Saturday, June 7, 2008

Age of Conan: Big money for game companies, but (likely) not book publishers

So have you have you heard of Age of Conan (AoC)? This new computer game is quickly shaping up to be the next World of Warcraft (WoW), a massively popular online "role-playing" game in which you create heroic characters, explore fantastic worlds, fight, loot, and gain power. Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and other pen-and-paper RPGs, AOC, WoW, and others of their ilk strive to incorporate the best parts of traditional tabletop games--the immersive aspect of assuming a character's role and exploring a detailed world--with the latest in computer graphics and player-to-player interface technology.

Although I don't play them, I can understand the allure of on-line fantasy RPGs. One of my gaming group admits to playing so much Everquest he became strung out on the game (earning it the nickname "Evercrack"). As a big fan of pen-and-paper RPGs it seems awfully appealing to have the opportunity to play anytime, without having to set a time and gather a group of friends together. All that's needed is a computer and the money to pay for a monthly subscription.

And on-line RPG fans are legion. Take a look at how successful AoC has already become:

Durham, USA - June 6th, 2008 - Funcom is proud to announce that Age of Conan will pass the astounding "One Million Copies Shipped" milestone, in less than three weeks after the launch of the game. Due to overwhelming demand Funcom's retail partner is now re-supplying retail boxes rapidly while also including new markets to the mix. As a result of the tremendous interest from gamers, Age of Conan has for the past few weeks been claiming number one spots on the sales charts across the western world - including the US, Germany, France and the UK - while receiving glowing review scores from gaming media.

In the US, Age of Conan has a strong # 1 chart position and is now moving past the 500.000 shipped mark. Meanwhile the attention for the game is growing across the globe, with over 8 million unique visitors from over 200 countries to the Age of Conan websites so far in 2008. The community surrounding the game is also growing fast, with over 800,000 signing up as members of the Clan of Conan fan club.

Source: Age of Conan website (and thanks to the REHcomicsgroup Web site for alerting me to the news).

I'm not here to debate the merits of online RPGing (hey, I pretend to be an elf in my D&D game, so that would be a severe case of the pot calling the kettle black), but rather to ask a more interesting question--whether or not AoC will expose more people to its source material, Robert E. Howard's Conan. That question sparked some lively debate on the REHcomicsgroup mailing list, with folks taking both sides. Some said yes, AoC will create a new legion of REH readers, while others said no.

As for me, while I'd like to think the answer is yes, my gut places me in the latter camp.

Why won't AoC inspire gamers to seek out the stories? Personally, I think it's because the two mediums are mutually exclusive. Computer RPGs are played for the experience--the combat, the choices, and the accumulation of power. They are not tools to fire the imagination, but are portals that allow for immediate player interaction and active engagement, be it virtual sword-play or puzzle-solving. Reading of course requires engagement, but it's of the mind, picturing events as they unfold on the written page. Reading and playing are fundamentally different mediums and experiences, and it's my belief that people choose to do them for vastly different reasons.

That's not to say that the same people can't enjoy both--I enjoy reading and pen-and-paper RPGing, for example--but one does not necessarily feed into the other. It's like comparing running and stamp-collecting--the two are on completely opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum.

Furthermore, history has not shown that successes in electronic media lead to a rise in reading. Wildly popular films like Spiderman and the X-Men have not led to growth in the circulation of those flagging comic book titles. More to the point, the Conan film franchise (Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer) did not create a groundswell to get REH's original stories reprinted.

Now, I'm sure there may be a handful of exceptions, a few youngsters who might gravitate towards a Conan book because of their exposure to AoC, but I suspect they will be very, very few. AoC gamers will instead move on to bigger and better computer games when AoC becomes passe', not the books.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian Murphy said...

Keep your shit ads off my blog, fuckheads.