Warning: This article contains spoilers and discussion in relation to the interpretation of a game that could be considered an "art game" which can be interpreted many different ways.
There has been a game around for awhile called “The Stanley Parable.” It’s a game about Stanley, someone who has a job of pushing the buttons assigned to them from a monitor, and his adventures one strange day when the commands stop and all of his coworkers are missing. The game, at face value, is a quirky odd game full of lots of laughs.
Deep down inside it’s a lot more. If you’ve been reading any game media for a bit you’ll see a lot of dissection of the game and its various meanings. While I’m an armchair philosopher, I don’t think my armchair is big enough to tackle the entire game industry with a solid comparative to the game, but I do feel like there is some outstanding thought provoking things in relation to MMOs.
The basic understanding of the game is that the narrator acts as the game developer, while Stanly acts as a player. The different endings showcase the different ways the two interact based on how someone interacts with the game. The moral of the story is that Stanley needs the narrator and the narrator needs Stanley. The two are nothing without each other.
The reason I find this interesting in terms of MMOs is that often we all forget the importance that game developers play in crafting the game and the fact that we need them in order to create an experience that we can enjoy, an experience that most of the time we can only enjoy by deviating from the intended path slightly.
The best showing of this is the two endings whenever you decide to disobey the narrator, get on the cargo lift, then jump down onto the cat walk. You’re given two doors and one final chance to either follow the narration or deviate. If you follow the narration at this point, you receive the “happiness” ending which involves sitting and staring at colors with the narrator happy; however, to end it you have to jump off a tall flight of stairs multiple times, resulting in the death of Stanley leaving the narrator alone. The opposite ending is one of defiance, in which the narrator deems that you do not enjoy his game and then sets in motion a series of alternate games, including Minecraft and Portal, for you to try ending with Stanley alone, without the narrator.
The slightly sad ending in which Stanley throws himself from the top of a staircase over and over to reject the Narrator's version of happiness.
This showcases that Stanley and the narrator work in tandem for each of them to have an enjoyable experience and benefit. Much like us, the players, and MMO developers must work in tandem for the game to be enjoyable. If it isn’t enjoyable at all, alternate games are obviously the only solution, abandonment is it. A game without a happy playerbase is nothing but emptiness.
In a lot of ways MMOs need this relation to be spot on perfect. The developers have to make a script that is perfect for players to follow and players need a bit of give to make sure things are entertaining. There has to be some relation between to the two that allows both of them to have what they want in order to have a successful game. This is so utterly dependently true. For instance, Dark Age of Camelot learned quickly what happens when you have a break down between developer and player. Two updates spring to mine, first the Beserker incident. Beserkers were insanely overpowered for a long duration and when they nerfed them, they were insanely underpowered. This caused a lot of strife in a game where it took months to reach maximum level and disabling a character because of previous balance issues was a tad extreme.
The next was Trials of Atlantis. DAoC was built on the foundation that it was an alternative to Everquest. There was no spawn camping, exploration was encouraged, and the world was vast and bountiful with lots to do. ToA added in tons of loot, tons of spawning camping, and tons of EQ like features all for pretty much no reason. All of these things were not what the community wanted and led to a mass exodus from the game.
New Frontiers was another issue of lack of developer / player harmony. Players loved the old frontier and the new frontier was not what they wanted, but were forced to accept. The Stanley Parable really drives this point home in the “Happiness” ending when the player rejects the narrators version of happiness.
A successful MMO needs to cohesion between the player and the developer. The game cannot happen without one and the other working side by side. Sure there are outliers in both camps, but the group mentality of both needs to work together or the game will result in failure.
Developers need players and players need developers. Neither exists without the other.