This was originally written by Laurene Wells and posted on Gamasutra 03/21/16 02:17:00 pm
A series of unrelated events have converged in my life to press me into taking new action on my Visions game development project. Some of these actions are pushing me into unfamiliar territory. But it isn’t like I’ve never set out to do something I’ve never done before. That very nearly describes every advancement we’ve made in the Visions project. The newest step however is for me to seek out public speaking events to talk about Visions. After participating in a 5.5 hour webinar on public speaking I set out to write a speech following the guidelines I learned from that webinar. I shared that speech with a fellow game developer. He agreed to read it and offer some tips for improvement, or general feedback. I think we both were sort of expecting a harsh response and expensive edits. After reading it however he logged back on to the messenger we were communicating on and said the only advice he had was that I needed to create an account on Gamasutra immediately and post the script as a blog post. He said the world needs to read what I wrote right away! I was very surprised. I did go ahead and make a few more edits anyway, but have for the most part left it intact from the original script that I sent him. It is 8 pages single spaced. I anticipate that if I were to deliver this speech to an audience it would take a full hour, perhaps a little more, based on my past experience with speeches I’ve given at conferences. When writing this talk I anticipated that there could be members in the audience who do not know what an MMO or MMORPG is, so the first paragraph explains that terminology. I understand that no one on this website needs that explaination, so feel free to skip the first paragraph if you wish. So, without further adieu, here is the speech that my friend wants you to read. I hope it inspires someone.
Why the world needs a Christian MMO
Speech script by Laurene Wells
The title of this talk is “Why the world needs a Christian MMO”. Before I get going though let’s all get on the same page with vocabulary. Some people in the Christian community are unfamiliar with gamer jargon so let me clarify that right from the start so you aren’t sitting here through the whole speech trying to figure out what kind of Multicultural Mission Opportunity I’m talking about. That isn’t what MMO means. In the gamer world, MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. It is actually short for MMOG which is Massively Multiplayer Online Game, which are the largest, most expensive and most difficult kinds of games being made currently in the game industry. MMOG’s include a subclass of games called MMORPG which stands for Massively Muliplayer Online Role Playing Game. That’s a mouthfull to say every time you tell someone what kind of game you like to play. It’s much easier to just say MMORPG or MMO. Now you know why we shorten it! There are also MMOFPSGs and MMOSIMs and MMORTSGs which stand for respectively: Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter Games, Massively Multiplayer Online Simulations, and Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy Games. The latter of which are far less common. MMORPGs are by far the most common form of MMOG, because they lend themselves to the technology most effectively.
MMORPGs are pretty much the only kind of computer game I like to play. I’ve played a lot of computer games, I’ve given just about every genre at least a 15 minute try, usually a few hours, before I decide if I like it or not. The thing about MMORPGs though is that there are other people in the game world, creating an entire social environment of like-minded people who are all interested in playing the same game at the same time and working to achieve the same, or at least similar, goals within the game. They are frequently more cooperative than other types of games, meaning that players help each other more than fighting against each other, and work together to achieve challenging goals that can not be accomplished alone. They are exciting, dangerous, challenging, and always waiting with a new adventure to discover. And for a young mother who was 5 months pregnant with insomnia at 3 o’clock in the morning, that was a life saver for me. It provided sufficient distraction so I didn’t worry myself sick in the middle of the night about all the possible things that could go wrong during pregnancy, and I was able to just escape, de-stress, and eventually relax enough that I could go back to sleep. But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Hopefully everyone is clear now on what the definition of MMO and MMORPG is and I can give you a little background on my experience with games and what led me into game development.
I’ve been married for 25 years to my wonderful husband Ron who puts up with all my crazy ideas. We met in college in Moscow, Idaho, lived in Washington state for a while, and have lived in Oregon for the last 20 years. We have four children, 3 sons and a daughter, that we homeschooled their whole lives. Games have always been an integral part of our family. My paternal grandmother taught me how to play Blackjack, two versions of solitaire and three versions of poker. When I was in junior high our family hosted a church game night where we had board games set up on several different tables and at intervals everyone would get up and move to the next table and pick up the board game in whatever form it was at and continue playing it. I still remember that night as a highlight of my childhood.
