Super Happy Dev Chats 2007

I’m to semi-live blog my first trip to Super Happy Dev House in San Francisco. This post will essentially be a “living document” until noontime November 11, 2007, where I’ll probably clean up a whole lot of post rambling and finalize the whole thing with pics. I’ll be updating this storyline in batches (hence semi-live blogging), as sinking my head into WordPress to blog somewhat puts a damper on the cool conversations I’m having. Anyway, here is the stream of consciousness post..

3:15 PM Arrived at SHDH

Ran into 2 “Tims” downstairs and took a pic right outside the location. It looks like Will, who is hosting the dev house, has a really neat home – it’s essentially a big square box with a staircase right in the middle. The exterior kind of has the appeal of a warehouse, which is what this building originally was.

One of the Tims is working on layer 2 security stuff. I’m moving on, as I’m not terribly interested.

4:30 Met John

Ran into Jon Callas of PGP, and had a fascinating conversation about virtual worlds, designing social structures to support the world’s strategic goals, and inevitable scaling issue involved as the world grows. Here’s an impressionistic transcript of the chat:

4:45 Socializing World of Warcraft and similar MMOs

One of the issues Blizzard is having is that they are crafting social structures with input predominately from the 1%ers who are the hard core gamers. This leads to some design decisions where the majority of development team time is spent creating social structures and crafting the experience for places like Blackwing layer, which the overwhelming population of users will never see. The reason most of their time is spent on these people is strategic: one of Blizzard’s primary goals is to elevate gaming to the same cache that professional sports like baseball and football enjoy. While this may frustrate some players who disagree with that strategy, by all accounts they are executing well on their strategy.

Making sure females join your world is absolutely critical for a number of reasons. The women tend to encourage stickiness in a boyfriend or husband, so you get 2 players for the marketing cost of one. In additional, women tend to invite others more often to join them than their male counterparts.

Hardcore gamers are a drain on your system. While they may be loyal, they are also fickle, and use up resources (both technical and people resources). They will also demand an inordinate amount of dev time. Blizzard in particular has huge issues with the gold farmer market – they view it is cheating in the same vein as like using steroids in football. However, their key 1%ers are the ones funding it most of the gold available, and since they want to keep them happy as can be, they’re stuck in a dilema they accidentally created.

5:00 MMO platform decisions

Creating Macintosh clients for virtual worlds is critical to creating stickines, but more importantly to bringing over new players to your new virtual world. The reason is that Mac gamers are overrepresented in MMO communities mostly because their solo game choices are limited. Hence it’s likely a guild can’t bring everyone over to the new game unless Macs are supported, since the odds are at least a few key members will be on Macs.

5:15 Virtual World Economics

One attempt to curb the gold farming in World of Warcraft involves creating daily quests – quests you can only do once a day in certain places. While these rovide an entertaining way to spend time without creating vast amounts of wealth (and hence inflation), there is a design problem inherent in them also. The problem is they provide a reward of a few gold coins, which is not enough to offset the repair bill on damaged gear. Hence, the daily quests basically suffers from the AMT problem.

Fighting inflation in MMOs is a critical problem, which has several well know and easy solutions. For example, City of Heroes entirely eliminates coinage in favor of a skills only system. World of Warcraft intorduces a number of money sinks, like trasportation costs (why does flying on griphons cost money??), gear repair, and nontransferrable gear. The key to creating inflation controls is to make appropriate decisions and be consistent. Many players who purchased the WOW expansion pack were frustrated when they found profession development (armorsmith, tailoring, etc) to proceed slower in the expansion world. Breaking with inflation controls consistency introduces turnover risk.

5:45 Traffic control

One issue Blizzard is facing right now is that the older existing worlds feel like ghost towns whereas the newer worlds are crowded. They have tried to counter the problem by conjuring up specific quest locations in the old world nd creating pointers to them in the new world. However, the flow of traffic is a bit irregular, which makes places either rushed with flash crowds, or makes them feel like ghost towns.

6:00 The Second Life model

Second life is a libertarian anarchy experiment with scalability issues. Linden scaled horizontally as opposed to vertically (EVE online, WOW) so hence these latter ones stack really well.

While Blizzard did a great job at scaling WOW, they also introduced certain rigidity as compared to the consummately flexible Second Life. For instance, Linden Labs allows virtual world participants ot create their own textures and wireframes for physical attributes like hair. Anyone can upload a new design. The problem is, what happens if someone decides to upload a 5GB hairpiece? Linden’s decision to allow user creatable bjects hence places responsibility on Linden for performance, but takes control of that performance way from them. Hence dialup on Second Life is unfeasible.

Blizzard took the opposite approach: all the body types are exactly the same. Your hair is the same t level 70 as it was at level 1 – the world might change, but your hair won’t. However, WOW is playable on dialup and Blizzard can scale well since the only thing which needs to be stored on the servers is an array of data representing each player’s apperance.

The lesson to learn here is it is critical to map out the consequences of design decisions.

Linden provided objects with standard physics movement – dresses flow and weave in the wind and such. People creating their own objects apply these behaviors and end up with flowing hair in a way that seems unnatural. Blizzard created a worldwith the opposite problem. Everyone in a given race the same bodytypeand noone can change their appearance (add a tattoo for example). There is room for a middle ground, that represents an opportunity.

The porn question is a tough one to solve. Certain adults who are welcomed into an online world will inevitably do certain things people will always do things. You can enforce policy disallowing it in various creative ways. For instance, bars only admit 21+ people, regardless of whether there is real booze or not – and private areas allow for more freedom.

PVP decision on virtual world.. creating some degree of ambiguity as to what good and evil is creates all sorts of plot possibilities. While Blood Elves are the prettiest looking race in WOW’s horde, they are arguably the nastiest. The Tauren are different, and the trolls are simply campy. To have allowed the Draenei to join the horde and the elves to join the alliance would have muddled the waters significantly, and spread out the players who would like to explore the dark side, so to speak.

Question to ask yourself as you’re creating an online world: can you buy your way to the top or slog your way to the top?

To have an MMO take off, you have to have a storyboard property. For example, the Lord of the Rings online game has a shared universe and shared vision which binds together the participants. If starting with an entirely new universe, it makes sense to create media which allows potential user base to learn about the shared universe prior to the virtual world opening up for participation.

This entry was published on November 10, 2007 at 7:51 PM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Super Happy Dev Chats 2007

  1. Pingback: World of Warcraft » Super Happy Dev Chats 2007

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