A while back Tezcatlipoca Bisani told me about a book he was reading called Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard A Bartle. He told me it was quite interesting so I went out and bought it. The first part of the book goes through the history of virtual worlds which was particularly interesting because as a users of Second Life we are in a rather explosive part of virtual history on a chronological timeline. I will attempt to sum up a small portion of what I read in what may be a paint dryingly boring blog post.
Originally virtual worlds were known as MUD's (multi-user Dungeons). The word Dungeon was connected to an old port game called DUNGEN rather than the tabletop game Dungeon and Dragons. The first was programmed in MACRO-10 on a mainframe in Essex University in 1978. It was text based and moving through the world involved describing in a narrative what the viewer was seeing. When visual imagery was added the term changed to persisent worlds and then when enormous numbers of people began to use them it changed again to MMORPG's (Massively-Multiplayer online roleplaying games). But what constitutes a virtual world? Well here are a few things which Mr Bartle lists. And please remember that Bartle wrote a book and this is merely a blog post. Not a lecture more an informal chat where I may well butcher some of his ideas accidentally.
So in a virtual world there are automated rules that allow users to affect it. Another characteristic is that we represent individuals in world and we channel though our "character". Interaction is done in real time, the world is shared and it is also to some degree persistent. So the environment in a chat room would not be considered a virtual world because there are no physics and normal video games are not included because often they are not persistent and also single player ones such as a first person shooting game is not multi user.
Back to Essex university. Students began to play these games and program their own. The university began to let other universities connect to them by dial up modem and by 1984 media discovered them and began to write articles. At this time CompuServe decided to try to make some money off the phenomenon.
The programming language for MUD's was now being stressed by new advancements and as such became a bit unweildly. So new versions sprang up with different traits. TinyMUD's, LPMUD, AberNUD, DikuMUD etc etc etc. TinyMUD's were interesting because they were not really games but merely a place where users could stand about and create new locations and objects. They would then show them to other people (sound familiar?). MUD designers worked under the premise that designers should create the world as users likely wouldn't be very good at it. Along came LPMUD which believed the users would build a better world then the designers and so gave the ability to build objects. TinyMUDs morphed into MOO's and LambdMOO's which brought in the ability for users to script in world.
So now getting to the mid to late 1990's we had companies such a CompuServe porting games to run on the PC. There was some success however using dial up was a huge deterrence because it plugged up the phone as well as cost an arm and a leg to play the games seeing as at that time phone charges were much more expensive than they are today. Around 1993 we had the advent of the world wide web which caused the main internet providers to have a price war which made the internet affordable to everyone. AOL went into games such as Neverwinter Nights, Dragon's gate and Federation II and began to get a huge user base. Neverwinter Nights took in millions of dollars and had 500 simultaneous players. Later on Gemstone III had 2,000 to 2,500 simultaneous players. Then came the first massive success which was called Ultima Online. It charged $9 a month and within a year had 100,000 users. They were taking in 12 million dollars without having to pay any retailers. It was also a graphic game. Not text based. A 2D environment which was possible because internet speeds were increasing and download times of graphics was now possible. Home computers got stronger. I won't go all the way through the history but eventually Everquest arrived and went first person 3D and had 300 000 subscribers. Also there was Final Fantasy which did phenomenally well.
Now what Tezcatlipoca Bisani failed to mention was that the book was published in 2003. The year Second Life began and before World of Warcraft. I have read that world of warcraft in one month makes $70, 000, 000 which was the total gross of the Hollywood movie Ironman at the time of the article. Second Life now has around 60, 000 users online at any time and a functioning economy... and its not a game.
I wanted to categorize Second Life into this history somewhere and find out what it was. I also was curious about a second phenomenon which was anonymous online celebrity for a virtual world. Is there a name for it? and has it existed in the past or is there a new form of celebrity coming forth out of internet games. Anyway, so I sent Richard Bartle an email to ask him. Here is his response.
>I am reading your book Designing virtual worlds and I find it
My apologies in advance for chapter 6...
>So much has happened since you wrote it
Yes, it's now getting to the point where its relevance is
more historical than contemporary.
>Is considered a MOOs?
It's a to MOOs. I don't believe there
is much MOO DNA in SL, but it has evolved along similar lines
so has similar properties. Its popularity among academics
and journalists is eerily reminiscent of LambdaMOO's, and I've
said in the past that it's the LambdaMOO of today. So has
Pavel Curtis (who wrote and ran LambdaMOO); when I spoke to him
last year, he said that Linden Labs doesn't like the comparison
but it's pretty obvious to him and LambdaMOO's old-timers.
>and is there a term for an anonymous internet only "character"
>who has had their popularity move from a into that
>of the real world?
Not yet that I know of, at least in English. I'm sure
there are a bunch of gaming superstars in Korea that have
gone from the obscurity of playing a virtual world to nationional
prominence on the strength of their playing skills.
I would like to reiterate that my version is a very poor summing up of what Richard wrote in his book. If you would like to read it in his words then the book is called Designing Virtual Worlds.
Pseudo celebrity Leroy Jenkins from World of Warcraft.