Play as a research tool in Arden

Economist, author, and virtual worlds researcher Edward Castronova has announced the public release of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that he designed. The plot of Arden I, The World of William Shakespeare, inserts players into medieval Somerset, where they can interact with local residents and attempt to get a handle on a royal power struggle.

No, this is not a typical MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but it's not a test of 16th-century English literature, either. According to Castronova, the game is intended to be a platform which researchers can use to run experiments. But there's a little problem with Arden I, as Castronova readily admitted on the Terra Nova blog earlier this week:

We failed to design a gripping game experience. As several of our playtesters said, Where are the monsters? -- a good question to ask of any serious-games initiative. We do have monsters, Shakespearean ones even, but they are out in the woods somewhere, not part of the main game experience.

No monsters is a big problem for our larger goal, which is to use virtual worlds to run experiments. No monsters means no fun, no fun means no people, and no people means no experiment.

Other issues described by Castronova included managing a team of volunteers ("basically, you need full-time employees [or slaves]"), the choice of Shakespeare as a theme for the game ("[Shakespeare] loaded us up with an entire community of expectations") and funding issues ("I had $240K and was thrilled to have it. But that's 1/200th of the money you'd need to do what some of the folks out there had dreamed up.")

However, I wouldn't go so far as the Technology Review did in calling Arden a "failure." Castronova did get to roll up his sleeves and dive into coding ("the most fun I've had intellectually in years") and it sounds like all of these experiences gave him some great insights that will make for some unique writing and research efforts in the future.

As for the future of Arden, it's back to the drawing board for the team. While Castronova et al are interested in seeing what people think of Arden I in its current form, they also have an eye toward making "Arden II: London's Burning" a truly enjoyable gaming experience that attracts large numbers of players -- and makes large-scale experiments possible. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon