Why Massively Multiplayer Games Are So Popular

Jesse Schell is a video game designer and the CEO of Schell Games. Hehas led research projects at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, and he is the former chairman of the International Game Developers Association. In 2004, he was named one of the world's Top 100 Young Innovators by Technology Review, MIT’s magazine of innovation.
  • Transcript


Question: Why are massively multiplayer online games particularly popular in Asia?

Jesse Schell:  Part of the reason I think massively multiplayer games are so popular in Asia is partly because the bandwidth and infrastructure is there.  They've had bandwidth and infrastructure that has been miles ahead of where we've been.  So they've had more time to kind of work on it.  There's greater opportunity for an audience.  Then, on top of that, you have situations with copyright over there that are problematic.  The retail game model, the traditional retail game model, of selling discs in stores has very much been destroyed by piracy.  But a massively multiplayer game is not destroyed by piracy – in fact, it is enhanced by piracy because the pirates become a network to distribute the software.  The players have to connect online, and there's no stealing the game because you pay as you play.  So I think that combination, then you also consider the lower penetration of consoles in Asia is something that kind of has pushed people more to the PC, and massively multiplayer games work well on the PC.

Then further, you can kind of take it to kind of a social angle.  Some people would suggest that people in Asia are more likely to work together on teams.  They're more comfortable working that way, and that's what the... If you're gonna succeed in these games, it's about forming large teams and working together and succeeding.  It's a combination of things.  One thing we're definitely seeing is almost everything that goes big and succeeds in Asia starts to come over here.  We started to see it happening... We saw it initially with subscription-based games, then we saw micro-transactions taking off there, and now they're taking off in America and Europe, as well.

Why are these games so captivating?

Jesse Schell:  I think for massively multiplayer games, it's a combination of things.  One of the reasons people like to go to games at all is games give you concrete achievement.  In life, we seldom get very clear, concrete achievements.  Anything you achieve, it's always like Well, it could have been a little better.  But when you've made level nine [clap] – it's level nine!  I mean, there's no you half made it, or you sort of made it, or someone made level nine better than you.  You made it.  Bing!  Gold star – there it is.  And people like that concreteness.

So you take that factor of the concreteness, and then you combine it with a persistence.  Traditional video games – you play them, you win them – it's kind of over.  You turn it off, and it's gone.  These massively multiplayer games are persistent.  You become level nine and you turn it off for three months – you come back, and you're still a level nine.  You can go to level ten.  These can become something that you do for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years if you want to.  People like that; it makes it more solid, it makes it more real, it makes it more meaningful.

Then you combine that with the social interaction where you have a lightweight connection to people – in other words, you don't have to go through the headache of forming social commitments, but you still get to do something meaningful where you work together as a team, and you did something that you all can be proud of.  There's a lot of factors in there that... There's really a lot to like.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont