Print Story Notes from the Game Focus Germany Conference, 2007
Diary
By codemonkey uk (Fri Mar 09, 2007 at 11:55:10 PM EST) (all tags)
Featuring:
  • Keynote: "National oder rational? Breaching Boarders through Virtual Worlds" * Dr Richard Bartle (creator of MUD1)
  • Games On Time and On Budget * Risa Cohen
  • Adventure Game Design * Lee Sheldon, &
  • "Games-Girls-Japan: neue Spiele fur neue Menschen - Was wir lernen, wenn wir uber dan Tellerrand blicken" * Barbara Lippe
(Notes in English)


Keynote: "National oder rational? Breaching Boarders through Virtual Worlds"
Dr Richard Bartle (creator of MUD1)

Where Virtual Worlds -> ie World of Warcraft (game), or Second Life (virtual social/economic zone).

Culture -> (a) art, perhaps games. (b) what is passed from one generation to the next, by any means other than biology/genetics.

In virtual worlds culture comes from the seed players and the game design.

Virtual Worlds can be designed to promote cultural ideals. For example, Lineage embodied the Korean philosophy of the socioeconomic group.

Seed players usually public beta testers. Most virtual world beta testers come from existing MMOs. Thus culture of a virtual world can be traced back, for example:

WoW <- Everquest <- DikuMUD <- aberMUD <- MUD1 <p> MUD1 was created to embody a philosophy of personal freedom.

But, large bodies of new playerbase can overwhelm seed population. In MUD1 and all the way through to WoW, it is acceptable for Male players to play Female characters, but in Chinese virtual worlds this is usually unacceptable, and has the name "Renyao" (meaning fake person), because the incoming populations from Chinese cultural backgrounds overwhelmed the MUD culture brought by seed players.

Culture clashes can also occur. Ie on the Greek/Italian WoW server there was a sharp division in the population, to the extent that often Greek groups would not accept an Italian player (and vice versa).

Virtual Worlds give the player an opportunity to be themselves (perhaps a freedom that the don't have in real life).

On the use of game/server language:

* Eve Online is made in Iceland. Iceland has a population of ~300k, EVE has a player base of ~150k. EVE's popularity would have been imposable if the developers had created an Icelandic language version only.

* The French government has recently launched a new TV channel, CII, is a news channel, and is broadcast in English. The goal of the French government in doing this is to challenge CNN and the BCC, and export French culture in a "universal language".

Conclusion:

It is good to export your culture (though his saying this was, ironically, a bit of a cultural faux pass, since the Germans are very sensitive about this issue of "exporting their culture").

Thus, German Developers can make their games culturally German, but should make their games in English (the universal language) to maximise their audience and spread their culture; because if they don't their cultural identity wil be diluted, and ultimately lost.

My Commentary:

Dr Bartle was an entertaining speaker, and I think his advice was good, but for the wrong reasons.

Coming from my perspective as a commercial developer it seems obvious that developers should ship an English language version, whatever their native language not to maximise their "cultural propagation" but to maximise market penetration. Not providing localisations is limiting your market unnecessarily.

Furthermore, adding elements of your local culture to games is a good thing, not because it is inherently good to "spread your culture", but because, as with writing fiction, basing the world you create on what you know gives it a authenticity it wouldn't otherwise have, and furthermore, a (potentially) unique flavour that sets it apart from the mass of generic fantacy/SciFi settings that saturate the market.



Games On Time and On Budget
Risa Cohen

(Though this talk was interesting, it was a bit fragmented, and seemed to jump about a lot, as such my notes also seem to switch topics a lot, please bear with it...)

Risa Cohen is a producer, who worked at a Completion Bond company.

Completion Bonds aka Film Finance are a form of insurance.

Currently many games development projects are funded like the film industry in the 1950s, that is to say either self-funded (personal guarantee) or as production house (publisher) pet projects.

