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IMGDC 2.0: Day Two - Keynote Print E-mail
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Written by Matt "snorkle256" Nolan   
Tuesday, 01 April 2008


Day two of the IMGDC 2.0 conference started without Jonathon Stevens, which had "absolutely nothing to do with the after party the previous night" according to the emcee.  Of course that just meant that we were treated to extra time with the brilliant Dr. Richard A. Bartle.

I heard Dr. Bartle speak the day before during the round table discussion about government interference and found his insight intriguing.  Therefore, I was excited to hear him speak at length during this keynote.

For those of you that don't know, Dr. Bartle is the grandfather of MMO as he helped develop the virtual worlds of MUDs.

Apparently, many people have approached Dr. Bartle with the question, “Where do you see virtual worlds 10 years from now?”  (I contemplated asking him aloud, but thought better of it.)  He continued by telling us that, nearly as often, he is asked, “Are you surprised at where virtual worlds are at now?”

His answer was possibly a bit arrogant, but honest.  “Yes, I thought they would have been farther along."

With that, Dr. Bartle began his presentation “Three Views from 2018”, which addressed three possible futures for the world of MMO games.

In his first view of 2018, he described a world where law enforcement is actually hurting the people they are supposed to protect and there is little relief from criminals.  Laws are being applied wrongly and unfairly.  Games would not be treated differently than non-games, WoW and Second-Life, to the law would be the same.

Borrowing from the previous day's discussion, he again stated that down the path of this future, intellectual property of the gamer (i.e. items created within a game) will in fact be owned by the user and given government protection.  These protections can actually harm the game's dynamic, since developers would be helpless to alter or remove any gamer items if needed (such as banning or nerfing).  This also allows players the freedom to sell any item as they see fit.  While one might argue that this would benefit players, it could introduce an economy into a game that may not have the metrics in place to handle it.  Additionally, when users begin selling items in game, it becomes the publisher's responsibility to see that financial data is recorded for income tax purposes and sales tax collection on all these transactions.  Again, if not prepared, this could cause numerous problems for the companies involved.

Gaming laws would be setup to handle these real market trades, because if killing mobs produces items of chance that can be sold for real money, games could be construed as online gambling, which was banned in 2006.  Now take into consideration the possibility of stolen items, sold for gold to an alternate account, and you suddenly have in-game money laundering.  The game designers would need protections in place to prevent this as well.  This would again create a huge amount of data that must be recorded and retained.  He also feels that the government would also still be working on fixing the patent system by 2018 and Dr. Bartle quipped that they still would be in 2028.

Continuing, Bartle hypothesized that the academic and business worlds could take more interest in MMOs than the government would.  In this case, MMOs are dead in 2018 and the game taking their place is unrecognizable in form.  All the things that make MMOs special have been removed.  The online games previously called MMOs are now simply a place for meetings and learning.  Game worlds have become non-game worlds or an extension of reality, no long like the MMOs of 2008.

When too much reality is interjected MMOs are no longer sustainable as fantasies.  There isn't one specific cause, but things would gradually change over time.  Business's will only see the micro-transactions and therefore not think about gameplay, as developers do.  Academics will step in and see fun games and try to combine education.  Dr. Bartle explains that the only result will be "unfun games". 

When outside entities view MMOs as vehicles of their content then the original player base is alienated and the games are no longer games but intrusions of reality.  Maybe the real world will more exciting than MMOs.

The last future, one that is brighter than the previous two, is one where game developers become active "gun slingers" and defend their medium of expression.  Finally, in 2018 politicians have realized that being critical of games is no longer a valid strategy and can actually cause loss of voter support.  In fact, gamers have already won as half the population plays games.  The world of Indie is alive as dev kits become cheap and include more tools and features.

Which of these three scenarios are most likely to play out?  The crowd seemed to be torn in thirds.  Of course, the hope of gamers taking over is shared between them.  Bartle himself thinks that the MMOs will prevail as people have heavily invested values and want the games to succeed.  As he says, they are “Just too damn good not to win!” 

But nothing can be won without a fight.  Gamers, as well as a conference full of developers, need to take a stand for the reality they want to exist.  I have confidence, for the passion that Bartle mentioned is evident by the ever-growing IMGDC.  Truly our gaming future is in good hands.


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