Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Possibility space

Imagine a n-dimensional space.


Hmmm, that probably isn't going to work as introduction. Let's try something else: Imagine a list of features describing a MMORPG. For example the first item on the list could be the genre, with 1 representing fantasy, 2 science fiction, 3 historical, and so on. The second item describes the advancement system, with 1 being with experience points and levels, 2 being a skill point system, and so on. So you list ten or twenty or more sub-systems of a MMORPG, and in each of these sub-systems you assign numbers to all possible options.

What you end up with is a single long number describing a MMORPG in all its features. And if you do the list right, and include every feature of every MMORPG ever made, including exotic games like A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, or Wizard 101, the totality of all the long numbers possible spans all the possible MMORPGs that can be made, just by using already existing ideas. You could then create random numbers, and see what kind of a game you get, for example a historical game with a skill point system, combat done via a collectible card system, and crafting done by puzzle mini-games.

Now if you take a list of the 50 biggest or best-known MMORPGs and describe them each with their single long number of all features, you would find that many of these numbers closely resemble each other. Starting with the first cipher, it is already obvious that the fantasy genre dominates over the other possibilities. Games with experience points and levels are far more frequent than games with skill point systems or other forms of advancement. And so on. To come back to my n-dimensional space, if you plotted all the existing games using the feature numbers as coordinates, you would see that most of these games form some sort of cloud, with only a few games like A Tale in the Desert being really far away from that cloud.

MMORPG players are an extremely territorial bunch, constantly fighting turf wars of "my game is better than yours". Thus when I am trying to express my disappointment about the possibility space of MMORPGs not being used better, that is immediately interpreted as bashing some particular game. You guys simply don't understand. I am not "anti Rift". I am just saying that in the huge possibility space of MMORPGs, I would like to see more games further away from the cluster of the majority of MMORPGs. I would like to see more games that aren't fantasy, more games that don't have xp and levels for advancement, more games that don't use autoattack plus hotkey combat, more games that don't guide you through various zones by series of quests, more games in which you don't spend the majority of your time killing and looting monsters, and so on. As there are a few examples of games like these, I know that the possibility exists. I just would like this possibility space used better, with more different games produced, instead of lots of minor variations of the same features and principles.
'I would like to see more games further away from the cluster of the majority of MMORPGs'

And you express that preference by rigidly, year-on-year, playing the game right at the dead centre of the phase-space.

There are millions of others who would say the same kind of thing (though perhaps less mathematically). But game companies get paid by what people play, not what they say.
And you express that preference by rigidly, year-on-year, playing the game right at the dead centre of the phase-space.

That is an error in your perception. If you would actually look at all the posts on my blog instead of just using your selective memory, you would see that I am playing pretty much ALL the games in the possibility space. You can find posts about games like A Tale in the Desert, or even more exotic games like Echo Bazaar on this blog.

I just use WoW as point of reference, because everybody knows WoW. I neither play it "rigidly", nor is it the only game I play. It's just you with your tribal turf war mentality again, who can't think further than labeling anybody who has a WoW subscription as a "WoW player" and thinking that is a sufficient description of a person's interests.
I find it quite interesting to see this pattern always appear in particular issues that people are passionate about - "If you don't support it, then you must hate it" and then proceed to outline all instances where the person has committed this supposed hypocrisy (like blogging about it all the time).

To quote the oft-mentioned exameple, the opposite of sweet is not sour. It's not bitter, or tasty, or any other sensation in the body. The opposite of sweet is "not sweet". Just as the opposite of "support" is "not support", and not "hate". I think people fail to remember that there is always a continuum a person's opinion can rest on. It's fairly easy to exaggerate and pick on the extreme end when disagreement happens.
It would actually be a very good experiment - to put all the games in the space described by you. If you added the numbers of subscriptions in time and added events to a timeline such as expansions, premieres of new games and in some way implement continuity on that system, then based on some solid theorems of optimisation theory and some interpolation you could probably find the optimal elements resulting in locating the ultimate game.

The hardest part would be design the coordintates themself so that they'd be independant variables.

Any other mathematicians here up to this job?
Not that I don't agree with you in spirit, but what other video game genre do you see having a more spread out cluster than MMORPGs? I see them as all tightly packed clusters, MMORPGs less packed than most others. That may be a sad statement for video games in general, but I think this is nothing unique to MMORPGs.
'It I am playing pretty much ALL the games in the possibility space'

Yes, for a week, perhaps two. Then you post a complaint about how they are not exactly like WoW, and so you are quitting and going back to it.

Summary of recent articles that express an opinion about other non-Rift MMOs:

GW2 doesn't use fixed recipes like WoW crafting, so you won't play.

EQ99 has slower levelling than WoW, so you won't play.

DCUO doesn't have auto-attack like WoW, so you won't play.

SWTOR is more story-driven than WoW, so you probably won't play.

Half the other posts are complaints about any new feature or change that moves WoW itself from its current spot.

A bit of self-knowledge can go a long way...
Soru, your ability of selecting reading is outstanding.
@soru: Thank you for so convincingly demonstrating that you haven't understood a single one of my blog posts.

e.g. I repeatedly stated that I dislike fixed recipe crafting like in WoW, and my complaint about GW2 is that having fixed recipes that are "hidden", but will be found quickly through crowdsourcing is no better.

I also posted that I would *prefer* a game with slower leveling, and even recently posted the design of a game that would *only* have eternal leveling with no endgame.

In short, you should work on your reading comprehension. Apparently your eyes are getting bloodshot whenever you read the word "WoW", and that hinders your ability to read what a blogger actually is saying about that game.

Had a long post... but blogger ate it

it was great talking about manifolds...

the net net is. Money is the metric that defines all n-spaces now.

Money only is made by Fantasy games right now. Don't hold breath on SWTOR

what else?

Oh yeah if you want to play... it seems that Ultima-EQ-Wow-Rift is a well worn path that is not changing anytime soon.

Sorry- but in corp money is only metric for evaluation of any space.
The tighter clustering of MMOs may be explained by their exorbitant development costs. Investors investing the kind of money needed to make an MMO need reasonable assurance they will see some decent return. The best path to that is the well worn one. Tangentially, its why I expect SWTOR to be WOW with lightsabers ( and I would certainly play WOW with lightsabers).

Or perhaps for all our discussions of alternatives, as a collective, MMO players prefer the familiar with tweak rather than radically different.
Money only is made by Fantasy games right now. Don't hold breath on SWTOR

I think the problem is that game companies have not the faintest clue what exactly resulted in WoW making $1 billion a year in revenue. So they don't know in what aspects they could safely stray from the WoW formula.

I am pretty certain that fantasy/sci-fi is actually not all that important. If two equally talented teams with an equal budget were making two games, the one being a generic fantasy game, and the other having one of the strongest sci-fi brands out there, one would assume that the sci-fi game would do better. If SWTOR really ends up doing worse than Rift (and that is certainly a possibility), it would speak volumes about the continued inability of EA to make MMORPGs.

But that doesn't mean we are condemned to an eternity of games from the same cluster. It doesn't take that much imagination for a game company to have for example the bright idea to make a Minecraft MMORPG.
At first I thought this a fun excercise in categorizing MMOs. But considering how many sub categories you would need to accurately describe all the varieties of systems within MMO's, the number string would be so long as to be meaningless at a glance. Since everyone will be accessing this list from a computer/smartphone, might as well just use a drop-down box sort system (like Newegg uses for searching for specific computer components). Otherwise this could lead to a bland Metacritic like system of generalization that is too easily latched onto by the masses (and lazy management).
'I also posted that I would *prefer* a game with slower leveling'

Presumably that is what you meant, but it reads pretty ambiguously.

Similarly with the GW2 crafting - you can say it is the underlying similarity you don't like, but it is a point of difference you actually mentioned as being the turn-off.

What is unambiguous is you (and millions of others), with a choice available, are only spending money on those games with fast quest-based levelling, recipe-driven crafting, two-faction PvP, instanced dungeons, etc.

Which message do you realistically expect profit-driven corporations to read from the signals you are sending?
The problem is that people are voting with their wallets.

They say that want a innovation, but then buy the tried-and-tested formulas.

Would any readers of this blog invest their own cash in an MMORPG which didn't build on the success formula of WoW?
@soru: game companies get paid by what people play, not what they say...great one-liner.

@angry gamer: choose an identity, preview, and then write your comment via editing the preview. That helped me (after I'd had a comment of over9000 pages eaten by blogger once).

@tobold: I think that the possibilities are limited by the shortcomings of rl(tm). Unfulfilled wishes in rl shape what kind of setting players search for in the games they play.

E.g., I think fantasy is successful because the societies in these games/stories are simple, physical fighting is important, economy is not the most important driver of human activity, there's no pollution, and history science doesn't deal with them.
Therefore, players/readers can
- take a relaxing break from today's multi-faceted, immensely complex societies,
- revel in dreams of proving their strength in fights instead of tedious exams,
- escape the rule of the economy,
- imagine a world of untouched wilderness,
- and feel like they are the cutting edge specialists in the matter of the fantasy world's story.

Other worlds won't appeal to a large audience today. Of course, I am perfectly aware that they may very well appeal to you personally.
I don't think anyone accused you of being anti-Rift.

I totally get your point of diversity in MMOs, hell, I've experimented myself with multiple genres and multiple playstyles.

However, you make it sound that you'll only invest time/money if you find a "unique snowflake" of sorts, a diamond in the rough. On the other hand, you didn't maintain subscriptions in Tale in the Desert (or is your account still free), EvE or any other low-key MMO for more thatn 1-2 months.

You don't have to always go completely off the beaten path to find a game that is worth your investment. Hence why people seem puzzled when you dismiss games for being too mainstream (while also playing THE mainstream game for multiple years).
But that is the tribal thinking in terms of turf war again. You are judging me by what games I am subscribed to, or which games I unsubscribed from.

I have over 3,500 blog posts on this blog, which make my opinion about various features of MMORPGs quite clear in abundant verbosity. And yet you can't get past "Tobold is subscribed to WoW and not to EVE" in your evaluation of me. That is rather narrow-minded.

I have a far wider interest in MMORPGs as a general game design problem and social phenomenon than just finding one "unique snowflake". I often play games I *know* I won't like all that much, just to explore the possibility space. But unfortunately a lot of people are far too small-minded to even grasp the concept that I might for example like the buy orders of EVE, but not the mining. No, for most people there exists only black or white, you can only either support one game 100% or completely hate it 100%, and anything in between is "puzzling".

Look for example at syncaine, who likes Rift, but doesn't like WoW. I completely understand that, but think he would be a lot more believable and honest if he hadn't written so many posts in which he attributed his hate for WoW to features that are now very much part of Rift. Most of his posts ranting about evil themepark games would completely apply to Rift. So now his previous "WoW is the devil" attitude makes his "Rift is the greatest game ever" stance now look somewhat silly. It is only by abandoning this pseudo-religious nutter thinking and by looking in detail what features of a game work and which don't that any sort of intelligent discussion about game design can be held.
I think people are simply wondering if you just don't like games that land too close to home. You like WoW and you like games that are very different from WoW even if you only play them for a short time but you don't seem to like anything that come too near to your game of preference. As if it will some how take away from it.
Playing games very similar to WoW doesn't improve my knowledge of the possibility space of MMORPGs.
I really feel like the MMO industry has been handicapped when it comes to new features. Most investors look at all the big budget games that have failed and taken that to mean that people only want to play a game just like WoW. The truth is that most of those games had crippling flaws from being rushed out. Rift is the first game (well maybe Aion) that I would call a finished product at release.
Let's talk about independant variables.

Or better not. Instead, let's imagine a game where you have a multitude of attributes but jugde characters by their Gearscore. The gearscore is a dependant variable.

It's the same with the profit for a game. Money earned is a dependant varible. If you apply the 'income' metric to the n-dimansional space created by Tobold (since here called Tobold Space), the metric value will always be derived from some of the parameters of the game Tobold put out as coordinates.

Point one - There is more then one post in Tobold's in which he wonders on whether the earning MMO is actually the successful MMO.

