Sunday, October 15, 2006

Meta-Data on MMOGs

meta-data is a concept I think about a lot. I find that I am often as interested in the meta-data about a particular piece of information as the data itself.

A good example is the role wikipedia plays for me after I've watched a movie I found particularity interesting (usually one based on some level of historical fact). My interest peaked by the movie, I can spend hours browsing wikipedia for the 'true' historical basis of the movie and the characters upon which it was based, etc. I usually find my appreciation for the movie increasing as a result of the meta-data I research on my own, even when liberal creative freedoms were taken in the movie (a good example is Cinderella Man, easily my favorite boxing movie).

So last week I was asked to help moderate an informal 'roundtable' meeting of the Montreal IGDA chapter. The subject is "The Future of Games in a Long Tail World". I'm really looking forward to this meeting, because while I've been a vocal proponent of The Long Tail to friends and colleagues in recent months, I hadn't actually put much thought into how it could be applied to games. I'm anxious to see what others in my field have to say on the matter.

I do, however, have one idea I'm going to bring up at the meeting -- Long Tail (user generated) meta-data content superimposed on MMOGs.

Before I go further -- a disclaimer: I have no idea if the EULAs of any of today's leading MMOGs would allow for such an idea. I have a feeling they likely wouldn't, under the argument it would detract from the player's appreciation of the game content. I still think the idea is interesting, though...

Imagine if you will a client that you install on your computer that runs resident in memory whenever you are playing your favorite MMOG (much like Xfire runs in the background allowing for communication with friends outside of the game). This client would hijack (first strike against the idea, I know) your avatar's in-game location and send this to a server that had in its database an aggregate of messages left by other players posted to said virtual location (FloatNotes for MMOGs, if you will). Depending on which filters you had active (or which channels you had subscribed to) a variety of messages would 'pop up' in game, left by players who had passed by the same location you were in recently.

The potential for game enhancing (and detracting, I know, but I'll get to that some other time) meta-data is significant. Quest tips left by other players for those needing a little extra assistance; Messages left by guild mates to their friends informing them of an important in-game raid; auction notices for a particularly valuable item left at the point of the spawn, rather then back in town where the auction spam can make it difficult to find, etc.

My favorite idea for a use, though, would be to open up meta-gaming in a way few MMOGs have supported since Ultima Online (UO).

Back when my MMOG guild (OSC) was playing UO one of our favorite activities was to create our own meta-games taking advantage of the open-ended nature of the game. Dressing in Orc clothing a group of us would role-play an attack on the rest of our guildmates, leading them on a quest that often spanned several days and the entire world of Britannia. Many in OSC still remember these custom created quests as their fondest times in UO.

Recent MMOGs don't support this style of play as readily for a variety of reasons (Mass market appeal?). A pity, as far as I am concerned.

So, back to my meta-data client idea. If the client could allow the superimposition of text, then why not other forms of data? I imagine a world where players could use such a meta-data client to change their appearance (for the sake of roleplaying) only to those friends/guildmates who were subscribed to the appropriate meta-game chanel. All other players would see the affected roleplayer as a regular in-game avatar, taking nothing away from their appreciation or enjoyment. Since you would have to 'opt-in' to the participation in the meta-game by subscribing to a chanel, I also don't see any complaints coming from those playing the meta-game.

A win-win situation, if you ask me. The publishers can prolong interest in their game by opening up meta-game content for players who have otherwise bored of the standard content and players get access to a new layer of game content bounded only by the creativity of other gamers and the capabilities of the meta-game client.

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