Bartle versus MMOs, but solutions are in sight

I cannot believe I missed this.  Our new ION buddy Scott Jennings, who’s working on an unannounced MMO, posted a link on his blog to an interview with Bartle.  It spawned a lengthy conversation in comments, with Bartle himself weighing in several times.  Here’s the crux of Bartle’s argument:

  1. MMO designers don’t have the interest or ability to improve on the MMO genre in general
  2. MMO designers don’t give any reason or meaning to the worlds they create

Commenters immediately went to town on Bartle, condemning him for only being a consultant among other issues.  In the interest of full disclosure, we are actually consulting on an MMO where Bartle is also a consultant.  That said, having both consulted and worked on a number of MMOs, I have to agree that if you’ve worked on more than one, you get an idea of what is innovative and what isn’t.  If you happen to work on more than one during the course of a year, you really get to see what’s going on currently in the world of MMOs.  As for Jennings and Bartle’s assertion that designers don’t have knowledge of game design history, here’s a quick refresher from a game story perspective.

On the second issue, I can’t claim to know what is going on in the minds of all MMO designers, and neither does Bartle.  However, assuming Bartle is correct, starting with a unique vision, then setting up your world and gameplay to convey it is a step in the right direction.  It’s not enough to say “sci fi world” or “fantasy world,” because this type of world could fit into any game of the genre (not for nothing, but we presented a panel on Writing for Fantasy Worlds).  The worlds of Warhammer, Age of Conan, and World of Warcraft all take place in fantasy worlds, but fantasy worlds — and fantasy games — shouldn’t be interchangable.

Hop on over to broken toys and throw your comment into the mix, or drop your comment down below and tell me if you think Bartle’s dim view of MMO innovation is right or wrong, especially when it comes to MMO game story.   

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Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 11:24 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Didn’t this come across to you as a big whine? Most it boiled down to ‘I don’t understand this design decision, it’s not what I would have done.’ Which is fine, but not exactly fascinating.

  2. That’s one way to look at it. I think it might have been the last straw, perhaps because he keeps seeing MMO designers making arbitrary decisions that don’t help the genre. Or it could be because he wants to design his own MMO 😉


  3. I don’t understand this design decision, it’s not what I would have done.

    No, what he does is asking the designers whether they know why they made this design decision and fully thought it through. He drives his students and his clients to question themselves, that’s his teaching style. He’s not passing judgment, he wants people to question their own certainties and motives more.

    There’s no right or wrong answers per se, but understanding why people do things can show them whether they do it for the right reasons. It’s the socratic method in action, and it’s not addressed to players.

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