By Amir Aschner
Does corporate ownership of a MMO affect the quality of one’s narrative experience? Yes and no.
Theoretically, the ownership of a narrative should have no affect on the quality of the experience. If I build a house and my neighbor builds an identical house neither house’s quality is better because of the name on the deed. Only when my neighbor and I begin furnishing the house does the quality of each become affected. Similarly, corporations can change the quality of narratives under their ownership in many ways. If the corporation changes the interface of the game or adds new plot lines or characters or any number of things the quality of that narrative experience changes.
Ideally, if the corporation is doing its job, corporate ownership of a MMO will not affect the quality of the experience. This is best because if we, the gamers, don’t notice they (the corporation) are there than we may focus on the narrative which is our original intent. However, nothing is ever perfect and we do see affects of ownership all the time. The most common encounters with corporate ownership are pre-game contracts, admins, and content changes of the game (via patch, expansion, etc.). Whether or not these changes are for better or for worse is the opinion of the narrative’s population.
Pre-game contracts that must be signed are often a hassle but their intent is two-fold. Firstly, they are there to protect the company and give them the right to change the game anyway they see fit. This is understandable but not always in the interest of our narrative experience. Secondly, it exists to protect the rights of the gamers against other people who may interfere with our ‘enjoyment,’ as it is written in most contracts. Both reasons for the contract may affect the narrative but not necessarily negatively.
Admins and content changes obviously have an effect as well. Admins have the power to greatly change our in-game experiences, be it positively or negatively. Generally having the need of an admin diminishes the immediacy of the narrative because we are involved with a non-narrative related entity, but if that involvement leads to the banning of a spammer does that not lead to a better quality? Content changes can also be good or bad. One the one hand, revamping the entire interface would be bad. On the other adding a new ‘zone’ that furthers the narrative would be good. The Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings Online is a great example.
In the words of Indigo Montoya, ‘let me sum up’: Corporate ownership of a game does not necessarily affect quality of the narrative experience. Said ownership only influences the outcomes when the corporation consciously decides to manipulate its property.