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Another Reality Check

As usually there's more traffic on MUD-Dev than I can keep up with and reply to on my current schedule. But I've noticed a lot of doom and gloom talk about "what happens if Black Snow wins", ranging from the more restrained and plausible "less investment by big companies and less new games coming out, though there will still be some" to the more exaggerated claims that it'd be some kind of industry wrecking apocalypse.

Seeing such thinking, I can't help but notice what the industry was like back *before* the courts ruled that people could continue to sell their in-game stuff, much like, oh I don't know, like they did in all those years before a court had said whether they could do so or not.

Years in which Black Snow and other individuals and small, flaky companies sold stuff from Ultima Online, Everquest, Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, Dark Ages of Camelot - and I would assume from Lineage as well. Some periods of time when Ebay sales were limited to those people who managed to sneak through without getting caught - and other times when people were allowed to sell on Ebay freely and without restriction, because the game companies had yet to start
trying to stop that from happening.

Correct me if I'm wrong here... But during those years, didn't just about all of those games make millions of dollars in profit per year, in spite of this "profitability wrecking" activity? Perhaps some of them might have made more money had this not gone on - but I think they all produced a quite acceptable Return On Investment. (Well, maybe not Anarchy Online, I dunno there.) So whence the doom and gloom should the status quo merely continue?

Sure, if a judge says "No more arguing, they can keep doing this forever", there might be a little more of it. But I think it's
already peaked at the level of market demand on some of the earlier MMORPGs, during the times of "no restrictions yet", and they still remained profitable even with frenzied levels of buying and selling sufficient to earn mention in mainstream news magazines. Why could they not acheive such levels of profitability again in a world after such a legal ruling?

Further, I'll note that the amount of player buying and selling, and the prices they get (and thus the feasability of making a Black Snow type of company and doing it for a living), this is largely a function of game design, and thus controllable by the developers and publishers if they ever actually figure out how their own industry works well enough.

Certainly nobody has sold anybody anything for an exorbitant price in Furcadia. We certainly have our share of fanatics who've been playing the game for over 5 years and who have money to burn. This is a function of the game design not making anything "worth" a lot to the players without also making it reasonably possible to acheive or acquire without having to pay an arm and a leg or wrestle with other players for a way-too-limited supply, while most go without what they really want. Now that we support custom portraits, we've seen a lot of the better artists there start drawing portraits for people at prices ranging from $2 to $15. Hardly anything that's going to mess up our game world or our business - in fact I think it enhances it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about putting in the attention currency I've wanted to do since we started... It sticks in my craw to think of Will Wright getting his attention currency game out to the public first. :X) I was thinking just the other day that I might allow people an option to purchase some extra game money from us for real cash. Which immediately leads to thinking about how much in the way of problems and complaining would this cause, and can those be sufficiently minimized.

Right away I thought of Matt's experience with Achaea. Where it apparently works just fine. I'd probably sell our currency for even less than he charges for his. One obvious consequence of this is that it puts a cap on the price any player can get selling the stuff on Ebay. Black Snow isn't going to come along and sell a hoard of coins for $150 if Dragon's Eye Productions will let you buy the same number of game coins for $10. The kind of profiteering you see in situations of high scarcity simply wouldn't arise, nor would all the attending negative consequences.

I'm in a bit of a different business than Sony is with Everquest, where they are playing the Kings Of Scarcity. They've discovered that the hard core gamers will put up with being in a state of anguished wanting and desire for months, even years in some cases, if only a few amongst their number can acheive momentary bliss (and bragging rights) by attaining the much cherished and sought after Blue Sword of Graulnifaugrybr, before setting it aside and focusing on a new longing for the matching helm and armor.

That's fine for hard core gamers. They're WEIRD. I'm in the business of trying to please the mass market audience, and they require something a little better out of their entertainment. They only reward an enterainment with Big Commercial Success if it can succeed in giving MOST of the audience the experience of "satisfaction", not just a small minority. How many people walk out of a comedy or movie saying "I didn't get what I was trying for, 'cause the guy three seats down from me got it first" or "I made good progress, if I keep coming back to the sequels to this movie for another 8 months I might finally accomplish the big laugh I'm hoping to get out of this"?

Here's a potential law for Raph's list, if somebody hasn't already observed this: It is far harder to achieve satisfaction of the
majority of your game's audience if the fundamental mechanics of accomplishment are competitive in nature than it is if the game is primarily cooperative and/or social in nature.

To date, most games seem to be divided between "competitive without actually 'killing' each other" and "competitive with killing each other", or perhaps just dividing the two options up like the smoking and non-smoking sections of a restaurant. How many big budget cooperative or social games have there been? There was Habitat, which went from Lucasfilm to Fujitsu, and ended up as Worlds Away / Dreamscape. Perhaps you could count The Palace as well. What else?

Active Worlds maybe. Until The Sims Online, I don't think we have any high budget, high profile game aiming at this space. The only big social game success stories are little 2-4 player games.

I think it will change everything. I sure wish I could have gotten the budget to do it first, as I always intended to. Nothing left now but to try to do it better (or maybe just charge less - I seem to have gotten that part down, at least)!

I think games like The Sims Online, or if not then some successor, will come along and vastly grow the size of the online games market. And the problems of the "pleasurable anguished longing" games like Everquest with the Black Snows of the world, whether the judge rule for or against them, will be a blip on the radar, something that grows and thrives only in that particular weird niche market, which will be a small portion of the industry once it figures out what most people really want, and gives it to them.

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