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Nov 21, 2003



"...maybe even Ted Castronova--keep insisting that these are games in some meaningful sense, not worlds..."

I'm resolutely fence-sitting: As a default, I think these are worlds and not games. I also think they will be a better technology for us if they frequently attain the status of games.

So, I'm sympathetic to the descriptive view that these are mostly worlds, and also to the descriptive argument for legitimate politics within them. Yes, that's the way it is, and yes, I can see that that will happen. My case for a different outcome - a privileged status called "game" that has an associated privileged legal status (one which need not allow democracy) - is normative. And as a vision, I think it may be doomed anyway.


This is going to seem off topic, but it isn't. Really. Trust me.

The folks who stuck around at State of Play Saturday afternoon had an opportunity to learn about a little understood aspect of democracy: rulemaking. For those who didn't attend or don't understand rulemaking, a brief explanation is in order.

(Saturday morning cartoon concept of how laws get made)

Bill sits on Capital Hill, goes through committee, gets passed by both Houses (with some compromising), goes to the President, gets signed, we have a law and everyone now knows what to do.

(Saturday afternoon at State of Play description of what really happens -- and I'm not admitting to having watched cartoons that morning)

Bill sits on Capital Hill, goes through committee, gets passed by both Houses (with some compromising), goes to the President, gets signed, we have a law which either directs existing government agencies to do something or establishes a new government agency. Said agency then reviews the specifics and puts out a proposed rule (or set of rules) that actually implements the law. These rules are then exposed to public comment and turned into the final rule, including explanations of why comments were not followed. The specific details in these rules now have the force of law.

Professor Beth Noveck, one of the driving forces behind state of play, had two mucky-mucks from EPA and DOT come up and explain rulemaking in the hopes that a gaggle of game designers, lawyers, and others would have some good ideas about improving the comments that people supply to rules. I'm not sure whether this actually happened since I had to leave a little early to fly home, but for the two hours that I was there the conversation focused more on the process of rulemaking then on how games might improve the comments. Many interesting points were raised of which I think two were the most relevant to Dan's post:

1) as Raph correctly pointed out immediately, the rulemaking process has very close correspondence to the process of releasing a patch to an online game, where the users have strong (but potentially uninformed) opinions about all of the game features, where there is some discussion between the users and the developers about features (but the developer has the final say), and once the patch is released that the developer spends a bunch of time explaining why they didn't do what the players wanted.


2) mandated changes to the rulemaking process (putting it into a standardized, searchable, central database with list serves that anyone can post to without identity verification via the web) is going to take a system that was already dominated by large law firms and organized interest groups and make it orders of magnitude more manipulatable by those same groups (and they are doing this because of a Federal mandate to "bring government to the people")

So why are these interesting. Well, #1 shows that a key aspect to our real world democracy is already at work in online games and that a lot of the users take it seriously and spend time thinking about it, and #2 shows that even extremely bright people who are being paid full time to think about democracy will make huge mistakes that will take time to fully understand.

So, how does this get back to Dan's spitball? Government and democracy will continue to push its way into virtual worlds, completely independent of whether it is coded in and whether we want it to or not, since the more organized and connected players become the more impact forums, protests and demonstrations can have (a virtual world whose connectors and leaders decide to leave en masse won't be around for very long). In response to this pressure, more and more games will quickly (and publicly) implement new forms of player government and democracy. But here's the rub: most of these new features will be fundamentally and fatally flawed because democracy is really, really hard to get right. In addition, these features will harm the virtual worlds immensely because a bad implementation of democracy is going to be far more damaging to the virtual world then the current economy bug boogie monsters.

Despite all that, I think that Dan might very well be correct that government and politics will be key to really pushing virtual worlds forward, but the road to success will be bloody.


I'm not sure the dispute about "game vs. world" is a very productive one; I rank it in the category of the ongoing DiGRA/European dispute about "game vs. story."

