I want to draw attention to recent article by Raph Koster, known for his work in MMORPG's and MUD's as lead designer and his 'theory of fun'. His work as a game designer has helped mold the first 20 years of online RPG's, and hopefully we will see more of his influence in the future.
The article is about immersion, what it is, and how developers have lost video games immersion in exchange for a wider audience. You can read the first part of the article here and the second part here.
"Games didn’t start out immersive. Nobody was getting sucked into the world of Mancala or the intricate world building of Go. Oh, people could be mesmerized, certainly, or in a state of flow whilst playing. But they were not immersed in the sense of being transported to another world. For that we had books.
... "Things that we once considered essential to games drift in and out of fashion. And I think immersion is one of those.
"Immersion does not make a lot of sense in a mobile, interruptible world. It comes from spending hours at something. An the fact is that as games go mainstream, they are played in small bites far more often than they are played in long solo sessions. The market adapts — this reaches more people, so the budgets divert, the publishers’ attention diverts, the developers’ creative attention diverts."
I thought that the article was incredibly insightful and and chilling. It really does describe the current climate of MMOs and the way that things have changed from making immersible virtual worlds into making quick cash. It probably started in 2002 and 2003, when MEO was cancelled to be replaced by the linear LOTRO and World of Warcraft was released. And of course in 2004 when SWG was changed to be more mainstream.
The people in charge of these game companies used to be gamers, and once contributed to industry with interesting, immersive games. Now they squabble to follow mainstream market trends and copy previous successes to a T.
Heres something interesting that reveals some of Raph's feelings about the direction his industry has gone in:
|I mourn. I mourn the gradual loss of deep immersion and the trappings of geekery that I love. I see the ways in which the worlds I once dove into headlong have become incredibly expensive endeavors, movies-with-button-presses far more invested in telling me their story, rather than letting me tell my own.|
I truly feel sorry for Raph. Our industry deserves better, and he deserves better. He didn't write that because he wants pity, he wrote it because he is truely passionate about virtual worlds and it is difficult for someone like that to participate in today's gaming climate professionally. I have always been a game designer at heart and now I am very glad that I am going to optometry school instead of attempting to participate more heavily in the game industry. I often wonder why it has been so long since Raph has worked on a AAA mmorpg; he could probably get a decent job as a designer; he has a ton of experience. And I think I understand now that he is unwilling to sell out the way other MUD/game designers have.
I hope that WORG can someday be seen as a glimmer of hope in what has become a mechanical and calculating industry.