True confessions: The audacity of wanting something out of all this

Seventeen years ago, I got this idea to help raise awareness about OtherSpace – and to create a sort of keepsake for participants who helped shape the first few story arcs with their characters.

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And in the years since, this has been what some angry people point to as proof that 1) I’m greedy and 2) I’m stealing the work of other people and calling it mine.

Well, no to both those things.

Let’s start with the second point first, which I feel is most critical. In 2001, when OtherSpace: Revolutions was published via iUniverse, the publication interface asked for an author and it would not accept “Wes Platt and Everyone Else on OtherSpace” as an answer. So that’s why my name is on the cover. In the acknowledgements, though, I made it clear this wasn’t a solo work:

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I didn’t want credit for anyone else’s work. If anything, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the collaborative storytelling that made us so successful at the time – and that wasn’t, by any stretch of imagination, something I could’ve done all by myself. Players brought their own vivid imaginations and storytelling styles to OtherSpace and added unique flavors to our literary gumbo. I just brought plots and a few characters to get into the mix once in a while.

By the time I got around to OtherSpace: Storm Warning in 2003, I went further to include a comment on the back cover to make it clear that although I had a part to play in the story, I wasn’t alone in bringing it to life:

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These books weren’t ever about me wanting strangers to mistake all those characters as my own. Nor were they about stuffing my pockets with cash, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

I thought of these books first as souvenirs for players of their experiences on OtherSpace, because who knew how long the game or the website would last? And, honestly, the rate at which I tinkered with changing the website and forums could be wildly frustrating and leave libraries of logs incomplete or, worse, missing. The few folks who bought these books were participants in the stories. They knew how they ended, but wanted a record of it.

Second, I thought of the books as a public relations tool to spread the word about the game. OtherSpace: Revolutions was, at the time (as far as I know) the first published work of its kind. I don’t know of any other online collaborative roleplaying games that published a chronicle of their stories before 2001. If you know of one, tell me!

Now let’s get to the other issue: greed. Critics alleged at the time (and since – as recently as within the past few years, it turns out) that I was profiting off the backs of OtherSpace players, like some kind of virtual Gordon Gecko.

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I can’t remember the last time I got a royalty check from iUniverse. Pretty sure it was during my first marriage, which ended back in 2008. But when the checks came (I think it was quarterly), they weren’t ever for much more than $20 or so, as I recall. Not even enough to cover a month’s worth of server hosting. And that’s OK, because, as I said, the books weren’t much of a money-making venture for me. iUniverse offered a print-on-demand service. The books were really long. As a result, they were about $32 to purchase. Seriously, only the sort of thing someone who wanted the memento would get.

The point when I did start trying to make money – off virtual castles in an imaginary realm called Fastheld – came after I made the leap from journalism to full-time indie game design with Chiaroscuro. One could certainly argue with that project that I was chasing the almighty dollar. One would be right. I had bills to pay. I worked hard on my games, which cost money for me to run. I believed then and I believe now that creators deserve to be paid for their creations. That’s not greed. That’s common decency and respect for the effort.

But, ohmygod, the hassles that came with the castles. Most players were fine, but just a couple of vindictive primadonnas with overblown senses of entitlement could ruin my day. As a sole proprietor with a handful of volunteer admins helping out, it just wasn’t worth it in the long run.

And then World of Warcraft happened. It’s not really the fact that it sucked the virtual air out of the internet for online text-based games – although, honestly, it did. It’s more that it sucked me in. I became an MMORPG believer. Wanted to work for Blizzard, but jumped at the chance to join the crew at Icarus Studios to work on Fallen Earth. The text-based projects slid to the side for a while as I dedicated most of my attention and energy to helping bring to life the post-apocalyptic Grand Canyon Province.

I came back full-force to the text games in 2011 after Fallen Earth’s launch, but, of course, nothing’s ever come close to matching what we had on OtherSpace in 1999-2000. Probably, nothing ever will. I’m OK with that. I’ve got a full-time job. Kids. But I’m still going to remain as involved as I can with these games, for as long as I can – while my eyes can see, my brain can process words, and my fingers can type.

My detractors have argued that I’m in this for greed, and also insist that I’m a megalomaniac. Eh. I’ll own a mild narcissism with – at least in the early days of OtherSpace – a little too much taste for playing the bad cop when it came to dealing with immature players.

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Sometimes I wanted to be feared more than loved, depending on the person. Freely, I admit that. However, I like to think I’ve mellowed with age. And having children of my own is teaching me new lessons in patience every day.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a Hard Case browbeating – particularly when I dug my heels in and basically got all blunt with a “my way or the highway, wait, no, just hit the highway” attitude – I’m sorry.

Have I made mistakes in 20 years of running games here? God, yes.

Is trying to make back some of the money I’ve spent on them one of those mistakes? Hell, no.

Would I do some things differently? Yes, no question. But every chance I took taught me something, for good or ill. The steps I take going into the next 20 years should teach me plenty more.

 

 


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