Is Terra Nova Aging?

Yes it is. Things are not what they were. A reader (who may decide to de-lurk) wrote to us asking why the frequency of posts has declined. A little discussion emerged in the backchannel and it presents a moment to reflect on the blog as well as the subject matter it covers.

The gee-whiz era for virtual worlds has passed, and this changes what happens at TN.

If you look at the early traffic on the blog (both in terms of posts and comments), a lot of it was, to use Greg's memorable phrase, "virtual cow gives virtual milk." This is no longer news to anybody. There has been a change in what the authors (who by design have never been subject to any kind of editorial direction) think is interesting enough to post.

Dan's post on Julian's latest article is a good case in point. Dan reminds us that, for this community, the article is not news so much as an almost wistful look back at a key figure in a just-lost time, a filling in of interesting and tantalizing details, a review of things we saw and things we did not see as we all ground our brains on this odd and once-new technology.

The technology is no longer new. New things are coming. Are they big enough and different enough to change the vector? Maybe. When a baby NPC starts crying as I leave her in the threatened homestead, my online life might change quite a bit. A firm here in Bloomington, Indiana has developed a one-pound wearable computer that you access through a visor. Ubiquitous Virtual Reality (UVR) anyone? There will be gee-whiz posts, just not as many.

That leaves new games and research.

New games: when someone truly moves the ball forward, expect a post. WoW continues to be the game to beat. As much as I like Warhammer Online - it is the very best MMOG ever, and if you don't agree, go ahead and roll your evil bloodsucking Destruction character so I can bash you with my hammer of holiness over and over and over - it doesn't have millions of subs. As for the other million - "user" worlds, we are still waiting for the industry to come up with metrics so we can compare the true eyeball impact of Habbo Hotel to WoW.

Research: My bet for the long-run meat and potatoes at this URL. The community of people reporting basic knowledge here will grow. Right now, though, the flow of studies is still pretty light. There are many papers, sure, but how many rise to the level of being true findings, new facts, or plausible, verified, quantified explanations that can be helpful to the outside world? Not too many just at the moment. Those of us working in the area have many PhD students in the pipeline (mine are here), and their research will hit these pages more frequently as time goes on. But it does take years.

TN is aging and evolving. There may be fewer posts, but that's because there's been an implicit commitment not to waste anyone's time: readers or authors.

Comments on Is Terra Nova Aging?:

Cunzy1 1 says:

Suggested filler articles until PhD research completed:

1) Terra Nova title change competition.
2) Terra Nova: reality blog week (readers get to vote off writers until a queen or king is found)
3) Virtual cow gives virtual milk but does it taste nice?
4) Is gender important to griefing avatars who don't or maybe do make eye contact in virtual worlds with an economy?
5) Conference that sucked. Top ten conferences that were much better on paper than in reality, indexed by food quality and auditorium facilities.
6) Has anyone got an idea for a PhD because I've got funding but I have run out of good ideas?
7) What there are other virtual worlds than Second Life?
8) When is googling my own name, research and when is it passing the time?
9) Terra Nova vs. All the contributors fight against each other in numerous worlds until one is left standing. The winner gets tenure and they can design a new banner.
10) When is enough, enough? Writing 10,000 words is easy but is it too much.

This should keep you going for a couple of years at least. Feel free to hit me up for more suggestions I got plenty.

Posted Dec 11, 2008 12:29:15 PM | link

Thomas says:

The endless debate on virtual tax is.. well, taxing.

Also, no virtual worlds actually exist as of yet, so it seems most people here just pass the time until, maybe, sometime over the rainbow.

Posted Dec 11, 2008 1:31:22 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I stopped keeping up, and when I came back, missing the debating and speculation, it seemed... gone. Empty. So even though I've started digging back into virtual worlds, I haven't gone back to reading Terra Nova regularly. It's a shame, and maybe you're right.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 3:18:05 AM | link

Constance Steinkuehler says:

I think no small part of the general ennui around virtual worlds is WoW. Generally, we all play it and like it, but are somewhat bored of it. Not enough to leave it permanently but enough to have several flings with other titles only to get frustrated with this feature or that feature that isn't WoW-polished the way we're lulled into expecting and - next thing you know, there we are back at the doorstep of our mediocre marriage (to use a metaphor), telling ourselves .o0O(well, he's at least one or two good conversations better than just another sink full of dirty dishes)

Raph (and others) predicted that WoW would be the end of the MMO industry as we know it: massive budget, ridiculous polish, training wheels on everything so its hard to go back to actual work (can you imagine now having to make your own maps?!). Not that we all agreed, or course, but he had a point. And maybe that point extends some tiny bit into virtual world scholarship?

