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Aug 29, 2006

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» WoW isn't forever? from Dragonchasers
There's a post over at Terra Nova entitled WoW-nnui where the author discusses his lack of interest in World Of Warcraft after, presumably, playing for quite some time. His main point, admittedly, is to ask what happens to the MMO market as more and... [Read More]

» As SL Grows, Is World of Warcraft Shrinking? from 3pointD.com
The population of the virtual world of Second Life passed the 600,000 mark sometime early this morning at least in terms of the number of avatars that have ever been created. But many of these are people who have looked in once an... [Read More]

Comments

1.

And I was just thinking the same thing about chess. I just picked it up again and now I have to remember what all these pieces do, and all of the different openings and defenses that go along with it. And when I player more advance players, I have to remember all of the sublties, forks, skews and the like.

I'm surprised it's been around as long as it has. I knew several of us that played together in school, but now they all have grown tired of it and moved on to, of all things, poker.

Now they go to different casinos and on-line web sites to play and watch all those tournaments on tv.

Good thing we now have computers that play chess so I don't have too. Now we just need a good computer to play poker, so I don't have to, I can just sit back and push a button instead of thinking of what combinations and odds associated with them.

I wonder what they will play next after they get tired of poker?

2.

I can definitely sympathize with this.

The problem is that market sales don't define a good MMOG. Infact, 7 million subscribers to me just seems like it's 7 million people all showing you how worthless your accomplishments are.

In a World like WoW, where everyone can do everything no matter how much they play.

-- Nothing means anything. --

3.

I suspect about a quarter million accounts per year go to replace gold farmers who get banned.

>I wonder what they will play next after they get tired of poker?

Probably porn. After all, the internet *IS* for porn.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5430343841227974645
(link is safe for work)

4.

There must be kiting in the game for it to be satisfying.

5.

Well Disneyland and tourist traps are designed to be enjoyable for decades and generations. Are MMO properties and franchises design to last?

If the grind is the premise for the game, then the game will no longer hold you when you get off the grind.

If the great solo or first-person experience is the premise for the game, then that is also fleeting.

So is the industry designing flavor-of-the-month virtual tourist traps where you go there to see the sites and then off to see the next and new tourist destination, never to come back again?

All the carribean islands look pretty much the same, but many still go back yearly for their moments among the islands. The cruise ship vs guide tours vs. self-design tours are different modes of tourism. Guess which one is currently the most popular mode?

So perhaps we can look to the tourism industry for inspiration. What's no longer innovative in one industry can be innovative in another.

Frank

6.

Magicback wrote:

All the carribean islands look pretty much the same, but many still go back yearly for their moments among the islands.

Interesting analogy. Although the topography of the Carribean isles is sometimes similar, there are dramatic differences. Saba, for instance, is a mountain that rises nearly straight out of the ocean, Aruba is basically a desert, while Grand Cayman is largely a swamp in the interior. Still, even granting the similarities, I think the analogy can be taken even further: What makes different islands attractive to me are the different cultures. The culture of French St. Martin is very different from, say, Anguilla or the BVIs. Perhaps the culture of a game alone can serve as a distinguishing factor to some people.

--matt

7.

Disney World and the Caribbean islands are fun in short doses, but most people choose not to live there. Information overload and boredom set in eventually, even in paradise or in toyland.

In my experience, people stay much beyond the point where they are bored with the sameness of the grind due to the friends and social networks they have setup. Everyone is depending on them and expecting them to show up, so they do. They get involved in petty guild arguments and politics... guilds split and re-merge in different ways, like a genetic search with no fitness function.

Eventually, something in your r/l causes you to be away from that petri dish for a week, or two weeks, and when you come back, it just doesn't seem as real as when you left. The expectations of the people still enmeshed in the suspension of disbelief don't seem reasonable anymore, and you eventually can't get that suspension of disbelief back, or even pretend it is back.

Then you're done. And with no dramatic farewell posts on guild forums or tearful farewells. The people that really leave just disappear.

- Keith

8.

Vengeance wrote:

Then you're done. And with no dramatic farewell posts on guild forums or tearful farewells. The people that really leave just disappear.

Truly written.

--matt

9.

About the chess and poker thing; a major factor that's missing from MMORPGS is any physicality. Whereas in poker I can drink with some friends and play some hands, laugh, etc. a computer game leaves you feeling much more hollow than any game that involves the kind of interactions engendered by chess and poker.

What makes the next game a good game? A decent PvP system. I chroniced on DAoC for 3 1/2 years, had multiple 50s and everyone ToA'd out, had a huge guild that was mildly successful, but I never played the kind of PvP that I wanted to, for which you have to be a bit of a dick a lot of the time.

I can understand playing another MMoRPG if you have the objective of a great game against other players. For whatever reasons, I simply don't have the time for that level of distraction anymore. And surfing tops PvP.

10.

V>
In my experience, people stay much beyond the point where they are bored with the sameness of the grind due to the friends and social networks they have setup. Everyone is depending on them and expecting them to show up, so they do. They get involved in petty guild arguments and politics... guilds split and re-merge in different ways, like a genetic search with no fitness function.
--------------------------

Well written. Are you suggesting that most of guild politics is fundamentally driven by boredom with the game?

11.

Nate,

V can answer for himself, but using the regular poker night analogy there are some people who show up to regular poker nights already bored. They are the one that have a tendency to throw peanuts at people, bring the no-no girlfriends to an all-boys poker nights, or make their own fun. They like to hang around with the same set of friends, but they no longer focus their energy on the game. Instead they focus on other things or create their own fun.

I don't think boredom is the fundamental reason, I see guild politics as organizational politics, something that happens in the office, the regular poker nights, the softball league.

Personally, I think we are starting to see a generation of youth who experienced guilds as their first social organization. It would be interesting to see how their perception of social behavior or norms are shaped by them.

12.

Matt,

You are right in that each island ARE different and unique.

People go back yearly for many different personal reasons, but one common theme is to be immersed wholly in another world.

You point to the unique physical features and also the unique cultures. These are key components. Another component that comes to mind is seasonality: the weather, the festivals, the special events. People sure try to revisit the islands around the same time as before.

The seasonality of the game could be another unique factor. LIke Animal Crossing and other similar games, Mike can go back for a visit and recognize another old friend, fond memories.

Like the kids that walked through the closet into the world of Narina or players returning to the world of Ultima once again, the sense of "here we are once again" is powerful.

Frank


13.

How long are you *supposed* to enjoy WoW? And I ask that question both as a player of the game, and as someone interested in the marketing/business end.

2nd part first. When I was in the wireless industry, the "break even" point on new customers was (on average) about 6-months. It took that long for someone using the service to pay off the total COA (cost-of-aquisition). I'd be real curious to know what the COA for WoW is. After you pay for the box, is it immediate gravy? Is their gravy in the box itself? Or does it take a couple months before a player goes into the black? If Blizzard is making money on the box itself (i.e, if it costs them less to acquire a new customer than whatever they take home on the $40-50 we pay for the software)... holy moola. Subtract whatever the operating cost is from the monthly subscription rate, and that's their cream per customer per month. Nice. Anyway... whatever the metrics are, from a biz perspective, as long as they are keeping people out of "ennui-ville" long enough to pay of the COA and cover expenses, they're good-to-go.

From a customer perspective... well... whaddya want? How long did you play the game? How many hours of pleasure did you get? I tend, in my own obsessive compulsive mind, to figure out "entertainment value per hour per dollar" against books and films. A paperback novel is around $10 and takes me about 3 hours to read. So that's $3/hour of fun-value, if I enjoy it, and I do like to read. A first-run move is about $8 and goes about 1.5 hours on average, so that's about $6/hour of fun-value.

If you played $50 bucks for WoW and subscribed at the $15/month level and played for 5 months (makes my math easier), and played for only 10 hours a month, that's 50 hours of fun for $125, or $2.50/hour of fun value. About the same as a book, and way less than a movie.

But who only played for 10 hours a month? That's about 2.5 hours a week, eh? When we played like mad, we were playing for 2 hours a day, minimum. So... let's say, on average, for those 5 months, we played 2 hours a day x 30 days = 300 hours. That's 42-cents per hour of fun.

That's damn good fun-value, people. And that's not counting the time we spent on message boards, reading the blogs, chatting with guild buddies off-line, etc. etc.

And we know people who played WAY more than 2 hours a day, and WAY longer than 5 months before hitting the ennui mark.

For my money, as a marketing guy and gamer, 42-cents per hour of a game as rich and complex, and with as much opportunity as WoW presented, is a huge entertainment value when compared to almost any other media.

Now, if you want to compare it to free fun stuff -- getting that book out of the library, playing poker with friends, chess with your roommate, talking with your wife, playing whiffle ball with your kids -- that's just not fair. It's not just an "entertaining experience," it's GENERATED CONTENT. There are paid, professional people on the other end of the HUD putting stuff in for you to consume. It's a designed experience. Like a book, movie, TV show, stand-up comedic routine, etc. To compare it to a night of poker with your buddies is somewhat odd. There are social elements to WoW that make it more valuable, yes. But unless you hire someone to come in to your poker night to provide entertainment (carefull...), it's unfair to compare the two.

Most crafted entertainment gets boring after awhile. I saw the original "Grease" in the theater 11 times (hey, I was 12 and in love with Olivia NJ). Then? Boring. I read the original "Dune" about once every 8 years. More often than that? Not so much.

What are you complaining about, Mike? Did you expect the love affair to last forever?

14.

Andy pretty much stole my thunder. I'm continually amazed that people complain about being bored after playing a game for hundreds and hundreds of hours, day after day.

As to why the next game will work, my answer is exploration. A lot of people enjoy exploring new worlds and seeing new cool virtual sights. WoW's "failing" if you can call it a failure in any way, is taking so long to bring out their first expansion pack. EQ2 launched at about the same time and they've put out several expansions already.

If you took the WoW engine verbatim and laid it on all new content, and assuming that content was compelling, I suspect you'd have another hit.

When you get to the point where you've done everything and been everywhere, it *is* time to move on to find something new. I don't see that as a particularly revelatory observation.

15.

I play on multiple servers, and raid on 2. I've found that my heavy raiding guild is facing a burn out from many core members. They aren't abandoning the game, rather taking 1 week to 1 month vacations from the game. Many of the top-tier raiding guilds across servers seem to be disappearing due to the core members of these guilds quitting the game, or giving up until the expansion. A lot of players are being displaced if you will, from their longstanding guilds due to inactivity.

I think this is the calm before the storm. Once the xpac comes out, we'll see a resurgence in populations and players. I also thing guilds are going to fall apart, and lots of smaller guilds are going to appear (raid cap 40>25). That will also contribute to people wanting to play more imo. Instead of logging in and running zones with 39 people, some of which you may know well, some you don't, you'll be able to login and run very challenging 10-25 man zones, with mostly people you've gamed with or know much better in person.

And with blizzard promising an xpac every year, I think that's how they intend to make WoW's lifespan extend past most MMO's. We'll see how it all plays out...

16.

Andy> What are you complaining about, Mike? Did you expect the love affair to last forever?

Pete> When you get to the point where you've done everything and been everywhere, it *is* time to move on to find something new. I don't see that as a particularly revelatory observation.

This is a good discussion thread, but I think this these comments are a bit unfair to the OP. I think he was just observing how all good group MMOG things tend to come to an end with a whimper, not a bang -- no harm in that -- and then his call question was "what's next?"

18.

What are you complaining about, Mike? Did you expect the love affair to last forever?

greglas above has it right. I'm not complaining as I think I indicated in the original post. I have a lot of respect and affection for WoW (and the people who make it), but... well, I'm bored easily. Always looking for the next thing. And, given WoW's phenomenal popularity, it's interesting to me to see myself and others emotionally detaching from the game. It's still very pretty and fun, but it's not an entertainment-driver for me.

What's new about this situation is that in MMOs we've never before had millions of people who were likely going to be cycling off looking for the next thing. In the past -- in the early days of MMOs -- it's been a much smaller set of people and there's always been a game that was new, cool, and at least somewhat different in the offing. As part of the industry, I'm a bit concerned that now that the MMO market has begun to mature, we haven't matured our designs along with them. We don't really have anything new for them. "Hey that was great soup - what's next? Uh, more soup? No thanks..." It looks to me like a situation caused by a failure of imagination, which is at the very least ironic for our industry.

19.

Personally, I play Dark Age of Camelot and PvP (RvR) is the only thing that is keeping me in the game. I have been playing the game for about 3 years and PvE got boring about 2 years ago. Even RvR gets boring sometimes, but that passes. :)

To answer the question "what's next", I haven't seen a PvE game that I would like to play. To be honest WoW and GW (even though it's sold as PvP game) PvE were somewhat interesting. I still doubt that I would buy them if DAOC ceased to exist. From upcoming games Warhammer Online seems to be interesting, Age of Conan might be too.

20.

This phenomenon isn't true for all games -- bridge clubs, poker clubs, chess fanatics, and weekly tabletop game groups all show that it's possible to design simple games that entertain people forever. Why are MMORPG's different?

The answer is player interaction. Those games I mentioned provide an arena in which player interaction is the focus of the game. I think the pvp experience needs to evolve to improve longevity.

The WoW pvp experience is an unengaging one. Few enjoy it very much. Now you're left with team pve content to work through, and no matter how much money you pour into that, at some point your players are going to run out of it. Like any computer RPG, you'll get through everything and be "done."

Of all the MMORPG's I've played, I liked DAOC the most, because it focused on pvp. Ultimately I (and my guild) gave it up because of frustrations with the gear/raid arms race that ToA forced upon us. Would be curious to hear what others think of the pvp games that are out there and have successful long-term followings.

21.

Play is always fun. Loot is always boring. Money can't buy you love.

Fury seems to be one of the more anticipated next rounders, which begin, perhaps, to migrate toward more basic and, therein, less narrative-infected forms of play.

Desire of self > desire of society; pvp self > pve self.

22.

Andy said, 'That's damn good fun-value, people. And that's not counting the time we spent on message boards, reading the blogs, chatting with guild buddies off-line, etc. etc.'

Not all that time is fun. Standing around LFG isn't so much fun. Getting ganked while trying to get to an area isn't fun. The sad part of MMOs is the total time spent having fun is too small a percent of total time spent in game.

23.

Mike said:"What's new about this situation is that in MMOs we've never before had millions of people who were likely going to be cycling off looking for the next thing."

Now THAT is a good, smart question/observation. Does WoW count as a "whole new thing" for these people -- i.e., will they be ready to try another MMO, or two, or ten... or is it just a one-off alternative gaming/entertainment experience.

When I finish a book, I look for another book. I see a good movie, I probably caught a preview of another that I'm interested in.

An "exit survey" of people who left WoW would be fascinating; what are you doing now with that time...

Me? I'm building wikis, reading, writing, commenting here, spending some time on SL. I haven't picked up another MMO, because nothing out there has really appealed to me. Tried "Guild Wars." Found it to be approx. the same experience as WoW.

What's next? Hmmm....

Failure of imagination. I agree.

24.

Andy said, I haven't picked up another MMO, because nothing out there has really appealed to me. Tried "Guild Wars." Found it to be approx. the same experience as WoW.

I think that's the crux of the issue right there. If you've gone through everything WoW has to offer and find yourself bored, what do other MMOGs offer that isn't basically the same experience as WoW? Or worse, the same experience, only not as fun, not as pretty, and not as cohesive? If I'm bored with WoW, why on earth would I play Vanguard or Warhammer or the like?

