I’d like to think that I’m kind of a healthy gamer. While MMOs take a lot of time, the nice thing is that their downtime can lead to forming bonds, or give you time to exercise. Augmented reality games can give you both at once, especially Pokemon Go, since it’s the best-known ARG we have (and the mountains of merchandise make it easier to stand out as a fellow player).
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and I’m not just talking about game mechanics that have plagued Niantic games since at Ingress. I remember playing that title and thinking, “Man, this game is dangerous! There’s no way they’ll just clone this for POGO, right?” And yet, here we are. But I can’t put all the blame on Niantic, especially after my time with ARG competitor Maguss. Some things just seem inherent to the genre.
Plenty of panels at GDC are recorded and uploaded to the internet weeks after the event, including this one. It’s not quite the same as being there, as you miss a few things. For example, this year’s Ultima Online Post-Mortem panel was packed. It was international. It was fun, gross, nostalgiac, and sometimes groan-inducing.
And I’d hate to just summarize the talk, especially since some of you vets have heard these stories before, but since ya’ll couldn’t make it, I’ll do it. For you. But for this particular panel, not only will I try to summarize what was said before the panel will be viewable online in a few weeks, but I’ll dish out on the after-panel chat with Richard Garriott, Starr Long, Raph Koster, and Rich Vogel, including comments from the team on bad bans, kingslaying, VR, and the state of the MMORPG.
A renowned game AI designer who worked on EverQuest Next and John Smedley’s Hero’s Song is the focal point of concern following an accident at this past week’s GDC.
Dave Mark was struck as a pedestrian by a car at the conference and has suffered brain bleeds, a pelvis fracture, a hip fracture, and possible brain damage. Mark’s friends set up a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of his travel, medical costs, and rehabilitation. It looks like the campaign has taken off, too, as it raised nearly $20,000 in its first day.
“Please help if you can,” tweeted Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster. “We are lucky to still have him with us, and recovery will be a long road.”
“Please help if you can. Dave is a wonderful guy with a beautiful family and he’s also one of the worlds leading experts on game AI. Send love and prayers his way,” said John Smedley.
If you’ll be at GDC this week (we will!), you’re in for a treat, as research from MMORPG designer Raph Koster will be on tap.
It’s new design framework aimed at co-op multiplayer game designers, conducted as part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group under Aaron Cammarata. The team is calling it the Trust Spectrum, and as Koster explains on his blog, the idea was to study how trust impacts games and vice versa, specifically for the purpose of building games that make sense for the level of trust players have for each other – and then building games that actually push people along the trust spectrum in a way that makes sense.
What they found in digging through games and gamers of all stripes was that “virtually all games are actually played at all levels of this spectrum; meaning, you can play competitive games with friends or strangers, a bidding system or supply chain system may exist at any point on the spectrum.” Ultimately, the investigators were able to map features across a trust range to make predictions on everything from audience size to retention.
Remember last week when we covered how the Entertainment Software Association is fighting a proposal to amend the DMCA that would help preserve online games, including MMOs, for future generations? MMORPG developer Raph Koster has since thumbed his virtual nose at the ESA’s jerk move.
“Speaking as a designer, I’d rather my game be played for free than never be able to be played ever again,” the Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies designer wrote on Twitter. “Much of my work is basically gone and what survives is all altered. Preservation matters.”
He points out that the ESA’s claim that putting sunsetted games back online would create a “loophole to let the public flood” in is absurd, since the lack of a flood is generally why the game closed down to begin with.
Here is some nightmare fuel for gamers imagining the future of the industry. How about an artificial intelligence that deliberately manipulates and messes with players in games to drive revenue growth?
Back in January, a leaked and unconfirmed (and possibly fake) slide show from Data Broker LLC outlined a draft of something called “online game revenue models with AI.” In it, an AI was described that manipulated players’ gameplay experience to drive them toward more microtransactions. Even worse, it uses real-world information about you to drive this process.
“We have proven that allowing the AI to alter a player’s game as a whole (social engineering),” the slide show appears to say, “and alter the player’s individual gameplay experience (psychological manipulation tactics) causes a consistent and dramatic increase recurrent revenue streams.”