I for one have never loved the game the way I ought to love an MMO I've played for -what, 4 years now?!- but I feel compelled to study it because that's where the population is. Am I alone?

Posted Dec 12, 2008 4:01:45 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

You're so not alone, Constance. I feel exactly the same way you do about WoW, with the added and longstanding feeling of meh about not only its cartoony look, but also it's over the top cultural references. It's clear that they would rather, in many cases of making content, go for the cheap laugh than enrich the world. As the biggest, baddest, most impossible to ignore virtual world around, why did we end up with the Shrek of MMOs?

Still pining for the Pixar of MMOs....

Posted Dec 12, 2008 8:50:04 AM | link

Cunzy1 1 says:

You are joking right? How about instead of reworking the usual stuff over and over again on Second Life and Wow, you guys broaden your definition of virtual world and MMOs and come up with some truly original research?

As for where the population is that a genuine complaint? Is it not just the one that is perhaps best known on the internet and the biggest one with an english language audience?

How about looking at MMO which aren't MMORPGs or sandbox worlds. There's plenty to find and you might generate interest beyond a certain demographic.


Posted Dec 12, 2008 9:01:41 AM | link

ren reynolds says:

Cunzy1 1
"broaden your definition of virtual world and MMO"

I"m not sure our definition needs to be changed however I do think that we here tend to focus on a small number of examples that fall under those definitions. Trouble is that it takes a lot of time to get to know any VW sufficiently.

I'm wondering though what things might fall outside the definition that we are not looking at - VW's that are closed an used specific for things like Emergency training might be one, augmented reality / mash-up stuff might be another.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 9:31:48 AM | link

Daniel Speed says:

WAR certainly had interesting elements, such as guilds imbued with advancement which was non-transferable, and should make it so that persistent social structures were rewarded over ephemeral ones, or that they get traded like WoW Arena Teams. I would have loved a discussion that could have sidetracked into the game design implications of that.

There have been small developments and features introduced into some MMOs that twist the RMT debate a little (not like court rulings, but some twists on selling items etc in AAA western MMOs).

If you're looking for huge news to hang every post on, it's not going to be there, but it's sometimes the baby steps that determine the eventual direction of things, not just the one-off revolutions.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 10:29:46 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

We could stand for more research and thinking on both teen/tween worlds and upstart models like Metaplace.

And yeah, WoW feels repetitive, in no small part because it is repetitive. Polished or not, you can only do so many repeated acts until it hits you. A lasting phenomenon needs a stronger element of randomness. People supply some of that randomness but the game has a basic rails approach. I think about my love of pick up basketball, which never gets old or stale to me, and some of that has to do with the immense variation in play. Unlike FedEx quests, the game will have a different wrinkle every time we lace up. I can't hit the same four buttons to score a basket because the defender adapts, because his and my skills alter, and because we can both be creative. Not so with WoW.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 11:16:14 AM | link

thoreau says:

Who at TN is doing real research on any specific game economy or world?

Aside from Nate Combs- whose excellent series on Eve Online motivated me to start playing - I can't think of any regular contributer to TN who is looking at any specific VW.

Where are the Entropia Universe players? Lots of interesting stuff going on there especially the move by Mindark from game developer to platform developer.

Anyone charting the price of commodities in Norrath by playing EQ2 on their RMT and non-RMT servers? How does RMT affect the price of rare ores?

How have relationships in WoW evolved over time with regards to raids? Is there a 7 year inch in WoW?

I think there are a lot of interesting stuff going on but I don't see much of it here.