I think for some people, WoW really was a one-off experience. They may try another MMOG with Blizzard's name attached, but other than that they aren't likely to continue to spend money on online games.

But for many other people, MMOGs are their new entertainment of choice, and so they will go looking for the next great MMOG. If all the rest of the industry can offer is the same gameplay without the Blizzard level of polish, what choice are we giving these people? My fear is that they will either return to WoW and stop looking for other MMOGs, or will leave MMO gaming entirely.

It strikes me that what we need is new gameplay. If other MMOGs offered an experience wholly different from WoW's, I think we might stand a chance of drawing in some of those who have grown bored with WoW's gameplay.

25.

>Frank: "The seasonality of the game could be another unique factor. LIke Animal Crossing and other similar games, Mike can go back for a visit and recognize another old friend, fond memories.

Like the kids that walked through the closet into the world of Narina or players returning to the world of Ultima once again, the sense of "here we are once again" is powerful."

An issue with returning to so many games, console, online, whatever, is that re-learning the controls can be too much of a hurdle to even follow through with it.

Mike says "my 37 warlock was almost incomprehensible".

I don't think it's impossible to design games to avoid this.

I stopped playing WoW about a year ago. I've gone back in a few times thinking I might like to get back into it for a while, but I don't want to have to do nights of homework to get there, so I don't bother.

It's interesting how quickly this can happen I think.

26.

Andy: "That's 42-cents per hour of fun."

Looking at this strictly from a cost/hr of fun angle is misleading. Not all fun is created equal, nor is it all equally valuable. I, for one, heavily discount the 'fun quotient' I get from virtual worlds relative to movies. In the latter, the creator's contribution to the fun factor is almost absolute. In the former, since I am the engine of a great deal of my own fun, I _expect_ a MUCH cheaper cost/hr.


27.

As long as people are throwing in with other games for contrast, I wanted to mention EVE Online. Though its got a single digit percentage of the number of subscribers as WoW, it is believed by some to have the opposite sort of "interest path."

Even the developers concede that its hard to get into, but it seems to be a MMO people stay in long term.

Perhaps it is the skill mechanism being time-based...when you come back after a month off you can do more than when you left. It may be as much the fact that the significant content (of the sort that keeps your attention) comes from the political evolution in the game.

The fact that all the 150k subscribers inhabit the same "shard" may provide critical mass to make the politics interesting.

Don't know myself, but I am more interested now than I was three years ago - and I'm still a year away from being able to fly the biggest ships (much longer than that from being able to afford them).

Not here to be a fanboy, but it seems to serve as a nice contrast.

-Aeco

28.

That's a good point about EVE. Gamasutra today referenced an insightful report by DFC Intelligence regarding the MMO marketplace. It notes that the stratospheric nature of WoW's user population may have beguiled some investors, but that they shouldn't expect this nor be disappointed by smaller but still highly profitable games, many of which are 'merely' in the hundreds-of-thousands of users (recall that this was territory formerly reserved for the likes of huge successes like EQ and SWG). The report ends with

The fact of the matter is that most success with MMOG comes with smaller, dedicated online game companies that use small amounts of investment money to great effect. Jagex’s Runescape, CCP’s EVE Online, and Three Rings’ Puzzle Pirates are three games that found niche success by scaling their efforts to what was feasible. Jagex’s Runescape has even crossed into mainstream territory with over 800,000 subscribers as a result of its less demanding computer requirements and low cost ($5 a month). This is another example of how innovation with gameplay and business models tends to produce hits. For the health of investors and the MMOG space, let’s hope that this lesson doesn’t have to be relearned the hard way. However, when a product generates as much money as WoW it is inevitable that the dumb money will start flowing freely. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you." [Emphasis added]
This highlights the point that 'smaller' (relative to WoW-scale) MMOGs can take more risks, try new forms of gameplay, and advance the industry faster than can "40/40" games (40 months production, $40 million budget) striving to replicate the past.

29.

@monkeysan:

Who said: "Not all fun is created equal, nor is it all equally valuable." I agree wholeheartedly. Which is why I often rate movies as, "Must see, first night, first run, full price." And others, "Might watch, on HBO, for free, in hotel, while drinking, on business."

I didn't mean to imply that "all fun is equal," just to compare, in some way, some metrics for entertainment value. On the one hand, we have "Warcraft Widows" complaining that the game is stealing their husbands, sons and lovers away for 80+ hours a week. On the other... we're wondering, "When will the next, better, Virtual Crack 2.0 be released?" Interesting dichotomy.

I don't think anyone expects a single movie -- or franchise -- to be the be-all-end-all of our film existence; same for books and authors or TV shows.

There's always been a strange "forward looking ennui" when you know a beloved TV series is about to be cancelled (Firefly!) (or when it jumps the shark), or when you get close to the end of a great book. You miss *that* feeling, *those* characters, etc. If we plug a few thousand hours into WoW... of course we feel strangely... strange... when the thrill is gone. Where's my Azeroth? Who took it from me? I didn't play anywhere near as hardcore as some of my buddies, and I still miss going out by the lighthouse for a fish...

So... this has raised a point I hadn't ever considered before in my own gaming. Is the MMO experience a "one off"? Is it essentially more "Disney World" than "reading?" I can't live without having a book on my bedside table. But I can live without Disney. I like to go every decade or so... It's a novelty.

The BIG QUESTION then: Is the overall entertainment value for MMOs essentially, for the majority of the population, a novelty?

30.

And to add to that and to what Samantha said, isn't the most effective way to get "wholly different" game designs to enable different game designers to make it to retail?

As long as only a few designers can afford to make and distribute quality games, we'll keep getting the kinds of games they like (and know how) to make. More diversity in games, I think, requires more diversity in designers.

How that can happen, I don't know. Maybe Multiverse's "piece-of-the-action" revenue model will be the key that opens the door....

--Bart

31.

"Hey that was great soup - what's next? Uh, more soup? No thanks..."

There are certainly some people who are going to say No thanks to more soup, but they'll be the ones who go play the steak dinner of Vanguard, or the Thai Fusion of Pirates of the Burning Sea, or the Ice cream sundae of EVE.

However there are plenty of people currently eating soup who will just want more soup, in new flavours, but it will need to be as good as the current WOW soup, and maybe with croutons of improved PVP.

32.

It's interesting how irritated people get with the idea that a service which has an annual fee should provide ongoing entertainment in part through the provision of novelty. If what was on cable next month was EXACTLY what was on cable next month (no jokes re: 500 channels and nothing on, please), at some point, we'd be in our rights to question the cost of the monthly fee.

But it's not just that. Part of it what we expect from the best games. Lots of casual slinging about of poker here in the thread, but poker's ceaselesly recombinant nature is essentially the opposite of chess. Predictable rules, hands you've seen before, sure--but also always different both because of how the game plays and how the people playing it are acting. Every time is new, no matter how often you've played.

The more important part is what we expect from virtual worlds. We expect them to be, well, world-like, and like worlds and life, constantly renewed, surprising, unexpected. Yes, nobody's gotten that trick right, yet, but I don't think it's wrong to suggest that Blizzard went down a bad design cul-de-sac not long after the game went live and started pouring all their design energies into rarified experiences which contradicted the appeal and energy of the game for most players. It's hard to make a virtual world come to live with vigor for most of its inhabitants, to give it a shifting, recombinant flavor, but putting endless hours into designing endgame instances that utterly contradict the feel and excitement of the rest of your world seems a fairly perverse way to go about putting continuing value in the experience.

All things come to an end, but it's not wrong to ask why they come to the ends that they do, in the fashion that they do, in the time that they do, and at the price that they do. It doesn't seem *inevitable* to me that a game with 7 million users paying a significant monthly fee should devolve towards grindathon entropy with such relative rapidity.

Computer game players in a way have an incredibly short horizon for how long their cultural experiences should last. Games made in 1998 now seem like ancient history; games which are playable for a month seem like incalculable value. Maybe we should readjust our expectations a bit. I buy books which cost me half of a game (or as much as a monthly payment for same) which provision me six or seven times as much surprise and novelty. I buy movies for half the price of games which reward four or five reviewings, probably about equal of what some games give me in time, but at far greater cultural utility.

E.g., all the time we spend in games is not time which we make use of in the imagination, or as cultural capital, or in the giving of imaginative pleasure. I can remember and talk about and allude to a memorable scene in a film, and films have far more such memorable moments in relation to the time they take than most games. Some of game-time is time spent for the sake of spending time; it reminds me a bit of what Richard Klein said about cigarettes, that their chiefest virtue was that it took time to smoke them and that time was unrecoverable and dedicated to no purpose. Sure, games provision great scenes, unpredictable social experiences (in online contexts), memorable quotes, visuals you will never forget, and even occasionally, these things are truly original to games rather than derivative products born from putting a cinematic or literary experience into an interactive format.

I love games. I love virtual worlds even more. But I don't think it's wrong to ask, often, if they couldn't be far more than they are given their technical and imaginative capacities, and given the money that flows into their making. Why couldn't World of Warcraft deliver something surprising or novel every single month? Why not put productive hours into doing that for the bulk of the players instead of building the Naxxramas instance, for example? That seems like both good creative sense and good financial sense.

33.

Total aside:

Holy crap! Timothy quoted Richard Klein on TN! Dick was my French Lit prof at Cornell and we talked about the pleasures and meaning of smoking back when "Cigarettes are Sublime" was in the "notes" stage (and back when I was still lighting up).

Interestingly, Dick was also intrigued by the idea of my helping him use database software (Dbase III+ if I remember correctly) to create a kind of threaded, hypercard-esque, "adventure experience" where students could explore the contents of a lecture, poem or any other written space in a kind of text-adventure way, but "programmed" by a non-technical user (i.e., a prof). It was, in a very loose, weird fashion, kind of a precursor to the wiki-way; users enter chunks of text and keywords that link to other text...

If you're lurking... "Hi, Professor Klein!"

34.

One thing about poker is that you can have absolutely nothing in your hands and win huge jackpots against someone who has a great hand if you play the psychological aspects of the game better than the other guy. And if you get him to fold, you don't even have to show him that you had nothing. It starts with you against the table, and one by one people weigh the odds, judge the other person, and drop out until it is down to two, then one victor.

You need: A good knowledge of the game, what the odds are your opponent has something better than you based on the cards showing, luck, guts, and the ability to judge your opponents. My regular poker group dried up because in the end, we were all friends and knew each other too well. I know when N is bluffing, and that S can't always remember which hand is better and so he sometimes gets all excited over a hand and wants to raise, and G will get in trouble with his wife if he loses 50 bucks that night, etc. But take the same texas hold 'em rules and put any of us at a table with complete strangers and we get excited. People who like poker, like taking risky positions in the stock market, have something in them that says 1) I'm better than anyone else (or have an edge, or know something the others don't) and 2) need some danger and possibility of a big win or counting coup.

Most games these days expect you to deposit 10 bucks into your IRA every paycheck and you'll have a nice retirement from the grinding grind, that is, top level where you get to PvP with the other big kids, or can now just PvE to help your friends or for more loot.

I don't know. Would you get excited if your character in a game you're bored with suddenly got transplanted into another server full of strangers? For every player that quits because of ennui, and I've faded away from several MMO's for the same, how many quit be cause of 'enhancements' to the game, e.g. TOA in DAoC, that were meant to provide new content but instead made those comfortable with being the top of the food chain no longer the top?

I wonder what are the relative numbers of those playing things like Call of Duty and other FPS's online, forsaking the "massively multiplayer" for "This is my first time on this server, I know what their weapons can do, but I've never seen these guys from this squad and don't know if they're any good."

I love those games too. If I could find a game that combined that aspect of the small FPS's with the community experience and content of a large fantasy MMO, I'd have something to keep me busy for at least a few billing cycles.

35.

Games need to get quicker on the pace and hardware manufacturers need to stop dicking with such closed hardware conventions. If some weren't so worried about their old school licensing mechanisms I think we'd see a new wave of games that hit like the whole web 2 model of cheaper hardware, rapid development, power curve laws, and long-tail tapping. The gaming market is freaking huge, speciality gaming for niche's could be a likely future.

Anyhow, I played TSR80 games, I loved my muds, mush, moo, mu*'s during college, the list rolls to present and I dip my fingers in near everything that comes out. Every game I leave is because the games bounderies have been found, and they are found to be boring. Life is dynamic, a game has an end, but they don't call it that. I'm waiting for the games that encompass universes, maybe thats why I stay around in Eve. The overhead is so damn low and the scope so large. If only their trade-mechanics weren't so wonky. Nothing happens in their universe, well really happens. When you sell to a station why did they need to buy it in the firstplace? What's it building? Better AI NPC's.. that'd be a hoot.

To those who remember it, the bbs door game Trade Wars. Make that into a real mmo that is thick and lush and near infinite in scope.

Why haven't we seen a Mechwarrior universe enter the picture? Drop ships, large universe, you can layer everything from space battles, air battles, ground battles, tactical people, fps people, so many roles to fill.

A game needs to live and breath and be, and everything we play right now just feels like a digital board game in one way or another. If you reaaaaly think about it, how much in a game is still like a mud? Where's the evolution? We have so much growing room in games all we need are smart people and the opportunity.

I look forward to the future of gaming, I just wish it were sooner than later hehe!

-a

36.

I used to play on Battletech 3056 and the other online Btech MU* back in the day. Great fast paced action, teamwork, dramatic events (bases being raided, armies wiped out in single battles, entire companies dropping from Union dropships and misdropping, etc.)

But it was free. The guys who wrote it ran the factions, appointed the officers, decided who got what 'mech's. Bad enough to go linkdead and lose your Battlemaster because it stood still for 30 seconds in a firefight and got whacked by a lance of strike mechs. Imagine leveling your guy and grinding your way to it in the first place! I'd hate to be the guy to figure out the in-game economy that 'works' for an MMO like that :0

Seems like everyone's working on a bigger and better airplane. Be nice if someone said, let's try blimps instead. Then again, we all know what happened to the Hindenburg.

Maybe a Tao te ching MMORPG. The unfulfilled potential is the ultimate. Best to be a level 1 with the starter sword and no-drop no-trade quilt jerkin. The goal is to start uber and finish a newborn.

37.

Mike Sellers wrote: "If a player has become bored with the by now well-trodden traditional MMOFRPG gameplay, how will another game bring them a new sort of experience, and not just present old dwarves in new clothing? (For example, the nifty dwarf shown above comes from Warhammer Online, but would be right at home in any of a number of existing and upcoming MMOs.) IMO this is the question to which Vanguard, Warhammer, Conan, LOTRO, Hero's Journey, and any other contenders must have a clear and ready answer."

Shhh... You're giving away the secrets! Cloning/perfecting Diku/EQ/WoW is the only way that anyone will ever make money. If large developers think otherwise, they might actually start innovating and provide competition for us small developers trying to creative innovative products on a smell of an oily rag. ;-)

In my unbiased opinion, all games should:

1) Do their best to clone Diku/EQ/WoW.

2) Be fantasy based.

3) Have elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and other generic and over-used fantasy races.

4) Spend all their efforts on perfecting hit-point-based melee combat.

5) Call the game "XXX Online", where XXX has "war", "death", "chaos", etc. as a root, prefix, or suffix.