What's much more interesting to me is what the players think. That players believe they SHOULD have say in what's going on is what we might want to pay a little more attention to. To invoke Ted Castronova again, there has emerged an issue of governance. Negotiations over rules in games is not a new thing, and I'm certain that those of us who have done a lot of D&D and LARPing have been engaged in issues of rulemaking/governance. On the other hand, I'm curious how many people have written Parker Bros. to insist that they change the rules of monopoly to make them, say, more socialistic. Clearly there are some things which are called games that people feel they have some role in the governance of, perhaps, as in this case, by virtue of the fact that they feel they "live" there. It would be interesting to compare for example, how the players in Castronova's EQ survey stand on this. Do those players who feel they live in Norrath and visit the real world have more of a sense of their "rights" in the game than those who perceive themselves as visitors? What makes them feel that way? Clearly they know the game is a dictatorship; yet at the same time, as they are paying to be there, they may feel a sense of entitlement, ownership as it were. Is what is going on now similar in some way to revolutions in Europe in which democracy ultimately took the place of monarchy? It's ironic that most of the worlds we are talking about are set in the Middle Ages. Somehow unrest is fomenting.

But from talking to players in-game, such as Lineage, it seems like they are not so much interested in democracy as they are in participatory design. They feel that having spent many hours in the game, they have acquired a certain amount of expertise beyond the standard "experience points" and feel, perhaps as empowered consumers as much as members of a "state," entitled to have some say in what goes on. Also peculiar, since in most businesses, as with real estate development (which I've also had some experience with) the customers have very little say.

What is interesting me about these...let's call them "gameworlds" is that at a certain point the no longer "belong" to the designers. At some point, players in a sense "take over" and begin to create the world themselves. I'm not sure the game designers really anticipated this. It's what I call the "given them an inch and they'll take a mile" principle of interactivity. As people become more accustomed to being given control, they will naturally want and even take more. These gameworlds have created a sort of consumer/producer who is, in a sense, paying for the right to co-create the world. This is unprecidented in the entertainment industry. The one exception are the Fellowship of the Rings films (see Eric Davis' article in the October 2001 issue of Wired http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.10/lotr.html?pg=1 ) Here the film team had a sort of community manager who vetted ideas past a group of fans. Because the Tolkien books have one of the strongest fan cultures in history, the filmmakers knew it would be suicide not to take their concerns into account. This is a phenomenal step in media production, and much different from "market surveys." It is really a form of participatory design, in which the end user is engaged in the design process from the beginning. These guys sincerely wanted the fans to give the movie the stamp of approval, both for creative and business reasons.

I'm in the process of compiling an oral history of ActiveWorlds, which was founded in 1995 and is the longest continuously running persistent online virtual world. Because it was essentially built from scratch by users, and is clearly NOT a game but a WORLD (e.g., no rules), it will be interesting as a case study for exploring these issues. I know that they made up community rules as they went along; I also know that at some point the users took over the company when it was going under, although I'm not sure of the specifics. As the results come in, I will post them on the blog where relevant. I think they will be useful to TerraNovians.


Dan Hunter>A number of really smart people--Greg Costikyan, Eric Zimmerman, Raph Koster, maybe even Ted Castronova--keep insisting that these are games in some meaningful sense, not worlds, and that this is the secret to understanding why concepts of political philosophy (or law) just don't apply here.

You're right, they ARE worlds. However, just like the regular world, that doesn't imply anything about what you do in them. Virtual worlds can be used for play, for therapy, for education, for socialising, for plotting the end of humanity as we know it...

The big commercial virtual worlds we have are, however, sold as games. They may not be PLAYED as games by everyone, but the conceit that they ARE games underlies their whole structure. More to the point, it underlies their whole DESIGN.

Not all virtual worlds are games, but most are, and for a significant proportion of their players. This is why the people you quote harp on about the subject and reject your blurring of boundaries: basically, you just don't seem to get it, and until you do they're having to defend an intellectual statement that should really be axiomatic.



Ah well, I suppose it was inevitable that the throwaway line at the end about games vs worlds was going to be the only thing that got dealt with here. So be it.

