In our book on virtual worlds and online games (The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid that Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse), we give a lot of attention, fittingly, to the first persistent multiplayer online world. Known as MUD1 and dating from 1978, the Multi-User Dungeon was designed and developed by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle — the latter of whom had an interesting post on Google+ last week about a board game he designed that had influenced the computer game.
The game, originally called Wizzards & Heros, was “inspired by a make-your-own game article I’d read in the magazine Games and Puzzles,” Bartle writes. As he describes it: “The basic idea was that you were a wizard or hero (or, later under D&D influence, priest) who was out seeking treasure. You would get treasure mainly from killing monsters, [but] simply killing a monster didn’t get you treasure: you had to have an advice card telling you that the monster had the treasure. Advice cards were acquired by ending your turn in a village (red circles on a road) or in a city (red hexes). You couldn’t sit in a village to get more advice but you could in a city; however, in a city there was a risk of plague, so you wouldn’t want to stay there long.”
There’s a great description of the game in Bartle’s Google+ post, including a very cool “corpse run” mechanic that’s common in electronic MMOs but which I’ve never encountered before in an analog game.
One misconception that Bartle corrects: The game predated his and his friends’ knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons, which is often cited as an ancestor of MUD1. D&D had an influence, but perhaps not as much as many writers (including myself) have assumed. “Much has been written about the influence of D&D on the development of MMOs, but in MUD‘s case at least there wasn’t a lot. I drew far more on games I’d made myself,” Bartle says. Another argument for grabbing your magic markers and scotch tape and getting started making board games.
I had the pleasure a few days ago of writing a piece for Wired magazine’s Opinion site on How Facebook Killed the Virtual World (which you can feel free to go and read, if you haven’t already — I’ll wait here). It garnered a predictable raft of reactions from virtual world fans. With a title like that, how could it not? But one comment in particular sparked some additional thoughts. Ramzi Yakob wrote:
To be honest, I don’t see how Facebook bears any relevance to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. You’re effectively arguing that a CHANNEL has the ability to replace CONTENT… which it can’t. The ability to use Facebook as a channel for games isn’t something I’d dispute – whether or not it has the ability to disrupt multi-billion dollar ventures that produce very high quality content is completely ridiculous.
There are some interesting semantic things going on here. I’m not arguing that a channel can “replace” great content. But I am arguing that channels have a great deal of influence in determining what content we consume. And by extension, I’d say that content on its own merits doesn’t have as much power — and that its power wanes as channels mature. This is the “build it and they will come” fallacy of Internet services: it almost never works that way. You have to put an enormous amount of effort into getting your content, no matter how great it is, in front of the people who may want it. And this is something Facebook facilitates very well — so well, in fact, that it is likely having an impact on our patterns of consuming even expensively produced, high-quality content like top-shelf MMORPGs and the like.
I say “likely” because it’s tough to measure, but there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence. And there are definitely plenty of (moderately) happy Facebook investors and newly minted Facebook millionaires who stand very firmly behind the idea (as I do) that Facebook can disrupt enormous and established industries that trade in high-quality content. Spotify (for which a Facebook account is necessary) is a great example of this, as are all the marketing campaigns on all the Facebook pages for all the movies, TV shows, games, and consumer products you’re buying every day.
Below the jump is the response I originally made to Ramzi’s comment: Continue reading
I have a few copies of Second Skin to give away, the recent documentary that looks at the phenomenon of addiction to online games like World of Warcraft. (I appear briefly in the film, commenting on virtual worlds in general.) The movie doesn’t do much hyperbolizing; the players that are followed in the film really do have it bad. The portraits are well drawn, and the games themselves aren’t really demonized, though if the film has a shortcoming, it’s in not adequately portraying the positive aspects of online gaming. Definitely worth watching, if you can find a screening. (It’s in San Francisco at the end of September.) If you want to check it out in the comfort of your own home, send me your name and address at themetaverse at gmail dot com, and I’ll fire off DVDs while supplies last (which isn’t going to be very long). I may have some t-shirts to give away as well.
I’ll begin this blog with an ending: My friend Jim Rossignol writes this week (over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a site he co-founded) about the five-year spree of StateCorp, a player-run “corporation” in the massively multiplayer online space opera known as Eve Online. (Eve’s corporations would be known in most other games as guilds or clans.) Jim helped run StateCorp over the entire course of its life — for much of which time he was arguably its lifeblood, without which it would have broken up. I was a member for a couple of years near the beginning, and on and off throughout. Now, with the corporation “in the process of moth-balling and disbanding,” Jim looks back at what he calls “the lengthiest and most fulfilling gaming experience” of his life. Considering the impact it made on me, I can understand his effusiveness. Continue reading