At GDC China, Netease (Journey to the West
)project manager and game producer Xiaojun Hui led a panel called "Virtual Worlds Construction," which focused on how to embody Chinese culture and atmosphere through virtual worlds, and how traditional cultural influences shape the way the Chinese play online.
Highlighting the difference between online games and stand-alone games, Hui noted that online gamers spend much more time than standalone on a given game. The best metric for designing virtual worlds, he said, is the concept of time variance, as the MMO experience changes over time.
Virtual worlds are also more complex, he said, owing in large part to the interaction among multiple users. According to Hui, the most important factor is survival of the users.
When constructing virtual worlds, Hui advised considering some issues that have nothing to do with games -- billing, social norms and tax rate, in addition to how to solve the problems of disadvantaged players and how to design incentives for users.
"Virtual worlds are not games," Hui said. "Trying to apply game design principles doesn't work - [you] have to look at the real world for paradigms."
Hui discussed the importance of understanding users' needs, and the need to understand why they play. In his opinion, people go into virtual worlds because their real lives are "empty" -- in those cases, what's the source? Speaking of the Chinese market, Hui believes that after the Chinese economy opened up in the 1980s, the resulting economic inequality left people feeling unsatisfied. And he thinks there's a resulting spiritual emptiness, too.
"Why do you go on vacation to the mountain regions, or to Tibet? It's so you can regain that feeling of fulfillment in life," he noted, adding mirthfully, "When you go to Tibet you don't see a lot at all - no wife, no house, no kids - you forget about all those troublesome things!"
Hui believes, then, that empty people can be enriched by following Buddhist concepts to help them realize their needs in the virtual world. He even posited whether virtual worlds could be used to solve Chinese employment problems, since users feel fulfilled by completing virtual tasks.
Virtual worlds can be socially gratifying to the Chinese, Hui noted, because of the influence of traditional culture. "Chinese are keen on human relations," he said. "The minute someone starts playing on a server, the first thing they do is form this inner circle. So playing is joyful to us because we are playing with real people."