Let me make this one comment, and then leave it for others to do what they want here. I'm gonna restrict it to one comment, since I think that the argument is sterile and getting more and more sterile by the day. Maybe we can inject more life into the discussion here, but I doubt it. I think that it's just gonna be one of those debates that splits people, and is incapable of resolution.

But let me suggest why I think these things are worlds, not games. Or perhaps to say why I think they are mostly worlds and not mostly games. First, take Huizinga's conception of a game as a series of actions involving no moral consequences. On this definition, MUDs and MMORPGs and VWs haven't been games from the moment that a large number of people got together in-game and started communicating. My actions in the world/game significantly affect the interests of others, and so any of my actions implicate moral decisions. If I grief other players, then I am engaged in an immoral act from within the community norms of the game. Ditto, maybe, if I steal their Bonecrusher Mace and sell it on eBay. I'm not trying to say that these actions are immoral necessarily, just that they involve moral questions. Hence, not games.

Second, I think it's easy to say that Monopoly is a game. A group of people playing Monopoly is not a game, it's a community. Now, if you want to say that these worlds are "game playing communities" rather than a "world" then I don't care much. I don't think anything rides on this definition. But a "game-playing community" where people are able to play different games within the space is more than a game. Maybe it's not a world, but I'm really not interested in splitting hairs over definitions like that.

In fact, I'm actually not interested in debating the whole games-world issue either. But I will say that, to adopt Richard B's absolutist vocabulary, that it's asinine to think that it's "axiomatic" that these things are games. It's a defensible viewpoint, but it's just a viewpoint. I think it's wrong. But I think it's more wrong to conclude that anyone who disagrees with you about this is either illogical, stupid, or evil.


I agree with Dan. Richard is clearly a developer and will never see the other side of this argument. When one person's actions directly affect thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of real people - it ceases to be just a game. It is, of course, a game, but at this point it also becomes a community, perhaps even a mini-nation.

The gaming companies admit this freely. OSI's motto wasn't "we create games" - it was "we create worlds". Their goal was to make the virtual environment as "real" as possible and allow players to determine the end result. The developers provided the bits of data which the gamer used to design the environment, but in fact it was the gamer who shaped the world into what it is today (both structurally and socially).

By definition, a game is "an activity providing entertainment or amusement". Although that is a proper description of a MMORPG, these virtual worlds far surpass this definition. For many people they become more relevant than even the "real" world itself. I am not arguing that the gaming companies have rights regarding their products (they do), but I am suggesting that the players have rights as well. The courts will decide this for us eventually, and until then these arguments will be a stalemate.


Dan> Ah well, I suppose it was inevitable that the throwaway line at the end about games vs worlds was going to be the only thing that got dealt with here.

I tried! The government question (and I think that we should be careful not to assume that democracy is the form that government will take off the bat) is such an interesting one, especially given that property and commodization already have people worrying that all the play will be sucked out of their games. As you sort of said, and I tried to point out in my overlong post, government will have a much larger impact on play issues than property will.


"On the other hand, I'm curious how many people have written Parker Bros. to insist that they change the rules of monopoly to make them, say, more socialistic."

One doesn't have to get Parker Bros. to release new rules, as you can just agree among the players to add $500 to free parking. Boardgames are very frequently subverted with House Rules. Single player games often have people installing Cheats to get around perceived unfairness in the rules. MMORPGs have the disadvantage that even if all my friends and I agree on a new rule, we can't implement it.

- Brask Mumei


Not necessarily true Brask. If a group of people get together they can indeed change the rules within a MMORPG. A pk guild in UO used to make other players pay a tariff to come to the champion spawns. If they players refused to pay the tariff, they were killed instantly. This was not part of the game, but these players did indeed change the rules. The faction system is another great example of how players can change the rules within the games (set prices on vendors, position guards, etc). And as far as exploiting and cheats go - all MMORPGs are full of them - forcing the game companies to release patches almost daily to combat them. The players do indeed have a great influence on the "rules" of the game.


A good point Bob.