Maybe each TN contributer can resolve to play one new MMO (new to them) over the next year and post on the various aspects of gameplay and economy.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 1:37:17 PM | link

greglas says:


So when we first started, over five years ago, Richard and Raph used to say, from time to time, in so many words, that everything we were talking about had been talked about before (on MUD-Dev or during the MOO research heyday). And I never doubted that was true.

The funny thing, for me, is that, after perhaps having talked about these many interesting things (a second time) here, I know many many more people out there still have not talked a first time about these things -- and probably would like a chance to do so. So we're caught between participating once again in the "same old tune" together and an interest in trying to advance the game somehow.

My hunch is that we've aged and it's a good thing for all of us individually. We're collectively heading toward greater understandings. The question is whether that is going to pull discussion here apart due to our disciplinarity.

It seems to me that once some kind of theoretical foundation for understanding virtual worlds is established & the basic structure of the technology is grasped from multiple perspectives, we all have a basic tool kit.

But that's where things get tough. Does the study of virtual worlds get tacked on as a new object for multiple "disciplines" (anthropology, communications, education, game design, new media, STS, law, grognardism, etc.)? Or can find enough in common between disciplines to make something like the JVWR and/or a "generalist" blog like this one make sense?

It seems to me that to carry our personal conversations forward is somewhat difficult due to the fractured nature of the academy, as well as the gulf between the academic world and the world of business practice. I don't post at length about legal doctrinal issues too often here because many of those conversations seem to work better in more specialized groups. Instead, I tend to post here about things that interest me, without much of a claim to specialized knowledge.

I suggested something like this before in this post. The authors are a diverse lot with a variety of "homes" in various disciplines or industries where we can make progress on established terms. Yet we're not posting here to teach each other about our specialized knowledge, I think. The interesting thing that Terra Nova can do is to operate in the interstices of multiple approaches. The tough question at the interstices is how we make & measure progress.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 1:56:10 PM | link

Isaac Knowles says:

I've been using TerraNova off and on as a resource since I first started researching WoW's economy back in mid-to-late 2005. The wow-gee-whiz spirit that carried me into this particular area of inquiry was ominpresent here at that time. At some point, though, it did seem to drop off, though I'm not sure why. Maybe you all just talked it out and, hopefully, are now working hard on projects to bring this research into your particular fields of specialization.

I think the current work with SOE is very exciting and I'm hopeful that other developers jump on the R&D train sooner or later. Dmitri et al. have an opportunity to answer some very important questions about whether what happens in a VW suitably mimics real life. If the answer is "Yes" then that might be the just the ticket to open floodgates of new interest. But whatever the answer, the EQII research has something that just about every other study fails to utilize: real, honest-to-god raw data.

I for one intend on carrying on my own independent research as time and resources permit, and right now that means acquring a data set that will allow me to ask and answer new and exciting questions. In the mean time, I will continue to regularly check TN for any updates relevant to virtual economies, because it remains the one place I can go to learn about recent developments.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 4:21:43 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Interesting reading the comments above about WoW feeling repetitive, a bit boring maybe... a little WoWnnui perhaps? :-)

That feeling hit me as a player over two years ago. And since then the MMOG/VW offering have become more thematically incestuous (WAR, Conan) with several notable failures (Tabula Rasa, Vanguard) -- and also a flowering of new and different worlds, mostly browser-based, mostly for kids and "tweens."

Greg: It seems to me that once some kind of theoretical foundation for understanding virtual worlds is established & the basic structure of the technology is grasped from multiple perspectives, we all have a basic tool kit.

Is there a "basic structure" and a singular theoretical foundation though? These things keep morphing on us (a good thing) in terms of technology, theme, target demographic, revenue model, production model, etc. It might worth looking into what a theoretical foundation would look like, and how we can tell if it's invariant or just an ad hoc reflection of current implementations.

In terms of virtual worlds research, I echo thoreau's question above -- in terms of virtual anthropology (which is to me what a lot of VW studies feels like; no offense meant to anyone to whom that might not seem to fit), is it maybe time to branch out from the main settlement and visit some of the lesser-known tribes, to see what we can learn from them?

Posted Dec 12, 2008 4:23:17 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

Mike: Is there a "basic structure" and a singular theoretical foundation though? These things keep morphing on us (a good thing) in terms of technology, theme, target demographic, revenue model, production model, etc.

