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Feb 26, 2005

Comments

1.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!"

First IGE seeks to legitimize its business by offering gamemakers a percentage of their fencing take, now Funcom sells out to the ad monkies. The end has begun. Are we ready for it?

2.

Look, Pollyanna.

As long as your stunted and adolescent defintion of "virtual world" means "horrible MUD code from about 1989, overlaid with lots of pretty graphics, drawn by artists, who have to be paid," then i think you sacrifice any and all right to complain when the capitalist enterprises you pay to operate your so-called "virtual worlds" act like capitalist enterprises.

There's nothing magical in MMORPGs; it's just another distributed application. You can write your own any time. If you're unhappy with the economies that the corporations you've attached yourself to are offering, then all you have to do is pay enough to make your own.

Simple, really.

3.

I don't know why anyone is surprised at this, Funcom have been talking about in-game advertising billboards for a year or more.

If you don't like advertising, pay for the game.

4.

Bill the cat>If you don't like advertising, pay for the game.<

But if the game is advertising supported, I am already paying for the game! You talk is if the advertisers magically conjure money out of thin air to let me play for free. They don’t. I pay for it at the supermarket till. Twenty percent of the money I pay for a shampoo is destined to pay for entertainment I never even see. Now you want me to pay again to play a game I have already paid for?

Seems to me one of the cleverest moves of the modern advertising industry has been to convince people that advertising supported media are “free”. They are not, they are paid for by an expensive distributed payment system. In one case I studied, an advertising supported publication cost consumers three times as much as the equivalent subscription model. But because the payment system is probabilistic and distributed, its easy to convince people they are getting it for “free”. In the end though, it comes out of my pocket.

5.

> is this the end of the virtual world as we know it?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer:

No it is not. This is just healthy experimentation by one of the more significant players in the MMORPG marketplace. I am actually happy to see more experimentation by MMO companies to branch out beyond just "$x per month" systems.

6.

I agree that MMOWs need to expand out of the "x" dollars per month model. Having varied payment options allows you to better compete, thrive, and continue to offer your service to the public.

With Funcom, you can either pay the monthly sub (for full premium content), or let the ad companies pay for your lesser-quality ad-filled lower-content gaming experience.

This approach has been used quite successfully with Jagex's RuneScape since 2002; it's a very versatile model, and I'm only surprised that it took other companies so long to take notice.

On a slight tangent, if it bothers you to pay that 20% premium on name brand products (which goes to pay the advertisers), just do what I do: buy "no-name" products, and only buy name-brand stuff when it's heavily discounted (on sale).

7.

I forgot to mention, that the same model already exists with TV.

You can fork out money upfront to watch a movie in the theatre, rent or buy the movie, or get it from pay-for-view channels. You cash is exchanged for the priveledge of watching the movie either with no ads (except those carefully embedded in the script), or at least with the ads all bunched up before the movie.

Or, you can wait forever, for the movie to come out on network TV stations, where there is less selection, lower A/V quality, and you are bombarded by commercials every 15 minutes ... but the ad companies pick up the tab.

8.

What's really interesting here is whether Funcom will profit from this strategy. Perhaps the immersion-shattering appearance of RL advertising will be so off-putting that people will just abandon the service completely. In that case, we'll see that the fantasy aspect is critical to success, not something to be tossed out willy nilly.

9.

The only people getting the immersion-shattering experience (in either the AO, RS, or movie examples) are those who are willing to have the ad companies pick up their tab.

Those customers that are willing to pay upfront are not being subjected to ads during the immersion period.

Traditionally, customers that are unwilling to pay for a service are typically not desired by the service providing company, in any case. This ad model seeks to re-capture some of those lost customers by offering them a lower-quality experience that the ad companies will fund.

Customers that insist on the premium experience will either pay for it directly, or leave. Keep in mind, that they would have left anyways, if they remained unwilling to pay (and were unwilling to have a company pay for them, on that company's terms).

This model keeps the immersion for those who are willing to pay for it as before. It adds a new revenue stream, and enlarges the playerbase, because there are many people out there who are willing to accept a lesser quality service, so long as someone else agrees to pay. Runescape (3 years running this way), and TV both prove this to be a fact.

The only hitch is that the bandwidth costs of a particular game can't be so high, so that this model would fail on that basis. Even in that case, however, the game provider, might still fund a "free" ad-sponsored version, as their own form of advertizing, and to better retain players that occasionally pay (in summer, for example ... or everytime a new expansion arrives).

