Thursday, 19 March 2009

In-Depth: BioWare's Vogel On The Power Of Speech In Games

Gamasutra posted an article detailing a talk by Rich Vogel, who serves as co-director of the BioWare Austin studio developing The Old Republic, at a recent South by Southwest panel about the differences between layered communications in text and speech.

Here's an excerpt:
The good thing about virtual worlds as opposed to real life, says Vogel, is that virtual worlds actually free up introverted people to talk to others. This was something he saw during the early day of Ultima Online.

"The barriers are lifted there for those kinds of people," Vogel says of players who were handicapped, or simply nervous around other people, and are suddenly able to communicate without their normal difficulties.
I must say that while I agree with a number of his points (like the one quoted above as to some degree I probably fall in that same group of introverted people), there are others I strongly disagree with.

For example his point on user-created content. It seems to me that it only 2% of people create content that is really good then with a playerbase of a million players you get 20,000 people creating content that's really good. Which is a factor 100 to 1,000 times the number of people in the development team (ostensibly creating that much more quality content then the dev team could, or in another way to put it creating 100 to 1,000 times the base game).

That sounds like an awful lot to me, to say nothing of if you get numbers similar to WoW (and even with less numbers that's still an awful lot of good content). No way that any dev team can ever hope to match that.

The problem, I think, comes from the fact that those 2% of people only start creating content at the same time as that the other 98% start playing. And since creating quality content takes time this means that those 98% will be left wanting until that time. So it's vitally important that the developers themselves provides the first brunt of content to keep those 98% busy while the 2% start developing their quality content. I believe that it's here that Neverwinter Nights failed (and yet it's still one of BioWare's longest-running products).

I also disagree with his notion that you need to give people goals. Personally I feel that what you need to do is keep people entertained. if the experience now is enjoyable then people are likely to come back for more, as long as it stays enjoyable. In fact, I believe that this is far closer to why WoW is successful; not because of the game itself being so enjoyable but because it became a social platform where people enjoy being with each other and spending time together. When you listen to people talk about their enjoyable experiences in WoW (or any other games) they very rarely talk about that great goal that they chased and/or reached, and instead they talk about the experiences they had with their friends and the unique personal stories they experienced (the Leeroy Jenkins meme is just one great example of that; it has very little to do with the game design or its goals).

As such, again, I belief that providing a space for players to interact together and enjoy content together is vital. When players start running out of content you start to rely on the somewhat shaky requirement of people being able to connect in the game (better than in another game). So again there, by letting players create content themselves they can entertain each other (not themselves as such, but each other). This can help make the content personal the way general developer-created content has a hard time of reaching (is it more enjoyable to recover that sword that some random knight NPC lost or that sword that belonged to your deceased father).

And thus I do strongly belief that user-created content games will end up being much stronger and long-lasting than those that rely purely on developer-created content.

Anyway, seems this turned into a bit of a rant. My apologies for that.

1 comment:

Bart said...

Interesting thoughts. I think that part of the issue with user generated content is that even with 20,000 high quality content producers, these 20,000 are producing in different directions. This may work in an unstructured environment (imagine an entertainment-focused heir to Second Life), but can be jarring in a universe with a narrative thread. But I think that the idea of UGC in MMOs is worth exploring. Just maybe not in SWTOR.

I think that it helps to view goals as social lubricant in MMOs. There needs to be a reason for people to clump together. In a game environment, those are the goals. So rather than one-or-the-other, I think goals and socialization are complementary. If you look at social structures in real life, they are very often goal related. Join a team to win a game. Join the physics club so you can take the field trip to the amusement park (physics of rollercoasters, what a great excuse). Join the cast of the school play to semi-successfully bring a work of Shakespeare to life.

Thanks for the initial post--too little of this insight is on the Web.