Completion Bond companies act as a 3rd party between developer and financier (usually publisher). The Completion Bond companies guarantees to the financier that the project will finish on time and on budget. They also guarantee that the developer will get paid. The are responsible for doing due diligence, and will step in if the developer fails to meet the contract (by providing additional resources, or if necessary moving/taking over the project).

Risa asked (rhetorically) the audience why it is that games are so often late, when the film industry is not.

She suggested the following key reasons for project slippage:

* Management

* Design (changing / over ambitious)

* Finance (inappropriate redirection of resources, or unpaid milestones)

Bond Companies help with these issues by:

* Monitoring,
focused on advancement not cash flow
time and money vs. quality (a publisher issue)

Noting that "not paying is like cutting off someone's legs and telling them to run faster", bond companies stand between a publishers desire to use non-payments as a whip, and the developers need to funding to move forward.

One tool for this is the Criteria Document. This is a bullet point style, single page document that describes the high level criteria for shipping - its a "back of the box" description of what the game is, and is used as a means of managing scope, and design changes, preventing feature creep.

Regarding Design, Risa states that:
-> design choices should be made early with broad strokes
-> then refined in pre-production

And noted that moves to reduce scope often lead to a reactive expansion of scope, i.e. the addition of extra target platforms.

In such situation a bond company can adjudicate the developers vision and ability vs. the publisher desires and market demands.

On changing design: "Creative people can't be creative when they expect their work will be thrown away". Constant revision and design change kills the pace of production. This happened noticeably on the Rogue Trouper and Urban Chaos projects.

Risa encouraged a "resource driven" approach, with clearly defined staff roles and expectations. Having project staff bios and job descriptions helps.

Studios with Stars -> (more like animation, where there are industry starts, than in film where the stars are "public" stars) -> being a "Star Developer" is something developers should be able to work towards, and studios who make this a possibility will attract and retain the best developers.

Bad management can kill a good creative team -> It's important to let people "manage up".

Plan contingency time & money -> Disney work to a 2 week shipping window, is the game misses this, it is cancelled. Games should schedule to be ready 6-9 months before ship date, to allow for slippage.



Adventure Game Design
Lee Sheldon

Most of the talk was a historical journey through the history of adventure game design.

The key thrust was that this segment of the market had peaked and collapsed (partly killed by overblown, illogical puzzles), but is ripe for revival.

The first game made using the Agatha Christy licence had been expected to sell 11k copies, but has now sold 500k copies (thus being a huge profit for the developers, since it was a budget development).

One key point of note was the drop from titles shipping with 40+ hours game play on the box, at the peak of the genres popularity, to just 10-15 hours now.

One issue raised was the difficulty of balancing in this genre. There is still a hardcore adventure game fan base who want hard puzzles to solve, where as most titles created in the genre now are licences, aimed at much more casual players (fans of the licence, rather than fans of the genre). It's either too easy for the hardcore fans, or to hard for the casuals.

Another point made was that non-linier game play in this genre isn't noticed, since most people only play through once. Titles with multiple, complex non-linier paths have been criticised in reviews for being too linear...



"Games-Girls-Japan: neue Spiele fur neue Menschen - Was wir lernen, wenn wir uber dan Tellerrand blicken"
Barbara Lippe

Babsi's talk was standing room only. In it she explored the "sexy men" in games, highlighting the desires of the female gamer to see beautiful boys, and pointing out that in UK/USA/Japan 45% of gamers are female.

Giving FFX and Tekken as examples, she pointed out that where you find Japanese male characters in games you find western fan-girls.

These "Bishonen" are androgynous, *not* hyper sexualised, and *not* overtly masculine. They are emotional, sensitive, and often venerable, feeling, sensual and tender characters.

Babsi briefly mentioned "GxB" games (dating games / interactive romance novels) before going onto the cross over anime genre of YAOI (Japanese boy-on-boy scenes). The YAOI market is not a depiction of the gay world, but by women, for women. The men in it are not real men, but an symbolic escape from the traditional (confusion) gender roles, representing "equal romance". YAOI is similar to western "slash", but unlike slash, has achieved some commercial success.

