Online Game Developers Conference - Panel Summary
The first ever Online Game Developers Conference was held on may 10th and 11th. Carolyn Koh attended the event and today writes the first in her series of reports from the show, a summary of five different MMORPG-related panels.
The Online Game Developers Conference 2007 held on May 10 and 11th, 2007 is put on by EverGreen Events and as the first of the series, fielded many interesting panels and drawing excellent speakers from across the industry. This is a summary report of the panels I attended on the first day.
Building Games for the Mass Market
Mike Goslin, Vice President of Reality Studios, Disney Online present the paradox of designing for the mass audience. Since the mass audience is extremely diverse, he discussed several crucial points:
Low barrier to entry - this can be achieved by making games with low minimum computer specifications with free trials / downloads to lure the audience in.
"There needs to be a low threshold to acceptance." Says Goselin, "The game must be easy to learn, and bridges must be there. From the familiar to the unfamiliar."
Broad appeal - such as adult humor in kid's games - is something that Disney has historically achieved in their movies, and diverse content. In short, they have something for everyone.
Welcoming themes & color palettes. "You're inviting people to move in," said Goslin, "you have to be welcoming."
Meeting needs - "Story, Conflict, Entertainment and Challenge." Using Toon Town as well as Pirates of the Caribbean as examples, Goslin showed that despite the simplicity of play (never running out of ammo and instant travel, for example) each game had its own unique challenges and competitive play - Kart racing in Toon Town and Card Games in PotC are examples.
PvP - Yeah... right! However, players should be able to do some "bad" things (if it's part of the game's universe) in constrained ways. Pirates allows players to cheat, for example. Quests provide cards you can keep "up your sleeves" but there are consequences should you be caught employing these dirty tactics, such as time in the brig.
Building loyalties - "Events! We should do more of them." Goslin also touched on mailings and player "gifts". Email, buddy icons provided on the web or actual physical mail that is done for Toon Town in the form of collector cards and display of fan art.
Monty Sharma, President of Vivox expressed the importance of in-game voice as a means of communication, of immersion and as part of the hook to draw new players into the game.
"In the last year, there has been a huge shift. The number of players that want voice as a means of in-game communication has grown exponentially," said Sharma, "but they also want it outside the game."
Vivox is making swift in-roads into partnering with MMORPG developers to provide an integrated suite of voice controls for players.
"Voice provides a communication environment that fosters community. Outside of the game, it extends the community, he said, illustrating his points with examples from CCP Games' deployment of Vivox in-game in Eve Online, as well as out of game, in Dev Chats.
Voice chat is becoming the norm for many guilds across the spectrum of current MMOGs and Sharma was of the opinion that in-game voice would soon be the norm.
"Voice also fosters a sense of immersion. People expect different races to sound different. In-game voice can do that. A voice font can be created for a particular race and if players choose to do so, morph their voice to sound like that."
Of course, it is not hard to imagine that players playing cross-gender characters might wish to sound like their characters, and there will be parents who prefer that their younger children sound older.
Panel: Engaging Your Community
Rich Weil of Keneva moderated this panel which featured panelisst: Victor Wachter of Cryptic Studios, Troy Hewitt of Flying Lab Software, Alan Crosby of Sony Online Entertainment, Katie Postma of Cartoon Network (of the yet unannounced MMO title :p) and Steven Wade of Aeria Games and Entertainment. Each and every one of them having "Community" in their titles.
Insight was shared on community building and nurturing, the different strategies to involve players and create a better experience for both the developers and players.
The Community rep wrangles the Developers as much as the Players. They establish norms, direct the passion and the interaction. They walk the tightrope between the two groups and manage to cater to the needs of both.
"What are the most important milestones in community development?" Asked Rich. Alan Crosby, the first one to answer, stated the obvious, "Announcement, web page launch with forums as part and parcel of the web page, Alpha where your most hardcore evangelists adopt the game and game launch."
Steven reiterated the importance of the website. Victor Watcher was of the opinion that it was the Beta application phase, stating that, "That's when it becomes real to the player."
"The first screenshot," opined Katie Postma. "That's when excitement is generated."
Troy Hewitt brought up not so much a milestone but a crucial moment, "The time between closed and open beta. It is the crucial moment where your passionate fans meet the new players just looking for a new game. That moment must be managed."
The closing question was interesting. A conference attendee asked about the portion of the Marketing budget allocated to the Community. None of the companies represented had their Community representatives under Marketing. Some had a separate budget, others were under Development.
Four Most Important Emotions of Game Design
Nicole Lazzaro, President of XeoDesign Inc. shared her firm's research into why we play games. First presented in 2004 at Game Developers Conferences, she shared the four most important emotions of game design with the attendees. They are:
- Hard Fun: Fiero - in the moment personal triumph over adversity. This is the emotion felt when you finally take down that zone boss.
- Easy Fun: Curiosity - the fun when you find the Easter Egg in game. When you run around the dungeon after it has been cleared.
- Serious Fun: Relaxation and excitement. When you are playing seriously, playing to win.
- People Fun: Amusement - social interaction.
"These [are the] four main reasons why people play games are how best sellers create more emotions for more captivating play," said Lazzaro. "People want deeper emotion. They want choices in game that make them feel deeply, choices that move them."
Each key unlocks a different set of play experiences, and because players alternate between them during a single play session, best selling games offer at least three out of four fun keys.
The Games! The Games!
Ah well... I tried to pry information out of Victor Watcher of Cryptic Studios but Marvel Universe remains under wraps until later during the year. He was good enough to say to watch out at ComicCon. "Things will happen."
Alan Crosby was similarly tight lipped about the "super secret, really cool" new title in production at SoE. The quote isn't from him, but from someone I met at the conference whose significant other worked at SoE. Alas, sig. others are well trained these days about speaking to the media.