6) Make sure to include plenty of chainmail bikinnis to (a) offend most women, and (b) attract as many teenage males as possible.

38.

I agree that it is an interesting question to think about--what all those millions will do when they hit the wall and lose interest in WoW. My guess, though, is that that is still some years off.

Most of these players are first time MMO gamers, and my experience is that "you never forget your first love." In other words, the first amazement you have in one of these games that all those characters running around are *actually* human beings sitting behind keyboards all over the world and you can see them run!, will never be found again in the next game or the next.

My first experience with these was in EQ1. Many got it with UO or with DAOC. Some got it with MUDs years before. Most MMO addicts I have talked to have this wistful feeling about the first one they played and no matter how many betas they get into, they can never experience that feeling again. Which is sad, but probably inevitable.

The time to figure all this out though takes longer for your first game though. EQ1 took years to get tired of. DAOC took about a year for the RvR to get repetitive and pointless. WoW took about 2 months. God help the next one I try. :-)

If this sort of curve is still indicative today, then the millions of MMO newbies still have a year or two left of their honeymoon period and their exit, as a result, will be spread out and gradual probably. It is a great opportunity for the next game after this new generation though, because the masses will probably miss the next gen, still in love with WoW.

- Keith

p.s. In my experience, yes I think guild splits of significant guilds with longevity come about out of boredome or ennui. The fights which initiate the splits seem to usually be quite petty and there is usually a feeling of "Other players won't be such %(*@#holes", when of course we know other players are identical. :-)

The pointless (and endless) splitting and reforming of the younger guilds is just people having little bond with each other.

39.

Mike Sellers>If a player has become bored with the by now well-trodden traditional MMOFRPG gameplay, how will another game bring them a new sort of experience

The gameplay becomes boring because they no longer need what it gives. I know you're not exactly a fan of the hero's journey model when applied to virtual worlds, but this is exactly predicted by it. Gameplay only gets you as far as the end of the achiever stage ("atonement with the father" in formal terms). If you don't get told you've won, or don't decide for yourself that you've won, then you're going to keep playing the same old way and never advance beyond that to the gameplay-free existence beyond. Instead, you're stuck with the same gameplay that you needed before, but that you no longer need because it doesn't deliver what you want. You get frustrated, and eventually drift away. Then you play another game and do exactly the same thing.

What ought to happen is that when you gain nothing more from gameplay, you're told the game is over. The world isn't over, just the game - you've won. You can then spend your time playing because the world or its people are interesting, not because you want to have the biggest, baddest, orangest equipment on the block. You don't need that, you've proved what you can do, you should just be allowed to have fun (for your new, post-game definition of "fun"). They, you won't need to drift away and try all over again in another world, you can stay in this one.

Plainly, albeit paradoxically put, the best way to keep players from drifting away from a virtual world is to allow them to leave.

Richard

40.

wow is a good game
don't make mistakes here

it has 2 millions subscribers in usa and europe and +5M regulars customers in asia for _good_ reason
(blizzard réputation, brand name recognition thanks to good previous game, good arts, good directions, and so on)

but it's only a game
of course it will bore you one day

it's FINE, it"s nice, it's SANE.

you got fun, it's was good
now you want to go somewhere else, it's good too.

well, in my case, I take _months_ to got a character on 60 level and I play only a few hours by week (and to manage a guild for the most time) so I can wait peacefully for the "extension" to the game

and maybe one day move to an other mmorpg with better things or just stop.


no game can be eternal, it's just a computer software. and it's already a great Work.

41.

Well since 2 months im experiencing the same problem as the OP. But what killed my motivation in WOW is the end game, not about raiding or pvp but about gear grinding. I mean whats the point of playing x hours to get some gear that will become obsolete... As im someone that like changes a lot , i feel like im stuck and my character doesnt evolve at all anymore...

Wow is my first MMO , ill wait for the expansion but after that ill probably never play another MMO in my life... not that i dont like MMO but because MMO are very time consuming and need a lot of implication.

I have enough of my job for planning stuff, boosting my motivation , dealing with people.. not that i dont like my job but it takes a lot of energy...(every one who work know what i mean)

So when i get home i want a game that i enjoy, almost brainless... where i can play 10 min of 1 hours without having to wait for groups , deal with people and shit like that... So thats maybe why i have zillong of < lvl 30 alt and 1 single 60 toon in the game...

So for me the challenging point in WOW (team play, etc) is something i already do in my day to day job...

42.

Richard: I know you're not exactly a fan of the hero's journey model when applied to virtual worlds, but this is exactly predicted by it. ... Plainly, albeit paradoxically put, the best way to keep players from drifting away from a virtual world is to allow them to leave.

And now you see one of the reasons why I'm dissatisfied with the "hero's journey" model for MMOs. It's a fine model, don't get me wrong -- it's been a central underpinning of thousands of years of western literature. But in MMOs, it's also been mined to death (perhaps much the same way in which movies first relied on tropes from plays).

Sure, you can "allow players to leave" your game, and there are good reasons for providing social and gameplay forms of closure for the players. But in a commercial sense (you knew it was coming, right?) that's not a great way to build a business. "Thanks for coming, hope you had a great time! Please never come back!" MMOs exist because they are terrifically profitable. They're profitable because they keep people coming back. Telling someone, "you've won, go away!" isn't a great basis on which to build a profitable venture.

This takes us back to the failure of imagination I mentioned earlier. Can we think no more broadly in MMO terms than the hero's journey? Are we so narrow that, as one poster said above, we see WoW as soup, Vanguard as steak, and PotBS as Thai Fusion? To my eyes these are more like tomato soup, tomato soup with garnish, and pea soup, respectively.

My interests in this are both creative and commercial. I'm tired of seeing endless derivations of the kind of game Mike Rozak so lovingly skewers above. I know I tend to be early on these things, and that many will continue to enjoy WoW and other games for the next several years at least. Nevertheless I'm left wondering where millions of new MMO players will go after they are, inevitably, done with WoW. Ten years ago, MMOs didn't exist as an industry. Ten years from now, will MMOs be even more relevant culturally than they are now, or will they be relegated to the same broom closet of history occupied by hex-based wargames, beanie babies, and David Hasselhoff? To a large degree, the choices developers make in the next 1-3 years will determine the outcome.

43.

So, this community (here) being so brimful with social science types, what can we learn from the experience thus far, or identify to look for in the future?

I am persuaded that the "hero's journey" model lacks the substance to keep people for years. Soup is a fortuitous analogy, perhaps. What comes next may well have to be more....(forgive me) meaty.

One concern - what if a closer analogy than soup is what we find in pop music. The market seems to grind through an endless supply of songs each consecutive number one hit reflecting some new twist or turn of the tastes of the mass audience, but mostly failing to provide anything more substantive. One can look at any other form of entertainment and fail to see a general trend of increasing quality, meaning, or satisfaction.

If failure of imagination is the primary concern, are not the longer track records with these other (vehicles, markets, media) informative?

Now, one must certainly acknowledge the qualitative differences here. Nobody has worried much about "immersion" in pop music, nor had to make quite as much a deal about identity in console games or movies, etc. But to take WoW to task for losing its charm after hundreds of hours may be expecting too much.

That said, (and to again plug EVE) I think there is alot to learn from the paths over time of subscriptions, time spent per logon, time spent per month etc. explained by game characteristics.

If somebody has the numbers, will they please crunch them? We social science types should be able to do this sort of thing.

-Aeco

44.

Tadhg Kelly had an interesting Letter to the Editor at Gamasutra:

"As I've blogged before, one of the fundamental differences between video games and roleplaying games is that in RPGs the player becomes the character, but in video games the character becomes the player.

...

Simply put, in video games the player rarely if ever needs a structured reason to do the next level or mission. It is implicit in the game already that tasks must be accomplished. The narrative elements largely act as baubles and rewards for the most part, rather than an integral part of the playing experience."

Isn't that last paragraph the problem with WoW and its clones -- that they're trying to be videogames instead of RPGs? That the whole idea of storytelling and narrative and worldy-ness has been abandoned as too hard to do in addition to all the gameplay that "has to be there"?

Maybe that's the real failure of imagination.

--Bart

45.

Chad said: Mike says "my 37 warlock was almost incomprehensible".

I don't think it's impossible to design games to avoid this.

I really love this one. It is basically a UI problem. The human brain can efficiently cope with a maximum of about 7 options. If I meet a troll on a path in real life, I don't have to scroll through every action possible. I make a hierarchy of options in my mind: Level one is, 1) be nice to troll, 2) run away from troll, 3) kill troll. If I decide to "kill troll", I go down a level in the chain of command and consider what weapons I have, etc.

A quarterback who directed each individual player on each play would be called brilliant, but his brain would disintegrate, and he would certainly not claim he was having fun.

46.

Bart said: "Isn't that last paragraph the problem with WoW and its clones -- that they're trying to be videogames instead of RPGs?"

Indeed.

I think of the reasons I've given for playing videogames vs. playing various RPGs, including MMOs and pen-and-papers. And I look at Fogel's excellent comment, above, about how much "work" is involved in playing WoW at the higher levels, in terms of actually getting your gear in gear.

I have, max, an hour or two a day to game. Often much less. Sometimes weeks will go by when I can't game. Now, playing WoW single-player? Sure... I can do that a half-hour here, or a 5-hour stretch on a Friday night. Until I get to around Level 30. And while I found a number of "casual pals" that I kept in contact with... the guild I was a part of fell apart when the one guy who did all the coordination work had to stop to take an out-of-town contract with no high-speed Web access. Whoops! So much for virtuality.

My point being that the costs for these kinds of games and experiences aren't always just in dollars, though I know I was harping on that, too.

When I GMed big, weekend-long live RPGs with players who had characters that had been around for 10+ years, one of the great joys was to either, A) Have them do something truly great that could then be rewarded very specifically, or; B) Have them do something truly stupid, that could then be punished very specifically. In-character behavior + success gets you XP, loot, good pointers towards the next stage of the journey, etc. Out-of-charchter stuff (or failure) gets you loss of XP (or less), loss of items and wild good chases. Ha! But that was the fun for me when I was playing a character, too... to impress the GM and get the love... or, if I screwed up, feel the righteous wrath.

At low levels of WoW, the game was brilliant in terms of "time put in" and "love got out" for me. Whether it was solo, group or PvP. Although few people took real RPing very seriously, even on RP servers (humph!). The higher I got, though, the more it felt like the rewards were "bigger piles of tiny things" for play that was increasingly less fun. And play that required that I spend more and more of my scant gaming time with folks who were less interested in the rewards I wanted (RP, characterization, socialization, long-term fun), than in bigger piles of tiny things.

As a friend of mine once put it, "WoW gives you more of the same at higher levels, yeah. But it's a LOT more." Well, "a lot" is still the same at some point.

I don't mind when soup comes out when I put in tomatoes and celery and water... but when soup comes out when I put in steak and potatoes... hmmm...

47.

Richard wrote:

> What ought to happen is that when you gain nothing
> more from gameplay, you're told the game is over.
> The world isn't over, just the game - you've won.

In essence, isn't this what WoW does with the level 60 cap? If you get that far, the goals of the game change. Whereas the levelling was the goal of the game, now it's more about the instances or PVP. MUD2 was the same in that regard: you level to get to Wiz, and now your interests go in a difference direction (making mortals' lives miserable or creating your own content.) Where both games fail(ed) is that there's currently nothing to strive for beyond that secondary goal.

48.

And in defense of "The Hero's Journey..."

Modeling the entire Hero' Journey in one medium -- an MMO in this instance, though we could as easily be talking about books or theatre or sports or business -- is not the same as experiencing even any one tiny part of one. I can read -- or game -- the story of hero that goes through the entire journey from start to finish, and in no way advance my own journey. As a refresher, here's the journey in a nutshell:

* * * * *

Ordinary World – Limited Awareness
Call to Adventure – Increased Awareness
Refusal of the Call – Reluctance to Change
Meeting the Mentor – Overcoming Reluctance
Crossing the First Threshold – Committing to Change
Tests – Experimenting with First Change
Approaching the Cave – Preparing for Change
Ordeal – Attempting Change
Reward – Consequences Attempts
Road Back – Rededication to Changes
Resurrection – Final Attempts at Changes
Return with the Elixir – Final Mastery of the Problem

* * * * *

You can play through (or read through) a minimalist, shallow, goofy, unfulfilling version of that journey in an 85-minute film. You can play it through in a bad solo video game that takes only 8 hours to complete. You can see the same tired tropes repeated again and again and still enjoy them, because they're burned into our cultural retinas, they're fun, they're easy and they work.

But playing or reading *about* the Hero's Journey does not mean that you have, in any way, *progressed* in your own journey, or even *learned* from your journey. A really cheap retelling of the Arthurian tales, f'rinstance, will do nothing to advance my journey... nor will reading several good versions, if I don't apply myself to their study.

In my own journey, as a person, I may be at a point -- as so many kids I encountered in WoW were -- where working together in a guild was the first significant team activity they'd undertaken. It was also, for many of them, the first real roleplaying they'd ever done. Both of those are significant skill sets for life. Both are intriguing ways to "play," in that you can experiment with approaches to problem solving and behavior that may not be easily appropriate in real life. Super!

Let's take the roleplaying factor. I had several younger gamers ask me, literally, "How can I roleplay better?" as they had never done any RL RP. We spent some time talking about how to create a character, about backstory, motivation, staying in character, etc. About how it improves play to have an experience of the mind beyond the grind. I like to teach, they liked to learn. It was fun.

That one instance, for a moment, was a tiny little piece of, "Meeting the Mentor – Overcoming Reluctance," in their own journey. If I had not been receptive -- or if the UI had not allowed for ways to communicate that way -- we would not have been able to have anything approaching a true "heroic journey" moment.

I'm not saying it was a big deal, but it was a much bigger deal than mining fake gold by clicking a button for 2 hours and trading in a level 3 leather hoozis for a level 4 chainmail whatsis.

By the time a young person, one who had never played an MMO before, finished a Level 60 character in WoW, my guess is that there would have been a number of chances for them to have "journey experiences."

All of them? Their whole "Hero's Journey" for their life? In one MMO? Of course not. Your whole journey never takes place in one place, on one platform, with one mentor or in one setting. But the point is that the less like Tetris an MMO is and the more like Camelot, the more "journey moments" will be possible.

I think.

49.

Mike Sellers wrote: "Thanks for coming, hope you had a great time! Please never come back!" MMOs exist because they are terrifically profitable. They're profitable because they keep people coming back. Telling someone, "you've won, go away!" isn't a great basis on which to build a profitable venture.

It works for TV... in a sense:

1) Many shows (aka: movies) are one-offs. There is always a "You've won!" (Happy ending) at the end.

2) TV series are "Come back in a week!". The same might work for MMORPGs, but with "You've won for now. Come back in a month!" instead. (Aka: GuildWars, which is attempting this.)

3) Cable-TV and TV-networks get around the "Don't come back!" issues by bundling a continual stream of (1) and (2). (Aka: SOE's MMORPG bundle.)

I suspect you're working on a MMORPG which is targeting more of a niche market, but for a mass-market Mc-MMORPG: I don't see how they'll be able to keep a player for more than 25-50 hours (over a few months), let alone 250-500 hours (over 6-9 months) like WoW.

Even the most popular TV series only runs 10 years x 22(?) expisodes x 30-60 min = max 220 hrs. Most have lifespans in the 20-40 hour range.

50.