It is important to note, apparently, that the Bishonen (and bishoujo) are not realistic, and that this stylised approach to graphics in Japanese games allows "games to stay games".

The rising popularity of Japanese/Western cross over cartoons (such as Avatar), and style (such as with the band Tokio Hotel) is a strong trend, and games that "look trendy and play trendy", playing on the themes of "style, communication, and cooperation" play to the needs of an emerging information society.

Babsi believes however, that to make such games successfully / authentically you need a diverse team.

The rest of the talk was dedicated to promoting/explaining her current project, a new MMO called Papermint (now in public beta), created by her team Avaloop.

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Notes from the Game Focus Germany Conference, 2007 | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Cultural borders by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #1 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 05:26:18 AM EST
The Japanese have certainly been massively successful at exporting culture through games. I also think the approach taken in Loco Roco is interesting...since it uses nonsense language throughout, there's less translation. (Though interestingly enough, most people in the US seem to think the game is in Japanese and yet it's still popular.)
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
VS2FP [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 05:59:53 AM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
It's just notes... by codemonkey uk (2.00 / 0) #6 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 02:10:23 PM EST
Not really written up as an article...

--- Thad ---
Almost as Smart As you.
[ Parent ]
Nevertheless by stark (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Mar 13, 2007 at 02:15:28 AM EST
It's full of interesting ideas and perspectives on an industry that many people aren't familiar with. Plus we even have one of the lecturers commenting!

In particular, I'm interested in the adventure game aspect as I used to be very much into the rec.arts.int-fiction groups (designing/programming text-based games).

+1 fp.
--
U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.

[ Parent ]
The Web killed Adventure Games. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 08:03:11 AM EST
In the hey-day of Myst, who'd resort to GOPHER to get a semi-accurate Walk-through?
Once the Web surged, cheats became so widely available that it rendered Adventure-style games too easily defeated and much less fun.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

The web killed it ? by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 12:43:11 PM EST
Nah. I remember getting hints for Neuromancer on a BBS way back in the day. I still try to find old abandoneware (or buy legit copies when I can) for games I 'played' as a kid, but never finished.

EG: Maniac mansion, I bought the "LucasFilm oldies" collection, so I could plat MM again (I had DOTT from years ago on 3.5" floppies, but they were dead, so I bought the same game twice). There's a number of other ones such as Zak McCracken, etc. that I'd like to find and play again. (Neuromancer I did find on abandonware, and solved again, without a walkthrough or cheat).

[ Parent ]
How many Myst owners frequented BBS? by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat Mar 10, 2007 at 01:22:44 PM EST
Not enough to make a difference, I reckon.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Video Clips on YouTube by codemonkey uk (2.00 / 0) #7 Mon Mar 12, 2007 at 02:19:40 PM EST
here

--- Thad ---
Almost as Smart As you.
Games and art by GarethRWhite (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Mar 12, 2007 at 03:11:02 PM EST
So what's your take on the games/art thing these days after Richard's talk about culture?
I seem to remember - correct me if I'm wrong - that you strongly believe games aren't art, they're a product for entertainment. I tend to subscribe to the eye-of-the-beholder school of art criticism so pretty much accept it, though also accept that it doesn't happen very often in games!

Well... by codemonkey uk (2.00 / 0) #14 Sun Mar 18, 2007 at 02:10:10 AM EST
Games *can* be art, but most games development projects are not.

--- Thad ---
Almost as Smart As you.
[ Parent ]
Game Focus Germany by Richard Bartle (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Mar 13, 2007 at 01:07:38 AM EST
>Coming from my perspective as a commercial developer it seems obvious that developers should ship an English language version, whatever their native language not to maximise their "cultural propagation" but to maximise market penetration.

Ah, but if maximising market potential is all it's about then you'd also write your virtual worlds primarily for Americans. I was arguing that this would be bad for virtual worlds in general and for German virtual worlds in particular.

At the very beginning I stated that yes, of course you were going to localise. However, I was trying to get the point over that this is not the only reason to write in/for a foreign (for you) language.

