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Apr 30, 2006

What's Next?

WoW.  SL.  RMT.

I hope that's the last time we see those acronyms in this discussion.  Okay, so it's a vain hope - I'll violate it myself a couple of paragraphs down.   But I really hope we can not get stuck on these too-familiar hooks.  Not surprisingly, these three have been the focus of many of the discussions here on TN (indeed, by even typing "RMT" in a post like this, I'm risking that any ensuing discussion will be consumed by the almost fanatical partisans on different sides of that topic). 

These are what we have now.  What I'd like to focus on for a bit is what's next. 

Let me qualify that somewhat.  I'm not talking about "what's next" in terms of supposedly imminent taxation of the Internet, the ascendancy of Jack Thompson to Emperor, in-game avatars gaining civil rights, or either the End of the World or the Age of Aquarius emerging from current online worlds.  I'm much more interested in thoughts on "where do you think we go from here?"  What's our next stop? 

In short, what's next? 

To give a little more context, recently in a discussion here on TN, Richard Bartle said:

I realise this may come as a shock to many people who read Terra Nova, but there are other virtual worlds apart from WoW and SL, and they can do things differently there.

In a following comment, Ted Castronova said:

WoW has become the canon. It will define this era of gaming. MMORPG literacy is going to require that you know WoW.

I don't disagree with either of them.  But I also think when we focus on WoW or (to a lesser degree) SL -- or even most other lesser-known games -- we're focusing on the past.  They're here.  We know them and all their warts.   I believe WoW is the zenith of first-generation (graphical, commercially successful) MMOGs, completing a line that starts with Meridian 59 (prior text, 2D, and turn-based games being something of a primordial soup from which the rest have emerged).  Other fantasy MMOGs that are coming out or will be coming out are going to have to work very, very hard to move beyond the well-worn design paths of the current generation of MMOFRPGs.   (Maybe the gaming public is interested in seeing half a dozen more games differentiated by the picayune details of their elf abilities and sword types, but I doubt it.  We're certainly going to find out.)

So, while WoW is the current six million pound gorilla (and thus necessary for understanding the current MMOG landscape, doing effective research, etc.), it  also represents the best (again, commercially) of what has been.  Even SL in its current incarnation as a centralized world depending completely on user-created content is now a known thing.  I'm more interested in the near-term uncertainties of what will be

What's next for popular MMOGs?  Are they all going to move to cell phones? (Okay, I don't think so either.)  Will we see an explosion of new ideas as technological barriers such as server and 3D engine development come crashing down?  To what degree will middleware companies and procedural content become dominant factors in MMOG development?  What new production methods will become critical to success?  Will MMOG development mature beyond the "garage band plus" status it's been at for years?

Is there hope for freewheeling user-created content in commercially successful game worlds, or will it be tied into centrally delivered content for the foreseeable future? 

Is there life for MMOG design beyond elf-babe fantasy games?  Can we explore gameplay beyond "kill monster get gold" or is that pretty much the extent of what can reasonably be imagined for MMOGs?   Is there room for broadly commercially successful MMOGs that don't involve  killing or other forms of grinding (the limited success of ATitD aside), or for ones where a player isn't an avatar? 

And (without drifting into the tarpit of RMT, please) what about business models?  At GDC several MMOG operators (Daniel James, Matt Mihaly, and Scott Martins, among others) all sang the praises of item-based revenue over now-standard subscription models.  Will these stand up to broader use in the US (say, games with over 100K paying users), or are they best used in smaller MMOGs?

What else might be lurking hidden around the next corner, just waiting to become the next painfully obvious reality?

***

Having written all this, it occurs to me  that I might be asking too much or asking the wrong questions for this context.  Is it in the nature of us as Terra Nova to really be about New Land, or are we, as a group, more about mapping out recently discovered territory?    Can we extend ourselves beyond what is, restrain ourselves from flights of utter fancy, and try to look just ahead?  Or is that really not what this blog is about? 

Posted by Mike Sellers on April 30, 2006 | Permalink

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» Future of Gaming: User-Created Content? from Information Narcosis
Mike Sellers asks what's next for virtual worlds. The comments have turned towards a debate on the potential of user-created content in games. Sims creator Will Wright's using a lot of it in his next game. What do you think? [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 12:43:49 PM

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Posted today on the online version of Seed Magazine is the article titled Why We Havent Met Any Aliens. If the title doesnt grab your interest, heres a choice quote to whet your appetite, Basically, I think the aliens don... [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 7:36:45 PM

Comments

Will Wright says user-created content is the future of gaming.

Let's talk about that, and put gaming squarely in the social media bandwagon. ;)

Posted by: Mike | May 1, 2006 12:23:32 AM

The future is plastics... or so I'm told.

If this were 1990, and you were talking about the future of text MUDs (instead of graphical MUDs/MMORPGs), what would be the next step in 1990? A plethora of diku derivatives? Role-playing intensive MUDs? Wheel of Time, Dragonball, and furry settings? Or a change in UI devices with players forgoing mice to use VR headsets, data gloves, and giant hampster balls?

Of course, history doesn't repeat itself (completely), so how might MMORPGs evolve differently than text MUDs?

Posted by: Mike Rozak | May 1, 2006 12:57:41 AM

Much to the chagrin of Philip Rosedale and Prokofy Neva, I think the future of MMOG isn't just user-created content, it's user-hosted content. Between services like Amazon's S3 pretty much offering the public equivalent to SL's asset server, tools like Blender and SketchUp making it easier for people to make 3D objects, and bandwidth becoming almost dirt cheap (how many cities have free Wifi now?), running your own MMOG is the future.

Posted by: Andrew Burton | May 1, 2006 2:03:39 AM

A few years back I took a guess that the next big thing would be dynamic content, where players actually get to make persistant changes to the game world. Given the popularity of the high fantasy game setting it seems to me that a logical continuation is actually implementing something like Lord of the Rings. Perhaps one side could take and hold cities, eventually even winning the war (and the game) on that particular server. (At that point the game could simply roll over and restart.) Quests could be directly tied into the progress of the game war--output from a crucial mine might drop dramatically with a kobold infestation for instance, which would need to be cleared up by players.

So far as business models the one I would like to see come into play is the cable television model. Nobody who gets cable expects to get only the Discovery Channel because that would be mind numbingly boring. Similarly multi-player game subscription services should sell you a package of subscriptions for a variety of game types--some hard core and some completely casual. It should be piped into people's home like cable television--maybe even over the same data pipe as cable television. Needless to say something which gained mainstream popularity would probably be able to afford mainstream customer support standards.

I'm going to guess that WoW is as big as the current style of grind-until-you-level, static, old school MMOG play can get. That style of game is simply played out and exhausted, and I wonder if the genre as a whole can see anything approaching real growth in subscription numbers until something new comes along.

Posted by: lewy | May 1, 2006 4:42:43 AM

I'm looking forward to a game experience where your actions and contributions as a character have lasting meaning beyond a stats rat race.

When that happens, we'll be looking at a new generation of MMORPGs... finally.

Posted by: Artheos | May 1, 2006 5:07:23 AM

User-created content as the future of gaming? Nope, no way, not going to happen.

Why not? Because creating content is hard. Or, rather, creating quality content is hard. Not just in terms of skill (which is rare enough) but also in terms of effort: In creative fields it isn't enough to just have talent, a person also must have the desire to spend the time making use of that talent. For user-created content to work, there must be enough of those kinds of people to support the crowds of people who aren't like that.

I think the history of the Internet has shown that that situation just won't happen. YouTube, Blogging, Peer-to-peer, heck even the Internet itself were all supposed to be boons for the independent creative individual. No longer would people be beholden to Companies that tell you what shows to watch, music to listen to, or news to read, because now there would be countless new artists to satisfy every creative desire! But obviously that hasn't happened. YouTube and P2P are filled with bootlegs of professionally created material, and Blogging is today mostly an outlet for people to comment on (professionally gathered) news. There are some previously unknown people who have become successful via the Internet, but they are the exception that proves the rule, as they are rare enough that they are actually getting paid.

User-created content is a pipe-dream. A way for people to avoid the most difficult and expensive part of an MMOG by just saying, "I don't need to worry about it, the users will do that!".

Posted by: Chris | May 1, 2006 5:25:14 AM

Andrew Burton>running your own MMOG is the future.

I agree. When people can create their own graphical virtual worlds as easily as they can create their own web sites, then we unleash the imagination.

(I was going to say, "then we become gods", but I didn't want to get too cliched about it).

Richard

Posted by: Richard Bartle | May 1, 2006 5:28:11 AM

Long predating MMOs, the most successful and/or prevalent RPGs have always always high-fantasy-based. The gloss on the fantasy varies a little, but from D&D/Dungeon to VSoH it's pretty much all a variant of "kill the monster, get the treasure". Since the genre moved online, this has become an even more rigid convention.

There have been countless attempts to adapt other genres for the format, but the huge majority have just employed the same familiar gameplay with a genre skin. And how many of those have been more than marginally successful?

