Persistent Online Worlds

One of the big back-of-the-box feature bullet points that many games strive so hard to check off the list is having a persistent world.

But online worlds in games are too persistent, in the sense that nothing any player can do will have any meaningful impact. Quests are completed only for the amount of time it takes to read the reward message. Enemies are defeated only for the amount of time it takes for them to respawn.

Of course this makes sense with the way they are created; quests and enemies are art assets and content, the quantities of which are tightly constrained by a budget. But the future is in dynamic virtual worlds, and the way to do that is through procedural content generation.

A topic of contention among online world developers currently seems to be console development. Some of the top names just talked about it a bit at the Game Developers Conference. Most seem to be trying to defend their platform of choice, the PC. But as someone who is just waiting to be able to play a good online world game on a console (I have the thumbpad keyboard for my 360 controller partially in hope against the day that this will come to pass–and I’m really excited about Champions Online), I have some things to say in its favor (and some responses to the things said in favor of PC):

  1. I think I’ve made it obvious here before that I prefer console gaming over PC gaming, and my reasons. Briefly: I like the ease of use, the not having to worry if a game will run on my system, and the lack of painful install, update, and system patch processes. My PC is also pretty old, but that will not be a problem before too long because I will buy a new one.
  2. The installed base may technically be bigger on PC, but it probably isn’t if you consider the specs required to play your PC game. And definitely not if you consider the number of PC owners actually using their computers for games. The console market for games is definitely larger than that for the PC, which is easily verified by looking at sales numbers for games which appear on both platforms (especially those released simultaneously on both).
  3. “User Interface Constraints” is, in my opinion, a cop-out statement which means, “we are not willing to work very hard on accessibility.” Many PC games (not just online worlds) often make extensive use of keyboard hotkeys for control. But no one can really argue that the keyboard was designed for playing games (even gaming keyboards are just trying to adapt them to a purpose for which they were not originally intended). People (the kind of people we need to reach in order to expand the gaming market) complain that there are so many buttons on console controllers. How can you ever imagine you will get them to memorize all your arbitrary keyboard shortcuts? And then re-memorize them if they take a break from the game for a few months? Yes, making the games work using a controller requires thought and effort, possibly a redesign of major areas of the game, but that isn’t wasted effort when you consider that it is focused on improving accessibility, meaning that it opens up the potential market for the game considerably.
    And finally, this one should make producing online world games for consoles a no-brainer:
  4. There is no World of Warcraft on consoles.

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