Actually, after posting that, another case of player-driven rules occurred to me. In the old days of UO, Balrons used to be blocked by wooden boxes. The group I adventured with considered this rather cheap, so when we went balron hunting, would pick up the boxes first.

In other words, a subset of players can determine new "meta rules" for it to follow. Indeed, the highly unstructured nature of UO meant that this was very common. Any duel, by definition, was operating as a sub game with mutually agreed upon rules - there were no /duel commands to enforce non-interference or non-killing.

- Brask Mumei


What’s the point of democracy in gameworlds ?

No really, what is the core issue that we trying to solve here ?

Are we trying to:
• Make existing players happier
• Increase the hours of play time per player
• Increase the average subscription life of a player
• Get more players
• Integrate some fundamental civil \ natural rights into the game world

I posit that right now we are trying to everything but the latter,

What’s more is not the use of the word ‘democracy’ is over complicating what is fundamentally a marketing issue.

That is, current marketing theory (emerging from classic theory such as that by Druker and Kottler to more relationship based stuff from the likes of Peppers & Rogers and community marketing as popularized by Amy Jo Kim) tends to suggest that to have a successful product you actually need to move to a service model and establish a relationship with your customer based, But, you need the product in this first place and what you are doing here, in marketing terms is trying to hold onto your current market and expand it to the largest part of the theoretical addressable market. To put it another way, when you have created your game there are only so many people that are going to play it and you want to get and hold onto as may of them as possible.

To do this it is simply (and possibly nothing more than) good business to alter elements of your service based on customer feed back and if you are clever get customer to be part of the design process for your current and future products.

But in all this I don’t see questions of rights being raised, this is just business so far.

I’ve often wondered about when games get _serious_ that is, what are the factor that tip a game world into something that we need to think about, in respect of our relationship to it, that we think of in the same kind of terms we think about civil society. As I noted in a previous post, Korean games have possibly got to that point,

I suppose that implicitly I am applying this test:

- If the game was turned off would the impact on civil society and the economic of a given country be significant ?

But hold on, what I we just substitute the word game for Internet ? Are we not re-hashing Internet governance issues at this point (paging Dr Froomkin).



The comments by Cory, Bob, Brask, and Ren make two interesting observations that initially promoted me to consider what is the role of user participation here.

First, we already see some emergent behavior occuring as players interact with the relatively command-and-control regulatory/participation structure of MMORPGs. So they clearly recast rules, and definitely have some involvement in the governance of the system. The degree of governance is intentionally circumscribed, but doesn't have to be. But I think that it's interesting to realize that there are these features already in the games/worlds.

Second, Ren's comment about marketing is perhaps the issue that I was most interested to explore here. That is, what is the relationship between expectations of political involvement and the bottom line? Larry Silberstein is going to have a much more tenantable set of buildings, and hence make more money, because he is accounting for public expectations of involvement in their design.

Pretty much everyone foretells the end of the MMORPG expansion sometime soon, though of course the figures are open to various interpretations. I think that, perhaps, developers can avoid the crunch and reach out into new markets by recongizing the extraordinary power of social networks where you empower, not disempower, the participants. There are lots of examples of this, and you only need to head over to Many-to-Many ( http://www.corante.com/many/ ) to see some of the new forms that this takes. And even in explicitly gaming environments, I think that market share is more likely to be driven by social engineering than by better graphics or user content.

On this view, politics isn't something that the developers need fear. It's something they need to engineer in.


Two things--

1) I'm in the "world camp" not the "game" camp--that was my debate with Eric Z at the conference, remember?

2) Democracy is a system designed for large groups. The groups we have in these worlds tend to be too small for it. My (depressing) take on it having put in various democratic mechanisms into these things by now is that by and large players currently don't want democracy. They want benevolent dictatorships for their player-run groups.

Now, this applies to player-run groups. The issue of player-directed or participatory design is a whole other kettle of fish...


Given the choice, would people rather spend their time empowered and responsible or powerless and irresponsible? Fromm argued (Escape from Freedom), that in general people prefer to be powerless and not responsible. However, the fact that transitions to democracy tend to be one-way in the long run argues that players would flock to worlds where they had some say in the rules of the game.

