Updated Wed, Jan 02, 2008 by Cody Bye
Ten Ton Hammer: While some games seem to be able to hold their own without positive CSR, some also lose their gamers when those players cannot get “unstuck” or experience to much “griefing”. Will customer service ever become more of a necessity than what it is today?
Brian: I don’t think so. We’ve already seen games get less customer service as newer games have been unwilling to use volunteers due to previous lawsuits. The older games like UO and even M59 used to have player volunteers helping others out with simple issues. WoW does not use volunteers like this, and the level of customer support is less than what Meridian 59 had back when 3DO used player volunteers. Yet, it manages to be a widely popular game.
M59 used to have player volunteers that helped new players with simple issues.
I think part of the reason for this is because people are becoming more familiar with this type of gameplay. More people understand the basics of the game and can help others as they try out these games. In addition, there is more of a focus in making the games easier for new players to learn, so you have a lot less confusion from new players.
Further, games are automating a lot of these simple issues. Most games have some variation of the “/stuck” command or a teleportation item to get you out bad game geometry. Most games also provide tools to ignore and/or report people who are harassing other players through a standard system. As we gain more experience, we’ll be able to identify these issues and provide effective solutions without requiring as much CSRs.
Ten Ton Hammer: Legitimacy is also something that you’ve been interested in. At IMGDC, you joked that you tell your mom you’re a crack dealer so she will respect you. How can video game designers and marketers bring legitimacy to the gaming marketplace?
Brian: Legitimacy is a huge issue for me. I want to see games treated with the same respect as other creative media, such as movies or books. I think that games have as much expressive power as other media, and that game developers should not have to justify our work on a regular basis.
Comic books were restricted by the CCA due to a congressional belief that the books corrupted children. It took titles like Sandman, which wasn't restricted by the CCA, to prove that comic books were a serious storytelling medium.
I think it’s instructive to look at the Hot Coffee incident. From the clips I saw, there was nothing in the game I couldn’t see in some R-rated movies. GTA3’s rating, M for Mature, is roughly the equivalent of an R rating in movies. Yet, you don’t see congressional committees talking about topless women and implied sex scenes in R-rated movies, do you? No, because movies are seen as a legitimate medium. What makes games “illegitimate”? Because they’re seen as being only for kids.
There is a serious threat of harm here. Back in the days of comic books, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) restricted the content of comic books in response to congressional committees worrying that comic books corrupt children. The result? An industry that fell behind and was never given the chance to mature. A shame because after reading classics like Sandman or Watchmen, you can see how much potential comics have as a serious storytelling medium. Yet, today, we see that manga is gaining a huge following with young adults in the U.S. It’s interesting to note that Japan never had the CCA to harm the industry and allowed the medium as a whole to mature and grow.
I think that the number one thing we have to do is show that video games are not just for children. Note that this does not mean we cannot make games for children, rather that we need to focus on games for older gamers as well. As game designers, I think the best thing we can do is to focus more on including “mature” topics in our games without resorting to the usual tools of hyperviolence and sexual titillation that passes for “mature” in our games, or worse, for marketing for our games. A game that deals seriously with relationships, loss, or other topics that are important in other media would help a lot. We have some of them already, but they are the exceptions. As long as developers continue to make “typical” games, we will have to fear government interference.
I think that indie developers are the beacon of hope here. As I mentioned before, they can take risks and try innovative things. It’s not easy to do that if you’re just another developer at a large company that has shareholders to appease.
Even beyond developers, I think the press has to get more involved, too. I’m glad that the press was able to attend the Indie MMO convention and report on it. I think the press has a role in showing people there are games outside of the mainstream, big-budget games with massive marketing campaigns.