Every so often a blogger will be pushed to come up with something to post and they will fall back on the old reliable, “Let’s have a look at my site stats and analyse them, won’t that be interesting!”, the kind of thing that makes your eyes bleed. But invariably the blogger will come to the posts that have garnered the most hits and they will be surprised by the results, usually finishing up with saying something like, “I put all that work into posts A, B, and C, and they got no traffic at all, and then there were posts X, Y, and Z that I banged off without a second thought that readers went crazy for, how the fuck does that work?” Because what bloggers want is to be able to identify and then bottle that ability to write stuff that captures imaginations and takes off in unexpected directions. But you can’t, because this shit is random.
Randomness. It’s an elusive little sucker. So then why do we as bloggers, or more accurately, as commentators on the world of MMO gaming, why do we expect game designers to not have the same problem? Because they do. They put out features that they’ve slaved and agonised and researched to death only to see them full flat, and then they shoot off something to plug a hole and it goes crazy of its own accord. Want an example?
The auction house in WoW. Not much thought went into the design of the auction house, they probably didn’t have time to. “For God’s sake, just give them something where they can sell their stuff and buy other people’s stuff and do a basic search for what they want! We’ve got 25 man raids to design!” And some pretty simple coding and design turned into something that the game designers would never have dreamed of. Had they fussed over it and tried to formulate a precise gaming plan of how it was all going to work then the results may well have been far less successful. But the playing community took it and ran with it and the results are there to see.
Two things. Firstly, if you restrict your design to what you know and imagine then that is all you will ever have. It’s like moving to a new city to find a new job. You can organise a new job before you arrive, and that is fine, but you will restrict your job options to only those that you can presently envisage, thus eliminating all the random options that your new place of abode might have thrown up at you. Secondly, randomness. Did you see the word back there in the previous sentence?
Randomness is all about putting lots of things out there, like blog posts, in the bet that enough of them will turn out to be big winners. Seeing as we can’t predict winners, not even in something really small and inconsequential such as what blog posts will be successful, then this is a pretty neat way of achieving success in a game, or any field for that matter. This has been carefully formulated by Nassim Taleb in the book, ‘Antifragile – How to live in a world we don’t understand’.
So how could game designers make this work for them? It’s a big question, because I believe that whoever can properly interpret the rules for anti-fragility found in Taleb’s book and apply them to an MMO will hit the big time. It’s a big book, and a simple idea that is complicated in its execution, primarily because it goes against so much of what we have learnt to believe is the right way to approach solving problems and being innovative. And making a successful MMO is a complex task. I’m going to reread the book, and as I do so I’ll try to apply it to how it could work for an MMO. And then hopefully some game designer will steal my ideas and do it for real so we can all enjoy the fruits of that project.
Can Everquest Next succeed then when compared to this hypothesis? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. They need a healthy dose of randomness first. Will this post become my biggest hit generator? If I could tell you that, I’d bottle and sell it.