Archive for March 4th, 2009

Should an MMO have an ending? A real, honest storytelling ending, and/or a final, complete shutdown of the servers? I touched on the idea in Replayability and Keeplayability, as well as the open source MMO article, and the more I look at it, the more I think that yes, MMOs should have an ending. This is the culmination of a handful of thoughts, and I’ve actually been writing this article since December.

(Note, this is also something that has been written over time, so it’s a bit more meandering than I’d like.  I’ve ranted a bit here and there, so this would have benefited from a bit of editing, but at the same time, I wanted to get this out of my system.  It may have served better as a series of articles, and I may come back to revisit some of these more tightly.  For the moment, it’s mostly a brain dump, so I’m hiding a good chunk of it behind that “More” tag.  I won’t be offended in the slightest if that link is underutilized.)

This pair of articles really prodded me to finish this up.

You Have More Competition Than You Think

Abandoning Hope

It’s the intersection of these two, along with a handful of other thoughts, like Blizzard’s plans for another MMO, and my repeated theories for a cyclic game, that really make me think that these MMOs really should actually end. Not as a genre, certainly not, I’m just talking about any single game.  Brian “Psychochild” Green has rightfully suggested moving on instead of pining for a lost love. Also, when I talk about my cyclic design, I’m talking about a game that, by design, “ends” repeatedly. What I’m talking about here can apply to that as well, and might be better summed up as “games have life spans, and even MMOs need to accept that”.

Raph Koster took a look at that in this article:

How Open Big Virtual Worlds Grow

No product will be big and profitable forever. That’s fairly obvious to anyone with a modicum of intelligence (which neatly explains why economists who believe that perpetual growth is possible in a finite world are soworthless and actively detrimental; they lack even rudimentary mathematical intelligence). What’s not so obvious is the point where something is wearing out its welcome, and while technically profitable, is well past its expiration date. Leaving something afloat when it’s obviously taking on water, seeking to bail the water out instead of patching the holes or scuttling a ship beyond repair, is just throwing good money after bad. Yes, that’s a thinly veiled swipe at the futility of Keynesian spending to fix our horrendously, fundamentally broken economy.

In addition to that, not only are there real mathematical concerns (diminishing returns, natural product cycle, the nature of finite numbers), but there are sociological concerns. People get tired. Any company that keeps producing consumer goods in a continued effort to milk their cash cow treads a fine line between actively depositing good will in their brand name equity, and making withdrawals against their reputation by abusing customers’ good will.

Ed Catmull, current president of Pixar and Disney animation and CG pioneer, gave an insightful address at my alma mater a few months ago. His is the analogy of making deposits to your brand (creating and producing good, valuable commodities) and making withdrawals against the same (cheap sequels, stretching a joke, refusing to innovate, milking the cash cow to death). He used the Disney direct to DVD sequels as an example. Yes, they sell (mostly to princess-addled children with weak-willed parents), but they just aren’t good movies. His experience is that those movies make money by directly withdrawing against the good will built up in the Disney name.

In Mr. Catmull’s immortal words: “B work is bad for your soul”. These B work movies (lesser quality, by design to cut corners and maintain profitability) are bad for consumers, because they aren’t getting top notch entertainment, and the original movies and stories lose integrity when bent to commercial serialization. (Mulan 2, anyone? Little Mermaid 3? In Ursula’s words: “Pathetic”.) They are bad for the company, because they lose credibility. (This is actually a theme that runs parallel to the separate propensity to bash Disney as one gets older, because feel-good cartoons are “cool” to denigrate as lame kiddie fare. These trends feed each other, and intensify the good will decay.) They are bad for the people working on them, because of simple psychology: If you know, going into a project, that you aren’t expected to do good work, and that you’re expected to cut corners, what impetus do you have for excelling? (This could also be extended to the crippling effects of welfare, and why the bailouts and their inherent moral hazard are so terribly corrosive.)

Now, Mr. Catmull was speaking specifically about sequels (another example is Shrekitis), but this applies neatly to any IP that overstays its welcome, whether it’s via sequels or expansions. Yes, I’m looking at World of Warcraft. Even the most die hard of fans are finding that they don’t enjoy being strung along by the minimum of effort that it takes to create new grindy treadmills. Even Blizzard key players have moved on to their next big thing. Whether or not it’s stated outright, the people left on WoW have got to be thinking that they are somehow the second string. They are the B workers, but they have to maintain a good front. Wrath does a lot of things right for the reality of the market that Blizzard has had a huge hand in creating, and they are still gaining subscribers, but ultimately, the adoption curve of WoW just cannot sustain big numbers indefinitely.

This is the force behind grind. Doing something fun once is awesome, maybe life altering. Doing it again on an alt is mundane. Doing it again to grind reputation is mindless, and more often than not, just a barely veiled way to keep a player subscribed.

Even players have an attention span cycle, and it may just be imagination, but it seems to me that the genre as a whole is really suffering from a fair bit of malaise. We’ve seen major MMO releases met with a hearty “meh”, and other existing MMOs die completely (Tabula Rasa, Hellgate).

We see this sort of natural decay everywhere.  Star Trek, Michael Jordan, Brett Farve, Detroit car makers, whatever. People just don’t know when to quit, and can’t give up the glory days. We are living a finite life, and experiences therein are transient by nature. We all would love to find something eternal to hold on to, but that is the province of philosophy and religion, not game marketing.

It’s OK to move on to new titles, new ideas, new experiences. In Rafiki’s words, yes, “learn from the past”, but do not lock yourself to it in a hapless effort to perpetuate a dream. (more…)

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Yes, Master

This is all Pete’s fault.

Well, mostly.

Actually, it’s more like “he started it”, and I followed along like a good little lemming. In my defense, I’ve played with previous versions of this particular little bit of art software, but this is the first time I’ve actually been able to make something I kinda sorta thought was cool.

Maybe I’m wrong, but there you go.

The Strange Four Eyed Jedi

The Strange Four Eyed Jedi

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Linear RPG

This is just way too cool not to share:

Linear RPG

OK, it’s subtle satire, and designer humor, but I sure got a kick out of it.  At least, most of it.  Even games like this aren’t free of the ESRB “Mature” mentality.  I found it thanks to the Rampant Coyote.

I wonder if anyone has written a FAQ on it yet.

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