This month's Wired has a look at MMO Arden: The World of William Shakespeare. Armed with a $US 250,000 MacArthur Foundation grant, Indiana University profession Ted Castronova and his students created the MMO, which as the professor points out, was "no fun" and "failed." Castronova and his team and working on the game's sequel. He's learned from his experience and offers up these five tips on making academic games that don't suck:
Don't Be Overly Ambitious "We thought it wouldn't be too hard to design a realistic War of the Roses-era economy, complete with swords, armaments, horses, food, and clothing. You want to create a suit of armour? First you have to smelt brass to make the bolts and gather fibers to make string ... We soon learned why most designers don't do that level of realism."
Go Low Tech
"If you can't find a professional game studio to partner with, start small. There are lots of simple development platforms to experiment with. Look at Tribal Wars — it's an HTML-driven online game with hundreds of thousands of users. It can be played in a browser window."
Think About Your Audience
"We put Arden in front of Shakespeare experts and they loved it. We put it in front of play testers and they yawned. We'd get feedback like, 'I talked to that Falstaff guy for a while and got a quest to go repair something. I logged out and never came back.' Too much reading, not enough fighting. Arden II will be more of a hack-and-slash Dungeons and Dragons type of game."
Get a Full-Time Staff
"I love my students, but they just don't have the schedule to do this. I have a very able lead designer and an excellent lead artist, but they had to pause for midterms. You need a core group of 60-hour-a-week people."
"You face a moment where you can admit something isn't working or you can lie about it. It's like in Shakespeare's plays: The tragic heroes keep making new mistakes that compound their original mistakes. The comic heroes muddle around and find themselves in ridiculous circumstances, but in the end they accept their own humanity, and the audience respects them for it."
Trying to Design [Wired Magazine]