Friday, February 03, 2006

Now Playing on a Computer Near You

A couple of interesting tidbits in Business Week about James Cameron and Ron Howard conceiving MMOGs to go along with upcoming TV and film projects.

My first thought is that these guys, admirable filmmakers both, have no fucking clue what they're getting into.

The rampaging success of World of Warcraft (and EQ before it) has lit up dollar signs in a lot of eyes, but a painful reality check awaits those unfamiliar with MMOG development.

These games are hard to build. Much harder than making a movie or a TV show, and they take a lot longer.

Imagine making a movie where the script is never finished, the actors count in the thousands, don't know their lines, or ever hit their marks. Many badmouth you publicly and some even actively try to sabotage your production. Oh, and you're trying to invent the camera and projection equipment as you go.

Going with a middleware company might sound good on paper, but integration with a platform rather than homegrowing your own has its own, significant problems, and there has not yet been a AAA title built on such a middleware package.

The elements that make a movie compelling by and large don't work in a virtual world: a single authored narrative, a small set of characters or even just a single main character, and, duh, an ending.

Virtual worlds, Diablo-like hybrids like Guild Wars aside, comprise not a single story handed down from on high but multiple mini-stories (quests), which are largely window dressing for the more compelling, dynamic, and utterly uncontrollable player narratives. Everyone's a hero. And the stories don't end.

If I had to guess, these games will be less like MMOGs as we know them and more like Halo or Diablo, smaller-scale spaces with limited ways to interact with and impact the world. Which might be fine. Who wants to be a crafter in Terminator Online?

But why the warning bells, you ask? Building and marketing a fictional world based on a popular media property's got to be a no-fail, multimillion-player bet, right?

Star Wars Galaxies, anyone?

Matrix Online?


Actually, a MMOG based on FERRIS might be kinda fun...


Bill Cunningham said...

I so love it when you geekspeak!


Grubber said...

I can see one drawcard to this type of game that I have never seen anyone in TV land discuss.

Example. If an MMOG was developed around Battlestar Galactica's present incarnation....and as part of the actors contracts they are required to spend 3 hours a month online playing, just talking or interacting, fighting whatever with other players..and they are easily and uniquely identifiable....this could be a huge drawcard for a MMOG.

Just a thought.

Geeks MSN the next day:

Hey guys, I tried to pick up Boomer last night. She totally blasted my arse when I suggested she come back to my ship for some fun. :) hmmmmmmm brings into thought the need for virtual bodyguards doesn't the Black X Security detachment, 12 year old uber gamers. :)

Kira said...

Bill: It's my second language!

Grubber: This kind of hero interaction live event is very popular in the MMOGs that do them -- live events were the cornerstone of the Matrix Online, one of their few successes.

The movie characters appeared in two ways, in cutscenes voiced by the trilogy's actors, and in game events where staff logged in as Morpheus, Niobe, etc., and interacted with the players.

Very cool and hugely impactful to the players who get to participate, but as implemented so far those things don't scale. The worlds are just too big and the population too distributed, so not everyone gets to meet Darth Vader.

Maybe smaller, instanced worlds would work. You only have, say a few hundred people per server and each has its own cast of hero characters. That becomes a staffing issue, of course. An interesting problem to solve, in any case!

Battlestar Galactica is a terrific idea for this kind of thing, btw, a fully-realized world with lots of different ways players could interact with each other and the gamespace.

Grubber said...

I have read about staff logging onto games like that, and you are absolutely correct, even that is a popular event. I reckon if that is popular, actually having the stars would be huge...LOL imagine if Keanu Reeves actually logged on to the Matrix online :)

You make a great point about smaller worlds. hmmmmm would a money hungry studio ever auction off the rights to access a server where starlet A would be residing for so many hours per month.

You have several worlds, several different auctions.....and then the monthly fee after that :)

hmmm should this be discussed in public where studio execs could read this :)