If Runescape is any indication, this strategy would dramatically increase Funcom's overall market share of the MMOW playerbase. That translates into more "grass-roots" exposure for the AO game (in libraries, schools, internet cafes, and friend's houses), and a percentage of those on the free version do eventually / occasionally pay.

10.

Edward Castronova >What's really interesting here is whether Funcom will profit from this strategy. Perhaps the immersion-shattering appearance of RL advertising will be so off-putting that people will just abandon the service completely. In that case, we'll see that the fantasy aspect is critical to success, not something to be tossed out willy nilly. <

Perhaps the worlds in which advertising is not so immersion breaking will end up at a lower price point than pure fantasy worlds. I’m not quite sure where AO sits on the pure fantasy scale. But if the vendors in WoW start selling brand name drinks, it would be a turnoff for me. I’d much rather they stayed with a pure subscription model and got nowhere near that. Making space for advertisers in your game is going to leave a space when you take it out for subscribers. Filling that space unobtrusively takes time and effort. Not to mention, in a social world, it isn’t immersive for some people to see one world, and others another from the same viewpoint. Massive’s marketing scheme seems better suited to a console sports or racing game than a fantasy VW.

11.

The upside to this could be that MMOGs will now have additional money to experiment with gameplay ideas that normally wouldn't be sustainable in a subscription model. I'd like to see how the financial dynamics would change the game itself.

This assumes that there were great game design ideas that they abandoned at design-time because they couldn't afford it.

The idea of buying in-game Cokes from a vending machine doesn't really upset me. If it bothered me that much, then I probably should have already suffered a nevous breakdown from real life. Of course, this sort of thing fits better in a future Anarchy Online-like world. It would seem very out of place in Ultima Online or perhaps Everquest. World of Warcraft has an outlet for this in-game advertising. They have a race of goblins that act mostly like used-car salesmen and sell everything in an over-the-top way. Very entertaining.

12.

It will not be long before we can see and hear latest "whoever" single, while sipping beer in virtual bar. Entangling reality and virtuality is just too good an opportunity to miss. The more real, the more chances to stuff the game environment with commercials. Blur the line of game-relevant ads or product placements and make players click and ponder if that pack of condoms has some relevancy for the game.

This has to lower the cost for online game with non-fantasy setting. It means more people to crowd the streets and more fodder for the marketers. Fantasy based games will be more egalitarian and lure more dedicated players.

13.

As I recall, many many years ago, one of the selling points of cable TV was that you paid $N/month, but it didn't have commercials. People that didn't like commercials watched cable, while those that didn't want to pay watched broadcast TV.

Today, both cable and broadcast TV have commercials. Cable's benefit is that it provides 23 separate shopping channels.

Will Funcom's "ad-free if you pay" eventually deteriorate into "ads for everyone" (over 30 years)?

14.

Umm, I'm currently watching Real Time With Bill Maher (TiVo'd), getting TV that was too controversial for the broadcast networks and without commercials. I don' get HBO just for that show, but if it wasn't for their original series, I wouldn't have both HBO and Showtime.

Of course, with TiVo, I don't spend a lot of time watching commercials, anyway.

--Dave

15.

The billboards have been there for years. It is used for entertaining advertising for Yalmhas, expansions, third-party tools and community guilds etc.

16.

In sheer point of fact real-world advertising on the billboards in AO could actually add to the ambience of the game (if they are done right, anyway). I'm almost tempted to fire up AO again to see what they come up with.

What the hell, why not? It's free.

17.

Bill, the ads aren't in yet AFAIK. Currenty they advertise for Alienware, Leet pets, Helpbot, Dovve's map, GridStream, AntiGuardian, Nano Nanny. And I agree about it adding rather than detracting, if contextualized and done with some humour. The game has many references to contemporary "brands" already.

Besides, it's not like advertising is new in multi-user worlds. It's been around for a decade.

18.

"We’re thrilled to add Funcom’s leading titles into our advertising network and broaden our reach with their hundreds of thousands of gamers."

You mean non-leading?
You mean one title?
You mean tens of thousands of gamers?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Like Ola said, the billboards have been there for years, at least since Notum Wars. I think they were there even earlier than that, but I don't remember. AO's billboards aren't actively distracting. I've looked at them occationally (i.e. the entrance to the Subway), but they're not like a pop-up window that blocks your view of the game or anything like that. If any game could pull it off, AO could. It's not a very serious game as it is, and the players are already used to the billboards.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is if the genre will move away from fantasy because of the difficulty of creating appropriate ads. I wouldn't mind ads in AO as long as they're not intrusive. I would very much mind Nike Leather Boots + 3 or Levi Strauss Pants of the Monkey.

