Wired's newest issue is about [drumroll] games. A hefty chunk of which is on MMOGs. Much to tease out, but we received a great note from a reader about one article and we wanted to share it with you.
Steven Johnson has a piece in which he suggests a convergence of game worlds is probable and/or desirable, and that we should be able to move toons across worlds. Andy Havens wrote to Steven Johnson to disagree. He writes:
"Er... yeah. Because people have always wanted to see how Heathcliff would
have ganged up with Beowulf in a tag-team match against Luke Skywalker and
Madame Bovary using those bone clubs from "2001."
"While some of the stuff you mention might make sense -- player data a la my eBay rating in a network of games that might rank how good a player I am in various games -- the idea of trading experience, items, characters, etc. from game to game is just, in most cases -- sorry -- dumb. The best games (especially online) are often story-based entertainments as much as click-fest videogames. The use of anything -- even language -- from outside the "magic circle" of the game does what dramatists call "breaking the 4th wall."
"Yes, we know that Tom Cruise, whom we watching in "The Last Samurai" is that
same guy from "Mission Impossible." But if, at the critical moment in the
19th century, Japanese film he were to whip out a plastic-explosive, pull
off a latex mask and say, "Show me the money, $#%!" we would run screaming
from the movie.
"There's plenty interesting to say about where online gaming convergence is
going. Cross-over of "stuff" from game-to-game ain't it.
I suspect that the difference here comes down to one's view of embodiment, the avatar-as-self, and the distinction between game worlds and social worlds. Or [shudder] perhaps it's Ye Olde Narratology-Ludology Punch-and-Judy show. But an divergence of views by smart people is always good, since value is often (always?) found in the interstices, not in the received wisdom.
Comments on Yeah, not so much:
My take on it is that we just don't have a working grammar to understand characters/equipment/stuff in a generalised context - ie. we don't have a set of tools that will let us convert them from one specific context to another in any meaningful way.
I'm also not optimistic about the possibilities for finding one without collapsing things to the lowest common denominator and ending up with a few dozen different skins on the same generic set of templates and ways of thinking.
Sure, we've got healer/warrior/nuker/scout/etc. archetypes all over the map, but given that the concept and implementation of them depends so much on theme, converting them without reducing it to a straightforward "you played N hours in my game, so when you switch to Game B you can jump straight in at the level they think you ought to be after playing N hours" would be Somewhat Odd.
Given also that different people draw the lines between archetypes differently, it's even worse - for instance, consider someone who's used to playing a priestly healer moving to a game where all priests are holy warriors, and all healers are empaths. Which one does she want to map to, and will she get a choice...
Of course, there's one obvious answer to this sort of problem, with a large number of entities with no inherent value, but wildly differing perceived values, and prone to fluctuate against each other. A currency market. And given that more of them can be produced at pleasure, with no investment but subscription money and time, the implications are quite amusing. Making your seed corn from grinding in one MMO, investing it in someone else's grinding, capitalizing on that...
Posted Mar 24, 2006 12:59:48 PM | link
I don't think the article is saying games should merge, but that virtual places should merge. It's been beaten into my head here that MMOs are both place + game. Aren't EQ and WoW just shards on a bigger virtual place?
Wizard of the Coast's Open Gaming System is a standard ruleset for the PnP RPG world. Isn't Second Life a virtual place that supports multiple games? What if Linden Labs created an OGS for Second Life? Isn't that exactly what Steven Johnson is asking for?
Posted Mar 24, 2006 1:18:48 PM | link
Last word on Johnson's article:
Ending any article with: "And then we really will have built the Matrix..."
Yeesh. Right. Or maybe we'll have simply enabled some lame, buggy "Microsoft Wallet" to let virtual-sweat-shop lords move eSwag around the Pacific Rim more easily while Balmert collects his .25% of every transaction. Just what we need to make gaming more "fun;" trading plat futures against simoleans on the MMO cross-currency market.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 1:19:49 PM | link
Ken -- [sarcasm alert] Virtual places *do* merge now. In a place we call "reality." Same as how books, movies, TV shows, etc. "merge." We have these neat data formats called "speech" and "writing" that let meta-avatars called "people" do things together like "talk." For thousands of years, we've been able to say things like, "You know... I really like 'Star Trek' so much better than 'Star Wars.'" That's a merger of virtual places... right in your living room or local Starbucks.
[end sarcasm] I think the idea of systems that enable greater utility of virtual spaces is fine. If we have better graphics standards, more agreement on what are the "must have" features for certain types of games, bug fixes that are ported acrosss titles... all that stuff is great. Sharing on a "platform level" is wonderful.
And, again... if we want to enable meta-systems for player-to-player comms, persistency of certain rankings *outside* of games (e.g., "he was a great guild leader in WoW, so probably would be in EQ"), spaces (like this one...) that are dedicated to multi-game issues... fine.
But cross-game, story elements? Blech! EQ and WoW are NOT shards of a greater virtual place. If they were, what you did in WoW would "echo" explicitly in EQ.
Unless/until there is a story/narrative connection between two MMO's (or other entertainments, a la "Alien" and "Predator"), it makes me really itch to think about a character in WoW making any kind of in-game claim based on anything he/she/it did in any other game. It breaks not one, but TWO magic circles (4th walls) in one stroke; the one going out of WoW, and the one going into the other MMO.
Bad, bad, bad.
About the only thing I can see it working well for are games where character means, essentially, nothing. If I "earn" a cool jacket/logo playing SSX (a snowboarding game) online, and then get to wear it while playing THUG online (a skateboarding game), I'm not sure how that affects anything.
But, then again... I'm not a diehard SSX or THUG fan. They may find that as offensive as I do EQ gear in WoW.
Then again again, THUG and EQ take place in "our" world. Not in another. So maybe persistence "here" is a different issue than persistence "there."
Posted Mar 24, 2006 1:32:16 PM | link
Dan> I suspect that the difference here comes down to one's view of embodiment <
Current MMOGs get the embodiment thing half right, calling the embodiment of the Player in the here and now of a world the “avatar”. But they are missing the other half of the concept, the Demi-god from a separate plane of existence that is, in the moment, embodied. This Demi-god is not the Player, but the embodiment of the player in the virtual space. It’s the embodiment of the Player in virtual space that knows all about our familiar world, and other avatars and achievements in particular game worlds.