So how to have people keep playing, without having them 'finish', or wander away from boredom?

I was thinking, even Odysseus came home after 10 years, had a badass fight, and the story ended.

The typical MMO hero/player has no third act worthy of being called a finale. Act I- New character is made. Act II-The grind to the top, and perhaps the PvP to be had there. Act III- The very, very, very long, and increasingly monotonous ride into ennui-dom.

There was this game I really loved when I was younger. It was Sword of the Samurai, by Microprose. There were RTS battles. There were 1 on 1 sword duels. There were 2-D fights as you ran around villages vs. multiple enemy, trying to rescue people, defend villages from bandits, etc.

But the real kicker for me was...you could get married, have a kid, and play on as the kid when your current character grew too old.

So what if you could do that in an MMORPG without rolling an alt and call it a kid? What if you had to do that to get more than a couple of characters?

At age 60% of top level you could
1) pay a priest a metric buttload of money and get a clone (stat-wise)
2) go to an adoption house and choose a war orphan based on a limited knowledge of his or her traits
3) have a kid with another player and let the biological dice roll

Once you reach top level, after a certain period of time, you would become vulnerable to relative permadeath.

If you reproduce early, your kid would be higher level when the parent dies and the kid is available to be played, but you pass on less money and items. Wait till top level, and you can pass on more loot and money to the kid but the kid starts at very low level.

Once the parent 'dies', it could then be played in some sort of Elysium or Valhalla or Hell, starting at a mid-low level, with a small fraction of what he/she had at the time of death.

Anyway, I have a ton of top level toons on MMO's that I will never sell because I'm attached to them. Not so attached that I wouldn't like to see them go out once and for all trying to solo a dragon.

But in this way, each character would be a chapter in the overall experience in a game, and with each ending you would have a new beginning. I'd love to look at some of my long term MMO experiences and see: Fred the Paladin, fought at the Black Keep Battle June 05, helped hold the Bridge at River Kwai October 05, adopted Nooby the Sorceror at age 49, died fighting the Dragon at age 50. Nooby the Sorceror, fought again at the Black Keep, this time to take it, February of 2006, got the great Flying Spaghetti Monster to clone Noobus who became a Mystic, went to the other kingdom, where he was an outcast because his forbears fought for the other kingdom, etc....

51.

Mike Rozak,

You forgot spinoffs, sequels, daytime soaps, and reality shows.

The best analog is probably daytime soaps. We are hooked on to them once in a while and then ennui sets in. We come a bit later and we have no clue what all of these same people are doing now, which takes some effort to learn.

So, for other shows like Battlestar Galactica, they make the "The Story so Far" special to get people back in the loop and get excited about the equivalent of an MMO "expansion", the 3rd season.

I think MMO innovations can be found in other industries. What's no longer innovative in on industry can still be innovative when applied in a new industry.

For example, Guild Wars is following the "expansion" model. The only thing I'll say about that is that they gotta speed up their expansion to cycle to fit in with the current media cycle. Blizzard is now getting in-line with the cycle with expansions each year. People with WOW-nnui will just have to wait for the next expansion, the next season of packaged entertainment.

Frank

52.

The best analog is probably daytime soaps.

Doh! Forgot about those. One of the game-storytelling books I read, written by an ex-soap writer, said that soaps' target-audiences are housekeepers, college students, and (yes)prisoners... I suppose there is a market for a time-consuming entertainment, but I'd still maintain it's not very mass market. Daytime soaps exist because daytime airtime is cheap and soaps are cheap to produce.

Here's a theorem, based on two hypothesis:

1) The time someone spends in their 2nd MMORPG/MUD is less (50% less?) than the time they spent in their first MMORPG/MUD. Their 3d is even less, but this probably asymtotes out by the 5th MMORPG.

2) A mass-market audience will be willing to commit less time. Only so many people are willing to devote 20 hrs/week to one game/entertainment, and there are only so many willing to stick with it for 6+ months at 20 hrs/week.

The theorem: As the market expands, new players won't want to play such long games, hypothesis (2). Furthermore, as the market expands, old players won't want to play as much due to hypothesis (1).

Extra hypothesis:

3) While the cost of content may be increasing, the cost of bandwidth is dropping. This means that more and more MMORPGs are willing to go with the "Pay once, play the SAME content as much as you like" model, like GuildWars. (Many are even willing to use "Free, with payment for extras.")

Games based on marketing model (3) have an incentive to reduce their content, but are more likely to attract more casual players since they aren't willing to pay a monthly fee because they won't play for 20 hrs/week over many months.

(1) + (2) + (3) => Games will get shorter. Players will hop from game to game. While there will still be games that are enormous and take 250-500 hours to complete, they will be targeted at housekeepers, college students, and prisoners. :-P

Guild Wars is following the "expansion" model. The only thing I'll say about that is that they gotta speed up their expansion to cycle to fit in with the current media cycle.

Completely agree with that one. I would have thought a release every 6 months, maybe 4.

53.

Mike Sellers>in MMOs, it's also been mined to death (perhaps much the same way in which movies first relied on tropes from plays).

When people first put the hero's journey into virtual worlds, it was as a narrative plan. Your character went through all the stages of the hero's journey. This was in no way satisfactory and rightly died the death.

However, what wasn't recognised was that the hero's journey was always part of virtual worlds. It's not your character that goes on the journey, it's you. There's no way of getting out of this except by removing the game element from virtual worlds. You can change the gameplay as much as you like and make it as radically different from current games as you like, and you'll still have a hero's journey. People go from the real world to the virtual world, they get to be who they really are, and they reconcile their two existences (real and virtual) into one.

>Sure, you can "allow players to leave" your game, and there are good reasons for providing social and gameplay forms of closure for the players. But in a commercial sense (you knew it was coming, right?) that's not a great way to build a business.

On the contrary: it's a great way. You have to time it right, but it's not that difficult to do so even by accident.

It would be a bad business decision if you told people that they'd won, and then they left. I agree. However, this isn't what happens. Instead, if you tell people that they've won and they stay; if you don't tell them they've won, they eventually drift away (as you indicate in the starting post of this thread).

The problem is that this is counter-intuitive to a good many business people and almost all designers. You get money from people who play, so why would you tell them not to play? Surely they'd leave, and then you wouldn't get their money! Well no: if they really have followed a hero's journey, then they don't leave, because their journey isn't over. They stay. They may not play as much, but they don't cancel their account and try their luck with the next big shiny.

Of course, some players will leave. They'll reach the end of the game without having reached the end of their hero's journey - a timing issue. On the whole, though, the fact that you've told them they've won is enough to carry them through into the long-term. By setting them free, you've made staying with the virtual world be their choice; if they decide to stay, then you have them indefinitely.

I can say this with some confidence because I've seen it happen with the early textual worlds.

>"Thanks for coming, hope you had a great time! Please never come back!"

No, no, it's "That's it, grind over, world here, have fun!".

>MMOs exist because they are terrifically profitable.

No, they exist because they're fun.

>They're profitable because they keep people coming back. Telling someone, "you've won, go away!" isn't a great basis on which to build a profitable venture.

You're not saying, "you've won, go away", you're saying "you've won, stay".

>Can we think no more broadly in MMO terms than the hero's journey?

You don't get a choice. The player's personal reason for playing is the hero's journey. It's nothing to do with characters or narrative or gameplay. When a typical player embarks on a virtual world, they are entering the "world of adventure" of the hero's joruney. This is whether you like or loathe the hero's journey as a concept.

>I'm tired of seeing endless derivations of the kind of game Mike Rozak so lovingly skewers above.

Me too. Yet you could change every single one of those aspects and you'd still have a hero's journey. It's a pattern that any virtual world with gameplay will follow. The only decisions you get to make is whether you want a fragment of a journey (because you made it last too short or too long) or a whole journey.

>Ten years ago, MMOs didn't exist as an industry.

The graphical ones didn't. We did have textual ones.

>Ten years from now, will MMOs be even more relevant culturally than they are now

If we have "MMOs". Someone may have come up with the next generation and you might suddenly find that the new designers are dismissing what we currently have in terms of being some old, defunct relic with no relevance to what's going on (in much the same way as the lessons learned from textual worlds are often ignored because, hey, what possible relevance could they have in virtual worlds that are less complicated but have more players?).

>To a large degree, the choices developers make in the next 1-3 years will determine the outcome.

Even if we screw up, there's still an opening. Once the tools are there for people to make their own virtual worlds, we'll see the same flowering of creativity in them that we saw when the WWW released us from the confines of "online systems" such as CompuServe.

I share your cynicism over the lack of vision in virtual world design, and dearly want to see something new. Whatever new we get, though, so long as it has game elements, will still map onto the hero's journey.

Richard

54.

WoW has the easiest leveling curve of any MMO yet. Anyone who is not level 60 has no right to critisice the game, you haven't experienced it.

55.

Jerry Sands said:

>>I was thinking, even Odysseus came home after
>>10 years, had a badass fight, and the story
>> ended.

Erm, actually, Odysseus, no doubt to his long-suffering wife's eternal delight, is hardly home at all by the time he decides to set off again, clearly having bought some expansion pack that opened up Thrace for L70+ adventuring or something similar.

Plus, the Odyssey is a crap example, since the PvP is hugely imbalanced towards spears: the suitors are killed - turned into a suitor kebab - in one almighty throw. Within two weeks, everyone would have been running around with spears and medium armour. Just like in the Iliad where clubs are gimped and chariots are short-lived FOTM pwnage.

56.

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57.

Redwolf made a fool of himself:

>> WoW has the easiest leveling curve of any MMO
>> yet. Anyone who is not level 60 has no right
>> to critisice the game, you haven't experienced
>> it.

Next week, Redwolf explains why all criminologists should STFU until they have actually murdered someone, and why critiques of early modern economic systems are bang out of order if you don't have a time machine.

58.

Richard said:When people first put the hero's journey into virtual worlds, it was as a narrative plan. Your character went through all the stages of the hero's journey. This was in no way satisfactory and rightly died the death.

That seems to be a strangely skewed view. When was there a narrative plan in virtual worlds and when did your character go through all the stages of the hero's journey? I can't think of a MUD or MMO where this applies. Perhaps in some of the very earliest MUDs? I don't know, but I've never seen it. You could possibly say that some of the early single-player RPGs had some of the trappings of the hero's journey (they sure used the word "hero" a lot, and often had princesses to save), but that's a long way from saying they led you through all the stages of the hero's journey.

However, what wasn't recognised was that the hero's journey was always part of virtual worlds. It's not your character that goes on the journey, it's you. There's no way of getting out of this except by removing the game element from virtual worlds. ....

You don't get a choice. The player's personal reason for playing is the hero's journey. It's nothing to do with characters or narrative or gameplay. When a typical player embarks on a virtual world, they are entering the "world of adventure" of the hero's joruney. This is whether you like or loathe the hero's journey as a concept. ...

Whatever new we get, so long as it has game elements, will still map onto the hero's journey.

That's nonsense. You've drawn a circle in chalk around you and declared that nothing else exists.

I can't think of any examples of the player going on anything remotely resembling a hero's journey as part of playing in a virtual world. The first parts, perhaps, in typical games where the player moves unevenly from neophyte to adept, but even this is a vague hand-wave in the direction of becoming a hero. After that in most MMOs there's the broad featureless plain of the endless grind, perhaps with the possibility (in old-style MUDs, and if you played your cards right with the in-clique) of becoming an imp/wiz... but that's nothing resembling the hero's journey.

You have axiomatically tied this one narrative form to all virtual world gameplay. This is like saying all movies must be musical comedies, and there's no way around this unless you remove the illusion of people moving on the screen. It's an incredibly narrow and confining view, and in the case of online games one not supported by history, psychology, or the necessities of game design.

In terms of game history, we have been telling MMO players that their characters would become heroes, but that was a marketing myth. It never happened. The world doesn't change, and your character doesn't change beyond getting more phat lewt and pre-determined abilities. There is no self-discovery for the character or the player beyond what could have been learned by reading the game manual. Your character gains "stuff" -- abilities and possessions -- but in fact these bear none of the hallmarks of the hero's journey. Heroism doesn't come on a treadmill, and a treadmill is the only mechanism virtually all past and current MMOs have had to offer. Telling players that they would experience even moments of (much less the journey of) heroism in an online game has an even more tenuous relationship to reality. Still, many developers, marketers, gamers, and some academics have apparently bought into the faux-myth that the hero's journey is not merely descriptive of one possible ideal, but actually operative as a primary aspect of online games.

In terms of psychology, the motivation you ascribe to all players, that of wanting to engage in the hero's journey, is just one possible -- one out of a possible palette of thousands. Not everyone is motivated to be a classical hero; in fact I'd say that this is a predominantly male view, particularly an adolescent one in our culture. If you refer to Caillois there are at least four kinds of games most of which have nothing to do with heroism -- his agon, or competition, probably does, or could, but what about games of chance, or simulation, or sensation? Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek, as I'm fond of citing, define eight kinds of fun (and there are probably more). These map to but extend beyond Caillois' work, and certainly are a superset of the hero's journey. "Fellowship" for example may be a component in some forms of the hero's (more typically almost solitary) journey, but it need not be subservient to any other motivation. Many males may seek fellowship within the context of competition, but others including many women may seek fellowship for itself, (including fellowship-as-gameplay, not just as incidental to it). Such motivations and interactivity to support them may be entirely divorced from any version of the hero's journey.

Finally, in terms of game design I see no compelling reason to limit the universe of online or virtual world gameplay to derivations of the hero's journey. Is Kart Rider based on this? The Sims Online? How about Shot Online? Spore? When you say "hero's journey" do you really just mean "achievement and fiero" or some similarly dilute version of heroism? Even this hardly circumscribes the universe of possible online gameplay. Saying otherwise, stating that this is the way things are you just don't get a choice, only limits your horizons and what you consider possible. It doesn't change the much larger reality beyond this one venerable but now tired mythological and narrative structure.

59.

Hmm, the above is from me, as you probably figured out.

60.

The MMORPGs I've played (WoW, EVE, D&D online and Guild Wars) discourage players from playing anything except fantasy Counter Strike. The games actively oppose someone trying to suspend disbelief and enter the world as a character.

The first time I stepped into WoW (my first MMORPG) I was completely and utterly enchanted. I spent hours just marveling at the world before I figured out that the point of the game was to level. Nothing I did affected anything -- it was like my character didn't even exist. Everybody does the same heroic things with no impact on the world. It completely ruins the RPG and immersive aspects of the game.

If the level 37 Warlock wasn't totally incomprehensible to a novice, there would be no pleasure at all in playing these games. Do you expect a person to pick up a tennis racket and start playing? It is absolutely not a UI problem. Anybody can hold a tennis racket. Anybody can push a mouse button. The only appeal is that I can (after a lot of practice) swing the tennis racket better than you. I can push the mouse button better than you.

It's the metagame, stupid. ;)

I wish it weren't this way. I wish the virtual world could immerse me in its physics and respond to my actions. That would be a totally different kind of entertainment. Everybody's first couple hours in a virtual world are golden: nobody does anything but gawk and run from monsters. Perfect immersion.

Until the technology catches up to our imaginations, maybe designers should build worlds where players are ethereal voyeurs. At least it would explain why the shopkeeper ignores me dancing on his table. It also fits nicely with the idea that the Internet is for porn.

61.

