The State of Play Conference was too rich with new concepts and directions to be usefully summarized in a blog. One thread that caught my mind's eye, though: users of virtual worlds and the owners seem destined to a long and bitter struggle for control. Tellingly, we return from the conference to news that the Warriors of EverQuest are on the verge of open rebellion.
More on that below. First, the conference. Energized. I was shocked both at the number of people and the fact that there were many standing in back of the room through entire panels. I've never been at a conference where the subject matter was discussed continuously from 7AM until midnight every day. And one thing we all agreed on: virtual worlds matter. It was not necessary to haul out the arguments for significance that most of us have been using over and over and over: "Virtual worlds are growing in importance and people spend their whole lives there and it's richer than Bulgaria and avatars are better than bodies for some purposes and and and yada yada yada." How nice to be able to spend our time actually talking about the subject.
At one point the discussion began to focus on raw political questions. If the users don't like the owners, and vice versa, what happens? The old-school answer, from the days of MUDs, is pretty simple: Press the 'Off' switch. However, we heard from several of the lawyers (Jack Balkin in particular) that if the assets in the world were big enough to matter (as we all believe they will be, someday), a bankruptcy court might seize the servers and press the 'On' switch. At that point the question arises: who is going to run the world then? The court? The users?
Imagine the following power transition: Conflict between owners and users gets ugly. User protests make such a mess of the world that the owners no longer find it profitable. They turn the world off. Courts or legislatures turn it back on again and hand it to the users. Or instead: owners, anticipating the final node of the decision tree, respond to user protests by giving them what they want.
Far-fetched? Well, it seems that quality of life and fairness issues involving EverQuest's Warrior profession have driven the Warriors to the brink of mass protest. Players with warrior characters will log in at fixed times, in large numbers, and spam all major chat channels in the world with canned statements of grievances. It would be, to say the least, incredibly annoying and disruptive to other users.
The protest was announced on November 7 and originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 18. On November 14, Alan VanCouvering, EQ's Community Manager, announced in an interview a major overhaul of melee combat systems (read: warrior issues). The overhaul will be described in detail on November 24. After polling their constituents, the warrior leaders have now postponed the protest until December 2. Whether it happens will depend on the policy announcement on the 24th.
This looks like Autumn 1989 in a glass bottle. Evidently, the State of Play is itself in play.