19.

But you didn't mind Yalmaha, Plumbo Beer etc which are brand based satire?

What about "Nike Spring boots (+10agi)", "Levi Strauss Body Rubber (+20 swimming)" and soforth? I think it can be done in a way that would be great fun. You just need open-minded advertisers who are willing to work with the medium. The advertisments have to be fun. That's all you need I think.

20.

No. Advertisements ruin the game. I don't think more needs to be said.

21.

I think Ola is right. The question, though, is whether advertisers will see MMOGs as a viable place to sink significant advertising money into.

I'm for anything (well, almost anything) that gives developers more money to improve their games.

22.

Although admittedly not a MMORPG, the virtual world There actually DID have Nikes that allowed you to run faster and Levi's pants with better resolution than most other clothing. They were also being discretely advertised in a few different locations in world. However, There Inc's deal with those two companies ended last year, so the items are now only available on the secondary market. However, one could argue that in a world that simulates the real world, those things are more acceptable, if done in a low key and unobtrusive manner. But ultimately, this seems to be a matter of personal choice. IF you are the person who is willing to watch network television for "free", you should be able to play for "free" too, especially if you then go out and buy generic stuff anyway :)

23.

How did the population in There respond to such things as Nikes that make you run faster?

I can easily conceive game designs in which having brands would be a real asset "this is the world where you can drive the futuristic BMW designed by BMW's own design team". How cool is that?

24.

Ola>But you didn't mind Yalmaha, Plumbo Beer etc which are brand based satire?

I think you misunderstood me. I didn't mind the "fake" ads in AO. I wouldn't mind well-integrated ads in a futuristic game. I would mind seeing the Nike swoosh in EQ2 or wearing Dockers in WoW. Modern brands can be easily integrated into a half-serious, futuristic game like AO. They can't be as easily integrated in a fantasy game, and I can't think of a way to put ads in a fantasy game that wouldn't bother me.

25.

Ah, AFFA, then we agree completely. I wouldn't want ads in a Tolkienesque world, unless it is of the more moral oriented "save the forest" type of advertisments. That's doable.

I think the Yalmahas are a particularly good example though. One of the most treasured items in the game which might make you think "haha, yes, Yamaha would probably make something like this 30000 years into the future". The first item new players save five millions to get their hands on and which they scream in excitement over when they get it. I haven't heard anyone complain about the marketing effect of this "fake branding" in the past four years. Clearly this is of some benefit to Yamaha, even if they don't pay for it.

26.

Just to clear something up, for those being afraid Funcom will now run Coke ads that will tear apart all of Ragnars otherwise beautiful science-fiction --

All ads, as you can see on the current and first of their type Alienware ads, will be presented in a fashion that "might fit" into Anarchy Online. They will be designed, as much as this is possible, to not be an obvious out-of-the-game advertisement. Meaning that they will very likely have a sci-fi'ish look to them, or are even entirely customized appearances of the products for the in-game world of Anarchy Online.

I don't think that anyone will mind them, not even paying subscribers. The responses to the first Alienware ads were awesome from what I could see, too.

Also, AFFA: Funcom has never released any numbers of subscribers, but "hundreds of thousands" will pretty much describe it especially with the influx of players since the original game became free to play. Worse crap gets hundreds of thousands of players as long as it's free, Anarchy Online probably got insane amounts.. which also makes it necessary to fund it somehow. That they found a way that works for both sides is _very_ good news to everyone who enjoy the original game for free.

Also, Funcom developed other hit games like The Longest Journey, and will soon bring "Dreamfall" to life which is already hyped, especially among Ragnar Tornquists fans. And no, those are not MMOGs, Anarchy Online is Funcom's only MMOG - which is also, in fact, the leading MMORPG in the science-fiction sector (you may, or may not count Eve Online to this, I personally don't because it's a Space Simulation, where Eve Online undoubtably is the leadering game).

27.

Well, although there might have been some concerns about commercialism, and a desire to be able to duplicate these abilities in user designed objects, the majority of comments about the Nike shoes that allow you to run faster were positive. I think it was generally accepted that the product placement was low key and not intrusive to the overall There experience. At the time, I believe people were paying about $5 worth of Therebucks per pair, and now that they are no longer available directly, they sell for 2-3 times that, so I think overall the experiment was successful. Since then, There created their own shoes (pink bunny slippers) that were even faster, but people still want the Nikes, presumably because of the brand name and design.

