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Author Topic: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom  (Read 24637 times)

nil

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #120 on: August 05, 2011, 10:40:21 am »

Back in my day people could just be nerds.

Ratbert_CP

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #121 on: August 05, 2011, 10:45:49 am »

Back in my day people could just be nerds.

We still are.  But the name badges look a lot more important now... ;)
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lachek

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #122 on: August 05, 2011, 11:58:07 am »

Marketing Dwarf Fortress, a project no gaming company would ever sign on for (10+ years of development at least?) to begin with - is a contradiction it itself. I don't know if society is "wrong" or "right" as to whether we should rebel against it or not, but Toady is directly doing the opposite most companies would do right off the bat. And to market something like dwarf fortress? An /alpha/ game? I know minecraft did that - but the creator of that game is a dirty scumbag from my estimation. It's wrong to charge money for an unfinished product, in my book.

At any rate, dwarf fortress /could/ be marketed when it's finished, if Toady needs some retirement cash. But right now it's not. It's in development and will be for a long time. End of story. There's no product to sell. For it to be even successful as a finished product, it needs to have its entry barriers removed or stifled, which will take a lot of work. I know Toady wants to keep the graphics at a bare minimum, but hopefully by the time DF is at 1.0, stonesense or some similar mod will be so advanced, you'll be able to seamlessly translate between the two, or three or four graphical representations of your fortress. Which suits me just fine, and will probably suit others fine too.

There's nothing quite like Dwarf Fortress simply because of the beastly nature it is to create. Tons of programming. Tons of work. It's not going to be replicated. So there's no point analyzing it like a normal game you go to market with. It is a piece of art, at least in its craftsmanship and the audience it appeals to.

So, allow me to nitpick a little here.

1. The Dwarf Fortress codebase is not where the stroke of genius lies. Tarn himself has claimed not to be a particularly awesome coder, and while he has a math Ph.D., he also claims to be a second-rate mathematician. Companies like CCP (Eve Online), maintain a cadre of economists and other academics on their staff to analyze, develop, and manage their game. They're far from the biggest player in the market. There are literally no barriers whatsoever to a mature game developer, equipped with a fraction of the development funding sunk into most AAA titles or MMORPGs, developing a Dwarf Fortess clone. And with the resources they'd have available - software architects, data modelers, project managers, QA/testers, art directors and artists, all the latest development tools and tremendous hardware, middleware components and libraries - they could hammer out what Tarn considers a 20 year project in 3-5 years, easy.

2. The issue is not that they can't, it's that they won't. They need a return on their investment, and that means finding (or creating) a market large enough to sustain the sales requirements for the game they've produced. The bigger hurdle may be to find a publisher willing to fund them when the game is likely to deliver so much replayability that it may well impact their other sales. Simply, by the nature of the market, there are faster ways to get rich, in types of products that are less risky to produce. For an analogy, think of a 3-4 really good movies - I mean movies of outstanding quality - and then go and look up the ratio of cost to produce vs how much they grossed in theatres. Now consider 3-4 really shitty movies that nonetheless were very popular, and look up what their ratios were. You'll very quickly find the reason why most movies produced are nothing but steaming crap with a cherry on top. A high gross/cost ratio is a safe bet for a publisher, and very few publishers want to make a bet on something that's likely to be in the 1.0 - 1.2 range, even if it's likely to be pure quality and gain a cult following. The same effect can be seen with reality TV, book publishing, etc etc.

3. On charging for an alpha, Minecraft, etc. I know very little about the dude who developed Minecraft, but based on what I see I wish him all the luck in the world and don't see a need to condemn anything he's done. He lets people play a demo version of the game right in the browser, for free. In this free Classic version, people get a feel for what makes the game cool, but doesn't get all the gameplay elements that tie it all together into a more coherent game experience. It's a marketing vehicle, like any demo. If people want the full in-development experience, they can pay a small sum to support the development, get access to the full, in-development version early, get free updates and - eventually - the full game. Nobody is being coerced into paying for it, and frankly, the alternative would be:
  • Disallow the public from experiencing the game as it's being developed, keeping it behind lock & key
  • Force the developer to develop the game in a resource-vacuum, or sell it to a publisher to be able to complete it
He happened to get rich, and is sinking a big part of that into further development. I'm pretty certain that was entirely by accident, and not a pre-meditated "get rich quick" scheme. The fact that he's continuing development after the huge cash infusion proves that - with $33 million USD in the bank at age 32, he could've easily retired and said "kk, the current InDev is the final release, have fun guys!"
Really, if you want to call foul, go after the big publishers who grant access to buggy Alpha or Beta versions only after having paid a hefty full price for a pre-order, and use their most loyal customers as unpaid guinea pig testers. Go after GameStop who aggressively markets pre-orders 6-12 months before release - before there's even a gameplay video on YouTube - and offers a useless DLC coupon as the only reward.

