"Worst. Presentation. Ever."

Richard Bartle recently posted the presentation slides from his IMGDC keynote.

Note: bad presenters slam their entire presentation script into each Powerpoint slide, then read droningly from each slide, word for word, as if their audience were a crowd of illiterates waiting for the shaman to explain the pretty picture pages. Bartle is not a bad presenter. Thus the slides are more a hintbook into the presentation (and somewhat amusing that way) than an actual talk transcript. Still, it’s fairly good, and he makes some good points.

  • Cloning WoW is expensive, you will probably fail, and the result isn’t very good from a design standpoint anyway
  • There’s a vast difference between user-created content (such as City of Heroes’ architect system) and user-generated ‘content’ (such as the Eve Great War) – the latter is compelling and why people come back to MMOs
  • Elder games to date kind of suck thanks to the adherence to theme park-style game design as opposed to free-from social world design
  • This happened historically in the MUD development era, which no one knows about because for decades designers have ignored everything that happened in game development before the debut of their favorite MMO (note: Bartle was probably far too polite to actually say this)
  • The fairly obvious solution (which of course, no one has actually attempted) is a hybrid/balanced game akin to early MUDs where users begin on a theme park and graduate to an Eve-style freeform/social/user generated game
  • Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls” is pretty raunchy.

All seems very obvious (note: the best presentations point out obvious truths that everyone seems hellbent on ignoring for some reason in an amusing fashion). F13 didn’t get it.

Nothing in that presentation that hasn’t been stated by any armchair developer with more than 6 months gaming experience under their belt.

Physician, heal thyself.

This seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to make EVE/Shadowbane (that’s right, I said it) look good. Oh, and an excuse to use a lot of abstract terms in different combinations.

I think i’ve suddenly realized the attraction of being an academic. You can write “from on high” about the problems inherent in a topic without feeling obligated to present detailed solutions.

He’s spent thirty plus years saying the same crap and never putting his hat in the ring even though he could go to any publisher with a proposal, assemble a team and get funding. That’s the difference between us schlubs here and him: he could actually make the game he thinks is going to change the world and get all those subs but he refuses to do so.

Today class, we’re going to go to my ivory tower, built from MUD, and I’m going to show you my gold throne where I sit when I want to watch the peasants try to make something that I so obviously perfected 30 years ago. After that I’m going to snort blow off a co-eds thigh, give a speech somewhere I really shouldn’t be since my last real game came out before the NES was even an IDEA let alone a console that was ready for worldwide release that would change the world. Afterwhich I’m going to say a bunch of really profound, obvious shit and show you a square I came up with back when such a thing may have been relevant. After that? Yea, you guessed it. I’m going to ride naked on the back of my golden eagle that I have named Fame.

Wow. Whole lotta nerd raging going on. Almost as if someone threatened to take their candy!

So, to retort: almost everyone in that thread (including the moderator, and not including the post I’m about to cite below) is full of self-indulgent whiny bullshit. As someone who has built a career on self-indulgent whiny bullshit, I feel uniquely qualified to recognize this in the wild. Let me respond to the more obvious bullet points:

  • No, Bartle hasn’t worked on WoW. Amazingly, this does not disqualify you from commenting on MMO design (note: as far as I can guess, very few WoW game designers are posting in that thread. Ghostcrawler was probably busy.)
  • Yes, most of what he said was painfully obvious. Guess what: people are still funding WoW clones. Guess it wasn’t painfully obvious enough.
  • I find it deeply ironic that the sort of game Bartle advocated in the close of his presentation is actually fairly close to what the F13 hivemind would be quite excited over! (Hint: it was called Ultima Online)
  • No, Bartle can’t just walk into a game publisher, announce in a booming, stentorian voice “I WANT TO MAKE TEH GAME” and be given a $50 million budget. If you seriously believe that is how game development works, you are actually the target audience for those “tighten up the graphics on level six” game school ads.
  • The slams on his credibility are especially amusing. You do realize he worked on the first MUD, right. You know. The first one. PATIENT ZERO. This does give you a bit of credibility. At least for those people who don’t believe game development history began with the launch date of their current favorite MMO. It doesn’t mean that he is a Design Moses that comes from the mountaintop and shoots lasers from his eyes at gilded cow idols, but it does tend to get him invited to give presentations and it does mean he has things to say during them. Funny, that.

That being said – there was one valid point missed in the clouds of eloquent butthurtery.

So his proposal is to begin with a hand-crafted, polished, broad, directed experience (WoW) and then segue into an open-ended deep sandbox with nebulous emergent content (EVE). This is justified by his belief that content creation is, well, hard, and he dismisses user-created content as a potential solution pretty much out of hand. Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that “emergent” gameplay compares favorably to hand-crafted polished content.

You hear about these really cool world-changing political shifts in EVE online, and they sound really awesome, but the vast overwhelming majority aren’t playing at that level– they’re mining, or killing pirates, or PvPing, or trading resources. And that level isn’t really about the game anyway, it was “played” on bulletin boards and IRC chat channels. The game was incidental, a justification.

I don’t play games to chat with old friends, or collect cute pets, or decorate my in-game house with crazy furniture or play wacky dress-up. I don’t want to be a miner, or a crafter, or a cog in a wheel of a giant corporation. I don’t want to have to “find the fun”. I pay the devs for that, it should be handed to me on a silver platter. I want to be the hero that saves the day, exploring dangerous new continents, every day overcoming new challenges, progressing through a well-written story. That’s what I pay for.

Now, that’s just me. Some people dig all that crap, and I have no religious objection to that. But it’s not my bag. I want to be the hero.

And that is a coherent summary of why World of Warcraft is a raging success years later, and why many developers who presumably know better are afraid to veer from that paradigm. Many – probably most, in fact – players *want* to be content consumers, not content generators. They want to log in, be entertained, and log out.

The problem here is that this means they aren’t the target market for a virtual world. They want a game. So: how do you craft a virtual world that *also* is enough of a game to keep that person and his millions of cohorts entertained?

*That* is what we should be discussing. Not the length of Bartle’s neckbeard. (Note: most of the neckbeards come from forum posters, not game designers. Really. I checked and everything.)