In the 30 years I have been taking an interest in RPGs there has been a continual background hum of discontent from game creators and insiders, bemoaning the prevalence of elf-and-hobbit settings and hack-and-slash gameplay. The paying and playing public, though, have persisted in preferring that apparently hackneyed sterotype even when offered well-designed alternatives.

Virtual Worlds and webspaces like SL are a separate phenomonon and may (I would think will) become part of mainstream communications media. MMORPGs, on the other hand, will probably continue to be much like they are now, only there will be more and more of them, produced more and more cheaply.

There will be much niche marketing and companies will be able to prosper with tens of thousands of subscribers or maybe even thousands. Some of those small games may even have original gameplay and settings like ATITD.

There will be more big ticket winners like WoW and Lineage, and they will be even faster, easier and more hack and slash than before. They will also not move one millimetre from the stereotypes that have been most successful in the RPG industry for the last 35-40 years.

Posted by: Bhagpuss | May 1, 2006 5:41:43 AM

Mike: Will Wright says user-created content is the future of gaming.
Chris: User-created content as the future of gaming? Nope, no way, not going to happen.

I'm a firm believer that one of the most powerful elements in a game is user-created content. However, that power can make or destroy a game.

User-created content is very problematic- but it's not impossible. We've seen level builders like "neverwinter nights" in not-so-massive games that have some absolutely stellar modules to explore, and we've seen how an active modding community can absolutely transform a game (Morrowind (Oblivion's predecessor) and the "The Sims" modding phenomenon).

I do NOT see a WoW game with SL-level user-created content as anything near the next step... but what about a fantasy game where guilds or cities could create instanced "adventure zones" similar to NWN to support the a player-made storyline... where the guild leader or mayor could take on the role of traditional GM?

Now, that would not allow for the creation of new assets, so the issue of mega-polygon art and self-replicating code would be minimized. There could even be limits to the number of assets per location.

The issues here will involve insuring players can find the good content from the bad, identify the content that may be "too much" for some of the market, and determining appropriate rewards, to avoid specially-made powerleveling zones.

These are the problems that need ironed out in the first stage, if we're ever going to see a truly dynamic environment emerge in the future.

---------------

Mike: But I also think when we focus on WoW or (to a lesser degree) SL -- or even most other lesser-known games -- we're focusing on the past.

WoW-literacy will be important as the point-of-reference for some time ( I fear...), but I think that the most important information we will gain is in comparative studies. Examine ATITD or DAOC or CoH/CoV or EVE or SWG (or pre-cu SWG or CU SWG, or NGE SWG.... or next month's yet-un-acronymed SWG ) or DnDO or any of the many other MMO's out there, identify the difference in code, in support style, in level of player content, and study how these differences affect- or don't affect- emergent social structures.

In that way, it may be better to look at more similar games- WoW vs EQ2 vs DAOC, for example, and find the differences in code, game mechanics, support tools, economic structure, social structure, player perspectives, etc. How do they differ? Why do they differ? How do these differences project into the future?

That's my biggest concern with the WoW-SL extremes. We're taking systems at two known extremes- perhaps too far apart for comparisons to really deliver any meaningful insight.

Posted by: Chas | May 1, 2006 6:43:04 AM

Chris> User-created content as the future of gaming? Nope, no way, not going to happen.

I am inclined to agree on this one. However, it rests upon the definition on what 'user-created content' is. Is it any agreement here on TN what lies in the content-word? If this means to design quests, monsters, dungeons and so on, I think this is reserved a very few specially interested people. There are a couple reasons for this:

* Creating quality content is hard (Chris)
* It takes a lot of work, and what do you get in return?
* How to measure value/status etc.

Another more 'toned down' approach to user-created content which I will call 'customization' will be in more demand I think. By this I mean tweaking the looks of items, going nuts and decorate your private mansion etc. etc. But there will still be a limit on how much time people are willing to spend with this.

I honestly think people like being put in an environment with well defined rules on how to become successful and that is one of my largest objections to having Graham Gamer have too much freedom and too little rules; how do you define success and status? How will the value of your virtual property be affected by this?

On the other hand, dynamically changing worlds which players can have a real impact on the entire world will be the way games are evolving in the future.

--- In short:
* User-created content? No
* Dynamically changing worlds? Yes

Just my 0.02 :-)

Posted by: espie | May 1, 2006 6:47:03 AM

Mike: "Will Wright says user-created content is the future of gaming."
Chris: "User-created content as the future of gaming? Nope, no way, not going to happen."

Funny. That's pretty much like the real world.
Although if you give people incentives like RL (cold hard cash), maybe something will come out of user created content.

"For user-created content to work, there must be enough of those kinds of people to support the crowds of people who aren't like that."

Again, like RL. Although there's no need for assembly line production when you can simply copy and paste.

"Another more 'toned down' approach to user-created content which I will call 'customization' will be in more demand I think."

Customization is already becoming huge. Everyone wants to have a 'unique' avatar. Giving people a framework for user created content (avatar cutomization) might be a place to start on the road to more complex user-initiated design.

If I create a quest in a WoW-clone MMOG, and lots of people play and enjoy that quest, I should be rewarded by the company for doing so. If the company's going to outsource a large majority of its content creation, then the least it can do is provide an incentive to the users for doing so.

Posted by: bllius | May 1, 2006 7:31:44 AM

We don't have to contemplate our navels to see the future of online gaming, we just need to look East.

Sad to say, the US and Europe are just not the center of this industry today. Games like Audition (an online dancing game), Maple Story, and KartRider barely get mentioned here. Legal cases in China that validate virtual property and in Korea that address identity theft make hardly a blip.

We need an Asian MMOChart and newsfeed - quickly! to be able to track the scale of the industry and understand the business models happening over there.

I try to scan several Korean and Chinese news sites regularly to get a sense of the market. Without the language, I am at the mercy of dodgy translations based on journalists confused understanding of the situation... ARGH!

Sports games seem to be rising fast. Virtual asset-based business models are becoming the norm (which essentially eliminates RMT, by the way). But, from what I have seen, very little player created content. 50+ online games LAUNCHED in China in 2005. Even online gaming in Vietnam. Moms in Korea doing the "level-grind" for their kids.

According to an article today, there are 800 Million Subscribers (paying?) at the top 10 Korean game portals and game service providers!

http://english.etnews.co.kr/news/entertainment.html

Posted by: Steven Davis | May 1, 2006 7:47:11 AM

Perhaps this isn't thinking as big as you are hoping for, but it seems like one "next development" in MMOGs is going to be cooperative operation of vehicles or something like that.

I'm thinking of both the Star Trek MMOG and the Pirates of the Caribbean one. In both, as far as I can tell, instead of guilds players will have ships or even armadas. The ships will require multiple players to control them and ship-to-ship PvP and PvE will be a big part of the game.

I can imagine a lot of possibilities for how this would work and many of them are exciting and paradigm-bending. For all I know, neither of these games will get off the ground, though.

Is that the kind of thing you were looking for?

Posted by: Gregorus | May 1, 2006 7:55:01 AM

I agree with Richard. Worlds are getting close to being modded. Eventually you'll be able to point and click a world into being. Creation royalties will go to people who make templates. Then we will see what's next.

In terms of subject matter, pornographic content is a frontier much wider than the first entrants are going to be able to exploit.

In terms of design, AI is going to play a greater role. Personally, I think the multiplayer aspect of MMORPGs is overrated and is even a genre-killer. Your choice in almost all worlds, today, is to join the catassers or have a life. That will continue as long as the community is such an integral part of game-play. But I don't understand why there's so much emphasis on holding content away from solo/casual players. Or on encouraging bullying (open-level combat PvP). Comparatively few people want to maintain their primary social network exclusively within a single online environment. Fewer still like to spend time in an environment where harassing the weak is considered OK and fun. Raids and PvP are not the way forward. It seems to me there's a big future for worlds with voluntary social networks, exploration, and lots of good AI.

Posted by: Edward Castronova | May 1, 2006 7:55:22 AM

If I may be purely technical, Burton's suggestion of user-hosted content gives me a vision of future MMORPGs dealing with the problem of increasing computing needs by requiring users to donate CPU resources a-la SETI@Home. Users will be encouraged to stay connected constantly (with our ubiquitous Internet connections) to contribute to the world, perhaps getting a discount on their subscription fees for their troubles.

The cynic in me wants to agree with Chris, but I'm reminded that the people who create do tend to gravitate towards jobs that pay for their efforts, so commercial ventures tend to get higher quality material by self-selection. To extend his example of press journalism, there are plenty of local-community papers that publish worthwhile material and they are purchased by consumers -- maybe you won't find a "Wall Street Journal" on every MMORPG, but game producers should still capitalize on the equivalents of the "Des Moines Daily" or the "Kansas City Chronicle" where they find them.

Posted by: Moses Moore | May 1, 2006 8:40:22 AM

Chris:>>> User-created content as the future of gaming? Nope, no way, not going to happen.

Why not? Because creating content is hard. Or, rather, creating quality content is hard. Not just in terms of skill (which is rare enough) but also in terms of effort: In creative fields it isn't enough to just have talent, a person also must have the desire to spend the time making use of that talent.
-----
I agree that creating content -- quality content -- is quite difficult. I disagree wholeheartedly with the statement that it won't happen. I think we're on the cusp of an MMOG revolution in terms of amateur-created worlds.