I am truly enjoying this string (thanks T). I just wanted to throw in a couple of points that struck me after reading these delightful comments. The questions recur in two areas: first; what can be done to improve upon/build on WoW into the next gen. of gaming systems? And, second, what is the problem with the mythic hero design (at least at the surface) driving WoW into a less than heroic death? Although seemingly tangential, the two queries that have been so well addressed here could come together to enlighten each.

One contributor (Jerry sands) really enjoyed an early concept for gaming in which the player played family members and heroes, experienced aging and death. Another wrote that the notion that we failed to have an effect (to leave a trace as Riccoeur would suggest) was an eventual downer in the game. Clearly then persistence in the next-great gaming environment needs to be coupled with decay (as well as just growth), both r/l concerns missing from the wow format. Not to mention a mechanism that springs from both: a sense of creating history and being an embedded participant.

Then, turning to the hero quest ideal that was viewed by one contributor as essential in all game environs, and by another as: merely one of ‘thousands,’ might I suggest a compromise? The hero’s journey is not merely a trope from which to insist gaming is always concerned, but also a perspective through which we can view all games. It may be the dominant trope for young males precisely as it has male romanticism in its very construction (this really reminds me of the season tropes of Frye). I would disagree with the notion that there are thousands of possibilities, but gaming does deserve options to shift into other modes. Such as:

Realistic-mode (strategic, materialist and Civ-like) and ,
Romantic (heroic and first person oriented)
Ironic(social, cultural, tribal and Simm like but also relaint on group dynamics) and
Mystical (deeper meaning quests, mysticism wrapped into and underlying reality “Myst” CoC). Oh yes and don’t forget the all important
Porn-mode.

62.

>> first; what can be done to improve upon/build on WoW into the next gen. of gaming systems? <<

Anyone who thinks they can imrpove on the gameplay in WoW is welcome to try. I doubt that even $100,000,000 and 6 years of development with the smartest people around would make for a more fun game than WoW.

Face it: you've been pwn'd. you can't do it better than Blizzard, so stop trying. Find a new kind of game to make, because you'll never be king of that hill.

63.

Mike Sellers>I can't think of a MUD or MMO where this applies.

I believe that in Shadowbane, quests were consciously created that followed the hero's journey at the character level.

Then there's this, of course.

>That's nonsense. You've drawn a circle in chalk around you and declared that nothing else exists.

No, other things do exist. There's not a great chance of a hero's journey in a social world such as SL, or in educational worlds, or indeed in ultra-strong RP virtual worlds such as some MUSHes. I'm saying that for game-like virtual worlds, you get a hero's journey. I'm also saying that you get it whether you like it or not. You don't like it: well tough. The only ways to avoid it are to stop the virtual world being apart from the real world, or to extend or shorten the player experience such that the journey never completes.

>I can't think of any examples of the player going on anything remotely resembling a hero's journey as part of playing in a virtual world.

And yet I can't think of any example where it doesn't happen.

>The first parts, perhaps, in typical games where the player moves unevenly from neophyte to adept, but even this is a vague hand-wave in the direction of becoming a hero.

The player doesn't think about becoming a hero at all. The player just wants to have fun. Very few players are likely to give any deep thought as to why they find what they do fun.

What happens, though, is the player follows the path that heroes in the hero's journey follow. The important steps are, in non-myth language: player finds their feet; player learns about the game; player grinds to top level; player "wins". Put this way, it seems blindingly obvious that there's very little other way it could happen unless the game is too short (you win before you've learned how the world works) or too long (you lose patience during the grind). If we go into the details of the actual hero's journey, there are explanations as to why this happens, too, but for the moment let's just stick with "that seems obvious, what's all the fuss about".

Of course, if you're willing to argue that players don't follow this process at all, OK, let's hear your alternative view of how they get along.

>After that in most MMOs there's the broad featureless plain of the endless grind

Yes, this is the "achievement" phase that leads to the crucial point where you come to realise you're being made to jump through hoops to prove yourself, but that you've no need to prove yourself any more - the "atonement" step I keep harping on about.

>perhaps with the possibility (in old-style MUDs, and if you played your cards right with the in-clique) of becoming an imp/wiz... but that's nothing resembling the hero's journey.

On the contrary, that's the critical point. Everything you've been doing before leads up to this, and everything you do afterwards leads away. In the olde worlde MUDs of yore, your achievement was formally recognised: you were told you'd "won", and that you no longer had to prove yourself; you got that atonement you needed. Now, though, the fear that players would immediately leave has battered the atonement step, and this is what I'm griping about. Now, if you want to feel like the pressure is off and you can play to have fun again, well, you have to do it yourself. That's much harder than having it recognised by the game as it was in the early days.

>You have axiomatically tied this one narrative form to all virtual world gameplay. This is like saying all movies must be musical comedies, and there's no way around this unless you remove the illusion of people moving on the screen.

No, no, you're misrepresenting me.

I haven't tied this "axiomatically" - it's a result of years of observing players, and it emerges from my earlier studies on player types. I didn't suddenly one day think "hey, the hero's journey, I'll apply it to all virtual worlds!". No, I created my player types theory, I then extended it to model how players change types as they play, then I realised it had a point in it that was similar to an element in the hero's journey (atonement), so I looked at the journey in full and found it mapped pretty well one to one onto my player types progression theory.

Now you can trash my theory if you like (although I'd prefer it if you came up with a better one as a result), but you can't say I made the hero's journey assertion axiomatically because I didn't. It has theoretical underpinnings for which there is some evidence actually does happen in game-like virtual worlds.

As for the musical comedies remark, I've no idea where you got that from. A better analogy would be to say it's as if I'm claiming all plot-driven movies have a beginning, a middle and an end, split into 6 phases - as in Syd Field's theory. That applies to musical comedies as much as it does to film noir, children's stories, thrillers, horror stories - pretty well everything that's plot-driven, in fact. If you come up with a movie that doesn't follow that paradigm, it's because you're deliberately subverting it.

Now if you really wanted, you could create a virtual world that flipped around the order of the hero's journey. You can throw the grind at people first, or make them run across the world looking at things but not doing anything, or have them stand around chatting to strangers, or heading up guilds - you can do any of those things first. You're not going to, though, because that would be suicidal. It might appeal to oldbies who have been through the mill and are able to understand that you're articulating some point about the way people play virtual worlds, but if you want newbies, forget it. Newbies need to find their feet, not be thrown in at the deep end. Thus, you lead them into the gameplay gently, enabling them to find the limits of their social and physical abilities. It's just common sense. It's also the first step of the hero's journey following the protaganist's rebirth into the world of adventure.

>It's an incredibly narrow and confining view, and in the case of online games one not supported by history, psychology, or the necessities of game design.

It's an incredibly broad and enfranchsing view which in the case of online games is supported by history, psychology and the necessities of game design.

>In terms of game history, we have been telling MMO players that their characters would become heroes, but that was a marketing myth.

I agree. We were selling them meaningless labels.

>It never happened. The world doesn't change, and your character doesn't change beyond getting more phat lewt and pre-determined abilities.

The hero's journey is about the player changing; changes in the character are merely tokens to give the player feedback.

>There is no self-discovery for the character or the player beyond what could have been learned by reading the game manual.

None for the character, a great deal for the player. I don't suppose that many players would relish the idea that they're undergoing some kind of personal transformation through playing the game, but why wouldn't they? People can read books that change their lives, and that's merely a passive thing.

>Heroism doesn't come on a treadmill, and a treadmill is the only mechanism virtually all past and current MMOs have had to offer.

Heroism comes from completing the hero's journey. I agree that an extended treadmill is not a great way to make a hero, and would argue that they should be shorter than in many current games. Achievement is, though, an important part of the hero's journey. It doesn't seem heroic because it isn't heroic; finishing the journey is heroic.

>Telling players that they would experience even moments of (much less the journey of) heroism in an online game has an even more tenuous relationship to reality.

That's correct, but that's not what I'm saying. The "hero" of a hero's journey is someone who completes it. When we talk colloquially about people being "heroes" or acting "heroically" or showing "heroism", we're actually comparing them to heroes, not elevating them to heroic status.

Virtual worlds don't rule out heroism, but they don't feature heroic acts as part of their gameplay. Telling people they do is, as you say, basically a lie.

>Still, many developers, marketers, gamers, and some academics have apparently bought into the faux-myth that the hero's journey is not merely descriptive of one possible ideal, but actually operative as a primary aspect of online games.

And many developers seem to take that as a reason not to accept that there may be a grain of truth in it.

>Not everyone is motivated to be a classical hero;

Correct in the sense that they have a view what such a hero is and they don't want to be one. Completely way off in the sense that what they're doing is following a hero's journey and will thus become a hero anyway.

I think a lot of the difficulty we're having here is that word "hero". If Campbell had called his theory "the protagonist's journey", would that make it more acceptable to you?

>in fact I'd say that this is a predominantly male view

Agreed. Campbell himself, when asked why it was heroes and not heroines, said that women didn't need to go an a hero's journey because they're already there. There is a "heroine's journey", but it's a dark, miserable, soul-searching trip to hell and back that is not agreeable in the slightest.

>If you refer to Caillois there are at least four kinds of games most of which have nothing to do with heroism

I'm not talking about games, I'm talking about virtual worlds with a game component to them. I don't care what that component is. Puzzle Pirates can deliver just as WoW can.

>Finally, in terms of game design I see no compelling reason to limit the universe of online or virtual world gameplay to derivations of the hero's journey.

Well the main difference is that for games that aren't virtual worlds, the hero's journey can form the basis of a narrative, but the player doesn't get to undergo their own personal journey. They just get to follow the character's.

>Is Kart Rider based on this? The Sims Online? How about Shot Online? Spore?

Nah, none of those.

>When you say "hero's journey" do you really just mean "achievement and fiero" or some similarly dilute version of heroism?

No, I mean following the steps of Campbell's monomyth, which, in completion, can be retold such that those who understand the context can regard you as a hero. This may be watered down in comparison with the views that people have of what a "hero" should be, but as I said, that's just an ideal held up to allow non-heroes to gain some insight into what a hero might be.

>Even this hardly circumscribes the universe of possible online gameplay. Saying otherwise, stating that this is the way things are you just don't get a choice, only limits your horizons and what you consider possible.

I'm only interested in explaining game-like virtual worlds. Non-game ones, such as SL, TSO and Habbo Hotel, have their own rationale and their own explanation. They may be played as much as or more than some game-like worlds, but they're not as compelling. The game aspect adds something. This is what I'm interested in, because I want better games. This is why I want to know why people play these. I'm not suggesting for a moment that there aren't other ways to create virtual worlds, but I am saying that if you have the game element then you're always going to get the makings of a hero's journey. What's more, if you take that away, you'll end up with a less compelling world.

>It doesn't change the much larger reality beyond this one venerable but now tired mythological and narrative structure.

It may be venerable, but tired? So humans used to develop psychologically in this same way for tens of thousands of years, but since Campbell published in the 1940s they now they develop differently?

Richard

64.

Richard said: I'm saying that for game-like virtual worlds, you get a hero's journey. I'm also saying that you get it whether you like it or not. You don't like it: well tough. The only ways to avoid it are to stop the virtual world being apart from the real world, or to extend or shorten the player experience such that the journey never completes.

Well Richard, that's your view. It is axiomatic for you in that you see no other possible outcome and no need for basis other than your say-so; this is, in your view, just the way things are. You say you base this on years of observation, but that doesn't change the assertive (rather than hypothetical, theoretical, or tested) nature of your idea.

You haven't really answered contradictory points from history, psychology, or game design, nor about your rather elastic view of the hero's journey itself -- are you talking about "all the stages of the hero's journey" as you said a couple of times (referring, for example, to the entirety of "Campbell's monomyth"), or merely facile and vague references to it in games that amount to nothing more than achievement-based gameplay? You say that it is the players who go on this journey, who are transformed, but then provide no examples of that and only weak examples of games that made some nod toward heroic/protagonist gameplay (Shadowbane, your example, hardly comes close to embodying Campbell's monomyth in its design or engendering this transformation in the player -- do you have any stronger examples?).

Nor have you provided any justification for your exclusion of virtual game worlds such as TSO, Kart Rider, Shot Online, or Spore. In your view all virtual game worlds include or require a hero's journey; we have no choice -- except it doesn't apply to these for some reason? Are you left with asserting the tautology that all game worlds that try to rely on the hero's journey must include the hero's journey, and then limiting your view to that subset of all virtual game-worlds?

Yours is a decidedly western male achievement-centric view (moreso even than Campbell's, I think), shunting aside anything else as not merely lesser, but impossible or not worth considering as a virtual game world. I believe that such goal/achievement-oriented gameplay will continue to be a key component in virtual world games (it is an easy path to fast enjoyment for many developers and players), but asserting that this -- much less a full-blown hero's journey template -- is necessary for all virtual game worlds is ludicrous. You mentioned Field's rather restrictive three-act structure for movies. This too is an axiomatic view that is useful as an early guideline, but as a prescriptive form it doesn't hold up. For example according to McKee, Raiders of the Lost Ark has seven acts, I believe, Casablanca even more, and of course there are anti-plot movies which, according to those holding slavishly to Field's view, cannot exis or do not qualify as moviest, just as you would say a virtual game world not based on the hero's journey was impossible - or was somehow not a virtual game world after all.

65.

Hmm, let me try to mediate.

The Hero's Journey is a western perspective or framework in analyzing the type of progression or development we human go through. Being a defined, yet flexible framework, once you accept the use of the framework you can apply the framework to pretty much anything the framework is meant for: the journey. In the case of Hero's Journey, it's the journey that is modeled. Being a Hero is irrelevant. It just that the journey (progresion/development) is getting modeled by a Hero framework.

This framework can be applied to all people because we all sorta go through "the journey" as par for the course. This framework can be applied to all RPG-type characters as the characters go through "the journey" too. In both instances we find that if we stay in certain stages too long we feel the sense of grind setting in or the sense of ennui.

From other angles we could apply the perspective and framework of the Seven Stages to Enlighnment, The Tourist's Journey (I made this one up), or just go with the everall encompassing framework: The Human Journey :)

So sure, The Hero's Journey is not the only framework around. But it is also true that current RPG-type games sure do model after the Hero's Journey. My simple test is that if the game have characters that can level and acheive said level via combat-base achievements, then The Hero's Journey is an apt framework to use.

Now in application of the framework, most games fall short as they don't take advantage of the full power of the model as asserted by the model.

So, as a proscriptive framework the takeaway is that if you going to look like a Hero's Journey, better use all the steps, with the last step being the most rewarding.

My take at least,

Frank

66.

Mike Sellers>Well Richard, that's your view. It is axiomatic for you

No, it's not axiomatic! Jeez, I just spent half an hour explaining why it's not merely an assertion on my part. It does have a working theory behind it, and it does match what we observe going on in players.

I'm quite prepared to ditch the theory in a moment if some better one comes along, or if someone can disprove it without offering an alternative. I want better virtual worlds, and we're not going to get that if we follow a dud theory. However, I'm not going to ditch it just because I'm explaining it insufficiently well for you to understand what I'm saying.

>You say you base this on years of observation, but that doesn't change the assertive (rather than hypothetical, theoretical, or tested) nature of your idea.

I hate to put a dampener on this, but my theory does have a grounding in reality, which has been borne out in tests (Nick Yee and I disagree on the extent to which his data supports my theory, but even the world's greatest cynic would have to concede that it points in the right direction). What's more, it's been tried out in practice many times in game design, and found to be useful.