Developers say that giving players authority would not be a great thing, and there are two arguments. One is Fromm's - they would rather not have to worry about things. The second is Plato's - the world is better if managed by a well-intentioned skillful despot. Here the competitive marketplace is invoked to guarantee that those who manage worlds will have to be well-intentioned and skillful.

Can Fromm, history, and the developers' arguments all be consistent with One Human Nature? Some attempts at tying them all together:

1. The competitive-market-for-governments argument might be the critical link that validates a belief in enlightened despotism. Democracy has only been necessary because governments faced no competition from other governments. If people can freely and instantly move among jurisdictions, then the State must perform according to certain standards. Until now, however, people were not mobile enough. Therefore, each State exercised a highly effective local monopoly of power. Given that, democracy was needed as a way to constrain what the State could do. The State needed to be hobbled by the encumbrances of parliaments, deliberation, polling, and compromise only because there was no other way to make it serve an end other than its own power. Once humans become mobile however, the State is forced to attend to the well-being of the marginal citizen (the one who is just about to leave). That's not all the State does, of course. But it does have to do that, to pay attention to those thinking about leaving. The fact that synthetic worlds compete with one another might be enough to invalidate the predictive lessons we think we have learned from democracy's historical triumph.

2. If Fromm and the developers are right, it could be that the march to democracy involves something of a sham. Perhaps the trick to democracy is that it makes people feel as though they have a voice without, in fact, giving them any real authority and hence without given them any real responsibility. It makes people think they have power without making them worry about its consequences. Best of both worlds. In this view, democracy only seems to be preferred by the people. In fact, the people prefer not democracy or real civic responsibility, but only its image. Democratic institutions perform this service admirably, one could say, generating a great deal of noise and debate while affecting nothing of substance. Democracy's successes can be attributed to the growing realization among those who rule the nations that this set of institutions is really the best way, in the long run, to hold on to what they have. Democracy is the rich man's response to the Terror (Robespierre's, not bin Laden's).

3. Maybe Fromm and the developers are just wrong. Maybe people really do prefer to live in a society based on a commitment to peaceful power sharing. Or, maybe people are deeply committed to the equal dignity of all human beings and they recognize that no authoritarian government - even one in competition with other authoritarian governments - is consistent with this principle.

Under (1) developers should not change a thing. Just compete for subscribers, that's all.

Under (2) developers should merrily establish parliaments and let them fight over petty things.

Under (3) developers should establish parliaments as a way to grow the subscriber base.

My take on this is that there isn't One Human Nature, of course (I'm a [3], but I've met plenty of [1]'s and [2]'s). There's a lot of variety out there. Fortunately, the pallette of available worlds will eventually parse very finely in terms of player community interests. There will be authoritarian worlds and democratic ones, and people will be able to choose whatever world suits their tastes. Right now, however, there aren't enough worlds to allow fine sorting of this kind.


I'll have to spend some time thinking about this some more, but let me note:

1. Sorry Raph. Didn't mean to put you in the wrong camp.

2. On the "democracy is for large groups" idea, I regret now using the term "democracy." It's a term that confuses more than it illuminates, and I've argued elsewhere that it's a bad idea to use it in connection to online environments. But it's a convenient shorthand for "participant involvement" in some shape or form. On this view then I don't believe that large groups are necessary. Different models of participation exist at different group sizes. Witness the Architecture Review Board in lambdamoo, or the proposed review board for clothes design in There, or the participation models in guilds. Democracy in the form that we typically think of it (voting, representatives, etc etc) may be designed for large groups, but participation can be scaled.

3. I am completely in love with Ted's term and concept "Marginal Citizen." I intend to use it so often without attribution to Ted that it will soon become mine.


Dan Hunter>First, take Huizinga's conception of a game as a series of actions involving no moral consequences. On this definition, MUDs and MMORPGs and VWs haven't been games from the moment that a large number of people got together in-game and started communicating.

