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The New Monuments of Man
by Enrique Dryere on 10/31/09 01:29:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The new monuments of man will not be built of stone and steel. Their columns will be made of code, and their vast murals, nothing more than pixels on a screen.

From the pyramids of Giza to the skyscrapers of today, grandiose monuments have arisen wherever population amasses. There are more humans and more advanced technology in the world today than any point in previous history. But how will this shape the great works that will come to define our era? Will we merely improve upon what was started long ago in Babylon, or does today herald the birth of a new form of monument? 

In China, megalopolises have sprung up from the earth in a handful of years. The benefits of technology will soon be placed at an unprecedented number of fingertips in every corner of the world. With metropolitan areas reaching populations in the tens of millions, one cannot help but wonder about the fantastical monuments that these cities could build. 

But there is a place where population will soon be measured in billions rather than millions. It is a place that is neither here nor there, but everywhere. It is the world of cyberspace. 

Game Development: A Monumental Task

The impetus behind monument building has not only found its way into modern art, embodied by enormous sculptures, it has given rise to Hollywood's blockbusters and more recently to blockbuster games. 

While the budgets for big films typically exceed 100 million US dollars, “blockbuster” games cost far less. Uncharted 2’s budget was a mere 20 million, while GTA IV broke records with its 100 million dollar budget. But this may all be about to change with the continued progression of one type of game in particular: the MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). 

At the 2008 Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium, Activison’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, said that even with a “USD 500 million or billion-dollar investment,” he didn’t think his company could produce a game to compete with their own flagship title, World of Warcraft. This may sound like a preposterous claim, but when you consider the sheer numbers behind WoW, his statement seems far less outlandish. 

Although I don’t believe that a budget of that size is required to produce a game which can engage players as well as WoW, MMOs are expected to produce around 11 billion in revenues during 2009, making the potential for games of this magnitude an increasing possibility.

If Khufu had a game made, it would be an MMOG 

If World of Warcraft were a pyramid, what size would it be? If we were to arbitrarily compare every 100 lines of code, out of WoW's 5.5 million, to blocks of sandstone, the pyramid they'd form would only stand 65 steps high, compared to the 201 of Khufu's. Granted that code is only one aspect of a game, but the number of the pyramid's steps are just one of its many amazing features as well. And even though this comparison doesn't consider WoW's 1.5 million art assets, its 1.3 petabytes of storage, or 11 million gamers, it's still safe to say that the industry has a long way to go before its accomplishments can rival the Great Pyramids of Giza.  

What would constitute a "monumental" game?

You can certainly make the argument that certain smaller-scale works of art are monuments of their own, and that quality can make a work stand taller than quantity. Yet, in the case of most monuments, the safest bet is to build it bigger. 

You may then find yourself asking, "how much bigger do the worlds of MMOGs need to get?" and, "do they even need to be bigger?" Perhaps the trick is to build them up rather than out, or taller instead of wider. Regardless of your choice in words, this implies packing more into less. 

The environments in MMOs and other free-roaming games can seem quite vast. But, much like in reality, these expanses can be full of a whole lot of nothing. What if we were to take the scale and "width" of an MMO's world and fill it with the same meticulous detail applied to the level design in Uncharted 2? The resulting game would be the nearest man has come to building a fully-articulated, entirely new world -- a truly monumental endeavor. But how much would a game like this cost to make? Would Kotick's prediction suffice? 

Living in the shadow of the monument

What will happen to games that are built to current scale? They will likely find themselves dwarfed, but not eclipsed. Just as smaller games coexist with larger ones today, the games of tomorrow may find themselves adjusting to the presence of this new category of mega-games. 

It may also be interesting to see if there will be an increase in the inner-connectivity between games. Currently, the only thing that follows players across most games is the gamer score, which is merely a sum of trophies and accomplishments. But some developers are beginning to take a closer look at the possibility for a greater carryover from other games. Mass Effect 2, for instance, will allow players to load their saved games from its prequel, which will affect elements of the plot within the new game. 

Smaller games may find themselves needing to network their efforts in order to provide the same depth of experience as their monumental counterparts, but it is more likely that consumers will merely learn to trend their expectations as they have with movies since the late 70s. 

*Note: Image was composed from a picture I gathered from wikipedia of Khufu's pyramid and one of the q-Bert arcade from IGN.  This post was taken from my blog at 

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Dylan Woodbury
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Very interesting subject. I've never really thought about it. I guess since MMORPG's are gaining huge popularity, since that's the only kind of game where spending a billion dollars might have an actual chance of paying off (in the future), it's a possibility. Very very interesting...

Dirk Broenink
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Whether something is a monument is all relative. If we would have had tens of thousands piramids on the earth right now, only the biggest one would be a monument. So I would say our monuments of this time are actually WoW or Eve Online.

Enrique Dryere
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@Dirk That's very true. A highrise looks far less impressive when its nestled between others in a crowded downtown, and both WoW and Eve are certainly major accomplishments when you consider everything that had to be done in order for them to merely exist.

It is all relative. For instance, the sort of games that can currently be found on XBox Live and even flash websites rival the sizes of full-production games from a few decades ago. I wonder if the XBox Live titles of tomorrow will be comparable to today's triple-A titles. This may become a possibility as game creation engines and framework continue to develop and become more accessible.

It's difficult to draw accurate comparisons between video games and enormous stone structures, but I think we've a ways to go before a game rivals the sheer magnitude of a great pyramid. But we may be closer than most would think. The pyramids were built for pharaohs, men who enjoyed a power the likes of which is not seen today. And yet, there is power in the collective. If only financially, the millions of players in an MMO possess that same power, and it grows with their numbers, demanding a pyramid which is greater than the last and all before it.

Elliot Green
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There are about 1.2 billion words on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is probably one of the Great Wonders/Monuments of the Internet. The Encyclopedia Britannica has about 55 million words.

The problem with making a Great Wonder on the internet is that relative to hardware, content is very expensive. If you write a base of code that can handle content, such as for wikis, you are done for so far as coding.

Large game developers could create an engine to rule them all, but creating a mass of content to rival the mass of content on youtube or wikipedia would bankrupt any corporation.

If a game developer wanted to make a monumentally large content base, players would need to be generating it in concert with game play. It would need to be something that they would do for fun. It can't be somthing you have to pay people for. There is not that much money in the world.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Enrique Dryere
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@Elliot I completely agree with you about wikipedia. Involving the user in further development of content is, of course, a great way to go about creating a "monument." The issue then becomes one of cohesion. Is the product of a million people working on their own additions to a game/system a single entity, or a collection of entities? By that logic, a large city may be equated to an enormous monument. But I suppose that is the trouble with analogies. ;)

James Hofmann
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Second Life is a good example of a "monumental" virtual world. Very little game, but lots and lots of world.

Ted Brown
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The bigger the budget, the bigger the complexity. I imagine that, at a certain point, you'll be paying 2 QA dollars for ever dollar of development, and the scale increases geometrically after that. I wonder where the "sweet spot" would be?

Still, a billion dollar game. What a great idea to ponder.