Rated M for Mature

Rated M for Mature
I Was Young, I Needed the Money

Richard Bartle | 2 May 2006 08:00
Rated M for Mature - RSS 2.0

So, it's the year 2000, at the height of the dot com boom. You've just been hired as Head of Online Games for a company with a paper value of over a billion dollars. You're promised a team of 30 people and as much time as you want to create the world's best massively multiplayer game world. What do you do?

What you should do is hire the first 30 people you see on the street, irrespective of their skills, abilities or state of sobriety. What you shouldn't do is advertise, interview applicants, assess what they can bring to the project, and make appointments only after careful consideration.

The reason you should do the former is because that's what everyone else will do. Thus, when the company's directors realize that expansion is happening too quickly and they impose a recruitment freeze, you have all the job slots in place, if not any people who can actually do those jobs. You won't be calling a producer and telling him he should take his house off the market because we can't hire him after all, you'll just be replacing the Australian gap-year student you met playing snooker in a pub.

This explains how I was left to develop a virtual world with a team consisting of three programmers, a level designer and me, when there were six people officially working on the company's single-page WAP site.

Oh, we were given a more concrete deadline, too: one year. We were also given a budget: nothing.

What kind of massively multiplayer game could we write in 12 months from a standing start, with only three programmers, a level designer and me? No producer, no artists, no QA; no design document, no tools, no middleware; no hardware, except our 700MHz PCs and a 250MHz server.

Hey, I know this one - we write a text game!

This did make horrible sense. I already had all that was needed to build and operate a textual world, because I'd spent 20 years building and operating them. It would be a push, but we could do this.

All we required was some fiendish mind-control system to persuade people to play a text game when they really wanted to play EverQuest.

So, that would be sex, then.

I'd written a pitch for a sex MUD about five years earlier, but the funding fell through. Now was the time to dust it off! The thing is, sex in a text world has three things going for it that sex in a graphics world doesn't:

  1. It's freeform. You don't have to motion-capture every position in the Kama Sutra and beyond, because people can animate it themselves using words.
  2. It's legal. You can write about antics that you would be jailed for depicting visually. The word is pornography, not pornotexty.
  3. For a basic sex game to work, you need comparable numbers of both men and women. A female-friendly game, by virtue of its having women in it, is male-friendly; therefore, you need to attract women. And hey, guess what? Study after study has shown that, in general, women prefer words to pictures - especially when it comes to sexual fantasizing.

We toyed with the idea of creating a game for the gay market, on the grounds that there might be more homosexual male gamers than female gamers of any flavor, but unfortunately we were all straight so we weren't sufficiently engaged with the culture to know if this was indeed the case. When I approached the one gay guy in the office to ask him what he thought, he indignantly told me that he wasn't gay, and if I spoke another word on the subject he'd have me for harassment.

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