My Dad was the first person to introduce me to video games. Our first game system was the original Atari with Space Invaders and Pong. Soon after this we got an Intellivision with Bowling and Baseball. We had many fun family nights playing video games. It was the only time I actually enjoyed playing sports. By today’s standards the graphics are horrible, but we thought they were awesome at the time. It was amazing to us to be able to interact with the images on the television screen, instead of just staring at it from the couch.
Another time when I was in high school, a friend had come over after school to share dinner with us and after dinner we played a card game called Pit. It’s a game based on the stock market where each player tries to corner the market by collecting shares of a certain commodity, and wheat is the most valuable one. My friend had been losing the rounds quite frequently, but she was having a lot of fun and suddenly she leaped out of her chair, slammed her hands on the table and shouted, “Corner on Wheat!” and at that moment the table cracked in half and collapsed. All the cards fell on the floor. Even though the table was broken, we all had so much fun. It was a very memorable night. Games create powerful memories.
By the time I got to college, personal computers were starting to become more common among the general population, no longer limited only to businesses that had enough money and space to store a Crane. When I met my husband in college, he was one of the lucky ones to own his own personal computer. He had a TandyX86. Some of you may even remember those! This was before the days of the internet. There was no google, no yahoo, not even Compuserve or AOL had been born yet, though they would launch before our college days ended. Ron would play games like Hack and Nethack, and connected to other computers over the phone line using a modem through a bulletin board system called WWIV BBS or BBS for short. (I think our modem was about 1200 baud, but we knew someone who had a super fast 2400 baud modem. Those were the days!) After we got married, I discovered that there were discussion groups on these BBSes called Subs, and so I started my own BBS called The Tiny Zoo, and I was The Zookeeper. Two of my life long friends came out of that experience as a BBS SysOp, and of course the name of my company has its origins there as well. There was also a game on the WWIV network called Tradewars that I hosted on my BBS. I never really got into it but a lot of my users enjoyed it.
We continued to play board games, card games, and role playing games with local friends as well. Three couples that we were friends with from college all stayed in the same area for a while, and we became lifelong friends. We made friends with another couple right at the end of our college careers, and that couple became the Godparents of our children. Games of some sort were nearly always involved in some way when we gathered together. We created many happy memories around the game table.
It was late in college when I designed my first card game. I had forgotten about it until we were packing boxes into storage recently to prepare for selling our house and came across the old deck of cards. Finding that old deck sort of validated for me that I really am a game developer at heart. It’s more than just temporary educational games I created with my children to help them learn difficult concepts, or games that we have played that have driven me to become a professional game developer. It’s part of me, it’s who I am. I didn’t know it yet though when I was in college, or even early in my marriage.
The first few years of our marriage, my husband and I would have arguments because I would get jealous of him sitting in front of his computer staring at an inanimate box with illuminated pixels instead of spending time with me. I didn’t understand his attraction to computer games. I wanted us to live happily ever after, but this did not look like the life together I had imagined. I grew to hate computer games. I did not understand them, and I was jealous of them taking my husband away from me. Little did I know that everything was about to change forever. Running my own BBS had helped me understand a little bit better about his affection for the computer. And him buying me my own computer went a long way toward solving many of our disputes over the computer. But unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be a computer game that really brought us together. A computer game would change my life, strengthen my marriage, and turn me into the game developer that I am today. I still had a few more experiences to endure before I got to that point though.
