Online Games 97 Hat

Bad Ideas for Multi-Player Games

"But all this is obvious, surely?"

Dr Richard Bartle
Post coffee talk which is traditionally 10 minutes shorter than all the rest.


Bad Ideas for Multi-Player Games


"But all this is obvious, surely?"

My name is Richard Bartle, I'm a MUD programmer as you may have gathered from some of my heckling. Today I'm going to talk about some of the ideas that people typically come up with when they first get into the online game design business and then later on wish they hadn't. Everything that I'm talking about today is something which has really happened: people have actually come up to me and suggested these as good ways of doing things. So the subtitle here, "but all this is obvious surely", is, well it is obvious once you've made the mistakes. It may not be obvious if you're currently making the mistakes but it will be obvious once it all fails and goes hideously wrong.



  • Online games are fun because of the presence of other players.
  • However, the presence of other players - although necessary - is not a sufficient condition for their being fun.
    • Wandering around, talking to people while playing at your own pace is fun.
    • Being resolutely thrashed by players who have spent all their waking moments honing their newbie-slaying skills is not fun.
  • Yet people still write games where this happens.
    • These games are not great successes...
  • So what should you do to make your game an online hit?
  • Here's what you shouldn't do...

Right, "introduction", that's a good start. Online games are fun because of the presence of other players. There is no other reason to play an online game, other than the fact that there is someone else playing. However, just because there are other people playing doesn't mean it is guaranteed to be fun. You can put several people in a room and they can have a marvellous time or you can put several people in a room and you're carrying bodies out after half an hour. It depends on the people, what they're doing and why they're together. So, for example, wandering around talking to people while playing at your own pace is generally considered fun. Lots of people like that. Being resolutely thrashed by players who have been honing their game skills for the past two years isn't fun unless you're one of the guys who's doing the thrashing. So although people do like to see their names at the top of the high score list, there's only a few people ever get their names at the top of the high score list, and the rest of the people who are not on the top of the high score list aren't having fun. You won't be able to keep your players unless they're doing this.

Now that's just an example. People still write plenty of games where the idea is to go and beat up other people and it's fun beating up other people. Well yes, but it's not fun being beaten up by other people. Now these games are not great successes, and when I say "great successes" I don't mean games like Duke Nuke'Em - oh yes, people will be playing that a year, two years maybe; I mean great successes like people playing Gemstone who have been playing it for seven years, and games that are making one million dollars a month royalties. I'm not talking about games that have are making one million dollars a month royalties for ISPs, I mean for games designers. There are lots of these games around.

Now people come up to me and say, "What should I do to make my game an online hit?" Now if I knew that I would say, "Speak to my agent." As it is, I don't what you should do to make your game an online hit but I do know what you shouldn't do...


Bad Idea #1

  • "If 50 simultaneous players is good, and 500 is better, then 5,000 must be absolutely fantastic!"
  • No. If people want to be nobodies, they can play Real LifeTM.
  • 5,000 people is a small town..!
  • For people to feel "known" to their peers, the game must be packaged up into smaller communities.
    • A 5,000-player game becomes a 20-community game of 250 people per community.
  • Write a better game for 250 players, and run 20 copies of it.
    • Or spend $4,000,000 and write Ultima Online.

This is bad idea number one: "Hey, if 50 players is a good number and then maybe 500 is better, what if we have 5,000 players or 50,000 players. They'll all come to our game - won't it be fantastic?" Well no because that's just like real life. If you're in a game with another 4,999 players then basically you're in a small town, and in a small town some people are important and some people aren't important, and if you want to be unimportant then you just stay where you are. People play games because they want to be something other than they are. If people want to feel known, to get a reputation, then there has to be a small knot of people with whom they generally deal, so that this "sense of community" which we keep hearing about can be formed, but not a sense of being a member of a huge community. So when we get people playing Quake World and there's maybe, I don't know, 200 people in there, the core players, then that's a community. But if you've got 5,000 people all trying to join together then you don't see your friends, you don't make friends, and it's not a community, there's no reason to come back once you give up.

