Game Eaters

Saturday, February 11, 2006

MMOS are the future... ?

So a couple of days ago, big heads of the industry ("Lars Butler, former vice president of global online for Electronic Arts and current CEO of the upstart TWN; Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft North America; Raph Koster, chief creative officer of Sony Online Entertainment; and Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business") got together to discuss that the future of gaming, which, according to them, must be online.

The highlight of the evening was a metaphor provided by Butler:
"Linear entertainment in single-player is to media what masturbation is to sex," Butler said. "It'll always be there, but it is not the real experience."

Let's leave aside the fact that making comparisons between videogames and sex is giving ammo to ultraconservatives, who don't like videogames or sex. I'm just tired of people to hear that MMOs are the next best thing. The gist of the panel can be summarized as "one-player games are going to die one of these days." Since many of the guys in the room seemed to be businessmen, it sounds as if the suits of the industry want money to be invested in online playing, since it requires bigger investment. This panel sounds like a pitch for investors--they mention "consumers" and not "players" once too often, as well as "shopping" instead of "playing".

MMOs are cool, but are just a different way of playing. Butler mentions that online gaming is to videogames what TV was to movies. And hits the nail on the head--they're two different media. As a media scholar, I must frown at the attitude of looking down on one medium and favouring another. Some people think that books are better than movies, some others think that movies are better than TV, and so on. Truth is, there are media that are better than others to do certain things, and if you want to tell a story from one medium into another, you have to adapt it. In the same way, it's different to play single player than multiplayer than online playing. I was not very interested in getting Mario Kart DS, since I've played all the others; I played the demo and I did not feel it had much to add to previous versions. However, now that my brother has it, I can't wait to get it and play with him, while he's on the other side of the pond.

The other problem I have with this panel is that they stress the fact that playing is social. Duh! That it's social does not mean that it necessarily has to be online. What about party gaming? What about watching how other people play? What about people making their own games, or inventing your own goals? I'm a bit creeped out at the attempt to make everything for me, including my social life, and transform a playground into a shopping mall because they're interested in making money. I'm also worried that the publishers decide what content is adequate, or not, which is another issue they tackle in the panel. (Remember the Blizzard GLBT controversy.)

Since Raph Koster is coming the the Living Gameworlds Symposium next week, I'll make sure he elaborates on his statement that "offline games are primitive". Sure, he's not talking about MMOs alone, he also refers to forums and online updates. But concentrating on connectivity, and how it can increase revenues, instead of improving gameplay, does not seem to be the path for a "revolution" in games.

Here is the Gamespot article and the link to the complete video of the panel. Mind you, this takes place in a business club, so don't expect academic theories, or gameplay discussions. They talk a lot more about selling than about playing. And they have to explain what machinema is (and don't get it right, BTW).


  • Blizzard has apparently apologized for the GLBT issue, and are sending their GMs for sensitivity training.

    I'm surprised that this was the takeaway of a speech given in a business club. I can't see why "the real experience" of sex is more desirable than masturbation from a business perspective. After all, most people masturbate a lot more than they have sex. Thus, it makes better business sense to sell masturbatory toys.

    I think the value of online distribution is clear, but I think the jury is still out as to the viability of a business model based on player-created content.

    By Blogger Philip, at 11:14 PM  

  • There was so much discussion on this around the Net that I wrote two follow-up pieces on my blog:


    By Anonymous Raph Koster, at 11:36 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Philip, at 9:55 PM  

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