Why Landmark and EQN give me hope for the future of games.
Being part of SOE's development of Landmark and EverQuest Next has so far been a strange and unique process, at times it feels like watching a Rube Goldberg machine assemble itself. We don't understand how everything fits together because we don't know yet, it's never been done. Frankly, I doubt that SOE knows how it all fits together; opportunities emerge as they build the tools to make the platform to build the tools. Opening the crate with the crowbar that's inside it.
SOE Live offers a convenient point of punctuation—it’s a great time to look back and take stock of how far we've come in such a short time while looking ahead at the ever clearer path in front of us.
Over a year ago during SOE Live 2013, I became hopelessly enamoured with the idea these games represented. Whether it's a case of cognitive bias or not, I must say being part of this experience has so far exceeded my expectations and I am consistently floored by the innovation of this unprecedented project.
Of course there's a long way to go, but right now I'm glad it's happening at all. Those of you who follow the news of the industry at large will be aware of the awful events of the last couple of weeks. We all know an unfortunate side effect of the anonymity the internet provides is giving a mouthpiece to people who don't think some other people's experiences are valid. So called 'gamer culture' has provided a breeding ground for these hateful fantasists, the themes and marketing strategies of the AAA game industry tend to play into their delusions.
So we must endure the death throes of this weak and petty bunch, all the while maintaining our superiority, because we are selfish enough to want others to be included.
Did I say selfish? Surely they are the selfish ones? Don't worry, it's just a trick – read on for the delightfully hyperbolic rhetoric!
When discussing accessibility in MMOs, I often refer to my selfishness. Because I am selfish, I want other people to enjoy playing the games I do; I want them to be knowledgeable and competent and feel empowered in the way that I do because improving their game experience improves my own.
It's the same with the game industry as a whole. I want all types of people to feel included, respected and valued because I am an awful, selfish man who wants games to be the best and most interesting they can be.
This is why I tend to champion instances of user generated content, social cohesion and player agency in games. I think it makes them more challenging, interesting and ultimately exciting. It might not always make them better, they might not be any more fun and judging by suggestions on forum posts we can expect more misses than hits.
Personally, I would take the wild and free expression and experimentation of 70's punk or 80's alternative comedy over whatever the hell was going on in the 90's and 00's. All tepid homogenisation and the quiet desperation of a hyper-capitalist hangover.
Just like the circumstances that bred punk and alternative comedy, the cultural backlash we are experiencing in games was inevitable and should be welcomed. The accessibility and availability of the technology required for the indie explosion, the democratisation of distribution through online platforms such as Steam and Humble, and the ever present drive of the new generation to fill the cultural vacuum with bright, screaming rage made it unavoidable. This is a dance destined to be performed for as long as art is held back by corporate hubris.
To me, Landmark is a new manifestation of this artistic ideal in gaming. Ever increasing accessibility of the tools necessary to work in a medium did absolute wonders for music and film, even if you don't consider yourself part of a minority scene I can guarantee what you do like has been heavily influenced by at least one.
That's the point of all of this, really. Anything we create does not exist in a vacuum; we are all part of a cultural context. By blocking out different ideas or points of view we stifle the infusion of new ideas of expression, and the second law of thermodynamics leads us to annualised sequels and uninspired IP cash-ins.
Whatever the outcome, we're participants in a new way of making games - early adopters of a new kind of platform, and judging by the sample of you I met in the desert – a host of exquisite badasses ready to tear apart the prescriptions of a cowardly industry led by greed.
You may think that I'm overstating the scope of what Landmark the game is, and you may very well be right. The important thing to remember is the attitude towards the creation of games as a medium is shifting, and Landmark is both a product of that shift and another means of driving it, it allows everyone the means of opening the crate with the crowbar that's inside it.
Even if it's awful, even if it all turns out to be abysmal - like the kid on the street with the ugliest, smelliest dog, I'll love it all the more for it. At least we'll be going somewhere, in the driver's seat at last.
So while I admit I am a terrible, selfish degenerate, I do so shamelessly. When you value the experiences and perspectives of other people, you can be as selfish as you want.