So my advice is if you're going to write a game for 5,000 players, then make it easy on yourself and write a game for 250 players and run 20 versions of it, or make sure that there are ways that the people in there can be partitioned into groups of around 250, because if you don't then the people there are going to be just like walking down the street, seeing people who do you know. Every once in a while you'll meet somebody. Every once in a while you won't. There is a caveat to that in that if somebody will come along and give you large amounts of money to write a game for 5,000 players then it probably is a good idea to accept them. But if you're financing yourself then you're pretty well wasting your time going for huge numbers because even if you get them it's bad news. You won't keep them.


Bad Idea #2

"The strange, acid-burn spots are all that's left of Cooper. Can you discover the alien's weak spot, before it dissolves the entire crew?"

  • Well, just the once I can...
  • If people can't play your game several times over, it's a loser.
  • Even at premium rates, say $30 for 2 hours, your development costs will take forever to recoup.
  • People who have already played will spoil it for the others.
  • Open-endedness is an absolute imperative.

Bad idea number two: "The strange acid burn spots are all that's left of Cooper. Can you discover the alien's weak spot before it dissolves the entire crew?" Well just the once I can, yes. The point about games is people want to be able to replay them. They don't want to go in there and play it through and then they're finished and then they say, "Oh that was a good game I'll just go on and play another one." People come to me with these ideas and say, "What about this, though, it's a fantastic idea, it's one of these where there's some plot you have to rescue somebody or stop something horrible from happening and it's all community, everybody's working there together. Each person's different, cog in a large machine, and at the end of it you throw it all away and start again." Well they, the players may enjoy it, but you as a developer won't enjoy it because you don't ever get your money back.

There is a case to say that you could charge premium rates for these games like How to Host a Murder type games that people would sit around and they know in advance that they're going to be paying 30 dollars for what they would go out and buy in a store for 30 dollars, and they're going to have an evening of entertainment and then that'll be that, but whereas it's quite easy to put together How to Host a Murder game boxes, it's not easy to put together online games that people will do this with. You'd have to have a very, very good licence and a lot of patience in order to make money from that. Also there's the spoilers. Everybody's been watching the movie on TV that they haven't seen before but someone else in the family has who points out at the critical juncture that it's obvious what's going to happen blah blah blah blah blah, and you sit there saying, "Well it's obvious now you've told me." People who've played these games will spoil it for others because they know the solution, and if you've got some information which other people don't have, it gives you power, and people like to be able to disseminate it because it makes them seem more knowledgeable and so on. But it does spoil the game for other people. You have to put in deliberate mechanisms to stop this from happening. Open endedness is an absolute imperative.

Again, if it's going to last a long time and have lots of players, it has to be open ended. You can't just have a game that shuts off just like that. Some of the batch games perhaps, the games like the play by mail ones or Hundred Years War, the ones where you do your orders and then they're processed as a batch at night. Those things the people like to know in advance what they're getting up to but you don't necessarily get lots of money from them.


Bad Idea #3

  • "Each session is for 50 players, and lasts 1 hour 20 minutes."
  • Which is just so convenient...
  • People want to play online games when they feel like it.
  • People want to stop playing online games when they feel like it.
  • If it won't work with less than a certain (large) number of players, it's not going to work.

Bad idea number three: "Each session is for 50 players and lasts one hour 20 minutes", which is just so convenient isn't it, because people want to be able to play online games when they feel like it and they want to stop playing them when they feel like it. They don't want to have to turn up and play a game when you say they can play it. They don't want to have to stay in the game for as long as you say.

Now you may think this is quite obvious, but this is one of these things that people come up to me, at conferences like this (I haven't had this time, thank goodness), but they will say, "Look, we're going to have this game of", it's usually some kind of variance of a traditional game or a board game, "and these are the rules". If you've got a very large system with people who are prepared to sit around in lobbies waiting for their partners, and waiting for things to start, then you can maybe do that, or if you've got a dedicated group of people who play it like that in real life, like bridge players or something, you may be able to do it. But for the money-making games, if they don't work without a certain large number of players then they aren't going to work. If you need a certain critical mass, then you'd better make sure that it will work without the critical mass for a while at least.


