Rod Humble says the future of the metaverse is private and player-first
Developer with experience on The Sims and Second Life explains why Life By You is offline and single-player
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Rod Humble's latest game is a return to familiar waters for the veteran developer.
While Life By You is the first title for his studio Paradox Tectonic, it feels much more in keeping with some of his older work – stints on The Sims franchise and Second Life in particular – than the output of his most recent previous employer, mobile firm Jam City.
"I decided I wanted to get back into life simulation and extend it more in the open-world direction that I'd been exploring before," Humble tells GamesIndustry.biz at a meeting during last month's Game Developers Conference, explaining how he came to start Tectonic with Paradox.
"Paradox shares my philosophy of empowering our players, particularly with mod support and enabling them to customize their games the way they like," Humble says. "And of course, Paradox has a long history of working on sandbox games in general, and this is a big sandbox game. So it was a marriage made in heaven."
"Big" may not cover Humble's aspirations with Life By You. He aims to make it the "most fully featured life simulator ever," an open-ended game where users can create the people, towns, stories, and activities that matter the most to them, all in a sprawling open world where they can take direct control of denizens as they go about their lives.
"I've always had an interest in empowering the player and the customer, versus the designer..."Rod Humble
And when the developers haven't included something, they want enterprising players to be able to mod it in.
"I've always had an interest in empowering the player and the customer, versus the designer, and over the years, I think my design philosophy has shifted more and more toward that," Humble says, noting that he worked on 1992's CyberBykes: Shadow Racer VR, which let players create a 3D world and drive around it with full physics.
"I think I'm a really good designer. I'm very proud of all the games I've worked on, but a lot of them are, 'Here's my vision of what I think is a great game…' Whereas I think games like this and sandbox games are more modest. The design team and the developer team, we take more of a back seat. It's for the player. We're here to support you with the stories you want to tell. We give you a complete game, of course, but the whole point is for you to explore that and perhaps create in any way you need."
In many ways, the pitch sounds a lot like those visions of the metaverse we've heard from Meta, Epic Games, and others. The big difference is that Paradox Tectonic's business model here is pretty much just selling the game rather than positioning itself as a digital landlord or taking a cut of other businesses' transactions on its platform. In fact, Life By You isn't necessarily an online game at all, and that's by design.
"There's no forced online component because in my opinion, many businesses actually just use that as a [form] of DRM"Rod Humble
"I believe the future of connected spaces – what people call the metaverse – is private and player-first," Humble says. "So yes, this is a single-player game, you own the software on your machine, and we are not forcing you to log in. There's no forced online component because in my opinion, many businesses actually just use that as a [form] of DRM. 'Oh, it's online only, so you need to pay us the fee or whatever it is.' That's not who we are."
The lack of any multiplayer component built around live interactions is part of that. Humble says the developers can look at how to do that safely in the future, but for now, privacy is his top priority.
"In particular because a lot of people use life simulators in general just to explore themselves," he explains. "In many different areas of their lives, almost all of which they don't want public. They want to import mods that will help them live out their fantasies in the game, but it's a very private experience."
The announcement trailer for Life By You plays into that somewhat, prominently featuring same-sex and interracial couples in a way that also seems to echo the representation-conscious marketing of The Sims series, something Humble says he holds in high regard.
"Whatever your views may be, I want you to be able to make this world the way you want it"Rod Humble
"The life simulator audience is extremely diverse," he explains. "Whatever your views are, I want you to be able to make this world the way you want it."
But what if players want a world catering to racist views, as happened with the 'European Phenotype and Names Only (White Humans)' mod for Paradox's Stellaris?
"My north star is always, 'I want to give you the ability to make your choices and have the world you want, as long as you're not imposing it on somebody else's,'" Humble says.
So the game does feature various sliders for things like skin tone, age, and sexual orientation. The defaults are set to a mix of skin tones and everybody being pansexual, and Humble says users will be able to set any of them however they like.
"I'm very proudly saying we're very inclusive and you can make whoever you want to be and every lifestyle is covered, but I mean it when I say every lifestyle," he says. "And that includes people who may just want a traditional marriage, whatever tradition [they have]."
As with any game featuring a significant user-generated content component, there will be moderation questions that Paradox Tectonic will have to answer. Humble has clearly considered this, and is confident when sharing Paradox Tectonic's answers to those questions.
"One of the primary objectives with Life By You was player privacy because we're a single-player game, and it's nobody's business what you do in your game," Humble says. "So you can import whatever mods you like and put them in the game. The game comes with nudity plus censor bars. It's got sex in it, but it's the usual kind of sex where you go under blankets and it's all hidden. There's nothing graphic there. It has absolutely no violence at all.
"...if I sold you a word processor and you wrote something I don't like, that's really not my affair"Rod Humble
"In terms of mods, our approach is that we'll have on our site mods that we think are appropriate for our audience and our game. We're a European company. I'm European, so we're a little less uptight about nudity and a little more uptight about violence. So that's roughly going to be my approach to moderating on our site. However, what you make on your site? That's none of my business.
"It's not my place in the same way that if I sold you a word processor and you wrote something I don't like, that's really not my affair. And in fact, you should be concerned if I made it my affair. It's like, hey wait a minute, you're just selling me a tool."
And even though Paradox won't be directly monetizing the use of that tool, Humble hopes some players will be able to make a Life By You living.
"One of the main uses that life simulators play today, and I hope Life By you will take and expand that, is a lot of people are just running entire YouTube channels and streaming," Humble says.
"For example, you can make a romantic comedy in our game and just have every week a new romantic comedy with new conversations, telling new stories… it's very important to those creators that we're not in the way, that they're never going to hear from Tectonic, 'Hey, you can't use our characters in that way; you can't tell that story.'
"So that's a big emphasis of ours in Early Access, to make sure that all the tools that people may be using for their livelihoods, really, are robust and serve them in the way they want."
Life By You is set to debut in Early Access on September 12.
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