I spent the weekend finally wrapping up the latest in George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. I'd been saving the new book for my vacation in August, and I didn't quite get through it due to the 950 page length. Anyway, finishing the book got me thinking about something from many years ago.
Imagine that I told you that there was an all-new chapter that says what happens next, after the book that everyone paid some portion of the $35 MSRP to read, but that this new material was only available to people who showed up at a specific time and place to hear the text read aloud. Everyone else will maybe be allowed to read this new chapter in five years.
You might think that I'm telling a parable about raiders' currently-exclusive access to story content in MMORPG's, but it's also a true story. Back in 2006, I attended two science fiction conventions where George Martin showed up to read chapters from the forthcoming book - chapters which ended up being exclusive to hardcore fans for far longer than anyone expected or intended.
George Martin has been criticised for the amount of time it has taken him to work on the novels, suggesting that he is falling shy of a responsibility to readers to finish the story, a common accusation thrown at devs for various reasons with various merit on MMO forums. I would suggest that these folks are doing it wrong.
Any given reader either is or is not enjoying the books; if you are, then does it really matter if/when the story ends, and if you're not, might you perhaps be purchasing and reading the wrong books? Any given raider either does or does not enjoy the actual experience of raiding (through some combination of the gameplay and the company they keep). For any given fan, the experience of attending the convention either is or is not worth the time and expense of attending.
More to the point, there are ways for that experience to be unique - hearing the words in the author's own voice, as he holds a pencil to make notes on words he wants to tweak after hearing them aloud - that do not hinge on the exclusivity of the experience. Millions will read the same chapters that we heard at those conventions five years ago, without diminishing the experience for the fans who showed up for a preview. Perhaps MMO players - and the incentives that developers produce for us - could use a bit more of that outlook.