Monday, July 9, 2012

Deep Thoughts: Game Development by Gamers

Perhaps I've been unaware of unique phenomena among the gaming community or perhaps it's just something that's started to show up in the past half decade: Games being developed alongside the people who are going to play them. You can take DayZ for an example. Though it is currently just a mod in alpha testing, Dean 'rocket' Hall, the game's developer, has said that he's interested in turning it into a stand-alone game, not directly tied to ARMA or anything other game as it is currently (source). A game that is not being tested behind closed doors but  is open and available to the public, with an active community testing, commenting, blogging, and making videos about it. Other indie games have done similar, with Minecraft being a very well known example. The most interesting fact of this, at least in my opinion, is  that even already released titles like World of Warcraft are getting  into the idea.

Take a look at the year pass for World of Warcraft: A year's subscription, a copy of Diablo 3, and access to the beta for the Mists of Panderia expansion. While it could be seen as a ploy to get people excited and hyped for a new $30 expansion to an already popular series, it's also given Blizzard a rather large pool of testers. They have even gone so far as to request data parses from combat encounters from players, helping ensure that the theoretical balance  that the designers created actually matches the gameplay players are seeing. While you could get cynical about it, Blizzard getting players to do the work that Blizzard should be doing itself, I like the openness that is developing. While all forms of communication on the internet is tainted by trolls and idiots, there's more than a couple sparks of intelligence and I appreciate developers reaching out to them.

Imagine if all game development followed this pattern; working with gamers to polish a game until it's something that gamers want to play and developers are proud to sell. An upcoming MMO, Wildstar, did this over the course of various conventions  and internet events and they created a monster. Meet Metal Maw:

Designed by players, created by developers, making for a singular vision. Isn't he just so cute? Now obviously, that is only one creature in a vast MMO and there's no way developers could do that for every creature in the game but that feedback and interaction is the keypoint. Wildstar was open about their design process (Seen here) and that's the important part. Indie games like DayZ and Minecraft have been working closely with their players for a while now. MMOs are getting involved due to the sheer scope and persistence of the world, they need players to stick with them for an extended time, monthly fees or micro-transactions necessary for profit. If we can get other game genres involved, perhaps we'll stop having lackluster releases that fall flat or worse: derivative annual releases.

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