Isn't that the hallmark of a new and unsettled industry, though? If these were still shifting so much, would there be so little to talk about that no one seems to come up with anything very often?

Posted Dec 12, 2008 6:23:22 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

It might worth looking into what a theoretical foundation would look like, and how we can tell if it's invariant or just an ad hoc reflection of current implementations.

I think one of the things we bump up against is the limitations of any sedimented theoretical or methodological approach. If we're bound by a desire for simple answers, and conclusions that work in every case, we collide with just this changeability of these complex spaces. That severely limits any aspirations to find a "standard model" or approach that works everywhere, in all times.

Instead, we absolutely should visit new tribes, new contexts, and feel less bound by narrow notions of what constitutes scientific knowledge. In some sciences (and really all empirical inquiry), it's the amassing of a corpus of case studies, resistant to systematization, that becomes a rich and useful repository of knowledge for future work (in industry, academia, and beyond). To that end, Greg's reference to the best of what we've amassed as a "toolkit" is very apt, in my opinion.

To answer Thoreau's question, a number of people here are doing research on specific games and worlds, but that work doesn't always find its way to posts on TN, or appear here with the installment-like quality of Nate's posts on EvE. The way academic publishing works makes it a bit of a work in progress where and how our different writings based on empirical research appear in the age of blogs and the like. For me, the work on Linden Lab and Second Life (another example for Isaac of work based on "honest-to-god raw data") was always a book-length project, so the pieces that I tended to post to ssrn and point to here were instead related conceptual articles. (The book is now available for pre-order at Amazon, though, so it's coming!).

I hope to move on to studying a different virtual world soon, though, so suggestions for interesting happenings are always welcome. :)

Posted Dec 12, 2008 7:20:41 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I don't think things have really settled down all that much overall, though the fantasy/men-in-tights MMOGs have reached something of a local optimum (from Runescape to WoW to WAR, where's the huge difference?). And that plus 3D social worlds like Second Life (in particular) have been the focus point of most people thinking theoretically about this area.

OTOH, we don't talk much about, say, Maple Story very much, or even the closer-to-home Runescape or Puzzle Pirates. To say nothing of the new hybrids coming out on Facebook (I posted about this on my blog). No one in "traditional" MMOG/VW-land seems to have spent much time on powerful hybrids like Mob Wars on Facebook, their new form of virtual world (it's persistent, but has no geography or even avatars to speak of), and in particular their new revenue model that's an intriguing combination of free-to-play and bannerless ad support. Whole companies have sprung up in the fast-changing "social games" environment that few in "virtual worlds" seem to have noticed -- as if, once we stake our claims, no one can innovate around us.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 7:22:41 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Thomas, I missed your comment above: ...we absolutely should visit new tribes, new contexts, and feel less bound by narrow notions of what constitutes scientific knowledge. In some sciences (and really all empirical inquiry), it's the amassing of a corpus of case studies, resistant to systematization, that becomes a rich and useful repository of knowledge for future work (in industry, academia, and beyond). To that end, Greg's reference to the best of what we've amassed as a "toolkit" is very apt, in my opinion.

Good point. Until we know more at a theoretic level (or even if we can know more), we need to be amassing this toolkit using a wide variety of methods (yes, this pretty much reverses a position I held in a discussion some time ago).

How can we find more relevant bits from different parts of the VW-sphere that we can discuss in bite-size bloggy chunks, rather than in published article or book-level chunks? Those are good and necessary as well, but it seems to me that part of our exploration should be rapidly iterative, as it were, taking a cue from game development itself.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 11:15:32 PM | link

Keith M Ellis says:

I'm the person who sent the email. It seems to me like there's quite a few interesting things to be aware of and to discuss and that you are not utilizing this blog fully.

Blogs need to be active—the fewer posts, the less often readers check for posts, and readership slowly declines even when posting activity increases again.

If you take a look at the quasi-academic group blog "Crooked Timber", I think you'll see an example of how to get the most out of specialized group blogging. I do think that they've strayed too far from their academic focus into general politics; but before they did that they found quite a bit to talk about with regard to academia, sociology, economics, philosophy and a few other subjects.

