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Mar 23, 2005



If the more and more gamers (new or retrained oldies) are used to multitask more often, then future *sucessful* games will be the ones who provide this out-of-sequence execution / multitasking / time maximizing experience as part of the game.

Your experience will not be diluted by multitasking. You will continue to do it. When you do it as part of "the game", it will be a game. When you don't, there will be a mismatch of expectations. More than dilution, you'll experience disappointment - especially given other games that cater to your multitasking mentality.


1) Multi-tasking would seem to be immersion-breaking to me. But since you're a player who likes the game economics, Nate, your way of playing seems compatible with separate windows. Maybe Nick should do a survey on this stuff and see if the immersion-focused folks multi-task less than the achievement-focused gamers do.

2) I think you're underestimating the influence that the video card makers have on the game industry -- the gaming machine is more or less a machine with planned obsolescence, and, imho, all parties stand to gain from it except--arguably--the players. But I don't want to relight the burning down the house thread!

3) Is the title an oblique reference to that song from The Little Mermaid? :-)


"game economics...compatible with separate windows"

A good point, in my scheme - 1 window tends to be dedicated to a trader role - requiring only minimal involvement. I want to emphasize the wording above "rare occasion"... e.g. as suggested in "Groovy" thread, when areally good thing iis going, that's a one window baby!

The interesting ground is in the middle. I think most of the choices there would involve some judgement about

whether can pull it-off (e.g. playing two groups hunting is likely beyond me without risking branding as anti-social and incompetent). Whereas soloing one (where you can control the tempo) and grouping in another in PvE worlds seems quite doable.


whether want to assume that level of "jazz"

>"video cards"
why isn't this just a distinction of scale? I believe I ended up replacing the card once during the life of every computer... at least the recent ones.

>"little mermaid"
Now that you mention it...


Simple example, but I just experienced the incredibly liberating experience of ditching the well-intentioned but dull Yourself!Fitness music for iTunes chugging away in the background with some much more motivating drum'n'bass.... crashed my computer, but what the heck, at least I had the power for a few minutes...

But what about when multi-tasking becomes part of game culture? The player-run Justice radio in City of Heroes provides a multi-tasked overlay of the game, featuring different but relevant audio (random music but the chatter is about the game, at least) and more opportunities for interaction than afforded by regular gameplay. Perhaps this will become the norm. Players are driven to manipulate the playing experience beyond what the developers intended. It's a door that can't be shut again once opened.


I was annoyed by characters in the cantinas of Star Wars Galaxies who were actually being run by macros. There were no actual players behind the keyboard to interact with. Fine.

But to think that there might actually be a live person controlling the game, but _still_ get nothing from them when I attempt to socialize because they're surfing the web looking up the value of their Grim Scythe of Death so that they can make the maximum profit at the bazaar! /scream

Already I'm getting blank stares from characters when I'm waiting for transportation to arrive, or waiting around for some other reason in a public gathering area.

"Hi, I like your pet cat. Why did you name him Bot-thott?"


"Ok then. Nice chatting with you."

Some people multi-task well (which is to say that they pay enough attention to the game so that interaction doesn't suffer), and some don't. Some might as well be AFK, and it can cause social aspects of MMORPGs to suffer. (Suggestion: as soon as the game loses focus, a character should immediately be displayed as AFK. Or have the chat interface stay always-on-top.)

I assume you are suggesting that better home computer hardware will improve people's ability to multi-task. Bad multi-taskers will get better at it. I'm not so sure. Most game players probably aren't aware that games have a windows mode. Minimizing the game is how many of us switch to our browser, which completely takes us out of the game world. Players aren't likely to do this in dangerous areas of the world, so an MMORPG has their full attention there. But in "safe" zones, multi-tasking would harm (is harming) the social environment a great deal. But then again, so does going to the bathroom, talking on the telephone, cooking food, etc. which are other tasks we do in safe zones that take us away from the game.


i disagree though with your point i think as long as a player can multitask and wants to multitask they will do so regardless of performance. it defiantly will not have a negative impact on the playing experiance as long as hardware continues to improve and as long as multitasking improves the quality of the experiance of playing the game.

i for instance often multitask *not* to find out how much my uber sword of wrath is worth or to figure out how to get from point a to point b. i multitask because often at times it improves the experiance for me. i usually run itunes and trillian which allows me to keep in touch with the people i know and listen to music i actually like. i mean seriously who wants to interact with some of the people who play the game. in my opinion a great majority of them talk about nothing that isn't directly related to the gaming world... not that is entirely negative it just downplays on the element of socialization one would expect in an online game.


Maybe I'm too old to seriously consider this level of multi-tasking, but I do find the ability to operate in windowed mode very valuable...even if I stick primarily to game related research. (btw my name is Dave, and I'm a WoWaholic...).

What I've noticed is an extreme convergence of offline content that is becoming increasingly needed for online play. Tools such as Thottbott and Allakazam (sp?) are a constant sidekick, and simply swiching windows while looking for a quest location and item info/valuations is invaluable. As noted in a different set of threads, MMO's exist as part of a complete online community (including farmers, information databases and UI mods). I think this trend will continue, and as most things, will have good and bad elements. Developers will need to figure out if they embrace or contest this trend.

Imagine what it would be like to have some sort of real-time "radio" cast for specific servers in MMO's? I can see my experience being enhanced by hearing about my group/raid's exploits being broadcast to the entire community along with music, dedications and even news. Even if this might be more immediately relevant in an environment like City of Heros, why not for WoW? Anyone remember the movie "Warriors ?"

Along with dedicated content, I have also noticed how useful third-party tools are to enhancing the game experience. Nothing beats real voice communication. Teamspeak is a must for my guild, and that is only possible because of excess performance capacity. One of my guildmates uses one of his "obsolete for gaming" computers as a server, and it functions perfectly.

This trend is likely to continue, and increase in sophistication. I think we'll soon see almost military style communication getting used in these games, and it won't even need to be built by the developers. Think Teamspeak with the ability to have "squad commander", "Intra-Squad" and "Raid Broadcast" modes...along with individual person-to-person channels (I think Microsoft actually made something to do this...but I think it was a bit ahead of it's time.) I think really clever independent developers may even come up with "Command console" type applications to assist a Raid or Battlegrounds leader...although this will start to cross that line between legitimate tools the game developer's IP (i.e. it get's classified as a Hack/Exploit.)

My final comment, perhaps returning you mercifully to the OP's topic. For me gaming has ALWAYS been the driving force behind my upgrades. My earliest recollection of this was completely justifying an $80 purchase of an SVGA capable video card to play Links on my 386. Interestingly enough, I think my upgrade threshold still hovers around the $100 mark...inflation adjusted probably the same number as I stuck to back in 1991.


Looking at gamer behavior from a "motivations" point of view as I do, I wonder how much the changing technology really affects playstyles.

It seems to me that there's a significant degree of independence between the Immersion and Achievement motivations. (I expect Nick Yee can tell us if I'm wrong on that.) If true, then a player who wants to feel part of the game world will play in full-screen mode; a player who wants to maximize results will use as many windows as necessary to achieve the best results.

In other words, just because a game allows itself to be run in a windowed mode doesn't automatically imply that every gamer will do so. The gamer's temperament will determine how any technology is used, or whether it's used at all.

On the other point, I also find myself replacing my graphics card about once per computer. (And I long ago established a rule: for maximum value, upgrade computers every *other* generation. But no matter what, Jerry Pournelle remains correct: The computer you really want will always cost about $3000. I think it's some kind of financial corollary to Moore's Law....)



Ack. Personal pet peeve...

Moores law states that the number of transistors on a single IC chip doubles. NOT the processing power derived from those transistors.


BTW, having missed the MUD era as it was in the 80's and 90's, it seems a character based game would lend itself to multitask, especially if it was run on a multi user machine.


Greg>Multi-tasking would seem to be immersion-breaking to me.

The human mind is designed to multi-task on many different levels. As the technology evolves and eventually begins to incorporate AI, it will be more commonplace for MMOG players to multi-task. I don't know if immersion is such a panacea anyway - after all, the poor deluded fools in Plato's cave were immersed until dragged out into the light! Also, immersion breaking has often been used to enhance not detract from the entertainment value of the experience - from Aristophanes' "The Birds" to the Jack Benny show. Allowing MMOG players to design the structure of their own immersion breaking is therefore empowering and entertaining. It is also good practice and an analogy for the salutory exercise of viewing the "game" of human existence in the context of the immersion breaking scientific realities such as the ultimate entropic fate of the universe and the transitoriness of human existence.



Ummm, Moore's Law got repealed while we weren't looking. Two years ago the fastest Intel CPU widely available was running at 3GHz. The fastest available right now is running at 3.6GHz. In fact, the chip builders have stopped even really trying to run their circuits faster, and instead are pursuing various forms of parallel computing (Cell, multi-core x86).

The gap you describe exists because the hard core game no longer exists. Nobody is making them. It got too expensive.



Multi-tasking in MMORPGs can be tricky or easy depending on the game. I like performing a few activities at the same time, and am the sort to lament my inability to craft while generating mana in WoW, nor to craft while on long Gryphon flights. That's not really active multi-tasking, as I'm just focusing on one thing while another is going on autopilot, but I do find those to be somewhat tough forced downtime situations, odd for a game so otherwise approachable.

