Monday, February 13, 2006

Community Gaming...

Recently, Raph Koster has been talking a lot about the "shift to multiplayer". His most recent article about that is here. Usually, I'd just stick my commentary in his comments section, but his blog's popularity has at last caught up to his actual popularity, so his comments section is officially too crowded for a post of this length.

Raph is right about this. There's a lot of different kinds of multiplayer, and the basic truth is that games are going to involve a lot more people. Sure, they'll always be a sluggish niche in the back for people who like to play alone, but even those people will find they have a community around their game, whether it is FFXIX or Solitaire of the Future.

We're not talking about being forced to participate, here. We're simply talking about the capability. It's going to become universal. Why?

Free content.

Now, some people don't consider forum chatter "content". I do. If it takes your player's time up and interests them, it is content - at least, for somebody. Whether you're Morrowind or World of Warcraft, the main thing your community does is create content!

Having a community linked to the game is saying, "My artists spent eight hundred hours to make eighty hours of content by creating levels five through nine. My programmers spent eighty hours making eight hundred hours of content by letting all our fans talk to each other." Which is more efficient? A 10-1 ratio, or a 1-10 ratio?

Of course, I'm just making the numbers up, here. They are really much more in favor of player content and communities, since creating an eighty hour game in eight hundred hours is not likely. Seriously, communities - or player content of any kind - is dramatically more efficient and versatile than developer content!

People are starting to pick up on this, including Raph. He gives his vision of the future. I don't think it's strong enough. Take everything he says, and give it a twist to take it two steps forward and a step to the side.

For example, "store retailers in trouble" is a dramatic understatement. Oh, wow, is it an understatement. The early adopters have already abandoned store retailers for anything other than used games and games they've got to have right now. Look at a retailer's selling cycle: game comes out. It gets bought for a week. After that, nobody else buys it much (and it's getting worse). Do you really think that everyone who wanted the game got it in that first week? Isn't it slightly more likely that they're just stealing it?

Aside from the GameCube, even the console games are frequently stolen! With computer games, it's even worse.

MMORPGs are great because even if they are stolen, the thief still has to pay the monthly fee. The same with STEAM, for all its other faults. These are the systems of the future. And these systems write out store distribution altogether (or will, in a few years).

Another example, "playing single player games in multiplayer space" is also true, and also a misstatement. Because those single-player games are going to be, by and large, made by people in the multiplayer game. They might be devs, or paid level designers... but they're also probably volunteers and fans. The "game" you "buy" from the "developers" is really a multiplayer world you lease from tool programmers. Inside that game, you'll probably find games you have to buy from developers.

I could go on for pages... I have gone on for pages. Anyhow: yeah, multiplayer. It's gonna be everywhere. Haven't you noticed that it's more fun to play a game when you and your friends can chat about it?


Patrick Dugan said...

You and Raph are on to something, and thats why I'm trying to modulate an upcoming storyworld project as episodic rather than a single contigous release. By unveiling the metaplot over the course of nine months I think I can build the audience and the audience excitment in a way that will encourage people to want to talk about it and compare notes about different play styles, which will provide different plots. If the dramatic granularity possible in Storytron is what they've been saying it is, then there should be enough diversity that re-plays and forum activity could be very strong. I think of it as a "massively single-player" community.

Darius Kazemi said...

One thing that just occurred to me, although it's subject to diminishing returns: the artist might spend 800 hours to create 80 hours of content, but that content (when combined with the programmers' platform for community) is what actually spurs the 800 hours of debate.

In other words, just building a forum won't get you anywhere. The artist is contributing to that 800 hours just as much as the programmer as.

Craig Perko said...

Darius: Very true. There needs to be more than just a forum. Whether the added content is a game or the ability to make games, more content is required. However, the vast returns on connecting your fanbase to each other make it silly not to do so. :)

Patrick: Easy to say, hard to do. In practice, in order for episodic content to be worthwhile you need really great episodes at least once a month - preferably once a week.

That's hard!

Patrick Dugan said...

I've been getting some ideas tonight looking at

They're offering expository media for free, so their getting hundreds of thousands of forum posts is a bit different than for something like Runequest. What I'm doing will be somewhere in between, I'm thinking I can stir the community between eps with new site content such as write ups about characters, their fighting styles, possible reagent combinations, episode guieds, ect. The idea is maintain and easy adoption of playing the series, while giving the overall audience more and more info (in the form of possible histories) to discuss and speculate about. Hopefully a snowball effect would ensue, that would be sweet.

I'm aiming for 3 eps a month for 9 months, I expect each ep (consiting of about an hour of play the first time, half and hour of play if you know what you're doing) to take me 2-3 weeks to code, plus art and audio asset production, which I'm trying to recruit for to streamline development concurrently. I think that the content creation time per ep will actually go down later on in the series, since I'll have a lot of reaction scripts that will still make sense in general, only they'll be executing in new contexts and stages. I'm a bit concerned however, that while the scripting load may decrease later in the series, the writing load (of text-based dialogues and barks) will increase with the widening range of possible histories. I'm aiming on starting production in Sept. with a debut of mid-April '07, so I think I can get the first third of the series done by then.