Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Ideas about the Future of Gaming

disclaimer: I'm not an expert, and I'm clearly biased to a particular direction.

recent influences:

  • Ryan Dancey's article in RPGnet, 
  • disccusions on the SJgames threads regarding the poor market for heavily researched historical content and production trends
  • The many crowd-sourcing projects in RPGs anecdotally observed
  • the success of kickstarter projects
  • e-publishing and how the market is shifting
the good news: Gaming in the manner of Table-top will continue to exist... the differences is who we play with, our tools, and the satisfaction over time. 

I will continue to Game, and so will a lot of people. Of course not as often as I would like, but the experience and the satisfaction will grow over time despite age. What will change is that, in the global Technology Level we will be leveraging the shared resources of a community at the same time finding services that meet our niche desires. 

I cannot replace the game because it's grind is equivalent to real world training. The research, writing and story telling is necessary for me to keep mentally fit as I grow older. The socialization and ability to meet a diverse amount of people while being able to connect to them keeps me open to the changing world. 

Gaming to me is a mental exercise. Its something fun to do with all these skills I need for work. It's mental sparring, intense competition, and teamwork in a safe, social, and amicable environment. 

I cannot replace it with a lot of automation (in the game play, not in the preparation) because once it can be automated then I'll begin to stagnate. When there is predictability in the patterns, then it gets boring and the collective intelligence of the group even gets bored far quicker and without even consciously knowing its bored. 

One key assumption is that, I'm not the only person who discovered Table Top Games are a powerful mnemonic technique to learn anything. It allows me to frame every piece of knowledge or skill, like a game and immediately put a long term strategic perspective in the time I spend, the skills I acquire and the projects I do. It overcomes a lot of the cognitive biases that prevent me from getting things done and stops me from being too unproductive.

what will happen/change?
Tools, Aids and Costs of both time and money. 

So you're a bit more productive with gaming. Ideally this should reflect in income and ability to undertake training (because you frame it like a munchkin: greedily accumulating character points). You reach a point of diminishing returns, when your time to prep becomes more difficult as your skill level increase along with expectations. 

So your a crazy munchkin GM, you employ the skills you've learned being a good GM. You organize better: 
  • you assign tasks to your players,
  • you simplify and streamline your process and automate some tasks
  • you leverage crowd-sourcing 
  • it is cost efficient to finally afford those tools that you need to pay to use. 
Ok, you evolved and now your getting more things done than ever before. Your GM self of years ago, will marvel at the tools, elaborate metrics and techniques you now employ behind the screen. You've mastered managing expectations, and you develop a better practice with every game, squeezing it of every lesson to prep for the next game. 

Criticism can be harsh, you find the middle way where after some time things fall into perspective and you discover what is objective and more empirically effective. 

What happens next is that you can't do everything, and you need to increase your experience by meeting a greater diversity of individuals. Sure you have your comfort zone, but curiosity and the munchkin inside wants to test limits, wants to feel and maybe taste that frustration and humbling experience of what will be the next horizon to overcome. You want to circle back to those comfort areas and show them something new, and have something new from meeting a diverse kind of people. 

Around this time, it becomes cost effective to delegate some tasks. Ideally you can delegate in the form of sharing a load, one person specializes in a tool that can be used by a larger group of people with similar ideas. 

The simplest it begins with crowd-sourcing some character guidelines and templates, then it gets even more sophisticated with spreadsheets or possibly some programs. Unfortunately, this is not enough, the sophistication of the tools cannot reach the sophistication of a human being who does the complex task: helping the GM or GMing in itself. 

Now we moved to shared personnel resources, someone wants to basically get real manpower to help in these projects. One notices some VPAs do many of the tasks GMs are better off delegating,  unfortunately the full time cost is just too much relative to your gaming monthly budget. Well this is where your Crowd-sourcing and Open-Content Community kicks in. You have a lot of GMs who have similar enough interests to make for a cost effective solution through economies of scale... the next problem is who is going to risk and standardize (for expectations and specialization) this service; who is going to take the time to create the best practice? 