Tools such as Multiverse are just now starting to make themselves known to allow the indie developer to create their own massive virtual worlds. It's my belief these tools will open the field to those types of individuals -- modders -- who have made First Person Shooters such a broad genre. When I buy Unreal Tournament, I'm not only getting the game that Epic put in the box, but hundreds of gigabytes of downloadable game content from the modding community, from small mutator gameplay changes to entire total-conversion games. Espie asks what is the return for these teams? Well, in an FPS the only return is the pride in work itself, knowing you've done a good job that people enjoy playing. There is also the chance of "making it" into the industry, many studios such as Epic hire mainly from their mod communities. This has been enough for many many excellent mods to have been ushered into existence. With a tool such as Multiverse, these indie teams get that same satisfaction that drive the FPS modders, but a chance to make money from it also! I think the money aspect in of itself may drive up the garbage-to-gold ratio (ie. more garbage!) as people try to rush their project forward with dollar signs in their eyes. But it will also keep the dedicated indie teams polishing for a chance at a big reward.

There will be a lot of sub-standard content created with these tools. That much is certain. But do not discount the dedicated "modder" (we're going to have to pick a new moniker methinks) teams, I believe some very quality, very innovative content is on the horizon once these tools release from beta. Innovation is quite lacking in today's MMORPG market, primarily because of the big-ticket risks of huge development budgets. Remove those restrictions, and one can only salivate at the possibilities.

Posted by: RickR | May 1, 2006 9:14:29 AM

Peter Pan.

That is what the current state of the mmorpg industry reminds me up. Why? Because as the quote from the Disney movie goes ... "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again."

If you are in the position of Wendy, Peter, or Michael and taking the trip for the first time it's a wonderful magical experience. Sooner or later though you become one of the Lost Boys and just want to get back to the real world.

Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe we weren't meant to live in a game to the extent that many have tried. ...Or maybe someone just needs to kick start their creative brain cells and stop copying the last game to hit the shelf.

Posted by: Alan | May 1, 2006 9:25:53 AM

What of the principles of Web 2.0 applied to online worlds?

Does all online worlds that wants to allow user-created content provided the level of access to SL?

Does all fantasy MMORPGs have to have the craft and polish of WoW?

Does online worlds have to be separate from RL?

What if you mix neopets, myspace, sims, sl, wow, animal crossing, spores, amazon, etc.?

The next revolution will be a combination of known elements in an innovative way. It will be a Lost, a 24, a Desperate Housewive kind of innovation.

For example, what if you combine Obilivion's character generation process and the standard fantasy MMORPG's 60 level grind by first allowing players to build their ideal level 60 character as a template and then the goal of the game is find the path toward reach that exact template?

Life and games of and about life are build on series of interesting choices. Someone will provide some very interesting choices for paying players to make.

F

Posted by: magicback (Frank) | May 1, 2006 9:26:22 AM

What of the principles of Web 2.0 applied to online worlds?

Does all online worlds that wants to allow user-created content provided the level of access to SL?

Does all fantasy MMORPGs have to have the craft and polish of WoW?

Does online worlds have to be separate from RL?

What if you mix neopets, myspace, sims, sl, wow, animal crossing, spores, amazon, etc.?

The next revolution will be a combination of known elements in an innovative way. It will be a Lost, a 24, a Desperate Housewive kind of innovation.

For example, what if you combine Obilivion's character generation process and the standard fantasy MMORPG's 60 level grind by first allowing players to build their ideal level 60 character as a template and then the goal of the game is find the path toward reach that exact template?

Life and games of and about life are build on series of interesting choices. Someone will provide some very interesting choices for paying players to make.

F

Posted by: magicback (Frank) | May 1, 2006 9:26:37 AM

Perhaps this isn't thinking as big as you are hoping for, but it seems like one "next development" in MMOGs is going to be cooperative operation of vehicles or something like that.

Puzzle Pirates.

--- In short:
* User-created content? No
* Dynamically changing worlds? Yes

I think this is pretty close to the truth. I think there will be -some- user created content (by the strictest definition).

What about celebrity-created content, though? Take todays modding trends for FPS games and overlay that on to MMOs. I think a much more likely trend, then, is that you'll see some celebrity fiction creators (novelists, screen writers, devs, etc) hop in and contribute content to a MMO post-release. Why have Salvatore do your backstory if you could have him actually instantiate a story arch mid-stream? Sorta like the Star Wars novel spew, invite others to you IP to contribute their authoring talents for all to consume.

On true user-content though -- I agree that MOST of it is going to be dynamic world / advanced customization. Like CoH costumes, SWG/Shadowbane city-building, or WoW UI modding. I think most people, when talking about the User Content grail, infer things like this -- in-game systems that allow you to generate content indeed, but only in ways that have been offered and controlled by the designers. I don't think most people mean "create your own models or modules" by user-created content in MMOs.

Posted by: Randy Varnell | May 1, 2006 9:49:42 AM

Since the discussion seems to have worked its way over to player-created content, I'd like to take a moment to point out that, in MMORPGs at least, the balance seems to be swinging to one way or the other. Either players have virtually *no* freedom to do something new and different, or the world is primarily created by players alone. WoW and SL can probably be considered the two extremes, with most games in the 'MMO genre' falling sharply to one side or the other. In WoW, everything is developer-created. Items, weapons, skills, NOTHING is left to the players to design. This means that, for WoW, the entire game seems more or less professional...but the players lose a sense of immersion in that there's no way to affect the game permanently. Once they're gone, they're gone.

In contrast, in Second Life, the world seems almost infantile in its simplicity. Buildings exist, but they seem separated, the world a discontinuous mass of 'shards'. There's an incredible amount of freedom, and players create -- and create, and create, doing little else while they're there. Certainly, there are land disputes, but the entire world is nothing more than a number of scripters and modelers. And, much like WoW, once a player is gone...there's little to distinguish them from all the others who have been. Impermanence, rather than stifling, endless congruity, is the watchword.

Personally, I think that the best option -- and one very, very rarely explored to date -- is for developers to mix the two. In a virtual world where players can create, but to a limited degree; and where developers have the ultimate power over the world, lending it that sense of credibility, players might find the balance more palatable than one or the other. Of course, finding that 'perfect balance' is anything but simple. Horizons tried it. ATITD still tries.

Even more to the point, I feel that the 'ideal virtual world', the WoW-killer if you will, will incorporate the kind of community atmosphere you find in smaller games; separate shards may be the most effective method of reaching that goal, rather than an all-encompassing, loosely-segregated world. It would have an *optional*, ongoing storyline, as Anarchy Online does; the optional portion allows players to do what they want in the world without interference. Finally, it would allow players to get their fingers into the pie of development. ATITD does this to some degree with its monuments which allow players to design challenges for the next iteration. As I mentioned above, AO does this by letting players take a part in the storyline -- exceptional roleplayers might become part of the team for events, if I recall correctly. And Second Life, of course, features a scripting engine that's easy to pick up or put down.

But each of these games still focuses on one particular type of player, and gives them only one true 'goal' to accomplish in the general sense of 'winning the game'. They cater to Bartle's explorers (ATITD), or killers (Shadowbane), or achievers and socializers (WoW, AO) with little to no regard for the others. Perhaps if game developers took a closer look at how the balance works, they might be better able to create a game which gives more players the *option* to find what they're looking for.

That ideal game and balance will be a long way off. But with the current success of virtual worlds, and the media attention they're getting, the upswing in independent MMOs might bring us ever closer.

Posted by: Dennis Connolly | May 1, 2006 10:12:13 AM

Chris said, " creating content is hard. Or, rather, creating quality content is hard. Not just in terms of skill (which is rare enough) but also in terms of effort"

I agree, and I think another hurdle to that is filtering out the noise. A lot of good user-created content can get overlooked because other users just tire of wading through sewage to get to the good stuff.

Also, it seems to me that the really good "user-content-creators" sometimes find themselves in the employ of the developer (or another developer). So, then, is their stuff no longer "user-created" at that point.

Randy Varnell mentioned "celebrity-created content", which is what I think becomes of these efforts by the cream-of-the-crop user-developers. They become the celebrities. The mod-gurus don't remain lowly users for long.

Posted by: Chip Hinshaw | May 1, 2006 10:12:27 AM

I know this thread has been thinking of virtual worlds primarily as games (perhaps not SL), but I would like to deviate from that for a minute. I recently wrote a term paper on virtual worlds (by managing to tie it into communication in electronic environments), and I thought of a couple ideas that might be an interesting twist on the future of virtual worlds. People have been arguing that ICTs bend our concept of time and space. (IE. Cell phones/handhelds allow your boss/colleges to reach you when you are on the road, turning personal time into work time.) Now, what made this class fun was I tried to think of every discussion in terms of virtual worlds. Looking at virtual worlds in this way, I wondered what might happen when an organization starts utilizing a virtual world for something like distributed teamwork. Perhaps, in the future of virtual worlds you get home from a hard day at work, you’re just chilling out living it up in The Sims VII and your phone rings. Of course, it’s your boss. He desperately needs you to give a presentation for some clients in China, so being the good employee you are you log out of the Sims and into your company’s virtual world. Here you meet with the Chinese clients and present an Open Office :D Slideshow presentation for them. Now we have virtual worlds changing the way we interpret time and space, and perhaps not really for the better.

