Over on attacks of opportunity, JudaicDiablo threw out the idea that while a virtual character couldn’t replace you as GM, a complete package that included one might be a good way to hook first-time gamers.
The idea revolves around News at Seven, which I’d never heard of before. It’s definitely impressive, and will only get more so in the near future. What do you think?
Little bit of a rant here . . .
At GenCon Indy earlier this year I attended a seminar on game design where one of the speakers made a great point: The RPG industry as a whole is worth less than what the video game industry spends on advertising alone. Yet both are targetting the same demograpics when it comes to customers. From a business perspective that is very scary for our beloved hobby. Video games are improving so quickly with every generation that potential new gamers will be very hard to acquire for tabletop RPGs. The amount of personal investment required for a tabletop RPG might seem unappealing when presented the alternative of instant gratification from a video game.
Yet at the same time I have to dismiss the idea of a virtual GM as a wave of the future. Look at the history of the media and technology and everytime a new technology emerges you will see a lot of articles about what human activity/job it will replace. Television was going to eliminate the theater and movies (why would you leave home when you could watch a show there?). Robots would replace all factory workers (in this case robots did consolidate the role of several factory workers, but I have yet to hear of a fully automated factory being built with no human staff involved with the production process). CGI was going to eliminate the need for actors (you could just ‘build’ a star). There are some cases where technology has replaced the human participant, but usually the technology changes how we do the job and makes us more efficient. Rarely is the job truly eliminated.
I think that more and more the GM will use and rely on a laptop and software to create, run, and distribute adventures. Software like Fantasy Grounds, Screen Monkey, and kLoOge.Werks will move the game from the tabletop to an online environment for some of us. But for the time being I still the see the role of the GM being played by a person and not software.
Still, the ideas the JudaicDiablo presents are compelling. Our hobby is transforming more and more each day. I just hope that we can retain the spirit of gathering your friends together for a night of gaming as these changes integrate themselves into the hobby.
I agree with VV here. I don’t think ‘virtual GMs’ are going to be the wave of the future.
First off, I think the entire worry about CRPGs is overrated. A lot of people who play video games heavily also play tabletop RPGs. Look at the big video game LANs/cons, and you’ll notice a number of the most well known offer tabletop gaming space. People worry about the demographics involved, but I don’t. I see that the demographic results are the same because of widespread crossover. Many CRPG players, computer or otherwise, wouldn’t mind learning D&D if they knew a group who played and could teach them the rules. Many D&D players, likewise, play CRPGs when they can’t get their D&D fix, or simply want to play a video game. People act as if they’re mutually exclusive markets. The presence and relative popularity of D&D-based/inspired CRPGs disproves that, as do the presence of those tabletops at those video gaming LANs. If anything, I think they’re proving to be supporting markets. CRPGs gain some players from PnP players, and PnPs gain some players from CRPGs.
As a result, I doubt that the era of ‘tabletop’ RPGs with human GMs is over. Far from it. NWN’s module system was popular precisely because it had the option for GMs to build their own games using the virtual space. Many of the popular MMORPGs after World of Warcraft and Guild Wars are popular precisely because people want to affect the game world, and PAID human GMs crafting events based on player input provide that. The top two at the moment are the top two only because those games benefit from the network effect the most, and the RPGs being brought out now aren’t in the same category of general ‘soft-focus’ fantasy that is generally the most popular. It’s even the most popular when it comes to PnPs, with D&D and similar games taking up a lot of mindshare in the PnP space. Modern fantasy/sci-fi is generally second… and that describes the general winners just after the first category.
I don’t think the ‘tabletop’ game will die, per se; I just feel that many more will become virtual, until eventually, you may see virtual tabletops becoming a majority of games played among newer groups and a significant minority of more established ones. When people have enough friends/gaming acquaintances locally to play without the techno-aids, then people will still probably continue to play in person as they always have. Arguably, I think the ‘tabletop’ description may go but that’s due to increased mobility. It may be hard to imagine that, but with email, IM, VoIP, and Video-over-Internet, people can afford to move even more than they did during the 80s and early 90s. It’s a lot less of an investment to keep in touch. And that’s why more and more, established groups are going virtual, and new groups are forming the same way.
But I doubt the software-AI GM is ever likely to happen any time soon. You would need to create a piece of software that can think irrationally, and that’s not something easy to do…
As a way to hook first time gamers, it might work very well. I could replace the Choose Your Own Adventures and Crossroads books– providing a stable system and predone plot that (hopefully) inspires, “but I wanted to leap on the Tyrannosaur’s back. If only someone creative was running the game…”
Despite the tendency for people to “coccoon”, there is a human need for personal interaction that RPGs fill. Yes, it’d be nice to have an automated system run all the rules and such, but the RPG aspect requires a person.
And until we get a computer that can actually create, we’re not there.
I’m pretty much in agreement here. While I think that it might make a good way to hook in new players, at the moment it feels more like the Terror Trax stuff TSR was doing back when there was still a TSR. 😉