In which it is claimed that every game is now an MMO

Ryan Seabury, the lead developer on LEGO Universe, has posted an open letter in Kotaku explaining why he’s getting out of the MMO game.

Scott Jennings posts a critique in which (as I do below) he shudders at the phrasing and eyerolls at the hype but generally agrees with the drift.

Nouning our verbs

Unfortunately, Ryan loses the internet by actually using the phrase “leveraging our synergies” in a non-ironic way (or something that’s close enough to it for government work.)

So we came together <…> with a new mission <…>  while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade

First of all, stop lamenting. (The first four letters of lament are L A M E.)

Must be a nightmare working with this guy if he actually talks like that all the time.

Anyhow, the argument boils down to, “Why spend 5 years working on a large and complex product of uncertain appeal to a demanding audience when you could just crank a little social game out in a couple of months that will turn a profit?”

Lots of engineers go through this phase. Large commercial organisations tend to have you working on old and complex pieces of code. There will be sections that no one understands because the original developer was an unsung genius who left three years ago and didn’t comment their code. There will be bits that desperately need to be refactored but no one will authorise the time and effort required because they’re (sort of) working. It is in many ways more rewarding to join a new startup and get in on the design work from the ground level, and hopefully see people using a product you worked on in a matter of months.

So the games industry isn’t unique in this aspect. I thought it was interesting that I’m not sure if he’s writing as an engineer (why won’t people use my stuff sooner?!) or as a businessman (where’s my return on investment?!) but the general drive is similar.

Every game is now an MMO

Another comment he made is about the ubiquity of social networking in games:

I simply realized there actually hadn’t been an “MMO game” to get out of for at least two, three years. It’s no longer a meaningful label. Point at any significant entertainment experience trending today, you won’t be able to find one without some kind of social feature layers and persistent aspects. No one cares if something is “single player” or “multi player” or “massively multiplayer” anymore.

There is some truth in this. Not that every game is now an MMO, but that a lot of the social experiences that were once unique to MUDs (and their MMO descendents) really are more ubiquitous now.

Players who were drawn to MMOs because of the interaction with other people in real time (there’s a reason Everquest used to be referred to as a chat room with a game attached)  can now chat on twitter or facebook instead and play something else.

Lots of brands are trying to generate their own social networks, from gaming companies like Blizzard and Bioware to offline ventures such as Toyota and HBO. And that’s not even counting the millions of bulletin boards, blogs, mailing lists, and other ways for people to share information about what they are doing.

I’ve also written before about how I find myself more likely to play even single player games more socially, with all the benefits (yay sharing!) and minuses (boo, competitive pressure) that entails.

But I still think that MMOs have a unique appeal in their virtual worlds. It’s just that the next phase of MMOs seem to be moving further and further away from this in a quest for some kind of bizarro gaming singularity in which all games will be multi-player actioners with lobbies and competitive as well as co-operative modes. They’ll probably also feature bald space marines with BFGs and semi naked female NPCs.

It’s the future, baby. 1-click rapidly churned out social games or mega-shooters that may or may not take 5 years to produce.

Meanwhile, my project for the next week (when I have time) is to spend some more time with Terraria and try to figure out how to actually put a door in a house, and hopefully some more guild PvP shenanigans in Rift. Because that future? It’s not actually here yet …

Surviving April Fools Day

In the interests of allowing people to make total tits of themselves, I won’t post up links to any of the bloggy April Fools I’ve found so far until this afternoon. Feel free to suggest good April Fool links in comments.

(Big admission, I was going to write an April Fool about some big game company apologising for not including EU participants in something or other, because we know that never happens. But Bioware actually did that yesterday.)

Until then:

Guardian reports on Gordon Brown’s new electoral campaign

The Brown team has been buoyed by focus group results suggesting that an outbreak of physical fighting during the campaign, preferably involving bloodshed and broken limbs, could re-engage an electorate increasingly apathetic about politics.

In other election related news, BMW debuts its new Political Roundel Attachment Tag (PRAT) technology. They have some pictures of it on the homepage. (Thanks, Twoo.)

Kotaku is linking gaming related April Fools as they find them here.

Google introduces a new Animal Translator, bridging the gap between species.

A few more April Fools

Tobold reports that we’ll soon be able to play WoW on Facebook

And We Fly Spitfires has news of paid class changes in the works

TAGN reports on all the official Blizzard April Fools

Tanking Tips has news about a new legendary shield in WoW (about time too!)

Kill Ten Rats offers the one off chance to send ten dead rats to your favourite developer

Troll Racials are Overpowered has seen the light! He’s starting a new incarnation as a gnome paladin.

wow.com has had a change in direction to become Mass Effect Insider (or Leer at Taylor Lautner Insider?) (note: I will laugh if the Twilight stuff sends their hits through the roof.)

More from Bioware: They’ve announced a new 9th class for SWTOR, the Sarlacc Enforcer

Massively.com introduced new premium member services (Thanks, Wilhelm2451)

And props to Andrew Doull who totally had me fooled with his series of posts about Dwarf Fortress 2

As he says himself:

The typical reaction to falling for a hoax is outrage. I want you to put aside that emotion as much as you are capable of and celebrate another – imagination. If you fell for my story, it is because the seeds I planted fell on the cherished soil of fertile and optimistic dreamworld. This should be something you should be proud of. You have the capability to rise above the mundane and cynical, escape the clay around your boots and float away on boundless escapism. You are a gamer.

Tell Blizzard all about your character

In case anyone missed it, Blizzard are running a writing competition which is actually open to entrants outside the US (as well as inside it). What you have to do is write 3k-10k words and the story should be set in the world of Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo.

Official entry page is here.

And just in case anyone was thinking of submitting their favourite slash pairing, the smallprint on the rules does state:

Any entries or submissions which depict or glorify overly graphic, lewd, obscene, vulgar or profane behavior, or which utilize lewd, obscene vulgar or profane language, either as part of the submission or as the name of the submission, will be disqualified at the sole discretion of Sponsor.

The prize is a trip to Blizzard HQ (in southern california) to ‘meet and eat’ with the Blizzard writers and pick up a copy of Frostmourne. I think there’s room for a joke here about the pen being mightier than the sword, but it’s too early in the morning for me to think of it.

Personally, if I’m writing publishable quality short stories (which is what the winner will be) I want a writing contract, not a  fake sword. Just sayin’. But I guess that’s the main point of getting some quality face time with the actual writers. That and the free lunch.

It’s not impossible that they are lining up potential writers for future writing gigs though. Again from the smallprint:

The Entry Materials include a survey that requires you to enter your name, e-mail address, and state of residence. By entering the Contest, you consent to Sponsor’s use of this information to inform you of open positions with Blizzard, and to associate your name with your submission in promotional materials for the Contest in the event that you are chosen to be a winner.

Also if I’m going all the way  to California I want to see cool stuff, not Blizzard HQ. I think I fail on the fannishness on some basic level ;) And joking aside, they only give 2 nights lodging which is a bit tight on the jet lag if you have to fly 11+ hours each way.

However, if you are a keen writer and want some free publicity and an ‘in’ on possible future writing work with Blizzard, it’s got to be worth a shot.

Amusingly, in Kotaku’s writeup of this story, they say about the winner:

He or she (but, since this is fan fiction, I mean, yeah, probably a he) will get a Frostmourne sword.

Wait. Someone  actually thinks more men than women write fanfic? Inconcievable!