>Furthermore, adding elements of your local culture to games is a good thing, not because it is inherently good to "spread your culture", but because, as with writing fiction, basing the world you create on what you know gives it a authenticity it wouldn't otherwise have

Exporting culture isn't always good. You may find your culture has some inconsistencies or throwbacks which other people not brought up in it find fault with. However, if you don't put your wares on display, this evolutionary assessment of them is never going to happen.

What you describe is indeed a good reason to write within your culture, but if you find your virtual worlds are being seeded by players who got their online culture from American games, it could be that you're not speaking to as large an audience as you could be even at home.

>his saying this was, ironically, a bit of a cultural faux pass, since the Germans are very sensitive about this issue of "exporting their culture"

I sent my talk to the organisers some days in advance so that they could point out any cultural faux pas (er, fauxes pas, er, ...). I therefore feel free to blame them, not me!

Richard

Culture by GarethRWhite (2.00 / 0) #12 Wed Mar 14, 2007 at 08:34:12 AM EST
"You may find your culture has some inconsistencies or throwbacks which other people not brought up in it find fault with. However, if you don't put your wares on display, this evolutionary assessment of them is never going to happen."

This raises some really interesting points, and it's a shame I didn't get to attend the conference to put them to you there.

I wonder about this "evolutionary assessment": do you think this could result in homogeneity to the lowest common denominator, or do you advocate multiple localised gameworlds (even whole games) to suit multiple cultural tastes? It makes me think of the broad differences between Western and Asian styles of games. These aren't usually localised any more than simply adapting the game text. But then there's the success of Katami Damacy and even Zelda. Do you think there's some specifically cross-cultural appeal in these games, or is it rather that they're designed to be culture-neutral by avoiding 'real-world' representations?

Are there any particular examples you could give of games which might have cultural inconsistencies? The first thing that springs to mind is, as Thad reports you mentioned in your keynote, that in Chinese MMOs playing cross-gender ("Renyao") is unusual and looked down on, but that's something the local server population would presumably instill rather than being a quality of the game itself.

Then I wonder about the success of the GTA series. That's quite clearly an (idealised Hollywoodesque) American gameworld, but I wonder if this adds something to the appeal for non-American gamers or rather detracts from their success? There certainly were problems with representation of Haitians in Vice City.

Slightly off topic, but I have just got my hands on a new book called "Videogames and art": Mitchell, Grethe & Clarke, Andy (eds). (Bristol and Chicago: Intellect books, 2007).

The first article I've read is "High-Performance Play: The Making of Machinima" (as machinima is a topic I've been posting about recently) by Henry Lowood. In it he traces the history and development of videogames which led to machinima, represented as a playful, creative practice in itself. Rather than the discourse on games and art being purely about the status of games as art, Lowood comments on the ways in which interactivity and co-creativity are changing the ways in which art is produced, distributed and consumed.

I also recently met Jason Wilson who gave a presentation at the University of the West of England around a paper he wrote for the journal "Convergence" (paid subscription) called "'Participation TV': Early Games, Video Art, Abstraction and the Problem of Attention". In that presentation he noted similarities between "Pong" and the works of Barnett Newman (such as "Onement IV") and Nam June Paik ("Zen for TV") in the sense of a creative and playful appropriation and subversion of the uses of a television set. Seth Giddings has also posted his write up about this, citing connections with Deleuze.

The point of all this is to note the variety of discourses which are being articulated around videogames, and that I'm very happy to have commercial developers like Thad and yourself involved too!

[ Parent ]
Culture by Richard Bartle (2.00 / 0) #13 Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 04:35:54 AM EST
>do you think this could result in homogeneity to the lowest common denominator

Not to the lowest common denominator, no, but I do think it could result in homogeneity.

>or do you advocate multiple localised gameworlds (even whole games) to suit multiple cultural tastes?

