Thursday, September 20, 2007

Collective assets

Something else Areae's Metaplace has me wondering about is the possibility of shared assets.

What I mean
Bioware included a design toolset with Neverwinter Nights, but modules were limited to NWN assets and applications. I doubt they would have been very happy to find their proprietary NPC models or sound effects in a non-Neverwinter game, even if no profit was made from the game.

But the sharing of assets without such limitations on their use might be possible with Metaplace. Someone creates a model of a horse, and a dozen other users use that model in their own games. The horse might have been created for an RPG, but another user might make the model the basis of a horse-racing game. Someone records the sound of an evil cackle, and the audio asset spreads like wildfire.

Certainly, many users will only license out assets for money, but some (how many, I don't pretend to know) would certainly be willing to give theirs away. Perhaps, most of those would ask to be credited for the asset by name, but the use is essentially free.

What Areae must do
Or, rather, what it seems they must do. I'm not a legal expert.

If they want to this happen, Areae should facilitate the transfer of assets from one user to another through a simple and painless, but permanently recorded and easily accessed, legal agreement. Basically, it would be like clicking on a EULA before you start playing an MMO. After the two users have agreed to a moneyless transaction, they use the Areae tool to formalize the contract by both clicking on this agreement; thereby keeping the free nature of the transfer on record in case one party changes his or her mind. (Please note that this is just theoretical. Areae has suggested no such feature.)

The result
If users can comfortably use the assets other Metaplace users have created, then it opens up many possibilities. Areae's design tool will help amateur designers cut a lot of corners by not having to build the games' programming foundations, but shared assets could result in even more saved time and work.

For one thing, it would expand the Metaplace toolset's accessibility to would-be designers who are short on available time. More people would be willing to try their hand at implementing a Metaplace game.

It would also inspire some designers to tackle larger projects; to be more ambitious.

For example, I've always wanted to design a multiplayer RPG in which there are so many different weapon and armor effects that no one player will ever see them all; a game in which the item you loot from the monster is the only weapon in the game with that particular effect (such as a sword which gives you a ghostly companion or a frightening helmet that reduces the morale / combat effectiveness of most enemies). You might have read an old post of mine on how content doesn't always need to be experienced directly by a player to improve his or her game experience.

That sort of feature would never get into a professional game, because it requires the creation of too many assets. But if many different Metaplace users permitted me to incorporate some of their assets into my game, then a little creativity would enable me to build that game at a reasonable pace. I wouldn't be making the models; I'd just be looking at what other people have created and asking myself what sort of cool effect I could use it for.

Someone models a fire for their log cabin's fireplace... I make the fire appear in front of enemies when my players cast a Fire Wall spell. Someone models a candle... I enlarge it, change the hue, draw runes on it, and turn it into a pillar of an old ruin lost in the forest.

Collective assets would enable us to design as we designed when we were little kids. We can use our imaginations to rearrange the familiar into something new and wonderful.


  1. Unlimited wants, limited resources. Most armchair designers fail to realize this concept and burn out on their first project, resulting in a pile of garbage.

    That is OK when it is something like a NWN module, but when that armchair designer is spending money in the process to build via something like MetaPlace they are more likely to feel cheated.

    MetaPlace is going to be a tricky horse to ride for any designer. Designers will have to be at the top of their game day in and day out, otherwise their idea will be stolen and sold for cheaper elsewhere.

    The way it reads currently, an entire MMO project could be stolen and reworked enough to be released elsewhere on MetaPlace. It happens all the time with NWN modules or UI mods in World of Warcraft.

  2. Yeah, even if everyone's sharing assets, time is still a precious commodity. A person could design a large game completely alone, but one of the reasons it's good to at least have someone else reviewing the design with you is so they can inspire and energize you, keep you from burning out.

    To that end, it would be nice if Areae enabled a "beta" option, in which the creator could selectively offer access to the game for feedback purposes before completion and going public.

    If a game is plush with dynamics and replayability, like I'm always talking about, then it can be released in smaller chunks. But you're right. Before I start implementing anything, I'm going to map out what is absolutely necessary for the game to be fun initially, what elements would be difficult to add later, and what content expansions should be added first. If I can release the game in small bits at a time, I'll be less likely to burn out on the project.

    An MMO won't be my first project, though. I'm not insane. I'm going to start with small arcade games and get used to implementing games before I tackle something large and complicated.

    As for being ripped off... If someone can implement one of my ideas better than I can, then that's cool with me. =) For now, profit's a distant consideration for me. I just want to see if I can do what I think I can do.


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