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on 1 May 2006
This book attempts to cover the growing area of massively multiplayer online gaming from the privileged but sadly often-overlooked position of one who knows that MMORPGs owe much to the text MUDs that came before them. It shows that many of the concepts that are hailed as innovative by MMORPG players today were often showcased in textual online games 10 or 20 years ago, and goes on to show that many other features of text MUDs could - and should - be implemented in the modern graphical games. It also looks critically at why some features do not translate well from text to graphics, and the different considerations a designer must make in each case.

Much of the book is a detailed analysis of each aspect of a virtual world - ways to classify player types, how to model objects and their properties, ethical considerations, skill systems vs. class systems, and so on. Dr Bartle's semi-formal style works well, being neither a lofty pronouncement shouted down from an ivory tower or a populist rant from a jaded and biased player, but a considered middle ground from someone who has 'been there' and hopes to improve the status quo. Most of the observations ring true, and unlike the naive "why don't games just do XYZ?" suggestions that constantly plague online forums, they also carry the weight of practicality. Amusing footnotes make the book a pleasure to read, and also provide many valuable links to external sources for further research.

Where this book falls down however, is where the author lets his personal bias show through. He espouses strong opinions on what virtual worlds actually are and why players enter them, and then continues to use these definitions to refute the opinions of others, as if his assertions were indisputable fact. Another way in which the bias shows is in the amount of detail regarding the various subject areas: fewer than 20 pages are devoted to combat - arguably one of the most important aspects to many world designers - compared to 30 pages on how Gender Studies relates to virtual worlds. In one section, Dr Bartle warns designers of the dangers of 'selective depth', where parts of the game are made to appear too important by the designers having spent too much time adding to detail pertaining to that aspect, neglecting others. It can be argued that he has made this very mistake with this book.

So in summary, if you are looking for a tome that covers all kinds of virtual worlds, and forces you to look at both the deeper and wider issues regarding them, this is the book for you. However, if you are just looking to start up a new MMORPG and wanted some hints on the gameplay detail, this book will still help you, but probably not in the way you had hoped for.
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on 15 November 2005
This would be an invaluable book for anyone thinking of designing a virtual world. The advice is applicable not only to large-scale MMPORGs but also MUDs (MOOs, MUSHes etc) run by hobbyists.
Even for those who are primarily players, not designers, this is a great read. Bartle's often witty and clearly-written text makes the book accessible to those with little technical expertise, and he manages to be both entertaining and informative.
Anyone studying virtual worlds from an academic -- rather than a commercial -- perspective will find chapter 7 ("Towards a Critical Aesthetic") very helpful; Bartle goes through a number of different disciplines (literary theory, psychology, education) and explains how virtual worlds could fit into them.
I'd recommend this as an essential text for anyone involved in designing commercial MMORPGs -- having a good grasp of underlying design concepts is surely worth many times the price of the book. However, it would also be a really interesting read for many players, particularly those with a view towards designing their own games, or those keen to examine virtual worlds in an academic light.
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on 1 April 2015
Brilliant book. Lived up to my expectations.
It unlocked a whole new way of thinking for me.

I find myself referring back to it from time to time to refresh some things, as you won't be able to remember everything on all ~705 pages.

This book is NOT a 'How to make an MMO' manual. If you approach it with the "I want to make my own MMO! =D" mindset, you will be disappointed.

It may seem a bit dated considering all of the things that have happened in this field since the book was published, but the concepts and theory are still relevant and applicable today.

The physical book itself is good quality, well bound and easy to read. It is a bit big and bulky, but hey there is a lot of content.

If you are seriously thinking about getting into this field, this is a must read.
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