[Alan to Scorpia] I think it’s your turn to say what you look for in games.

[Scorpia] No no! I’m only the referee. By the way, how much longer as we supposed to be here? Another half hour? Good.

[Jim] We were going to design a game right in front of you all. We’ve done this before, this is a lot of fun. What we’re going to do is we’re going to design a new game, literally basically do the broad outline and throw out a lot of interesting stuff in the meantime, based on suggestions here. We want a new game, an online game, and I guess that’s the only restriction. A massively multi-player online game.

[Alan] Mediumly massive.

[Jim] Well, 10% of the world’s population. The first billion-player game. But seriously, a game that you would want. Anybody have an idea for a game you haven’t seen that you’d like to play?

[Audience Member 3] How about the evolution of life?

[Jim] Ok.

[Alan] You start with a MUSH, all right?

[Jim] The problem you’re going to have in a game like that is time compression, but that can be dealt with, going back to Civilization which does the same thing, just with civilizations. What you’d want to do is start on different planets and then basically try to evolve yourself into something better than players on other planets, or perhaps different lifeforms on the same planet. The thing with any game is you have to keep the players connected. I’m just talking this through.

[Alan] One of the key problems with those sort of games you need to deal with, and I don’t know how many people have played the box game versions of these sort of games...

[Jim] SimEarth?

[Alan] Yeah, part of the problem, and I don’t know about anybody else, I had all these things that I could change, and really none of them made any difference unless you did something really drastic. So with a game like that you’re going to need some genuine controls so people can make a difference.

[Jim] Wait, I got it I got it I got it I got it!

[Alan] Ok, go on.

[Jim] Taking evolution literally, those of us who are into that arcane area, I believe it was the Cambrian period, we had this explosion of species, many more than exist now. Then a comet came and it was all over. But from the fossil evidence we know there were millions and millions of unique species, all competing with one another before this comet came along or whatever it was, maybe an asteroid. You could do that and basically players (I’m thinking like a businessman) join the game, call it Evolution or something.

[Alan] You pay to join the game.

[Jim] Exactly! You pay to buy a species. Now you can do this with multiple games because you have alternate Earths, or alternate planets, it wouldn’t necessarily be Earth. Initially they’d all be carbon-based, but as we know from what they’ve discovered in the deep sea where they’ve found critters basically living in total darkness living off heat and sulfur. So you can have a sulfur planet. But we’d start with what we are familiar with. So basically you’d buy a species and you’d roll up your species. You’re all familiar with this in D&D type games. You roll up your species and then you run it! A species evolves based on what it tries to do and how successful it is. If you push it too far, it’s going to kill you off. If you evolve some area, you’re betting that, "Hey, if I evolve in this area, based on what all the other critters out there are doing, I could basically gain an advantage, but if I stick myself out too far or specialize too much and other people basically become something that could take advantage of this specialized state I could become extinct." That’s what makes it a game. So you buy a species and you run it through different levels, much like in Fed where you have the bands.

[Alan] Yeah. I think taking account of the key things in any game which people are looking for, which is money, power, and sex.

[Jim] Well that’s all a bacteria does!

[Alan] You’ve got to allow the species sex, otherwise there will be serious problems. No one would come, so to speak. [audience laughter] I just need to go back very briefly, I think that if would be very important to make sure the things that you can do are very meaningful within the game and they’re not sort of, you know, if you change the power of the leg muscles on your dinosaurs then that actually makes a difference for instance, because so many of these games you end up with all these millions of things that you can change and none of them really do anything.

[Jim] I think you have a good point there. Let’s look at evolution itself. We’d have to speed up through the single cell phase very quickly.

[Alan] We could use logarhythmic time.

[Jim] Exactly. And then you get to the decision, "Am I going to be big and nasty, or small and numerous?"

[Alan] And nasty.

[Jim] Exactly. Everyone’s got to be nasty to a certain extent. Well no, some species are just beneficent. They just serve a purpose for all other species and they’re convenient to kill, until they evolve into something a little nastier. So the first phase of the game would be a lot of research and trying to get all of the aspects of evolution into a gameable format, taking into account keeping people interested, the amount of time they have to spend doing this and the direction and the growth, since you’re talking about evolution. You have to decide how long each game will be. You have to find out how much time people can devote to this in a way where they think they are getting something out of it, so a game might last a month. Basically the players could decide two months or two weeks or something like that. Basically you’d have a run through evolution! Hey, great catchphrase.

