“I look at MetaArcade with the idea that it is similar to what Twitch did for streaming, or what WordPress did for bloggers,” explains David Reid, CEO of MetaArcade. “You could be a streamer or you could be a blogger without platforms like that, but it took a lot more work.”
MetaArcade could be the first step on your journey to getting a game on our list of the greatest RPGs ever made.
Both Twitch and WordPress require a key skill - broadcasting and writing respectively - and of course MetaArcade requires some talent too; it demands you have the imagination and creativity to create an interactive adventure game. At its very core, MetaArcade is a game maker suite designed to let people with little-to-no experience create and self-publish RPG games.
“Think about the MetaArcade platform as a content management system, like if you were running a website,” says Reid as he helps me visualise how his platform works. “There will be libraries of art and audio, and the layers of rules and mechanics,” he reveals. By piecing together these elements and writing your own narrative, you’ll be able to build a choose-your-own adventure game with a set of RPG dice-roll mechanics. Think of today’s popular visual novels with a Dungeons and Dragons-like combat system, and that’s the kind of results creators will be able to achieve.
The first game that has been made with the platform is Tunnels and Trolls, a “digital remaster” of the classic 1970s pen-and-paper RPG. While the Tunnels and Trolls license is important in that it’s the basis for the very first release from the platform, things go far deeper: the game’s setting and ruleset forms the basis for for what creators can build in MetaArcade.
For Reid, this is a two-pronged decision. Having played Tunnels and Trolls for many years, it’s a personal favourite of his, but more than that he feels that the game’s rules lend themselves very well to a simple and robust creation tool: “With Tunnels and Trolls the designer approached it from a perspective of ‘Hey, I wanna focus on heroic storytelling’. He wanted to build a game that felt a little more like reading a Marvel comic than it felt like playing a Napoleonic wargame,” he says. “If you think about it as a choose-your-own adventure style with the progression of a character over many many adventures, and having [RPG] mechanics in there, that's the gist of the solitaire adventure that Tunnels and Trolls was really the pioneer of.”
Tunnels and Trolls being tailored for solitaire play (singleplayer) makes it ideal for a videogame platform. From a player’s perspective, you travel from page to page of the story, making decisions that see the narrative branch, and then engage in streamlined RPG mechanics. “You roll dice in combat and saving rolls when there are hazards, and if you're good enough to survive the adventure your character progresses, you get your treasure and experience, and level up,” explains Reid. For a first-time creator, it’s an easier concept to develop than a Dungeons & Dragons adventure with its overly complex combat rolls, numerous players and a Dungeon Master.
But high fantasy is just the starting point for MetaArcade. “There are lots of different genres to think about. There's no reason why we couldn't have a science fiction system, a western system, romance, horror…” muses Reid. “Once we’ve got the core platform built, it's just a matter of working with companies and the community to find out what are the right genres, systems, and creative worlds to branch out into.”
While the Tunnels and Trolls setting will be the only one available when MetaArcade first launches in prototype form this summer, that won’t force a fantasy restraint on the most imaginative users. Reid assures me that if a user wants to use the rules of Tunnels and Trolls but apply them to a sci-fi world, then that’s “absolutely” possible. I’m instantly reminded of how Knights of the Old Republic used Dungeons & Dragons rules in the Star Wars universe.
Indeed, Reid is very passionate about people not using the Tunnels and Trolls lore. “The goal really is to engage the community and creators who are looking to publish some work. The intention would be that you own your IP,” he says. “This is a platform that will allow you to go ahead and get that out there, have an experiment, and see how people will react. But at the end of the day it's your IP.”
He notes that, naturally, if you’re using the Tunnels and Trolls ruleset, those systems cannot become your IP, but your own universe is yours to keep: “If you've created a world, characters, narrative, and proper nouns - all your names of places and people - that is yours. MetaArcade will have no ownership of it, and we won't interfere with anything you decide to do with it,” he assures me. “If you are writing novels, or making movies, or even making action figures with it, that is all yours to take with you with no encumbrance.”
For creators with a strong idea for a new fictional universe, the idea of MetaArcade seems a great starting platform to get ideas out there in the wild. Should you be successful, you can always create your own rule systems should you wish you go solo.
If you create your own universe, chances are you’ll have your own artwork and perhaps even music that you’ll want to use instead of the library of Tunnels and Trolls assets included with MetaArcade. These can be imported into the platform, but Reid sees this as a gateway for creators to start making money: “The dialogue I'd like to have with creators is that if you've got a killer piece of art of a terrific music track that other people might want to use in their adventures, how does that work?” he asks. “If an artist or audio freelancer is able to put assets up there that become parts of other people's adventures, then that's some way for them to make revenue.”
While much of the business model is yet to be settled on, Reid is confident one one thing: “We're not charging you for using the platform.” He does have an idea for how he’d like monetisation to work, and cites Steam Workshop as his influence.
“Part of why [Steam Workshop] works is you're looking at creators who want to own their IP and are looking for ways to get it out to an audience, but they aren't looking to make a big investment. They're looking for a publisher of sorts, so [MetaArcade] is intended to be a self-publishing platform where you can do that without outlaying any of your own money,” he explains.
“If your audience starts picking up on it and starts paying for it then that's where you'll generate revenue from it as a creator, and MetaArcade as a platform that's enabling that will also generate some revenue.” Similar to Steam Workshop, Reid intends payment for adventures to be split between the creator and MetaAcrade.
This summer will see the initial prototype launch of the platform, and players will be able to play the first Tunnels and Trolls adventure created in MetaArcade. From there, Reid intends to gather as much feedback from the community as possible, as he feels that they are the people who will ultimately shape it. “Now you have your hands on what we’ve done and you know what we're thinking, what’s the right direction to go into? What are the adventures you are ready to write and keen to play? That's how we'll figure it out,” he says.
The first launch is the immediate goal, but Reid’s ambition for MetaArcade is more than just getting it out in the world. “Platforms can allow creators to potentially earn some income if their work finds an audience that want to pay for it,” he says. “These become income streams for individual people that are able to leave ‘real jobs’. A lot of us do jobs to pay the bills but have creative outlets that we would really love to do if we were liberated from the need to have a real job,”
“If MetaArcade can be something that enables people to liberate themselves from real jobs that they're not passionate about, that would be great! That would be the dream!”