4. Tarn could try to pull a Minecraft, but I'm sure he knows as well as I that he couldn't replicate their success with Dwarf Fortress. Minecraft is a very accessible, simplistic game whose differentiating factor lies in that the multiplayer component combined with player block building keeps the simplistic gameplay fresh. In a sense, it's like a distilled version of Second Life - little inherent gameplay, but the satisfaction of being able to build something and show it off to others, and exploring content created by other users. DF shares none of these qualities - the interface and graphics is demanding of new players (to say the least), there's no multiplayer interaction, and while you do get satisfaction from having built something, it's hard to show it off and your creations are easily ravaged by the game's mechanics (which is the "fun"!). All of that combined means that releasing DF at a charge during development would likely alienate parts of the existing community, wouldn't provide a whole lot of additional revenue, and would be risky. It'd mean that Tarn would have to worry about the sales-side of his project, or hire someone to do so. Most importantly, it'd mean that Dwarf Fortress would now be a game product for the market, and thus shaped by the market's demands, to the detriment of his fantasy world simulator end-goal. So while I wouldn't call it immoral or wrong for him to try to commercialize it, I do think it's the wrong direction for him.

Finally, at risk of contradicting some of the points I've made above:

Quote
if people are freely purchasing your product or service then you're doing something right, and nothing to be ashamed of.

The concept of "freely" is tenuous at best, and is entirely related to the amount of marketing thrown at a product. Given a sufficient degree of marketing, none of us can be considered "free". PR agencies are exceptionally good at persuasion and manufacturing consent. I like to think of the ratio of money and effort spent on marketing something compared to the amount of resources spent to develop it to be a good indicator of "morality" in media publishing. If you have to spend an inordinate amount of resources to manufacture my consent in order for me to part with my money to recover your total cost, then I essentially paid you to convince me to buy it in the first place. That, I consider immoral. Thankfully, Toady can be considered to be impossibly free of immorality in this regard, though I'm hoping that the free media exposure will convince more people to try it (I know at least one friend of mine gave the game a shot after I shared the NYTimes article with him - he's currently fighting a losing battle with a lake he happened to let flood his farmlands, and having a ton of "fun"!)
« Last Edit: August 05, 2011, 12:02:11 pm by lachek »
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thvaz

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #123 on: August 05, 2011, 05:38:39 pm »

Quote
The Dwarf Fortress codebase is not where the stroke of genius lies. Tarn himself has claimed not to be a particularly awesome coder, and while he has a math Ph.D., he also claims to be a second-rate mathematician.

People keep saying this as a fact that Toady isn't a good coder. In a industry full of overblown egos (the games industry) I think people forgot what is a modest person.
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shadow_archmagi

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #124 on: August 05, 2011, 06:15:05 pm »

Quote
The Dwarf Fortress codebase is not where the stroke of genius lies. Tarn himself has claimed not to be a particularly awesome coder, and while he has a math Ph.D., he also claims to be a second-rate mathematician.

People keep saying this as a fact that Toady isn't a good coder. In a industry full of overblown egos (the games industry) I think people forgot what is a modest person.

We never said he was BAD. He said he was a messy coder. We're just pointing out that Dwarf Fortress isn't about the lines of code, it's about the idea and the dreams that are constantly being woven into it.
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invention is every dwarf's middle name
that means that somewhere out there theres a dwarf named Urist Invention Mcinvention.

chuckthegr8

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #125 on: August 06, 2011, 07:25:50 pm »

I read the linked New York Times article, and this stuck out.
Quote
“I know it’s bad, but the sugar goes right into programming the game. If I don’t drink soda now, I get a headache and can’t do any work.”
Threetoe's A dwarf. He also boarded up his windows and refused to drink water. Soda is just a buffer, and soon he will get off the dwarven syrup and go right for the rum. (Out of Contex of this discussion slighty, sorry.)
EDITtotheabove: I just read he quit drinking. :shrug: The bottom part is my opinion about the articles.

