Friday, August 31, 2007

Breaking the barrier

Some of the guys from Gamespy are presenting at the AGC next week on the topic of Breaking the In-game / Out-of-game Barrier. This is one of the presentations I'd really like to attend, but I chose something else in that time-slot.

The general topic reminded me of a thread on the old Vanguard forums in which Jon Grande (Taranis), a Microsoft rep working with Sigil at the time, mentioned the possibility of connecting an MMO like Vanguard to out-of-game life:

"The comment about enabling "off-line play" had to do with the potential of enabling communications into and outside of the game.

As a simplistic example - let's say you're a high level crafter, you've
made several high end bows, and your guild has setup a shop to sell them. You setup your merchant NPC to sell the bows at a specific price and notify you when the bows sell. You get notified, via whatever mechanism you've specified as your preference (email, IM, vmail, etc) and you respond to the merchant. You tell him to buy enough high-end/craftable wood and sinew for you to craft 5 more bows when you get online again. You then get notified when he's bought the components - so you know that you'll be ready to go when you get online. Take that as a starting point and let your imagination wander ..."

Of course, brainstorming is my specialty, so I jumped at the bait:

"If there are things like newspapers in the games, to inform players of stuff going on in the wide world, could we receive that news through email or an outside medium? [which isn't so very different from what Shadowbane did]

I suppose any text message or image that players can mail to one another in-game... could be forwarded to out-of-game mail.

There could be scrying towers around the marketplaces that take screenshots of the market activity every half hour or so. Merchants could opt to be emailed those screenshots however many half-hour increments they wish, or at particular times (real-life). This would allow them to have an idea of how successful they'll be at certain times, certain seasons...and whether they should spend their online time messing with their shopkeepers or crafting instead.

For adventurers, they could receive reports of rumors of which way a monster or NPC headed in the area they subscribe to; or what those mischievous orcs of Balhemm have been up to today....are they sending out messengers? are they attacking caravans?

For scholars and crafstmen, there could be rumors of what texts and crafting techniques have been discovered by players recently, and with whom they should enquire about these marvellous finds."

Obviously, there's stuff like GuildCafe, allowing players to share game achievements and choices out-of-game. Gamespy and Xbox Live offer leaderboards and statistics. I'm sure there's much room for growth in that arena.

There's also the storytelling using game assets that people like Chas do.

Another possibility is riddles and other puzzles that begin in-game but are challenging enough to encourage players to continue trying to solve the problems out-of-game. The great thing about this avenue is that mind-games can be tackled anywhere and, depending on the specific puzzle, solved without need of any tool (keyboard, cellphone, pen and paper, etc.). You might begin trying to solve it the moment it's posed to you in-game, but you could continue trying to solve it while driving in your car, nibbling during your lunchbreak, brushing your teeth, whatever.

Such puzzles could help bring the game's community together, especially if they required knowledge from multiple areas of the game (different classes, factions, regions, etc.).

They could also bind the game's community to persons and communities who do not play the game, if the riddles were not bound to game information (like Bilbo's riddles in The Hobbit) or somehow rewarded out-of-game knowledge. Even if those helping never bought the game, giving players even a little opportunity to share their game experiences with friends and family increases enjoyment of the game.

It might even soften pressures on those whose family or friends don't understand gaming. My dad doesn't get gaming at all, but he loves crosswords and intellectual challenges like that. If, as a member of a particular game's community, could email my dad such a challenge a couple times per month, he'd probably view my gaming in a very different light...because he'd be indirectly involved, and looking forward to the next challenge from my involvement. I'm sure people with spouses or other live-in relations who don't play video games would love something like this.

Wow. That Vanguard thread was over three years ago! I still miss that community.

Incidentally, that's one of the reasons I'm interested in the Community Influencers panel, which I'll be attending in lieu of the barrier-breaking presentation. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think I probably would have been counted as a "community influencer" for a while in that old Vanguard community. I helped in keeping tempers level and encouraging others to make productive posts.

Another reason ties into this topic, I suppose: I wonder if community influencers can/should be identified or addressed in-game; not just on forums, fansites and blogs? I can't help but think that the panel might give me in-game design insights.

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