Online Games 99 Hat

The Best is Yet to Come

Why online games are unlike any others.


When TV first came out
  • theatre-like plays
  • newspaper-like news
  • guidebook-like documentaries

Popular entertainment was the realm of

  • movies
  • sports grounds
  • pubs and bars
Then the mainstream discovered TV...
  • popularisation of high culture
  • if they don't get it, they won't watch it
  • marginalisation of anything requiring critical awareness

Continuing the analogy...

The mainstream has discovered the Internet
  • information - and it's so accurate!
  • pornography - for more than 6 months?
  • communication - with whom? about what?

The mainstream is in the process of discovering online games

  • online games - I am Dweeb, son of Nerd, son of Geek

What can we expect to happen?

  • popularisation of gaming culture
  • if they don't get it, they won't play it
  • marginalisation of anything requiring gaming experience

What does this mean for developers of online games?

  • less game, more online...

What online games deliver

Other people
  • lots of potential friends/mates
  • enemies you can walk away from


  • be who you want to be


  • what you like
  • when you like it
  • how you like it

Relaxed morality

  • you can't be arrested for it
  • your wife and kids don't have to know

What offline games deliver

Narrow social circle
  • people you know you like - sometimes only yourself!
  • membership by invitation only - keep out the riff raff
  • beer and pretzels - break down social barriers


  • you'd notice if Emma the teenage nymphet were a guy
  • easier to bond with people face to face

No dilettantes

  • organisational inconvenience means everyone's up for it
  • labour of love

More complex games

  • pause to look at the rule book

So what?

Offline games' appeal is mainly to gamers
  • there are a lot of them, but not as many as non-gamers
  • you simply can't get non-gamers to play offline games

But online games' appeal will eventually become universal

  • once people don't feel that they're playing games
  • because there's not a lot else to do online when you're bored

Just as a some people go the the theatre but most watch TV, so some people will play traditional online games but most will play diluted versions that may not even feel like games at all

  • there's room on the Internet for gamers' games too
  • but most of the games will be popularisations with easy gameplay

Online games developers should think about targeting non-gamers

For example...

"Community" web sites currently support:
  • tunable presentation
  • bulletin boards
  • chat
  • newsletters/editorial content
  • as many ads as they can fit on the screen at once

But there's no proper sense of "place"

  • everything is disjoint
  • it's not immersive - you don't feel you're "there"
  • you can't do what you want to do, when you want to do it

A homogenous system would bring a stronger sense of community

  • but we know this already...

Games that aren't games

If you want community, you need place
  • online games have place in spades!
  • but so do offline games

If you want community, you also need people

  • the very evolutionary pressure behind online games
  • offline games - er...

Community sites need virtual worlds

  • which is precisely what online games are, in essence
  • but the gameplay has to appeal to non-gamers

In other words, what we need are games that don't appear to be games.

Aside: we see this already in sites that appeal to gamers.

Swim in the mainstream

The developers of regular web sites will try this VE approach in time
  • they're coming from the wrong direction for coding it
  • but they're coming from the right direction for public acceptance

Games developers already have the engines and the servers

  • but normal people don't like being thought of as "gamers"
  • and can games designers design non-games?

Nevertheless, there's a great opportunity here

  • dumbed down games must arrive eventually
  • if you don't do it, someone else will
  • the more people get into non-game gaming , the more will be attracted to traditional gaming

Think: what will the Internet will look like 10 years from now?

It's all about people

People are attracted to the Internet for many reasons
  • but it's the presence of other people that keeps them coming back

There is a demand for products which facilitate this

  • online games are, or can be, such a product

What the Internet is lacking at the moment is shared experience

  • people prefer to watch movies with friends
  • people prefer to watch live sports with friends
  • people prefer to ride roller-coasters with friends

But people can't use the Internet with friends even if they want to

  • exception: online games

Online games may not be the model - though I hope they will be

  • but they're certainly the metaphor


The majority of the online games of tomorrow will be as different from the online games of today as soap operas are from Shakespeare.

But they'll still be online games, in the same way that soap operas are still drama.

Whether all this happens quite as I've described is not the point

  • online games will become mainstream
  • mainstream games won't be the same as today's niche games
  • people are more important than gameplay

The Royal Shakespeare Company may be the best in the world, but Coronation Street makes the money

For developers of online games, the best is yet to come

  • especially when non-gamers play them!

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
9th April :\webdes~1\ og99.htm