[Audience Member 4] [mumbled question, something about societies]

[Jim] Yeah, that’s basically what it is, except that there’s a lot more variety. If you look at the species development right now, we could say that the beetles have won, because there are so many more of them. But then you have to decide who’s winning, because if you go by sheer tonnage the beetles run the planet, but they don’t really run the planet, we run the planet. We think we run the planet. You have to basically come up with reasonable, understandable, enjoyable victory conditions. What do I have to do to win?

[Alan] Yeah, there’s another thing that goes with that. In addition to coming up with decent victory conditions, you have to find some way to reward the losers as well.

[Jim] They tasted good!

[Alan] Because if the losers don’t get some reason to continue playing, they stop playing.

[Jim] They get a plaque!

[Alan] Yeah right, a blue plaque. It is a problem in any game of this sort that has a fixed length of time where you have winners and losers; people get into effectively an unattainable position and you have to be able to handle...

[Jim] I have a solution to that.

[Alan] All right, go on.

[Jim] Different victory conditions. In other words, every species has its victory condition.

[Alan] Ah, so you mean for the leaner species, the victory condition is to be more tasty.

[Jim] Yeah! Well, no. For example, beetles, the most abundant by numbers and tonnage on the planet.

[Scorpia] And no one wants to eat them.

[Jim] Exactly! Because of evolution they’re not tasty, so they don’t have to worry about getting the tasty award.

[Audience Member 5] For the victory conditions when you divide them up, some of them just could be to be around at the end.

[Jim] People want to go beyond that. Most people’s lives are based upon surviving the month. I’ve succeeded at that a number of times. I think you’ve got a point there. There’s no reason why you can’t have multiple victory conditions. In other words, a species, up to a certain point, can opt, in other words you can declare (it’s sort of like billiards, I’m going to put this ball in that pocket). At points along the game, maybe not many points, once again you work this out with what the players will get off on. When you declare your victory conditions, in other words, whenever you go through a major evolutionary jump. You have to say if you’re going to keep the same victory conditions, in other words, "Am I going to stay a herbivore, or am I going to become a predator?" And obviously, if you’re a brontosaurus and you decide to grow a bigger jaw and teeth, you know, that would be a major decision, because if you decide to become a predator you better be a good predator, because otherwise you might find a big jaw and all those teeth make it impossible to eat trees, instead of just the leaves.

So you would have to put enough branches on the tree, so to speak, the decision tree, so as the players as they moved along could pick their different victory conditions. Now, at the same time what can become an interesting strategy game is everybody is both prey and preyed upon. So you can basically swing both ways as a species. There are moves you can make that can actually help you while hurting somebody else. Like basically evolving into something that eats more, which means that certain other species are all of the sudden going to have a food shortage. If you put enough of those sticking points in there, there’s no reason why you can’t have a lot of options, not just in terms of what you’re going to evolve into, but what your concept of victory is. You might just decide at one point, "Well, I’m just going to become the most numerous species on the planet," and try to evolve quickly enough before someone else tries to take advantage of the changes you have to go through in order to become a smaller and more numerous, fast, cheap, and out of control so to speak species, from a large, hungry, and very much in control species. So I definitely think something’s there, but from the business point of view y’know, who’s going to roll the dice on that?

[Audience Member 6] I have a question. Where’s the playability here?

[Jim] You’re always interacting.

[Audience Member 6] Where’s the interaction in this? It sounds like I could always do the same thing against animals.

[Jim] Nonononononononono. The big difference is you can talk. Y’know, Animal Farm at large. Animal Farm on steroids. Not only are you going through your animal life evolutions, but you’re also discussing it amongst yourself. Y’know, "I’m gonna eat your lunch," takes a whole different meaning.

[Audience Member 3] Won’t the game become self-defeating? If you’ve got multiple players who all become higher life forms and then all become predatory on the lower players, you won’t get any lower players. They’re not paying anymore.

[Jim] That’s for the lethal virus. You know how players come in there sometimes and just say, "I want to screw things up! I think I’ll become a lethal virus!" Viruses have a lot of fun when you think about it. Look at it from the viruses point of view! What are we more afraid of? That’s the whole premise of War of the Worlds. Who won, eventually? Not the thing with the bug-eyed monsters and their fancy machines, but the microbe.

[Audience Member 7] Here’s an idea. Set up the game so players are on the same sort of species. Every day or block of time players make a decision for the species. Come up with a system so every day so changes take place the next day.

