Arden Slows Down, Takes Breather

Logo_final Arden: The World of William Shakespeare ended a year of development yesterday, closing with a stress test. (Many thanks to our alpha testers!)  Unfortunately, that might be the last bit of news from Arden for a long time. We have come to the end of our funding, and while we are still working, I'm not sure when we will have anything worth reporting.

Follow these links for background on the Arden project. The basic objective has been to revolutionize social science by introducing controlled experimentation at the macro level. This first year of production was funded generously by the MacArthur Foundation, who now wait while we work to bring the pilot phase of the project to a close. Multiverse was used for early production, after which we switched to Neverwinter Nights. The world is hosted on the Teragrid.

It's been a bumpy road. We've learned lots of lessons, mostly that this is very hard to do, and especially hard to do in an academic context. I have new layers of respect for the world-builders out there.

What now? Work continues, with an uncertain time frame. I really enjoy writing systems in NWN Script, so I will keep tinkering. But - there's no telling when there will be anything to report. Based on the current direction and progress of the project, I should downplay expectations. Think "small Dungeons-and-Dragons world with a Shakespeare layer," not "World of Warcraft but with Hamlet." When we have built a small world that people like to play in, we will do some experiments. Small, limited objectives. The bigger objectives of the Arden project are on indefinite hold. 

Even completing the more limited objectives will take a lot of time. Thus, while I appreciate all the support and inquiries that have been made,  my stock response now is "don't hold your breath; nothing worth noting is going to happen for a long time." The Bard has left the building for now, and his return date is unknown.


Comments on Arden Slows Down, Takes Breather:

Edward Castronova says:

Sorry, I didn't mean to close the comments.

Posted Oct 2, 2007 12:47:16 PM | link

Duane says:

Have no worries, we shall wait patiently! It's not like interest in the Bard is going to suddenly wane anytime soon. And the technology is only going to get faster and cheaper for you.

Duane
http://www.shakespearegeek.com

Posted Oct 2, 2007 8:18:27 PM | link

Peter S. Jenkins says:

@Ted - It may not necessarily be a long time for all of us. As the Bard noted:

"Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. I'll tell you who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal."

(Jacques in As You Like It - III,ii,328)

Posted Oct 2, 2007 11:04:08 PM | link

Peter S. Jenkins says:

Sorry, it was Rosalind of course not Jacques in AYLI.

Posted Oct 2, 2007 11:17:07 PM | link

Tripp says:

Wow, that's too bad, Ted. Can you say why things have ground to a (virtual) halt, other than funding running out? I mean, you knew funding had a time limit and all.

As someone has been eagerly waiting to hear about the project (and participate!) and who's also working on a virtual world (for education) using NWN (2, actually), I'm curious for more details.

And here's another question. I was never really clear on the goal of the project. The website was hazy and the press release seemed to say that it was to teach people Shakespeare as they played a game. But I think your primary interest is in VWs for research, no? So what was the aim of the project?

Posted Oct 3, 2007 10:31:02 AM | link

Robert Bloomfield says:

Allow me to echo Ted's 'new layers of respect for world-builders' sentiment. Way back when I first started thinking about my own pet variation on WoW (World of Bizcraft), the project seemed immensively difficult. Now, after months of engaging with the virtual world community, it is hard to even conjure up the superlatives to describe the challenge. ("Awesome" in the original meaning might work.)

With my new knowledge, I also have new layers of respect for Ted's efforts with Arden. Hopefully, the rest of us can learn from Ted's experience.

Lesson 1 for me: start with LOTS of money! Lesson 2 might be: make sure the platform is sufficient to the task.

Posted Oct 3, 2007 10:44:08 AM | link

David Stocker says:

I have quite a bit of experience with NWN persistent worlds. You have reached the end of your funding, but what kind of resources does running the world take? A single NWN server can just about run in a cast-off machine in your office. If you have many servers stitched together to make your world, it is a bit different, but we are not talking about WoW’s hosting requirements. NWN is the platform of choice for building a virtual world with fifty bucks (or whatever Diamond costs these days).

I’ve got 1.68. I’ve read your book. I’d love to see what kind of world Arden is.

Posted Oct 3, 2007 4:46:44 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

Ted, is there any way to open source some of what you've done so far with Arden? E.g., to see if you can't get a lot of people involved as volunteer developers while retaining enough control to get Arden to the end goal of being an experimental platform?

Posted Oct 4, 2007 7:10:08 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

You're all correct in guessing that there's more to the story. I made some awful mistakes as a manager, which I don't hesitate to admit because, well, I am not a manager. And the project wasn't funded at a level where hiring a manager was feasible. As manager, I did a lot of stupid things.

@Timothy: Volunteers! That was my starting philosophy. But my experience has been that each additional volunteer (n) detracts n*n from the project's quality. Because you're not paying them, you have to give the volunteers leeway. Their leeway in terms of content eats into your vision. Their leeway in terms of time slows you down. Basically, you need full-time employees (or slaves). Students have talent and enthusiasm but you can't get five of them in a room at the same time. And once you start paying tuition for them, they cost $60K FTE (10K stipend + insurance + $20K tuition for 20 hours of work). In future work I will subscribe to the Lee Sheldon Fascistic Theory of Managing Creative Projects, which, if I my improvise, is to tell your volunteers and employees to be slaves or be gone.

@David: You guessed it. Rather than be a manager, I'm going to be an author. I'm coding it myself this time, implementing a personal and idiosyncratic vision, using no more resources than my time and my desktop. I hope to have something worth playing eventually.

@Tripp: the object is and remains to do experiments. Emphasizing Shakespeare was a mistake. The burdens of a license! Everyone thought it was World of Hamlet and the point was to teach high school kids 2B|~2B. But teaching Shakespeare has always been an ancillary benefit, not the point. I thought it would be cute. But putting Shakespeare in the game, I found, took away resources from fun. Lore, by itself, did not make a fun game. Shakespeare also loaded us up with an entire community of expectations, people who dig the idea of a digital Shakespeare. To those people, I want to say YES, I dig the idea too, but please come up with the $50m it will take to build that world before asking me (AGAIN) when Arden is going to be done. I had $240K and was thrilled to have it. But that's 1/200th of the money you'd need to do what some of the folks out there had dreamed up. Their dreams became pressure on us, and made me wonder why I didn't say I was making Arden: World of Actuaries.

Also, we are working on our website. January.

@Robert (and others): Thanks for the words of support and respect. They are mutual.

But don't get the wrong idea. I am not quitting this. Not because I am pugnacious, not because I owe MacArthur results (though I sure do, and I am very mindful of that) but because I just love coding in NWN Script. LOTRO is my main game right now, but when I sit down at the computer after my kids go to sleep, I just feel more like coding. I love D&D and I love being a game author. It's the most fun I've had intellectually in years. I've made this announcement mostly to get monkeys off my back - I got sick of dealing with the multiple layers of wild expectations that I had stupidly encouraged (another dumb management move.) MacArthur supported me for a year so that I could get the damn thing going. Now, it's going. Thank you John D. and Catherine T., I will never forget you. But now it's time for me to apply my own effort to make a world that people would want to play. When I get them playing, I will do my super-secret experiments, and then write the paper I owe MacArthur. And the world I make will live on, a little society lab, and I will keep fiddling and experimenting with it.

Posted Oct 4, 2007 10:23:54 AM | link

Timothy Burke says:

Well, even some of the problems you describe are well worth writing up in some form as "results"--there's a lot of lessons learned, wisdom gained, that would be knowledge-producing in the field as a whole.

Posted Oct 4, 2007 2:24:48 PM | link

says:

Ah, I love seeing the academic and practitioner gap closing. :)

Posted Oct 4, 2007 2:26:46 PM | link

Tripp says:

@ Ted: I really appreciate your honesty in this. As someone who's starting down a similar road, I can learn from your experience. So thanks heaps.

I'd love to hear more details, but you may not be in the mood to go over them again about now, which is understandable. But I'd like to think that all of us with somewhat similar hopes/dreams/goals can be helping each other, and you've been helpful already.

I'll stay tuned for the future!

Posted Oct 5, 2007 12:54:22 AM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

I'm truly sorry to hear things fell apart. As an indie developer, I'm eager to see what can be done when commercial pressure is removed from game development. Unfortunately, even though you don't have to sell the game, I guess you still have to manage money.

I'll politely disagree with your assessment, Ted; you don't need $50M to do an online game. Games like A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, and the upcoming Earth Eternal have been done for around or just above $1 million. I think if you could get a game looking like any of those, you'd be doing very well for yourself. Of course, $1M is hardly chump change, and you'd probably want someone with some serious experience to help you spend that money to the greatest effect.

Anyway, good luck with your continued work. I hope we get to see your work in the future.

Have fun,

Posted Oct 5, 2007 4:21:39 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Bloomfield: Lesson 1 for me: start with LOTS of money! Lesson 2 might be: make sure the platform is sufficient to the task.

You don't need lots of money, but a tiny hand of carefully selected dedicated first rate programmers that loves your project and are quickly able to understand the limits of the platform. 2 programmers + 1 game designer + 1 coordinator for volunteer artworks ought to be sufficient, which would make the price tag roughly $500k per year. With an estimate of 5 years you get to $2.5M.

Then you need a concept that by design can grow from pure roleplay (avatar-chat) to a simulation (code and game).

Of course, you might want to consider Raph's Metaverse for stuff like this..?

Posted Oct 5, 2007 4:33:36 AM | link

Gene Endrody says:

“please come up with the $50m it will take to build that world before asking me again”

The obvious solution to this (ie. lots of time and money) is not the right one for an independent project because it’s a content trap you can’t win. The innovation that has resulted from the search for the solution to this exact problem has invigorated the VW industry in the last two years. If you look at many new companies in this space and look at how they dealt with this issue, you’ll see that it was their solution to this problem that defined them. Metaverse leverages the user creators - your users provide the labor and help you grow the platform at the same time. MaidMarian leverages procedurally generated content - your computer provides the labor and the focus is on developing new content creation systems. There's are many other angles on this I'm missing, however start with this problem first and the project will flow from the ideas that follow.

Posted Oct 5, 2007 12:29:37 PM | link

BIll Ashbless says:

Pretty sure you mean Metaplace not Metaverse or Multiverse.

Dr Castronova, why did you stop using Multiverse and start using NeverWinterNights?

Posted Oct 5, 2007 6:43:32 PM | link

Gene Endrody says:

"Metaplace not Metaverse" Yup, my bad. Whoops.

Posted Oct 6, 2007 11:39:55 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Metaplace. That's my bad... I was first. :P

Posted Oct 7, 2007 6:04:19 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

@Bill: That's a fair question. The decision was about funding levels and project scope. We worked with Multiverse as long as I thought we were shooting toward a project with a huge scope. When I realized we didn't have the money or time to do that, I restricted the scope of the project and look for software that would speed us up given that scope. Take art assets, for example. Multiverse will eventually have big databases of free art assets, but NWN has them right now. And as the money began to look tight, the "right now" answer was what we had to do. We really didn't have a choice. Fortunately, much of what we did in Multiverse could be classed as pre-production and we were able to move it into NWN.

Posted Oct 8, 2007 3:14:33 PM | link

larryr says:

key words....

"eventually"
"free assets"
"pay"
"start with LOTS of money?" geez.

and finally

"experience"

the "often maligned" people/projects and works Finished and Published in VRML/web3d over a decade ago are looking pretty good right now;)

Its ok;) you all have only "1 billion dollars" more to go.

dont let your "blogs" be the only work product of web3d 2007-2008. ;)

c3-:)


Posted Oct 12, 2007 3:33:08 PM | link

len bullard says:

We built IrishSpace for nothing with volunteers. It was another day and time. I just finished River of Life with contributions of some objects and ten years of weekend warrioring.

It doesn't have to be that hard, Mr. C. It does have to be realistically planned. A world is never done. It is staged and it really helps to have some people with theatre in their background as modelers and contributors.

That said, Larry is right. With all the deals being made right now, for the author, the language is the platform. Economically, this is something you should give thought to because understanding it will go a long way to seeing to it that your worlds last.

len

Posted Oct 13, 2007 5:21:54 PM | link

Allen Webb says:

We have been building a variety of literary worlds with a "low-tech" version of "virtual reality" that have been pretty successful. We have created a resource that is regularly used in schools -- and doesn't ask for much from their computers. Students know it is somewhat "low-tech" so they aren't disappointed or expecting it to be like the newest game off the shelf. Our many experiments have also taught us a lot about teaching literature in virtual worlds. The key has been not so much the world -- that is important -- but the changes in pedagogy needed to effectively integrate it into instruction.

Feel free to visit our (free, non-profit) project at: http://www.literaryworlds.org.

Allen

Posted Oct 27, 2007 4:26:47 PM | link

mr. ed says:

Of course, could it simply be that an academic economist has no idea how to build a virtual world, and that MacArthur made a poor decision?... Nah!

Posted Nov 9, 2007 6:36:05 PM | link