--Sorry for the downer, Travis

Posted by: Travis Ross | May 1, 2006 10:15:41 AM

The future of virtual world games is going to be what the future always is: .... A little more advanced then the present.

I suspect most new games to include features that have been explored before but never been combined into one package. This is how the most successful game out there nowadays has captured such a large market. A couple of features I expect to become standard are:


1) Voice Servers automatically for Guilds in the game. (Xbox Live)
2) Systems of Combat that are more dynamic for groups. (DnD Online)
3) Useful Player or Guild Housing (SWG, EQ2, UO)

The problem with most implementations of number 3) is that there is no reason for players to use the housing. I expect to see benefits like rested experience or stat bonuses attached to player housing in the future. Or perhaps a new reason for players to actually use their housing.

4) Zone/Dungeon Instancing Alternatives (Vanguard: SOH)
While instancing is a great defense against griefers from ruining someone's play experience it does subtract from the human interaction in a virtual world. I expect companies to try other tactics besides zone instancing in the future. I believe Vanguard was working with mob instancing inside of dungeons so that each group in a dungeon could only see their mobs.


5) Advance Controls for Avatar Creation (City of Heroes/Villians)
The character creation controls for City of Heroes is the best part of the game. You have complete control of your avatar's shape, size, hair and clothes. Players aren't forced to use avatars which some feel have sexist overtures. Ex. All females don't have to look like pamela anderson.

Posted by: Retsnimle | May 1, 2006 11:48:27 AM

Any peek into a crystal ball has to be prefaced with the recognition that the event horizon of any technology-based field is roughly five years. After about five years, either some disruptive technology sweeps the market, or enough little changes accumulate to create order-of-magnitude opportunities. At that point, guesses predicated on straight line extrapolation start looking silly, and no one likes looking silly.

That said, here are my silly guesses.

First, some things that won't change in five years:

* we'll still be swamped with fantasy-genre games
* we'll still be swamped with competitive/combat games

The forms will change, but the themes will remain.

What will change will, I think, fall into two general categories: player-focused and biz-focused.

Player-focused changes:

* Rewards -- more thought given to providing what people actually want from virtual worlds, rather than what the once-limited technology allowed players to be given. (There's probably a good opportunity for academic work here.)

* Customization -- better/faster technology lets us move away from one-size-fits-all worlds to ones where players are given control over two aspects of virtual worlds:
1) what the player presents to other players
2) what the world presents to each player

The first customization item deals with giving players more control over their characters. It starts with appearance (and we're already seeing that become a basic requirement in new MMOGs), but will go on to include other aspects of "character," such as name, group memberships, backstory, skills, likes/dislikes, clothing, gear (weapons/armor/tools), homes and furnishings, badges and other status markers.

Games could make this power available to every player. Other games may provide it an in-game feature, where your level of control over how your character appears to others is determined by character skills that can be/must be learned.

The second customization item is about letting players determine the type of gameplay experience they want to have. The world itself will be configurable; players will be able to alter the appearance of the world and its rules/physics to match their goals. (See "rewards" above.)

Biz-focused changes:

* Integration -- online worlds become just one form of a multi-media product as media conglomerates try to milk all possible value from their IPs. The development and release of movies, TV shows, books, and games (including online games) will be coordinated much more directly than today.

* Episodic content -- in particular, I think we'll see more virtual worlds designed to follow the TV show model. These worlds may run persistently, but there'll be a new episode every week; players will "tune in" to be the first to experience the new stuff.

Finally, with respect to where content will actually come from, I believe we'll see a much wider mix of sources:
1) procedural content
2) hand-tweaked procedural content
3) hand-crafted content
4) player-generated content
5) professional digital actors

Mike Rozak offers a great survey of items 1-3 at "Oblivion: Full-Spectrum Content", and I'm one those who thinks that we'll see more worlds supporting item 4, player-generated content (but Sturgeon's Law will still apply). But I think we'll also see games begin to include real actors playing characters in the game world.

These may start trivially as a Big Name Actor inhabiting an avatar in a game world based on that star's TV show or movie. For example, would it be much of a leap for Andy Serkis to briefly play Gollum in a Lord of the Rings MMOG, or King Kong in a MMOG based on that property? A purely human character could be even easier for a "name" actor to play.

Over the longer term, I see this evolving into an opportunity for new actors to make names for themselves through their performance in the online medium. This will lead developers to improve the expressive capabilities of avatars, which ultimately will benefit players as well.

----

As for the final question Mike posed, of whether Terra Nova has a role to play in looking ahead, I think that's a perfectly reasonable idea. As the expressiveness of virtual worlds and of the characters within these worlds contines to improve, these online spaces will take their place alongside print and visual media as effective tools for saying something meaningful about the human condition. Accordingly, the academy ought to want to study virtual worlds, today and tomorrow.

--Bart

Posted by: Bart Stewart | May 1, 2006 1:32:29 PM

Nobody has mentioned hardware! Virtual worlds are large and complex, but we still use the same low-bandwidth human-computer interfaces to manipulate them.

Foot operated devices would greatly simplify character movement and free up our hands for more complex actions and gestures. A track-ball with tilt and twist could easily replace ASDW without any coding changes.

Speech recognition + synthesis (replacing keyboard chat) would open up modern VRs for console play. It would also provide a more consistent experience (female voices for female characters for example) than Internet phone add-ons. Sub-vocal devices might work best for multi-player lan parties or in situations that require privacy.

Video display goggles with head motion sensors would really simplify the camera interface and provide a great sense of immersion. Several manufacturers are selling products for iPods -- I wonder how fast the screen resolutions will increase?

3D video and 3D audio work well, but other senses haven't been explored much. Touch is probably the easiest and most useful. The Painstation seems extreme, but these types of I/O channels could be very useful in a VR setting. (http://www.painstation.de/)

Posted by: Ken Fox | May 1, 2006 1:35:36 PM

...And WoW too shall pass.

I predict the Next Big Thing will be Bigness -- "Massive" is what has been missing in MMOGS. Why? Lack of infrastructure, lack of personal computing power, lack of demand, design choices that do not truly scale to massive (million+) gameplay. However, that is quickly changing. It will happen in the next five years.

MUD begat M59, and M59 begat EQ, and EQ begat WoW, and from the loins of WoW will eventually emerge the first truly "Massive" MMOG. A different order of magnitude. A baby that will kill its father, eat its mother, and spawn a new pantheon.

There is an immeasurable difference between six point five million subscribers spread across the world on 300 shards with 3K concurrent users per shard, versus six point five million subscribers spread across the world on one shard with one million concurrent.

It's the paradigm shift from flat virtual Earth to round virtual Earth.

Posted by: hikaru | May 1, 2006 1:35:50 PM

I think the next thing that will happen is that a game company will come up with something very like the Everquest/WoW type of game, but with a couple new features that make it feel very new and appeal to a segment of the audience that previously wasn't super interested.

Something like celebrities will be created in the game with more support from the game. Players will be able to somehow align with these celebrities and view their "lives" and participate/even contribute in various ways.

Perhaps there will be a kind of in game TV as you will be able to vicariously view the viewpoint of the celebrity in question, watching as they "play" through special encounters or the like. GMs could arrange that the chosen players would experience special content and then everyone could vote something to happen next...

basically you combine a "reality tv" like situation with the current game. Players could pay with in game money to help or hinder the celebrity's progress through. Combine this with some kind of in game process to actually choose the celebrity of the moment and you'd get something that would draw in customers that would get bored with a more ordinary grind.

You could win celebrity status in various ways for various different special events -- through competitive camping (as there are people who seem to gravitate to this) or through social networking (likewise). Being the leader of the guild that was the first to get through the Dungeon of Mocha Latte, or the person whose house got the most compliment votes, or the person who'd done the most damage to monsters in the previous month, or killed the most pvp opponents of higher level than himself, whatever.

Probably hints should be given as to the behavior that would win the prize but only hints, so that various people would be convinced it was various activities and pursue them all fanatically only to have it announced later that they were slightly off target :)

Posted by: Dee Lacey | May 1, 2006 1:39:09 PM

Game companies, like all large companies, are notoriously risk averse with their millions of dollars at risk. As in all business cycles, innovation primarily emerges from entrepreneurs and explorers, who identify opportunities, possibilities and really cool things that move from garages and websites into the awareness of designers, who grow/exploit/enhance them with bigger corporate resources. Asking and shaping what's next in the metaverse space is what the Metaverse Roadmap Project is all about. There's an invitational Metaverse Roadmap Summit later this week at SRI international (Terra Novans Betsy Book, Nick Yee, and a virtual Ted Castronova will be there), with meetups, future of virtual world scenario videos, and a public foresight document to follow. Sign up for the mailing list if you want to contribute or stay in the loop.