So what you're saying is that people can be happily playing a game (no moral consequences) but then other people appear who assign moral consequences to what goes on and this stops it from being a game.

OK, well I can accept that. However, I don't think that gamers should necessarily have to accept it. If they want to play a game, they should be allowed to play a game; if the presence of people who treat it not as a game means it's not a game, then there should be some way either to get them to play it as game or to stop them playing at all.

Incidentally, this is a variant on the old "it's just a game" argument that has raged in virtual worlds from the mid-80s. Actually, I'm not personally in the "it's just a game" camp, despite what some of the other posters here seem to believe. However, I do feel that those people who do just want to use a virtual world for gaming ought to be allowed to do so.

In more general terms, I feel that developers (and, to some extent, players) of virtual worlds must be able to have some say over what goes on in that virtual world beyond what the code allows them to regulate. These may not be games (although games can be played in them) but they are certainly places. Those who have sovereignty over such places (the developers) should be allowed to make whatever rules they like; as Ren says, it's essentially a marketing decision as to how draconian or illogical these are.

If a horde of gamers were to turn up in an educational virtual world and start treating it like it were a game, that wouldn't make it a game. Likewise, if a horde of non-gamers turn up in an adventure virtual world and start treating it like it like a chat space, that doesn't make it a chat space.



Bob Kiblinger>Richard is clearly a developer and will never see the other side of this argument.

I guess this means you haven't read my book either, then, huh?



Even in the real world, what people want isn't always democracy. They want the world around them to run pretty much without interfering with what they, themselves, are doing with their lives.

They don't *care* about abstract concepts like "legitimacy" or "accountability", they just don't want the state mucking with their lives in capricious fashions. Democracy's main claim to superiority is that it seems to be a more stable means of accomplishing that basic goal, more often than not. It's a terribly inefficient way to govern, but that's part of why it works, because it can't be very effective about screwing the process up, either.



Dave rickey wrote
>Even in the real world, what people want isn't always democracy.

Yes, but i think in part the reason that we are talking about democracy is that there is so much propaganda about it around now - it is portrayed as the only system of governance and the reason for going of killing bunches of people in the real world. In this environment it seems natural that there will be ideological bleed into virtual worlds.

If we want to use political models then the Hobbsian one (rather than Platonic) I think is most appropriate, we have all powerful rules that sit outside the (game world) sphere of ethics and have the power to punish.

But getting back to my earlier point, I’m not sure we are talking about politics here. Were are talking marketing techniques – structurally they may be the same as some political theories we can name but we are talking commerce not civil rights.

Though Ted’s post does put an interesting ethical spin on this. I guess I would cast the question as follows:

What is the best level and mechanism of user involvement that will maximise the market share of a given MMO?

I suppose where ethics comes into this is that the optimal degree of participation for a world my fall into Ted’s (2) category

“Under (2) developers should merrily establish parliaments and let them fight over petty things.”

That is the optimal state might be where people think that they have a real say in things but in reality they don’t and that this state is consciously engineered by the developers to keep people happy.

Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions starts to come to mind



Dan: "3. I am completely in love with Ted's term and concept "Marginal Citizen." I intend to use it so often without attribution to Ted that it will soon become mine."

Feel free. It's the concept that would fall out of a mathematical model of jurisdictional competition. The theory of club goods, for example (Buchanan), says that clubs set an amenity level and a fee so as to maximize profits; in competition with other clubs, they would set the amenities and fees so as to balance the marginal benefit (the money you get from the marginal member) against the marginal cost (the increment to the amenity necessary to attract that new member).

There's a huge massive formulaic mathematical literature on the subject. It doesn't advance things much beyond the basic intuition, though.

Over breakfast it occured to me that there's a 4th explanation for the lack of user participation: Richard Bartle's idea that people use these worlds to explore as-yet unexpressed parts of themselves. It helps if the synthetic world is an Other space. Since mmost of us do not live under real-life feudalism, well, online feudalism is a refreshing change and an opportunity to be reminded exactly why voting and the Bill of Rights are cool things.

