Activision has talked about wanting to, with a certain licking of the lips, monetize Call of Duty the way that WoW is monetized, not the way that Call of Duty is currently monetized, which is, you know, discs and DLC. And that could fundamentally change the whole landscape. There are already people who play Call of Duty for a year until the next Call of Duty comes out, which is a problem for people who are trying to sell other games to begin with.
JS: Yeah. Right. And the question is, does the psychology of that kind of gameplay match the WoW psychology well enough that it's going to work? The real interesting experiment, I think, right now, is The Old Republic, the Star Wars MMO that's coming out.
Because here you have an experiment in a really expensive game with branded content, and it's going to be subscription-based, and it's luscious in terms of what it has in it.
If that tanks, oh my gosh. That will be kind of a warning sign for like the whole world. But if it does really well, that's yet another kind of signal. The outcome of that game will have a lot of influence on the industry.
It's often pointed out that WoW did all these things that, at the time, people reacted "Ooh, are you really doing that in an MMO?" and then it became so successful. Things like taking away these genre constraints that popped up in the early days of MMOs, like punishing players for death, or being very solo-focused.
These were seen as bad ideas until WoW did them, and suddenly they were not bad ideas. They were very good ideas, and now everyone recognizes it.
Seeing if The Old Republic can make heavy single-player-esque content work in the context of an MMO with all that BioWare stuff, that will change the paradigm of what people think is possible again.
JS: Yeah. I watched the Disney guys experiment with some Pirates [of the Caribbean] MMO, which actually had some quantity of that, and it is a hard tension as a designer, the tension between the single-player play and the multiplayer play.
And we experienced it in ToonTown, too, because there are aspects in ToonTown that push the players together, and there are aspects in ToonTown that rip the players apart from each other. And trying to figure out the right balance is tough because you want people to play they want to play, but the game mechanics, they're not always right where you want them to be right when you want them there. So, it's tough. What I'm really looking forward to is multiplatform MMOs. I can't believe more hasn't been done with this.
I think there's a resistance to opening up that business model on consoles.
JS: I think the main reason is there's no keyboard in the living room because of the furniture. The furniture doesn't permit a keyboard in the living room, which is a funny thing. You'd think we could go and work a deal with a furniture maker so we can have our industry back but it doesn't work that way. But I'm less concerned with console, more concerned with mobile. You know, I should be able to meaningfully participate in my MMO from my phone, you know. I think we're going to see more of that over the next few years.
Everyone's playing with it, but they're not really doing anything.
JS: Yeah. Nobody's really going in like "Okay, this is our thing." It's interesting what the EVE guys announced, the Dust 5... What the hell is that?
JS: Whatever. Dust, some number. You understand the mechanic of that? Yeah, that's going to be an interesting experiment, which would probably work fine for their little hardcore niche. Will that mean anything for the rest of the world? I don't know.
I'm not sure 100 percent sure it will work fine.
JS: I'm not sure either.
I think it's potentially two different audiences who don't even know each other potentially affecting each other, and one may have more effect on the other than the other has on them.
JS: Yeah. This whole idea of genre-blending of audiences into one game is a fascinating area of experimentation. We experiment with it at the school rather a lot. There's a team we have right now. I just was checking out the latest demo. It's basically...
It's like an arena combat thing where there are three classes. One of them is a shooter, very FPS-style play. One of them is a racing game, very racing game-style play. And the third one is playing Bejeweled. And all three of you can move toward the goal using your own mechanisms.
And if you want to, you can have three Bejeweled players go up against three first-person shooter dudes, or three racers go up against [them]. Or you could be a split team where you've each got one and one. And they've figured out how to balance it, and it's an interesting question, I think.
Just in terms of kids and family, right? It's always been important for me to design experiences that families can play together, but very few people design that way, right? And to do that, I mean, it's an acknowledgement that different people like different things. So, I'm fascinated with experiments that let people participate their way. You know, can my mom playing FarmVille helped me in my WoW account?
Ubisoft is doing stuff like that. Have you heard about what they're doing?
JS: No, no.
They're launching a free-to-play Petz-branded MMO and a Facebook game. And they expect the parents to play the Facebook game and the kids to play the MMO, and you can feed credits back and forth between them.
JS: It is a great idea. I mean, I actually have heard parents tell stories about "Clean your room, and I'll go on Webkinz and earn you a bunch of Webkinz cash," right? Because the parents can earn it four times faster than the kids can because they'll be good at the games.
And we've seen this experience in ToonTown and Pixie Hollow because we log gift giving. Families really do like to help each other out and gift things to each other. This stuff is often more designed for adult peers, etcetera, etcetera. Designing for family groups who are so different is interesting.
The whole idea of you have a 17-year-old kid playing Halo, Mom's playing FarmVille, Dad's playing Call of Duty, and you have some kid playing a Dora the Explorer game, and all of them are working towards a common goal that will do something that benefits all of them. That's an exciting idea, you know. We'll see. We'll see. And that's stuff's coming. It's just where is it going to show up first? Who's going to make it work first?