StateCraft: Update

StateCraft: Update
Gaming at the Margins, Part 2

Warren Spector | 28 Mar 2006 11:00
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First, that seems silly to me; second, it seems sad. Look, I love stories - in any medium. And there's a reason why most stories have a single hero. Stories just work better that way. So, single player gaming is important to me because it seems important to give players the experience of being The Hero of their own, compelling story, rather than bit players in a story of random events told by thousands, even millions of people.

So, the obvious question that arises from the ascendance of MMOGs and other online games is this: What can those of us in the single player (or small group multiplayer) space learn from MMOGs?

If we don't learn from them, we might go the way of the dodo. If boxed game guys just keep on selling their boxed games at retail, it's hard to see much of a future. Can we find a way to tap into the delivery systems and business models pioneered by the MMOGs? Can we non-MMOG guys get players' credit card numbers?

We have to find ways to go direct to consumers. We have to tap into that $10 or $15 a month MMOG players get charged and forget about long after they've lost interest in the game. I mean, NCsoft got about $60 off of me after I stopped playing City of Heroes and before I remembered to cancel my subscription. My wife's WoW habit has gone down to once or twice a week now, but Blizzard is still collecting her $15, like clockwork, and she can't bring herself to stop playing completely.

I want a piece of that action!

We need to extend MMOG-style billing and distribution to non-MMOGs. We're already seeing the beginnings of this sort of effort in Valve's Steam, Comcast's Games on Demand, Gametap, and BioWare's online store. Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson recently announced their new online distribution venture, Manifesto Games. We need more of this.

And we need to take the idea further, delivering games in episodic form, adopting a television model, and more specifically, a cable model, rather than emulating the film industry's standalone blockbuster mindset. Come on, HBO, get in the game!

The Outcome(s)
I think if we continue to think of MMOGs and single player games as two completely separate businesses the single player/retail side of things really could get destroyed. Heck, even EA execs are beginning to talk about the importance of going direct to consumers, and they own traditional retail distribution!

The convenience of direct distribution combined with the no-effort, low cost credit card purchase is just too powerful, from a consumer's point of view, not to carry the day. As iTunes and other online businesses wean consumers from the need for a physical object that represents their purchase to a psychological place where intangible bits and bytes are worth spending money on, the two sides of gaming have to come together. I don't think we can stop this, even if we want to.

Next time
Next installment, we'll talk about some of the hardware and business challenges ahead.

Warren Spector is the founder of Junction Point Studios. He worked previously with Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios, TSR and Steve Jackson Games.

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