Making these two quite different embodiments explicit would make it quite clear which voice a Player was using at any one time. That would clear up a lot of the miscommunication going on. The current use of a single “avatar” for two functionally quite different embodiments is quite out of step with the underlying reality. No wonder Players are confused.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 1:45:27 PM | link
I had a chance to read the print article, and it's much as cited here, with the author advocating things such as carrying levels and gear over to another MMO.
I believe the author also misreads the purpose of "Metaverse" by suggesting that it would support such a thing.
Now, I'm dead-set against this in anything but a game intentionally designed to be "multi-dimensional"... like TSR's old Amazing Engine where you defined 4 core stats for your character, and these carried across all different genres of a game. Even this wouldn't function well with equipment carry-over
A GURPS "Infinate Earths" type of setting might work, with developers getting together to define their own world in this massive framework, but I'd suspect that the entire dev team would need sedation after the first brainstorming session... How do you balance for something out of your control. What do you do when a dev of another dimension introduces some power/item/ability that GROSSLY imbalances your world?
Heck, as a pen-and-paper GM, I didn't even allow other people to carry their characters over without HEAVY editing. Even if the worlds were the same, too many overpermissive GM's made these heroes too uber.
So... maybe... just maybe... a single, sole developer could offer a multigenre setting that balanced all these worlds' assets against one another (I still see alot of prescriptions for team members) but then we really don't have what the author envisions... we just have a single stand-alone product, like everything else.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 1:53:50 PM | link
You know, I completely agree with Andy that this makes no sense as applied to MMOGs and the future of the metaverse -- it won't happen and there is no good reason to want it to happen.
With regard to the *real* metaverse, however, the mixture of data and meatspace that we live in presently, the picture of this isn't nearly so wonderful. Your credit rating is an avatar, you are required to port it from bank to bank, you get PK'd by identity theft, and then it's just game over, Hiro.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:02:43 PM | link
Andy> That's a merger of virtual places... right in your living room or local Starbucks. <
But most Players don’t meet other Players in their living room, or local Starbucks. They meet in some third space that isn’t in their physical world, or necessarily embodied in a particular game avatar. It clear that Players want this third space, look at the amount of conversation in WoW that goes on where the in world character is a “toon” in some other space from the Player.
I’d agree on the need to preserve the narrative integrity of the different worlds. Two explicit levels of embodiment would I think make that easier. It provides a specific place to hold the out of world narrative of the Player, so the in world and out of world narratives aren’t always colliding. It would also make persistent avatars and permadeath more acceptable features, both big improvements from a story telling perspective.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:07:15 PM | link
bahaha. Obviously neither of these 'gurus' have been in SecondLife, where star wars meets BDSM meets disney meets EQ meets Furries meets GOR meets ... oh why bother.
Do your research.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:11:32 PM | link
Blaze -- First of all, I'm not a guru; air quotes present or absent. Never claimed to be. Second, I've spent hundreds of hours in SL.
Third, what you're talking about doesn't really work in SL as a "game" construction... SL is a world. It's an example of what Hellinar rightly talks about just above your comment; a virtual third space that "isn’t in their physical world, or necessarily embodied in a particular game avatar."
I love SL. And it's great that I can look like (or play) a Jedi, a bondage queen, a furry, a cowboy, etc. all in one place. But it's more like a really visually hyped-up chat room with various 3D plug-ins than a complete gaming environment.
There is persistence in SL, I will admit, in that if I earn Linden selling lightsabers to Jedi and broomsticks to Harry Potters... it all goes into the same account. I can earn $LD playing tringo in a fantasy castle and then spend it in a bondage dungeon. And if I get good ratings from furries, they count as much as good ratings from Peter Pan. But when it's all thrown into one big mash-up... it's no longer a game; it's a second "life." Which is the point of SL.
Are there examples of multiple games in SL where you are given some kind of "reward" -- experience, items, levels, secret handshakes -- that then translate into other games/areas? I'm not aware of any. If you are, Blaze... do share *your* research.
Fourth. Be nice.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:34:43 PM | link
Blaze> bahaha. Obviously neither of these 'gurus' have been in SecondLife, where star wars meets BDSM meets disney meets EQ meets Furries meets GOR meets ... oh why bother.<
In Second Life, a furry and a Star Trooper are essentially the same avatar wearing a different costume. Dropping my Star Trooper outfit on my avatar does not change its abilities, name, character history etc., which is what would make a different avatar in a different world. Second Life, as it stands, is essentially a costume party. Which sounds like what Steve Johnson is really shooting for. Moving from room to room in costume party is a pretty weak variant of moving from world to world in MMORPG though.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:46:20 PM | link
What Hellinar said.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 2:59:16 PM | link
Chas York points to several paper and pen examples. I do think that it is possible for character movement between game worlds. I think it necessarily has to be from one developer, but I do think that there needs to be some decent meta-fiction to bring scope to it (put all of the game worlds in the same "magic circle" so to speak). Then, what would transfer and how it would transfer I would leave to the meta-fiction to describe (ie, voyages are taxing on a character and should happen rarely and often result in heavy loss and some reduction in skill vs. come and go as you please, both have different requirements for how such a transfer should take place and how much power a world's developer has in accepting other game stats).
Posted Mar 24, 2006 3:14:00 PM | link
Article> "consolidation is all but inevitable"
I read the article. No where does it say why this "must" happen - no presentation of consumer outcry, no market trend analysis, no rationale from a game-design point of view - it just asserts that it will happen despite the will of the users/designers/market/etc.
Predicting technological convergence is fun - I shoud know - I did it some myself almost 20 years ago. But is frought with the perils of conceptual optimism and temporal myopia.
Does anyone remember when they said we'd read our newspapers in our living-room on our TVs while talking on the TV-phone? Turns out only some of that stuff merged, and for market-forces reasons.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 5:06:37 PM | link
I recently went down the bunny trail of "one day characters will be able to cross between games." The idea was that we could define standards for attributes, skills, bios, etc. Then, as game development tools reach the masses, if developers followed this standard we could see many small games in which characters could move from game to game.