As my children grew older, computers became more advanced, card games became massive collector sets, and everything got more complicated. The introduction of improved computer graphics (no more ascii characters blipping across the screen) brought computer games to a whole new level. Suddenly blood and graphic violence became an issue we had to worry about as parents. And we did notice a definite increase in aggressive behavior when our sons would play violent games too much, so we had to limit their exposure to them. This sent us on a search for kid friendly games. Most of them were educational in nature, and most of the educational games were more like exams with pretty graphics than fun games to play. We spent far more money than we could legitimately afford buying games that no one wanted to play in our search for fun games for our kids. We also noticed that our kids memorized game content far faster and far easier than they memorized any of their school work. Our oldest son memorized the entire progression tree for the game Civilization just so he wouldn’t have to keep looking it up on the chart. Our youngest son memorized all the Pokemon creatures, and their attacks, and which creature was needed to beat which opponent. Very clearly, games were a driving force for our children and our family, so we searched desperately for games that were meaningful and useful, and not just time sinks that waste our lives. We had the technology! But no meaningful games were to be found. I had begin to believe that I did not like computer games. None of them held my interest longer than a month, and most could not hold my interest longer than an hour. Many of them felt like a complete waste of time.
Everquest was launched in 1999 but we didn’t start playing until 2001, when the Velious expansion was released. It was this game, Everquest, more than any other game, that changed my life. Playing with real people, online, in a persistent immersive world was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. And my husband and I played the game together. It really is true that the family that plays together, stays together! Everquest had enough social and exploration content to satisfy my craving for human interaction and discovery, and it had enough quests and achievement content to keep my husband challenged. We both became addicted to the game and really enjoyed playing it together. And I finally understood intimately well why my husband enjoyed spending time on his computer. Now we both wanted to play! Brad McQuaid and the team at Verant created a game unlike any other before or since. Everquest had just the right balance of challenge and fun, victory and defeat, tedium and triumph that no other game has matched, though many have tried. We found out soon after creating our accounts that we had friends playing on the Tarew Marr server so we restarted our characters over there and played on that server. I was pregnant with our daughter when we started playing and we made friends with the guild leaders of the guild we were playing with at the time so well that my husband wanted to name our daughter after one of them, who had named his character after one of the characters in the movie Willow. Her name is Kaiya. This is how deeply games have impacted our lives. Everquest, and the players in it, influenced the name we chose for our child. Like our children and the games that they played, we too found ourselves memorizing tremendous volumes of information in order to succeed in the game. I was memorizing tradeskill recipes that are only relevant in the game context, things like a rat ear and a clump of dough makes a rat ear pie, or a bat wing and a fresh fish makes fish rolls. Again I felt the longing for more meaningful gameplay.
The culmination of these events, and multitude of game ideas growing in my head for new games that I’ve never seen in stores but wanted to play, brought me to a point where I decided to make my own game. After a year of failed attempts trying to find a company who would either buy my game idea, or hire me to create my game under their brand, I established my own company in August of 2003. I wanted my company to honor God, but I also wanted to honor the business name we had been using since 1990, thus the name Heaven’s Blessings Tiny Zoo. Later we converted the company structure from a Sole Proprietor to an LLC for legal purposes. I made friends with an out of work programmer while playing in the Beta of World of Warcraft and he joined the team as my first volunteer on the Bible game that would later come to be titled, Visions, our flagship project.
Visions is the world’s first Christian MMORPG. There was one other Christian MMORPG being developed by an Indie team lead by Leathel Grody called Foundations of Hope Online, a fantasy game based on a book series he had written, but he canceled the project. A few other Christian game developers have created online games, but they are not massively multiplayer in persistent worlds. There are some Christian Facebook games, some Christian games for phones, and Christian games for consoles, but there are no other Christian MMORPGs.
