informa
7 min read
article

In-Depth: BioWare's Vogel On The Power Of Speech In Games

During SXSW, BioWare's Rich Vogel spoke on how the difference between text and speech communication affects MMOs and virtual worlds -- plus a Gamasutra-exclusive Q&A.
Rich Vogel, who serves as co-director of the BioWare Austin studio developing The Old Republic for Electronic Arts and LucasArts, spoke at a recent South by Southwest panel about the differences between layered communications in text and speech. The good thing about virtual worlds as opposed to real life, says Vogel, is that virtual worlds actually free up introverted people to talk to others. This was something he saw during the early day of Ultima Online. "The barriers are lifted there for those kinds of people," Vogel says of players who were handicapped, or simply nervous around other people, and are suddenly able to communicate without their normal difficulties. When it comes to talking to people you don’t know, "you find that text is much more appropriate than speech. Another thing I’ve learned," Vogel continues, is that people trust you more when you’re using voice instead of text. "When you hear someone…you get a much better feel for that person." Vogel says that most MMO players use voice chat to give combat directions. But he also says that he thinks it’s good for the game to have downtime between combat. "It gives you social time." As a manager, he discusses the difference between sending an email to someone on his team, instead of going down the hall and talking to that person. Talking is filled with emotion, whereas text is very sterile. "It makes me think about things. It slows them down, instead of emotionalizing them." Vogel notes. And the same is true for players. "Giving people place to go where they have common interests," predicts Vogel, is going to be a big trend in future. "MMOs are just one way to do that." He adds that virtual worlds, which don’t give people common goals, will lose users, "because they get bored and leave." "World of Warcraft has 12 million people playing because it’s a fun space to be in, and they’re motivated to be there." Virtual worlds, by contrast, he says: "To me, that’s where the others have failed, [by] not providing that..." Vogel remains skeptical about user-generated content, saying "We rely on others to entertain us." Citing BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights series, well-known of letting players create their own levels, he states that only 2 percent to 3 percent of users provide content that’s really good. While it’s good that people are making the content, it doesn’t reach a critical mass – simply because people are not good at entertaining themselves." After the panel discussion, Vogel answered some exclusive Gamasutra questions that give further insights into his view of social networks, and what console and online game developers can do to take advantage of a changing world… Is Facebook going to kill World of Warcraft? RV: No, I don’t think Facebook’s going to kill World of Warcraft. Because, I think, social networking has it’s own architecture set up for just that one thing. World of Warcraft’s a game. Social things happen in that game, but it’s a secondary thing, it’s not a primary thing in that game. It’s not the mechanic of that game. It’s an experience designed specifically for a purpose. Where Facebook is an open app. Are we going to see MMO developers have to adjust the type of game they make, or are they going to continue to make closed, immersive worlds that are very steeped in a specific fiction? RV: I think closed immersive worlds attract people. A lot of people like direction. There’s a lot of people that like directed content. Because it immerses you when it’s directed. It pulls you in, gives you a story, gives you something to follow: people like that. Now, what will happen, is they’ll have more social architecture built into MMOs then you’ve ever had before. How will that look? RV: How would that look? So, example... you may be able to chat with someone real-time on your iPhone. Or organize a place to meet [through] an iPhone app. So even though it’s an immersive world, it’s become and more accessible? You can immerse yourself in the world, from anywhere? RV: From anywhere. And that’s what I think’s going to happen. Web 2.0 applications on community sites forming are happening now, and will continue to happen. Applications, especially for the new iPhone, will happen. You can find out where you friend is and what server he’s on, and talk to him. Or maybe even…help your friends out during trouble. If they need money, any assistance with the quest, you can go online and do that in real-time. Will Wright famously remarked that he wanted to make Spore a single-player MMO. Do you think we’ll see more of that on the single-player side and the console side? RV: More games are online connected. And my opinion is, it’s the future, and anyone that doesn’t go there will be dinosaurs in five years. Because what’s happening is, in the retail market, because of used game sales and other things, velocity of game sales drops dramatically after the first three weeks of launch. It’s a cliff. Downloadable content keeps games fresh. So you’re going to see more and more single-player games going into downloadable content, or episodic content, or whatever you want to call it. Are traditional developers working in the industry today equipped to make these products? What should they start doing to prepare? RV: That’s the problem, right? You have to become not a box company, but service oriented, a community-building oriented company. Communities are very important. And they help things grow virally. People are going to have to change. How do you change your thinking as an industry, or as a team? RV: Quit worrying about copy protection, and start worry about how you get the content fresh on a game with downloadable content…but it means having a live team. It means your game doesn’t stop when you ship it, anymore. That’s a model switch that people have to get to. So all games will become ongoing? RV: Yeah, I think it’s happening now. If you don’t, you die, right? You see it, used games are going to kill you. That’s why the top 5 -- not the top five percent, or ten percent, or twenty percent of games are making money anymore -- just the top five are making money. Could Blizzard add broad social networking elements, or let people get into the game on different platforms in different ways, would that increase the number of players? RV: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about accessibility. It’s really an elasticity question. It’s about what people are willing to pay for, and what they get. It’s all about ‘is it a value proposition?’ If it’s a value proposition, people are going to buy it. So the games that succeed in the future will offer the most connected elasticity? RV: I’d say the future for single-player games as well as online games is value propositions. So if you offer the ability, and it’s accessible by many different ways, and you offer the ability for people to connect easily and get into your game, and they like it and they enjoy it, and they want to give that someone else, and you make that as easy as possible: then it will grow. [Photo: Ryan Chahanovich]

Latest Jobs

Disbelief

Chicago, Illinois
05.10.22
Producer

Build a Rocket Boy Games

Edinburgh, Scotland
05.12.22
Lead Animation Programmer

Windwalk Games

Austin, Texas
05.16.22
Game Designer

Sucker Punch Productions

Bellevue, Washington
05.10.22
Campaign Director
More Jobs   

CONNECT WITH US

Register for a
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Account

Game Developer Newsletter

@gamedevdotcom

Register for a

Game Developer Account

Gain full access to resources (events, white paper, webinars, reports, etc)
Single sign-on to all Informa products

Register
Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Subscribe
Follow us

@gamedevdotcom

Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more