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Digital Physics

Red Thomas Posted:
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I suspect today’s lecture will be somewhat less attended than the latest top 10 digital boobs of 2015 or some other fan service list designed for the sole purpose of being click bait.  Luckily, this site doesn’t often fall prey to that form of low-brow “click-canery.”  Not that I really have a problem with lists in general.  I read them myself fairly often.

But in the age where video games have become increasingly popular culture, those of us from the old school are slowly being pushed aside as the online cultural norm.  Change is the way of things, but we don’t have to go quietly in the night.  That’s why I made a specific effort to develop this idea and get it submitted. 

While writing a recent article on the newly funded game Crowfall, I found myself contemplating the strange effect crowdfunding campaigns tend to have on time.  When the comparative temporal status quo is dramatically impacted, as you often hear about when talking with folks who have gone through these campaigns, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of one plausible explanation being the introduction of a large body of mass to the equation.

I’ve come up with some entertaining parallels through the exploration of that thought, which I feel my fellow nerds would get a similar grin over.  If your glasses aren’t holding prescription lenses, then you may not be the target audience for this article.  Also, if you tend to scream “hacks” at your victorious Call of Duty opponents, you also may consider passing this one by as it’s directed a slightly more mature audience.  This article is for the progenitors, the true l337, and my fellow science fair laureates.  Brothers and sisters of the antiquated aether, this article is for you.

Expanding on Terms

Mass – If mass is understood as the particles which make up a whole, and we can accept that not all mass is of the same type, then we can describe a video game’s digital mass as being made up of a number of specific things.  Actively interested fans or players, developers and publishers, completed game content, and even financial backing all go into determining precisely how large a given game is.  You might say that EVE Online is a smaller game than EverQuest Next, for instance.  However, since EQN’s lack of released content is really balanced by what was until recently, a fairly healthy budget.  In the end, I think the two would have to be considered to be of approximately the same size.

Energy – The energy of a game is probably best described as the hype around it.  Hype can be generated in a number of ways.  Financial capital can be converted in campaigns for increasing visibility and interest.  Fans and players can become excited to the point where they generate a certain level of hype through simple word of mouth.  Released content can also be of sufficient quality as to generate increased interest.  Good examples would be the surge of interest in Minecraft as more and more people have become interested in the game and have created mods, websites, and tons of fan videos, or alternatively the slew of television commercials created by Bungie prior to the release of Destiny.

Gravity – As a game’s mass increases, so does the crushing force of expectation.  As games advertise what they’re trying to do, add content to show what they’ve already done, and attract more players and fans to the franchise, the increase in people and resources result in an increasing pressure to deliver.  The problem is that not all fans expect or demand the same things, so delivering on just one aspect doesn’t diminish the expectations of the whole.  Thus, I’d say that there are fairly linear relationships between a game’s mass, the gravitational effect created by increased expectation, and the hype generated by properly excited elements of the mass.

Figure 1 – Hydrostatic Equilibrium is achieved at Fg = - ( Gm * Δm / r2 )

Imperfect Hydrostasis

Games, like stars, strive to reach a point where the force of expectations are balanced with the pseudo-hydrostatic pressures of hype.  Balancing the two forces results in an eventually healthy game as players receive what they expected and are satisfied with their overall experience.  When one force grows to overpower the other, that’s when things go… well, nova.

Let’s pick on someone that I actually like, just to show that I’m an equal opportunity Bunsen burner.  We’ll look at the tale of Tabula Rasa.  A great concept by pioneer Richard Garriott that was developed by NC Soft and found itself imploding under the weight of unmet expectations.

Richard has a large specific mass in the realm of digital physics.  As the grandfather of modern computer-based RPGs and the mind behind a number of definitive titles, a large number of fans were attracted to the weight his name added to the project.  All those fans, along with the developers’ intent and the support of a large publisher like NC Soft, generated a proportional amount of expectations. 

Figure 2 – Size comparison of digital bodies.

When the game finally released in late 2007 and the final product didn’t quite meet those expectations, the game was crushed by the force of unrealized potential and shut down just over a year later.  The fans the game had were loyal enough that the game never exploded like others would have. Instead, the lack of delivery created an excess of implosive force and crushed the idea into a digital singularity, a tiny spec of intense mass in the digital black that while still unseen, manages to affect the trajectory of nearby bodies.

Conversely, Star Wars Galaxies is an apt demonstration of what happens when hype exceeds expectations.  SWG was birthed with a fantastic crafting and character advancement systems, earning it praise from fans and media a like for being both creative and innovative.  The incredibly vocal community built a great deal of hype around the game, which of course attracted more to try it.  The problem was that as great of as the game was, it didn’t quite appeal to the average gamer as much as it did to that very vocal minority (of which I was certainly one).  When pressure from Lucas Arts forced SOE to radically modify key elements of the game, like character advancement and the handling of Jedi, the stage was set for a dramatic change.

The rapid accretion of new users combined with the abundance of hype and the game went nova, ejecting large portions of its previous player-mass into the digital universe.  Much of that mass eventually settled around the newly emerging World of Warcraft, but there was still enough left and enough residual hype that SWG continued burning for years to come as a much dimmed white dwarf.

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Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.