I firmly believe there is a large untapped market in allowing companies to test market items in virtual worlds for much less than in RL, and then tie it into their real world merchandising (i.e through discounts) but now that There discontinued their experiment, I am not sure if this occuring on any large scale anywhere.

28.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ola on this one. As long as the ads are both appropriate to the game theme and unintrusive, there's no reason not to have them. Can you imagine a virtual world that has no name brands at all? Even fantasy settings have "a sword forged by so-and-so".

Maybe with enough ad income developers could lower the subscription rates (good for everyone) and attract more players (also good for everyone). On the other hand, they might also use it to improve or bolster the content.

All of these are winning scenarios. The only deal-breaker is if the ads become out-of-context or intrusive.

29.

Damn, this year-free subscription and the upcoming graphics upgrade makes me want to go back. I have a feeling that the in-game ads are probably the driving force towards the graphics upgrade, since they'll be better looking with large texture resolutions.

As long as the ads aren't pop-ups and are restricted to billboards, Blade Runner-like ad blimps, and loudspeaker broadcasts (like the corporate propaganda in Omni-1), I've got no problem with it.

30.

I went back into AO just to check out what free subs and ads were doing to the game.

As in all things, the devil is in the details. The new ads aren't up yet, so it's too early to holler about them. The Freebie players are making a mess of the newbie channels, but the game is so complicated, and its higher level content so ruled the current player-base of powergamers and RPers, that the newbie-freebies are fitting in more than they're ruining things.

As always, AO remains both an object lesson and a great experiment. I encourage those who would philosophize about it to first experience it.

31.

Everyone is completely missing the reason that this is very bad. Right now you, the player, is paying for the game. As such, the game is designed with you, the player, in mind. Once the advertisers get in it will be the ad companies that are the customer. Players will just be another issue to be dealt with in delivering services to the customer, the advertisers.

The advertisers will then start to influence the game design process. "Disney does not feel that this aspect of the game fits their corporate image. Please remove it or else they will pull their advertising from the game." It happened in TV, movies, music, news ... etc. Now it will ruin games. Lovely.

32.

I commented on the Alienware ad in AO a couple of threads down a week or two ago. I was amused. There have always been game-based ads in AO, so I did a double take when I realized the Alienware ad (I am on me second computer from them) was not a parody, but a real ad. It fit rather perfectly. If they can manage that consistently it will be the least intrusive ad campaign I've ever noticed (a less intrusive one would be subliminal).

Yeah, maybe the Yalmaha stuff qualifies. I wonder if they get any bucks from Yamaha for that?

And contrary to what some say, I don't see it impossible to do product placement in fantasy games (as opposed to just futuristic Sci-Fi, or alternate present life worlds). I'm playing EQ2. That game is already somewhat self-referentical and parodic. I could see some inventive and imagintive ad designer coming up with something to drop in that would fit just well (or badly) enough to get a smile from at least 80% of the population.

Considering how many "bad" names we put up with, that blatantly refer to fiction-breaking "real world" events or people, I'm sure we can tolerate some thoughtful and fun product placements. An example in EQ2 would be slipping food brand names into the names of foods, or medicines into names of potions. Those are obvious ones.

Unless we're going to eliminate advertising in the "real world" (I wouldn't be opposed), I see no reason for disallowing it in virtual worlds. Especially when it's already accepted practice within the fiction: pubs have signs in EQ2.

33.

Rich> Once the advertisers get in it will be the ad companies that are the customer. [...] It happened in TV, movies, music, news ... etc. Now it will ruin games. Lovely.

Yes, I agree. If the development is driven by advertising, but mainstream MMOs already nerf themselves by the american TV standard. I see few reaons for a MMO developed in Scandinavia to not allow (non-erotic) nude bodies for instance, as opt-in. So I doubt limited advertisments will nerf the designs further. Mainstream MMOs are not fine art, and even fine art is financed by advertisments (sponsorships) these days... :-/

34.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad >>

I see few reaons for a MMO developed in Scandinavia to not allow (non-erotic) nude bodies for instance, as opt-in

This regulation is at least done with the interests of the game player in mind. The developers feel that it would be to the detriment of a section of their player base to allow nudity (or other equivalents).

Once ads become the primary revenue source in games the developers are not selling to you the player, they are selling to the advertiser. You as the visitor to their adspace are secondary. They just need to keep you coming to the adspace so that you view the ads and keep their customers happy. It will result in the pure crap (relative to what is possible) we see in other forms of advertising funded media.

