Monday, June 14, 2010

The future of gaming, according to Bobby Kotick of Activision

Surfing Kotaku today, I came across an interview with the Baron of Hell himself, Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision. You can find the full interview here. Most of the interview was unremarkable attempts at damage control by Kotick, but one part really stood out.

As the interview is winding down I point out to Kotick that he has achieved his goal, traveled down that road to a billion. So why not retire?

"I'm not really thinking about that," he says, after I point out he could use the time to play more games. "I have a big objective for the next ten years. You know the thing that's really exciting is that when you look at what's happened to our medium. We're finally now at a point where we have all the characteristics of mass market, mass media opportunities. And I think it's three things for me that are really driving how you make video games as appealing as TV."

The first is making video game characters real, something he feels still hasn't happened.

"You can't put dialogue in these characters in a way where it's believable," he says. "If we can get the facial animation to be compelling, the dialog to be believable, I think you can satisfy that emotional connection between the audience and the character that gives you the characteristic attributes of film and television."

The second is physical interface, like what Guitar Hero brought to gaming. Something that Kotick strongly believes has a lot more opportunities.

"Physically tying you as a player to what you see on the screen, I can tell you a hundred fantasies I've always had whether it's like conducting an orchestra or unleashing as a rock star, really having a driving experience, like with a helicopter flying experience that is real," he said. "So physical interface is really just scratching the surface of opportunity there."

Finally, tapping into the ever increasing importance of social interaction, whether that means Facebook and Twitter, multiplayer gaming or including voice and video in a game.

We have seen this trend over the last few years already. The modern game climate is all about the experience. Graphics, atmosphere, perspective effects, a focus on first-person views, and stuff that looks exciting all seems more important than games that are actually exciting. Games are getting easy and simpler to play, because deep challenging gameplay isn't conducive to the experience. Dying takes you out of the immersion! The hero of the game is supposed to be a badass, so the player shouldn't ever fail, either. Gamers would get bored with really easy and simple gameplay, though, so they need something to keep them involved in the game somehow, and feeling a sense of accomplishment somehow. They're sure as hell not going to get it from good gameplay, so more and more developers are adding RPG elements to just about every game. RPG elements add a fake sense of accomplishment by popping up item and ability unlocks every once in a while, often for doing nothing but playing for a period of time.

Physical peripherals are in line with this trend, of course. But they're also an opportunity for Activision to make a lot more money.

"Social" gaming and multiplayer is also a clear trend over the last few years. I'm not opposed to it in principle, but the execution game developers have chosen leaves a lot to be desired. Most games nowadays have a singleplayer and multiplayer portion. They focus a lot on the social aspects of the multiplayer, and again the fake accomplishment of multiplayer unlocks and experience points and leveling up. The singleplayer ends up being really boring, for the reasons above. If a game is going to have singleplayer and multiplayer, although it's more costly and difficult, the best thing to do is make the gameplay in the single and multiplayer components actually different, or just don't bother with the singleplayer at all. For example, the upcoming Blizzard RTS Starcraft II will have a very competitive multiplayer with deep and complex gameplay, and a focus on balance and e-sports competition. The singleplayer will actually be quite different. It will have units and abilities that won't be in the multiplayer because they wouldn't be balanced for it. The singleplayer will be like a different RTS than the multiplayer, because that's the right thing to do for that game.

Social aspects of multiplayer is great. It's great to make friends online and play against the same people a lot. Of course, the best way to do this is to have persistent places for gamers to meet. Like a dedicated server. But developers hate those! They don't let you sell map packs and game modes, because they need to compete with modders who create that content for free. They also make piracy a bit nicer, because of pirate servers. So instead, because of consoles, developers can get rid of dedicated servers and just use peer-to-peer connections. You get matched up with a bunch of random people you've never met before, will never meet again, and won't remember. Then you just play games, hosted on one of the player's connections, leading to a ton of lag for everyone but that player. So, social multiplayer as consoles do it, which is how PC games are headed as well, is one of the worst ways to actually do it! Oh, and you can hook into twitter and facebook, because THAT makes the game itself better.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Let's Play: MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries

Because of the recent re-release of MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries by Mek Tek, I've been playing through it again, and really enjoying the changes and additions by Mek Tek. I also have a lot of fun recording commentary videos for games, so I decided to do a series of "Let's Play" videos of MW4:Mercs. I have 7 episodes up so far, with more to come. The pace of episodes is roughly 1 or 2 per day. However, I'm going on vacation next week and I won't be able to record until I get back.

You can find all of these and future videos at my Youtube channel: