Dec 12, 2007

[Elspeth Tory: Entering the Boy's Club]

  A neat little interview here on MTV Multiplayer, interviewing Assassin's Creed dev Elspeth Tory about how she got into the industry and her experiences in the gaming world: 

Multiplayer: One disadvantage [of being a female in the gaming industry] I can think of is that people can doubt your abilities. When I was interviewing Morgan Webb, she said that guys still come up to her and ask, “Do you really play games?” And in Jade Raymond’s case, people were doubting her work experience…
Tory: There’s a real difference, I find, between what you experience internally, in the company, and what you feel from the outside on the forums, which are ridiculous. The stuff on forums is ridiculous. It’s so misogynistic, and it’s awful. And so I really try to separate myself from that. I find at least internally, the industry itself, when we talk about the actual companies and our working environment, I feel it’s a lot better, and I feel there’s a decent amount of respect going on there. But when you want to step outside, it’s exactly what you’re saying. Experienced producers like Jade, who was a programmer, is a huge gamer, really somebody who knows what she’s talking about. And people say, “Are you just a marketing tool?” And it’s just like, “What are you talking about?” So I think on that level, I don’t know if that’s calling it the industry, or just the demographic who are playing are just not getting it.
Multiplayer: So it seems that you’re saying with gamers — or outside the industry — there’s the negativity, but within the industry, it’s not like that at all?
Tory: Totally. Things have not gotten better outside the industry. For me, the important thing is in my working environment everybody gets taken seriously, and I am not in any way impeded in my progression. So that’s really important to me. On “Assassin’s” I started getting more exposure. You do an interview on GameTrailers, and you start getting comments. I was told to never go look at the comments, because they’re appalling!
But [being in the spotlight] has been an eye-opening experience for me. The forums in general, and basically all the websites that include all of these people who are really condescending and, I don’t know… It leaves a sour taste in your mouth. You just kind of feel like we’re making progress, we’re getting more women out there, the faces of the games are changing, and I think that’s so good. And then any time you put a woman in the position where she’s talking about things, there has to be at least a good chunk of talk about, for Jade, talking about how beautiful she is. Completely irrelevant to what’s going on and her job.
Multiplayer: Why do you think people reacted to Jade that way on the Internet?
Tory: It was really frustrating… The whole fan club thing, I think that’s fun and whatever. To me it’s just when they start criticizing her intelligence or her ability… It’s very frustrating to see that when you’ve worked with somebody for two years, and you know they’re good at what they do and they’re competent. I’ve found that she’s been an amazing role model for me, and to have people sit there and just, without any prior knowledge essentially, and truly because she’s a woman and she’s pretty, to rip into her. And to sort of imply that she couldn’t possibly have any idea what she’s doing. I think that’s a bit immature. It’s the kind of thing you expect from a 12 year-old. And maybe it is 12 year-olds making the posts. It could very well be. And if that’s possible, it’s not something I should worry about, because it’s just a 12 year-old making the posts. But it’s just the kind of thing that is not encouraging and doesn’t necessarily encourage other women to go in when they see that kind of flack.
Multiplayer: When disparaging stuff comes out on the Internet, what advice do you have for women dealing with that type of scrutiny?
Tory: Don’t read the forums! [Laughs] Don’t read the forums. That’s what I was told by some people and I stopped doing that, so that’s good. That’s helping. And try and focus on the positive aspect of what you do and the end result. I think it’s tough to know what to do.

  I feel it's sad that Tory has to avoid online gaming communities altogether in order to not be brought down and upset by all the crap on them. If that doesn't show that there's a real problem here, I don't know what does. The whole 'Just be quiet and let the trolls have their way' is clearly a failed strategy. What's that's doing is driving women away from many gaming spaces entirely. And it shouldn't be this way.

  If someone starts developing an interest in something, and then gets horrified/harassed/repelled by the people they find as the majority in the mainstream communties for those who share that interest, you don't think that would affect whether or not they'd want to participate professionally in that field, and/or make it a bigger part of their life? Can someone really claim that the tone of a community doesn't contribute in any way to people's feelings and enjoyment of a particular activity? I don't see how anyone can honestly deny that the bigoted/juvenile/boy's club tone of the mainstream gaming community is directly related to the fact that there are fewer women involved in it at higher levels.

  And yet, there are still folks who claim that the low number of women who enter the gaming industry and/or who are high profile in it has nothing to do with sexism. Right.

Dec 8, 2007

[WoW's Great Weakness]

  As someone who loves the 'virtual world' and immersion aspects of MMORPGs, I feel World of Warcraft is weakest in these aspects. WoW is an awesome game, and improvements to the game mechanics are always coming. But in terms of making an immersive fantasy world, I personally think it's dropping the ball (especially with the addition this last patch, of making interactive quest objects in the world sparkle and have big quest markers floating over them, so you don't even have to pay attention to your environment to find things anymore. It's very platform-game-ish way of dealing with interactive items, which I personally think is antithesis to the 'immersion' aspect which should be a goal of an MMORPG. The world should feel like a world, not a level in a platform game where you run around looking for the bouncing, sparkly items to pick up. >=(

  It's the immersion in the world and community that keeps MMORPGers in our games, that makes us feel a connection to it. WoW is, to me, lacks the most in exactly those aspects.

  Lots of loving care is going into raid content that few people ever see. Rep grinds and loot grinds abound. But where's that sense of fantasy and connection to the story and world, the sense that you are an inhabitant of Azeroth? To me, that is the most important aspect of an MMORPG. But currently, WoW is too focused on loot grinds and scripted static content that is consumed faster than it can be created, or is not consumed by most people at all. The next MMORPG that's looking to take a bite out of Blizzard's share of the market would do well to study these weaknesses and be strong in the ways WoW is not. Because there are many players (me included) that would consider leaving WoW for a game that could provide those things better, even if they weren't as 'polished'.

EDIT: I just found this post on Girls Don't Game, thats echoes a lot of my feelings:

"Not to knock WoW or anything, since I still play it and don’t feel like being a hypocrite today, but I really can’t get over how they seriously have not planned on giving us player housing. This is a horse that has been so incredibly beaten, you can barely even recognize the corpse. But it’s true. While players whine on the forums every single day about the lack of player housing, Blizzard keeps continuing to raise the level cap and add more high level instance raids left and right. There is so much more that could be done, in my opinion.
...I would love a game where I could just log on and not worry about hitting 20 that night, or farming primals. I would just like to log in, maybe redecorate my e-house, kill some monsters for new items, hang out with friends and then log out at the end of the night.
I heard that Blizzard was thinking about revamping the fishing skill or something but I have yet to see some actual hard evidence on this. Fishing is actually one of my favorite things to do in World of Warcraft. When I was still playing with friends, I wound up hitting fishing 300 because I was sitting on the dock in Orgrimmar all the time in private messages with them."

 The open-endedness of MMORPGs is their strength -- it's what makes players feel like they're part of a world, and have many ways they can have fun in it. To run around in a fantasy world, with the feeling that you can find all sorts of different ways to make your place in it, is the main draw of these games. That is where WoW is lacking the most, in my opinion.

[Is Raiding Hurting WoW?]

A thought-provoking article on TenTonHammer discussing whether WoW's current endgame model is actually doing anything good for the game as a whole:

"Here are the percentages of those guilds in the completion of various WoW raid targets:

Karazhan (99.45%)
Zul'Aman (32.00%)
Gruul's Lair (70.98%)
Magtheridon's Lair (30.63%)
Serpentshrine Cavern (33.81%)
The Eye (33.22%)
Hyjal Summit (5.37%)
The Black Temple (4.59%)

Karazhan and Gruul's aren't looking too bad, but four other raid zones have been completed by only about 30% of the guilds. The two hardest have been completed by only 5% of the guilds. Now, keep in mind that these numbers represent only the top 2 million players which are currently in raiding guilds-- WoW has 9.3 million customers, 7.3 million of which have never even defeated a boss in any of these zones. That means that the six hardest instances of the game have been defeated by only about 6% of the total WoW playerbase (about 600,000 players).

That's six whole zones, with scripted events, painstaking itemization, and hundreds of hours of development time and artwork paid for by money from subscribers that 94% of World of Warcraft players will never use, seeing as the Burning Crusade has been out for almost a year now and the next WoW expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, is right around the corner (bringing a new gear wipe with it that will make these current raid zones obsolete, much like BWL and MC are now).

...When almost 80% of your players aren't using content that you define as your "end-game," and 98% of your players don't even use two whole instances that you spent a lot of time designing, are you really catering to the needs of your players?"

This is a very fair question. WoW's playerbase is a mix of Blizzard fans who never really wanted to play and MMO before this one, and actual MMO fans. These two camps want different things from the game, and as time goes on, the question of whether Blizzard can adequately make both camps happy looms larger with every new expansion. But in my mind, this trend of MUDflation cannot continue:

"Because of the extreme gear disparity between raiders and non-raiders, the designers had a choice with Outland: balance it for raid gear, making everything in the expansion practically impossible for 80% of their player base, or balance it for "casual" gear (from solo play and 5-mans), making everything in the expansion absurdly easy for 20% of their player base with some raid gear. Either way, players were sure to cry foul. Instead, they did the smart move: Level the playing field by dropping raid-quality common items on new mobs and quests and balance everything for the new minimum. It made the most people happy while creating only a minimal fuss, and everyone happily went off exploring the new content.

Unfortunately, it also had the nasty side effect of making all the previous high-level instances totally worthless. Why would you bother with hard 5-mans or harder 40-man raid instances when easy greens with significantly more power are only a few levels away? Say goodbye to Stratholme, Scholomance, Blackrock Depths, Blackrock Spire (Upper and Lower), Dire Maul, Zul'Gurub, Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Onyxia, and Naxxramas [as well as both the Ahn'Qiraj Ruins and Temple].
Not only did MUDflation remove all incentive to go through some of the coolest 5-man instances in the original game-- it also made sure that there was no point for non-raiding players who hit the new level cap of 70 to go back into instances like Molten Core or Zul'Gurub and see what they missed the first time around.

That's a lot of work to ruin (and a lot of your subscription dollars wasted) just because raids are available to a game community that largely doesn't use them."

If the same amount of content development gets flushed (thirteen instances in Old World alone!) for every expansion of WoW, I cannot see it as a positive thing. It's a huge amount of effort and creativity being rendered useless in order to make each expansion's content scale with the gear of the small top raiding population. In other words, the minority is having the game's content being balanced to match their gear, rendering content that was used more by everyone else, instant trash. It's not an equal value trade off. It's not a healthy pattern.