Of course, here the implication is that if user participation emerges, it will do so from within a user culture dominated by people who do not live in western-style democratic systems. The first people to build the user parliaments will not be Americans or Brits, they'll be Chinese.


Ren> Yes, but i think in part the reason that we are talking about democracy is that there is so much propaganda about it around now. . .

IANAE (I am not an economist) but post our roundtable at Linden I've gone back and reread Friedman, Stephen Holmes, Hernando de Soto, and even Schumpeter for an alternate viewpoint, in order to provide some background and framework for the economic defenses for giving users rights to their creations. One thing that seems hard to argue with is that liberal democracies combined with free markets provide the most powerful engines of creation (couldn't resist, Dave) and innovation yet invented.

If you believe that long term success of online worlds is tied to the strength of their internal economies (part of the point of my paper that would get finished a hell of a lot faster if there weren't interesting posts here) then you need to start driving your internal economy towards free markets and give the users as many rights as you can towards controlling the environment (and this covers both property rights and governance).

The opposite approach of taking away rights and controlling the economy on many levels starts to look a lot like planned economies. Now, I'm sure that someone is going to point out that Stalin's Russia was able to survive WWII because they were able to _out produce_ Germany (this despite having to give up land and industrial portions of their country in huge quantities) so clearly planned economies can be productive but the long term evidence seems to indicate that over time planned economies allow individual self interest to run counter to the overall strength of the national economy as a whole.


It really has nothing to do with a system of government - what gamers really want is ownership of their own virtual persona. As soon as a person realizes that all of their time (or money) and effort are wasted - that the online being they created does not belong to them - that is when those people leave the game in droves. OSI has not been so successful for so long because of superior graphics, outstanding customer support (lol), or novel game mechanics. UO is essentially the exact same engine and interface that it was back when it was released in 1997. Star Wars Galaxies (and its peers) are graphically stunning and logarithmically superior to UO in terms of game design. So why does UO maintain or even increase its subscriber base? There is absolutely no question - because the players have a sense of ownership of what they've created. This ownership (which OSI has granted by letting the virtual economy become superfluous with the "real" economy) guarantees a long and fruitful life for UO - the people who play it realize the time they spend in the game is not wasted time. Don't get me wrong - playing games is fun (I probably spend the better part of my childhood playing Asteroids) - but MMORPGs that are forward thinking enough to allow player ownership (big cheer goes out for There) have entered an entirely new frontier. These "games" are not really games at all - but dynamic, social experiments that have affected many people profoundly. It is the same phenomenon you see in MUDs and even pen and paper D&D - only now it is more accessible to the general public. Design the framework of the worlds - but allow the people who live in them to create them.


Bob Kiblinger>As soon as a person realizes that all of their time (or money) and effort are wasted - that the online being they created does not belong to them - that is when those people leave the game in droves.

This is fair enough. As Raph's "Declaring the Rights of Players" paper concluded, virtual world developers own the world because they can switch it off, yet players can also effectively switch it off by leaving. Ren has identified this as basically a marketing issue, and he's right, it is. Dan wants to couch it in political terms, and it may well be he meets with some success here.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the arguments we've been seeing in this thread and others go beyond that. They seem to suggest that because players have invested so much time and effort in a virtual world, they somehow have rights in that virtual world other than the right to leave. The right to real-world own virtual-world objects, for example, is not something players ought to be able to claim unless the developers let them (as have Linden Labs).

If many people are interested in something, yes, they're going to be upset and protest when things don't go their way. That doesn't mean anything needs to be changed to reflect their views, though, especially where there's an element of game involved. If it did, spectator sports would be no fun at all as you'd always know what the outcome would be: "we lost, but we're emotionally involved, therefore it isn't a game, therefore we win because there are more of us and this is a democracy".

That's what I'm railing against here.



