WAR’s Paul Barnett talks about the future of online gaming

This is a great interview that Ablegamers had with Paul Barnett at GDC. Like him or hate him, Paul has always been a fount of good ideas and interesting insights into the genre he loves.

In this instance, he’s talking about three generations of online games.

Originally it was the people who knew what it was to speak in minimalist “tech-speak”, who understood why you have to have backslashes on every command, that the amount of data you send had to be minimalized because it costs a fortune.  Those people . . . they’re sort of like the people who get into bands and really like them and then the band becomes popular and they start going . . . Well, I liked them before they were popular!  They’re also the people who think . . I like them before they sold-out.  They’re like really early adopters.  Then there’s the middle strata, which is basically the WOW people.  The reason WOW is so popular, apart from being slick and well produced and a good game, is it came at just the “crest moment” for a massive increase in people going online and playing spaces.  When they came along they blew away the online numbers.  300,000 was a solid subscriber number, but they just got millions and it made no sense.

Well, we’re past that now.  We’re now into this next generation, where people have got iphones, they’re downloading applications.  They’re from all generations and all (inaudible).  They think nothing of it.  It’s completely natural.  For a game to come out and for it not to have any form of online is now considered bizarre.  So I think the “online space” is actually not growing, but just become more aware and more rounded.

What does that mean for games like ours?  Well, I think the games we make, asset-heavy games, are more and more going to become rarer as they take too long to make.  They cost too much to make and they require too many people to make them.

And what are the big issues at the moment?

What I think is going to happen is we’re going to see much more “time control”.  So the one thing that the current games are very bad about is “time control”.  They basically work as “time syncs”.  You’re sort of like in MMO time, where you slow down and life’s things go around you and you forget to eat your dinner and you forget to do your homework and you forget to say hello to people you love and then before you know it . . . it’s 4-o’clock in the morning!  While that’s great for the earlier adopters, it’s lousy for most people because most people have to do boring things like go to bed so they can get up for work.  Like remembering to leave the house to go to the cinema to meet their friends or put the kids to bed.

I’m not sure precisely what he means about time control but he’s definitely on to something here. One of the factors separating the hardcore from casual gamers is how willing they are to arrange their life around the game. Is that a barrier that could be removed?

Anyway, go read the interview. And maybe Jeff Skalski could note that it is possible to talk about other popular MMOs without blaming them for player behaviour in yours.