How I think things would work out:
You are the GM of this new age. You've written a ton of material, you might have spent only 6-8hours a week but your building on hundreds of thousands of hours drawn from a shared content. What takes time is formulating your vision: you wrote it down following several organizational and writing tools shared by many other GMs, modified for your needs and the interests of your target audience. It takes you a few minutes to modify the template for your new campaign, you take a few minutes to modify the character creation spreadsheet, a few more generating a whole host of NPCs for ranges of circumstances. You're a little bit strange and download some videos and audios of accents and personalities recommended by your other GM friends, you listen to these on the way or from work; you are making funny accents in public.

You have some custom game material, you might have spent only $10 in all for the campaign material. 


This assumes you take your games really seriously and your time is several times more valuable than what you are paying a VPA per hour. Lets assume that you have a VPA, every month contributing about 10 hours at about $59 for about 3 months; in those months if half of the time the VPA was making material it would be a total of 30 hours of material in the metrics given below: 
In those hours... 
  • ...the VPA can proof read at 1400 wph, help you proof read your work, 
  • help you generate content at about 400wph after drawing from 1000 words of content in that same hour (at 90% comprehension; speed reading/scanning will double to quadruple speed), 
  • layout your NPCs stat block the way you like it a speed of 1000wph (about 4-5 character sheets or about 4-6 presentation pages/hr), 
  • or transcribe your 6 hour games and upload it to your blog as a draft. 
  • The VPA can be the one to follow up and coordinate with players, or help interview players that suit your needs and schedule the calls for you.  
  • If the VPA is just modifying existing material, to be consistent with your "Vision & ;mission" for the game, all those menial changes can be done by someone else, while you fixate on the plot and researching interesting material for the game. 

You then set a meeting with other GMs, GMs you set aside time for to listen to, and you show them your material. They throw you a couple of curve balls and give you another perspective. They give you intel about how certain players may react in the situations that will transpire, and coach you through all the tricks of the trade to keep things fun and moving along. These GMs might get some "kharma" points for the help, some crowd sourced ideas enter into the game last minute. 

You begin the game with a small nicely presentable pdf of the game material. Everyone has read it and gave their input. You've chatted your players up and everyone has been psyched out.  Your VTT tools are prepped, either by you or with help by someone else. There are some rehearsed tactics, but mostly everything in the background can be generated on the fly, from a peasant to an entire economy in about 5-15 mins. What happens next is nothing goes according to plan, and you spend about 2 hours of the 6 pulling things out of your @$$. 

Its not that bad, you had the typical crowd pleasers: some combat, good role-playing, and  real strategic thinking that caught you blindsided. Its not that bad, the session has been recorded and someone else can go make the transcription, while you go back to the GM hive-mind and crowd-source some ideas. The next session, might be better. 

By the time the next session rolls around, 6 hours of game play have become transcribed and very meticulously researched; some GMs have given some fair warnings and more prep has come to play. Some things have been set into motion that the players can't help but follow through: out of morbid curiosity, real role-playing, or because of some ton of cognitive bias (sunk cost effect, self fulfilling prophecy, confirmation bias, overconfidence etc...). Lower unfamiliarity and it appears that your gaining, there are some tricks that improve the overall RPG experience that come into play. 

The next few sessions goes well, to great. You've only targeted 5 sessions, and squeezed as much fun as you can from the experience. In the end, you compile and make your notes presentable, other GMs can easily see the formulas and where they too would have been caught of guard. There would be some praise for the GMship, and some constructive criticism and healthy discussion about how things could have been done better. You have the option to try again with a new group using less resources than the previous group and given you some heady experience and all that developed material; or to try the same group again for a different game, realizing some chemistry that might be worth exploring; or a new or older game and new group.

I realize writing this that my personal philosophy or expectations is not going to be true for everyone: 
  • not everyone wants a well documented game
  • not everyone feels the need to prepare a lot (if they could spend +20hours a week they would). 
  • not everyone needs so many props, tricks and help
  • not everyone is an attention whore
  • people may hate being data-mined 
  • very few people would like to try other gaming groups, once they found a comfort zone
and of course many would not want to spend more than $10/mo. on games.

As our time gets more valuable, and the tools get better, maybe game enhancing services might have the best bang for buck. Around this time, GM and player performance maybe so well documented that standards may arise and the hobby might develop a language. What I mean by language is that the game experience becomes easier to communicate, that it can be its own sport/game.

edit. as more people read this I'm getting more self conscious about my grammar and spelling. So you'll notice some edits where I realized I had a major brain fart.

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