Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination

Before Arkship started, I needed food. I walked until I found a restaurant we did not have back home, which happened to be Fatburger. We do have hamburgers in Michigan, but not that chain, and friends had gushed about the place. It was indeed a quality sandwich and my first time having a hamburger with relish on it. I have had hamburgers and relish before, but not together, and the combination of ingredients was unexpectedly good.

Relatively few restaurants offer anything new. They can offer something new to you, because there are many species you have not consumed (your local grocery probably has many), but some society has been eating that thing for thousands of years. Avant garde cuisine might take advantage of new technology to create things like edible foams, and at some point cooked meat was a novel invention. This metaphor has already raged out of control, so I am not going to speculate on whether denaturing proteins or using new techniques creates a “new” thing.

Back in the gaming world, we often speak of games as “evolutionary” or “revolutionary.” Iteration on a previous design is evolution; people referred to Rift’s rifts as “PQ 2.0.” GW2’s events are pretty clearly “PQ 3.0,” but their switch to hearts from standard quest givers, while largely a different way of implementing “kill ten rats to make this NPC happy,” was as revolutionary a change as WoW’s development of the quest hub model. Blizzard is known for refining others’ design ideas, but some of their evolutions have become revolutions.

Other people just copy stuff. That can be good, because sometimes you just want another hamburger or FPS that does not challenge you intellectually. You want a slightly novel variation on something you already like. If Alganon had hit its best case scenario, it would have been a decent WoW clone, which is exactly what you want if you are looking for a new three-monther.

I am usually looking for something new in my gaming, so my top question heading into Arkship was “other than your IP, what do you have that is entirely unique to you and not available in any other game?” Wildstar’s most advertised selling point was layering, recombining many familiar mechanics and potentially adding new ones. When I saw Spinks talking about revamped LotRO quest features, I saw layers: standard quest hubs plus quests in the world plus triggered time-based quests plus…

I thought of that hamburger with relish. Imagine being a small/new hamburger company, building up to the announcement of your remarkable new combination of flavors, only to have Burger King release something substantially similar the month before.

Variation does not need to be better; “more of the same” is the point. Revolution tries to be better on different axes, making the comparison difficult or irrelevant. Evolution and recombination are hard to sell because you need to be much better to overcome inertia and network effects. Novelty can help, but I cannot get all my friends to abandon our infrastructure and start over for a 5% improvement.

: Zubon

3 thoughts on “Revolution, Evolution, Variation, Recombination”

  1. That is why it is hard to be successful in the MMORPG industry.
    Not only due to the persistent online aspect of it, it takes years (which translate into millions in wages) to develop one, the successful ones will be keeping adding features that are supported by the revenue generated.

    Maybe one day the persistent online aspect will be trivial and developing a MMORPG will only take 1 year instead of 3-5+ years, so creating a 3 mother (most other genre games outside PvP games last much less than 3 months) would be fine and viable.

    Today it isn’t.

    1. That’s a really, really good point. Physics toolsets like PhysX brought good physics and collision detection engines to the masses of developers, and the Unreal Engine brought relatively easy 3D graphics to nearly every platform imaginable, making 3D games and more complicated techniques on systems from iOS and Windows to Xbox and PlayStation more accessible to smaller development teams.

      Today, to my knowledge, no such generic toolset exists for the back-end server/front-end networking and database technology required to make an MMORPG work. At least, not at the PhysX/Unreal Engine level of detail. Blizzard, EA, Sony all use custom back-ends built in-house. Such a toolset would make it much easier for smaller studios to get into the MMO business.

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