Mike Morhaime, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka discuss social gaming trends and WOW’s influence.
DICE 2011’s first keynote took the form of a panel discussion between recipients of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame award, with the panellists forming an interesting trichotomy: the traditional MMOG space represented by Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime, Bioware’s Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka representing potential evolution of that space via the upcoming The Old Republic, and Zynga’s Bruce Shelley representing the alternative: mass market online social gaming via Facebook. Panellist Mark Cerny, a consultant who has worked on titles including Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, was unfortunately, and noticeably, largely excluded from the conversation.
Shelley, a veteran of Age Of Empires maker Ensemble Studios, opened the session by describing how much Facebook game FrontierVille — developed at Zynga before he began to work with the company — had affected him, saying it had “showed him the way”.
“I had played some other social networking games and they were kind of shallow; they didn’t give me the engagement that other games did. [with FrontierVille] Reynolds and his team did something amazing, I said to myself ‘this is a real game and this is something that is really new’. I was amazed at how clever and addictive it was and how game design was taken to a new place.”Shelley continued that he subsequently observed a study that showed that the ‘biggest single demographic’ of gamers was people who only played games they could get for free, such as Windows’ Solitaire. “Social games were reaching these audiences and with real games, and this is just the start; right now we continue to create the same kind of social game about building something, but what if these people who weren’t paying for games would start to get into things more similar to World Of Warcraft? Other genres are going to get involved.”
Morhaime admitted that he himself had been touched by this quick and simple social gaming revolution, calling Words With Friends, the Scrabble-a-like multiplayer title for iPhone created by Newtoy (now owned by Zynga) one of his favourite recent games, using it to stay in contact with friends that he doesn’t get as many opportunities to talk to as he’d like.