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MMO Design: Art or Science?

Posted Sat, Jan 28, 2006 by Ethec

Artsy-fartsy or greed machine?
Ever since Konami videogame designer Hideo Kojima's comment that "a videogame is not art", a debate has quietly roiled among developers and thinking gamers in forum boards across the internet. Most recently Raph Koster, SOE game designer, took Kojima's comment to task in a superb article that (somehow) wove itself into a critique of game reviewers like us! Nonetheless, Ethec has never been one to miss a party, so check out his industry outsider perspective as to whether MMORPG game design is an art or a science.

An art-antagonistic panderer a little closer to home is, sorry Raph, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). The problem is especially apparent in games SOE-maintained games like Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest II. This is especially heartbreaking when I realize that no other developer (that I know of) has gone to greater lengths to give it's subscribers what they want. It's the "free bread and circuses" approach employed by many a Caesar, and like the Roman civilization, such a modus operandi has predictable results: lack of substance and eventual ruin.

I'm not suggesting that MMO game design need be elitist to succeed, but game designers must follow their muse. True artists don't pander, they force their audience to experience something worthwhile. Pandering is a stopgap measure precisely because what most MMO gamers want short-term is emphatically not what's good for them in the long run. One needn't look past World of Warcraft to find an MMO that gave gamers what they didn't realize they've longed for all along, yet retained its artistic identity as an action-packed, authentic franchise. Challenge and positive reinforcement pays bigger dividends than raw adrenaline factor, hands-down. Fun over a long timeframe (we're talking years, decades perhaps) is good for the MMO gaming community and for developers alike.

Check out the MMO Design: Art or Science opinion article right here at Ten Ton Hammer Main!

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