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Today's Gaming, Tomorrow's Virtual Worlds

Friday, March 12
The speakers at Friday's presentation Today's Gaming, Tomorrow's Virtual Worlds opened their discussion of the future of gaming with its past. For Richard Garriott, it was days spent programming punch cards and nights lost in Dungeons & Dragons at high school science camp, where he started penciling code (in spiral notebooks) for what many generations later would become the bestselling Ultima series. For Warren Spector, another gaming legend and the creator of Deus Ex, his pathway also began with Dungeons & Dragons.

"From the first roll of a 20-sided die, I was hooked," he said.

Those funny-shaped D&D dice are one lesson about gaming – nifty technology is a hook. These days, it's an important hook, as thousands of titles duke it out, and consoles and PCs battle for platform dominance. But a deeper question encompassed most of Garriott and Spector's good-natured (but often barbed) debate: To what extent should a game tell a story?

Garriott works for NCsoft, a Korean company specializing in massive, multiplayer online games, where literally millions of characters slay, conquer, and pillage their way through virtual worlds with very few rules. To Spector, this kind of gaming is a betrayal of the medium.

"We can do something no other media can," he said. "We can collaborate with players in the telling of a story. That, to me, entails an obligation to do that."

He prefers single-player games that provide a compelling narrative arc. The two also differed on platform preferences. Spector argued that big companies would figure out a way to use cable with consoles to provide the multiplayer experience.

"Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft are going to come in and stomp all over multiplayer," he said. "They want it bad. And when that happens, PC as a platform is dead."

But Garriott argued that online was still the cutting edge, both in profitability and creativity. Multiplayer games are only in their first generation, and thus have their creative and technical kinks to work out. What fun! Also, while online games turn big profits, percentagewise, for the small companies that make them, the sheer number of dollars to be made isn't enough to draw big companies' interest – yet.

"It's still hugely profitable, and it will be for another five years," he said. "Then suddenly the party's over."

The panel was moderated by technology author Brad King.

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