That's relatively wide-ranging—however, VWs touch upon a large portion of intellectual disciplines. Furthermore, if this blog was also intended to be about the business of VWs, there's always news to discuss there.

What was the massive study within WoW by one of the TN writers that was previewed and then discussed here a few months ago? That was groundbreaking in the amount of data produced and analyzed and the many interesting conclusions drawn. Rather than the subject being a bit stale, it seems to me that there's a lot more to talk about than there used to be.

If this were a physics blog by a group of academic physicists, then it could be one of two kinds of blogs. It could restrict itself to postings by the scientists regarding their own research, or research they are well-familiar from their own sub-disciplines, and be relatively sparse and almost stagnant; or it could have more informal posts by the physicists of both a variety of general and specialist physics news, as well as daily musings about physics, and be content-rich and lively.

I don't really see any good reason why this blog couldn't be much more lively than it is; and I suspect that its stagnation is more the product of writer disinterest than it is the necessary result of the blog's maturity, as has been argued.

It's churlish to complain—I'm trying to avoid that. But I greatly enjoyed TN when it was more active and I'm certain there's still a great deal to talk about—indeed, I feel certain there's more to talk about than before. Or, rather, in my case, there's more to read about. If I, myself, had anything to say and had expertise, I'd either ask to contribute here or start another blog. But I'm just a very interested reader, and I can't create the content that I'd like to read. I can only ask for it and emphasize how interested I am in reading what your writers write. It's a mistake to be inhibited from writing on the assumption that no one out here would be interested. If they aren't, you'll know because you won't have much of a readership. If they are, you'll gain readership. But if you don't write, then you'll never know one way or another.

Posted Dec 12, 2008 11:46:54 PM | link

Keith M Ellis says:

A follow-up:

I was just now reading this interview with Bioware's Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka about the design and development of the new "Star Wars" MMORPG, and the interviewer asks this perennial question:

From your earlier interviews we know that BioWare is going to focus on story as a major part of the experience. But how can you incorporate meaningful story into an MMO universe, where everyone has to share the same world? What techniques are you using? What can people expect?

They don't really answer this, of course.

This has been discussed extensively—it's probably the essential conundrum of MMORPG design. But as it's not a problem that's really been solved, I think there's necessarily still life in the discussion.

In my email I mentioned that I've always been more interested in video gaming as a subject than I have been in actually playing video games. Partly this is because I've never been obsessive enough to be a hard-core gamer. But I have always been almost obsessive in my interest in video gaming as a subject.

I'm exactly the age to have grown up with the advent of video gaming, with Pac-Man appearing my freshman year in high school. I had spent a lot of time playing pinball from the age of nine at the university's game room and watched with great interest as the very first video games appeared (Pong, a night driving game, a submarine game). From that beginning, I've always had a vague desire for something from video gaming, something around the corner—increased verisimilitude, maybe, which creates immersion coupled with complexity.

I've never really found what I've been looking for...though MMORPGs seemed that they might answer that desire, in the early years. For example, I was thrilled with the idea of an actual ecology in UO—and fascinated by the (in hindsight, obvious) reasons why it failed so spectacularly.

And why is the pretense of role-playing in MMORPGs obviously necessary when, in fact, so few players actually roleplay? Would they prefer to roleplay, perhaps naturally and not ostentatiously, but the game design prevents it? Or is the roleplaying merely a framing device?

I know that all these things have been oft-discussed. But I still want to hear what experts have to say about them. Surely, as VWs grow and mature, and the business and academic analysis of them grow and mature, thoughts on these matters also grow and mature, and possibly change, even radically.

For the many thousands of Chinese who toil as gold farmers, how does their experience of this as work differ from their other experiences of work? What is their psychological relationship to their work?

These are just some of my late-night thoughts and questions. VWs is a very intellectually rich subject, in my opinion, because the way in which they are sandboxes for testing economic theories is the same way in which they're sandboxes for a great many other things, as well. It's a translation of a variety of human activities into a different, and simplified, context. It's also the harbinger of a profound socio-economic shift.

I can't imagine why there's isn't far more interesting things to say about virtual worlds than there are opportunities to say them.

