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Writing Words, LIKE A BOSS

Oh, hi, I have a blog still. (I’d feel more guilty about neglecting it if someone didn’t invent the RSS feed.)

Ryan Seabury, formerly of NetDevil and very small genitalia, found a really great way to hype his new social game company: inhale SCREW YOU GUYS I HATE MAKING MMOS BECAUSE THEY SUCK AND YOU SUCK AND DID I MENTION THE SUCKING THING BECAUSE TOTALLY THAT GOES IN THERE SOMEWHERE exhale.

So of course, I had to be grumpy and fight for the status quo, because I’m old and still worry about things like facts. Or something.

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. We have come to a point where the game concept trumps such insignificant bullet points, and global social connectivity is a given.

This is a vast oversimplification, unless you think Farmville is an MMO. Note: Farmville is not an MMO. Sorry, Terra Nova. I didn’t think someone who advertises themselves as an MMO designer would, you know, need this explained to them, but an MMO is specifically a game that derives its attraction from having hundreds of people interact in a persistent environment. Farmville fails this test because there isn’t any meaningful interpersonal interaction (aside from advertising for the greater glory of Zynga to all your friends, of course). World of Tanks, which I lately have been finding a lot of enjoyment in trying to blow up large tanks with smaller tanks and failing miserably, fails this test barely, in my opinion, because it’s essentially a session-based shooter with some character persistence – if you call World of Tanks an MMO, you have to call Modern Warfare 2 an MMO, too. And while Ryan may do so, I don’t. You don’t play MW2 for the levelling, you play it to shoot people in the face. Which, while multiplayer, isn’t massively multiplayer in that there are only so many people you can shoot in the face.

Now, at which point the number of face-shooting opportunities you have transcends multiplayer and moves into massively multiplayer is worthy of some discussion, and may have been the point Ryan was trying to make, except he then immediately descended into some random tangent about Megan Fox. I kind of get that, because she’s much cuter than a design doc, but it doesn’t really help with making your point. “Global social connectivity” isn’t a gameplay feature, it’s a buzzword. Bundling in a Facebook API does not magically make your game an MMO.

At NetDevil, we were never that interested in safe, cookie-cutter projects. We always tried to push some boundary, be it genre, technology, or creativity.  As a result, we watched business models completely vaporize and consumption styles totally shift during the course of each of our projects. With cycles this long and risky, you basically get one shot to succeed in half a decade. Ever been to Vegas?  Ever put all your weekend money on a single number in roulette? It’s kind of like that. Better have some backup bling to bet that big.

I think he’s trying to make a point here about game development being overly expensive and risk averse. I might be projecting, though, and really, I’m only guessing, especially because he then launches into:

Playing around is expensive when you lead teams of hundreds over many years. Playing on the same project, no matter how deep, for many years at a time, is exhausting creatively. I also felt I would like to ship more than four or five games in my entire career.

My long time business partners and founders of NetDevil, Scott Brown and Peter Grundy, reached similar conclusions. So we came together again to form END Games, with a new mission to turn our approaches upside down while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade of making the most complex and technically demanding entertainment forms known to man.

So, basically, new company, leveraging synergy LIKE A BOSS. Got it.

And Ryan’s point four of three (no, really):

In fact I came to a realization the other day, almost everything I consume in entertainment comes at the recommendation of a friend or social network contact. I don’t channel surf anymore, I don’t bother reading game or movie reviews, I don’t look at the NY Times Bestseller list. Not saying that plenty of people don’t still do these things, but I don’t. It’s not as efficient or risk-free as letting people I know tell me what sucks and what rocks, and deciding based on what I know of their preferences.

Am I a consumer free at last from the tyranny of the retail distribution monoliths of the 20th century? Of course not. Somehow my social network is getting informed about new products and experiences, and the best of these make their way to me based on personal credibility. It seems like the marketing is just less direct and intrusive, albeit maybe a touch nefarious in some cases.

You still need to market, and the same people still own most of the important channels. Yes there’s a lot of noise-over-signal in the market place. But finally, after all these years of the industry moaning lack of innovation and sameness, there is noise! As a player, it’s like everyday you can find a new box of random toys to sift through and discover little gems in.

Noise is good. Don’t let the PR trend of the day scare you  Everyone pushing the message “it’s too hard for products to get noticed now” is selling something. Like a good dating network, artists are finding more compatible audiences quicker thanks to ubiquitous internet and technology and the nature of the idea of “network”. It may take time and patience and a little bit of money and sweat. Still, what a great opportunity to have some fun and try some ideas that would never clear production oversight in traditional development models!

So – to break this down: social networks changed everything for Ryan, Ryan never talked to his friends about movies before Facebook, Ryan figured out guerilla marketing, and Ryan’s new company is going to work on low budget Cow Clicker clones.

Our next title was built to answer the question “What is the simplest game construct possible?” We believe we found the bizarrely addictive answer in Click!, which will be playable on iOS devices as soon as Apple gets around to approving it, or maybe Android if they take too long.

OK, so I’ve been really snarkily harsh (you shouldn’t be surprised, it’s kind of what I do) and there are a couple of valid points lost in the free floating hype. Traditional game development is in an arms race of ever-escalating budgets that choke creativity, casual gaming does give the opportunity for game developers to Make! Money! Fast! (admittedly, usually by promptly selling their company to Zynga), and it is important for game developers on the edge of burnout to have private projects, game related or not, that they derive personal and professional satisfaction from.

Of course, just writing it as a paragraph like that doesn’t mean I can get Kotaku to hype my new social game company. LIKE A BOSS.