SXSW Interactive 04

Exclusive Web-only 'Austin Chronicle' coverage of the wonks, the weekend, and the wilder side of cyberspace

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

SXSW Interactive: Lessons From the Texas Abortion Battles
SXSW Interactive: Lessons From the Texas Abortion Battles
Social media played key role in contentious abortion debate

Jordan Smith, March 11, 2014

Dell, Google, and an Untold Story Hit SXSW
Dell, Google, and an Untold Story Hit SXSW
More additions to South by Southwest Interactive

Neha Aziz, Feb. 20, 2014

More by Rachel Proctor May
Chartering Middle School
Chartering Middle School
Hoping to reach middle-schoolers who could go off track in a regular school setting, district moves forward with charter school plans

June 2, 2006

TAKS Scores Show Both Improvement and Trouble for AISD
TAKS Scores Show Both Improvement and Trouble for AISD
Numbers down for the crucial third and 11th grades

May 26, 2006

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle