More random thoughts from Day Two of the Austin Game Conference

I’ve always thought of the heat in Texas as being of the dry variety, but every time I walk out of the convention center in Austin, I immediately break into a very unpleasant sweat that reminds me of being near a stagnant Minnesota lake in August: Not as humid as it might be in, say, Florida, but still much more damp than I care for.

Raph Koster slayed in his talk on dinosaurs in game development, being both complimentary to the current giants of the industry (upon whom we are all dependent for funding and jobs), while pointing out all the ways in which they are doomed. I’m a sucker for Long Tail arguments in general, but Koster built his up in a way that deconstructed the current developer/publisher model and posited a vision for future creation that’s more responsive to players, while being more profitable (in more varied ways) for content producers.

The other two sessions I attended — one on new models for game stories, and one on applying lessons from the Burning Man festival to game design (I know, seriously!) — were perhaps even more inspirational to me as a designer, in ways that I’ll hopefully be able to discuss in more detail later, when I’m not so sleepy. I may be drinking too much of the Kool-Aid at a conference that focused on online gaming, but the more I think about it, the more I think that spending lots of time on the single-player experience is time wasted, and that the future for all games, even console games, is in the multiplayer experience.

Of course, it took a semi-drunken bar conversation — shouted out over an Austin bar blues band — to point out that there are plenty of genres that only work in single-player mode, like survival horror (which depends on engendering a feeling of isolation in the player to have the required emotional effect). This just reinforces the real idea I’m taking away from this conference — whatever I, in my myopic, reactionary, fanboyish way, think games are all about, will be proven wrong by the way that real people end up making and playing real games.

Case in point (and this case was pointed out by multiple people): World of Warcraft is only the fourth-largest MMO/virtual world in North America. Runescape, Habbo Hotel, and Gaia Online all have larger user bases.