35.

I don't disagree that this could happen, unfortunately it also affects the non-advertising media. If the advertising media provide mindless sitcoms and soaps then non-advertising media have to as well, to attract customers. Just like large MMOs feel they have to be EQ-like. It is possible to get good designs despite advertising, if the value of the advertisment is to attach your brand name to something that is good. High-profile deals. E.g. sponsored orchestras etc.

36.

To me the main upside of all this seems to be the business model experimentation in an MMO that is big enough for the results to be potentially significant.

I think that advertising within a world based on the kind of fictions that many MMOs are is always going to be at best problematic.

Dress up your contemporary brand however you like, I believe that in-word advertising is either going to immersion breaking or just reduce the overall level of immersion. And I play MMOs with the TV on in the background, a desk full of papers and magazines etc etc, but these I can zone out when I’m playing, these are the things I want to escape from.

Now the situation with things like Second Life, There, Sims etc is totally different – here is part of the world so completely fine.

I guess where I’m coming from is that MMOs represent an additional freedom but that the inclusion of advertising in them is a restriction of this particular form of freedom which seems to be to be a diminution of things.

What I start to wonder is whether this is a growing economic necessity. If we have more large MMOs and the total market does not expand quick enough to sustain the growth then something has to give.

One of the things that can change is, what AO are doing, i.e. increase the potential revenue per-player. There are all kinds of ways that this might be achieved and of them, in-game advertising might be the least worrisome from a consumer point of view.

So, if its the case that MMOs of this form cannot survive without advertising then it starts to look like the lesser of two restrictions i.e. a restriction in the form of play in an MMO vs not having MMOs at all.

Of course there are other possible changes e.g. not having quite so many games that require a given player base and revenue per player to keep afloat. Which again might restrict things as it might be the case that there are some things that can only be created if one has a certain up front budget.

I know what I’d like, I just don’t know if the economic realities make it possible for much longer.

It will be interesting to see over the next year or so whether this is the way that we go – the brand lead MMOs such as Matrix might prove the point.


I also think that the point above is an interesting one about the free entry model – if you throw enough players at a mud then some of them might stick, but what do all these n00bs do to the existing player base – does this force a structure into MMOs where new and lower players are necessarily zoned off from the rest.

37.

ren> I know what I’d like, I just don’t know if the economic realities make it possible for much longer.

Actually, I am much more optimistic. In ten years we will have hobbyist MMOs on the level of yesterday's MMOs. Cheaper bandwith, faster computers, better free tools and frameworks... It will happen.

ren> does this force a structure into MMOs where new and lower players are necessarily zoned off from the rest.

You want the new players to mingle with the paying ones so they understand that they should pay to get all benefits. Negative effects? The demography is younger, but is that negative?

38.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad said> In ten years we will have hobbyist MMOs on the level of yesterday's MMOs. Cheaper bandwith, faster computers, better free tools and frameworks... It will happen.

I'm not so optimistic. Unless someone devotes significant time, money and effort to get the framework built and the basic art assets in, it is just too large a job for a small group to do in any realistic time frame. Even yesterday's MMOs required thousands, if not tens of thousands, of assets to be built. The kind of cooperation necessary to make that happen on an open source basis is an order of magnitude tougher than when everyone is sitting in the same building - and it is hard enough even then.

So unless some university decides to devote several years and a chunk of money doing this as a public domian project, or an idle multi-millionaire does the same, I don't see it happening in ten years. Twenty, maybe.

39.

Jessica, I'd agree about the graphical art, but I assumed that "they" would lift some art out of free repositories (free 3d models, textures etc). And they most likely will use illegal copies of the same productivity tools as the commerical sector... (Just like "everybody" use Photoshop today. I don't, btw.) So, yeah, it is not a sure bet, but I am optimistic. ;)

40.

Jessica Mulligan wrote - I'm not so optimistic. Unless someone devotes significant time, money and effort to get the framework built and the basic art assets in, it is just too large a job for a small group to do in any realistic time frame. Even yesterday's MMOs required thousands, if not tens of thousands, of assets to be built. The kind of cooperation necessary to make that happen on an open source basis is an order of magnitude tougher than when everyone is sitting in the same building - and it is hard enough even then.

I'd tend to agree, but there are some scenarios that could lead to Ola's prediction:

1) One of the 100+ MMORPGs goes bust and sells its IP to an open-source consortium for a song. (At least one open-source 3D package originated this way.) The MMORPG will be largely static because the volunteers won't be able to organize themselves enough to make any big changes.