This is just the conversation we want to be hearing, Mike. Too bad the timing didn't work out for you to join us this weekend.

Posted by: BridgetAG | May 1, 2006 1:39:34 PM

I think I always agree with Richard. More or less. Except when he’s on some wild-ass hero’s journey kick.

So, yeah. Personalized and personal mmo’s. The Big Instance.

I continue to think SL and the like should be considered (and will have more eventually success as) operating systems than games.

And, as should be most obvious to players who play rather than work at it, players play more often to get away from/recreate/destroy existing social relationships than they to do to set those ties that bind in virtual stone.

Look at those who have, in the past, had the same opportunities to configure the real world that many of us will soon have to configure a virtual world: Mesopotamian Kings. Egyptian Pharaohs. Howard Hughes. I don’t think those people were really that much into social networking with friends and colleagues. They mostly had vassals, lackeys, and the occasional sex slave or two. They much preferred to do their serious hobnobbing with (as Richard implies) the gods. Or maybe the drugs. With an occasional fit of kingly pvp thrown in there now and then.

It’s just too good to be king.

Posted by: dmyers | May 1, 2006 1:55:39 PM

For thinking about what's next with more than WoW, SL, and RMT (though you'll still find all three in abundance) check out 3pointD.com. Mark Wallace is the man. I've read Terra Nova forever and think of this as a kind of Terra Nova Nova, a forward-looking compliment shining light into new and different ideas around MOGs, but more, the whole 3D Web. And the pictures are purty.

Posted by: Jerry Paffendorf | May 1, 2006 1:59:35 PM

Great thread.

Bhagpuss notes above that "Virtual Worlds and webspaces like SL are a separate phenomonon". I agree.

I also agree generally with Ken Fox's comments about hardware. EC observes in Synthetic Worlds [and please correct me if I misrepresent! :-)] that software turned out to be more important than hardware (remember the Lawnmower Man?), at least up until now. True, but I still find the experience to be somewhat lacking and heavily tilted toward the visual. Disclaimer: I'm a complete and total newbie, having logged about 4 hours in SL and not tried the others (not enough hours in the day).

By the way, why stop at audiovisual? How about haptic interfaces? Imagine a world full of objects and avatars that you can touch and feel, not just see, hear, or type instant messages to.

What fascinates me most about SL is its capacity for collaborative 3D modeling. Years ago when I was at MIT, we were introduced to the to-be-built Stata Center as a miniaturized cardboard model sitting on a table. We could see the outside, but not the inside where many of us would wind up working.

The design itself was probably sitting inside a computer somewhere, and my guess is that the bigwigs had been invited to virtual walkthroughs that required specialized hardware and software. Today, or soon anyway, the entire thing could be loaded into an MMORPG for the entire community to discover.

Better yet, the community could propose or even implement (!) mods and feed them back to Frank Gehry before the building went into construction.

The same could be said of molecular design problems. I've read about specialized workstations where researchers can visualize structures and investigate potential binding sites using force-feedback that is driven by physical rules. But if I understand it correctly, the researcher works on specialized hardware, alone, or perhaps with a colleague or two looking over their shoulder. That limitation ought to go away.

The same could be said of CNC milling blueprints. Couldn't this stuff be simulated in-world, and therefore collaborated on, as well? If so, could we make better and smarter real-world designs, faster?

Posted by: Andrew Grumet | May 1, 2006 3:05:25 PM

Much as I've been one of the biggest advocates for user created content for the last 10+ years, I have to say that the single biggest thing in the future of MMOs could be summed up by a simple statement I'd recommend every MMO designer repeat to themself daily while looking at themselves in the mirror, and then smacking themself on the forehead. "It's the socializing, stupid."

Currently the most white-hot, huge and still rapidly growing thing on the Internet is MySpace. Kudos to Frank for bringing it up. I've lost track of whether you can still count their users with mere tens of millions, or if they're upwards of a hundred million now. Games like WoW with its five million aren't "mainstream" scale yet like hit TV shows, movies, magazines or books that draw an audience an order of magnitude larger. MySpace is.

Because there are far more people interested in a place where meeting new friends and lovers is primary and any activity or gaming or what-have-you is just a framework to get the conversation started. In fantasy games you're limited to the minority of humans that really like fantasy, and the minority that really like hardcore gaming in most cases. The primary "reward" offered is imaginary gold, imaginary magic swords and armor, and a higher number after the word "Level" on your screen. The biggest reward people seek on something like MySpace, or a socially-focused MMO game is genuine, actual, real life sex. A lot of them are getting it, too. No "Glowing Blue Sword of Gralfalnibar" is ever going to compete with that.

I also agree with Frank that combining a variety of things people like on the net has potential. Online games can, potentially, have the most pleasant to use & easy to learn interfaces of any internet applications. Compared to something like a web forum or an email program, they're animated, colorful, lively, have sound effects - and there's even other people present who you can easily ask "How do I do such and such". I think a properly made online world can and will sucessfully subsume a LOT of people's activity in blogging, email, buddy lists, message forums, matchmaking sites, and various other popular web activities. Once one game/world is successful there, others will follow down that road.

I also can't say how much I agree with hikaru about the significance of having a huge number of people all in one world. I view all the "shard" games as the "You found out your friend plays too buy we say you can't play it with him now, ha ha ha" genre. Big shout out to Eve Online and every other game that keeps ALL the players in one game world, with the ability to contact and interact with absolutely any other player that might ever play. To me it fits with Bot Metcalfe's famous observation about networks and the value thereof - how it rises exponentially as more get connected. That applies to computers, and it applies to people too (or even more so). Thus the big sale prices of Mirabilis (the company that made ICQ) and MySpace.

Facilitating socialization is where it's at. The biggest entertainment industry in the world today is not books, magazines or radio (big), not movies or videogames (bigger), not even television (pretty dang huge). It's something called "telephone service". Check out the numbers sometime. People love to talk to each other most of all. So naturally I also agree with Retsnimle that voice chat will become very important and hugely popular. Video chat may follow - Jake Song told me a few years ago that it was already getting popular in Korea, and we know a lot of stuff pops up there first!

"It's the socializing, stupid." Words to live by.

-- Dr. Cat

Posted by: Dr, Cat | May 1, 2006 3:28:09 PM

I think demographics are going to be the next big thing...

WoW pioneered the concept of casual leveling and successful, low commitment questing. This is a reflection of demographics.

Demographics drive architecture. I'm buying entertainment. Aging gamers may not be looking for hard-core, competitive gaming fare. Will we see folks tire of the standard genres as the enter middle age? Will they want entertainment/distractions that work with their world. What is the TV equivalent of virtual worlds?

As a middle-aged man, I have recently been shocked by starting a WoW toon on a PvP server. It is so much less satisfying than the PvE servers. Why? I believe the demographics of PvP server players is mainly to blame. I've had L60 über toons follow my L26 toon into lowbie zones and kill me just before entering an instance. My big question has always been, why do they bother? There can be many answers but for me, the paying customer, the real issue is that they stole five minutes of my scarce time (for a corpse run) because they could. I would never tolerate this behavior at Six Flags or DisneyLand, why do we expect paying customers to tolerate it in WoW? A PvP world is highly frustrating to folks with real lives. In other words, demographics drive the architecture by requiring Blizzard to provide PvE servers.

My daughter just came downstairs to ask to whom she should report some folks harassing her Night Elf female toon in WoW? Our creative answer was for her to tell them that she was me, an overweight 45 year old programmer. (BTW, this harassment happens to my female toons also.) This is entertainment? It doesn't take too much of this to turn older players off of the game.

We are embarking on family questing in WoW. My wife is going to join us. She has never really 'gotten it' about MMOGs. Family questing is just about the opposite that I can imagine of the PvP, hard-core gaming crowd. One thing driving her to join is that she can stay in touch with her daughter in college. (Yes, she also uses iChat AV for video chats but this looked like a new way to share.) This is a very different demographic slice and Blizzard just got me to double up on accounts to do it. Business bliss for Blizzard - I'm now a multiple concurrent subscription customer.

While I find SL intriguing, I am not really looking for a job creating content. I have a day job. Yet, I might be interested in modest customization challenges. SL is trying to get there but is, in my opinion, too free form to provide entertainment. Yet, SL could be an engine to develop these alternative realities (as I am sure Linden hopes).

Demographics drive architecture.

Posted by: Andrew Donoho | May 1, 2006 5:18:48 PM

I would add one simple thing to this interesting thread:

The next big win in MMO gaming will be a qualitative change in the player's ability to express herself, _through_ the high-quality content created by the developers.

We are only seeing tidbits of this possibility now, but there are an almost infinite number of ways we can enable player expressivity through the quality of the work we do in the creation of professional visual, audio, narrative content and content-sequencing-machines provided for that purpose.

That is what we are looking for, when we think of player-generated content, or ways for players to engage more persistently with our games, worlds, and with each other.

We want players to share their expressive interaction with each other, but through a medium that amplifies their beauty, power, grace and charisma. The means, for that, is with us, the content creators.