Visions really is the only game of it’s kind that has ever been attempted. It is an historical MMORPG set in the ancient Roman empire with a quest and skill based gameplay. Player characters start out as a slave recently arrived at The Master’s farm where they can learn skills to obtain their freedom. The characters will learn basic skills like cooking, fishing, swimming and climbing, and they will also have opportunity to learn a profession like blacksmithing, pottery, farming, hunting, disciple, athlete, or physician, among others. There is an over arching scripture quest where they are to collect all the fragments of the holy scriptures to form a complete Bible. And there are history quests where they learn about the historical events of the local area from the time period. The plan is to implement player created quests as well, so that the players can actually create their own content in the game.
We have approximately 300 pages written in design documents and we have been working with volunteers to create this game for over 12 years. We have been through five engine changes, all related to road blocks with terrain issues. In 2012 we had an opportunity to switch to the world class game engine by Bigworld, which was designed from the ground up for MMORPGs with massive terrains, exactly what we’ve needed all along. We now have 6 zones seamlessly connected which form the island of Cyprus at approximately a 1/18th scale. Contributors can log into Visions and experience the persistent world any time day or night. We’re running the servers in our house, over a fiber internet connection with 75/75 MBPS and multiple layers of security. My husband is an IT Administrator by trade and he runs the servers for us.
We continue working on Visions after all these years because we believe the world needs this game. We have put thousands of hours of research into Visions because we want to create a game that will enrich people’s lives when they play it. We want to make a game that when they step away from the keyboard they can take away something with them that will make their life better in the real world. When people do tradeskills in Visions they will learn actual recipes, many of which they can re-create in their own homes. Some people never learn to cook while they are growing up because school and life take up all their time. Visions will potentially teach people how to cook a variety of foods using ancient recipes and ingredients. When they mix pigments for their pottery glaze, they will use actual ingredients that could theoretically be used to make a pottery glaze of the desired color. When they complete scripture quests, they will be able to actually read the Bible verses in game. When they encounter ancient texts in the game world they will be able to actually read those ancient works of literature. When they visit a city in the game world, they will encounter artist renditions of historical landmarks based on floorplans of buildings found in ancient ruins. When they travel across the land they will experience geographically relevant terrain, city names, and locations. When they travel between continents in game they will be able to experience the holy land in a way that has never been experienced before, they will be able to experience history. A modified and optimized for game play version of history, yes, but still more meaningful than any other game that has been made.
By contrast, the games currently available on the store shelves are endless remakes of previous games that have at one time proven financially successful. The AAA companies are no longer willing to take a risk on something new and different, they just make more and more of the same thing. Just more renditions of sports games, shooters with ever increasing gore, an ever increasing flood of zombie games which are a subset of the shooter genre, and there are fantasy games, which I do like, but they all kind of look the same after a while. The Korean developers have introduced their Asian flavor of games to the market which generally have a much stronger spiritual content than the American made games. All the current MMORPGs are saturated with demons, imps, dark spirits, and beings of darkness. Generally these evil creatures are in fact viewed as evil in the game story and the players are usually recruited to find the source of their arrival and exterminate the evil from the land. A noble cause for certain. But evil is not always viewed as evil, especially in the newer games. In a new MMORPG that just came out, Black Desert Online, there is a dark spirit that serves as an adviser to the play character, and it is impossible to advance through the game without completing the quests that the black spirit requires. More and more, games are incorporating demonic spirituality into the core of the gameplay, and people accept it without question. People are that hungry for new and meaningful games. We also see games like Grand Theft Auto, most commonly referred to as GTA, which has several remakes available now, where players are encouraged to murder priests, to pick up prostitutes, and of course to steal cars and crash them. The developers of GTA never intended it to be for children, it is clearly labeled as having Mature content for adults only, but I know families whose kids have played it. Some of you probably know a few too. The kids don’t think there is anything wrong with a game that teaches them to steal, kill, destroy, and commit adultery. It’s just a game they say. And the movies that are coming out certainly aren’t much better. Perhaps the breakneck speed at which our society is falling into depravity is unavoidable. Perhaps the decline of morality was meant to happen, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. But that doesn’t mean we have to participate in it.
