The Worlds of Guild Wars and Habbo Hotel
As a MMOG Guild Wars is rather successful, going off of the free-to-play plan where players are only required to pay once and play without a subscription fee. As a virtual world, Habbo Hotel has become a veritable hit, using a slightly different free-to-play method where even the initial game is free. Both games are similar in their money-producing methods, but that is where the similarities end, because Guild Wars is one kind of game while Habbo Hotel strives to provide a totally different experience. Although the connection to earlier, frontrunners in these kind of games such as MUDs is obvious, there has been enough of an evolution between the two type of games, MMOG and virtual world, that the dynamic and social ethos of the two separate worlds has become wholly unique.
To start off, there is a certain element to virtual worlds that is usually not apparent in the typical MMOG, especially Guild Wars. This element is the use of more realistic avatars that attempt to show off more of the player individually. This creates a connection between the player and avatar that, as Julian Dibbel puts it, is neither real nor make-believe but is "profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true". In this case, the realization of a more life-like avatar that the player can customize to match stylistic preferences allows a deeper connection during play time. In a game like Guild Wars, all the necessary avatar customization are there, only the whole setting and prototypal look of the avatar can throw off any real-life reflections that are provided with virtual worlds. This ability to suck the player into the character of the avatar is important in how the gameplay of the two games is different, and therefore how the emergent actions of the players create the dynamic world in which these games claim to contain.
Jennifer L. Mnookin, in her essay on the LambdaMOO phenomenon, emphasized the beauty of emergent laws and social conduct within worlds like Habbo Hotel. She mentions that at times, the legal system can be "whatever the players make of it". Such is the case in Habbo Hotel where players are given the freedom to make their own rooms, whether they be another of the popular "dating" rooms, or just a place for people to chill and relax. Within these rooms the creator is given the power to control and mediate the action, kicking individuals out at any moment and providing their own little rules like "no cursing" or "girls only". Thus, each of these rooms become what Mnookin describe as social clubs, or rather places where the laws are generally irrelevant to the larger framework at hand. Conversely, MMOGs like Guild Wars are based more on a set gameplay with more concrete and universal laws that, usually, cannot be altered or broken without penalty. Again the affordances and constraints between the two different games is clear and can be defined more clearly through Pavel Curtis' description of what MUDs do for the players.
Guild Wars uses a more standard set of rules to govern its gameplay and part of the reason why MMOGs provide less freedom in this department is the acknowledgment of goals and missions. In order to accommodate this, the game developers cannot allow too much freedom with the rules of play simply because then the "goal" or "end" becomes irrelevant and the game is not a game anymore. Curtis says that MUDs usually ditch the idea of an ultimate goal and therefore people do not play these worlds as games but rather just as social experiences. Such is the case for Habbo Hotel where there is never a clear "win" state that everyone is striving for. Some could say that their ultimate goal is to have a high level pet, or maybe have the biggest room in the hotel. But, these are all user-created goals, much like everything else in Habbo Hotel, and Curtis describes this as a key component to MUDs and virtual worlds. Chip Morningstar and Randall Farmer mention this as an important part of their premise in "Habitat", basically the forward motion of gameplay through the purely created achievements of self-fulfilling goals. That's not to say that Guild Wars is totally rigid in their system. Interestingly, one can observe a real time shifting of the economy, generally in terms of fluctuating prices of items. Like Habbo, Guild Wars has a distinct system of trading and sell/buy that changes dynamically based on player interaction. This is perhaps one of the few moments where MMOGs can claim to be moving towards what Celia Pearce says as the threatening of total power from the producer and putting part of the media creation within the hands of the players. Such is the case for MUDs and virtual worlds where self-creation is encouraged and in fact necessary.
It is interesting to note that T.L. Taylor talks about the tools given in MUDs and virtual worlds as ways for people to shape an identity and embodiment. However, Pearce says that for a commitment to the idea of a community, there needs to a some persistence. In Guild Wars, once a character is picked, the player is stuck with that character and not much customization is provided apart from surface level clothes and such. This allows for, as Pearce puts it, a way for the player to maintain the same role throughout the game. Habbo Hotel, in attempting to allow total creative liberties, allows the changing of the avatar to a full extent. Skin color, hair, and animations can all be changed, from one minute to the next. Players of Habbo Hotel can approach the game in a much different way because they are not required to stay within the rules for even their identity.
At a cursory glance, the two separate worlds of Guild Wars and Habbo Hotel seem similar. They both provide the platform on which people can socialize and engage in apparent goals and activities. However, a closer looks shows that virtual worlds indeed try to provide a different experience, one less interested in having gameplay, but rather giving free reign to play how you wish. MMOGs at times can seem like they are attempting to portray this concept of user-created worlds, but ultimately they are just allowing social interactions within a preset world.
Curtis, P. "Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities." http://www.eff.org/Net_culture/MOO_MUD_IRC/curtis_mudding.article
Dibbell, Julian. (1993/1998). "A Rape in Cyberspace." http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/bungle.html
Farmer, R. & Morningstar, C. (1990/1991) "The Lessons of LucasArts Habitat." http://www.fudco.com/chip/lessons.html
Pearce, C. (2007). "Narrative Environments from Disneyland to World of Warcraft." In Space, Time, Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level. Friedrich von Borries, Steffan P. Walz, and Matteas Bottger (eds). Basel: Birkhauser. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/PearceSpaceTimePlay.pdf
Pearce, C. (2006). "Productive Play: Game Culture from the Bottom Up." Games & Culture. Volume 1, Issue 1, Winter 2006. http://lcc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/PearceGC-Jan06.pdf
Taylor, T.L. (2003). "Intentional Bodies: Virtual Environments and the Designers Who Shape Them." International Journal of Engineering Education 19, no. 1. www.itu.dk/~tltaylor/papers/Taylor-Designers.pdf
Mnookin, J. (1996) Virtual(ly) "Law: The Emergence of Law in LambdaMOO." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: Volume 2, Number 1: Part 1 of a Special Issue, June, 1996. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol2/issue1/lambda.html