Monday, March 30

Stories are important

Jeff Kaplan, of WOW fame, talked at GDC about problems with Quests in WOW and Newsshack has a transcript of which I'll quote the bit that speaks to me:
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. We’re so fortunate and privileged to work in a medium that is not only an art, but a revolutionary interactive form of entertainment. It’s unfortunate to see so many games try to be what they’re not, including our game at times. Of course we should embrace the concept of story… art, literature, film, song, they’ve all embraced story as well. But they all tell it in their own unique way.

I feel like we need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game. We need to engage our audience by letting them be the hero or the villain or the victim. [Art, film, literature], they’re tools. But we need to engage our players in sort of an inspiring experience, and the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorsese, Tolstoy or the Beatles, the better off we are.

Actually, after that he says something about poorly paced Quests I kinda worry about.
The way he puts it, and the way Scott Jennings interprets it, People don’t like delayed gratification. Guess I'm just a bit hardcore too as I actually think most MMO's do too much of the instant gratification thing. Of course, I have some objections to doing something for 10 levels before getting any kind of reward. I like to have long term goals, but I also think content should be doable in blocks of an evening's session. An arc can exist of as many blocks as is deemed appropriate though. But some intermittent milestones (probably in the form of some reward) do help with the sense of progression and achievement.

But back to topic. As Cuppycake puts it: I’m no fool. I know that, compared to the WOW playerbase, I’m in the VAST minority.

Jeff Kaplan on Quest dialogue length: I actually wish that the number was smaller. I think it’s great to limit people in how much pure text they can force on the player. Because honestly… if you ever want a case study, just watch kids play it, and they’re just mashing the button. They don’t want to read anything.
Let's ignore for the moment that Kaplan doesn't seem know the majority of MMORPG players, including WOW, consists of people aged 30+, he's working on Blizzard's Next Gen MMO now, which I guess is targetted at a different, younger market segment than WOW. makes sense actually, you don't want to compete with your own product afterall. But he seems to be applying his probably correct observations of kiddies to the older WOW audience.

I'm 30+ and I love to read all about the lore and backgrounds of games, books movies e.t.c. I also love to read stories and it doesn't matter what kind of game I play, if it doesn't have some basic elements of a story, I tire of it quickly. That doesn't mean I expect Shakespeare. But stories provide purpose. My problem with the more sandboxy RPG games is always that you find yourself travelling around the world to find interesting creatures, whom you consequently introduce to concepts like genocide and mass extinction. If I don't want to feel like a psychopath, I need a purpose. Stories provide purpose.

Quest dialogue fuels the story and the purpose.
Please don't take those away from me, even if I don't in all honesty read every one of them.
Do take a look at AoC for better presentation of quest dialogue though.
Of course, with WOW's level of content doing one in ten dialogues in voice-over would be a major investment. But the cutscene like 'dialogue camera angle' also adds a lot, makes it feel like a conversation rather than a Hit '1' n amounts of time and eventually the walls of text will disappear and you will have a quest set to auto-tracking in your journal.

Writing your games with kiddies in mind means you'll loose them as customers as they grow up.
Kids love everything 'adult' though.

Be sure to read the transcript, he does say a lot of sensible stuff too.
And I'm serious in thinking Blizzard's next gen MMO will be aimed at a younger than WOW's audience.


  1. I think Scott Jennings version is right on. The vast majority of players, and I think especially WOW players, are like that. We are a weird bunch in that we care for the story. There is a big difference in what the average player wants and what I think is greating gaming.

    I can't remember where I read that, so I can't link to it, but somebody made a good point about MMO vs single player story telling. The purpose of an MMO is to keep you entertained and occupied for a long time. This means it can't have an indepth story because you will finish your story too quickly and be done. (Which is what a single player game wants.) So instead you have a flimsy guide line that keeps dragging you along. The pull of an MMO is the story you make yourself with the people around you.

    (I might still be a bit out of it. Some of the comments I made today don't all seem to be make too much sense. Maybe this a new trend?)

  2. Ehm...
    You may have read that in a post of mine on Gameamp.
    Not to claim brilliance here, but I seem to recall arguing that position.
    Which also doesn't exclude you having read it elsewhere :-)