During the summer, I attended a one-day conference with Tim Lenoir, Casey Alt, and Patrick Jagoda, with the intention of presenting our concept for an extraordinary MMORPG called Emergence. Patrick has written extensively about the game, and I simply wanted to comment on a few of the reactions we received.
The conference drew a mixed crowd: academics, historians, a number of participants in the 1959 US National Exhibition in Moscow, and other curious onlookers. In other words, certainly not hardcore gamers or "industry people". After the presentation, we took the stage to answer questions about the project and fielded a number of interesting inquiries and comments (I apologize for not being able to report them verbatim, as my memory is slightly fuzzy):
-Question: If the purpose of the game is to promote diplomacy and cultural exchange, why are you proposing a shoot-em-up that only feeds the violent urges of adolescent boys?
[Note: This question was phrased in a slightly confusing way; I believe this was the intended meaning of the questioner, and it is the question we chose to answer]
I think that this question reflects a popular and deeply-held belief about videogames, reinforced by the relative youth of the medium and by the fact that media exposure of games typically tends to be of extreme or negative examples that are visceral in nature and do not show off gaming's deeper possibilities. I could go into greater detail, but that's a whole blog post in and of itself.
-Question: What are the possibilities of this project being open-source in nature?
From a different angle, the mainstream popularity of consumer-level open-source applications such as Mozilla Firefox, and the widespread distribution of open-source software such as Apache, it is certainly understandable that "crowdsourcing" design and execution of Emergence might be desirable. Gaming, which is by and large a for-profit, product-based enterprise, presents some unique challenges to the open-source model, but at the same time, many of the most popular/widespread games played online are community-driven and user-driven projects such as the original Counterstrike, Defense of the Ancients, the historical shooter Red Orchestra, and countless total conversions for copyrighted intellectual property. Again, the 99/1 model for content creation and the general movement from community-based to for-profit models could fill another blog post. Emergence's gameplay certainly supports user-created content, but the actual platform, for now, will remain a closed-source project.
-Comment: I remember playing Counterstrike when I was a kid and meeting and engaging with people from other countries...
We received a number of different comments along these lines, mostly from younger convention-goers. One aspect of gaming that many of my generation tend to take for granted is the way it crosses cultural lines- my roommate, for example, famously played World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning with a group of Canadians from a different time zone. Especially given the Anglo-American dominance in popular games that don't rely on language or linguistic/cultural conventions (i.e. multiplayer shooters, MMOs, RTS games)*, I believe there is a sizeable population in the United States that has had similar experiences, and is now primed for the type of cross-cultural gameplay that Emergence will deliver.
-Questions: Will this really be able to take on World of Warcraft?
In other words, "Are y'all delusional, or just mildly crazy?" World of Warcraft (or WoW) is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about, much less provoke, and its staggering predominance in the MMO field is an issue we are trying not to tiptoe around. While we certainly feel Emergence has the potential to both tap into a diverse audience that would traditionally not be attracted to these types of games and also to steal away some of WoW's primary player-base, doing so in practice will be a difficult feat, and a challenge we definitely look forward to.
Overall, the potential of the game makes for a number of wonderful conversation topics. I certainly hope to be able to discuss them in the future.
*I certainly don't mean to imply anything about Anglo-American culture, but simply point out that due to a number of external factors- size of potential audience, established content distribution channels, the proliferation of American and British auteur designer/coder/artists in the 1980s and 1990s, reduced potential for piracy allowing sustainable game design- multiplayer games around the world have generally tended to follow trends originated in the western hemisphere, with notable exceptions from the Japanese school of design and other influential groups that are shamelessly ripped off by studied and paid homage to by Anglo-American designers.