Breakfast Programme Hat

Transcript, 24th May, 2006.

Presenter John Hayes [JH] discusses online games with me [RB].

Start: 7:20 AM.

  • [JH] Have you ever played an "online computer" game? Well chances are, if you're, er, well let's say under 40, almost certainly. Perhaps over 45? Well ... maybe not. But it's big news. Er, and you, you're not alone if you do 'cause the industry is absolutely booming, there are game consoles, new ones coming out from big manufracturers all the time. Erm, people take on characters, there are things called role-playing games - RPGs - and set out on adventures that can last for months. And, er, you can interact live these days with millions of other players around the world. Well Essex University is launching the UK's first degree in online gaming. It's being run by professor Richard Bartle who created an online gaming in er, 1978, he's in our Colchester studio this morning. Hello there, professor.
  • [RB] Hello there!
  • [JH] I suppose it had to come, really, didn't it?
  • [RB] Erm, yes, it had to come, it's, er, it's just, er, been a matter of time, really.
  • [JH] Yeah. I, I mean, I tried to give a brief descrption of online gaming; how would you sum it up?
  • [RB] (Deep breath) Er, online games, erm, the short answer is that they're games that you play online, which of course is in the title. Erm, it means that you can play them over the Internet or we'll also include things like mobile phone games. The particular ones that we focus on at Essex University are the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or "virtual worlds", as we call them, 'cause the acronym is unpronounceable -
  • [JH] Yes.
  • [RB] er, which .. are ... where people ... play from home, over the Internet, connect to a big computer, and there are thousands and thousands of other people playing there at the same time.
  • [JH] Is it healthy, Richard?
  • [RB] Is it healthy?! Er, well...
  • [JH] Yes, for youngsters to be involved in, in something like this, which can become obsessive...
  • [RB] Ah, well I didn't say "youngsters", did I? I just said "people". Erm, some of the games are specifically aimed at youngsters -
  • [JH] Yep.
  • [RB] - er, most of them are, erm, aimed at people who are much older. I mean, the average age of a player is about 28.
  • [JH] Really?
  • [RB] And there are, like, 6 million people playing World of Warcraft right now.
  • [JH] Erm, it is, it, it's a huge industry, isn't it? Massive.
  • [RB] It is, it's massive, er, those 6 million people playing World of Warcraft are paying about 10 pounds each per month for the privilege. There are some games out in China that have got, like, 32 million players, so it's, er, it is a big industry and it was invented here in the UK.
  • [JH] Yes, yes. How, how, how does it actually make money for, you know, for the organisers and the er, the, the, the people involved?
  • [RB] Well, that, erm, that 6, 6 million times 10 pounds comes in quite helpful...
  • [JH] Oh yes.
  • [RB] (Nervous laughter) Erm, they ... they take about the same to develop as, erm, as as a movie does, so you can get the, the, the, cheapie ones that are about, umm, 10, 5, 10 million pounds, and then the, the big ones that are 25 - I've heard up to 70 million for some games.
  • [JH] Right, so big returns, even though the development cost for these things I suppose must be considerable. You know, those who come up with these ideas must be, you know, pouring their own money in to develop the things.
  • [RB] Erm, well what they tend to do is try to pour other people's money in rather (laughter), because (laughter) er, the, it, it, it's like, erm, if you were creating a movie, you'd, you wouldn't just say "well let's find someone who's got ... 50 million pounds", you'd find some group of people whose job was to provide, um, funds for movies, and that's how the, the funding works.
  • [JH] Yeah. Erm, so tell us about this degree, what's you know, how, how does it actually work?
  • [RB] Er, well what people's, who, who come here study, well, they'll be studying the, the hardware, and the networking, er, the software that you need to create these things, because (mutterings) it, it's not like, er, a "one man can do it" anymore, er, and the, most importantly, the game design, so that they can, er sit down and create a game that people will want to play.
  • [JH] Yeah.
  • [RB] Er, or they can work on some larger game, erm, doing the little parts that they particularly find interesting.
  • [JH] So it isn't just to get letters after your name, this could actually be useful to you in, in working life?
  • [RB] Well, yes (laughter), very (stammerings) it, it, very useful, I mean, this, this is, I mean Essex University's, erm, quite keen to produce, er, graduates who are going to get, er, job prospects, and this is a new, burgeoning area, we're going to need lots more people who can, erm, work in this field. The UK's got quite a, very - in fact, very good - reputation for computer games, in general, but for online games, the main focus is in America and in Korea, and, we, we need a, a stronger presence here. There are some UK companies doing it, but we don't have the, the talent. However, people who come to, er, to take this degree will, will be, er, out there, as ... footsoldiers!
  • [JH] (laughter) Yeah. When you co-invented this genre in, in the late 70s, did you ever imagine it would become as big as it has?
  • [RB] Well, un, unfortunately the answer is yes I did (laughter).
  • [JH] (laughter)
  • [RB] Er, (laughter) because we knew straight away what we had.
  • [JH] Yeah.
  • [RB] Erm, it was, it was a completely different kind of computer game, it was very compelling to play and, erm, people, if people would rather play it - even back in those days using text rather than pictures - if they'd rather play it instead of erm, watching television or, erm, in some cases instead of doing their coursework, then, yeah, obviously, it was something that was, was going to, to go and go.
  • [JH] How important is it do you think for Essex University to be at the forefront of something like this, because where you go, others will follow, won't they?
  • [RB] Erm, well they will follow, but there isn't a, a, a great deal of expertise in this area in Britain, as I say. The, er, the main area is in Austin, Texas, er, the, the Chinese are attempting to set up some, they're giving their universities lots and lots and lots of, of er, Chinese money. Er, (mutterings) in the UK, there are people who, who study it from the outside, but there aren't so many people who've actually worked on these games, so it's, sup, it's, erm ... E-Essex is probably the only place that could offer it right now.
  • [JH] Thank you very much indeed for joining us, professor. That's professor Richard Bartle, there, who er, co-created online gaming here in the UK in 1978.
End: 7:26 AM.

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24th May :\webdes~1\ .htm