I advocate multiple gameworlds for a variety of reasons, of which multiple cultural tastes is indeed one. The key for me is that these worlds should not be isolationist, though: players of predominantly one culture should have the opportunity to experience (import) aspects of other cultures, and to exhibit (export) aspects of their own culture.

>It makes me think of the broad differences between Western and Asian styles of games. These aren't usually localised any more than simply adapting the game text.

There are some localisations that you might have to do simply for legal reasons (no Nazi regalia in a game for sale in Germany, for example). That said, I'm a strong believer in the ability of a game design to make cultural, artistic or political statements, and localising a game so that these are removed would run counter to what I  was advocating. If a German developer were to create a virtual world aimed at the American market, then that developer would probably edit out much of the Germanness of the virtual world. Now this would make eminent sense for particular cultural references (puns on German movie stars' names, for example), but for more general cultural attitudes it would be a great pity. German attitudes to authority, the family, friendships, work, the human spirit - all these can be embodied in a game design. Taking them out in an attempt to look more American is not a good idea. Virtual worlds will be less German as a result, which will eventually mean that German players will be less (culturally) German.

>Do you think there's some specifically cross-cultural appeal in these games, or is it rather that they're designed to be culture-neutral by avoiding 'real-world' representations?

I don't know if the original specification went so far as to insist that those games were designed to be a cross-cultural product. The impression I have of Katamari Damacy is that it was developed simply because the design was so joyous. Likewise with Zelda: it wasn't designed in a clinical fashion to appeal to multiple cultures, it came out the way it did because the designer (Shigeru Miyamoto) wanted to say something (you can read the first game as a conscious effort to be the opposite of the Mario games, as if Miyamoto were making a statement that he was more than just a one-game wonder - which indeed The Legend of Zelda proved to be the case).

The way I see cross-cultural successes arising is basically more as a result of trail-and-error than forward planning. That's the more exciting way, anyway. We look back at Zelda and say it's a cross-cultural success, but we conveniently ignore all the other Japanese games that were not successful in the west. We remember the successes, but there were a lot of failures, too. It's a form of evolution: create several mutants from a paradigm and test them, then keep the fittest and mutate that. When something does stick, it's because it has resonances in both cultures.

>Are there any particular examples you could give of games which might have cultural inconsistencies?

Well, those would be the ones that failed. The Korean virtual world developers who launched in the USA expecting their products to be as popular there as they were at home met with a culture clash: American players didn't like the formal group structures of worlds such as Lineage, and there weren't the seed players in plae to educate them in how to proceed anyway. Conversely, American worlds have had some success in the Far East in part because the cultural values they embody (particularly individualism), while not being in line with mainstream Far Eastern culture, are nevertheless appealing to people who find themselves restricted by social norms in the real world. This would be an example of one cultural value being more appealing than another, and thus succeeding at the other's expense.

>in Chinese MMOs playing cross-gender ("Renyao") is unusual and looked down on, but that's something the local server population would presumably instill rather than being a quality of the game itself.

Yes, as I understand it the local population entered the virtual world in sufficient numbers that the real world cultural norms they took with them overwhelmed the norms of the existing (seed) players. It's interesting that although this disparaging of renyao persists, it's not a belief held by all Chinese players, and some of them are playing cross-gender even though they're criticised for it. We could, in time, see a change of attitudes there.

Richard

[ Parent ]
Linear vs non-linear by stark (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue Mar 13, 2007 at 02:36:22 AM EST
I found the comment on non-linear gameplay not being noticed interesting.

I think people do notice if gameplay is obviously linear. However, if the non-linear branching isn't even noticed by most people, it's a huge effort and complexity multiplication that is usually wasted. Furthermore many adventures aim for a strong narrative which is difficult to do with a non-linear flow.

Perhaps one middle ground is where the game gives the illusion of choice. A favourite text game is Photopia (scroll down), which frequently uses this approach. For example, when exploring on the moon it doesn't matter which directions you choose, you will find the target. Thus you have the illusion of choice but are actually on a very linear path.

--
U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.

Notes from the Game Focus Germany Conference, 2007 | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback