Blogged Out: 'Outsourcing The Water'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at whether MMOs can effectively get a "second launch," and talks with BlackSite producer Harvey Smith on how outsourcing could dominate game production.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: Harvey Smith, Damion Schubert and Standford.Edu. Tempered Diagnosis It seems I wasn't the only person to spot the rather wobbly argument expounded in The Escapist's piece on Star Wars Galaxies. Damion Schubert asked “Do you really only get one launch?” and concluded that the problems of Star Wars Galaxies' “New Game Experience” aren't necessarily the problems of MMO the industry over. “I’ve only brought it up because I’ve concluded that the maxim “You only get one launch” isn’t always true, though, and it’s clear that there are some situations where games have ’slow burned’ to long term success. The two examples that come to mind are, of course, Second Life and Eve Online.” Schubert goes on to say: “The one that stands out to me the most - Second Life and Eve are, unflinchingly and without reservations, true to themselves. Second Life occasionally takes crap from curmudgeons like me for it. Still, the people who love Second Life and Eve really do, and are vocal proponents of their favorite virtual worlds. In a wired world (and especially in a genre where every fan is guaranteed to have a net connection), appreciating, and then building upon the central promise of your game which your existing audience is there for appears to be the only way to truly take your virtual world to the next level.” Speaking of Eve Online, isn't the final decision of CCP's internal investigation into alleged corruption – which is to create a player-elected oversight committee from the playerbase to act as ombudsmen – the bravest move on MMO development since, well, since that Star Wars Galaxies redesign? The Source Of All Creation So I was talking to Harvey "Deus Ex" Smith and Ricardo "Also Deus Ex" Bare at the BlackSite presentation in London and the subject came round to now-traditional themes of studio size, production issues and, ultimately the issue of outsourcing. Smith said that although the team had about sixty creative staff he still relied on outsourcing for some of their materials. Smith talked about BlackSite's character art being outsourced to a studio in Monterrey (I didn't catch the name) where a veteran artist teaches art-students the ways of video game character design in a live-in college situation (visions of mountain-top sensei teaching game design ninjas the way of the videogame). What all this meant, of course, was that Smith, like many other professionals, is beginning to think that out-sourcing will dominate game production in the coming decades. While large teams are currently the norm, it could we soon be that we're faced with a Hollywood style studio system, where teams are no bigger than a dozen directors and producers, and all the content work is sourced out across the world. Crucially, this means that content companies can master their art, offer speed, value and specialisation that a bespoke development team might not be capable of. I wonder what impact this will have on art design generally. While outsourcing might work for a game that is aiming for realism (like BlackSite) what of those that want to take on a specific visual and aesthetic tone that might not be in any contractors repertoire (say Okami). While teams exist as they do now developers are able to build their own tools and make a game as they see fit. If, however, we enter an age where all content production is handled by contractors will we still have the same palette of artistic expression available to our creators? Something In The Water Finally take a look at these superb physics simulations as created by Ron Fedkiw and his student team at Stanford. Impressive stuff – but how long before 'playable water' finds its way into video games? [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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