The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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2:48pm on Sunday, 23rd October, 2011:
With Blizzard targeting desperately new demographics for its upcoming "how many of those kids who liked Kung Fu Panda can we sign up?" World of Warcraft expansion set and embracing real-money trading with its Guardian Cub (it can jump sharks!); with CCP failing in its attempt to make Eve Online fund the weapons of its own destruction and discovering that "we look at what our players do and less of what they say" works only if your players aren't the hardest-of-the-hard-core who do exactly what they say they'll do; with every other major MMO repurposing itself as free-from-play free-to-play; well, the decline has been a long time in the making, but here it is at last. I can't say I'm surprised.
Still, let's not get all maudlin about it — developers are going to go where the money is, and at the moment there are more people playing games who don't really get games than there are people playing them who do. Obviously that's not satisfactory for the latter, who must be praying that Star Wars: the Old Republic isn't entirely kill-things-between-plot-dumps by nature. Still, what can developers do?
Well, they can do quite a lot, actually. No-one's going to give me a penny to develop a virtual world today (exception: I do get offers to lose people hundreds of thousands of dollars to build them a text world), so I feel free to say what I would do if I were a new developer entering this field: I'd build a full-scale world, populate it mainly with non-player characters and limit it to 250 simultaneous players per server instead of the usual 5,000 or so. I'd just run 20 times more servers.
In fact, I'd run many more servers than that. Alongside the official servers, I'd let anyone who wanted to run a server run a server, so long as they paid me for its upkeep. I'd let the people who ran those servers decide who got to play on their individual server, what its general philosophy was, how much to charge its users (if anything) — basically, I'd let guilds run servers. It would be up to them whether they were free-to-play, olde Englishe role-playinge, women-only, PvP, Esperanto-speaking or whatever. I wouldn't care. If you can't find a server that suits your needs, well, for a couple of hundred quid a month you and your like-minded buddies can have your own server. If you object to how the population of some other server views what it means to play, OK, don't play on that server.
What we see with virtual worlds is so often what we've seen in the past. The original pay-to-play MUDs were better than the free-to-play ones, but people switched to free because hey, free is free! Quality suffered as a result, and didn't pick up until DikuMUD came along and let anyone run their own world out of the box if they had a computer to run it on. The physical game worlds were the same for everyone, but the atmosphere across them varied greatly depending on the admins. Next up would be allowing server owners to add new content and create extended worlds, enabling the content evolution that would ultimately lead to an implemention revolution equivalent to that of Ultima Online or EverQuest. Then we'd see a philosophical realignment again, followed by a revenue model adjustment again. It's all cyclical.
Hmm, I guess this rather explains why it is that no-one's going to give me a penny to develop a virtual world today...
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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (firstname.lastname@example.org).