2) One of the major MMORPGs puts out a 2.0 release, and decides to undertake a scortched earth policy by releasing all its IP for 1.0 under a gnu-public license. (Didn't one of the 3D engines do something like this?) Same thing, a static world.

3) If there were a web site where amateurs could post free-to-use character models, animations, textures, sounds, etc. in standard formats, some of the difficulty would be greatly reduced. (Although the artworks' quality and style would be very inconsistent.)

41.

Jessica Mulligan>Unless someone devotes significant time, money and effort to get the framework built and the basic art assets in, it is just too large a job for a small group to do in any realistic time frame.

I'm more optimistic. I agree that it needs some generous benefactor, but it can happen. If the tools are available for individuals to create their own pocket virtual worlds (as they do web pages) then there could be enough of a demand for people to create models and skins for one another to use. If my kids can create new clothes for Sims 2 and give them to their friends, why wouldn't the same kind of thing happen for, say, virtual world pocket universes implemented as front-ends to Instant Messenger?

I agree that art assets are difficult and expensive to create (it's definitely a barrier to entry), but for everyday use people wouldn't care. It works for Second Life, and it could work for a more loose-knit set of pocket virtual worlds.

As to how we could get to this situation, which (as you say) requires considerable investment in providing the framework, again I'm more optimistic. I can see how a large corporation might decide to offer a framework as part of its drive to attract customers (isn't Yahoo! doing something along these lines with There.com software?), but a smaller company might do it if it thought it could recoup its investment by selling (or acting as a marketplace for) clothes, models, objects etc. that people can use to populate their own pocket universe.

Oh well, I can dream!

Richard

42.

Richard > I can see how a large corporation might decide to offer a framework as part of its drive to attract customers (isn't Yahoo! doing something along these lines with There.com software?),

They are far from ‘large’ but isn’t this exactly what Linden are trying to do with SL – the whole island thing is basically a dedicated server hosting deal with some neat 3D software on top and a bunch of people are now trying to create pretty complex games with it.

The ideal roll-your-own kit is probably somewhere mid way between SL (which has a very distinct aesthetic and stuff) and a core MUD code base.

43.

It’s interesting how inelastic MMO pricing seems to be. I’m not sure that there is a strong relationship between say reducing price, even to zero entry cost, and long term player base. But I bet there is one between increasing the price above the $15ish mark and loosing players.

Looking at an MMO from the $ per hour perspective they are so darn cheap if we compare them with movies or something but the market perception of a fair price seems to be pretty stuck.

44.

Mike Rozak> 3) If there were a web site where amateurs could post free-to-use character models, animations, textures, sounds, etc. in standard formats, some of the difficulty would be greatly reduced. (Although the artworks' quality and style would be very inconsistent.)

I've spent some time on the web searching for models and it turns out that there are quite a few good models out there. Some modellers put out free models because it is their hobby or to attract customers. Some professional modellers might allow you to use their models under a non-commercial license (and in return you give them credit).

The artworks style might be varied, but then, so are the artifacts in the Real World. Modellers like to make cars and sci-fi objects, their suitability would depend on your theme.

I personally think it to a large degree depends on where technology takes us. Improvements in technology means less need for optimization.

1) In 10-20 years CPU based real-time ray tracing is within reach. Next generation of CPUs will have multiple cores on the same chip, meaning CPUs will gain speed by increased parallelism. Meaning lots more transistors per chip, but less improvement in clock frequency.
2) My current graphics card has 256MB RAM and 12 rendering pipelines. In 10 years I'd expect the graphics processor to handle not-so-optimized 3D models and to hold most models in it's own RAM (4GB?). Unless the FPS crowd stop buying the fastest graphics card they can get hold of...
3) Basic rendering frameworks are getting easier to work with, e.g. managed Direct-X. I expect them to improve further. It is in MS's interest to make it easier to create engaging content for their platform.

Ok, so I make a lot of assumptions, but I think they are reasonable based on the developments in the past decade and current trends.

45.

ren wrote:

> I’m not sure that there is a strong relationship between say reducing price, even to zero entry cost, and long term player base.

I totally agree. As I see it, at twenty hours a week, the opportunity cost of play time vastly exceeds the subscription rate -- even, I suspect, for many young players. So even if MMORPG were (as you suggest) nominally free, the cost of play wouldn’t change that much.

> But I bet there is one between increasing the price above the $15ish mark and loosing players.