Without that, we'll never compete with a MySpace and, concomitantly, a MySpace will not sustain itself over time when it starts to get dragged down to the mediocre norm that mass participation invariably promotes.

Posted by: Steve Wartofsky | May 1, 2006 5:44:01 PM

I'm wary of the notion that virtual worlds have to be all things to all people; the itch that Warcraft scratches is a very different one than MySpace does.

Not sure about that mass participation -> mediocrity bit, either; it seems that one of the strengths of the MySpace model is its cliquishness, that you only interact with the people you care about. I guess people might one day get tired of other people, but then we're all hosed.

Posted by: mjh | May 1, 2006 6:50:03 PM

My partner and I spent a great deal of time making content for the Sims, and it has been a wonderful hobby (and/or obsession). I imagine that the people making content for Second Life are having similar fun. Nevertheless I get uncomfortable when I read about player-generated content as part of the _business plan_ for the future of gaming - when does it stop being a hobby and start being unpaid labour?

Posted by: Peter Gould | May 1, 2006 8:14:26 PM

Chris is right about user content - awful content drowns out good if you let everyone at it.

User-created VWs are possible, but the effort involved is an order of magnitude greater than making your own MUD, Diku or otherwise, so I don't expect to see that many of them.

Combat remains the single biggest game feature that attracts players to video games of ALL types, regardless of flavor (RPG, FPS, RTS, turn-based, etc.). Furthermore, combat situations are flexible enough to allow both solo and team activities - a critical element in MMOGs. Therefore, while I expect many original attempts at non-combat gameplay in MMOGs, combat will remain the single largest focus for MMOGs for the foreseeable future, just as it has been for the last 25 years.

I expect changes in these areas:

(1) Incremental improvements in the classic fantasy MMORPG "formula." Every year or three a new game will arrive that's better than anything previous. A few others will be honorable mentions, and a larger handfull might have a nice feature or two, but will otherwise fall by the wayside. Don't expect classic fantasy MMORPGs to disappear any time in the next couple of decades. Remember, the D&D PnP game is still around after more than 30 years. It's niche now, and in edition 3.5, but it's still there, and still being played.

(2) Someone will discover the magic business model for MMOGs on console platforms. It will involve combat, and VoIP rather than typing. Beyond that I'm not willing to place any bets. Nevertheless, two years from now there will be a WoW-like stampede to emulate that game and its business model.

(3) Human visual communication, be it facial expression, body language or gestures will get a LOT richer despite the UI challenges. People will be able to SHOW their feelings as well as say things. Non-verbal communication is a huge new frontier that the latest graphical capabilities have finally opened up.

(4) Eventually government laws will significantly regulate the industry and the kind of worlds they run (or allow to occur). The first popular MMOEG (E as in erotic) will be instrumental in causing this to happen.

(5) Subscription and RMT will gradually mix, in various percentages and forms, based on the gameplay and audience for each game. Tracking the overall profitability of a title will become almost impossible without inside knowledge.

(6) Only a few games will hit it big worldwide (like WoW did). A somewhat larger group will be popular in a region (Asia, North America, Europe, etc.), and an even larger group will be "boutique" games that appeal to niche audiences. However, over 50% of the products will never make money, just like the game industry today.

Posted by: Arnold Hendrick | May 1, 2006 8:14:29 PM

Ted said:

Comparatively few people want to maintain their primary social network exclusively within a single online environment

This counter-intuitive notion of multiple social networks maintained in multiple game environments is being met head on by MMO developers in Japan. They're turning the paradigm on its head: the social network is primary - an MMO is simply one of many applications available to fuel the desire to play within that particular group. There are all sorts of MySpace type apps in addition to game apps. Imagine logging on and the first conversation is, 'what shall we do tonight? what game shall we play? WoW? Or shall we hang out in SL?' - this kind of trans-environment experimentation is one of the most exciting possibilities to me. Otherwise I find the ephemeral nature of so many in-game relationships frustrating... I have lost track of so many people I really liked because they left a game before we bothered to swap RL details. I know there are some meta-guilds that travel from MMO to MMO, but so far this seems the exception rather than the rule.

Posted by: Lisa Galarneau | May 1, 2006 11:19:05 PM

Lisa: 'what shall we do tonight? what game shall we play? WoW? Or shall we hang out in SL?'

Sounds like Xfire. Maybe Viacom was thinking along those lines when they bought it for $102M.

Posted by: Mike | May 2, 2006 1:36:47 AM

hikaru>MUD begat M59, and M59 begat EQ

No, MUD begat DikuMUD, and DikuMUD begat EQ.

Richard

Posted by: Richard Bartle | May 2, 2006 2:14:24 AM

Dr. Cat>"It's the socializing, stupid." Words to live by.

Developers in general are almost there. They use "It's the stupid, socializing".

Richard

Posted by: Richard Bartle | May 2, 2006 2:18:22 AM

*smiles at Richard Bartle for the funniest Terranova comment*

Anyway, "whats the next big thing" should be qualified with a "for who". Personally, the next big thing would be a high quality creative 3D roleplaying environment. In other words more specialized environments that do a better job at delivering an enjoyable service for their target player-mindset. Not that I believe in it.

Posted by: Ola Fosheim Grøstad | May 2, 2006 5:58:47 AM

The trick to user created content is to make it part of the natural progression of the game. For instance, if the game allows capturing of land, then war over land ownership becomes game content naturally.

My thought is that if you give the player flexibility in game play, the game will naturally eveolve its own content. The stories created by player interation will always be better than anything that a write will think up as a backdrop (that no one usually pays attention to anyway).

Posted by: alan | May 2, 2006 7:19:23 AM

"The trick to user created content is to make it part of the natural progression of the game. For instance, if the game allows capturing of land, then war over land ownership becomes game content naturally."

Lineage II has castle that can be occupied by clans who then must defend the castle in a bi weakly event (castle siege). The castle owner has control of the enviorment arround his castle, controlling tax rates, mob spawns, drops (mannor system) and attitude of NPC's towards Pk's. I think we will see more political/economic control put in the hand of players in te future. This of course will be reserve for a very hard core players because the positions to excercise some kind of control are limited by definition.

Here are some ideas that I have for future games. The games as they stand have no life cycle. avatars don't age and they don't die. Death was proposed as a way to add closure to the game. But I want to take it a step forward. Add ageing and naturall death to the game but with a twist. The player will have to form a family. Part of the game is to find a PC of the opposite sex and get married (this can be done already). After married both players will have to complete a quest of some sort and the price is a kid for each player. The characteristics of the kid are assigned randonmly (inluding sex) but might depend on the parents attributes. Each player will take control of one kid and part of the game will be to take care of him/her.

At first raising the kid will be like taming a pet. So if you want your sone to be a powerfull wizzard better take him to the library to read and practice spells with him/her. Want to develops the kid's strength? Take him/her hunting with you. Tthe kid will become an adult whose abilities will depend on the upbringing that he recieved from the parent.

Eventually your character will die and you can choose to take full control of the kid who is now a full grown adult and keep living the world or simply stop playing and enjoy what you did.

To increase interactions among players you can have quests that are family specific, and for example you can add restrictions to intra family marriages.

The players bio would include all his/her family history traced back to the first settlers of the virtual world.

I would call this game "Dynasties"

Posted by: Alejandro | May 2, 2006 8:33:40 AM


/cry

So sorry to rain on your academic parade, but to see the future of MMOGs is as easy as examining the history of any other evolving form of media – be it print, radio, film, television or web. WoW, rather then being the savior of the genre, as most people seem to believe, will mot likely be remembered as beginning of the end.

In today's celebrated capitalist environment, NO activity that attracts six-million people into a shared space will escape the attention of marketing executives for very long. Avatars and players will become target audiences.

Early attempts at marketing to players have been crude, silly and unimaginative. Such ideas as selling billboard space in virtual worlds use old media thinking in new media spaces. Players have rightfully rejected such tactics, because they destroy the immersive qualities at the core of virtual worlds. I can assure you that in glass conference rooms across the country, clever folks in suits are hard at work thinking of ways to give their product or service a virtual presence. One need only look into the recent past when the first flashing banner ad appeared on an otherwise organic and pure world wide web.

So, my sad prediction is as follows:

These executives will run focus groups and audience research to find "The Thing" – the consumer's benefit that will be too attractive to pass up. This "Thing" will sit squarely between the player and the content (The content being the multitude of virtual worlds now being developed, who want to attract subscribers and participants). The solution will be presented as win-win, synergistic, or some new marketing speak.

So using history and the current landscape as my guide, I would place a Vegas bet on some form of Virtual World portal. This portal will offer users many of the things they've been clamoring for – Persistent (lavishly personalized) avatars in a shared social community that can easily explore any number of virtual worlds. Using direct to drive technology will make subscribing to the newest ones easy enough, while older existing content would be free. Currency from all these worlds will be openly traded and exchanged, while being tied to real world monetary systems. The portal space will grow to include virtual retail shops for real world goods. Artistic spaces, museums, and cross media celebrity promotion will coexist with practical business operations.