[Jim] Exactly, because the golden rule of multi-player games is, "He’s winning, kick his ass." What you’re going to have is people can communicate, the Gaea hypothesis, the beetles are talking so we’re in trouble. First of all to make it work in a business model, you charge a monthly flat fee for each species you are running. Since it’s impossible to keep people from running more than one character in a game because the way the net is set up, you’ve got to take advantage of that. On AOL we said, "Oh this is terrible!" in our particular game because people would play both sides and things like that and it was a real headache. But you can work with that. It’ll cost you five bucks a month per species, per game. You can have as many as you want. But since it’s a multi-player game all the phylum are going to stick together. "Hey we’re all beetles! Are we going to let those meat-eaters step on us?" Well, it’s unavoidable to a certain extent. [audience laughter]

[Audience Member 8] I thought what she said was you’d all draw the same species and everybody sort of votes on how it evolves.

[Audience Member 7] Different evolutionary lines.

[Jim] I think instead of a vote, people will vote with their genes. People will evolve, because that’s something you can make a conscious choice with, you can pick X amount of genetic change per turn.

[Audience Member 7] You could put elements into the game, where it’s on the same premise that Federation is written on, with levels of cooperation.

[Jim] I see your point, but the way it actually works, again I’m a historian so I’m kind of blinded by that, the way it works in reality and I try to take as much advantage of reality as I can, that’s why I work on Wall Street, you want to let the players work in their own self-interests as a species. Now they will often find in their phylum, in all the bugs there are certain things they have in common. There are certain combinations. Like what do we do with the things that step on us, or eat us in large quantities? What can we do to protect ourselves? There’s a self-interest among the different phylum or different species, genus, will have certain combinations. But every species is out for itself, number one! That’s the beauty of it. It’s like Alien. Remember when the android makes the great statement that it’s the perfect organism? Well they say that about sharks. All they do is eat and screw, it’s the perfect organism. The male organism. It is basically competitive, but at the same time like Hundred Years War, a lot of women play Hundred Years War even though it’s a wargame, they tend to win the game through family connections.

I was amazed the first time I saw this, they were like, "I want to get this grandson and this granddaughter married into that family and that family and that family," and they forge all these alliances, which is actually how the largest empires in the last couple thousand years were built, by the marriages. Not by guys going out and knocking each other on the head. So there are many ways of which to achieve the goal of basically surviving, because a species wants to survive. It doesn’t care if what we consider a higher order species, it simply wants to become the most numerous species around, which is why a lot of people say the beetles are the most successful species because they’re the most numerous in number and tonnage on the planet. But the game, if you want to evolve into humans, homo sapiens, and wipe everything off the planet with insecticides, you can do that in the game. The beauty of it is that the game ends. You’ve got a certain amount of time before the comet comes. That’s what stopped the Cambrian species explosion. So by putting a time limit on it, there wouldn’t be a strict time limit, sometime in the next so many turns the comet’s going to come by. That’s when we’re going to take scores.

[Audience Member 9] You were going on about evolving into a predator. Would you be able to turn into something on your own?

[Jim] Yes, yes. Each species defines its own species of success. The teenage boy with want to turn into a T. Rex. Somebody with a longer view will turn into a beetle. In other words you would declare what your victory is.

[Audience Member 9] You’re talking about rewarding stuff that benefits, and I don’t see evolving into a T. Rex being a reward.

[Jim] You were never a teenage boy. [audience laughter] For a nine year old boy, anyway, teenage boys have a different idea of victory. Something else you can do with that in the system, you can basically declare from a menu what your victory condition is, but nobody else will know it except the system. So when the game ends you say, "This is what I declared." So you never know what the other species is getting act. And they can go for all sorts of twists and turns. What’s he up to? What’s she evolving into?

[Audience Member 8] I don’t mean to be pedantic, but it was the Cretaceous Era that ended with the comet.

[Jim] Whatever! All those Cs run together in my head

[Audience Member 8] It was the Cambrian that was the explosion, and it ended with the concept of the mouth.

[Jim] Well we could do it that way.

[Audience Member 10] What happens when one species develops to the point where they kill another animal for fun?

[Jim] Some players will do that in the very beginning.

[Alan] That’s a game management issue.

[Jim] In the beginning the players would be given a couple screens of background, you want to keep that short first off, you don’t want to get complicated. That’s killed a lot of games. You want to say, "Look, this is what you can do, and this is victory." You want victory to be broadly defined to fit as many different realistic, in terms of nature, concepts of victory. Think of the list. You all start as little organisms, and we can all start evolving. The first couple days will be enormously rapid, evolution. People will all of the sudden be all sorts of critters crawling or slithering or flying or flopping around. From the very beginning they’ll be interacting with each other. But as they get stranger and stranger, anyone who’s played with SimEarth, no, not SimEarth, another game that had to do with evolution. SimEarth was more plate tectonics. Anyway, a lot of these strange critters evolving. The beauty of the game would be you have the secret victory conditions, at the beginning you’d say you want to be the most numerous creature on the planet or whatever, that’s the hard work of the designer to make it balance, but at the same time you’d be talking to all the other people in the game and discussing this and you’d be forming coalitions. If you saw one player, and that’s the beauty of multi-player games, getting very successful, you’d say, "Let’s kick his ass."

