ARG Dystopia?

Syp wrote a post with various concerns about ARGs. It’s fair, they aren’t perfect. But there aren’t that many out there right now so this is fairly early in experimenting with what is possible. It would be like evaluating the future of MMOs from only examining Ultima Online.

I think concerns about “the world” not being ready for an ARG are overblown.

16 years ago there was a steady drumbeat of articles about Everquest players ruining their marriage, careers, failing out of college, etc. I geocached back then too, and there was concern about trespassing, the danger of wandering around, hiking and getting lost, people being stupid by burying and digging caches, etc.

Not to trivialize the risk, but it has always been there. Sure, there is more risk wandering around outside than there is sitting inside and playing – however there have been plenty of tragic cases of people dying at the keyboard after multi-day binge playing.

With 45 million people playing Pokémon Go in July, there will be issues such as trespassing since even if  99.99% of the playerbase are conscientious, due to the massive numbers there will still be thousands of morons out there playing.

The most exciting thing I see Pokémon Go bringing into the genre is an interesting revenue model: sell “lures” which cause Pokémon to spawn, thus drawing players/customers to that location. If this catches on, and is worthwhile for the businesses doing it, this might help solve the revenue problem many MMOs have: how to get a steady income when the two choices seem to be 1) charge a subscription fee, which many players are reluctant to pay; 2) force the game into a B2P/F2P/micro-transaction model. Instead, how about trying to get some money from businesses that might benefit from increased foot traffic! Now that’s innovative. Of course, this only works if the game is played on the real world map – let’s just say it would be much harder to drive traffic to your restaurant by placing a treasure in a traditional MMO dungeon. “Woot, the boss dropped an epic weapon and a coupon for pizza!!”.

Syp’s other concerns about designers being locked into rigid existing designs or risks with players creating content… these strike me as an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can’t imagine it is worthwhile to solve all possible problems in advance before rolling out content. Gotta try something different, let this model experience some growing pains and see where it goes – we’ve seen plenty of studios trying to crank out clones, expansions, clones of expansions, etc.

As for me, I’m having a lot of fun playing Ingress, Niantic’s game before Pokémon Go. It is fundamentally an territory control game, and I could make an analogy with Eve Online where the playerbase also battles over territory in a sci-fi universe. Eve offers a lot more to do, but right now Ingress is absolutely perfect for the amount of time I have, the level of social activity I have time for, integrating well with my normal outdoor activities, etc. I’m bummed I didn’t start playing earlier!

While I do find Pokémon Go interesting in general, the gameplay is so lame right now I only play it while I’m waiting for an Ingress portal to reset. There just isn’t much of a game there and I get bored very quickly. There is potential and I’d like to see Niantic roll out some fleshed-out gameplay, because even the die-hard fans will get tired of flicking their fingers up their smartphone screen.

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Gaming Shift

I haven’t played or blogged in a while due to various events that conspire against my MMO’ing.

The first major event is that I decided to buy my own home, rather than rent and continue to purchase my landlord’s (2nd) home for him. So after I found a place, I devoted most of my free time into decluttering, packing, moving stuff into storage, etc. Now that I’ve moved, I’m on the flip side of those activities – moving stuff out of storage, unpacking… unfortunately still decluttering. I thought I did a decent/OK job decluttering in my previous home, but that was an illusion – all my excess stuff had its own spot, out of the way. In my new home, all that excess stuff has no place (yet) and is a series of obstacles instead!

A side effect of this is I haven’t setup my desktop computers yet. I put my desk in the guest room but decided it didn’t really fit there, so I need to swap the desk and a chest of drawers – as a result I am loathe to setup my desktops until after this furniture swap takes pace, because that will just meaning tearing it all down again only to set it up all over again.

What I’ve found, through forced circumstances but nevertheless entirely valid constraints, is that my mobile devices – notebooks, tablets, smartphones, New Nintendo 3DS) – are TREMENDOUSLY convenient. Easy to move, easy to use just about anywhere, all of them have built-in battery backups (I use a UPS for my desktops). While the desktops are more powerful, outside “serious” gaming (games that benefit from graphics acceleration), the notebook and tablets and so on are 90% sufficient for my home usage.

The second event is me getting into an ARG (alternate reality game). No, not Pokémon Go, but Ingress, the earlier game by the same developer. In full disclosure, yes I’ve played Pokémon Go, but I find the gameplay to be somewhat… lacking, so it barely grabs me. However, I’ve lost count of the people I’ve seen playing. I think this is good, obviously not if they are trespassing or playing while driving or being stupid, but having a game so mainstream is good for gamers and gaming as a hobby. Jewel says it better than me.

Anyway, back to Ingress. I have 2 friends that play, and I have accompanied both of them to capture/reinforce portals. Recently, I was out biking with a 3rd friend – who no longer plays but maybe we can drag her back into it – and when we took a break at a cafe along a bike path, she didn’t mind me capturing various unclaimed portals and setting up links and fields. She was busy getting minor service done to her bike and capturing pokémon that were at pokéstops corresponding to Ingress portal locations!

ingress fields

My very modest control fields along DC’s Metropolitan Branch Trail.

I am fascinated with a game that takes place on the real-world map, with superimposed virtual structures and things to do (attack, defend, establish portals, add resonators/mods, link portals, create fields, and the glyph hacking mini-game). It’s so cool to me… and ties together various interests from gaming to mapping and GPS technology (I was a geocacher but stopped after finding 100 caches; then I switched to munzee which was OK but missing the “fun game” part that Ingress is delivering) to hiking/walking/biking/running and enjoying the outdoors. The sci-fi theme is a bonus as well.

In summary, I’ve got weeks of work to do setting up my new home. I can’t justify carving out a multi-hour block of time to play an MMO over the many other chores I have to do. However, I will prioritize spending time with friends… and spending a few hours playing Ingress is a fun time. When I do need a break from unpacking, time and conveniently available devices point towards various forms of mobile gaming: tablet boardgame apps or my 3DS (I’m a Fire Emblem fan).

I love MMOs but sometimes being able to hit the save button and walk away on short notice is convenient. Once things settle down, I’ll get back to them.