I was reading Damion’s commentary on his “Moving Beyond Men In Tights”, Day 1 roundtable, and thought I’d offer my own reactions to the points raised.  I should probably reaffirm that I solidly agree with the need to at least address the points being raised when looking at a new MMO product/endeavor… I just don’t agree in some cases with some of the underlying background/reasoning in certain cases.

The following were bulleted as selling points/features of fantasy by the members of the roundtable.  It seems to me that it would be more accurate to refer to the topic as “medieval fantasy”… after all, would a magic-suffused Victorian Era setting really yield the same “been there, done that” response being addressed by the roundtable?

Double-coded:

Accessible to both mass market and an existing hardcore base.  Not much to disagree with here.  I do think there are other settings that can achieve this, but not as easily… this is one where the current king-of-the-hill (“medieval fantasy”) has a big advantage.

Lots to feed from:

Lots of diverse source material.  Again, not much to disagree with, but other eras/settings do have similar breadth and depth of source material that is not mutually exclusive in tone/temperament, especially just looking at different historical eras (i.e. other than “medieval”.)

  • Victorian Earth: Jules Verne+Mary Shelley+Sherlock Holmes+Bram Stoker+Zulu Wars+Wild Wild West+Space 1889, maybe some Poe and Lovecraft for good measure?
  • Renaissance: Pirates, Lost Civilizations, Musketeers, “far Cathay”, New World  (of course, to many, this would still be Men In Tights.)

Character-driven:

I don’t really agree (or I just don’t understand the perspective) on this one.  Sci-fi can be character-driven, and fantasy can be concept driven.  This isn’t an inherent advantage of fantasy, as I see it, even of fantasy mass entertainment (movies/TV series).

I do think it is easier for sci-fi to abstract away from “humanoid” characters, which can be deleterious, I think… it’s harder to personally identify with a car or a spaceship than a human being (tho not impossible).

Inviting:

This one I don’t buy.  Whether a setting is “inviting” or not is completely irrelevant to whether it is fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, or other.  Talking about blasted cityscapes as representative of post-apocalyptic settings is the same as offering up the Isle of Maelstrom from Shadowbane, or the Plane of Torment from EQ, as representative of an “inviting” fantasy setting.  A calm woodland village, or bustling well-lit cityscape, fits just as well into any of the above as any other.

Familiarity/Resonance:

No argument here… medieval fantasy has a definite leg up on many possible settings in terms of general familiarity.  On the other hand, isn’t this the double-coding bulletpoint, writ large?

No exposition necessary

True, everyone knows what the basic assumptions and expectations for “medieval fantasy” are… but if our goal is to create “something different”, isn’t this a plus we’re going to have to largely set aside and deal with the consequences of, anyway?

Strong core activity (combat)

Combat can be introduced as the core of a thousand different settings, and will be expected as the core of many of them.  This isn’t a unique advantage of fantasy.

Item/Equipment Mythology

There is a stronger connection to equipment, and particularly “unique” equipment, in fantasy than in other genres, definitely.  I’m not sure if I’d see this as a huge advantage, tho.  I’m wishy-washy on this one…

Heroic Arc

This may be the biggest advantage of fantasy, in my opinion.  The Hero’s Quest is such a central concept of fantasy… this has to be the strongest argument for that “character driven” bulletpoint earlier.  On the other hand, there’s no real reason you can’t do the same thing in other genres… quite a bit of fiction already has, after all…

Variety of content:

An important facet for success, yes… but is this really a unique strength of fantasy?  Those Norse-themed products were actually still medieval fantasy settings, after all.  Creating a wide variety of content with familiarity and resonance… that might be the perspective intended…

Team-based activity

I’ve never been sold on this as either unique to fantasy (you can create a tank-DPS-healer triumvirate in any genre, see City of Heroes, et al.), or as all that uniquely crucial to overall success.  However, I would agree it has its advantages, particularly in a subscription-based payment model.

Magic

Magic is definitely a draw, and adds a lot to the overall game design… but couldn’t the same effects be achieved in other ways?  Cybernetic implants, “psionics” aka sci-fi magic, genetic engineering/mutations, parasitic alien technology, etc.  Also, magic can be done in settings other than “medieval”, i.e. Shadowrun RPG (magic/cyberpunk), Mage RPG (magic/modern day), Lovecraft/Cthulhu (magic/Industrial Age)…

Duty calls, gotta run… I’ll probably have more later.  Looking forward to hearing about the other roundtables: wish I’d been able to attend, even if just to listen in.