[Audience Member 11] One of the things that drives me nuts about it’s so damn easy to talk to anyone.

[Jim] All right, well...

[Audience Member 11] I’m not done. You’re talking a lot, I don’t know how you breathe. [audience laughter]

[Jim] Study the sharks.

[Audience Member 11] I think you should charged to talk to anyone. But anyway, you were on this about ten minutes ago with, "I’m a beetle and what are these things stepping on me?" How do I know how to talk to a beetle?

[Jim] All right. It’s an old problem. From the very beginning you’ve had problems in simulation, which is what this is, we’re simulating a world, whether it be a Federation world or a fantasy world or something like that. Because of the people who play it, if you try to impose realistic communication nobody is going to play it, or very few people are going to play it. Every time we try to add more restrictions to communications the games become much less popular. Years of experience. I agree with you, to be ultimately realistic you should have realistic restrictions on communications. But we’re talking about the entertainment business here.

[Audience Member 11] It’s the whole underlying chatter thing. There’s no way to me that a virus could whisper in a dinosaur’s ear. [audience laughter]

[Jim] You’re right, but we’re not talking about a scientific simulation, we’re talking about a game. For example down on Wall Street I do trading modules, and we literally model the interaction of currency and bond traders all over the world, and we do models of communication. What was amazing to me when I first went into this, at one point we were using, well I shouldn’t say, but we were getting a lot of information on how people communicate. What was amazing was how much communication there was even in areas where you thought there wasn’t or in some cases there shouldn’t have been communication. For example we found out that now that the Cold War has ended a lot of our secrets weren’t very secret. The Russians have been reading our secret codes since the late 60s. I think in reality that communication is justified because there are a lot of things about evolution that we don’t understand. For example species, even though they haven’t got the kind of brains that we have, they communicate than we give them credit for. A scent, I guess we wouldn’t call it communication.

[Audience Member 11] But how could one species communicate with another?

[Audience Member 12] It’s a GAME!

[Jim] You’ve got to look at it from the game designer’s point of view, because again, like I said, I’ve been dealing with this a lot over the years. In the game, there are only certain things your species can do. Those are regulated by the laws of nature as mutated by the game designer. But at the same time, the players can talk all they want, but that doesn’t mean they can change what they can do in the game. You can sit here and complain about all the beetles, "Let’s start a Beetle Liberation Front, we’re getting a raw deal," but in evolution you can only change things as within the laws as we define them. Part of the game is basically the color commentary that the players provide. Imagine if there were people able to observe evolution, I’m sure they must be having very interesting conversations. "Ooh, did you see that? Those legs! Those claws! Why didn’t I think of that?" You play with the claws, and if it turns out to be a dead end, well at least it was an interesting one to talk about. So all we’re talking about is color commentary.

Now granted, you can make these cabals, you can join up in these groups and what have you, go out there and say, "Let’s go up and gang up on the dinosaurs," which indeed may have happened. The story is not totally clear on what happened to the dinosaurs! They may have gotten too far ahead and the others said, "Let’s go beat their ass." They ain’t here no more! So apparently there is some form of communication going on there, and indeed many people are saying that’s going to happen to our species.

[Audience Member 13] Alan’s been awfully silent.

[Jim] Yeah, Alan.

[Alan] Well I now have all the notes for "Alan Lenton’s Evolution."

[Jim] Just go see my banker.

[Alan] Basically, Jim’s come up with something that would work; some people are wondering if it would, and it’s because they’re thinking in a Fed model. This wouldn’t work in a Fed model but it would definitely work in Hundred Years War model. You would have multiple games which people would buy their way into. If somebody seriously screws up the game then what’ll happen is that people will just desert it and go into a new game. I think when you first set up a game like that it will probably happen quite often, and you’ll have to make some sort of financial semi-compensation.

[Jim] What?!? [audience laughter] Did you hear him say that?

[Alan] But I don’t control these things.

[Jim] Thank God!

[Alan] The fact of the matter is, even with a game like that which will be fairly highly structured, it would still need, and this if you like is the one mega-advantage that Jim and I and the other people in the market have over the people who are trying to get into the market, we know that even with a highly structured game like that, you would need game management. Hundred Years War has its Heralds, we have our Navigators, that would have its God Figures. We would need that, we understand that, we know that we have to have it. The problem that a lot of people have, and I know this is slightly off subject, they think that computer games must be about computers. The games we have are about people. You get more than two people in a room together, you have to have a moderator. That’s something that everyone hear understands, but is not generally understood outside, and if you like that’s kind of the one grade-A advantage that we as existing games have over the others.

[Jim] All we need is money.

[Audience Member 14] I have a question and it’s a little off the subject, but at what point in your two gentlemen--

[Alan] We’re not gentlemen.

[Audience Member 14] --well, loosely; at what point in your thought process, does the business model, and the fact you have to make money, drop into, "Geez, I really wish I could’ve done that."

[Jim] Well, Alan and I will probably both in the next few days sit down and say, "Well, what would it cost to do an evolution game?" [audience laughter] If it comes to the same conclusion that it’s doable, we’ll probably get in touch with each other and say, "Well now, we don’t want to up in court over this, how can we settle it?" And at the same time, we might concur, "Well, it might be a little risky." Now the problem in the game business is like in the movie business or book business. There are more ideas than there are executions. I think this could be a good game, maybe not for now, again it’s just there are so many things you could do with the game. Again, I like the idea, who thought of it?

[Audience Member 3] I’m a designer/programmer of box games.

[Jim] All right, you. It’s already been done as a box game and it wasn’t a great success. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a great success if you do it another time because as you can see if you look at any market, the game market, the movie market, the book market, some people are John Grishams and others are... Well, I make money. [audience laughter]

[Alan] Yes, but your word processor rewrites your books, just like multi-player games get rewritten by the programmers.

[Jim] Any of these ideas have to be costed out and you’ve got to work out a spec. It’s a lot like making a movie. Moreso than writing a book; I just pass in a one-page proposal, they give me $23,000 up front, and six months later they’ve got a book. A book is something one person works on, but a game is something that requires a dozen or so more people involved in one degree or another, and you have to involve a spec. It can go through the one-person phase, talking to other people, for maybe 100 or 200 hours of work. After that you’ve got to spend serious money, and that’s what kills a lot of them.

[Audience Member 15] Earlier, you talked about winning the game. In order to keep people coming back in, do you actually want to have a winner?

[Jim] Actually you have multiple winners. I like the idea of hidden victory conditions, which I’ve used before in board games to great success. You basically at the end of the game don’t know who’s going to win because you don’t know what their victory conditions are. You have multiple winners. You could conceivably have everybody win!

[Alan] I was about to say that the best scenario is when everybody wins because having won they then come back.

[Jim] And then the argue amongst themselves who really won. The designer’s off the hook because it’s amongst the players.

[Alan] You do need some sort of, not victory condition which is perhaps the wrong word, people need the feel that they have achieved something. That perhaps is a better word then a victory condition. They set out to achieve something and then they achieve it.

[Audience Member 16] Maybe what would help achieve that goal is as you play multiple games, when you achieve your hidden victory conditions you gain additional strength.

[Jim] Yes, you could have a competition ladder. That’s somewhat like what you have in Fed, where you would basically keep going up and there’d be invitation games. There’d be games anyone could get into, but then as you acquired more skill in terms of how well you’ve won you would be eligible for more competitive games with more competitive players. Some people basically, and you’ve run into this in other games, are what’s called p-killers, player killers. They’re very good and they just like going around killing off newbies. But most of us, I’d like to think, are made of sterner stuff and are nice people.

[Audience Member 16] I think that would be encouragement for them to keep coming back.

[Jim] Well, yes. Plus you can evolve the game itself. You can say, "Let’s look at a different planet." One advantage of playing designer games for what I call the over-educated is you’ll get a lot of smarter people than you playing, some are zoologists and biologists and they will come to you with ideas, "Well what about this paper written by so-and-so about a methane planet and evolution." Well great, give me a couple references and the next thing you know bingo, let’s see how you can evolve on a methane planet. As you get into the game there’s no shortage of additional things you can do with the game because the players, remember, are there to exercise their imagination. Not just in playing the game but dreaming of ways to make the game more interesting, or different, which of course makes it more interesting.

[Scorpia] We’re just about out of time. Closing remarks? Let Alan make his first.

[Jim] And he’s going to make his hidden victory conditions.

[Alan] I’m afraid I lost because it was my victory condition not to say anything. [audience laughter] Just chipping in on the things. I just wanted to say thanks to Jim.

[Jim] For all the great ideas?

[Alan] Yeah, you see I’ve got this tape recorder here.

[Jim] I notice he takes the tape home with him. You know what I usually charge an hour? But no, I really enjoyed it. I’ve done it before, and who knows? We may see an evolution game.

[Audience Member 17] Jim and Alan’s Fabulous Evolution? [audience laughter]

[general applause]

The End.