> Looking at an MMO from the $ per hour perspective they are so darn cheap if we compare them with movies or something but the market perception of a fair price seems to be pretty stuck.

I don’t see this as an issue of ‘perception’ or ‘fairness’, but of simple competition. Players would surely complain if prices rose, but they seem to complain about every change, and they usually cry ‘unfair!’ while doing so. Theory suggests that competitors will price according to production cost. Similarly, I suspect most MMORPG charge comparable rates because that’s about how much it costs to run these games, per player.

46.

>I'd tend to agree, but there are some scenarios that could lead to Ola's prediction:

Don't forget of the possibilities of academic institutions. If this is going to be a long term industry it could be beneficial to provide frameworks to colleges or technical programs. Then new resources can be trained, and improve technologies without being directly on your budget.

There is a huge accumulation of experience in some of the development teams. If its not passed on effectivelt I could imagine a sort of "generation gap" in online games down the road..

47.

Ola wrote - I've spent some time on the web searching for models and it turns out that there are quite a few good models out there. Some modellers put out free models because it is their hobby or to attract customers.

Correct, as you pointed out. The problems are consistency (in quality), consistency (in style), too many polygons, and no attached animations for characters.

The unfinished 3d modeller I wrote and placed on my web-site allows for very easy model sharing. (Custom models can be included in scene files, so loading a scene automatically adds the model to your custom-model library. The same goes for textures.)

The modeller provides the rendering (and models) for my virtual world construction toolkit. However, to make life easier for authors, the generated graphics are static 360 degree surround images (like Myst III) and not animated images.

I removed animations because they make life MUCH more complicated for authors, not just because authors need to create the animations, but because they need to spend effort optimizing polygons so the animations run smoothly. Adding graphics and sound is bad enough.


1) In 10-20 years CPU based real-time ray tracing is within reach. Next generation of CPUs will have multiple cores on the same chip, meaning CPUs will gain speed by increased parallelism. Meaning lots more transistors per chip, but less improvement in clock frequency.

snip

This is completely off topic, but in 10-20 years I predict that you won't have a graphics accelerator. You'll have a 16+ core GPU that also does graphics.

My reasoning follows: Graphics CPUs get their speed from doing a small loop of operations (filling in a raster line) very very quickly. Intel's generalized CPU's can't beat them at this task. However, the more complicated the graphics get (such as ray tracing, complex surface models, etc.), the larger the loops, and the easier it is for an Intel processor to compete.

My ray tracer already supports multiple cores or multiple CPUs. My traditional renderer will soon.

48.

Hmm... Mike. If it wasn't for the FPS crowd creating a market for the highend GPU... As you add parallelism the bottleneck is access to memory, so the GPU will always benefit from a specialized design? (think "Harvard architecture") Of course, the whole scenario depends on how profitable AMD, ATI and nVidia are. If one of them fail the whole scenario will change, I think. The competitive pairs Intel/AMD and ATI/nVidia are very important at the moment.

49.

ren>They are far from ‘large’ but isn’t this exactly what Linden are trying to do with SL

No, it's not. Linden always run the servers for SL. You have to pay Linden if you want a piece of SL real estate.

If there were some common telnet-like protocol that allowed virtual worlds to interconnect, to share (perhaps signed) models, textures etc., then that would be more like it. I could run a small (say, 5 or 10 rooms) virtual world in the background on my PC, which I could switch to if any of my friends connected to it. I may have some doors that connect seamlessly to other worlds I'm co-operating with, and I may have several copies of my world so that if I'm chatting to a student in one incarnation I can be chatting to a family member in another one. If I were a commercial company, I wouldn't let anyone through the door unless the paid, and I wouldn't use the regular server software, I'd use my own.

Richard

50.

I totally agree with Richard. The server HAS to be free. There are too many previous examples of the non-free not taking off (Palace, Active Worlds etc). The closest you get is Adobe Atmosphere, but they are unfortunatly too much of a document company. Still, their latest move towards Open Source with Adam and Eve is encouraging.

I think the future for hobbyist MUDs will be compressed XML-based protocols. Simplicity and versatility over efficiency.

51.

>> Richard > I can see how a large corporation might decide to offer a framework as part of its drive to attract customers (isn't Yahoo! doing something along these lines with There.com software?),


> ren>They are far from ‘large’ but isn’t this exactly what Linden are trying to do with SL

Richard > No, it's not. Linden always run the servers for SL. You have to pay Linden if you want a piece of SL real estate.