But the farther I walked down this path, the less sensible the idea sounded. What about gear? How many oddball special cases do you have to create to allow characters to cross genres?
Eventually I decided that this probably wouldn't work... but there's an alternative idea that might. Go back to that idea about standards: what if the inputs and outputs of various core systems of MMOGs could be defined in a standardized way?
Theoretically, this would allow hundreds of people to work on the parts of MMOGs that they enjoy most, rather than leaving them faced with the task of building an entire game world. Then, assuming there were clearinghouses for these core systems, designers would be able to pick and choose the systems they felt were right for the game they want to make, tweak them appropriately, and plug them in to the overall design.
This wouldn't create character portability, which I now agree is not worth chasing. But it would help to create many more game worlds from which to choose. As always, Sturgeon's Law would apply... but 5% of 1000 is a lot better than 5% of 20.
Who needs consolidation? Standards that allow an explosive divergence of opportunity sound like a lot more fun to me.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 5:43:13 PM | link
But, again... that's all stuff that happens "behind the curtain," to borrow a metaphor from the stage/screen. Many theaters and movie production companies rent lights, costumes, props, sets, sound systems, etc. depending on the needs of a particular show. That's great.
I got no beef with that for games, either. If you work some great code for swordfighting... put it in the lightsaber fighting game. If you've got a cool animation for TNT exploding... make it available for use (or easy manipulation) as a spell effect. Sure.
But... again, there's the need to be careful, if we're in a storytelling environment and not an "arcade" environment. If you start to have a sense of "deja vu" while playing a medieval fantasy game... and all of a sudden realize it's because all those hyper-realistic, very cool looking, very specifically animated "dire wolves" were ported 100% from a gothic horror game you were playing last week... whoa. Buzz kill.
If gaming is a language, the letters (hardware and software protocols) must translate from game to game as much as possible for anything to work at all. Then, words can also be used again and again; we don't need to call "strength" and "IQ" something radically different in every game. Top-down radar-style maps are good, etc.
But when you start exporting entire paragraphs... Ick. I likes my milkshakes, and I likes to drink 'em with my fried chicken. But I don't likes a fried chicken milkshake.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 7:22:49 PM | link
>Er... yeah. Because people have always wanted to see how Heathcliff would have ganged up with Beowulf in a tag-team match against Luke Skywalker and Madame Bovary using those bone clubs from "2001."
Clearly you are not a Guilty Gear XX fan, whose cast includes an effete vampire, a nine-foot-tall doctor with a bag on his head, a transvestite yoyo nun, and the ninja President of the United States.
More seriously, it seems that games from across the Pacific place less of a premium on the avoidance of incongruity, anachronism, and flat-out silliness. Also, a number of game series (particularly martial arts tournament game series) will include a "dream match" edition wherein a representative sample of characters from many different series will come together to do battle For No Good Reason. Even Nintendo is not immune to this impulse: see Smash Brothers.
Being only a casual player, I can't say whether this trend extends to MMOs. If it hasn't happened yet, though, my guess is that it will eventually - and I for one wouldn't particularly mind. I know it's not quite the same thing as what the article conjectures, and I agree that the technical and legal hurdles for such a convergence are neither easy to overcome nor necessarily worth overcoming. I just thought I'd point out that the scenario you envision is neither impossible nor anathema.
Posted Mar 24, 2006 7:32:55 PM | link
Hehe there's another idea in that piece by Stephen Johnson that I spoke of first. I talked about a "MetEX or Woods Between the Worlds"
blaze is right, but Andy is right, too, that you can merge all these characters and "looks" in Second Life, but they can't *do the things* that they could do in those other games because SL doesn't have the physics or other features.
Second Life is merely like the Star Wars Bar, as I call it, a way station where all those wierd creatures meet in one place to do financial deals before moving on to their separate quests or business in other worlds.
When WoW has its scheduled downtime, people meet up in SL and chat about their guilds and plan strategies.
I see this more with kids, who fluidly move among these worlds with lightning speed. Like, last night I saw two kids with their laptops and the headphones on wondering around the place. Both were logged into Second Life to their business, but multi-tasking. One was toggling to a beta of Planeshift. Looking at the character in Planeshift, they discussed, could they make and sell anything about his "look" in SL? They had already done that with Zelda, Final Fantasy, Runescape, etc. Could they work a deal where they'd all flip all the currencies and goods that somebody else had stored up in WoW but who was going away for Easter and was worried they couldn't 'keep up' so they wanted to sell it now. What about selling the SL business so that more cash could be obtained to get out of the trial on WoW? etc.
The chief purpose of SL isn't to *play* these other games or worlds -- if you keep looking at it that way, it will never seem to work. And the chief purpose isn't even to move your character between them.
Rather, it is, as David Linden explained to us a long time ago, to serve as a "monetarizing social platform". (I always get that wrong, and it might be "socializing monetarized platform). That is, SL can serve as the exchange. You can monetarize your time online in this place. There are going to be limitations to this, of course. But if we get web-on-a-prim, instead of shit-on-a-stick, then people will be able to do more with this, logging into and downloading software of other game sites, keeping a tiny window going to watch their droning and skilling while they do more creative work in SL.
I have a vision of the MetEx that will have these windows with the other games all playing on various tiny video screens and tickers running about the currency and rares exchange...a pound of meteorite in Eve or whatever it is they dig there is worth...a pound of gold in WoW...a week's rent in SL...whatever. It's going to be cool.
Posted Mar 25, 2006 9:17:12 AM | link
IOW, you're a human being who has characters in multiple worlds, but you don't violate the "fourth wall" inside yourself doing this, you have the barriers straight unconsciously in your mind. But...perhaps you'd like to be in a social space that is "meta" to all those worlds and discuss the various characters, features, etc. of those other worlds with others who also have multiple characters.
Posted Mar 25, 2006 9:25:47 AM | link
Andy Haven > Er... yeah. Because people have always wanted to see how Heathcliff would have ganged up with Beowulf in a tag-team match against Luke Skywalker and Madame Bovary using those bone clubs from "2001.
