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Star Wars: The Old Republic Interviews: GDC Online: Evans and Vogel Speak of the Future

By Garrett Fuller on September 30, 2011

This October Austin, Texas will host GDC Online. The game conference that started out as a focus for MMO games has grown so much over the last few years it now inlcudes all types of online games. From free to play models to an entire track on mobile games, GDC Online is really spanning the industry on what trends are happening. Some are great to hear about and many MMO players have a lot to look forward to. Others are making major moves into the social game market trying to appeal to the wider audience. We got the chance to chat with Eugene Evans of Bioware Mythic and Rich Vogel from Bioware about the course the conference is taking and the trends in the industry that keeps growing.

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Rich Vogel started off the conversation talking about how the conference reflects the current trends in online gaming. The keynote speakers being the biggest sign of what is happening among online games. This year key notes have been set up to address all types of online and social games. One area that is critical for the conference is realizing the connection of all players through different platforms. With phones, pads, and computers all able to access the internet from almost anywehre, games are constantly looking at ways to keep their players connected. This approach extends into the community as well where companies are now looking to keep the communities connected through different platforms as well. Rich stressed the importance of the social aspect of online gaming as critical to keeping the games alive. He and Eugene both addressed the Customer Experience track, which is something new for GDC Online. Developers can now get together and talk about how to make the customers’ experience better with a game. This not only takes into account different styles of game play, but also it talks about extending the player’s experience beyond the game.

Eugene Evans talked about the growth of the types of MMOs we are seeing. We now have MMORTS style games as well as first person versions of MMOs. The MOBA games continue to grow with League of Legends becoming very popular. All of these styles fit into the online space. The other area where growth is rampant is in social games. MMOs have laid the foundation for all different types of online gaming; however companies like Zynga have really hit the mainstream market. With millions of people playing social games on Facebook the growth is enormous. The challenge for the MMO industry now is to add more depth to the social games. These games get millions of players and continue to grow globally. It is a critical part of online gaming which developers will benefit from the tracks at GDC Online geared toward the social market.

Another major area that continues to be a big topic is the area of game pricing. Free to play models and virtual items are a major part of the industry and there are a lot of tracks at the conference that address these areas. There is the first Virtual Items summit at GDC this year which looks specifically at these issues. Both Rich and Eugene agree that it is not just the free to play model that needs addressing but more the diversification of pricing in online games. There has to be different ways to charge the players for the game that is fair to both the players and publishers. Pricing continues to be a major issue in the online game market. Now that the free to play trend has arrived and isn’t going away there really is no way of telling how players will pay for a game and lots of different ideas are being tried across the industry. In many ways this are of growth has become very important and it is one that companies are taking very seriously. As players it is the one that we should also keep a close eye on because it hits our wallets the most.

More than anything the focus for online games this year is really trending toward engaging the player. This is a refreshing take from developers. Now that there are so many worlds to play in and so many ways to keep players in those worlds, it is important that your game involves the player directly and effectively. Gamers used to only have one or two choices in the past based on what was available. Now with so many games going online, if you don’t like something, there are five more games you could try just like it. One of them may be much better. The idea of engaging the player and keeping the core communities in games is very important. There is also a strong focus on game community management. Community Management has come a long way from just monitoring forums. There are some tracks at GDC that hope to address how these changes have occurred. The fact that devs will be discussing these issues in depth is great news. Let’s hope some great ideas come out of the show for all of us to benefit from.

In talking to industry veterans like Rich and Eugene you learn that there is a lot more going on in the industry that what you see on the surface. Players will ultimately get a stronger voice among developers now that the market has grown and changed so much. We’re the ones who benefit the most by all of the diverse styles and systems out there. Who knows, eventually we might see more and more major Western developers releasing better games that don’t carry the heavy price tags we have seen in the past, while still delivering the same quality that we expect. Thanks so much to Eugene and Rich for their time, if you get the chance to go to GDC Online there is a lot you can learn about this industry.

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