Ah, but when you said ‘offer a framework’ I did not realise you meant for free. LL are offering a framework and it is to attract customers, you can put a business model on top of that if you want.

At the last State of Play I remember someone saying something to the effect of: ahhh but what if someone builds a new Second Life inside Second Life, and Cory responding to the effect of: they still pay us.

Someone is going to pay somewhere even if there is philanthropy, someone somewhere still pays. If is on your PC then you are paying.

There are a bunch of peer-to-peer words already I think, what for me is the big difference in what you are saying is some kind of common inter-world protocol, which I’m sure is something that you might have been thinking about even before MUD, and its still a neat idea.

52.

Ren>Ah, but when you said ‘offer a framework’ I did not realise you meant for free.

I didn't mean free of charge necessarily, but I did mean free of control.

>LL are offering a framework and it is to attract customers, you can put a business model on top of that if you want.

I couldn't put into SL a doorway that when you went through it you wound up in EverQuest.

>At the last State of Play I remember someone saying something to the effect of: ahhh but what if someone builds a new Second Life inside Second Life, and Cory responding to the effect of: they still pay us.

Yes, and that's just what CompuServe used to say when people wanted to create content for their system. It collapsed when the World Wide Web came along and people found they could create whatever they wanted, beyond CompuServe's control, for less money, and (crucially) available to people who didn't have to pay to access it.

>Someone is going to pay somewhere even if there is philanthropy, someone somewhere still pays. If is on your PC then you are paying.

Yes, you're paying, but are the people who access it paying?

>There are a bunch of peer-to-peer words already I think

Yes, there are. There was an attempt some years ago at an InterMUD protocol for text MUDs, but it didn't work out. The aim was to have a continuous world, which meant servers had to trust each other too much to transport objects between them. If the worlds were assumed independent, rather than as some form of distributed single world, that might have had more chance of sucess.

Richard

53.

Ren>Ah, but when you said ‘offer a framework’ I did not realise you meant for free.

Richard > I didn't mean free of charge necessarily, but I did mean free of control.

I guess it’s a particular type of control that you don’t what as any system would have some control. Are you referring to control of the framework itself and its development or the purposes to which it is put or both / other?


>LL are offering a framework and it is to attract customers, you can put a business model on top of that if you want.

Richard >I couldn't put into SL a doorway that when you went through it you wound up in EverQuest.

I think it depends what you mean by ‘through’ I think with the RPC stuff they are developing in the API you could certainly launch EverQuest but no the Second Life client could not become the EverQuest one.

From a geek perspective I do like the idea my avatar moving through portals into different virtual worlds but I can’t see it happening in a hurry.


Richard > Yes, there are. There was an attempt some years ago at an InterMUD protocol for text MUDs, but it didn't work out. The aim was to have a continuous world, which meant servers had to trust each other too much to transport objects between them. If the worlds were assumed independent, rather than as some form of distributed single world, that might have had more chance of sucess.

Back to the above I guess. The idea of my avatar carrying a packet of attributes from world to world is an interesting one but one that seems to have a lot of possible implications on the tech and identity side.

I’m currently looking at the Shibboleth Project (shibboleth.internet2.edu) which seems to be very low level idenity and authentication managmente across multiple systems and that’s hard enough.

54.

I'll be interested to see how many people say "hey, I don't mind a few adverts flicking past on-screen while I play, I think I'll let advertisers pay for my funcom experience."

I mean, unless you are forced to watch the ad before continuing I hardly think it's going to impact on my conciousness, let alone be "the end of the world".

55.

Would love to hear these folks chime in:
http://www.advertisingingames.com/

My opinion: advertising-based fees are probably inevitable, but they can and will follow a more tier-based system in which varying degrees of your attention discount varying amounts of your fees. Because the networks are 2-way and the code malleable, it'll be better than TV, but it's still a bad thing.

Why it's a bad thing: going back to the post above about how the industry retools for its new market: delivering eyeballs to advertisers rather than good content to consumers becomes the market imperitive.

Don't think so? Consider a footnote from TV history: the public airwaves became de facto corporate property in 1912 when Congress allowed the advertising model to take hold in the Radio Act of 1912 (following the Titanic sinking). This system was not "natural" even though we have come to see it so (chronicled in Thomas Streeter's "Selling the Air"). Advertising hegemony has in the ensuing 90 years stifled creativity and efficiency. Those are the costs, and for those who think "so what" keep in mind that this is not A slippery slope, it's THE slippery slope.

IIWKOTW (If I were king of the world): More "Sopranos," less "According to Jim."

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