What I also want to say is that Threetoe can do whatever he wants. Its his game. Michelangelo carves his statues the way he wants, and whoever likes it can buy it. Dwarf Fortress is his masterpiece, and if someone doesn't like it, that certain someone should get out and buy some +finegames+ at the store for Xbox or Playstation2 or something.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2011, 07:34:03 pm by chuckthegr8 »
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cameron

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #126 on: August 06, 2011, 08:52:03 pm »

btw threetoe helps with planning and stories and narrative things, toady one (threetoe's brother) is the one who programs
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UberNube

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #127 on: August 07, 2011, 05:25:07 pm »

It amuses me that there are actually people posting in support of this crazy article and its writer. Let me spell this out for anyone who is doubting Toady's development strategy:

If Toady valued profit above artistic expression, then Dwarf Fortress, in its current form, wouldn't exist.

Sure we would have a game called Dwarf Fortress, it might even involve a similar procedural world and history, but the actual gameplay complexity would lie somewhere between EVE Online and Farmville. I played EVE for a while, and even that struggled with getting new players to understand the game. There were image macros spread around comparing it's learning curve to a cliff. Now, for comparison, I learned most of EVE as I went along. At no point did I have to spend more than 2-5 minutes looking stuff up. DF on the other hand took me about 2 weeks to get the hang of, most of that time being spend on the wiki. DF DEFINITELY wouldn't be DF if it wanted to be 'popular'.

No, here are a few things which we could look forward to:

3D graphics - all good games need the latest graphics card right?
no procedural creatures - these would be difficult, if not impossible, to render.
limited fluid dynamics - very difficult to render in 3D, also too hard to learn
no modding - it's bad business to let players create content. Toady would sell mods as add-on packs.
vastly reduced language files - we'd want to remove any possibility of offending anyone right?
vastly reduced workshop/crafting complexity - making stuff is hard. Why not just add a generic 'make weapon' task to the generic 'workshop'.
3-5 'classes' of dwarves - miner, builder, worker, noble, etc
massively reduced combat complexity and damage tracking - if we want it rated as a 12 then we can't have too much violence or gore (also hard to render in 3D)
multiplayer - need I say more?
a simple win condition - once you get 100 dwarfs you win! nice and easy for people to manage. Losing is bad for business after all.
achievements - yep, we need short term goals too!
about 10 types of ground tiles - think minecraft here: soil, rock, copper ore, iron ore, gold ore, coal, marble, obsidian, adamantine
limited HFS - difficulty puts people off, and we can't have any references to *spoiler* or it might offend people

I could go on, but frankly I'm getting bored. Anyway, you get the point. DF would be another mediocre RTS designed for maximum profit and minimum complexity. I for one prefer the current DF, and hold Toady and ThreeToe in the highest regard for their artistic integrity!
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This guy gets it, the problem with the child torture dungeon is that they weren't set on fire first.

hurtmypony

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #128 on: August 07, 2011, 11:05:23 pm »

Here’s a guy that indirectly speaks of an individual’s “societal obligations”, and then illustrates it by presenting (and defending) early civilization’s ”greatest hits” of non-elective body modification on children as a glistening example of why all individuals should (and must) conform to societal whims and perspectives.

He then goes on to essentially suggest that anyone that has any kind of unique contribution – be it idea, art, lifelong dream or perhaps just something you’d like to see realized – must immediately hop on the fast train to commercialization and perhaps begin marketing an exclusive, limited edition set of autographed mouse pads with Your Idea™ emblazoned across the surface (order now, and we'll double the offer!) OR ELSE YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.   

In MalstromWorld, anyone not interested in making a buck first and foremost is officially wrong.  Anyone not immediately and vigorously coding or marketing their game based on the random whim of his communal brothers (i.e. “Everyone Else”) needs to report to the Malstrom Department of Societal Adjustment.  Apparently, something went wrong when we surgically implanted the Herd Chip after your birth.  You need to stop in so we can adjust the Altruism dispenser.

His words might initially sound like those of a liberating laissez-faire capitalist trying to show a befuddled traveler the easiest path to [financial] freedom and unchallenged personal sovereignty, but really he is just trying to confirm his own belief that individuals are somehow obligated to serve both our society and its conventional perceptions.  That's what he likes to call "Ethical Goodness".

Wolf in sheep’s clothing?  Naw, Malstrom is more like Ellsworth Toohey parading around in a Howard Roark mask. 

What would happen if you took away this forum?  Took away the fanbase?  Took away the donations? I have always strongly suspected Toady would continue coding this game, working on it for decades, even if he was the only player to ever see or play it. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think I am.

That’s a concept Sean Malstrom, and the others like him, seem to be unable to understand.
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Nil Eyeglazed

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #129 on: August 07, 2011, 11:28:53 pm »

Well, in the kind of hardcore capitalism that Malstrom and others endorse, it is kind of unfair to not be motivated by profit.  "What?  You do this for fun?!?  How can anyone compete with that?"  When you give gifts or undercharge, you break market valuation.  (Which is one of the reasons why this kind of "invisible hand uber alles" economics seems really naive to me, because it requires that people not act like people and instead act like profit-driven robots.)
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He he he.  Yeah, it almost looks done...  alas...  those who are in your teens, hold on until your twenties...  those in your twenties, your thirties...  others, cling to life as you are able...<P>It should be pretty fun though.

Egon

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #130 on: August 08, 2011, 03:51:36 am »

*snip*

This is my feeling on it too. If Toady'd been going for commercial success, we'd have what amounted, maybe, to an iso or top-down Minecraft with a few more NPCs.

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Dr. Hieronymous Alloy

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #131 on: August 08, 2011, 08:03:54 am »

I agree with the article to an extent. There are a number of relatively easy and mild ways Toady could cash in that he's been reluctant to take advantage of -- licensing sales of DF-related art or t-shirts, for example, or selling advertising space on the website. He could shift over to something like a Penny Arcade model with relative ease and probably make far more than he's making via the tip jar (there's a reason Penny Arcade doesn't need to take donations).
« Last Edit: August 08, 2011, 08:05:59 am by Dr. Hieronymous Alloy »
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Willfor

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #132 on: August 08, 2011, 10:19:34 am »

One you license something, you immediately put yourself at odds with anything that is fan-created based on your work. Whoever owns the license is going to want exclusivity as much as possible, because capitalism. It's a dangerous game full of contracts, and loopholes, and ways to be screwed over. He'd have to approach it in a smart way, get educated on the subject enough to do it in a way that is going to work for him, and that would ultimately become one more thing that he has to do that takes time out of what he wants to do.
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Iron mixed with oxygen as per the laws of chemistry and chance /
A shape was roughly human, it was only roughly human /
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Dr. Hieronymous Alloy

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #133 on: August 08, 2011, 10:45:07 am »

One you license something, you immediately put yourself at odds with anything that is fan-created based on your work. Whoever owns the license is going to want exclusivity as much as possible, because capitalism. It's a dangerous game full of contracts, and loopholes, and ways to be screwed over. He'd have to approach it in a smart way, get educated on the subject enough to do it in a way that is going to work for him, and that would ultimately become one more thing that he has to do that takes time out of what he wants to do.

That seems like a worst-case example to me; if he set up a Cafepress store selling Official Dwarf Fortress T-Shirts, cafepress isn't going to sue everyone who draws an ASCII dwarf. This kind of thing doesn't have to be complicated; there are thousands of websites making money via similar models. It's not like it was ten years ago when nobody knew how to make money off of a website; hell, the Dwarf Fortress wiki has a google advertisement block that pays for its hosting costs. Toady could do the same thing if he wanted to,  with essentially no danger.

His biggest worry shouldn't be corporatizing; it should be income taxes. If he isn't paying self-employment taxes, etc. on the donations, he might be opening himself up to all kinds of problems. It's understandable that he's afraid of getting into all this kind of thing because it's complicated and scary, but at some point or other he's going to have to, and it's better to be prepared.
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DFPongo

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Re: The Tragedy of Dwarf Fortress by Sean Malstrom
« Reply #134 on: August 08, 2011, 03:50:18 pm »

People will want a substantial return on investment to help "manage" toady.
It will start out friendly, but being smart, Toady will lay down his requirements and the "investor" will withdraw. This has likely already happened at least once.

I see Toady like JRR Tolkien, making something to his own vision that is out of sync with the standards of his industry and time, but that may forever change or bend the standards of that same industry.

If Toady gets happy with the features of the game, he can turn his powerful focus to the buffing up of the accessibility of it. A complete accessible DF that he and his brother wholly own the rights to will be a very very valuable commodity.

As to the psychology of Toady and its impact on the delivery and realization of the game. He is at least quirky obviously, and likely a bit comfortably neurotic.  So what? This game never exists in anything like its form is he is not that way. You cannot have it both ways.

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