The benefit to the user will will be a more stable social network that can choose on any given evening to spend time playing in a sci-fi / fantasy / FPS / historical / gambling world site or share photos, news and shopping trips. (I'm not even going to touch on pornography, one of the greatest adopters/innovators of all this technology). Advertising would be prevalent and overt in the portal world, and reduced to "product placement" within the game spaces.

As Peter Pan said to Wendy, "All this has happened before." - I have to end this post now because I feel sick to my stomach.


Posted by: Ed | May 2, 2006 9:24:07 AM

Have to agree with Lewy. I think the next big step should be a collection of missions that are designed to help an overall war effort. I am a big fan of WOW but I have to say that no matter how many missions you complete or fail, it makes no difference in the game as a whole. Nothing Changes. Coming up with a progressive MMOR, one that deals with small problems-a cave infestation mentioned above- or large problems- such as a full scale Horde invasion- would be the ideal. Lower level characters can handle the easier tasks such as farming supplies needed for the effot, or clearing low level NPC's from an area the raid group needs to travel through; While higher level characters would lead the charges into enemy territory to capture key towns and outposts.
I caught a preview for an upcoming MMOR that from the looks of things, is going to offer just that. Warhammer is one that I will be keeping an eye on over the next year or so. If WH hits and offers destructable environments-the new AGEA Physics processor will be compatable with this game, or so I have read- along with a chance to contol an enemy city, then I will be forced to retire Wolfgangdoom and move on to a game that offers more of a chance to feel like what I am doing makes a difference; even if it is only temporary.

Posted by: Wolfgangdoom | May 2, 2006 10:03:57 AM

I see a lot of comments on terra nova about how tired everyone is of virtual worlds with fantasy settings. Honestly, though most players seem to enjoy the setting more so then anything else out there. While I see non-fiction worlds like Second Life and the Sims gaining in population, I predict that the fantasy setting will always be the most prevalent. I wonder if those who cry for the downfall of the fantasy virtual world are listening more to academy the what the average virtual world citizen desires.

Anyways I just wanted to know if anyone else thinks that fantasy will always be the most prevalent setting in future virtual worlds.

Posted by: Retsnimle | May 2, 2006 10:58:07 AM

It all depends on what is commercially successful. Great ideas often fail because they don't catch on. Sad to say that creativity is at the wallets of the mass-market consumers. WoW was successful because it could remove the nerd stigma and get a whole new market of players that shunned Everquest. This was good for WoW and it seems the market in general, but where will it lead?

Posted by: | May 2, 2006 11:52:51 AM

Andrew Burton>running your own MMOG is the future.

Richard Bartle>I agree. When people can create their own graphical virtual worlds as easily as they can create their own web sites, then we unleash the imagination.

In my own experience as a player, I've lost interest in the current model of static content provding fodder for a level grind. Neverwinter Nights 2 is looking like it will replace the MMO as my multiplayer online experience of choice. The ability to explore quality content with a handful of friends is appealing, and just as with its predecessor, there will no doubt be a number of users who set up persistent worlds for somewhat larger communities.

NWN2 might be the tool that puts Multiplayer Online RPGs in the hands of the players.

Posted by: Theo | May 2, 2006 12:18:25 PM

I think I see a few people pushing the point I think is key: MMORPGs are primarily a tool for Socialization. Some people may elect to act competitively, some cooperatively, but the overall thrust of their use is the chance to socialize with others on some level. I forsee games that emphacize this element becoming the most popular.

I agree that many attempts will be made to allow the players to generate the content. I don't think these will be successful overall. Why? Well, while some percentage of the population is capable of producing quality "mods", the vast majority are not capable and not motivated to do so. Much like the Desktop Publishing revolution lowered the entry barrier to publishing - and enabled everyone to be equally aweful at doing so, I think tools that allow the players to create their own content directly will achieve nothing more stunning. The vast majority of user-generated content will suck heavily, and the result is non-creators will have a very hard time finding the good stuff to enjoy.

What I think will be the key to the next generation of MMOs is user *controlled* content. By this I mean the ability of users to competitively or cooperatively control and change the gaming/VW environment using tools that are available in game and professionally produced as part of the product. SWG and Shadowbane had this in their user created cities. Many MMOs have this in their guild-control systems. I think increasingly involved controls over the environment are the wave of the future. The ability to sieze and control political zones, elect/appoint officers who are in charge, destroy and build structures, apply taxes etc all might gain considerable attractiveness to players seeking greater involvement.

I sincerely hope we see the end of the "level" based character but I highly doubt it, as its simply too easy a method to control providing the appropriate challenge to a player character (thus its continued popularity in PnP games overall).

What if this scenario existed: A fantasy based MMORPG where you start the game by creating your character in the current model or something similar - probably with appearance controls that owe a nod to City of Heroes/SWG in their level of control. You level your character up to the maximum level and then are faced with 2 options:
* Continue to play your character in a competitive political and economically oriented PvP environment - owing its nod to DAOC's RvR - and engage in control over territory, resource and economic control of the landscape.
* Evolve your character into a Diety, joining a Divine pantheon (much like joining a new guild) and ceasing to be a direct part of the gaming environment and instead competing with other Gods and Goddesses for the hearts and minds of the rest of the population. In return for their allegiance, you are able to offer buffs, harm their enemies, rez the dead, help with minor issues normally resolved by CSRs like unsticking characters, create storylines/quests that utilize in game tools that insure fairness of drops etc to avoid exploiting and of course compete with other opposing pantheons in an indirect way via your adherents. Your ability to interact with the world is based on the size of your following etc.

Obviously, this idea (which occurred me outside of this discussion) would need some major refining, but I bring it up here as an example of how alternate endgame concepts could lead to providing an option that lets the creative people be creative and engage in player control of a world without having to be 3d artists and hardcore developers. Tools can be provided to enable that sort of person to engage in player created content after a fashion using existing tools. It is not necessary to create the whole world anew, it is not necessary to be a programmer or artist, its enough to use those tools to generate new quests, aid players, socialize on a broad scale and yet it comes at the cost of not engaging in over PvP/PvE etc.

I think player controlled content is the next stage.

Posted by: Warren Grant | May 2, 2006 1:11:39 PM

Ed said: These executives will run focus groups and audience research to find "The Thing" – the consumer's benefit that will be too attractive to pass up. This "Thing" will sit squarely between the player and the content

Sort of already happens in some games when you see that NVIDIA "splash" ad on launch. You'll have to sit through the ads before games launch just like you have to sit through the ads at movie theaters these days.

Posted by: Chip Hinshaw | May 2, 2006 1:54:34 PM

Everyone from developers to gamers with exception of the hardest of the hardcore gamers agrees that the "grind for levels and power" style of play needs to go for these worlds to become mainstream. No one seems to be able to pull this off effectively though. These games cannot devolve into infinite uphill carrot chasing achievement engines at thier core. The whole concept of progression in these games forces a rediculous have vs have not mentality segmenting the community (which as it turns out is they very thing that holds these games togeather). It also creates a barrier to entry for newcomers (they can't immediatly play along side thier veteran friends) that limits the games reach. It also encourages flat out obscene time commitments.

The reasons for the grind are clear in the monthly subscription model. It provides a clean method for incremental distribution of content. The steeper the level curves are the more dollar per content for the developers to squeze from the player base.

So how will developers pace their playerbase without a level "grind"? Episodic content! Everyone gets to play with everyone (no level differenciating barriers) and new zone or two is released every week or two. Character progression is width and depth based (more skills to choose from not necessarily more powerful) if it is even necessary at all. Every week or two your playerbase is excited and focused and the community buzz (since everyone is trying the same level/zone at the same time) becomes viral.

Posted by: Ves | May 2, 2006 3:39:36 PM

Playerbases in virtual world games need to be separated by some type of achievement hierarchy. If everyone can access the same content whether they are a veteran or a newcomer, then what is the difference between them? Sure the veteran has the memories of already beating the prevously released content but players like a virtual, stable reminder of their endenvours. Also they like to have a slight edge in the game based on their past accomplishments.

Plus really think about your experiences as a veteran in any virutal world game. Your constantly having to deal with demands for information, virtual currency, and help in areas that are too challenging for the requester. If you allow every player to access the same content at the same time I feel your going to end up with something similiar to the cesspool that is the Barren's Chat in WoW.

P.S. The idea of Episodic Content is a great idea but I feel like it should be divided into areas by a level range or some other way to show game competence.

Posted by: Retsnimle | May 3, 2006 10:17:00 AM

The Hot Coffee and Oblivion debacles draw attention to the other difficulties of user-created content:

1. It's very hard to regulate or even track

2. It's very hard to know what game your children are playing when the tone and content can change drastically and rapidly.

2. It's very hard to convince people ignorant about games that user created content and the game itself aren't the same thing.

As it gets easier and easier to make and get access to user directed content, these problems are going to get harder and harder to solve, for MMOs or any other game.

Posted by: Mike Darga | May 3, 2006 9:53:03 PM

I’am not a great expert of MMOG, but I would like to leave my two pence opinion on the evolution of the games.