Bad Idea #4

"A body has been found beside the East River. A man in a wheelchair was seen shortly afterwards, typing something to a piece of scaffolding. Was this the victim's missing silk handkerchief?"

  • If it was, I'm not telling you...
  • Multi-player games involve socialising.
  • Some genres make socialising very hard.
  • Detective or other investigative genres are the paradigm.
    • Modus Operandi, anyone?
  • You need to encourage people to talk to one another, not discourge them.

Right, bad idea number four. "A body has been found beside the East river. A man in a wheelchair was seen shortly afterwards tying, sorry typing something, that's supposed to be tying, to a piece of scaffolding. Was this the victim's missing silk handkerchief?" Well if it was, I'm not telling you. These are the investigative types of games, which are quite popular. There are lots of books out there on murder mysteries. Crime is a big area. If you want to go for a mass market, then picking a crime book is a good way to go about it, but multi-player games involve socialising. Some genres make socialising very hard. The lone private eye is a clichéd figure, but nevertheless the lone private eye is lone because if somebody else knew all the information then you wouldn't need the private eye. Sometimes a private eye has a sidekick so that it can be explained to the reader, like Doctor Watson for Sherlock Holmes, but most of the crime personalities are trying to solve a puzzle and you, the reader, are invited to participate. So detective or other investigative genres are the paradigm for this. However, they get in the way of socialising. Socialising is what makes the games fun in part. If you can't socialise then you can't play.

Now there are ways round this. You can pick genres which do involve some detective work but nevertheless everybody has to co-operate in order to get the full picture because some people are not allowed to get the full picture just by the way things are, and if it was a science fiction genre you could say well only earthlings are allowed on this station so anybody who's got more than two arms doesn't get on, and then that information becomes a tradable commodity. But what I'm really saying is that any genre which discourages people from talking will need work on to get people to play it, no matter how popular it is in real life. You want to encourage talking, not discourage talking.


Bad Idea #5

  • "File a bug report, we'll patch it after the launch."
  • Or, better still, after it's sunk without trace?
  • When an online game crashes, you have more than one irate player on your hands:
    • you have 200 or more irate players
    • each one of which is on the phone right now to their friends telling them what a lousy game you have.
    • "And it's not my hardware, because everyone else got thrown off, too!"
  • When your game crashes, you have to drop everything to fix it.
  • Crash effects are measured in units of players lost per minute.

Here's bad idea number five: "File a bug report we'll patch it after the launch". This is the beta-testing where you release your pristine game to hordes of people. They come up with all these problems with the game and you say, "OK well we'll fix those after we've launched because all the magazines have got all the ads in there and we can't really pull out. This is what we do with our box games". Well yes, but with a box game people have paid their money and they want their investment back and they will wait for you to give them the patch. On a multi-player game, if they see that the game doesn't work they think, "well the game doesn't work, and that's that: I'll go and play one that does work". So if you don't look after your game, you're in trouble. You don't just have one person who is for a while inconvenienced because Age of Empires stopped Civilisation II working on an NT, not that that's something I've experienced recently. But you have 200 or more irate players and they're all irate at the same time and they're all on the line to their other friends who are all games players and they are telling them what a load of rubbish your game is until you can fix it, and they all know it's not a hardware problem so you can't tell them that because everybody got thrown off at the same time.

For games crashes, you've got to fix it - drop everything to fix it. Drop a baby to fix it. You've got to fix your game, because otherwise terrible things will happen. This is something you have to remember, the effects of crashed online games are measured in the following units: players lost per minute. That's how you rate them. You don't rate them as "major", "minor" or "we'll forget about it, it's intransient", sorry, "it's transient". You just have to figure on how many players you're going to lose if you don't fix it, and it'll be lots if it's something which brings the game down very regularly.


Bad Idea #6

  • "A world so vast it will take ten hours to walk from one side to the other!"
  • And how long to meet another player..?

Bad idea number six: "A world so vast it will take ten hours to walk from one side to the other". And how long to meet another player? If you've got a huge world and only a small number of players, then the means of communication between those players had better be damned good. There are MUDs out there with 25,000 rooms. There are tessellated games out there with four million rooms. The means that you use to communicate with other players has to be such that first, you can detect them, and second, once you've detected them you can talk to them. Making a world huge can impress people who write reviews for games in magazines, which is not necessarily a bad thing because that's where you're going to get most of your players from - or at least most of the interest from - but it's not necessarily the be-all and end-all. The ideal solution is to have a game which is scalable, so if you've got 40 players then the game's a certain size. If another 40 come then all of a sudden the magic door opens and, wow, it's twice the size. And if another 40 come then well hey, that well that was previously covered over is opened up and it's getting bigger again.

If it gets too big then you have to start making people start the game in different places, otherwise it's get too crowded, but that's another problem. The point I'm making here is that don't try to sell your game on hyperbole if the hyperbole itself makes your game unplayable or undesirable to play.


Bad Idea #7

  • "It's about the environment! It's about peace. It has dolphins. It has baby dolphins. People will love it!"
  • Dolphins? You mean those nauseating, smiley fish-eaters?
  • To attract lots of players, online games must have settings which lots of players find attractive.

Just because you like 17th Century Venetian politics, or Pacific island botany, or the short stories of Richmal Crompton, that doesn't mean everyone does.

  • Most multi-player games aren't biased towards SF and Fantasy for nothing.
  • Acquire the online rights for a proven offline product?

Bad idea number seven: "It's about the environment. It's about peace. It has dolphins, it has baby dolphins. People will love it". Dolphins? You mean those nauseating smiley fish eaters? The thing is, to attract lots of players, online games have got to have settings which lots of players enjoy. Just because you like dolphins and you like peace and you like baby dolphins, doesn't mean that Joe Six Pack is going to like them, not unless he has a harpoon. So for a game to have lots of players, it's got to be attractive to lots of people. You may like 17th century Venetian politics. You may like Pacific Island Botany. You may like the short stories of Richmond Crompton, but that doesn't mean everybody likes them. In fact, depending on who you are, it may mean you may be able to derive the fact that nobody could possibly like them if you did. Most multi-player games aren't biassed towards SF fantasy for nothing. OK there's a creative reason for doing that in that you can make things up far more easily in games set in fantasy worlds or science fictions worlds or horror worlds than you can in normal, shall we say "mainstream" literary genres. It's not necessarily the case, I mean you could write a game set in a wild west world or you could use some kind of setting in ancient Rome where, within the historical context, you can change things, but the fact is that people like science fiction, people like fantasy and the people who like science fiction and like fantasy are the people who play games. The people who don't like science fiction and don't like fantasy aren't the ones who sit around playing these games. Whether that's causal or not I don't know, but if people don't have the necessary tropes then they won't find your game all that interesting unless it's visually compelling for some reason.

An idea here is to find a proven product something that works offline that you know everybody likes and get a licence for it and then hope that you don't get shafted by the licence holders.


Bad Idea #8

  • "This game uses graphics so state-of-the-art that it can't fail."
  • And for how long will those graphics remain state-of-the-art?
  • Game-play is important in multi-player games.
    • You can't bribe your way past it by throwing eye candy.
  • If your game denegrates what is "old hat", it will wither when it becomes old hat itself.
  • The biggest-earning online games out there are text-based!

Bad idea number eight: "This game uses graphics so state of the art that it can't fail". And for how long will those graphics remain state of the art? I've had people come to me and said there's this marvellous 3D rendering engine that they've got, they just need to stick it up as a front end to my game, and it'll draw the punters in; the people will come in and they'll be really so happy to play this game because it's got such fantastic graphics. Well yes but it's got fantastic graphics for six months. It hasn't got fantastic graphics for six years. Text has fantastic graphics for all eternity, but I'm not going to put that forward: I don't want everybody to write text games and take away my money...

Gameplay is important to multi-player games. You can't bribe your way past it just by throwing things that people like the look of. It's important to have it, because it shows a certain level of professionalism: people can go into the game and say, "oh yes this is a good game, it's got nice professional looking graphics, I know I'm playing a game. How do I switch them off, or how do I reduce them so they don't take so long to load?". But the first impact, definitely, graphics are good for that. For game: if you're playing a game it has to have gameplay as well.

So it's, graphics are a reasonable hook, but if you start denigrating things which are old hat then you're just laying yourself open to the charge that your game is old hat - which it will be depending on how long you manage to keep it. Doom, marvellous game, everybody used to play Doom, nobody plays Doom now and they play Quake. Quake marvellous game. 10 years from now will people be playing Quake? No, they won't. Will they be playing my game? Well yes they will, because they were 10 years ago. The biggest earning online games out there are text based. That's why I'm here now because if they weren't I'd be having to get a proper job programming somewhere. I don't expect this will make the slightest bit of difference to anybody here who will say, "Oh yes, nice pat on the back, he comes here every year and says that". Well yes, that's right, I do; and every year it's right.


Bad Idea #9

  • "Once we've got this one up and running, we can forget about it and start on the next."
  • Because it'll look after itself, won't it..?
  • Online games are not seeds you stick in the soil and wait until they turn into apple trees.

Online games are puppies you need to lavish care and attention and meat-flavoured toothpaste on if they're to grow up fit and healthy.

  • The income stream from online games can be constant and long-lasting
    • but they're a commitment

Bad idea number nine: "Well we've got this game and we've decided that we'll get this one running and then we'll start work on the next one. We can forget about the first one because it'll look after itself won't it?" They do that don't they...

This was a point made yesterday by a number of speakers. Online games are services. They're not seeds you stick in the soil and wait until they turn into apple trees and then you get the apples and there you are. What these are are little puppies which you have to lavish care and attention on otherwise they die. You've got to give them everything puppies need. You've got to take them to the vet when they're sick so they grow up fit and healthy. It's like a five-year project Tamogotchi or whatever those little Japanese things are called. If you ignore them they will roll over and die. Service is important. The difference: people will pay once for a game with no human intervention; for a game with human intervention, they will pay several times because they know there's a person there and that person hasn't been programmed, that person does need money, they will accept that it's reasonable to pay to play. So whereas I would be very annoyed if I was midway through Civilisation II and all of a sudden it says, "I'm going to stop this game now. You've got to phone this number otherwise we won't give you the code you need to proceed." That would make me completely irate, but for an online game it's reasonable because I know that there's somebody at the other end who's making sure that this is all working on a permanent basis and that this person is not going to do it out of the goodness of their heart - because if they were doing it out of the goodness of their heart they would be mad, and I wouldn't want them to be in charge.

The income streams from online games can be constant and long lasting but they're a commitment. They're not something you can just give up on.


Bad Idea #10

  • "Hello? AOL? Can you give me the number of the person I should call regarding putting my game on your service?"
  • "Certainly, sir, if you could just tell me how many of your children you were planning to sacrifice first."

Bad idea number ten, and this is one we've all had I'm afraid. "Hello AOL can you give me the number of the person I should call regarding putting my game on your service."
"Certainly Sir, if you could just tell me how many of your children you are planning to sacrifice first."

Merely have written the game doesn't mean it's going to get the players. There are lots of very well financed companies out there writing very good games, and when it gets to the point of, "And how are you going to get people to play them?" then they say, "Well, you know, we'll..." and then they press a little waffle button. "We'll get sponsorship! We'll put it on AOL! We'll put it on Thrustworld! We'll put it on the Net! We'll put it in Sainsbury's! We'll put it anywhere just wherever it takes to get players because it's such a good game people just can't help but rushing out and buy it."

Well they won't rush out and buy it. They have to be persuaded that your game is worth paying for, and they have to know it's there. The fact that there is an AOL you can go to is actually not too bad: at least it means you've got a faint hope that they may suddenly wake up one morning with a strange personality disorder and allow your game on to their system. If it weren't for the fact that there are some big companies out there with lots of users that they can just turn on you, some of the games companies would be in trouble. As the Internet matures, I don't see this is going to be a problem because there will be other sites evolve which people will generally go to - little magnet sites, and banner advertising there will work. People will be able to click on them and they'll go away and play them. It's just that for the moment, that's not the way it is, and if your game development plans somehow think that first we're going to build gradually from a user base of 200 to 2,000 then up to 10,000, what will happen is you'll build up from a user base of you and your mates to you and your mates' mates. And you may even get to you and your mates' mates' mates. But you aren't going to get a great deal more than that without throwing lots of money at it and expecting to lose it.



The products which gave the concept of online games its reputation of intensity of experience and addictiveness are not the online games most developers out there are producing at the moment.

  • Eventually, they will be.
  • Make sure you get your game out there early.
  • While everyone else is still having bad ideas...

Conclusion. What is the conclusion? Right, the products which gave the concept of online games its reputation for intensity of an experience are not currently the ones which people are writing. I've said this before, but for those of who like analogies it's the "speedboat and steamship" analogy. People in big multi-player online games are on steamships like the QE2, big ships, liners, and they're paying £1,000 for a couple of weeks on there. The games companies that we have all made their money in box games, and they're writing speedboats: they go ever faster, giving a more exciting ride, and when they want to have a game which is multi-player, they just add more seats to their speedboat. And it doesn't give you either the experience of a cruise or the experience of riding in a steamboat - it's a halfway house that doesn't work.

Now eventually the people who write these games will realise that there is a lot of money to be made in writing big games that last a long time and have hundreds of players. Federation II has 500 players a night. They couldn't even get on to Thrustworld, it's only got 250 modems. Eventually people will begin to write these games. You have to make sure you get your game out there early, because the big boys will notice this and they will start to play, and they'll start to play rough. And you've got to make sure that, if everyone else is having bad ideas and you think you may have bad ideas, ask someone who's done it before. There are people out here who are professionals, consultants: they will tell you what is going to go wrong. They will go to Meridian 59 and tell them, "You have got this, it's so bad, you are going to' They will go to Ultima Online and say, "Look you've got these holes in this game which you're going to have to fix. You can either have six months of play testing to find them yourself or we can tell you them right now". Don't think that you know everything just because you've been in the industry for three, five years. There are people who have been doing this for 15, 20 years (myself among them of course, otherwise I wouldn't be saying this) who do know lots more of the problems. So in conclusion and I'd just like to say it's not un-macho to ask for help, and people are prepared to give it.

Right so I think we've got five minutes of questions if anyone wants to ask. Yes?

You mentioned that there were a lot of games out there that were drawing a million dollars a month.

Dr. Richard Bartle
I didn't say there was a lot of games out there?

I think that's a direct quote.

Dr Richard Bartle
Well OK, a small lot of games out there... There maybe half a dozen, yes they're still making big money enough though they've gone off AOL, like Gemstone's gone off AOL so it's not getting a million dollars from AOL but then that million dollars is a percentage, they can now take all of their money from a smaller number of people. So if you're only getting an eighth of the users but before you were only getting 10% of the income you're still making more money.

This particular argument of text based games are sort of the holy grail. I don't mean to disagree, I am just trying to crystallise it, has been made many times but are there any text based games that have been newly launched in say the last year that are this successful or is it the ones that have been running for.

Dr Richard Bartle

Now I understand that they're user base went in the toilet when they started charging?

Dr Richard Bartle
Well you understood wrongly then as far as I know they were making $20,000 a month up until the last time I spoke to the guy who did it was two, Greg Roselli, it was two months ago and they were making $20,000 a month and had been for ages. As far as they were concerned it was improving. The thing is though, Terris is in the right place at the right time. You could have picked any of a dozen good text based games out, stuck them on AOL and they would have done the same.

I have a question that is possibly contentious. You say that these games that have been in existence for a long time which are very good games. I agree as a game player have a lot to teach to developers who are developing now for online play larger games, but at the same time it seems like the kind of player numbers, the kind of amounts of money say 20,000 a month that's what 240,000 a year that doesn't even buy a tenth or maybe buys a tenth of a game that you can produce and sell retail for you know you're expecting to income maybe five million pound or more from a game that cost you a million pound to develop. Can we, how can we really learn from these games when maybe they aren't the way towards the future because if they were the way towards the future why have they been in existence for seven years and not attracted a huge market, not been able to create the market size that would seem to support that statement?

Dr Richard Bartle
Well before people had computers they didn't sell an awful lot of computer games. Now people have got modems a lot more people can use modem games than could before they had modems. My arguments weren't necessarily that the games that have been around for ages are good, although I do believe that some of them are excellent: my argument was that the people who have done it all before are worth asking about it if you're about to do it again.

But what you've kind of presented us there, against that possibility is simply the people who've done it all before have developed for themselves a very set kind of formula that they believe works that may not be the formula for the future because if it were why haven't their games already become more popular?

Dr Richard Bartle
No I've, I said it clear at the beginning that I wasn't telling you what you should do, I was telling you what you shouldn't do. If people had a magic formula then yes, I mean I'd wave my magic wand just like that. I can tell you things which people shouldn't do quite easily, because they've been tried and they don't always work unless there's exceptional circumstances, but I can't tell you what they should do because otherwise I wouldn't be here now, I'd be out in Palm Beach or wherever I'd be going. Who had their hand up next?

One thought that crossed my mind listening to you, Richard, was that there was a fundamental difference in attitude between those that are producing box games and those who are producing long-life Internet games, and that is the person who produces a box game wants a vast sale on it in six months. He wants the game to finish so that the players now want to go and buy his next game. Whereas, if you were trying to run an Internet style game you don't want the game to finish, you want to keep your people so that they're still playing 10 years later, and I think that produces a different attitude as to how you design your games.

Dr Richard Bartle
Yes that's I couldn't have said that better myself. The people who design box games have got one mentality which works for them. People who design online games have got one mentality which works for them. It's when people who design box games start to design online games as if they were box games that I start saying, "No, no come and see me first".

It's not really a question just to address a point concerning the argument of whether this particular online game that didn't make much money or a lot of online games don't make that much money. Are we saying that box products are in the whole financially successful?

Dr Richard Bartle
I wouldn't comment on that. Some of them are excellent sellers. It's like the book industry: most books make a loss, the ones that sell an awful lot make up for the ones that don't. So.

I'd kind of like to respond to that point if I may.

Dr Richard Bartle
Yes go ahead yes.

Essentially I've spent a long time actually working running PBM which is quite similar and so on and also writing role playing games. And for me, and I'm now working for Psygnosis developing box games, and it's all very well to say "Well do box games really make money?" but the fact is you do end up with perhaps 10 to 20 times the budget for making such a game than you do for most say PBMs for a start. Someone is paying for those things. Generally there's a pretty definite and hard financial reality that creates a situation in which people can spend that kind of money on games, and I'm really trying to learn what can we do to make games that are very cool in terms of gameplay, very cool for players. Why doesn't that seem to be working? We've been trying it for so long with MUDs and so on and it doesn't seem to be attracting the numbers of players that, sure we have players that will play for 10 years OK, but if you make maybe "200,000 a year - and you'd be doing damn well to do that on such a game - in 10 years time you might have paid the cost of a triple A box title you probably would have. So I know you're talking about don'ts but really do you have any ideas for do's?

Dr Richard Bartle
Well it's very tempting to me to say that if I had the budget that you put on one of your games then I would be making large amounts. There are a number of business models: the client selling ones, where people do sell large volumes of boxes and then people go on and play for years. Air Warrior is perhaps the paradigm for that, but I'm not trying to say that box games are a bad idea. Obviously, I go out and buy box games because I don't want to get my hide thrashed when I play online. But there are - and given this is an online conference and we're talking about online games - then yes, it may be that online games are never going to be as good or as popular as box games, but on the other hand Ultima Online may have got whatever the budget was two, three, four million dollars, who knows, but the chances are it really will recoup that, and people will be playing that game five years from now, and they'll be going out buying the merchandise and there may be a film and a whole load of other things about it. It's a different product to a box game. The fact that box games developers don't necessarily treat it as a different product is where there's a bit of a culture clash. We'll take one more question and then it's the next speaker.

All I was going to say was no one's actually spent the kind of money you're talking about on developing an online game, except for Ultima and Air Warrior was kind of an earlier attempt, so really the reason why it hasn't produced the goods is no one's tried. If they try now it might work, I think Ultima really is proven the case.

It is?

Dr Richard Bartle
OK well that's it then folks.

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