Urquhart and Muzyka RPG design talk at DICE 2013
February 10, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart and Bioware co-founder Ray Muzyka gave a joint talk during DICE 2013 on the future of RPGs . Topics included player engagement, modding, (a)synchronous multiplayer and ways of interacting with players.

Apparently Obsidian is considering asynchronous multiplayer and is trying to find out how to make a traditional RPG that will be free to play. No success on the latter front yet.
posted by ersatz (11 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Some context for MeFiers who aren't game groupies; between them Urquhart and Muzyka have written about half of the best story-oriented Western RPGs in the last 10 years. Urquhart has been involved in the Fallout series, the Baldur's Gate series, Planescape: Torment, and Star Wars: KotOR 2 (for better or worse). Muzyka worked on Baldur's Gate, Star Wars: KotOR 1, Jade Empire, the Mass Effect series, and the Dragon Age series. Between them they represent a certain style of narrative driven RPG that is much loved.

I haven't watched the 20 minute video linked here yet, but wanted to get the background in here first.
posted by Nelson at 8:32 AM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

The RPG genre has always been at the leading edge of a lot of deep aspects of not just games, but internet experiences more broadly speaking. I'll bet the framework they sort of roll around and over here (I'd like to see it written up) has elements that sound a lot like high level strategy conversations going on at Google, Facebook, Microsoft. I think Amazon's relative distance away from these elements means their fortune arch will turn more sharply sooner - would be just one among many observations you could make applying RPG principles to broader digital media. The pre-digital prototype for the internet really was a bunch of kids in a basement rolling dice. Thanks for posting this excellent reminder of that for us non game groupies.
posted by astrobiophysican at 8:53 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the link, ersatz.

Way back when, it seemed like free-to-play traditional (very traditional) multi-player RPGs were running on CS department servers everywhere: I seem to remember that AberMUD and LPMud, to take two flavours, had very D&D-like game mechanics. The Internet wasn't very big on monetization back then, of course, but looking back, it amazes me that it took so long for somebody to make billions out of the idea. Hey ho.

(I just tried telnetting to DragonMud, and it's up! Whoa. No matter what else happens today, at least I know I'm still +Quester Emeritus in good standing.)
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 9:58 AM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I still think a lot of the MUDs had better gaming mechanics than a lot of the MMORPGs that replaced them. Nearly every MUD would give the user the ability to add content after a long period of playing, which seemed to add a lot, particularly to the variety. There also tended to be a lot less grind, the grind was less boring, and it seemed like making the game fun and interesting was a more important objective than making it addictive.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:08 AM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's easy to see the lure. I'm sure Blizzard is happy about selling 12 million copies of Diablo 3, but 10 million people with WoW subscriptions might be more profitable.
posted by ersatz at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2013

Urquhart's repeated suggestion that they are searching for a way to go free-to-play with their games made me cringe. That whole area of the gaming market seems so sleazy. And since their games aren't generally multiplayer, it might require them to put asinine timing schemes into their games (e.g., "Your dragon egg will hatch in 12 hours. Or hatch it now with the witch's brew, 100 SteamBux!").

There was a good dissertation done on this topic recently (one of many in the years to come, I'm sure) that focused on the oppressive features of World of Warcraft. I think a lot of the criticisms of WoW -- especially the observation that it reduces play to labor -- apply to most free-to-play games I've seen. They have to make you want to spend money, and the easiest way is to make playing past a certain stage of the game onerous (laborous!) unless you spend cash on it.

Of course, he didn't give any concrete description of how they would work the free-to-play model, but I'm skeptical.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mitovarr: The grinding, of course, is what happens when the point of the game is to make money for the business producing it. Of course, you have to provide players with some amount of fun to get them in, but then you shift the play style subtly to grinding to keep them coming back.

(on preview: what voltairemodern said, basically.)

Great games often come from hobbyists. That's where all of the old MUDs came from, and all of the Roguelikes. And interactive fiction. And Dwarf Fortress. And probably some interesting games that have like graphics and shit, too.

Of course, there have certainly been some great commercial rpg's from time to time; I loved loved loved System Shock (I and II) back when I had time to play crpgs. (These days, I 'crawl' for a few minutes here and there to get my crpg fix, and try to get together for tabletop games when I have the chance.)

The comments talk about the shift towards kickstarter-funded games, and I think it's a pretty fantastic model, if it comes together. It also gets around one of the major problems in digital production: you put thousands of hours into creating something that can be copied for free in seconds. Pre-financing the creation of games potentially gets around the problem of piracy. Grindy mmorpgs are, of course, a different solution...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:12 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

>The comments talk about the shift towards kickstarter-funded games

Which Obsidian has successfully experimented with:

posted by twidget at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

For guys in the business of selling fun they sure talk like dead-hearted monetizers.
posted by fleacircus at 12:50 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think they are dead-hearted. They are very good at what they do, but they want to continue doing so over time; as such, they need to figure out how to monetize their game. Taken another way, the popularity of the game, and to an extent the effectiveness of the writing of that game, may be measured by how much money it brings in.

As a gamer, I have no compunction with this. If the game is fun, I want the developers to make a ton of money.
posted by rebent at 3:06 PM on February 10, 2013

Also worth remembering that Ray Muzyka is no longer a game designer - he quit BioWare last year, and is now heading up an impact investment house. Which might make for a different set of insights...
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:01 PM on February 10, 2013

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