Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Dreams and deliverables
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1963The world needs visionaries. Shared visions are the best way to get people to work together towards a common goal. And with the vision you can verify whether your decisions bring you closer or further away from the ultimate goal.
Having said that, a vision is not the same as a deliverable. The civil rights movement made enormous progress since 1963, but can Martin Luther King Jr.'s three surviving children really claim to "live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? Visions also often fail to detail what the best way towards the goal is. You and me might share Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a world in which there is no racial discrimination, but we might disagree on whether positive discrimination (affirmative action) is the way to get there.
I have a dream of a virtual world in which player actions matter, where these actions shape a dynamic virtual world, and where everybody has fun without grinding.
The typical MMORPG Kickstarter, 2015I noticed that visions feature very much in many Kickstarter game projects. Ultima Online is in it's 18th year, Everquest has 16 years, and World of Warcraft recently celebrated it's 10th birthday, but a lot of the visions of the early days of MMORPG have not been realized yet. We want player actions to matter, but the industry standard is that you can just walk through another person, because developers found that otherwise people will block doorways and negatively impact the game for others. We want dynamic worlds, but if an event happens and is then over instead of respawning, lots of people who missed it will complain. And nobody has found out how to balance the different possible activities in a game in a way that there is not one path of least resistance to maximum rewards, which people then grind.
I agree with many of the visions for better MMORPGs in many of the proposed Kickstarter projects. Unfortunately this isn't somebody standing at the Lincoln Memorial and pronouncing his vision for a better world with better games. This is people who want to *sell* you their vision. Promises are being made: "Give me your money, and I will create this visionary game, and you will get to play it!". It is an extreme form of pre-purchase for a game that only exists as a vision yet. And because of the disadvantages of visions listed above, I am very much against selling visions.
The recent controversy about the Godus Kickstarter is in fact close to a best case scenario: The Kickstarter money finances a game which moves the genre towards the stated vision, even if it never quite fulfills all its promises. At least the backers actually got a game, and it actually did some of the things the Kickstarter promised. A lot of other projects never even get that far. No vision, nor a list of famous team members, can tell you anything about the quality of the project management, which is frequently the point which makes or breaks game development.
So what I would like is Kickstarter projects with the vision toned down a bit, and a bit more attention to the details. How exactly do you propose to solve those inherent problems of virtual world design that have existed for nearly two decades? What exactly are the deliverables, and what makes you think that you can reach them? At the moment visions sell well on Kickstarter, because so many people share them. But that doesn't necessarily make the person who can formulate those visions in a Kickstarter page the best one who can get us there.