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You've shown me the player's skill tree; it's surprisingly complicated.
SB: Yeah. The great thing is... It depends on how much content we want to build around it, but adding a skill itself takes minutes. But building stuff off of that, like buffs that are based on whether you have the skill or not, items that are gated on whether you have the skill, again, you can point and click in a form-based UI, and anything that's a little complicated, developers can do like that.
We just added -- this is kind of a silly skill -- penpersonship, which is leading to a bunch of bureaucracy skills. Because I think bureaucracy is hilarious. When you want to build a house in the game, you have to get a permit. Because you can just make like all kinds of weird Kafka-esque quests and stuff like that.
So, if you want to build a house, you need to get a permit, and so that means you got to find someone. And the bureaucratic arts level three is a skill that someone spent a week learning when they could have been learning something else, so they'll sell you the permit but at a high price.
Yeah, I like that.
SB: So, you'll like that. I mean, you're the kind of person I think would enjoy the game, and there will be a lot of people...
Which may be a bad sign for the game. [laughs]
SB: Well, you know what... Are there a million people like you?
I haven't met them all.
SB: [laughs] There's a lot of people in this room and a lot of our friends will play it, and even... Again, if it's a low number of millions, it's a fucking phenomenal success, and like I'm going to like fly around in helicopters and stuff like that.
That's the headline. [laughs]
SB: Sorry. I forgot you were recording.
We've reached this point where we're asking "what is a game?" We're asking these fundamental questions that seemed solved a couple years ago. What is a game? What is a player interaction? What are we trying to engender? What are we trying to communicate?
SB: My background, academically, is in philosophy, and there's this great book by a Canadian philosopher. It's called The Grasshopper.
He has this theory that there's a good, solid definition of a game, and it's not very difficult, that there's a goal that you can describe outside of the context of the game. Like it's an objective goal people can understand -- like get the ball in the hole, or something like that. And then there's some way you come up with to make it harder to do that.
Like if you play golf, it would be super easy just to drop the ball in the hole. But instead you decided you have to hit it with little sticks and you have to stand a thousand feet away, so it makes it much harder.
And then three, you engage in it voluntarily.
So, you know, we had this big face-to-face where everyone who's not based in San Francisco came down to this office, and on a break, we were throwing paper airplanes off a mezzanine there. Someone decided that the game is try to get your airplane over the second beam. It's really hard; you almost get it. We spent like 45 minutes or something like that playing this game. But it's like the perfect example where there's like an objective goal, you try to make it hard on yourselves, and everyone buys into doing it...
Maybe being a platformer helps, maybe the avatars looking good helps. The art style could help. The actual mechanics. Whatever it is, there can be some kind of hook, but once you're in, you just decide that "I have this goal to get the most money", "to get to level 40", to whatever it is, or you decide to, ideally collectively with other people, that we have this goal...
There are 11 giants. You're inside their heads, in their imagination. You can donate to shrines that are in favor of the giants or that you can use to accelerate the rate at which you learn skills and stuff like that, so people are able to roleplay in a totally ridiculous way, that they're devotees of Lem, one of the giants, or Cosma or whatever, and come up with some goal, get other people to buy into it, and then it's a game. It's totally game on, and it's not like Second Life where we had to start that from scratch. There's enough of an environment... There's enough physics... physics is kind of the wrong... like socio-physics, I don't know.
I see what you're saying. There's there there.
SB: Yeah. We've already done part of the imaginary work, and then players, in the ideal case, they take it from there and it's emergent. We don't know exactly what's going to happen, and we're there to support the game.
When you're talking about a really broad social audience, people talk about, again, like more and more directed, you know. More and more directed. You know, like if you talk to people who work at social game developers, they're like, "if people don't understand what they have to do in five minutes," or even two minutes, they'll close the tab.
SB: That's true. Like I said before, that's a huge disadvantage for us because it's not like it falls into some familiar genre. Never mind first-person shooter or RTS or something like that. Even the social games are their own genre now that people totally understand. You can say what this game is about right away. We can't do that.
Once people get into it, if they're willing to get over the hump... If there's something, whatever it is -- either one of their friends play, or the style appeals to them enough, or who knows what it is, once they've played for like 15 minutes, then some of them still don't like it, but many people are like, "I get it. This is awesome."