Point two - if we even assume, it is, there's no explicit way of making a game earn more by simply wanting to make it earn more. There are the coordinates of the Tobold Space that you have to get your game into. Blizzard discovered a point in the Tobold Space with a high earning metric and keeps close to it. Other's try to guess the location of that point observing Blizzard, only noone actually proved, that there are no more points like that somewhere else within the Tobold Space.

Angry Gamer - saying things about the financial face of gaming is barking at the wrong tree - It is obvious that a financial success is a target for game makers. But financial successs is a derivative of the game's location in the Tobold Space, and based on the history of gaming we can only guess, that there is a single cloud of high-success MMOs there. As Tobold said, there's lots of place there left for exploration, and if anyone would create the actual presentation of the MMO Tobold Space, we'd be able to determine the direction in which games should develop to be more successful
When I read Kill Ten Rats, I have to wonder whether the "financial success" of Rift is sustainable, or whether the rifts will suffer the same fate as the public quests in WAR.
You do realize that the most sensible way to innovate is to only change a couple of things at a time so you can more easily isolate what changes work and what don't. This necessarily means that those games will be substantially similar to the market leaders.

But you may end up missing these changes because the game is not sufficiently different for you.
Somebody made a fake trailer for a new downloadable ps3 Dungeon Master game(the one originally on Atari ST). I was really psyched until I learned it was fake(not sure if it was pretending to be multiplayer or not). But honestly, what are the odds a game like that makes much money, let alone something even more different, like you are saying? I don't blame you for not wanting to play Rift one bit. Titan, I hope will be a lot different than anything before it, so I am psyched for that, and the game you already play, Eve, is a lot different, kodos to them. But there is a phenomenon that makes it hard for anything too different to pick up steam, as well as compete with Wow, and that is the fact that most people want to play something that a lot of other people play, preferably the game that most other people play. The Wow community extends outside the game, not just on the blog-o-sphere but just about anywhere. You can meet Wow players at the mall, at the dentist's office, of course at work, etc. So people don't want to try something new unless they see it picking up a lot of steam, a lot of buzz, like Rift is doing. The company has done a lot of good things to generate that buzz, and get people to try it. A software company has to do everything right just to get their foot in the door. Creating a non-standard mmo makes it even harder.
@Angry Gamer

"Money only is made by Fantasy games right now. Don't hold breath on SWTOR"

I had a long post too but shortened it in favor of this comment:

SWTOR is just fantasy in space. So the rule still applies.

Fantasy allows too much design freedom compared to any alternative.
Dispatch from the front...

In business (or war for that matter) there is no better information than ground truth.

In the US ground truth about what is happening in technology can be found at your local Best Buy store.

As an Angry consumer I went to my local Best Buy to get a copy of Rift. Turns out Angry Child wants to play too. [side note for all you Call o' Duty Man-Fan-boi's - guess which demographic spends more on things 20 somethings or older/parents? Hmmm might want to quit scaring us away with your "no casuals here" stuff - just sayin]

Anyhoo turns out there were like 100+ boxes of wow including 1.99 for vanilla... whohoo! but only 3 of Rift... all collectors for 80 bucks... ah well I was going to buy the regular price rift and donate some coin to Tobold so he could get Rift and end his Rift-envy... sorry Tobold kid comes before you.

So now the Angry household has 2 copies of Rift. but that's not the real nugget of interest here.

As I was checking out with my purchase the girl says "hey that's real popular". I say really? Yeah people buying a lot of them. Then her manager comes over and says Yeah great game, I have played since beta 2.

So we start talking and exchange wow and rift observations.

And I ask him the question. Do you think Rift is a Wow killer?

He says "well it will be a filler until Star Wars comes out."

So I ask "what if Star Wars doesn't come out? "soon"" He just shrugs and says then "I'll play Rift more".

So there you have it directly from the front lines. Rift has retail sales and buzz going for it. And even bubble gum chewing cashiers know it's "hot".
Angry business observation - Warning END GAME raiding material not for business noobs.

This is more for me than you guys but I just thought about this as I was going to Best Buy.

Ever since last summer and the No Path for Titans event a certain "leaked" product schedule from Blizz really bugged me. You know the one that named their new development 'Titan'.

