Sunday, May 24, 2009

Academic Program as MMO

On the IGDA Education list, fellow industry-vet-turned-educator Kevin O'Gorman made a great comment that I wish I'd thought of first:

There's the curriculum you roll the program out with (fingers crossed the people that pulled it together were at least aware of the Ed SIG Curriculum Framework) and then the tinkering and fine tuning that goes on from that point on. It's like an MMO -- the launch is the beginning, not the end of the process.

How far can we take this analogy? Pretty far, actually...
  • Both academic programs and MMOs need hefty amounts of resources to initially develop, before either one of them sees a single paid player/student.
  • Both are based on a similar pay model: pay-per-month or pay-per-semester, regardless of how many classes you take or how often you're logged in.
  • Multiple sections of a course are the academic equivalent of instanced dungeons.
  • Character classes are the MMO equivalent of an academic major.
  • Look at a skill/tech tree for a class in a typical MMO. Looks suspiciously like a list of classes and prereqs, doesn't it? (Hint to game schools: try adding a "tech tree" diagram to your course catalog and see if it doesn't remove half the pain from your academic advising.)
  • In theory, an MMO wants its players to stick around forever; in practice, it's recognized that there is regular churn (you could call this the game equivalent of "graduation"), and so the developer/school must be concerned with attracting new customers/students as well as retaining existing ones.

The analogy does break down eventually. I don't think I've ever sent my students on a "fedex quest" in exchange for grades, nor can my students buy better equipment in my classes in exchange for cash. Students could theoretically sell their work to others at an online "auction house" but it's against the TOS/EULA of a class to turn in work that isn't yours (unlike many MMOs). You can buy "pre-leveled" characters but not a "pre-completed" degree.

Still, perhaps schools could be improved in some aspects if administrators took some cues from WoW.


Anonymous said...

That's a really nice comparison! Too bad it's true,
but at least a MMO can be fun!

Kevin O'Gorman said...

Now that you mention it, I did create a graphic "tech tree" type chart to explain the course progressions at my last school when I was the program chair. It did seem to minimize some misunderstandings.

I really like how you've expanded on the original thought. Do I smell a GDC session topic here, partner?

Jonathan said...

A few thoughts:
1) Students can buy better equipment in classes in exchange for cash. Students can buy:
• the textbook (some don't or can't afford it) and supplemental materials
• and read related texts
• a portable computer to take notes on during class and organize their thoughts
• various software packages
• tutoring services
• a nice apartment with comfortable space to study and sleep
... and so on.
2) I've long felt that the need for developer-created content is a problem for MMO sustainability. Players can and will always devour the content that developers create faster than the developers can create it. A while ago, I created and ran a live-action RPG (Yeah, it's tremendously geeky. However, I learned a lot from it in much the same way you can learn about computer game development by making a board game.). To take the content creation burden off my shoulders, I established structures that encouraged inter-player rivalry and created repeating cycles of demand for the players to meet. The question is: Can this translate over to teaching? Can we motivate students in a similar fashion? Hmmmnnn...

Ian Schreiber said...

Great points, Jonathan.

And yes, I think we can make use of "player-created content" in the form of getting students to teach each other.

Tisyuz08 said...

I bet every student would love to have games or consoles associated with their studies so that it won't be a boring session. I have read an article based on a student's life and it's a mind opener.

schools game design said...

MMO, an academic program for a game design seems attractive with the context of its analog. Also, one can try and include new innovative ideas for practice and development.