Still, let's forget all that and suppose, as you say, that my theory is merely some assertion with no basis in reality. Your claim that my theory is wrong is also such an assertion. You say there's no evidence to support my theory, but you offer no evidence to deny it, either. If having no evidence is a fault, it's one you share just as much as me. I don't have to accept your assertion any more than you have to accept mine.

>You haven't really answered contradictory points from history, psychology, or game design

It's a work in progress, yes, but still, I thought I'd answered the points you raised. Which specific contradictions do you think I haven't addressed?

>nor about your rather elastic view of the hero's journey itself -- are you talking about "all the stages of the hero's journey" as you said a couple of times (referring, for example, to the entirety of "Campbell's monomyth"), or merely facile and vague references to it in games that amount to nothing more than achievement-based gameplay?

It's not that I have an "elastic view" of it. I have a very robust view of it. I am most certainly not referring to the "facile and vague references" in games, which attempt to use the monomyth as some kind of narrative framework - as I said, I agree with you on that. What I'm referring to are the steps that a player (not a character!) goes through in progressing through a virtual world. These are not a formal narrative imposed by designers, and they're not a path that the players see in advance. They're a course of action that human beings follow naturally in terms of growing self-understanding, but that in their normal existence are so strewn with obstacles that progress is very difficult. The monomyth evolved over millennia to offer direction signs using analogies (ie. individual stories), but merely hearing an analogy isn't the same as experiencing the events which the analogy reflects. You can listen to the dream, but you can't live it. Except, well, now - through virtual worlds - you can.

>You say that it is the players who go on this journey, who are transformed, but then provide no examples of that

You want me to describe real-life individuals who have been transformed through playing virtual worlds? Actual case studies? Well I can do that, but before I spend another hour writing up their stories I want to make sure you're not going to demand I add another 100,000 examples, or dismiss them because they're special cases or whatever.

>and only weak examples of games that made some nod toward heroic/protagonist gameplay (Shadowbane, your example, hardly comes close to embodying Campbell's monomyth in its design or engendering this transformation in the player -- do you have any stronger examples?).

No no, I mentioned Shadowbane because you said: "When was there a narrative plan in virtual worlds and when did your character go through all the stages of the hero's journey? I can't think of a MUD or MMO where this applies.". I pointed to Shadowbane as an example of that. I did not point to it as an example of transformation of the player; indeed, I was suggesting that this kind of transformation-of-the-character gameplay doesn't effect a transformation of the player. The transformation of the player emerges from the qualities shared by game-like virtual worlds.

>Nor have you provided any justification for your exclusion of virtual game worlds such as TSO, Kart Rider, Shot Online, or Spore.

You didn't ask me to provide justification. You want me to? OK:

TSO: has a world but no game.
Kart Rider: has a game but no world.
Shot Online: little character development.
Spore: world isn't shared.

I haven't really had enough of a look at Shot Online, so I could be wrong on that one. TSO is a virtual world, but its game-like element isn't enough to carry it through to a hero's journey. Kart Rider and Spore, well, fine games, just not what I'd call virtual worlds; I'd make no claims that their players were going on any kind of a hero's journey.

>In your view all virtual game worlds include or require a hero's journey; we have no choice -- except it doesn't apply to these for some reason?

A hero's journey is a defining feature of game-like virtual worlds. It doesn't apply to those games, because they're not virtual worlds. That's not to say they couldn't have hero's journeys, it's just to say my theory doesn't apply to them.

>Are you left with asserting the tautology that all game worlds that try to rely on the hero's journey must include the hero's journey, and then limiting your view to that subset of all virtual game-worlds?

I'm not saying that they try to rely on the hero's journey. I'm saying that virtual worlds with a game-like advancement component deliver a hero's journey automatically.

Now you could argue that I'm being overly selective here, and that if you bring up counter-examples then all I'll do is say, "my theory doesn't apply those" and retreat into a smaller circle. I have a fairly strong idea of what I mean by virtual worlds, though, which I explained at length in my book. Most players, too, instinctively know that WoW and EQ and UO and DAOC and AO and GW and Lineage are similar in ways that make trying to include Spore in that group seem ridiculous. SL and TSO are cut from the same cloth, but they don't have the game element to them. Kart Rider has comparable numbers of players, it has customisation and persistence, but there's not a lot of intersection otherwise. You wouldn't say that WoW and KR were the "same thing" in the same way you'd say WoW and EQ were.

>Yours is a decidedly western male achievement-centric view (moreso even than Campbell's, I think)

You're confusing the message with the messenger. If I'm examining western games played mainly by males, then yes, many of my examples will reflect that. I've said in the past (at conferences you were present at) that in the Far East it seems there's another way of doing it, whereby the players form tight-knit groups and it's the groups that follow the hero's journey path, not the individual members of the group; this is one reason I'm keen to see Aaron Delwiche's data when he's finished collecting it, to find out whether that is indeed the case or not. I'm not as precious about my theory as you are about trashing it.

As for being male-oriented, there are many factors that dissuade women from playing virtual worlds. My wife won't play because they take up too much unbroken time, for example: she'd play if she got a 5-minute break every 30 minutes. Other women don't play because they don't like the violence, the avatars, the premiss, the male players, ... Now, if we were to address all these problems over the coming years and produce a game-like virtual world that was female-friendly in all these respects, the question would remain: is an achievement-oriented gameplay too masculine for women to find attractive?

The answer, well, we don't yet know. There are textual virtual worlds with very high female participation - rumours of 90% for some of them. The gameplay is the same, as far as I can gather, although whether the players tackle it competitively or co-operatively I don't know.

As for the theory, well I mentioned before that the hero's journey is itself fairly male-oriented, which Campbell himself noted (again, he was reporting only what he observed - he recorded myths, he didn't write them). That said, there is a heroine's journey, and that, too, includes an achievement component (which is rejected afterwards, thereby making it a critical part of the journey, just as it is in the hero's journey).

I'd guess, then, that if virtual worlds were made more female-friendly at the surface level, and if fewer male players were obnoxious, then game-like worlds would indeed capture more female players without losing their male players.

Of course, if I really were "western male achievement-centric" I wouldn't be telling you all this, because I wouldn't want women sullying a male preserve...

>shunting aside anything else as not merely lesser, but impossible or not worth considering as a virtual game world.

You really do have a whacked-out idea of what I'm doing, here...

I'm interested in virtual worlds. This includes ones that aren't game-like, such as SL, and bordeline ones such as ATITD. I want better virtual worlds than those we have at present. I have a theory for describing what makes a virtual world attractive, engrossing and compelling, although it only applies to certain types of virtual world. Nevertheless, those worlds it does apply to are fairly easily delineated from those it doesn't. If you want to write the next WoW, my theory applies; if you want to write the next SL, Spore or KR, it doesn't. This doesn't make those games lesser, it just means my theory doesn't apply to them.

Now if you want to read that as arrogance on my part, go right ahead, I don't really care because it's not me that's important here, it's the virtual worlds. I believe they're a force for good, offering the mass of humanity something they genuinely haven't had for all of their existence up until now, and that's why I want to make sure they're not stunted while on the cusp of their success by short-sighted commercial interests and blinkered wannabe designers who haven't the wit to see what they have in front of them here.

I'd love to see a theory that covered all the games you mentioned - that would be great! I don't shunt them aside, though; my theory is too weak to apply to them. I'd like it to apply, but it doesn't. Neither do I believe they're inferior; they don't deliver the same thing that virtual worlds deliver, but they deliver other things instead that are important for other reasons. I study virtual worlds, but I play other games for fun. If I felt they were inferior, why would I do that?

>I believe that such goal/achievement-oriented gameplay will continue to be a key component in virtual world games (it is an easy path to fast enjoyment for many developers and players), but asserting that this -- much less a full-blown hero's journey template -- is necessary for all virtual game worlds is ludicrous.

It is indeed ludicrous. Just as well that's not what I'm asserting...

>You mentioned Field's rather restrictive three-act structure for movies. This too is an axiomatic view that is useful as an early guideline

Maybe you and I use the word "axiomatic" differently, but Field got his 3-act structure from reading 2,000 screenplays and seeing what separated the ones that got made from the ones that didn't. It's grounded in practice, not an assertion plucked from the air. You can't call that "axiomatic".

>but as a prescriptive form it doesn't hold up.

No, it does hold up. Most movies today follow the Field paradigm. They don't HAVE to, but most do. They do so because it works.

>For example according to McKee, Raiders of the Lost Ark has seven acts, I believe, Casablanca even more, and of course there are anti-plot movies which, according to those holding slavishly to Field's view, cannot exis or do not qualify as moviest

Field doesn't say that. Field is much more sensible about the applicability of his paradigm. You can't blame him for what his followers say.

>just as you would say a virtual game world not based on the hero's journey was impossible - or was somehow not a virtual game world after all.

Likewise, I too have reservations about the applicability of my paradigm. The difference here is that I don't have any followers, so you're accusing me personally of holding the views that someone who didn't fully understand them might have. I really have no answer to that!

Richard

67.

Frank>The Hero's Journey is a western perspective or framework in analyzing the type of progression or development we human go through.

What makes it a western perspective? Perhaps the single most-referenced myth in the whole of Campbell's book concerns the beginnings of Buddhism, and is about as highly-refined an exemplar of the hero's journey as you'll find anywhere. Other myths cited come from the native peoples of every continent. I agree that Campbell's attempts to explain his monomyth by appealing to the Freudian visions of psychology is a western trait, but the framework itself is pretty well universal.

>In the case of Hero's Journey, it's the journey that is modeled. Being a Hero is irrelevant. It just that the journey (progresion/development) is getting modeled by a Hero framework.

Yes, this is about the size of it. You've managed to condense into one paragraph what I failed to convey in half a dozen!

>This framework can be applied to all people because we all sorta go through "the journey" as par for the course. This framework can be applied to all RPG-type characters as the characters go through "the journey" too.

It doesn't apply to all RPG characters, although it often does (usually when used as a template for a narrative in a single-player RPG). What I argue is that it does, however, apply to the player of an RPG-style virtual world.

>Now in application of the framework, most games fall short as they don't take advantage of the full power of the model as asserted by the model.

This is the point I was trying to make. If we accept that players of RPG-style virtual worlds are going through a hero's journey, we can see where their progress fails, go back to the model, and make predictions about why the failure occurred and how we might improve matters. One place they fail is in the ennui that Mike identifies. If we compare the stage the players are at when they feel this with the stage they're at in the hero's journey paradigm, it's easy to see what the problem is: they need the finish the atonement step. Thus, giving the players atonement (saying "you've won") should allow them to continue. Denying them it causes them to leave.

Of course, if you don't accept that there's a hero's journey going on, all this looks like a potentially huge waste of resources. Indeed, even if you do accept it, you may decide (hard-nosed business fashion) that players will still stay longer if you block their atonement step than if you let them through.

Richard

68.

Funny, your hero's journey doesn't fit EVE...so 'splain the leaps and bounds of its numbers IN OPPOSITION to every other MMO out there.

The highest retention rate of any MMO and a graph that is climbing gently over time doesn't look like the rest.

The sandbox with the tools and "do as you will" written on it.
--been here for three years. Its a world, not a sharded, guide you by the hand, "here's what you must do", cookie cutter 'game'.

The constant emphasis on WOW strikes me odd from a site like this where the social 'study' of players in an online environment is limited at best and 'gamey' at worst.

Now the study of 29,000 players in the same 'universe' interacting fighting, playing and working together over time in a hostile environment where just about anything can and does go...now THAT sounds like something to study.
my 2 cents.

69.

Sevarus: I've played both EVE and WoW, so I can see the hero's journy in both of them (remember Richard is talking about the player's journy, not the toon's).

My WoW journy was complete when I finished my first major instance (Deadmines). By the end, I understood the game world, the players and my purpose. The elixir was mine. If WoW has a problem, I think it's not the end game, but the 40 pointless levels between the completion of the player's journy and the end game.

My EVE journy is not finished yet, but I'm clearly on one. EVE might be the opposite of WoW. The early part of the game is too easy, too short and without enough achievement feedback. On the other hand, I feel like I'm playing the end game now, so I'm pretty sure when my journy finishes, I will stick around instead of starting another character or switching games.

70.

Sevarus>Funny, your hero's journey doesn't fit EVE...

Uh? EVE is one of the virtual worlds it fits best!

Richard

71.

I can describe my journey from my desk to the cooler to get water and back again in terms of a variety of steps of the Hero's Journey. I can describe the game of rugby I played on Saturday similarly. I can describe the purchase and consumption of some chewing gum from the old shopkeeper next door to my office likewise.

As such, I don't really find something so general to be very useful. It gets horribly over-cited without usually adding anything really valuable. It often seems liek a game: Hero's Journey Bingo.

72.

Frank>The Hero's Journey is a western perspective or framework in analyzing the type of progression or development we human go through.

Richard>What makes it a western perspective?

Essentially what you explained in terms of basis and appeal. In addition, I would point that a spiritualist would come up with slightly different steps and perspective.

And you know how people take the titles of the framework and steps at face value. Buddhism and Hinduism have their formalized steps and they are easily applicable, but using those framework on MMO RPGs would get a lot of resistance unless it's about grinding to Nirvana. Well, as MMO RPGs are geared toward the Hero aspect, we'll stick with that perspective :)

Sevarus, Richard thinks that EVE is the best example probably because EVE provides a very large probability space (e.g. options) for players to find their own path and way through the process/journey. EVE also provides a very large probability space for the final step in the process.

Players going through their lifecycle through the game may one day feel that one day they DID breakthrough that day-in-day-out grind and can truly feel that they have "proved" to themselves and others, truly feel that they have won. Then they get off the dad-to-day grind and just enjoy the world of EVE (cue in the riding of into the sunset scene).

Pragmatically speaking, designing the final step extend the player-lifecycle not by extending the maturity/end-game stage, but by providing a new extension stage that essentially transends the lifecycle.

Using Tolken's world of Middle Earth (ME) as an example, ME was once flat, then the world became round with the Undying Land (UL) tangential to and removed from ME. When the Elves become wary of ME, they head off to UL not returning except for those called or willed to do so.

Well, players quit to RL when they get bored or whatever, coming back for some new content or development.

Ideally you want to design a game world where players continue to maintain the transport lane (subscription) between the two "worlds" and pay the fare (regular fee) to keep connection with the game world.

Using sports as another analogy, imagine you totally owned high school football and had all those easy-good-feelings about that prime of your life. Having "won" the game of high school footbal and gone to other and better things, you come back regularly and frequently to participate in that world as a TRANSFORMED person. You're not there to win it again anymore; you're above it all but still in the thick of it.

Endie, the Hero's Journey framework is overcited, but it is also ill-cited and ill-used. The prescriptive power is therefore diluted.

Nevertheless, proper understanding and application of the framework would provide competitive advantage and I think the Hero's Journey platform being developed by Simultronics and used by Bioware will be the first to take advantage of the framework.

Frank

73.

The author has a 22 hunter and 37 lock and presumes to speak about the game and how tedious it has become for him.

If you are earning your living by writing about computer games, I suggest you stfu till you know what you are talking about.

74.

Good research there, Faldroth. How hard is it to figure out that the author doesn't make a living writing about computer games, but rather makes computer games for a living?

Considering it took me all of 30 seconds to figure that out, not hard at all.

