground-breaking
Holy Grail of gaming is what drives many of these companies to
produce these new games. Some feel that by making a 'better'
EverQuest that they'll strip Sony of its 500,000 paid subscriber
base and live happily ever after. Thought like this has been driving
the traditional games industry for years-"Hey, I can make a better
version of D&D!"

Despite a number of very good games in the tabletop RPG marketplace,
none of them have ever managed to topple D&D as the #1 game in the
field. Skaff Elias (one of the guys behind the Magic revolution)
hypothesized that any new game released into a marketplace dominated
by one brand would only serve to drive more consumers to that
brand. We called this phenomenon the Skaff Effect.

Boiled down, it means that any new CCG will help Magic: The
Gathering; any new wargame will help Warhammer; any new RPG will
help D&D. Feel free to extrapolate that to other genres as you see
the need.

The Open Gaming License makes the Skaff Effect more pronounced in
the gaming industry, since a majority of game publishers are working
to keep gamers in the D&D fold. With all of the Open Content being
produced, D&D is getting stronger all the time (there's little
reason for anyone to leave D&D, since everything one could imagine
seems to be available these days). Wizards is failing to take
advantage of this wealth of Open Content by not including any of it
in their products (though a few releases on the horizon seem to be
correcting this goal). If we weren't working with Wizards, this
might be a weakness.

Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with the symbiotic model that we
have now.  Publishers just need to realize that our fates are tied
together collectively. Where Wizards goes, so follows the
industry-and that's by design.

I'm back with EverQuest (off and on, anyway) because it's still the
'best' game with the most people playing. All of us are with D&D for
much the same reason. As new games come out, we get invigorated
briefly and then turn back to our old favorites. We can't escape the
gravitational pull of the Skaff Effect. And perhaps that's how it
should be...
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