Posted Dec 13, 2008 4:59:50 AM | link

evonne says:

I'm going to try some research, call it The Big Game....we can play all over the clouds and see how many hundreds and thousands of us scramble around to integrate findings on immersion, emotion and experience into tangible bites for information consumers. TerraNova is one user-created world, a guild of gurus who share our collective boredom. We are beyond capable and yet we languish here in blog flatland....why do we let each other get lost in virtual spaces to begin with? What drew us to this place? More than ten years in we have not seen the depth of our bonds created through embodied adventures.

At the end of The Big Game round we decide to throw out all of the points, posts and awards and decide to count love, respect and care. When the numbers all fade away the game changes immensely, and when the connections created become the focus everything else looks pale in comparison.

The virtual sometimes fades more quickly from the mind but for many it is more lucid than a dream, fulfilling many of the same values and qualities.

It doesn't matter what worlds we play in anymore; I tend to like the spaces that let me be green. Avatar race and uniqueness is important to me as it extends something true about my identity. We have a long way to go until we reflect those unique identities fully in the digital landscape. We have a long, long way to go before we understand what we have already created together.

Posted Dec 14, 2008 2:05:19 AM | link

GameRates says:


Over at my (commercial) site we have a few charts: GameRates that try to keep track of general currency prices (it pulls in about 80,000 pages a night and is growing; although it's been a pain as vendors keep changing pages around for Christmas specials and breaking our spiders).

Posted Dec 14, 2008 4:34:09 AM | link

dmyers says:

One blog year
even longer than a dog year

People tend to do the same thing as other people.
Duping, grouping, loop the looping.
Guys in dresses. MIT presses.

It can be a good thing.
It can be a bad thing.

It's a boring thing.

Playing is not heaven sent.
It's just different.

Posted Dec 14, 2008 2:20:13 PM | link

shander says:

I might complain that I could read this site and not really get many people sharing about good alternatives out there.

I found a modified turn based and real time game that didn't penalize missing a day, offers enough complexity items and gradual optimization of skills to create a full sense of immersion.

And it incentives for interactions...guilds etc..

There is some attempt to keep greater warfare in character with fun contrived back stories and sword waving to justify aggression.

Ok, I'm talking too much and its not like its this great game but it fills the desires I have for a vitual reality with goals but not obligations...and to feel like you're progressing in an alternative space while allowing a good deal of IRC and forum interaction with people from other parts of the world.

Its a browser game ... probably only a few guys putting it together... but play is complex enough for players to develop browser scripts and third party sites.

the games name is Pardus I don't even like the space genre but its got but it works for me.

Its a free browser game but I pay 6$ a month mostly out of good will to the developers who are creating this pastime for me.

I'm not sure I have much a point other than I'd like to hear more discussions about what other persistent games are filtering in and out and where different ones of them bridge time and space.

Posted Dec 15, 2008 2:45:00 AM | link

greglas says:

Check out the headline of this recent article in a *Silicon Valley* newspaper:
People spend real money on virtual goods

That's a headline in 2008 (almost 2009)!

That was kind of my point earlier -- just because we've spent five years talking about virtual property and commerce doesn't mean that the editors of newspapers (or presumably the average person) think of this as old news. Until the majority -- or even 20% -- of people are using virtual worlds, they will be novel to most people. So the novelty of all this will persist for awhile, which means (I think) that our "news" will not track popular news, and people discovering this blog for the first time may find it increasingly obscure and irrelevant to what they see as the pressing questions raised by virtual worlds.

By analogy, some of us were tinkering with the Internet back in the 70's -- but the news media discovered the Internet in 1995 (more or less). So questions about online identity, for instance, that had been out there for some time got rediscovered and popularized many years after they were first raised. Richard, Jess and Bruce (and many others) have been thinking about virtual world much longer than I have, so I can only guess at how they feel about the constant re-discovering of virtual worlds.

Relatedly, one thing that Terra Nova has taught me is to take a more skeptical approach toward journalism generally. Journalism about virtual worlds is usually assigned to the "tech" or even "fluff" or "news of the weird" beat, meaning that perhaps the facts aren't checked as assiduously as in other stories. And there are some articles that are well-researched and written.