My thoughts:

Cory, while the argument that the free market's success in the Real World (RW) suggests its use in a virtual world (VW), the similar analogy for governments fails due to fundamental differences between the two realms. First, as Richard pointed out in Dave's Fascism thread, the RW laws are tempered by their need to be enforced while VW laws are absolute. Second, the "competitive market for governments", as detailed by Ren and Ted, will become a factor for the VW's soon, while in the RW its negligible. Lastly, and most importantly, democracy may be the "best we can do" in the RW, but we already have better for VW's: the developers constitute a benevolent, enlightened (sometimes debatable...) oligarchy.

This, I would say, directs us towards category [1], in Ted's convention.

Regarding [2], I think it is true that the VW populace as a whole is much more active in "politics" and arguably more intelligent than the RW counterpart. As such, pulling the "delusions of power" trick would be difficult.

As for [3], I have a long-standing belief that most players don't know what they would enjoy. When putting forth what additions or changes they'd like to see in a game/world, they are generally doing so without a complete understanding of the consequences. Thus, their proposals may in the end be not in their best interest, though they don't know it. It is with trepidation that I would hand any power over to the player base. They're still a great source for ideas, but the knowledgeable people(devs) should be the decision-makers.



If I understand Cory’s argument, it goes like this:

1) Liberal Democracy + Free Market > best conditions for innovation
2) Long term success of virtual worlds depends on strong internal markets
3) Users must have rights (property and governance) so as to encourage internal markets and hence the success of a VW

I guess my problem is mainly (2) and I have a few issues with it:

a) I’m not sure why the success of a VW should be measured by the success of its internal market. I’m not sure that such an economic measure is a indicator across all type of VW and even if it were I would think that it is the external economy not the internal one that is important, as the relationship between extra-game money and in-game assets \ currency is an indicator of (among other things) relative value.

b) If we do take a VW economy as an indicator then I’m further not sure why innovation would be the primary driver behind the strength of that economy in anything like normal economic terms – gameplay, user interface, server stability + all kinds of things would be very important factors.

c) Even if innovation is a major force then we are back to the question of what that innovation is and where it comes from and the thesis that the best source of innovation might be the designers of the world with an optimal degree of input from the player base.

So all in all I’m not sure how far the parallel between the relationship between democracy, innovation and economic growth maps to a virtual world.



Tek> Great analysis although I think that my argument was less about proving that the analogy was perfect and more about the fact that if you are already worried about economic factors taking the play out of your game then you should be more worried about government since it has an even larger potential to have that effect.

Also, my long winded discussion of rulemaking and patch releases was an attempt to point out that users are already active in a process that hints both of the real world and the type of process that flows from democratically derived laws. However, as I tried to make clear, I completely agree that players are often acting with incomplete information.

Ren> Thanks, that is a neat sum up, and I agree that my argument is a very long term view. In terms of innovation, I'm speaking specifically to worlds like Second Life where real innovation can a) happen, b) make you wealthy in terms of in world currency because a lot of other players want it, and c) can ultimately make you wealthy in real world currency becuase the trend is to make more and more ways for there to be fluid exchanges between the real and the virtual.

So, I agree with a) that it won't apply to all virtual worlds, but there will be a class that it will apply to (and I've argued elsewhere that this class is the long term horse to bet on). On b) I would argue that the virtual economy will only be strong if you also have a good feature set, stability, &c.

On c), the argument that the designers need to be the source of innovation sounds a lot like "only professionals can make good art." I think that we've dispelled that myth and I think that it is as much of a myth wrt innovation. Tens or hundreds of thousands of players engaged in a free market will generate A LOT of innovation (part of my argument for why these types of worlds are the long bet).

As with Tek, I agree with you that the parallels with the real world might not be complete, but I think that they are complete enough to influence both game and corporate legal decisions -- hence our decision to give users property rights.


Instead of having a democracy with "universal suffrage", why not do something like in Heinlein's Starship Troopers: everyone is allowed to live a society, but only those that do some extra "service" are allowed to vote and become "full" citizens. For $9.95 per month you get to play. If you want to vote however, you must pay $x more per month, or be a least a level y player, or...

Perhaps the reason why we have "low" voter turn-out in many 'democratic' countries is because most people just want to be left in peace and let other people worry about governmental things?

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