I’ve been thinking of starting this for well over a year now, but will confess that I’ve been intimidated by the blank canvass. Hardest step is the first one and all that.
The first reason, is because I believe I have expertise to share that can provide the backdrop for a conversation about the creation of interactive worlds. I’ve contributed to, as both a designer and a participant, the process of creating interactive worlds for nearly twenty years and over the past three have had the privilege of gaining increasingly intimate insight into by being involved as a tester from far earlier in the development process than most players are privy to – although the rise of Kickstarted and Early Access titles is changing that, with more players being involved earlier than they ever have before (a good thing, I’d argue, but that’s a topic for another post.) For a more robust look, be sure to check out the Author section of the site.
Secondly, is the need for the conversation. There’s far more participants in virtual worlds than at any other time in history, but there’s also far more vitriol between developers and players, developers and the press, and the press and players. As the industry–and especially the genre–matures, it carries with it the baggage of broken promises, of revolutionary visions that fell short in execution, and of paradigms being challenged. The participants – both players and developers – in virtual worlds have more reason than ever to engage in conversation about the direction and shape these worlds will take in the future.
And finally, we’re at a flashpoint. From the earliest inception of online interactive worlds and narratives, there have been a series of tipping points where the genre dramatically lurches forward after relative stasis. The distribution of the open source DIKUMUD library tripled the number of interactive online worlds overnight. Ultima Online and EverQuest dramatically expanded the number of participants while shifting text into sprites and polygons. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise overshadowed the genre for nearly a decade and created a suite of genre tropes and near-mandatory design choices. And recently, what started with the innovations – and financial success – of Guild Wars 2, DayZ, and Minecraft, alongside the relative stagnancy of ‘me-too’ titles that started with the subscription collapse of Star Wars: The Old Republic and has culminated in the ho-hum eyeroll towards WildStar – there is a feeling that the genre is about to take another dramatic leap forward. We’re in the midst of yet another flashpoint – and perhaps the most exciting one yet.
All this adds up to the need for this conversation – and so I invite you into the foyer. Let’s have it.
We’re starting with H1Z1. Not only because it’s the hot new kid on the block, topping both the Steam charts and Twitch views, but because Sony Online Entertainment – for all its past mea culpas – is the development house that is pushing the boundaries of the genre more than any other.