Still, after reading new stories about virtual worlds regularly for many years that get so many basic facts confused, my faith in the accuracy of the average news story (which was never very strong) is shaken.

Posted Dec 16, 2008 8:06:19 AM | link

Blog and SEO tips says:

Any one plays BHD?

Posted Dec 17, 2008 12:52:51 PM | link

Dave 'Fargo' Kosak says:

I've been an on-again-off-again follower of Terra Nova for years, ever since a game-developer friend of mine pointed me toward the link and described it as "where all the weird-beards talk seriously about MMOs." (He meant that affectionately.)

I wanted to chime in because I agree with the original letter -- it feels as though the blog has shifted into low gear, and as a result, I feel like I'm missing out. Big things happen in this space. And often, I say to myself, "I wonder what the weird-beards think about this?" (I mean that affectionately). But there's no topic on TerraNova. I have to rely on my local beards, which are never as long as yours.

Let me give some (hopefully productive) examples:

- Tabula Rasa is shutting down. Personally, I'm devastated. I thought TR was a terrific experiment, although tellingly, I haven't been playing it lately. Open for discussion: Why did it fail? What does this bode for non-fantasy genres? What does it take for a game to capture people on a large scale? Was NCSoft too premature in its closing? The game will be free to play for a month -- what happens if it's suddenly popular? I want to know what TerraNova thinks!

- EVE Online's Starbase Exploit: A major bug that had been around for months. Huge groups of players had built starbases specifically to take advantage of the exploit. When a bug is that big, impacting that many players for that long, how aggressive should CCP have been with banning involved players? Where do you draw the line? Did they do the right thing? I know TN experts know far more about the EVE economy than I do -- really curious to hear what you guys think.

- The Home "Pool Table Problem:" If you want to play Pool in PSN's Home, you go to a pool hall, and you wait for a table to free. Some gamers complained: 'Why not just have an infinite number of tables? It's an online world! Why make us wait?' But there's a VW reason not to: to form communities, to encourage socialization around the pool area, to encourage people to buy their own pool tables and invite friends over, etc. What's the "right" decision from a design perspective?

- Home Gets Hacked: Almost immediately. People can basically upload and download content to the Home servers at will. I know that talking about hacks is old-hat around here, but certainly there's something here to talk about. How big an impact will this have, if any? Hey, is it maybe a good thing?

- Gerald's Beard: Then there's my friend Gerald, who I watched install Home this week (bringing this back to the beard thing.) He launched the character editor, and gets to the part where you can select facial hair. The icon even has a picture of a goatee on it. But guess what? Home? NO BEARDS. I watched in real-time as Gerald clicked on the icon six times, scrolled through all the menus, and kept re-opening the "facial hair" tab over and over again in utter disbelief. No beards! Beard-free! He jaw literally hung open. And I watched as he put down the controller and lifted up his hands. "I can't play this!" he declared. Gerald and I talk about virtual worlds a LOT, but it turns out, for all the high-level features we always talk about, at the very heart, the one ESSENTIAL feature he needs in order to associate with a virtual world is ... beards.

I kinda feel the same way. But about you guys.

I know that the topics above have often been hashed and re-hashed, and I know that nobody's had time to do deep scholarly research on Tabula Rasa, but it would be nice if TerraNova would loosen up the screws a little and open the floor to discussion about the day-to-day things of interest that shake up the world of virtual worlds. IMO!


Posted Dec 17, 2008 4:47:30 PM | link

Wagner James Au says:

Terra Novans:

I love you guys and I'm grateful for all your support of my work. So take this observation in that spirit: Terra Novans seem to have lost enthusiasm over virtual worlds in direct *inverse* proportion to their growing popularity. When you guys started out, the biggest MMO had a few hundred thousand players, now it's well over 11 million, and counting all virtual worlds together, arguably over 100 million total. As this growth has happened over the last few years, however, you read less and less from Terra Nova. This is totally paradoxical. All the theoretical concepts you were discussing years ago are now practical business model considerations. Maybe it's unfair, but I can't help thinking there's some kind of academic disengagement from the taint of commercialism going on.

