|Developing Online Games|
|author||Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Patrovsky|
|summary||The Sociology of building online games.|
The book's strength lies in the deep experience of the authors and the efficient, occasionally gimlet-eyed voice they use to analyze their collective addiction. Jessica Mulligan's bio lists work on more than 50 online games like Ultima Online, while Bridgette Patrovsky's includes time building games for Electronic Arts, Sony and Interplay Online Services. If you believe that Online games are the latest thing, Mulligan would like you to know that you're wrong. She wrote a column celebrating the 30th birthday of the Online game in 1999. Rick Blomme wrote Spacewar back in 1969 and Dave Arneson started an RPG named Blackmoor in 1970 or 1971. It was so long ago, he can't be quite sure.
All of this experience weighs a bit heavily on the authors. The book is more of a core dump than a logical progression and that means we hear bitter echoes of the past. One section is entitled "Yes, it really will take 2-3 years to complete" and another is called "No, More Programmers Won't Make it Go Faster." These sections don't add much to the usual literature about herding cats, but they do offer a strong reminder that this isn't a task for slackers who never could get around to forming that garage band.
The better parts are aimed at the design of the games themselves. While game players are slaying monsters or saving Princesses, game designers are questing after a full Player Satisfaction Matrix. Good games sate the player's need for socialization, accomplishment, discovery and conflict as they journey from the state of confusion (0-1 month), on to excitement (2-4 months), glide through the state of involvement (5-48+ months) before landing in boredom (until VH1 starts making "Behind the Game" documentaries). The trick to good design is making sure that there's plenty to feed the player's involvement.
For instance, you may be driven to create a new persistent world that emphasizes socialization because you're tired of all that death. The authors gamed that scenario and decided that "killers do have a positive role to play from the point of view of the socializers." Good can't exist without evil acting as a contrast and besides, players can usually find some other passive/aggressive technique for stabbing each other in the back even if knife objects aren't instantiated.
The authors tend to view the online realms as ecosystems. If you want to "increase the number of achievers," then the authors advise that you "reduce the number of killers, but not too much" while maybe "increas[ing] the number of explorers." I suspect that these recommendations are to be taken with a grain of salt, but they do reflect the observations of people who've spent a long time managing these games. I'm even tempted to develop my own Sim Sim that lets you simulate the process of crafting a simulation.
Ultimately it's hard for the authors to offer much more than these recipes and matrices. The details about the management, the strategies for stopping cheaters, and the intricacies of player relations are essential parts of the journey, but those are only half of the battle. Making the characters sing and the world come to life is a job for the artist.
This book is like many of the simple guides for writing a screenplay. They talk about arcs, hinge points and beats, but end up counseling that the screenwriter should aim to make each of these "good," This book can't tell you how to make your characters "good," but it can give you much insight into how others have done it before.
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