« Uru Live to Re-Close | Main | Call for stories from the Uru Community »


T Davis

The primary issue ties back to something else on this site: http://virtualcultures.typepad.com/virtualcultures/2008/02/why-we-need-com.html

That's a call for community management for support issues. But it needs to be expanded into the need for community management and engagement on all levels of the virtual society. Myst Online's flaw was the fact that the fan-base was not engaged. Whatever the focus of a consensus virtual world, the key factor is that people will want to interact in and with that world. Now, Cyan are master storytellers and worldbuilders. But that story was always one way. The fans nearly beat down Cyan's door in hopes of helping the story and the game. But response from Cyan was minimal, and even their own community projects (the DRC Liaisons, for example) suffered from fatal amounts of inattention.

In many ways, it felt like Cyan had a story to tell, and gosh darn it, they were going to tell it no matter what the player's opinions were.

You can get away with that if you have gameplay that is largely independent of interaction with the development team. But it was exactly that interaction that Myst Online was marketed on - real people running characters, real stories you can affect, a real environment you can be a part of. Cyan's story had no place for the players in it. Maybe they expected the players to step up like they always had to fill in the gaps (as evidenced by Until Uru). But when it was obvious that they weren't, Cyan needed to focus on engaging the players. When there was less gameplay content in terms of areas and puzzles, that should have been made up with the real time characters rubbing elbows with players, being interesting personalities among the players that drew people into the world. Rather, the character interaction tapered off at the same rate as the gameplay did.

A virtual environment isn't just a 3D theatre. It's a complex interaction of personalities and individual stories, and often those stories are important not because they are epic, but rather that we are personally invested in them. These sorts of investments echo from player to player. Even if only a small number of people can directly interact with these real-time characters, if those interactions are interesting, people want to share them. That creates a rumor mill and community discussion, which brings more people into the world.

I think it's telling that some of the characters that people reacted most favorably to where run by fans (see Echo McKenzie and J.D. Barnes). In fact, some of the most interesting comments about these characters involve the fact that players felt like these characters were listening to them.

That fact is that if Cyan wants to truly have a virtual interactive world, it needs to be interactive. The game environment, the dramatis personae and the company that runs it all. They need to treat the community as one of the things they had to actively develop, as well as the Ages and their code. They need to be in the trenches daily, engaging players and characters. My hope is that if they still pursue Uru, that they have learned that lesson.

ron meiners

@T Davis: great comment, and superb and detailed analysis of both the intention and why it failed. Completely agree (and, if you poke around, you'll find no shortage of my belief in the potential importance and value of community management in general). In this case though, I'd call it more a design issue: the lack of interaction with the content creation team was the problem, the community management folks have a slightly different role, or at least traditionally they do. As Deg mentioned in his story, the aspect of Uru that was an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) was important early on, and had great potential... but as you point out, that needs consistent and committed content support: interactive, dynamic, and voracious. Which is generally not the baliwick of the community management team.

Also too, there are all sorts of emergent game play dynamics which might have helped fill that gap: the creativity and fun the community had with cones is a good example. Easy for Cyan to create, yards of fun for the community: everybody wins.

Though I'd rather your solution: lots of involvement and a tremendous experience for the participants.

T Davis

When you are putting on a game that operates on a significantly different paradigm than other games, you have to rethink a lot of the traditional roles and assumptions.

While this level of engagement is not the traditional bailiwick of the Community Management team, for Uru it should have been.

This is because for a game like Myst Online, Community Management is a key design consideration. That engagement with the community is part of the experience. Otherwise it's like saying solving technical issues is traditionally just the role of technical support, when you are running a company that provides technical support.


Not engaging the community is one way to think about what happened. I don't tend to describe it like that, thought it's a good point. I've been in Uru Live forever, since the beta in 2003, for the first version of the online game. I describe Uru Live as a beautiful game with very little to do. Once you solved the puzzles, apart from socialization (which I do like), that was it.

On the story driven aspects, I thought they were weak. I think the idea of live character interactions is very flawed, particularly if the character interactions are not tied to gameplay. Unless the game developer is willing to run these events frequently, across all time zones and in many areas of the game world, most people miss them. I think that the success of events, events that only small number of players see, the success depends on players being comfortable with a second hand experience. I go into online worlds for my own experiences, not to read about someone else's experience. That may be a bit strong - if I get to experience a lot personally, then I might be willing to read about someone else's experience. Otherwise I'm not interested.

Another thing I've always wondered - how we were supposed to know that there were special role-playing characters? I think I even ran across one of them, once, but I just passed him by. If you run across another player, unless there is a crowd around that player, or you have furiously kept up with the story, via a web forum I suppose, how are you supposed to know that you are running into a special story telling experience, so you should pay attention and interact with the person. The game seemed to assume that there were oh, about fifty players who read all the forums and kept up on everything, and the players would know if they ran into a special character who told a story. It also seems to imply that everyone gets into the game at the same point in time and so thay all know everything about what is going on. I don't really get it.

The comments to this entry are closed.