Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Yabbut entertainment is a form of manipulation.

Its manipulative.

Even me just trying to make you laugh is a manipulation of you.

Sure its benevolent, insteada malevolent (well, usually, heh), but that doesn't make it any less of a manipulation.

And all the weapons we use in entertainment to increase tension and suspense and heighten an experience or whatever can be used for good or evil.

Just like you can use the level progression system in D&D to create cognitive dissonance time investment treadmill nightmares to make something worthless seem more valuable.

And they can also be used poorly or well, too heh.

So its not just black and white, yes and no, its a multidimensionally subjective grayscale thingie, a lot like the way a horrible death penalty can help to create more entertaining situations, and dangerous in the same sorta ways, I guess.

But let's say we had an NDA for a Live Game, instead of just a game in Beta.

Not for marketing garbage, but in order to protect the entertainment in the game from everybody knowing the Blair Witch Project isn't a True Story before they even get to see it, or to keep puzzles from becoming something that just slows you down by forcing you to go through the motions because you already know the answer to 'em, and stuff like that.

And we also wanna do it to force the exchange of game tips and stuff away from things that are external to the game world and drive it into the hands of players trading information with each other inside the game, so that it will strengthen the bonds between the actual players on a server, instead of giving the fun of that (and the power of that) away to somebody else, like the game company, or some fansite place.

If a game with all this exclusive club secrecy around it is good, one of your buddies will play it and say the same things he always says when he wants you to play a game with him, "come play this thing with me, this game is cool" and the NDA crap like I was talking about ain't gonna change that heh.

And if he hates it, I have no doubts that he'll tell you that, too ahaha.

I just don't see how an NDA is really gonna change anything with that.

And I don't think a bunch of evil scrub game devs could really use this to their advantage to disguise how crappy their game was, y'know, 'least not any worse than they already use level treadmills and carrot dangling and shit AHAHA.

But lets think a little deeper into this.

Let's say its a WoW-like game with classes and races.

But you can't talk about your class on a forum somewhere, 'cause that would be against the NDA (even though I know a lot of people that would hate that 'cause they like to blabber on forums about game crap while they're at work).

You have to actually walk into your class's guildhall in-game and talk to the folks hanging out there to get tips on stuff.

And as a game dev who works on stuff for that class, you wouldn't have a forum somewhere where you could hear all the junk that was messed up with it.

But you could go in-game and sit in the guildhall to hear folks complaints, and to see what they were doing, just like everybody else.

'Cause the guildhall would become an open-air forum to air complaints and share tricks-of-the-trade and "where to get a cool robe" and "how to fight this and that" and pass out hand-me-downs and all that, y'know?

You could even have separate "zones'" or "rooms" in the guildhall for different kinds of discussions (y'know like chatrooms or subforums), and searchable logs and recordings of previous discussions or monologues and whatever (like game tips and stuff) organized by player and topic in nice clicky folders in a library or something, y'know, if you need something like that.

Although I kinda think that's weaker than just having people pass along knowledge by word of mouth, 'cause if its done by word of mouth, then more people get to take part in passing it along, y'know, instead of it being a one-to-many thing, its a chain of people sharing info.

The NDA thing I was talking about ain't so much a Marketing Trick (even though it is one, in more than one way, partly) as it is supposed to be a Blair Witch-ish "Don't Ruin the Ending of the Movie" MMO entertainment enchancement kinda trick.

And it operates on a lot more levels than one.

'Cause it gives the oldbies something cool to do with the junk they've learned, little bit of showing off and making their server better for folks, establishes some of that Master and Apprentice stuff, and junk like that.

And it makes everybody feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves, it gives them a context and a sense of direction, y'know, newbs and oldbies alike.

And that guildhall thing is just one element of one way to do it in a WoW-like game, without a whole lot of mechanical stuff to actually enhance it much, like Knight's Tournaments and Wizard's Trials, some kinda Gauntlet to run for Warriors and Rites of Passage for Apprentices, or having a Pilot's Certification Test for a spaceship game, or the junk you'd need to do Cartography and Archaeological Museums and stuff.

As far as the marketing garbage goes, the signal-to-noise ratio is so high that I think the controversy of having a game you had to sign an NDA to play would do more for you than the nine-millionth review of some new WoW-like game on Website 99x.3 or whatever ahaha.

Y'know, you are gonna have to do something pretty goddam dramatic at this point to get me interested in anything heh.

Not that you couldn't let folks do reviews of your game, but I kinda got a thing against that too, only because reviews tend to be spoilery, talking about this and that class is good and that one seems kinda boring to me and stuff like that, ideally, if I was gonna make a game, I'd like to have an audience that wasn't biased in even the littlest bit toward what they were presented with, y'know?

But then again, this thing we're talking about would have to be a really great game on a lot of other levels, something that allowed players to move into it in an intuitive and non-frustrating way (as soon as you make me feel like I've just wasted my time you are done for ahaha), even though super-complicated and totally arcane classes and stuff like that (even with NO F'ING MANUAL for the game) are okay as long as you have a guildhall type place like I was talking about earlier, and its even okay if nobody is around in the guildhall (maybe you play at weird times) as long as folks can do something like making books like they used to do in UO (or something better), y'know, there's all these support systems you gotta think about.

But thats all good stuff, I think.

It really allows the brains of the players to fill in some of the slack and potholes that makes a game weak, and get some credit for doing it, its a community-strengthening (and mebbe immersion-strengthening) form of the same thing that spoiler sites and forums are actually good for, y'know?

Same as a game of D&D benefits from the Dungeonmaster's Brain smoothing out all the stupid patches and stuff ahaha.

The only bad stuff is that it smacks of the "Exclusive Club" Trick, and the Madonna "Be Controversial" Trick, and Reverse Psychology, and those Blair Witch entertainment-experience-enhancing tricks are kinda borderline evil, y'know, 'cause yer lying to people and saying stuff like the Chainsaw Massacre is a true story to get the girls to cuddle with the guys and shit heh.

But I don't really care about fansites that won't get to do reviews and sneak peeks and stuff, y'know, its like, "oh boohoo" heh, I just care about players and our entertainment.

'Cause everybody is a player.

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