We want to create something better. Something wholesome. Something meaningful. Something that changes people for the better after having experienced our game. We want to make a game that is fun, yes, but also goes deeper than that. Something that touches their soul with an ember of light that can grow and illuminate their daily lives. This is the kind of game we want Visions to be. This is the kind of game we are trying to make. We think the world needs a Christian MMORPG like Visions, because a game like this can make the world a better place.
We need people to come along side us and help us bring this dream to a reality. We have the skilled developers who are willing and able to do the work, but the problem is that they have to spend their days working full time jobs for other companies to pay the bills, and only have a few hours a week to work on Visions. We would like to get enough money coming in from supporters to be able to pay our developers to work on Visions full time. We’ve been getting about $20 a month in sales from players who want experience Visions, but that is not even enough to pay the internet bill, much less to feed our programmers. We need people who share our dream to make the world a better place through Christian games and support our efforts to finish Visions in a timely manner.
We have proven that we can complete a game. We have completed several games of different types already. We have produced a small scale multiplayer racing game for up to 14 players called Chariots. We produced an Elvish language application called Pedich Edhellen. We released a card game called Messiah. And we released a board game called Treasures in Heaven.
And we’ve proven that we do not give up easy. We’ve been working on Visions for 12 years with a volunteer team. We’ve put our money where our mouth is paying for bandwidth, software licenses, and computer and server hardware out of our own pockets. Our developers are dedicated and devoted to this cause. And since we switched to the Bigworld engine in 2012 we have made much faster and more tangible progress in our game world. We know we have an engine that can handle the terrain demands that the geography requires. We are continuing work on the Alpha phase of development even now. But the development is slow because our developers hours are limited. We need churches, businesses, parents, grandparents, gamers of all ages to walk with us in this journey and support us financially, prayerfully, and vocally. Tell your friends about us. We don’t want to be the best kept secret in the game industry!
We have an affiliate program on the http://visionsgame.com website where churches, businesses or individuals can claim a cobblestone or statue in game with a word or phrase of their choosing engraved on it. This item will stay in the game for the players to see. These can be used as a marketing expense for businesses, or as a memorial to a loved one, or a commemorative monument of respect. They will only be available for a limited time. Once we discontinue them, they will not be available again. So people who want this unprecedented opportunity need to act now. And just as a special offer only to people who are present today, we have a horse monument that can be customized. It is not available on the Affiliate page on our visionsgame.com website, it is only available here. We are offering it in two sizes. The small size can have a single line, enough for a word or short phrase, engraved on it. The large size can have a short paragraph, 3 or 4 lines, posted as in game text in front of it that the players will be able to read. The small horse monument is $995, and the large horse monument is $2500. If you want your monument to appear in more than one town, you can buy more than one copy of it. And for those people who always must have the biggest and the best, and for those who are willing to carry a heavier load to help us twice as much, for double the price we can make the monument double in size. We have a secret link (posted in the slideshow) that you can click on from your mobile device to access this content and help us right now. This is only available to those who are here for the live event. If you want the horse, you have to get it today. There are other monument opportunities on the affiliate page website on visionsgame.com if you prefer one of those instead.
So how do we know that games are a winning investment? How do we know that the players will come when the game is done? Video games are the worlds fastest growing form of entertainment, and people are playing games more than they go to the movies now. Here are a few statistics about the game industry from the research group, ESA (Entertainment Software Association). These numbers are from 2014, the most recent year for which this data is available.
155 million Americans play video games. There is a much greater unknown number worldwide.
The average gamer in the United States is 35 years old.
The most frequent female game player on average is 43 years old.
The most frequent male game player on average is 35 years old.
26% are under 18 years old.
30% are 18-35 years old
17% are 36-49 years old
27% are 50+ years old
39% of the most frequent gamers play social games.
54% of the most frequent gamers play multiplayer games at least weekly.
45% feel video games help them spend time with family.
