We Need A Mutant MMO
One of my favourite courses from University was one called ‘Evolutionary Computing’. It taught us how to devise programatic solutions to problems by mimicking the process of evolution (Creationists, avert yon eyes).
For our coursework, we had to devise a program that used an evolutionary algorithm to solve the following problem: divide 1,000 ‘weights’, each randomly weighing between 1kg and 1,000kg, into 100 bags so that each bag weighed exactly the same (or as close as possible) to each other. It was a long time ago so my memory is a little fuzzy now but it had to be done by creating a ‘population’ of bags of weights, seeding them randomly, defining parameters of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fitness and then ‘evolving’ them over thousands of generations, culling the bad and mating together the good. You start with a random pick and you end up with the perfect solution in a matter of minutes.
So what’s this got to do with the MMO industry? Well, there’s been a lot of talk about innovation and evolution amongst bloggers, most recently and aptly summed up and commented upon by one of my favourite bloggers Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green. I would recommend reading his excellent post entitled ‘The Innovation Paradox’ – it far more elegantly sums everything up than I ever could about current thoughts from gamers about evolution and innovation in the MMORPG industry.
However, I wanted to add the following point to the debate: mutation. I think we can all accept that MMORPGs are evolving and providing some sort of innovation however I personally feel that the rate of which seems to have declined over the past few years. We now see evolutions of minor features, like guild windows, instead of sweeping and grand gestures that drive the industry forward. Mutation, the anomalies which bring radical changes and ideas to the table, are necessary in order to challenge the status quo. As I was taught on my Evolutionary Computing course, without mutation your gene pool will stagnate and cease to diverge and you will never reach the optimum solution.
I think that’s what die-hard MMO gamers, such as myself and Keen and Graev, are looking for – a mutant MMO. We need a game that’s radically different from what’s currently on the market in order to excite us and stimulate new growth. It may fail completely but if it succeeded, it could radically change the way future games develop.
Evolution is based upon the principle of natural selection and survival of the fittest. MMORPGs are evolving and the fittest are surviving yet what we’re lacking is mutation. Mutation increases divergence and the ultimate chance of success. To put it another way, if we don’t start seeing some mutations soon, we’ll end up with a lot of inbred MMOs.
[Update: Andrew from Of Teeth and Claws pointed out the flaws in my analogy here in a great article entitled MMOs: Living games. Highly recommended reading.]