[MUD-Dev] MMO a temporary phenomenon?

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Sun Nov 20 06:26:13 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005


At present, the online experience is fairly primitive.  We all know
that huge advancements have been made, but that we're still in the
bronze age of virtual experiences.  In a screwy way, this ensures
that those who enjoy the bronze age experience are the ones who are
most comfortable with the current experience.  It's anonymous, it's
low-fidelity, the social norms are very different from those in
life, etc.  Those who require the comfort of the norms of the real
world are simply not prepared to deal with something so odd as the
online world.

As the fidelity of the online experience improves, I'm wondering
what will happen.  Right now, the people who are enjoying our bronze
age are either comfortable with alien experiences, or they're
comfortable with the traits of this bronze age.  As things change,
the xenophiles will stick with it, while the bronze age players will
drift away in dissatisfaction, to be replaced by the iron age
players.

What will iron age players want?  Farther along, what will steel age
players want?

If the fidelity of experience keeps improving, grief actions by
others will be that much more impactful.  Something will have to be
done to guard players against the negative actions - and simply
negative experiences - that an MMO can bring.  That's true whether
the negative actions are intentional or accidental.  To my mind,
that means either a loss of anonymity, suggesting a certain
accountability on the part of those who visit a given experience, a
reduction of interaction (e.g. watching a baseball game through a
privately-controlled set of cameras), and/or a supplanting of the
MMO model by a GO model.  Groups Online.  Playing with buddies.

If a virtual deer hunting park was created, would it make sense to
put all the hunters into one virtual world and let them blast away
at the same deer?  It seems unlikely to appeal to deer hunters - who
I assume to be steel age players.  They want high fidelity before
they'll go online instead of hopping in their pickup to go hunting
with buddies.  And that's somewhat where I'm going with this: the
people who are more comfortable with other people tend to spend time
with other people that they know instead of going online and playing
with people that they don't know at all.

As the fidelity of online experiences improves, will the sort of
people who then come into the online arena want to retain their ties
to their existing social circles, or will they too decide that the
value of the experience itself is superior to the value of
experiencing something with their real world friends?

As an example, consider the deer hunting example.  If deer hunting
can be jazzed up to be high fidelity dinosaur hunting with automatic
weapons from hang gliders, will hunters be more interested in the
dinosaur hunting or the appeal of hunting something with friends?
If the former, then tossing a bunch of strangers into a group to
have them go hunting will still work.  They're all enthusiasts of
the hunt more than they are enthusiasts of sharing the hunt.  If the
latter, then tossing a bunch of strangers into a group will leave a
certain stale taste in their mouths.  "I sure wish Bob was here to
lighten everything up a bit."

Remember that I'm not talking about the current crop of folks who
are content with the online experience as it is (even as they hope
for something better).  Those are people who are happy to do the
stuff that we can do online without the touchy-feely experiences of
another person when they talk to them or interact with them in some
way.  As the fidelity goes up, that will change the appeal of the
experience to the world population as a whole.  I can understand
wanting a fairly sterile experience when interating with many
strangers, as in an MMO experience.  But as the fidelity goes up,
will the dominant group of people interested in that higher fidelity
still want to be surrounded by strangers?

This question might be better put to those who don't currently like
the bronze age of the internet.

JB
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