Fritz Effenberger of VNUnet kindly alerted us to a potentially-interesting development. He writes:
"I just want to point at a very interesting turn in mmo development. Reakktor, the German MMO developer, running its cyberpunk MMO Neocron for more than 3 years now, had announced to rework the graphics of the game, only to receive massive complaints from the gaming community. Neocron players rated balancing problems more important than changes in graphics, so the development started an ongoing forum discussion about character classes and balancing issues. I actually never heard of such a thing before: gamers have a voice in balancing reworks, common opinions get re-posted by the devs and re-discussed by the comm. It just looks like this MMO is going to be formed using democratic ways."
On one view this is nothing new, of course. Devs regularly check the forums in order to see where the problems are in their games, and regularly change the game (nerf classes/objects/etc) based on information they receive there. This sort of democracy is a pretty thin version of a public sphere, and can be easily be dismissed as a typical response to consumer demand by a firm.
But it does provide a useful datapoint for Tim's conception of sovereignty within virtual worlds. It's been clear for a while that devs don't have total autonomy (and indeed if they thought about it, wouldn't really want that anyway) and that sovereignty is shared among the community and the devs. Here is another example of the effect of that shared sovereignty.
It also makes me wonder why it is that open source projects in this space have been such a notable failure. The degree of user-generated content on the fora--ideas, suggestions, gripes--demonstrate the huge amounts of time and effort that individuals will donate to the design of the world. In doing this for games produced by commercial developers they are effectively donating their labor-value to the shareholders of that firm. Which I have no problem with, in general; though in reading these postings I often have moments of Marxian-dissonance, a little like the moments I have watching working class people root for NFL franchises owned by billionaires. But that's not the weird thing: the weird thing is that these people care deeply about the community of the virtual world, which is quite similar to part of the motivation in producing open source content (ie, the sense of producing something with is collectively-owned, and for a public good). And yet no open source MMOGs...