The success of the fantasy settings, in my personal opinion, derives from a tradition and from aiming to an easy and wide market segment of the net (PC literate costumers already used to play = RPG players in RL = D&D), but also if they will stay probably for a long time a huge part of the MOOG users they are not the only market segment that could be addressed.

Another segment of user that is emerging strongly is the Mature one (even games that are not specifically done to address this segment are twisted by users to accommodate their demands!)… and for mature I intend exactly users that are looking for sex and mature situation.

Sex is always selling, especially on the net where you can have some kind of Physical real world security, you got the chance to experiment your fantasy without taking chances…

So I guess sex and mature situation will be the next hot trend of MMOG especially thanks to big improvements in graphic and interactivity.

Next big point will be user created content… in spite of the difficulty to control and channel it, it could give some major point of strength: users could create much more content that any possible centralized development team, enriching enormously the play experience of everybody (for making a big leap in RL we could say that is the same difference between a free entrepreneurial economy a centralized one). More the chance to develop user created content could give itself the reason to play to user not so interested to the main theme of the game (remember in the client base we are addressing we’ll always got a strong percentage of IT wise user!).

Linked to that there is the real world economy… I believe that linking real and virtual world economy will be the new cash cow for MMOG creators (more difficult it will be for the user…), even more than recurring fee or selling software client, and user created content will boost this link, helping to create a working economy in the new games.

So what I imagine?

A MOORPG with a light basic setting (fantasy, SF, historical, etc) and storyline that gives the scenery for mature interaction (embedded in the game structure) and the chance for the user to create content (someway kept in line with the setting), and real world economy.

That would be an hit, opening new market segment besides the fantasy RPG and the Virtual Worlds with no storyline.

Posted by: Ombrone | May 4, 2006 3:22:17 AM

Is there life beyond the fantasy MMORPG? I recently wrote a summary of every MMO I know about that's in development (no mean feat!) and a large proportion of them are still going for the elf-babe market; fortunately, a fairly decent proportion aren't. It's an interesting endeavour to get some perspective on the games which we know are on the way: http://www.joystiq.com/2006/05/04/pre-e3-mmo-roundup/

Posted by: Jez | May 4, 2006 10:35:29 AM

>>>>>
I think I see a few people pushing the point I think is key: MMORPGs are primarily a tool for Socialization. Some people may elect to act competitively, some cooperatively, but the overall thrust of their use is the chance to socialize with others on some level. I forsee games that emphacize this element becoming the most popular.
>>>>>

I don't think this is an absolute truth like so many folks here seem to think.

I know that when I play MMOs, socialization is definitely NOT the primary elment I enjoy.

For me, it is the actual gameplay itself that I like. The huge worlds, tons of monsters to kill, loot to gather, etc. are what draw me in. MMOs also make multiplayer a lot easier than LAN play, because it is totally built into the game. My wife and I can play together easily whenever we want, or solo when the other is not playing. If we get friends to play, we can also play with them when we want. It isn't the socializing though - it is playing the GAME ITSELF that is fun. If it was just the socializing, then I'd NEVER solo, and games that are anti-solo like D&D Online would not be getting savaged in the gaming press.

Socialization is one aspect of the game, and it appeals to certain types of players (like Bartle's socializers).

But do not be so quick to say socialization is the main attraction. Doing that ignores your killers, achievers, and explorers.

Posted by: Michael Hartman | May 4, 2006 11:07:44 AM

"Socialization is one aspect of the game, and it appeals to certain types of players (like Bartle's socializers).

But do not be so quick to say socialization is the main attraction. Doing that ignores your killers, achievers, and explorers."

I'd have to disagree with you on that. IMHO Socialization is a big part of the killers, achievers and explorers game. Well, perhaps it's more correct to say that it enhances their game, so to a certain extent you are right, if we assume the game is solely focusing on socialization and you can't kill, explore or achieve anything within the game we're talking about.

An achiever is gaining bigger achievements if there is a social structure in place which can see his achievement and appreciate them. A killer will be able to do more of it, taking on bigger opponents if there is a social structure in place to help him out. An explorer will be more driven to explore if there is a social structure in place to really benefit from his exploration.

Posted by: Nathan | May 5, 2006 6:28:02 AM

I have to agree with Michael in that a lot of people play in virtual worlds for the environment and gameplay not the socialization factor. It's been explored before at terra nova that there is a "Alone Together" effect in virtual worlds that draw gamers into them. A majority of people in these games like the realism that is added by having other people in the game at the same time. However, if socializing is their primary goal I still believe people would prefer face to face contact.

I've never logged into a virtual world specifically looking for a friend to socialize with. I have however logged in many a time hoping a raid was in the works.

Posted by: Retsnimle | May 5, 2006 9:14:27 AM

Retsnimle, I do not believe that you have to know anyone within the social structure (or probably more correctly, social network) that is in place, to directly benefit from it. I believe you described a very good example with the raid and "alone together". Funnily enough, in EVE we're seeing that the largest corporations are around 150 (while there are superstructures like Alliances, which bond multiple corporations together).

This is also seen in the network effect, where simply the number of people in the same network enhance it. I also believe Reed's law is kicking into effect in MMO's. For us, the social structures are creating more goals for the world as a whole, for all types of players, not only socializers be they within the social network or outside it. The fact that the next guy achieved X, can create a goal for you as an achiever to achieve that and then some :)

Posted by: Nathan | May 5, 2006 11:03:34 AM

Michael: "For me, it is the actual gameplay itself that I like. The huge worlds, tons of monsters to kill, loot to gather, etc. are what draw me in. MMOs also make multiplayer a lot easier than LAN play, because it is totally built into the game. My wife and I can play together easily whenever we want, or solo when the other is not playing. If we get friends to play, we can also play with them when we want. It isn't the socializing though - it is playing the GAME ITSELF that is fun. If it was just the socializing, then I'd NEVER solo, and games that are anti-solo like D&D Online would not be getting savaged in the gaming press."

Ah then we are differing on meaning here. I didn't mean to imply that "socialization" meant only chatting. I consider your cooperative play with your spouse and friends to be socializing as well. I consider PvP to be socializing. Even playing solo but chatting with others in a guild chat qualifies to my mind. I also didn't mean to imply that other elements such as gameplay are not important. I play COH/COV for the gameplay, but I have found I generally only do so when I can play with my wife and my RL friends (who are all in a guild together). I solo less and less now because the game offers nothing new to do, but cooperative play with others is still sufficiently engaging.

I had a discussion once with someone who played SWG solo, but it was important to him to be part of a world that seemed living because it had other people in it - this is the "Alone Together" phenomenon referred to above I expect.

I think that the Multiplayer and Game parts of MMORPG is the most important element for most people. Otherwise they would be more likely playing a non-MMO console game. I think future games will build on the socialization aspect of MMOs and as I said, start offering more user controlled content, if not generated content.

Posted by: Warren Grant | May 5, 2006 1:13:07 PM

>>>>>>>>>>Nathan wrote:

I'd have to disagree with you on that. IMHO Socialization is a big part of the
killers, achievers and explorers game.
>>>>>>>>>>

How can you disagree with me, when I'm telling you about my own preferences? *scratches head*

You know what I like about games better than I do?

There are some games specifically where the socialization aspect is even less valuable than others to me.

I'd absolutely adore a single player version of City of Heroes/Villains with faster advancement, more destructible/transformable environments, and slightly more interesting quests. The socialization part of that game was nearly worthless to me. I enjoyed feeling like a super hero (or villain) and doing heroic (or dastardly) deeds.

I am certainly not saying socialization is not an important part of MMOs. My point is that it is dangerous to obsess over it too much, because a very significant part of the draw for MMOs is the huge world, tons of things to do, and tons of content (which is paid for by the fact that MMOs make enormous income via monthly fees).

The convenience factor of being able to swap between solo-play and multiplayer play at any moment is also a nice feature.

Posted by: Michael Hartman | May 5, 2006 3:01:24 PM

>>>>>>>>>>
Warren Grant wrote:

Ah then we are differing on meaning here. I didn't mean to imply that "socialization" meant only chatting. I consider your cooperative play with your spouse and friends to be socializing as well.
>>>>>>>>>>

Its ok, I understood that. I mentioned the co-op/multiplay parts I enjoy to note that I am not a total anti-socialization player, but socialization is not the end-all-be-all of why I play MMOs.

I like the fact that I *can* engage in "social" or multi play when I choose to, but if that was the main feature of an MMO I wouldn't enjoy it.

What is most important to me is the core gameplay itself - the things that I could enjoy solo or co-op. It is the enormous amount of content, the typically large amount of character customization/options, etc. that are most important to me, and many gamers like myself.

I only make this point because it is easy for folks to focus too much on ONE ASPECT of what makes MMOs attractive, and forget that there are many other things that attract players primarily.

Posted by: Michael Hartman | May 5, 2006 3:02:28 PM

A worthwhile GAME discussion like this certainly deserves to be bumped above political crap that belongs on a political site.

Posted by: Michael Hartman | May 6, 2006 10:31:46 AM

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