Not so long ago many of us would have snarked (and of course many here still would :), "Er... yeah. Because people have always wanted to hear how the Beatles would sound mixed with Jay-Z" etc. But tons of people *looove* that kind of mashup, myself among them, and they ain't going away. In fact if anything they haven't even started hitting games yet. Lots and lots of really exciting stuff to play with here.
Andy Haven > There's plenty interesting to say about where online gaming convergence is going. Cross-over of "stuff" from game-to-game ain't it.
Steven Johnson > ...you wouldn't expect a Grand Theft Auto crack dealer to drop in for a barbecue with the Sims.
Let's loosen our magic circle collars for a second, because I don't think you're exactly disagreeing. Steven's not talking about wrecking game spaces that are set aside with specific rules (like Madden football), but about the ability to port and do more with your 3D data and virtual identity *when appropriate or desirable to the player* (like take your quarterback out into the parking lot after the game and drive away in a virtual Ferrari down an accurately recreated street in Google Earth). This will be enabled by converging standards and connecting services that, I 100% agree with Steven, are inevitable (I'd put this squarely in the RMT category--contentious in many cases, but it's going to happen).
Check out these avatars OGLEd into Maya. If I could import my Second Life or WoW av into a game like Tony Hawk I'd do it in a second, and so would many, many others.
Andy Haven > the idea of trading experience, items, characters, etc. from game to game is just, in most cases -- sorry -- dumb.
Hearing that and feeling so strongly the opposite in my gut (even though I totally get and appreciate your meaning here), the echo that naturally popped into my head to shoot back was: "The idea of buying and selling virtual things for real money is -- sorry -- dumb," which would of course be disconnected and makes me wince a bit (OK, a lot :), but that's good. Good discussion.
Gaining common experience between game worlds is already starting to happen with Xbox Live. Check out Achievement Points. Done the right way this will undoubtedly be big, especially when you can start spending your achievement points on games, power-ups, extras, etc. I'd bet a quarter that it'll become common to play games you'd otherwise have never played just to earn more APs, and that the associated hopping between game worlds will feedback into people wanting more persistent identity features between those game worlds. Clever game designers will seek to cater to that.
Posted Mar 25, 2006 10:20:00 AM | link
Prokofy Neva > I have a vision of the MetEx that will have these windows with the other games all playing on various tiny video screens and tickers running about the currency and rares exchange...a pound of meteorite in Eve or whatever it is they dig there is worth...a pound of gold in WoW...a week's rent in SL...whatever. It's going to be cool.
Nice! :) I call that the globalization of virtual worlds.
Posted Mar 25, 2006 10:26:26 AM | link
Andy, it was a great article and you hit them with sarcasm .. and you ask *me* to be nice?
The concept of narrative is overblown.
People are too busy making comparisons with movies and Virtual Reality, maybe because they're all hopped up on the idea of replacing hollywood.
This is a new medium. Lets do something new .. it's about choose your *OWN* adventure. it's about byronic post modern where we all get to be whatever it is we want to be.
You talk about how no one wants it, and I talk about that's all we want.
Stop caging us in!
Posted Mar 25, 2006 2:58:28 PM | link
Oh, it's just fucking dumb. They want to build Gibson's cyberspace, but frankly, nobody else wants that. 'Realspace' is a metaphor that doesn't work for 99+% of the things you actually want to do on the net; the day I have to spend WoW like walking times to get from one online store to another is the day I will shoot myself. There's not going to be "one big convergence of online worlds," because even supporting the action verbs required in vastly different online worlds would turn your code into some fucking monstrous unimaginable piece of crap. Just give me another cool game that has its own character and interesting features, thanks.
This is the same motivation that leads to things like GURPS, "universal" roleplaying systems that sacrifice focus and evocativeness of a particular setting on the altar of a "common system." It is a complete blind alley.
Posted Mar 25, 2006 10:48:11 PM | link
I have been thinking about crossing virtual realities for sometime now and have decided that (although down right now) Gamepal's mmo rental program could do the trick. If you were to view this rental service as more of a timeshare/currency exchange, it would allow someone to easily travel from world to world without fear of starting over each time, and if a certain member happens to occupy the same accounts between games they can maintain their persona as well. The idea of an exchange rate would allow me to trade or sell my valuable wow items and earn equal items in my move across worlds.
My 2 Cents
Posted Mar 26, 2006 3:18:15 AM | link
Posted Mar 26, 2006 3:22:04 AM | link
Blaze >This is a new medium. Lets do something new .. it's about choose your *OWN* adventure. it's about byronic post modern where we all get to be whatever it is we want to be.<
“whatever” is a step too far. There is an underlying reality in every world, enforced by the engine. I think the post modern idea, that much of what we consider reality is molded by our interpretation, was a big step forward. But that there is a underlying reality still holds. Same in virtual worlds. As you build the underlying engine, you make choices about the individual reality.
I like the idea of mashup worlds, a restaurant at the end of the universe where my gnome mage can meet your Jedi. But the engine still has to decide which physics rules, that of EQ or of SWG. And when you step out the door, who’s history is embedded in the landscape, that of EQ or SWG? If you recreate an EQ island and a SWG island in SL you could use your lightsaber on the EQ island, because both islands are using the same engine. But, you on both islands, you would still be in the SL world, not in Norrath or Tatooine. Those places are defined by a very specific physics and history enforced by the underlying engine.
Posted Mar 26, 2006 10:21:43 AM | link
Maybe this is off topic, but I have trouble understanding what the "fourth wall" is in a virtual world. I'm not a theatre guy, but the fourth wall is the imaginary wall between the audience and the actors, right? If there isn't any audience, can there be a fourth wall?
Like I said before, games can't blend into each other, but places can. Items and characters have a dual nature in MMOGs. The game aspects only have meaning within the game, but the place aspects could be very mobile. If Steven Johnson advocated mixing games, I'm sorry I didn't notice that; I don't agree with that. (I'm sympathetic to moving over character levels and wealth though -- leveling treadmills are an obstacle to role play. If I've served my time once, I really don't want to do it again.)
Back to the fourth wall... If I am an Orc in Warcraft, why can't I move to Eve and become an Orc spaceship pilot? Or move to City of Heroes and become an Orc super hero? If this violates the designer's artistic integrity, that's one thing, but to say it violates the fourth wall seems wrong. Who should control my identity?