There's so much more work to do! In my home stomping ground, to take just one example, there's roughly half a million Second Life users exchanging over $1 million in virtual currency a day, and I have only the roughest idea how that economy works, far as industries, supply and demand of goods, etc. etc. Linden Lab doesn't have much of a better idea either. This is totally a job for Terra Nova, at least as advisers to various bushy tail econ grad students. Maybe I didn't get the memo, but far as I know, no one is rigorously working on such a project. (If there is, please send them my way.)

Some goes for cultural analysis. There's a burgeoning art movement in Second Life, and real ambitious, important attempts to make this a communicative platform for the next generation. I just posted something about an interactive Kristallnacht memorial sponsored by the US Holocaust Museum. Is it successful? Only partly, in my estimation, but then, I'm just one guy looking for more perspectives.

In short, I could really use help with the heavy lifting here. I suspect the same is true of the fairly large commercial/non-commercial/government/NGO/educational/artistic/etc. community that's sprouted up, largely as a result from what you guys pioneered. We just need moar!

Posted Dec 17, 2008 6:19:13 PM | link

Michael Chui says:

I'm sure Richard had his own reasons for not posting here, but I wanted to point this out:

Which led me to do some Googling, and I found this:

News. Nothing I can think of to discuss on it, though.

Posted Dec 19, 2008 12:32:20 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

Interesting narrative. Though I think the end state of TN is mostly described by the sort of asymmetrical randomness that drives all that is "virtual world [economics]" than any sort of academic causality. Then again, I rather doubt Taleb-esque thinking has ever been well regarded around here.

Posted Dec 21, 2008 8:58:38 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I rather doubt Taleb-esque thinking has ever been well regarded around here.

Good heavens, why would you think that? Tim and I are talking about the irreducible contingency of the world all the time around here.

Posted Dec 22, 2008 12:40:27 AM | link

randolfe_ says:

Present company excepted.

Posted Dec 24, 2008 5:30:23 PM | link

Tom Boellstorff says:

I think Wagner's post is exactly on the mark. TN has been such a pioneer, but now the universe of great work out there on virtual worlds and online games is really exploding (as are the number and size of virtual worlds and online games, even as some also shrink and even disappear).

There's a lot going on that's exciting, overwhelming in fact, and no one blog or journal or whatever will be a singular clearinghouse any more. There will be all kinds of new work on new and emerging worlds. And also new work on existing worlds: we have barely scratched the surface of WoW, Second Life, etc., so I don't buy the idea that there's any danger of running out of steam in terms of studying these rapidly changing places. TN's role will shift and evolve but I suspect that will be a positive thing.

And on that positive note, best wishes for the New Year to all!

Posted Dec 27, 2008 9:44:36 PM | link

Cunzy1 1 says:

"Terra Over?" would have been a better title for this post. Took me just under a month to think up that.

Posted Jan 5, 2009 6:27:42 AM | link

dmx says:

Nate, are you still playing eve? I just picked up my account again, and discovered most of the old lag horrors seem fixed.

Somewhere around I have a half finished 'history of the goons' paper I did once. Real epic piece too. I'll finish it one day.

Posted Jan 24, 2009 5:06:01 AM | link

Jane says:

Perhaps this is about how MMORPGs have aged - or have not aged well at all. Considering that the online trend is away from intense and lenghty commitments to micro activities and micro chats, I'm ready to admit that the concept of persistent online worlds has tired and perhaps become slightly outdated - is there really any need to have an alternate life when reality can enhanced with online social interactions can co-exist and mingle well together...

Posted Jan 28, 2009 2:03:33 PM | link

Dave says:

EVE Online has a very active market discussions forum which has produced two stable banks valued at over 2 Trillion ISK ($100,000+) with 4,000+ users and discussions of private law and arbitration, anarcho-capitalism, and the drive to a virtualized secondary-market highly liquid exchange. In an anarcho-capitalistic financial environment do cartels rule? What does increased liquidity due to a market?

Bah! I keep forgetting!

As long as EVE "promotes war and unfettered pvp" it's not worth studying...right? =)

Nothing to see! Move along! Nothing to see here!

Posted Feb 3, 2009 12:17:50 PM | link