So stfu until you know what you're talking about, Faldroth.

75.

Faldroth>If you are earning your living by writing about computer games, I suggest you stfu till you know what you are talking about.

You see, it's comments like that which prompted me to do this, this and this.

I didn't learn anything about the design of WoW that I didn't know by level 6, and I expect the same is true of all other virtual world designers.

Designers are not players, they're designers. To players who think they're designers: you're not. If you think you have to play a virtual world from start to finish to understand it at a design level, keep at it with different virtual worlds until you don't think that, and then you have a chance of understanding virtual world design.

Richard

76.

Endie>I can describe my journey from my desk to the cooler to get water and back again in terms of a variety of steps of the Hero's Journey.

Yes, you can. Indeed, if it took 6 months to get to the water cooler and back it could well be a hero's journey.

>I can describe the game of rugby I played on Saturday similarly. I can describe the purchase and consumption of some chewing gum from the old shopkeeper next door to my office likewise.

In the past, I've describe the human digestive system as a hero's journey, with food entering the womb-like mouth to a strange new world through which is undergoes a transformation and emerges, changed, back into the real world some time later.

I'm well aware that it's easy to misapply the hero's journey to many short series of narrative events. That doesn't make it facile to do so, though. In particular, when the series of events takes place over the course of several months, such that there is the genuine possibility of a gain in self-understanding as a result, then I don't think it's ridiculous or pointless to connect the two - especially when it links so well with independently-derived theory that matches it fairly closely.

Richard

77.

Richard> I didn't learn anything about the design of WoW that I didn't know by level 6, and I expect the same is true of all other virtual world designers.

That humbles me. :) Did you read a lot about the design or did you do things that are unnatural for a level 6? For example, the inability of Horde and Alliance players to communicate is important to WoW's PvP design, but I didn't realize that until I met the other faction much later than level 6.

Is it possible to take a Hero's Journy when the Hero knows the ending?

78.

Ken Fox>Did you read a lot about the design or did you do things that are unnatural for a level 6?

I didn't read any specific articles about it, no, but I had a rough picture from what the players were saying in the forums and from looking at screenshots.

>For example, the inability of Horde and Alliance players to communicate is important to WoW's PvP design, but I didn't realize that until I met the other faction much later than level 6.

I always knew that Alliance and Horde wouldn't be able to communicate. The whole design screams that they can't from the moment you start. I would have been utterly astonished to discover that they could communicate.

>Is it possible to take a Hero's Journy when the Hero knows the ending?

Yes, if the understanding is at an intellectual level rather than an emotional level. If they know it at the emotional level, too, they can't.

Hmm, well they can, but it's in a different realm. A designer playing a virtual world doesn't undergo a hero's journey because (in Raph's language) they've grokked it. However, the can undergo such a journey in the space of virtual world design. Each world they create, or each expansion or addition they create, is in part an artistic expression which adds to their self-knowledge. They don't get fun from playing in the same way that players do: they get fun from designing.

Some designers, eg. Psychochild, tell me they can switch off their design instincts and play as a player; I'm a little envious of them, as I can't do that myself. I have to play as a designer, because ultimately that's what I am, and it's too disconcerting for me to act otherwise.

Richard

79.

Richard, I guess what this comes down to is that from what you've said here you appear to see all transformation (in the most literal, even geometric sense) through the lens of the hero's journey -- from digestion to a rugby game to fighting pretend monsters. This, as I said before, stretches the hero's journey as described by Campbell beyond any useful recognition. In fact, I'd say you're imputing psychological transformation (whether on the part of the character or the player, but especially the latter) where none exists. Benjamin Franklin said, "never confuse motion with action." It applies here -- not all distance covered is a journey, not all sword-swinging makes a hero, and not all achievement-grinding leads to any sort of personal transformation.

Just as important, there are many transformative experiences (even actual journeys) that have no heroic aspect (again, as defined by Campbell and seen in mythology, not in pop-psychology or easy Hollywood movies). I have been on backpacking trips, for example, where I felt transformed in many ways, physical and psychological, and yet in all honesty I can't map them to the different stages in the hero's journey. Not every journey is a hero's journey -- and not every game needs to map to this mythological form. There are other forms of personal transformation -- relational, for example, which is all but unexplored in games -- that provide entire new areas for game design exploration.

Of course you can say that talking to a pretty girl or going to the corner store to buy gum is your hero's journey, that you as an individual are heroically transformed by the acts of building a friendship or opening that silvery gum wrapper... but to do so both belies the mundanity of most such "journeys" (and thus the lack of any real change that accompanies them) and glosses over many of the deeper parts of the actual hero's journey as seen in myth and defined by Campbell. In so doing you end up trivializing the reality of actual heroic-transformative experiences and shoehorning other types into this one form at the expense of both.

This trivialization is what MMOGs have done, which I believe we agreed on before: they have sold players on the idea that they could somehow do something in the virtual world that was heroic, that would allow them, the player, to experience the highs and lows, the emotional wringing, of a hero's journey. This was not the case, but even as a blatant lie it made for good marketing copy. And it's a theme that, unfortunately, almost all MMOs have harped on.

I do believe that the hero's journey has a valid place in games, and that beyond that one path there is a much larger superset of transformative experiences which games can enable and engender in players. Different designers are free, of course, to focus solely on the hero's journey if they wish. But I believe strongly that it is a disservice to the mythological form of the hero's journey to dilute it down to an unremarkable achievement-grind, and a disservice to game design to hang on to the idea that this one mythological form is necessary and sufficient to cover all virtual game world designs, much less all transformative experiences.

80.

Great thread!

I'm actually going through WoW-nnui myself right now, so I could totally relate with what the OP was saying.

I think I'd find the game more interesting if it allowed for more customization. Not just in building your avatar (which would be great), but I'd love to see the faction system work more like the good/evil spectrum in Knights of the Old Republic for example. So that you don't have rigid "good guys vs. bad guys" which would add something more grown up to the game.

The other thing is to change the combat system because for all that it;s so user-friendly, it's a little too much so. How about a system where a mage would train by actually spending time in a library reading books real-time? Not text of course, but how about mini games and logic puzzles needing to be solved. Make it so that the lazy rogue pickpockets are more sloppy then the guy who tries on everybody he meets.

Just my $0.02

81.

Talk about a thread-jacking! Nice job internet suedo-intellectuals. You've triumphed again because nothing was accomplished!

82.

'Designers are not players, they're designers. To players who think they're designers: you're not.' RB

Now you see this is the kind of thing that worries me. I know the author is top of his/this field but there is a kind of sloppy elitism to this statement that smells like the end of an era.
The string seemed to start off wondering about the sadness of game ennui and the direction that mmporgs, and the like, would take to get to the next level (or if indeed there are any more levels as my respondant feels WoW is 'the end' *hmmm*). Now the fact that 'designers aren't players they are designers,' as the logic problem begins, seems to be precicely the problem.

Jacques above hinted at the alternative, the notion of customizability. You see designers like designing (I'm guessing but correct me if I'm wrong), becuase it is customization taken to the level of godliness. I mean they are creating 'Virtual Worlds' after all. If there is a God, and he could think like us, no doubt there is something gratifying about creating these bloody things(otherwise why bother). Being spoon-fed your adventures, choosing from other people's designs, never getting a hand in it, is part of the problem with WoW and other games. After you have learned the basics, there are no rewards to contnuing where it counts: creating for yourself. So perhaps prior to drawing a line between the lowly players and the lofty designers, one should ask the designers to spend a little time handing over god-hood to the people that pay for their mortgage. It is ennevitable, and perhaps the 'Multiverse' system is kinda sort of hinting at it. But its still geared towards game designers not designing players.

83.

I'm stupid; I've decided to put my hand into the fire stoked by Richard Bartle and Mike Sellers...

See http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/GUT2.htm>http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/GUT2.htm for a nicely formatted HTML version, or read the pasted text below: (Note: I see the "Hero's Journey" discussion as part of a larger picture.)


Awhile back, I wrote "My current grand unified theory of avatar games" and "Virtual world equation". It is time to update and combine them. (Note: I've presented most of the ideas here before, but this document cleans them up a bit.)
So, without further ado, here is my current theory of life, the universe, and everything... with respect to virtual worlds.

Single-player avatar games (aka: CRPGs, FPSs, adventure games)
A single-player avatar game needs to accomplish the following:
1. Players enter the game with one or more "goals", many subconscious. These goals might include obvious items, such as: to waste time, to be entertained, or to provide a challenge. Or, they might be more intricately tied to the real world, such as goals to: own a house, make friends, be famous, explore new planets, save the world, etc.

The "deeper" and often subconscious goals, such as the desire to be important to society or to understand oneself, vaguely segue into Richard Bartle's "hero's journey" theory, as described in Designing Virtual Worlds.
2. One of the game's tasks is to figure out what the player's goals are so that the game can fulfil the goals. CRPGs accomplish this, in part, by letting players choose their race, class, and how they wish to experience the world (such as Oblivion's choice of fighting vs. thieving).

Corollary: The game's genre, advertising, and early user experience should indicate to the player what types of goals the game is capable of fulfilling. A player who cannot properly fulfil his goals in a game will either (a) stop playing and give a negative review to his friends, or in the case of a multiplayer game, (b) try to achieve the goal despite the game, leading to whingeing on the game BBS, or in-game griefing.
3. The game may provide players with game-specific goals, such as rescuing the princess. Such goals should (ideally) align with the player's goals. To get players to take up game-given goals and internalise them, the game may use "story" elements to add an emotional context to the goal. (Occasionally, the story's resolution may be a goal in itself.)
4. At any given time, the game should provide players with a menu/choice of goals they work towards. As with a GUI menu, the (figurative) game-menu should be around five choices.
5. Players should be given in-game abilities that allow them to achieve their goal in a manner that the player expects. This may require the author to allow for several different solutions to the goal.
6. The time and effort required to accomplish the goal should be roughly what the player expects. Players expect that walking to the grocery store will be easy, but rescuing the princess will be difficult. If a goal is easier to achieve than players expect, they'll complain that game is too easy and/or too short. If the goal is too difficult to achieve, players will give up and complain to their friends that the game was too difficult or boring.
7. The time and effort to accomplish a goal should be enough to produce a desired effect. For example: If the game is about being an explorer like Magellan or Columbus, then travelling between places might take a relatively long (and boring) time so that players feel like they have travelled a large distance. Another example: Defeating the evil overlord is made pointless if (a) the evil overlord never posed a real threat to the player or (b) the evil overlord never did anything evil to the player.
8. Don't give players exactly what they expect, either in the process of attaining the goal, or the enjoyment of the goal. If a game does provide players exactly what they expect, they will find the game boring. Instead, give players something better than they expected. (Easier said than done.)
9. Fun comes into play here; Goals should be "fun" to achieve, and to "fun" to enjoy once achieved. Go talk to Raph Koster about this, or read his book, A Theory of Fun.
10. By the time a player has completed and enjoyed his goal, a new goal should be found to fill its place. A goal-less player will leave the game.
11. No matter what, all players will eventually decide that it's time to leave the game... (Except Peter Pan, who never grows up.) Even if the game always has another goal waiting to be achieved, the player will either achieve his personal goal(s), or (subconsciously) decide that the game either won't fulfil/satiate his personal goals any more, or is making the goals too difficult to achieve. (Again, this hints at Richard Bartle's "hero's journey"). In an ideal world, players are able to achieve and enjoy their personal goals.

Also in an ideal world, the player's exit should coincide with an end to the content, so that (a) development money isn't wasted on unused content, (b) the player doesn't feel like he is abandoning content that he payed for, and (c) all the content wraps itself up into a memorable ending.



Multi-player avatar games (aka: MMORPGs, MUDs, virtual worlds)
Multiplayer avatar games are more complex since they not only have all the single-player issues (above), but several new challenges:
1. Every player has their own set of goals that they bring with them, which isn't any different than a single-player game except...
2. Players tend to bring their friends into the game, or to leave the game when their friends leave. This means that a multiplayer game must support a much larger variety of goals.
3. Multiplayer games have a high barrier to entry (because of Internet connection costs/problems and the sometimes negative affects of other players). Therefore, players who play multiplayer games usually have strong social reasons why they want to play, otherwise they would take the easier/cheaper route and play single-player games. These reasons/goals could be as simple as wanting to meet other people, or could be more complex, such as: the desire to run a business with real customers, to be a leader, or to dominate other people.
4. Players' goals often conflict: There can be only one Napoleon. If two or more players want to be Napoleon, then a mechanism must be in place to determine who gets to be Napoleon. Contemporary MMORPGs rely upon "the grind" as a mechanism; he who whacks the most orcs for the longest period of time is crowned emperor. Real money payments, player skill, or a lottery could also be used.
5. A player's goals often impinge upon other players' enjoyment of the game. If a player wishes to be an innkeeper, then other players must visit his inn, even though they would prefer to whack orcs and avoid inns altogether. Consequently, some mechanism must exist to ensure that a player's goal doesn't harm another player's experience, and/or if a player's goal does inconvenience another player, the other player should be compensated.

One obvious solution is to make the player work to achieve his goal: For a player to achieve their own goal, they must play a part in helping other players achieve their own goals. Ideally, players won't even know (or care) that they're playing a supporting role. One solution is to create an in-game system that connects players together: People that want to meet other people "coincidentally" meet up in the street. Leaders are "coincidentally" connected with followers. Innkeepers with clientele. Griefers with people that like being griefed (but who won't admit it to the griefers). Etc.

In some cases, the "support" is in the form of higher fees, which end up paying the employees, who end up "altruistically" supporting the player by providing them new game mechanics, better eye candy, or game masters whose role is to make the game more fun.
6. All of these issues combine to create a complex social ecology. The world must attract a certain percentage of players that want to be followers, a few leaders, and only one Napoleon. If everyone wants to be Napoleon, or everyone wants to be a follower, then the social ecology disintegrates and the game dies. Richard Bartle discusses this in his book, Designing Virtual Worlds.

84.

I am a WoW Addict. I am a married working mother of three and WoW is a nice escape for me. We don't get out to movies or dinner very often, but my husband and I get to quest and raid together. I have well over 500 hours invested in the game over the past year. But I don't watch television. Ask a non-gamer how much they veg out in front of the television and I guarantee it will come close to how much I play per day. I enjoy having a cheap hobby that my husband and I can do together. I am not at the point yet to where I have lost interest in the game. WoW keeps adding more items, and quests and rep rewards and changing the playing style. I.E. you have real world PvP now, even on a PvE server. Kinda boring if you are on a PvP server already, but for the PvE players, it was quite exciting to get to have a taste of what it is like for other servers. And now with the expansion pack coming out the whole WoW community is waiting with baited breath. I have had the expansion pack reserved on pre-sale for over 5 months now. I am sure eventually I will realize I am wasting my life away in front of a computer screen, but hey I do that all day at work anyway!

85.

I am going through exactly this feeling at the moment with WOW. After a enjoyable journey to 60 and playing with Alts, the whole 60 exerience grated on me. Sitting around for hours waiting to get into a raid seemed to be it. Re-levelling the other toons lsot its appeal as I had done much the same already. My guild broke up and that was that I decided to reluctantly sell my toon. The emotional attachement was still there, but lacked any challenge. I created a horde toon and did that. It was a nice change, different perspective on the game. But eventually 60 blues set in.

I've flitted now from SWG to WOW, EVE, City of Heroes and Guild Wars but nothing is really holding my attention. SWG (original Pre CU) managed it and WOW up until 60. EVE has the potential to grip me but there is something about it, that is stopping me sinking the hours I put into SWG and WOW, possibly the lack of connection with the 'toon', I'm still trying to put my finger on that one.

It puzzles me as it has all the elements I have missed in the newer MMO's - ie more than just raid oriented material. You can pop on and if you don't want to fight you can happily potter along doing a number of other things.

This is what I miss from WoW and the likes of Guild Wars they are tailored to the mass market of likes, which while fair enough to bring ni the numbers, leaves me not feeling the immersion that I used to from the likes of SWG, where you did feel like you were living in the enviroment and that didn't necessarily mean by the sword. The element of player cities I thinked helped a lot in this respect. Mini communities within a community, a game within a game and the oppurtunity to do things other than an instance.

This is my first post, but a regular reader of TN. Please forgive the somewhat rambling post!

86.

It occurs to me that this kind of thinking might help with things like WoW-nnui:
http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/instore_good_or_athome_good.php

87.

Mike Sellers>Richard, I guess what this comes down to is that from what you've said here you appear to see all transformation (in the most literal, even geometric sense) through the lens of the hero's journey

Well, in that case I've given you a false impression. I don't see all transformation in that way at all. I know it's all-too-easy to apply a hero's journey model to something which happens to match it purely by accident.

>-- from digestion to a rugby game to fighting pretend monsters.

When I mentioned the digestion stuff, that was to show how easy it is to over-apply the hero's journey - I wasn't actually advocating that as a serious use of it myself. That it's ridiculous is the veru point I was making!

I'd say that there are some things in real life that can be transformational in a hero's journey way, for example going to university as an undergraduate, or being drafted into the army for a war. These tend to be few and far between, though. The main factors involved are time and an "other world" to visit.

>This, as I said before, stretches the hero's journey as described by Campbell beyond any useful recognition.

It does indeed, which is why I don't stretch it that far. I'm not some kind of goggle-eyed advocate for Campbell here who sees his work in everything. I only apply it to virtual worlds because the match is so great not only in the steps but also in the rationale - the theoretical explanation that underpins it.

>not all distance covered is a journey, not all sword-swinging makes a hero, and not all achievement-grinding leads to any sort of personal transformation.

Oh well, I suppose I should be grateful that this at least admits that some distance covered is a journey, and that some achievement-grinding does lead to some sort of personal transformation (although actually, in the latter case, I'd say it was merely a component in it).

>I have been on backpacking trips, for example, where I felt transformed in many ways, physical and psychological, and yet in all honesty I can't map them to the different stages in the hero's journey.

They may map to just one, and you're right, they may not map to any. The hero's journey is just one template for coming to understand something of who you are. If you follow it, it gets you to where you want to be. It's just one route map, though; you could get there some other way.

>Not every journey is a hero's journey

I agree.

>-- and not every game needs to map to this mythological form.

Correct. But every game-like virtual world does map to it, whether it needs to or not. You'd have to make radical changes to what a virtual world is in order to prevent this.

>There are other forms of personal transformation -- relational, for example, which is all but unexplored in games -- that provide entire new areas for game design exploration.

My original mapping to the hero's journey, as outlined in my book, derives two tracks: player-oriented and world-oriented. The former is social and focuses on personal relations; the latter is individual and focuses on materiality. They go hand-in-hand; you can strip out the formal game aspect if you wanted an entirely social world, but you don't get an automatic hero's journey without some competitive element.

>This trivialization is what MMOGs have done, which I believe we agreed on before: they have sold players on the idea that they could somehow do something in the virtual world that was heroic, that would allow them, the player, to experience the highs and lows, the emotional wringing, of a hero's journey.

Yes, I agree with this. My point is that you don't program in a hero's journey: playing the virtual world is the hero's journey.

>I believe strongly that it is a disservice to the mythological form of the hero's journey to dilute it down to an unremarkable achievement-grind

Me too. The difference is that you think I'm recommending that and I don't think I am.

>and a disservice to game design to hang on to the idea that this one mythological form is necessary and sufficient to cover all virtual game world designs, much less all transformative experiences.

It's a disservice to treat the idea as a fundamental truth, yes. However, it's also a disservice to dismiss it out of hand, because it does say some genuinely helpful things.

Richard

88.

We spend time in online worlds for a variety of reasons, but I think for many of us it’s a way to escape from the responsibilities and stresses of the real world, an opportunity to engage our imaginations, and a chance to interact with people we would likely never meet otherwise. The first experience with these worlds is often the most powerful, it’s when the “magic” is most strong like the first time one falls in love. Infatuation is a kind of high, but it’s difficult to repeat continually, which we attempt to do in moving from one online world to another.

I remember the powerful experience of playing the original “Civilization” back in 1991. It was an experience more than a game. Attempts to capture that intensity failed as other similar turn based strategy games like “Master of Orion” and “Master of Magic” while fun, did not have the gripping power of the original experience. The same pattern has held true for MMORPG’s. The original Everquest was magic and engaging for about two years, but one day its spell was broken, and I’ve never been that immersed in any of the various virtual worlds I’ve explored since.

In truth, it’s amazing that so many of us have spent so many hours in these worlds, since most time is taken by engaging in incredibly repetitive tasks. How many creatures have we mindlessly slain and looted over the years? It’s a credit to the design of these of these worlds that we’ve engaged in this “factory piece-work” process for so long.

Of course, a large part of the allure is the other people we encounter. Unfortunately, finding a strong mature community of interesting personalities seems to have become more difficult as these worlds have grown in size and popularity. The original Everquest was special in that regard. The only other similar world I have encountered is Asheron’s Call 2 during its last few months.

I think upcoming virtual worlds will need to redefine themselves in order to capture our imaginations, our time, our personal investment, and our money. There needs to be more variety of activities, more originality, more creativity, and more effective ways to connect people in a meaningful fashion.

The guild system in Asheron’s Call 2 is one such example. The person who invited you to join their guild became your patron and was responsible for assisting you. You in turn became one of their vassals and a percentage of your experience was also given to your patron. Of course your patron was another guild member’s vassal and so on through the entire guild family tree until at the very top was the Monarch, the guild leader, who was related by virtue of this family tree to all guild members. This was a clever design which connected people in a powerful way. So strong were these bonds, that when the game suddenly was ended many players vowed to follow their “monarch” to whatever other world he or she would adopt next.

I like the notion of these worlds existing as a “third place” apart from home or work, like a neighborhood pub or coffee house. I’m in between “third places” just now and miss them, but none of the current locals are spaces I care to hang out anymore. I’m hoping that one or more of the upcoming worlds will fill that void.

89.

@Don Margulis: Interesting mention of "third place." In my day job, I work in the library services industry; marketing, to be specific. The term "third place" or "third space" is often used to describe the public library, or what it tries to provide to the community. Neither work nor home. A place to connect that is non-denominational, provides some kind of service, is social and reflexive.

Hmmmm.... There is lots of talk about gaming in and at libraries. But library itself as "virtual world." Interesting....

90.

As my parents told me, you can have too much of a good thing. I think that's all your feeling. Be happy that you've had two great years of WOW and move on. Look at life - look at the number of divorces - look at how long you like the same pair of shoes. I don't mean to trivialise divorce, of course, but nothing lasts forever... That's what makes life interesting. Now you have to go and do something new.

The challenge for the MMO developer is to maintain the world and bring a new generation of players onboard, just as Disney does with its properties.

91.

Guild Wars FTW
Screw WOW and its grind/monthly bill

92.

I can speak as a so-called "casual-raider" in full Tier 2 armor and about 50 days /played in WoW. I hit level sixty after 15 days, and the rest was spent raiding with my then-fledgling guild of 50 people. They now have over 350 accounts and raid every night of the week.

Last week, I lied on the guild forums and told everyone I was going on hiatus to work on my PhD. While this is true, mine was a lie of omission - I quit WoW and cancelled my account ("I'll be back in a month or so", I said while hearthing out of Blackwing Lair). The "fading away" for me has begun, in ways that others have already described above. The petty in-fighting has started, people are not showing up to raids, and, frankly, I was bored out of my skull - in fact, I had been for months, but stuck it out for the guild and for some real-life friends that live far away and I would never see. Looking from the outside, I felt a little silly and embarassed that I had gotten in so deep, even though, for a while, it was really fun.

The next step for me, ironically, is a jump back to single-player games. I finally played Doom 3 this week, Simcity 4 and Mafia. TONS of fun. I plan on immersing myself in SPORE once it's released, and that will hopefully take up my free time in a more creative way than WoW.

The social element in WoW was fun for a while, but in the end it just ends up feeling a lot like riding the subway - we all agree to half-heartedly act a certain way to achieve the goal of arriving to work alive AGAIN(which is not so different from killing a giant red dragon for the 145th time), but none of us could really give two shits about anyone else in the train. After a few stops we get off and life goes on.

93.

i think of WoW as really a primer for online worlds. They get the plain vanilla treatment from their Blizzard treat but if they want to try something new and different then a good portion of them will move on to the niche games like mine. i hope.

94.

===
But if that's so, then two big questions leap out: where are all these players going to go, and, as I’m so fond of asking, what comes next?
===

I have just rescently discovered this site and have been looking trough some of the articles. Also am I new to the MMORPG's I've just started playing WoW and it is also my first contact with a glimps of what virtual worlds could be like. Since I am not very experienced or very into all the differnt games that have come and passed the last few years. I am trying to make up the lost time. It would be nice if my lack of knowledge enables me to shed a different light on mathers.

Anyhow, with the forementioned questions from the topicstarter in mind. And reluctence to get myself mixedup in "The Hero's Journey..." conversation. I did asked myself the same questions. Considering I'm new to the scene and (while thinking back to my C64 days and the quality of games and even gameplay) am amazed by what is possible nowadays. As new technology will be accesable for the masses, also gamedevelopment will keep on improving itself.

Myself, I would not be surprised if it will be possible in the (near) future to make a Multilevel universe where one could have several alt's linked together. Who live in their own respective "realms".

Like suggested by Aziz
*
Realistic-mode (strategic, materialist and Civ-like) and ,
Romantic (heroic and first person oriented)
Ironic(social, cultural, tribal and Simm like but also relaint on group dynamics) and
Mystical (deeper meaning quests, mysticism wrapped into and underlying reality “Myst” CoC). Oh yes and don’t forget the all important
Porn-mode.
Posted by: Aziz
**

Where if you would like to be a blacksmith you can be one. And live the simple life so to speak. So depending on the level of commitment in your on-line life, you are free to adjust the settings per char. For example, I have a blacksmith char which I can controll as if it were a sim. Ofcourse utilizing all the options that are possible for the sim's as we know them now or á la SL. If my char is only used to gather or produce currency then this could be "donated" to other char's. And I wouldn't have to be there all the time in order to have an income (as I gather is true in Eve). Higher tax rate should apply for those kinds of char's.

If a player decides to follow a different path with (or without) a different char, wants to be a hero/soldier/pilot or whatever. This is also possible at the level as we are used to in games like WoW or BF2. If a player wants to be owner of a Mech this is also an option and play the therefor created battlegrounds or fields. All these things cost time and resources ofcourse. Therefor one could earn resources by attending battles/helping others/ or even social standing and leveling. Meaning also that your char does age, in about two years or so (real time) and could "die from old age". This way people wont have the oppertunity to get borred to easily and also gives them a deadline (no pun intended). Yet keeps the player involved by having alt's that are benifitial for their mains. In case you like your main char and want to keep on playing with it. You should clone it or have a child who will inherrit your gear.

Like Jerry Sands hinted earlier
*
So what if you could do that in an MMORPG without rolling an alt and call it a kid? What if you had to do that to get more than a couple of characters?
At age 60% of top level you could
1) pay a priest a metric buttload of money and get a clone (stat-wise)
2) go to an adoption house and choose a war orphan based on a limited knowledge of his or her traits
3) have a kid with another player and let the biological dice roll

Once you reach top level, after a certain period of time, you would become vulnerable to relative permadeath.

If you reproduce early, your kid would be higher level when the parent dies and the kid is available to be played, but you pass on less money and items. Wait till top level, and you can pass on more loot and money to the kid but the kid starts at very low level.
Once the parent 'dies', it could then be played in some sort of Elysium or Valhalla or Hell, starting at a mid-low level, with a small fraction of what he/she had at the time of death.

But in this way, each character would be a chapter in the overall experience in a game, and with each ending you would have a new beginning. I'd love to look at some of my long term MMO experiences and see: Fred the Paladin, fought at the Black Keep Battle June 05, helped hold the Bridge at River Kwai October 05, adopted Nooby the Sorceror at age 49, died fighting the Dragon at age 50. Nooby the Sorceror, fought again at the Black Keep, this time to take it, February of 2006, got the great Flying Spaghetti Monster to clone Noobus who became a Mystic, went to the other kingdom, where he was an outcast because his forbears fought for the other kingdom, etc....
Posted by: Jerry Sands
**

As said above this way you could play on indefenitly. After 10 years of playing a player would have a char with several genarations history.
At one period he/she might be more into the SL kind of aspect of this experience then the proces of progress of the other alt (if there are any) could steadily slow down or even deminish over time.

This also discribes that which Frank points out

*
Ideally you want to design a game world where players continue to maintain the transport lane (subscription) between the two "worlds" and pay the fare (regular fee) to keep connection with the game world.
Frank
**

One thing I would love to see in future games is a more dynamic AI. So when players or NPC's get "ganked"in a certain area the amount and even level of gardians/police goes up. Just like IRL when crime rises, people want more authority. And if someone dances on an innkeepers table that the former get's charged more the next time...things like that.

Actualy you would be linking the realms of different games together. And as a player uses more of the different games the player pays more. So if I would like a RL kind of char and also a FPS char I would use the same "reality". So what happens in the life of one char could have an effect on the life of the other one. Depending on the scope of the actions taken in this reality. Things as the location of the different char's spring to mind ofcourse hereby thinking of WMD mainly.

I would imagine that this might make people leave one aspect of this reality only to explore/discover other places.
"They can check out anytime they'd like, but they can never leave" (some band)

But I'm not a game designer so am totaly clueless of all the problems this will generate in designing. Although I would love to experience such an universe!

Passionately


95.

The thing that is missing from Wow is what other games figured out once the server populations began declining: FFA PvP or Free for All Player vs Player. This is absolutely the most hardcore of PvP gaming experiences, yet WoW insists on creating contrived battlegrounds that require various criteria to be met for gaming to take place.

EQ & DAoC both had FFA PvP and these were always the servers with the most dedicated and skilled players in the game. Interstingly, these were also the servers where fresh techniques and exploits were discovered, thus indicating a more intense gaming population looking for an edge.

I quit my WoW account of the lack of viable PvP. Nothing changed in a static world.

96.

I'd like to start by saying how great your coment is and it's true, everything you sayd there, I have 2 wow char currently at level 70 and I'm quiting WoW, I still do a raid instance once in a whill to help the guild but I'm not has before, I'm now what they like to call:"Slacker"

But whenever I come online I get whispers from my hole guild and someother friend I made asking for help, saying:"ZOMG IT LIVES" our something like this and I have been seeking lately to spend more time with my GF that was about to break up with me and It's getting very hard and frustrating to leave WoW.

I love that game more than anything, maybe some ppl of my family but, I need to leave it...

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