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".
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.
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
(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:
* Design (changing / over ambitious)
* Finance (inappropriate redirection of resources, or unpaid milestones)
Bond Companies help with these issues by:
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
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"
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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