An article on the front of the Providence Journal http://www.projo.com/news/content/38_studios_visit_07-15-10_U7J6AC7_v30.1914af9.html reports that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios is considering a move to RI. Currently based in Maynard, MA, the company employs “a team of artists, engineers, technicians, musicians and storytellers” who are working on the company’s soon to be released massive multi-player online game, or MMOG, code named Copernicus. The creative team includes fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane, best known for Spawn, and game designer Ken Rolston.
Says Salvatore of Copernicus, “This is a world that’s believable, it’s gorgeous, it makes sense. It’s full of beauty and danger and adventure.”
This gaming world is a fantasy world, which the team at 38 Studios must create from scratch. For 38 Studio’s game to be a financial success, they must create a gaming world which is so compelling that subscribers are willing to “pay to play.” This is the ultimate constructive design process – the blank canvas. For anything to be in this world, it must be added to the game.
Professional war games, on the other hand, are often designed from the deconstructive (or distillation/abstraction) process. Given that we already have a ‘real’ world with environment, orders of battle, culture, societies, etc., we are often faced with the challenge of what to remove in order to accommodate limitations of time, space and resources while still meeting our educational or research based gaming objectives.
The need to construct a compelling world, therefore, can be overlooked in the professional game design process. Yet it is no less important to the success of the professional game. While players may not pay a subscription fee, for many war game participants it still costs in terms of travel budgets and perhaps more importantly time away from primary duties.
I once had a game sponsor say that he didn’t particularly care about engaging the players, because “they come and play because they’re told to.” True in the case of military officers, but the quality of play will be greatly diminished if the players’ level of engagement simply consists of showing up, and are more worried about moving up their flight home than what is going on in the game.
In the end, our professional games are no more or less ‘real’ than fantasy games – a game is a game. I know of fantasy gamers who were more genuinely distraught over the death of a single online character than players of “serious” war games were over the loss of hundreds of soldiers and civilians. In the latter case a certain level of engagement was clearly missing.
Your players are the heart of your game. No players, no heart, no game. Creating an engaging world for those players, both the real physical environment they inhabit during the game, and the artificial environment in which they play, is crucial to getting the results you’re hoping for.