IMGDC Keynote: Bartle Talks Imagination Over Orthodoxy

Speaking in a keynote to the Indie MMO Game Developer's Conference, original MUD creator Dr. Richard A. Bartle gave his audience both a warning about independent financial realities, and encouragement to flourish in the MMO movement's "window of exuberant
Dr. Richard A. Bartle, co-creator of MUD, the influential predecessor to massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft and Everquest, spoke to attendees of the Indie MMO Game Developer's Conference in Minneapolis this weekend, with a keynote entitled “Independence Day: Imagination Will Triumph Over Orthodoxy.” His talk drew comparisons between the first annual IMGDC and Adventure '89 -- a meet up held in the UK where creators of 20 early, mostly text-based virtual worlds, met to demo their creations for other game designers. Games played at that 1989 event included Void, Dark City and the sex game The Zone. Bartle's message to attendees was one of encouragement and warning. He suggested that the chances for big cash windfalls were unlikely for indie game designers, pointing to the fact that most attendees of Adventure '89 only broke even with their undertakings. Financial considerations, while important, Bartle said, weren't the real reason most attendees had chosen to make their games. Today's “flowering” of creativity in the independent MMO scene is occurring because “designing virtual worlds is fun,” said Bartle, adding that he had high hopes for the field's current creative output. “New media only get one window of exuberant creative expression,” he said. “We're in it.” Citing the advantages that indie creators have over those who rely on investors, such as having less to lose and being risk averse, he called for indies to “assert their independence.” He told the creators not to worry about duplicate premises in small games. To illustrate this he pointed out similarities between the Draenai race in World of Warcraft and a hand-drawn illustration from a flyer for the MUD Prophecy. These coincidences are inevitable, Bartle said. The premises may be identical, but “the details will be different. Dark Age of Camelot is not the same as Avalon, even though they're both set in Arthurian Britain.” He did warn, though, against blatant genre cliché such as “magic returning to a world destroyed by a cataclysm.” As an example he cited the many “dire clones” that were created in the MUD days and suggested that Everquest was an extension of that movement. Tech worries shouldn't deter creators either, Bartle said. “Don't worry about not having state-of-art graphics,” he insisted. “So long as what you've got is professional, it doesn't have to be amazing. And even if it is amazing it won't be for long, because other peoples' will be better than yours.” Bartle closed by calling himself a “a dinosaur in virtual world history,” and requested that the current crop of independent creators become influential and respected enough to make him him extinct.

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