The most frequent gamers who play with others spend an average of 6.5 hours per week playing games online with other people. They spend on average 5 hours per week playing games with others in person.
59% of parents whose children are gamers play video games with their children at least weekly.
20% of the best selling Computer Game genres sold in 2014 were role playing games.
World of Warcraft, the world famous MMORPG, still holds position number 5 (their most recent expansion pack) and number 18 (their new player starter pack) for top Computer games sold in the US as of 2014. This one game alone has over 6 million active players currently.
The video and computer game industry sold 15.4 Billion Dollars in games in 2014.
$15.4 billion divided by 115 million players equals $133.91 per player spent on games in 2014.
Game facts source: ESA (Entertainment Software Association)
And according to an ABC News poll in July of 2015, 83% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians.
So if 83% of the population is Christian, and 115 million Americans play games, that means there are about 95,450,000 Christians who play games right now.
20% of those would be 19 million gamers, the number of Christians potentially interested in Role Playing Games.
19 million gamers multiplied by $133.91 equals $2,544,290,000 a year. That’s just from the 20% of Christian gamers who are interested in Role Playing Games, that doesn’t count all of the Christians who play every kind of game out there. That seems like a significant share of the market to me.
So where are Christian games in all this?
According to research done by the Christian Game Developers Conference, there are a Grand Total of 197 overtly Christian Games that we are currently aware of as of January 2016. Of those, 49 are card games or board games (not video games). If you subtract the non-video games, that gives you a
Total of 148 Christian video games. Of those, 76 are what could be classified as retro or classic, they include titles like Axys Adventures, Bibleman, Dance Praise and many others. If you subtract the classic / retro games, that gives you a Final Total of 72 Contemporary Christian video games. Of those 72 Christian video games, 61 are released and 11 (including Visions) are in development. Two of those titles call themselves MMOs but they are designed specifically for small children.
There is no fully developed AAA Christian MMORPG available at all right now. Visions is the only Christian game that strives to match the interest level and complexity of a MMORPG on the same scale or content level as EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Vanguard, Tera, or Tale in the Desert.
There are some small scale multiplayer Christian games. And there are some single player Christian games. There are more than 400 Christian game developers who are working on making new and better games, some working on overtly Christian projects while others are working on secular game projects and trying to add a Christian influence. Some of these Christian game developer meet in Portland, Oregon in the summer for the Christian Game Developers Conference which has been convening since 2001. One of the goals of CGDC is to attempt to bring Christian game developers together to advance the Christian Game industry. It is a small conference attended on average by 50 to 100 developers. I have been attending this conference every summer since 2006. I have learned a lot from my fellow game developers at these conferences. We have discussed everything from game engines, design process, musical scores, and programming languages to marketing, and product branding, as well as spiritual impact and scripture content in games. We’ve shared meals together, prayed together, and even designed games in weekend challenges together. I have met some people there who have become very dear friends to me. They are passionate, dedicated people who love the Lord, and almost all of them are working on their projects with insufficient funds.
If you have ever wondered why there aren’t more Christian games, it isn’t because there aren’t any Christian developers working on projects, it’s because there aren’t enough churches or businesses or groups of individuals walking beside them to bring those projects to their maximum potential. It’s the reason it has taken us 12 years of work with volunteers and we are still not to live launch yet. It’s time we change that. Start today by joining us on this journey. Commit to pray for us daily. Become an active sponsor on the visionsgame.com website and contribute monthly to our development project, or better yet take advantage of our secret offer today and get a statue of a horse in game with your custom message printed on it for all the players to see. And yes, everyone who contributes financially gains access to the Alpha test client so you can log into the game. If you have a business you may be able to write off the investment of a horse monument as a marketing expense, but please consult with your tax adviser about this. We are not tax specialists. Whether you walk with us through prayer or through finances, if you love what we are doing here please tell your friends about us! We want the whole world to know about Visions! Thanks for playing!