Posted Mar 26, 2006 11:53:37 PM | link
We've got some good discussion here, and some good disagreement on basic issues, which is cool -- exactly what it should be. But we've also got some fundamental misunderstandings about the difference between an instance of a creative medium, of any kind, as a self-contained, "experience-able" entitiy... and the ability to regard that medium as part of a larger whole; either in comparison to others of its kind, or to all other media.
The truly post-modern ideal says that, yes... narrative is dead. Nothing can be self-contained; there is no experience that is available to us that is "outside" the consideration of all other experiences. As soon as we bring our continuous consciousness from one game to another, we have lost any hope of having a "separate" gaming experience. We use the same names for characters in game after game. We use the word "orc" to mean vastly different things in different games. We use different keys, different commands, different spells, etc. -- or the same ones, or some subset of same/different -- from game to game. We cannot "escape the frame." There is always and only a giant "mash up" of experience into which every game, book, song, movie, show, Web site, story and poem goes... we choose which elements are "sticky," which we leave behind, which are most real to us, which to copy and make again in our own creations.
And yet... children love stories. Narrative stories. They listen to the same ones over and over and over. And you know what? So do adults. And while we might enjoy mashing up syles and tunes, those don't start from nowhere; they start from beloved "narrative" voices. You need a great riff to mash; you need a classic to snip. A collage still requires clear images at the onset. I'm a huge TS Eliot fan and I believe we live in a world of a "heap of broken images," yes... but we're continuously building new ones in order to break them, not the other way around.
What is the 4th wall in games? The 4th wall is the one that I choose to believe in, that separates the "virtual reality" I'm playing in from the "mundane reality" I'm seeking to escape. That's the same concept as in theater. Folks (like me) who are more RP in their play style object to high-level real-world discussions in-game because it serves as one more break in the 4th wall. It gets in the way of the game when you start talking about George Bush. He (George) doesn't exist in WoW. Talking about him is like hearing feedback from a mic in a theater; it's a reminder that "you're not really there." Which is a bummer. Because the point of any art is to take you into the artist's space as much as possible.
I said earlier, I like SL. A lot. A place where people can meet and chat and "be" lots of different game personnas is cool. And, as Jerry Paffendorf mentions, a system that distributes some kind of experience from game to game may be inevitable from a marketing standpoint... but does that make it a good idea from a gaming standpoint? Do you want what happens in *every other game in that system* to affect how things are played in the one game that you truly love? Are you prepared for Smurfs, Tamagotchi, PacMan, G.I. Joe, Mickey Mouse and Nazis in WoW?
Blaze says, "Stop caging us in." OK. Should we have fans on the field in football? They're caged in. How about merging sports at will? Letting batters in baseball use bigger bats. Should we let other authors publish under the name Stephen King? By not letting them do that now, they're caged. Should anyone get to make movies with the Lord of the Rings characters? Even porn? Should we... you get the picture.
If a game relies on story, narrative, character, etc., for part of its appeal, as many MMOs and all MMORPGs (by definition) do, then you lose much of that appeal by allowing outside influence of any kind. That's my objection to RMT, that's my objection to cross-game polination of characters, equipment, stats, etc.
If a game/world wants to be explicitly post-modern, such as SL, more power to it. I can truly dig that scene. But if a game has a story, then that story is essentially part of its rule-set, and bringing in elements that contradict the story is breaking the rules, which makes it less fun for the people who are trying to "play it straight."
So, again to blaze... yes. We may be caging you in. But only because you want to spoil it for the rest of us.
Posted Mar 27, 2006 12:33:49 AM | link
Ken> Back to the fourth wall... If I am an Orc in Warcraft, why can't I move to Eve and become an Orc spaceship pilot? Or move to City of Heroes and become an Orc super hero? If this violates the designer's artistic integrity, that's one thing, but to say it violates the fourth wall seems wrong. Who should control my identity? <
To some degree, the answer is, the world should control your identity. That for me is what truly makes it a different place, a place worth going to. I’d say, like Andy, that I come from a more RP stance, so it seems “obvious” to me that the world should affect my identity in that world. That is an important part of going there for me.
Like Andy, I have no objection to their being mashup worlds. Sounds like fun. But the sense of passing through a “fourth wall” and into a new world is important to me. Characters flitting from world to world, trailing their history, physics and powers behind them break that. I’m a big fan of diversity, and I don’t see how you can foster that without some walls between the islands.
Posted Mar 27, 2006 8:49:37 AM | link
I don't think a game can force players to role play. Do you Andy? Hellinar? It sounds like there isn't any fourth wall, just each individual's personal opinion of what story should be told.
If a Star Wars guild invades the tiny backwater world of Azeroth, that sounds like it could be an interesting story. Lots of people might not like that kind of story, but that's a different problem. It sounds exactly like a governance problem in fact.
Posted Mar 27, 2006 9:51:30 AM | link
The "fourth wall in games" at one level is merely that game's particular proscenium arch, the gateway into that game's rules, conventions, meanings, etc. which you wrestle with on the user interface.
But at another level, the "fourth wall in games" is merely that thin membrane between my First Life and My Second Life or between my Real Life and my Sim Life. That membrane is increasingly growing so thin that it simply permeates. When I tell my kids to get in here right now and recompile and edit their shoes in the closet, I don't have to ask twice, they immediately run in and delete the RL shoes for a Goodwill bag.
They're Google Earthing our building, noting that the RL tile reconstruction on the plaza needs "deletion". But who has the mod privileges on our plaza? It's not us, it's a certain landlord. Could we get him to give us temporary mod perms on this one part of the plaza where we want a basketball court? Let's send him the URL to see our model of the basketball court in SL which we'd like him to rez on the RL plaza.
I mean build.
Posted Mar 27, 2006 11:36:56 AM | link
Andy Havens > [I]f a game has a story, then that story is essentially part of its rule-set, and bringing in elements that contradict the story is breaking the rules, which makes it less fun for the people who are trying to "play it straight."
Ken Fox > If a Star Wars guild invades the tiny backwater world of Azeroth, that sounds like it could be an interesting story. Lots of people might not like that kind of story, but that's a different problem. It sounds exactly like a governance problem in fact.
Fun, this really is a globalization of virtual worlds issue. It's a rule-set clash between the magically encircled and the connectors. Very similar to the real world...again. And like the real world my quarter goes on integration. But also (thankfully) like the real world role-players will be able to find their communities of interest and circle-up together.
I mention on Sven's blog: I think [my] frustration [with VW protectionism] is fair because people will always be able to find the roped off game and role-play experience (so nothing there is being taken away), but it’s the convergence that’s being roadblocked (something is being kept from us).
Possibly of interest, check out globalization strategist Thomas Barnett's Second Life appearance. It went down in a virtual United Nations, with Spider-Man and the Flying Spaghetti Monster in attendance. There was even a robot kangaroo protestor. That's wilder than Heathcliff and Beowulf :-)! Maybe we should do a United Virtual Nations event with reps from WoW, EQ, Eve, SL, etc. all meeting in one VW to discuss issues of integration. That would be cool!
And to drop a fun idea, next month is the one year anniversary of the Second Life Future Salon which we'll celebrate by streaming a high-level WoW raid live into SL, and connecting chat between the worlds so all the WoW raiders can talk with the SL audience. We can roll this whole Not So Much discussion into that if anyone's interested :-). Any WoW guilds who'd like to participate in that? Will be the first cross-world communication of this sort.
Posted Mar 27, 2006 12:18:21 PM | link
Jerry P. > I mention on Sven's blog: I think [my] frustration [with VW protectionism] is fair because people will always be able to find the roped off game and role-play experience (so nothing there is being taken away), but it’s the convergence that’s being roadblocked (something is being kept from us). <
My interest in VWs is not so much the gameplay, as in new spaces where new ways of dealing with the world can evolve. For this to happen efficiently, we need a large central pool where the social ‘genes’ can get mixed up, and some fairly isolated islands and valleys where new forms can evolve without being torn apart by the swirling mix of the mainland.
Convergence addresses the 20th Century problem of too many barrier between cultures. While that process still has a way to go, I think the 21st Century problem is that most of the world is becoming one big mashup, and hence in a sense all one place. In such a world, I see having some separate spaces to go to as a vital feature. And I see VWs providing those.
I’m not looking for a “roped off game”. The gameplay current VWs support is not a critical issue for me, its a place to continue my real life in another form that I am looking for. My personal definition of “Roleplay” is taking on a role suitable to a new world, and learning from that. A mashup world in which I am a character from one world and you a character from another could be fun and educational. But I think we need those separate spaces to converge “from” before its worth getting together.
Posted Mar 28, 2006 12:51:46 PM | link
Hellinar> But I think we need those separate spaces to converge “from” before its worth getting together.
That's what I was saying about deconstructionism. You need to construct things first in order to be able to deconstruct them. That was, to a degree, the failure of the dadaists. It's the reason that postmodernism hasn't become a "cultural" artform, the same way that other, more "liveable" artistic trends had/have. Take, for example, modern art, arte nouveau, impressionism, etc. These are all styles/theories... call them what you will.. that have, at their hearts, "something." Postmodernism is more about the "frame" than the "thing," and that makes it hard to frame itself.
Don't get me wrong; postmodernism is incredibly important and fundamental to understanding how people deal with our media-rich and self-examining society. You can't look at a culture that looks at itself as much as we do without a "frame heavy" frame. Irony is required.
But, just as in cooking you need more main dish than you do spices, you need, in art, more "art than frame." A system of pure irony would end up being un-ironic. There would be no reference system in which to understand the references. Post-modernism, after all, requires modernism.
Yes. I would like the opportunity for my characters from WoW to hang out and chat, from time-to-time, with characters from Star Wars. That would be... interesting. Maybe. I have no objection. As long as it takes place outside of WoW. Or on an explicitly defined server where there's no chance that those of us who don't want to have our "construction" "de-constructed" will have to have it forced upon us.
Otherwise, you'll eventually end up with an homogenous space where all the same things can happen at the same time, everywhere, regardless. And that's not a game. That's a chaotic, random play-room. Which is fine... as long as we can also have a game -- with rules -- for those of us who want to game.
Posted Mar 29, 2006 10:44:29 PM | link
Your main objection seems to be giving players more power to control the story gives them more chance to screw up the story you enjoy. (I use story instead of game because the game mechanics must be compatible with whatever world a character is in -- maybe Jedi characters would act as priests or rogues in WoW.)
General chat in WoW has pretty much ruined any sense of story I felt in the game. My first couple weeks were filled with a sense of wonder, but the facade of story quickly melted as I started to interact with players.
Posted Mar 30, 2006 11:44:22 AM | link
The problem with an all-encompassing VW "mash-up": There would then only be one VW, some kind of "EverWorld of Star AssaultBane". There would be no options for people who want to play just one game or another, not a jumbled mix of all of them at once. If you want to listen to a Beatles + Def Jam mash-up, that doesn't prevent me from listening to Garth Brooks. Tens of millions of people aren't listening to your stereo, or mine.
In fact, there is a medium where millions of people listen to the same music at once: it's called radio. And within that medium, radio stations go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from each other. One of the primary ways is via their playlists. I can pick a station that plays classic rock, or country, or the latest rap, and listen to what I want. The radio stations aren't headed toward any "inevitible" convergence, where they all play the same mix of Beethoven, Beatles, Brooks, and Beyonce, with a few clips from random talk shows thrown in for good measure. I doubt if their listeners would stay listeners for very long if that happened.
Restaurants are the same way. You've got Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants, French restaurants, Indian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, or just places you can get a good burger. I doubt if there are many Thai restaurants that serve fettucini alfredo, nor many Mexican restaurants that have mu shu pork on the menu. Going to a restaurant with murals of Rome on the walls where you were served a nice lamb curry and a bowl of nachos might be an interesting experience once, but despite the willingness of restauranteurs to try anything that might bring in business, it doesn't seem to have become the norm. The Roman murals are in the pizza shops, the curry comes from the Indian places, and the nachos aren't likely to be found in either one. We seem to like our flavors separate.
And we certainly don't like them all on one plate. What if the only food you could order at the Mash-Up Restaurant was pizza with curry and nachos dumped on it? No good going to another restaurant, they all serve the same thing.
Transferring levels, gear, etc., between games would be opening the ultimate can of worms. Just ask any paper-and-dice GM who has had to deal with players who wanted to bring in characters from outside his campaign. The levels ... the spells ... the stuff ... no, you can't have a Hackmaster +12 in my world! The possibilities for manipulation, cheating, RMT, account theft, and worse would be staggering. The consequences of that could potentially ruin every game such a system touched. And that's without addressing two major flaws:
One is players new to the MMOG space. When Joe Average plays his first MMOG, he has a hard enough time competing with people who have years of experience playing MMOGs as a whole and a year or two to build up a power base, wealth, levels, gear, etc., in the game he's playing. What happens to Joe's introductory experience when, in addition, those people have all of the wealth and power they could accumulate in every game they've played for the past decade? When there's no hope that our Joe will ever be able to catch up, nowhere he can compete on a more level playing field? Look at the popularity of newly-opened servers in any MMOG of your choice. People want to start from scratch, with no advantages besides the ones inside their heads. Who wants to be a newbie on a server already locked down by an uber-guild? That's what would happen, on an industry-wide scale, if this "convergence" took place.
The other is the whole concept of avoiding the treadmill. First of all, that's a huge flaw in game design: creating a game that people do not, in fact, want to play the vast majority of. If your players are working to get to the part of the game where it starts being fun, you've done something drastically wrong, either in designing your game or guiding player expectations. Which, by the way, is arguably true of the majority of MMOGs out there. If the "endgame", the max level, is all that matters, then it should be all there is save for a few tutorials to teach people how the game works so they can jump right in.
I could go on about this for hours, about all the many ways in which it would spoil the game experience for nearly every player involved, and in the end bring down every game it touched. The loss of flavor, the consolidation of player wealth and power, the lack of opportunity for a newcomer to make a name for himself as a result, and all the rest, would constrict, rather than broaden, the market. Poulet au Champagne and Kung Pao Chicken are both made from chicken, but mixing them together wouldn't taste very good at all.
And on that note, I'm going to make dinner.
Posted Apr 2, 2006 8:11:00 PM | link
I was going to make some long-winded comment about ontology, but then I read Greg's comment, which is completely spot on. So: what he said.
Posted Apr 6, 2006 1:47:47 AM | link
LOL -- when did "fucking dumb" become a reason for not doing something?! Spending 10 hours leveling tailoring is fucking dumb, but thousands of people have done it. If some of those people play another game, it's perfectly sane for them to say "I just want to be a tailor and not waste another 10 hours leveling."
The real world has this feature. If you get married in one state, you can move to another and not have to get re-married. If you transfer schools, usually your old credits transfer with you.
There are legitimate reasons for people wanting to move things between games. To blow them all off by saying the idea is "fucking dumb" is pretty fucking dumb. ;)
Posted Apr 6, 2006 10:43:38 AM | link
Ken Fox: "Spending 10 hours leveling tailoring is fucking dumb... if some of those people play another game, it's perfectly sane for them to say "I just want to be a tailor and not waste another 10 hours leveling."... and... "The real world has this feature. If you get married in one state, you can move to another and not have to get re-married. If you transfer schools, usually your old credits transfer with you."
One, games aren't real life. The reasons the real world "has this feature" is because real skills, credits, accomplishments, etc. are...well... real. If I can bench press 200 lbs. of bricks, I can also bench 200 lbs. of fish. Your point was... what? That real skills transfer in real life? Yes! And they do in games, too. If I get better at leading a guild in EQ, I'll be better at leading guilds in WoW and other games. If I improve my typing in SL, I'll be better in all other games. Actual *skills* always transfer, whether in real life activites, whether in games, sports or less entertainment related activities.
But (and this is the 2nd point), rankings related to one game should NOT end up being related to other games. The confusion here is that your "skill" in WoW is called a skill, but it's not really a "skill." The word "skill" is used to describe a state that is, essentially, just "points earned in the ranking of how well you have performed this activity." You aren't actually better at something. You aren't really, to use your example... a tailor. In game one, being an X level tailor might require bringing X bolts of X cloth back from killing X number of X level beasties. It's a score ranking activity. In game two, being an X level tailr might require solving a visual puzzle involving a loom with some kind of tetris-like warp-and-weft activity going on in real time. They're both called "tailor skills," but those are only names for "scoring activities." It's metaphor. It's fiction.
Asking to move "points" like this from game to game would be less like moving credits from college to college than like asking to move rankings from one sport to another: "I'm a top football player in the US. Therefore I should be considered a top soccer player in Europe. They call it 'football' there, after all. Right? I've spent 10 years 'leveling' myself as a US football player... Why should I have to do it all over again in soccer?"
If some set of games want to explicity say, "Look... we're going to share talents, skills, levels, etc. You learn to drive in World A, you don't have to learn again in World B. You get to be a Fencing Master in World Q, you retain your level in World M," that's fine by me. What you've essentially done, then, is created one massive world. Fine. That's continuity and I'm all for it.
But when you try to "mash up" skills, items and characters from worlds/systems that weren't designed, created and written from the get-go to work together, you are essentially saying, "Let's let football players transfer their football skills to soccer. Let's let WWII pilots use their combat skills to fly space-ships. Let's have people who know nothing about World A be treated as experts because they've spent a ton of time in World B doing 'similar' stuff."
I don't buy it. Points aren't real skills; they're a measure of how good you are at a very specific game. And you can't say, "I'm good at backgammon, so I should also be good at Monopoly." You got to learn each game on its own. The skills that do transfer do so naturally. Those that don't, don't.
Posted Apr 23, 2006 12:09:03 AM | link
[Shameless Plug Alert] What you describe, Andy, concerns the important distinction between two forms of cultural capital -- competencies and credentials (written about in my article linked on the right). The strange thing, of course, is that credentials can so easily be taken as (imperfect) markers of competencies (that's part of the point of why they exist) that it is practically quite difficult to maintain the kind of clear compartmentalization you describe. Take college degrees, for example, is a bachelor's degree from University X equivalent to a bachelor's degree from University Y? What if one of them is from the University of Phoeniz? An online "diploma mill"? From somewhere far-flung (at least relative to the West)? Once you really want to answer that question for all cases you end up talking about both broad cultural consensus about differences between schools as well as formal authorization issues (like accreditation). It is a combination of rough and ready distinctions and formal ones, and sometimes they become quite a bit blurrier than your more markedly contrasting examples (football and soccer) might suggest. The important point is that people often don't keep these things compartmentalized as a practical matter (there are lots of reasons why they wouldn't want to), so there are always practical pressures to bridge the gulfs of differences of kind that you describe.
Posted Apr 23, 2006 11:14:42 AM | link
games aren't real life. The reasons the real world "has this feature" is because real skills, credits, accomplishments, etc. are...well... real.
Sorry for the double post, but another point. Actually, with the persistence and open-endedness (contingency) of virtual worlds you have everything in place to blow this distinction out of the water. This is because open-ended and persistent domains for human action, whatever they may be, allow for the possibility of effects (learning, labor production, social relations) to accumulate, just like the do in familiar domains. The real/virtual distinction is fading as fast as it is possible for people to parlay their accomplishments from one domain to the next.
Posted Apr 23, 2006 11:19:21 AM | link
Addressing your last comment first. I didn't mean to suggest that there are not "real skills" that are obtained in virtual environments, and that they do not persist and accumulate. In fact, as I said, being a great MMO guild leader in one game will probably make you great in another. "MMO Guild Leadership" is, in fact, a "Virtual World Skill" that will translate, fairly intact, as long as the definitions of "guild," "leader" and "MMO" don't melt too far from what we mean by them now. They could, of course, melt as far as the meaning of "college diploma" has, without further points on a plane of definition. Which is why, of course, employers don't just ask you if you have a college degree, but where you got it, what your GPA was, when you got it, have you stayed accredited in your area, etc. Inferring competencies (skills, as I'd call them) from credentials (points) is tough. You need lots of points on that plane... I think we're in agreement on your latter point.
On your earlier one, though: "...people often don't keep these things compartmentalized as a practical matter (there are lots of reasons why they wouldn't want to), so there are always practical pressures to bridge the gulfs of differences of kind that you describe."
Your key phrase here that is problematic, to me, is "as a practical matter." Thing is... I agree with your above statement 100% in terms of "real world stuff." If I posted a job opening and said, "BS in computer science required," and you knew a guy who was perfect for the spot... but who hadn't quite got his BS, but could prove to me his "competency" in other ways... yeah. I would 100% want to "bend to the practical pressure to bridge the gulf of difference" as described by that situation.
But games are not, by definition, practical. We don't game in order to solve real world problems. We don't read novels in order to be more efficient. We don't go to the movies to solve crimes and we don't attend concerts to cure cancer. We may, as an ancillary benefit of doing all these things well, become better at our day jobs of being good business people, doctors, detectives, etc. But I am increasingly concerned that many folks are looking at games and game theory and applying rules of philosophy and logic and marketing and business to the "acts" of gaming themselves.
The business of gaming, yes... That should make sense from a business standpoint. As a marketing thug, I would expect no less from the CMO of a game company than perfect adherence to good, sound marketing principles. But should playing the game itself be "practical?" Not so much...
I'm reminded of something that one of my professors (Cornell, if you must know ; ) ... ) said once: "There is nothing more useless than a student. A student takes time away from brilliant researchers and thinkers that could be much better spent on their primary research and writing. But the role of a professor is not to be efficient with his or her own time, but with the fate of society. On that scale, there is nothing more useful than a student."
This thread started with a discussion of bringing "credentials" (points, gear, levels, what-have-you) from game-to-game as gaming were some kind of "business" where we are aiming for an efficiency of scale; where I need to make sure that the time/effort I "spent" in WoW wasn't "wasted" so that I could get "credit" for it when "advancing" my next character through their "careers."
The most useless thing in gaming is efficiency, per se. There is nothing "efficient" about Tetris. There is nothing "efficient" about a crossword puzzle. There is nothing "efficient" about, frankly... joy. You want efficiency? Put down your GBA and get your ass back to work.
So, to me, the question becomes simply this: Does it increase or decrease the "fun" of the game to have multi-world stuff going on? Part of the very definition of "fun" for me -- and one that is at the heart of many philosophies of entertainment -- is the ideal of separation from the mundane. The more you do to "willfully suspend my disbelief," the more fun I'll have. The more you keep that 4th wall up, the magic circle unbroken, the better I am. No cell phones in the movie, no talking at the opera, no RMT in the MMO (if not expressly allowed by the EULA).
Bringing characters from "other" games breaks the 4th wall twice. It reminds me that I'm in a game, and that there are other games besides this one. An entirely separate "space" where people could bring their avatars, experiences, share trophies, etc... that's fine. Again, we call that "life" currently, and a VR version of that with score-cards and 3D graphics and stuff would be cool.
But letting people "pull credentials" from other games ... I still say that's just plain bad. It's not even, I contend, like having credits from one college count the same as from another college. It's more like trying to have time spent learning the layout of one city apply to another...
"It's funny, in Boston when I go North two blocks from the corner of 5th and Elm, I get to a Burger King on 7th and Vine. There's a 5th and Elm here in Columbus, too. But when I try to go two blocks north of that... well, 5th dead-ends into 6th a block before, and there's a big hole in the ground filled with a lake!"
Posted Apr 23, 2006 10:09:19 PM | link
Does it increase or decrease the "fun" of the game to have multi-world stuff going on? Part of the very definition of "fun" for me -- and one that is at the heart of many philosophies of entertainment -- is the ideal of separation from the mundane.
Great conversation, as usual, Andy. I have come to understand that there is a fundamental difference of opinion here that may be a dealbreaker for this particular discussion. To me, it is a vast mistake to hitch any concept of "fun" to what games are, at root. Yes, games often involve fun, and framing them as "fun" (or "leisure") as opposed to "work" is prevalent in western thought, but it's just not at the core of what they are. There are numerous examples I could point to, but here's not the place. (I have been been moving at glacial speed on an article about this; I'll be sure to do a post when it's ready for public consumption.) Of course, I'm not saying you can't campaign for games to be treated (as a matter of policy, as it were) as if they are separate from everyday life. ;-)
Posted Apr 23, 2006 11:37:39 PM | link