I agree with Dave's earlier comment about Voice chat. I think that'll be a standard in a few years, particularly if PvP is an actual trend as being discussed in the Top 10 Trends piece. Typing is anachronistic and not conducive to conversation at the speed at which conversation is generally the most conducive. Already, if one side in a PvP fight has Voice chat and the other does not, odds favor the former.

I don't think that's multi-tasking either though. In fact, I'd say text-chat is multi-tasking in these games. Hehe, I played a Bard in EQ, and anyone who's familiar with "twisting" knows what it's like to try and talk while playing the class to the best of its ability. WoW and CoH are similar, but mostly because combat is so much more intense and realtime. Trying to issue commands or verified receipts of them can be very hard in these fast paced experiences.

But I do feel general gamer multi-tasking is on the rise. Games can't really remain as single-minded dedicated activities if they want to appeal to a larger audience than those here. They will require more sporadic attention and will need more ways to automate the mundane, or remove the mundane altogether. How is it that no other genre really has a grind? How did MMORPGs get to a point where the mediocre activities were allowed to become the main ones?


I've noted more than once in Biting the Hand that (mostly) hands-free gaming is a must if we're ever to have true multi-tasking.

It is one of those holy grails that we'll be chasing for a while, but we're getting there.


Darniaq> How is it that no other genre really has a grind?

TV has a grind. Soaps, sitcoms, reality TV... You gotta watch every episode.

(And MUD/MMO players do multitask, often browsing the web while playing. Or even playing multiple games at the same time.)


I partially agree. TV offer multitasking as well (channel-flipping, and the bane of commercial advertising: TiVO/DVRs). Soaps can be caught up to in about 10 minutes of an episode every four or five days. And MMORPGs only require a "grind" if the player's goal is measured against elements the game wasn't designed to be measured by (like the need to catch up to friends or receive rewards faster than the developer thought they'd want to).

Within gaming though, I always wonder how grinding as a method of play perpetuated so long. Sure a player could grind in Morrowind, NWN, or Baldur's Gate, but did they? Where's the "grind" in other genres? And does the "grind" in MMORPGs associate with that of, say, Sports titles which I find laborious, or RTS titles where it's 30 minutes of build and 5 minutes of action?


Hmm... I think the "grind" is kind of different in the various examples. Some characteristics of various grinds:

1. A "fake" social obligation. MMO: you could help your guildies if you were better, you should be there for them. TV: live audiences, identification with the main characters in soaps.

2. A perceived need to stay current (MMO, TV). MMO: the other players are leaving me behind, you need to know what happens in your guild. TV: you need to stay on top of things (or else you will feel left out when people talk about the latest show), you need to watch each episode because maybe something important happens right now.

3. Have you suffer through tedious events because there is this exciting thing coming "real soon now". MMO: XP and camping, TV: news, soaps..., Single user games: boring puzzles, tedious repetitive game elements etc.

In essence I think the "grind" will always be there in commercial products which have an interest in controlling the user's behaviour over time. There's probably some kind of grind in "fast food" too... Hmm... Duh, this is depressing. :-/


I'm a student at Hawaii Pacific University and I am considering writing a research paper on the topic of advertising inside of gaming worlds. I've read a few of Castronova's articles, but I am coming up a little shallow on good resources. If anyone more knowledgeable than myself on the subject could refer me to a source, be it a book, newspaper article, ect, I would appreciate it. Feel free to email me at [email protected]
Thank you,


I'm surprised nobody has discussed multi-boxing or macroing much yet. It seems to me that regardless of ability to multitask, gaps in computeer power will tend to be taken advantage of. Either directly as in the case of some multi-boxers, or indirectly in the case of macro-users. Although those two areas tend to intersect to a degree.

When the multitasking is difficult, then people will turn to automation to enable them to apply the extra power properly. The EQ bard was metioned above, I believe one of the most popular EQ macros I've seen is an automated "twist" macro.

Multiboxing is still primarily a hardcore phenomena, but it is another significant example of multitasking. Most games require minimal involvement from the player after initiating the basic attack sequence. Either manually, or with some degree of macro aid people have recognized the advantage of running multiple characters in approximately the same context.

Through meta-gaming and macros players have added external support for single player controlled parties to online games. Histrocially this sort of example occurs again, and again.. (Private chat, email, voice chat, guild management, raids, tradeskill grind, etc, etc) Players respond to needs much quicker then developers, and then later those features become incorporated into the standard feature set of the world.

Guild Wars has given a small nod to this by allowing parties to pick up filler NPC party members. Probably a few years down the road someone will get the guts to flout the traditional model, and actually allow a player to run multiple avatars at the same time. I'm actually a little disapointed WoW didn't try this, since they have such a strong background in RTS.

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