Ever since then while everyone was gaga over Titan myths I was concerned about one line item. Namely Wow-Brazil. Why? Well it turns out I have done business with Brazilians quite a bit. Brazilians are many things but video game players is not one of them. So why Brazil? It has to be Kotick selling a BRIC meme with Wall Street to get upticks on his stock price. But...

Why didn't Blizz just admit that the product schedule was real?
Why was the schedule leaked in the first place?

With Cata coming out the way that it did, I believe we have the answer.

Folks it is becoming obvious that the Wow team was working not one but TWO expansions to Wow. Wow-Brazil and Wow-Cata

So not only has there been a brain drain to Titan (which Activision is funding btw) but a loss of line programmer talent to get Brazil kicked out the door.

It's arcane finance but you can fund product development two ways in the US out of Operating Expenses. One is R&D new platform for technology (e.g. Titan) or you can fund it through Administrative.

That is either it's a 'new development' taxed differently or it's an ongoing expense 'maintenance'.

In their Quarterly report for ATVI ( reported the following numbers on operating expenses.

Research Development 276,000
Selling General and Admin 345,000
Non Recurring 326,000

--- rat hole
so what's with the non-recurring charge off?

They say only this in 10-k:
"which included a $326 million non-cash pre-tax charge from the impairment of finite-lived intangible assets reflecting the impact of the weaker sales in the casual and music genres."

blah blah blah but the major component of this is 250 million

in note 12 they have this tidbit

Internally developed franchises
11 - 12 years ... write off = 250 million

I can only speculate that this refers to Wow.

their disclosures make my head hurt...

I believe the net net is that ATVI just wrote off some future revenue they thought they would get but aren't so sure about now.
-- end rat hole

I went down this rabbit hole (btw Activisions financials are obtuse to say the least...) to look for indications for wow-brazil funding.

Frankly you can't make heads or tails from their finances in this area... psst probably why you are 10 buck stock Kotick!

Ah well it was a good theory. Frankly a look at their 10K just makes me even more want to not be a customer.
"Look for example at syncaine, who likes Rift, but doesn't like WoW. I completely understand that, but think he would be a lot more believable and honest if he hadn't written so many posts in which he attributed his hate for WoW to features that are now very much part of Rift. Most of his posts ranting about evil themepark games would completely apply to Rift. So now his previous "WoW is the devil" attitude makes his "Rift is the greatest game ever" stance now look somewhat silly."

To you, maybe. To those of us actively playing Rift, not so much.
@Angry Gamer: This is your last warning. Your next extra-long comment that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter is going to be deleted.

If you want to choose your own subject matter to discuss, start your own blog.
To you, maybe. To those of us actively playing Rift, not so much.

Another fine example of tribal thinking. Wouldn't you even consider the possibility that Rift is just another good game, not all that much different from WoW, but fresher? And that in 6 years people will complain bitterly about the same sort of stuff in Rift that they are complaining about in WoW now?

Why can't games just be games, having good features and bad, being at some time new and fresh and later getting old and boring? Why do you guys always need to make a religion out of it? Honestly, the raving fanbois never inspire any confidence in a game.
Why does everyone think they need to "get" Tobold? This reminds me of some engineering/computer science courses I took where most of the nerds in the class delighted in attempting to prove the professor "wrong," instead of listening to what he was saying and attempting to learn. Inevitably, the professor "won" because the student attempted to conflate the professor's assertion into a series of assumptions that the professor didn't have to assume.

In this case, people are putting all sorts of crazy assumptions on Tobold's shoulders: (1) Because he criticizes a particular element of a game, he WILL NOT play it; (2) Because Tobold talks about WoW as a measuring stick in a number of blogs, he DOES NOT play other games; (3) because Tobold chooses not to play a game, he DOES NOT like it.

That's just a few examples. Why don't we all try to address what Tobold's actual question is rather than attempting to show him up.
"And that in 6 years people will complain bitterly about the same sort of stuff in Rift that they are complaining about in WoW now"

You're writing off a game, even trying it, because in 6 years we all might complain about it? I can pretty much guarantee that anything humans do for 6 years becomes fodder for complaining.

