Fast Forward 2020

Fast Forward 2020
Future Imperfect

Jim Rossignol | 9 Aug 2005 08:04
Fast Forward 2020 - RSS 2.0

If this analysis sounds a bit clinical, then I should say that it's all very earthy and practical on the ground. Players want to be rich, to blow stuff up, and to have friends, so that's what they do. The natural tendency for tribes to form to keep strangers out and to fulfill these desires has made the game as interesting as it is today. CCP have nurtured this tendency and they have benefited from allowing human nature to find its own way to make and break the game world. Any game that learns from its players in this way is going be far less one-sided than our first type of game. It's a symbiosis, one of nature's most successful systems.

I could talk about space war and galactic capitalism all day, but the point is that this provides a powerful example of developers using the biggest resources: the social inclinations of their players. Players want to fight, consume and build. So let them.

The entirely peaceful ancient civilization MMOG A Tale in the Desert takes the building impulse further, turning the whole game into a communal effort. It's a collaborative relationship between the developers who provided the tools for building, and the gamers who built inside the game itself. When the first run of pyramid building had come to something of an impasse, players and devs alike agreed that it was time to reset ancient Egypt and start from scratch. And so they did. It was a better game for it.

Of course, this idea of communality between gamer and game isn't an easy thing to define, and there are going to be lots of misadventures as this terrain is explored. The game that currently takes the building idea to its most absurd extreme is the MMOG Second Life, which essentially throws the tools for creation out into the community and tells them to get on with it. Rather than the ready-made World of Warcraft or even Star Wars Galaxies, first-time visitors to Second Life find themselves in a vast sandbox mishmash of things that other people have made. It's a fairly crude-looking MMOG and seems to be more of a glorified 3D modeling tool than a game - it's clunky, difficult, and awkward. Hell, even movement seems ill executed. What is this game playing at? What's to like? Well it's this: Second Life is a game that has a little piece of the future in it. And the future of games is gamers.

Second Life relies purely on its players for its content. They create the buildings, the clothes, the vehicles, the jetpacks, the books and the guns. Almost everything aside from the most basic tutorial hubs has been created by gamers. There are some incredible examples of what they've been able to achieve with the flexible scripting - naturalistically flocking fish, rock concerts, even an internet inside this game inside the internet. The possibilities are boggling and far beyond the creative capabilities of any single development team. Walking its blocks and ghettos is like walking a kind of trash-littered dreamland - the shared imaginations of hundreds of players. Second Life is demonstrating, albeit in an ugly work-in-progress kind of way, just where players can take their games if they're given the tools. With a little bit of clever game design, developers can make their players do all the work and, potentially, come up with something a little more special than what the team might have produced on their own.

This is the vital link to the future within MMOGs. While many developers are trying to provide their players with the best-looking world, the biggest dragons to slay and the tallest mountains to climb, really they're missing an opportunity - the chance to make the game exist as a collaboration with players, rather than a straightforward production. Yet, looking at Second Life you might see something of a dead end. It's interesting to visit, but it's not exactly a game that you'd want to play excessively. It's just too much like hard work. Too fragmentary. Too weird.

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