Last year, we wrote about the extreme potential for griefing in virtual reality spaces as it’s one of MMORPG developer Raph Koster’s favorite talking points. “People who think ‘anonymity’ is ‘more authentic’ forget that we are social creatures; we are less human when masked and isolate,” he wrote last year in response to the rather idealistic outlooks on human nature pushed by start-up VR companies.
But of course, that’s not to say that nobody behaves well in virtual spaces. To wit: Kotaku has a piece out today on an incident that took place in VR Chat, an extremely popular virtual world akin to Second Life. A group of its players apparently put down their memes to help out a fellow human who appeared to have collapsed with a seizure. In the video provided by YouTuber Rogue Shadow VR, VR gamers broke character to offer medical advice and shame a handful of griefers in diapers and meme costumes.
If you have an exceptional memory, you might recall that a couple of months ago, Crowfall and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster wrote up a blog post on the cost of making games. The MMO expert followed that up this week with a much, much more detailed presentation that attempts to show hard data to back up his claims.
Koster said that he used industry contacts and other research to assemble data from over 250 games made from 1985 to today that shows the development cost minus the money spent on marketing. He even goes so far as to break down the cost of dollars per developed byte of information, which is where he sees costs for game falling. He said that when you look at it this way, players are getting a “deal” for games these days.
“Lots of people have made the observation that in terms of raw purchasing power, players pay around half of what they used to in the ’80s,” he notes.
Most MMORPGs have the core sandbox problem: Whoever gets there first, controls all the toys and has the power to drive everyone else away. Even in a themepark, the “richest” players, whether they control the gold or the dungeons or the gear or the PvP, eventually help kill the game.
That’s the subject of a Raph Koster blog that recently popped back up on my radar. Koster, known for ecosystem-oriented virtual world MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is subtly making the case for MMOs that end, even if that end starts a new beginning. It’ll sound familiar to A Tale In The Desert players, surely, or anybody watching Koster’s latest MMO, Crowfall.
In the service of his argument, he references a blog post about the age of the world’s best tennis players, which just keeps rising. Is it because the olds are innately better at tennis? Nope. It’s because the “winners” are entrenched in a rich-get-richer situation that ensures “the typical person in the system ends up below average.” The more the winners win, the more money they have to ensure they win more, whether that’s with better coaches, better equipment, better medical treatment, or just plain more time to train, which makes it progressively more expensive (on all fronts) for newcomers to compete… until the newbies stop trying and the olds start retiring.
And then? The whole system collapses.
Think of all the wacky things devs have said in public in front of gamers and journalists this year.
Now imagine what gets said behind closed doors!
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to select the best (and worst) developer quotes from the year and reflect on what we’ve learned from them. Let’s dig in – we’ve got some whoppers.
On this week’s show, Justin and Bree get crazy into minimaps, probably more than you’ve ever heard a podcast talk about the subject. Trust us, it’s a good thing. As the year races to a close, there’s a lot to talk about with new patches, land for sale, the cost of making games, and more!
It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.
Listen to the show right now:
All of this talk about the price of making games and the price of playing games thanks to Star Wars: Battlefront II has meant getting a pretty decent peek behind the curtain. Case in point: a lengthy discussion and explanation by Raph Koster about how expensive games really are. While Koster outright says that it’s wrong to say games are “too expensive to make,” he also points out that it’s undeniable that costs on making a game have risen hugely while box price has proportionally fallen. And as he points out, that’s because there’s no real market for second best.
The key thing to understand is that the public doesn’t buy B games. A game with stellar gameplay and less than state of the art graphics is generally simply left on the shelf. Yes, indie games with distinctive art have managed to break through so everyone will cite counterexamples, but looked at statistically, it’s something like 99.9% don’t.
Don’t ever test Raph Koster on MMORPG history, because you’ll probably lose.
The Star Wars Galaxies and Crowfall designer challenged a recent Rolling Stone article and a resulting Reddit thread on its portrayal of World of Warcraft back in its earliest days as the community prepares for WoW Classic. In particular, Koster takes umbrage with the “minimal storytelling” that the piece attributes to the vanilla game.
“[World of Warcraft] launched with probably literally 100x the story of any preceding MMO ever,” Koster said on Twitter. “Helped, no doubt, by spending a minimum of 4x the budget of any other MMO except Sims Online. Anyway, it’s just funny to read an argument that the great STRENGTHS of WoW at launch were its weaknesses.”