And if we ARE complaining about Rift in 6 years, it most certainly is because it brought down WoW.

I agree with you, I'm also impatient for more intellectually stimulating and engaging virtual game-play. And I know it can be done.

But I disagree that yelling "repent, the end is near!" to a mob of people having a great time is going to advance that dream.
If you look at Tobold's final paragraph, there's two components to it. The lead-in argumentative and the closing speculative.

I think it's telling that the majority of comments have been about the argumentative portion instead of the possibilties of the sepculative.

I'd love to know what's possible, out there. What's sitting there, ready to blow us away. I want to know what the next Minecraft MMO is going to be that causes us to sit down on Friday afternoon 'for a bit of MinecraftMMO-clone' then rub our eyes tiredly some time later, thinking that now would be a good time to go to bed, except we can't because somehow it's suddenly Monday morning and we have work in an hour and a half.

But those ideas need to get out there, instead of arguing about World of Warcraft or its next best competitor. We're arguing about the best buggy-cart design when we should be thinking about aeroplanes.
Sidenote: A lot of folks on the net are so wrapped up in some twisted reliance on the opinions of others that they feel they have to viciously defend their fragile worldview. As if others have to believe it or it somehow is 'less true'. These are the folks who take a perceived slight, like someone in a bar perving on their girlfriend (or someone missing the point behind why your favourite MMO is so awesome), and have to make a point out of it. In real life, these people end up in hospital or jail. On the internet... they turn into this guy:

Add 'Cool Story bro' (see urbandictionary) to your internal lexicon and if someone is tossing a barb your way or making a casual aside that irks you but isn't related to the general thrust of the main argument, use 'cool story bro' internally and continue engaging the primary objective.

...Just don't actually say it. Only douchebags do that.
You're writing off a game, even trying it, because in 6 years we all might complain about it? I can pretty much guarantee that anything humans do for 6 years becomes fodder for complaining.

It's because, according to the statements made by Tobold here, that if Rift is exactly the same game of WoW but refreshed, there's no reason to play it if his purpose in playing games is not for the sheer enjoyment of it, but rather the exploration of the possibility space laid out in the article. I'm sure he probably does actually play some games for fun, and that he would enjoy Rift, but I'm guessing he would rather play a game that explores the space a little more. We only have so much time in the world, so if he were to spend his time playing Rift, that would mean less time playing something else.
From this post, one thing I thought of was that that were the characteristics of WoW that made is successful? Mmorpgs that occupy the other "spaces" can then apply some of these characteristics.
I like the math mapping of the game types.

I posit the clustering is caused by the increasing complexity, and resulting cost to produce, of an A-List MMO

There is quite a lot of things that are expected, by pundits at least, in an MMO: e.g mail, chat, forums, "guilds/corps/clans", crafting, vehicles. Perhaps cut scenes and PvP. etc. One can spend millions on this "infrastrucure" before you even start programming the quests and combat.

Small games can be financed with "sweat equity" and a few passionate people can get one out. If you are big enough that the game needs a public company or venture capital to produce; well those are a risk-adverse bunch.

Similarly, there is not a Steve Jobs/Jeff Bezos visionary. It's probably unfair to some of the game companies but perhaps mid level bureaucrats tend to fund fairly bland projects? The "elevator pitch" is simpler for derivatives (e.g. ProjectX is WoW with voiceovers/Rifts/PvP/FOTM )

Look at the thousands of iPhone games. There is some utter crap but because you can fund many quite cheaply, there is much innovation. So not only is the choice greater, I believe the dynamism will cause the genre to improve as competitors learn of each other.

Perhaps the replacement for WoW, if it comes, will not be a frontal assault like Rift but a "disruptive technology" - a Minecraft or ATitD that grows up. )
To bring Angry Gamer's comments back on-topic, my feeling is that the money that Blizzard is squirreling away for their "top-secret" next MMORPG is for Cowboys in Space (or, in other words, World of Starcraft). I think they are hoping to steal SWTOR's thunder with such a game.

In your proposed n-dimensional space, such a game would certainly tick quite a few different boxes to WoW, and so would be less likely to eat into their existing subscriber-base than another wizards and warriors game.
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