Monday, April 10, 2006

Here's a crazy idea...

I need to set up this idea in two parts. Here's the first:

As you all know, I'm a fan of MMORPGs. Simple fact is, I enjoy playing them. But on a more intellectual level, I think they're the first true medium of entertainment where producers of content can interact with consumers of the content in a way that's never been possible before. (This is actually what I wrote my undergraduate thesis on, it was titled, "Analysis of the Multiplayer Interactive Entertainment Medium". I'm a total dork!)

All other entertainment mediums (tv, radio, print, theater) are all broadcast one way and consumed one way. With MMORPGs, you finally have a great medium for two-way communications. Developers can actually change content on the fly and shift the experience. Think of a great Dungeon Master interacting with players on table top D&D. That's the interaction that's possible but unfortunately, it rarely happens.

So keep that in mind while I move on to my second point:

Gold farmers in MMORPGs are controversial, to say the least. These are gamers, most commonly from China, that play games to grind out content that US gamers purchase for real money. This black market will continue to exist while demand is backed by real money and cost for supply remains cheap. The farming system works because labor is cheap and the value of the virtual content pays for the time. I'm not going to venture into this controversy myself, but this got me thinking.

The worlds of MMORPGs represent a unique environment. As players populate the worlds, the virtual content acquires value. So far, farmers have been able to capitalize on content such as game money and items. What if we took it a step further...?

Finally, here's the idea:

Instead of pushing away what the gold farmers are offering (that is, lots of game time for very low costs), why don't we invite them in? This next statement is going to piss a lot of people off, but here goes:

Let's hire the gold farmers to replace NPCs in games. Real human actors would play out important key roles in MMORPGs. US players will benefit because no programmed AI is going to beat a real person. The actors will benefit because they get a legitimate job. There's definitely a language problem but that can be overcome with scripts or just guided communications.

At first, I thought this might be in bad taste since it reeks of exploitation. But when I gave it some thought, it started to actually make sense. MMORPGs create virtual worlds that defy real world borders. So far, trade within virtual worlds has occured with items but why not with services? This service would create value for everyone involved.

A game like WoW could hire an army of actors for probably a lot less than a $5 bump in monthly fees per player. This could open up an incredible array of experiences in unique game events or even just enhancing day to day dungeon crawls. Don't think of this as just an enhancment of PvP with actors instead of other players. I think of this as enhancing PvE with real people behind the environments.

Games have had GMs play actor roles before but those are one-offs that rarely involve more than a few select players, those that happen to be at the right place at the right time. What do you think, worth a shot?

By the way, if you've read this far: Thanks, this post has no links or pictures. Just a crazy idea. =)

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