Why Twitch Matters

Today I had the absolute pleasure to spend some time with Goldglove and Ally… Two of my absolute favorite Twitch streamers. I first found Goldglove through one of my favorite games – Day Z. On any given night he could be streaming any new game but he comes back to Day Z quite a bit, much to my great pleasure. He streams a lot with his girlfriend Ally and it’s often a blast to watch both streams and see the banter from different sides. On any given night you might be watching this with 10,000 people many of whom are fellow subscribers to their streams and pay $4.99 a month of which a large portion goes to the streamers themselves.

Twitch has largely supplanted TV for me now. It’s become a whole other thing. It’s at different times of the day the background noise while I’m working, a real time chat with our customers and an exceedingly important communication tool for getting the word about about our games. I also use it as my “what to play next” barometer. The stats are off the charts.. It’s an insanely sticky site and more and more gamers are streaming every day on multiple platforms.

The thing is..as big as this is…. It’s nothing compared to where it will be two years from now and more importantly where this whole medium is capable of going. Nothing exemplifies this better than Twitch plays Pokemon. Hundreds of thousands of players helped play a real time game of Pokemon that went on for a long time. It’s hard to even describe how it worked.but somehow it did and it was glorious to behold.

To me that interactivity is the difference. Right now we are watching people streaming their gameplay. We are moving from just a voice over streaming gameplay to incredibly professional looking broadcasts done by incredibly talented streamers like Goldglove and Ally, or Lirik or Cohhcarnage. Some of them stream by themselves, and many of them stream with their regular crews that are often part of the night after night. In fact I’ve got my favorites set up so literally 7/24 there is someone broadcasting even for a longtime insomniac like me. And it’s not just a US thing either. It’s all over the world.

The thing that excites me the most is thinking about where this can go… I’d love to see a half hour drama staged in my favorite games.. Or imagine an interactive House of Cards level tv show from Netflix… Except performed live with some interactivity with the audience. You could do some bad ass stuff with the audience actually being involved.

How about Spartacus with the audience getting a real time thumbs up or down?

Are you not entertained?

Streaming games is a powerful new medium, but the interactivity we are already seeing out of Twitch is the dawn of a whole new kind of entertainment. Gaming is, as it usually is, the tip of the spear. Twitch is a game changer. When I heard that $1B Google buyout rumor all I could think was it’s worth way more!

Smed

The Life of a Gamer

I’m 45 years old. I’ve been playing games since I was 8 and making them professionally since I was 18. During that time there have been an amazing number of technological advances.. better consoles.. better computers.. amazing video cards.. smartphones. As a result of that technology we’ve seen some simply astonishing games take over out lives for long periods of time.

It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to take a closer look at the arc of my own life as a gamer and open my eyes to the fact that my journey is really different than the one my kids are on. I see the gaming world through the eyes of someone 45 that grew up on consoles and early PCs. My kids (I have 4.. 3 of which I would consider hardcore gamers) grew up in a very different gaming world than I did. They’ve had smartphones to play games on, they’re already used to multi-tasking to a degree that even someone like me has a hard time keeping up with. They’re tweeting with their friends while they play games. They’re on Facebook while they play games. Gaming is already a very social experience for them simply because of their ability to connect with each other. It lets word of mouth become almost instantaneous. That’s a very, very powerful thing.

The generation we’re seeing coming into the gaming fold now are going to be even more extreme versions of my own kids. They will never have seen a world without an iPhone.. or an iPad. They will be playing in a world where they can log onto a PC, find just about any kind of game they want to play and go ahead and play it.. all without going to the store to buy something. In fact, they’re growing up in a world where the free options are actually incredible. This isn’t me saying Free-To-Play is the only way. I’m saying let’s open our eyes to the world we’re living in. The next generation of gamers has an awesome world to look forward to.

We’re also seeing a massive influx of people of all ages into gaming in general. Things like Candy Crush Saga have hit a chord in a whole lot of people. My own Mom is 75 and plays Pogo for  6-8 hours a day (yeah. really.. not exaggerating).

So what does all this mean for us as both game players and game makers? Well as a game maker the world only gets more interesting. We always can look forward to the next new awesome piece of tech that’s going to give us the ability to make cooler things. However, we also need to start actually paying attention to our own demographics a bit more than perhaps we did in the past… particularly in gaming segments that have longer game lifetimes. In the MMO space, we have Everquest which is just about to turn 15.  That’s 1/3 of my life. One game. We have a whole lot of people who played right from March 16th, 1999. There have been many games that have sucked me in so completely I’ve played them for really extended lengths of time.

What’s interesting about those numbers is that I know I’m not unique in them. Most of you have probably also played some games for a super long time too. I was 30 when we launched Everquest… and I’m 45 now. That’s a huge age gap. My tastes have changed radically. There are new categories that didn’t exist before that I find my gaming time split between (Planetside 2, Dota 2.. ipad games.. iphone games). I have responsibilities I didn’t have when I was 30. My desire to pull an all-nighter playing a game hasn’t changed one bit. However my ability to pull an all-nighter playing a game has absolutely changed. I also find that once I’ve learned a game I tend to stick with it more than when I was younger because the key investment I’m making now is time.

And that’s really what sums this up for me. My key resource in my own life now is time. It’s a finite resource. Maybe it’s THE finite resource.

Where will I be when I’m 60.. or when I’m 75 like my Mom is now. I know for sure I’ll still be gaming… and I can’t wait to see what it is I’ll be playing. But really, 15 years to hitting 60 doesn’t seem as long now to me. I’m starting to measure my professional time in terms of what I make.. because we only get a certain amount of time on this Earth and I’d rather be playing or making games than anything else so I want to make the best games I can… and I want to have fun doing it.

Smed

The Sandbox MMO

A lot has been made about how much we’re pushing this concept of “Sandbox” mmos being the future. Not a lot has been said about what that means.

To date most MMOs have been what I would call “content driven” mmos. What that specifically means is we have made things for the players to explicitly do either by themselves or as a group. This can come in a lot of forms including things like Dungeons, expansion packs, quests… or things as simple as a large area with wandering monsters in it that drop loot from some kind of fixed table. There have been a lot of innovations over the years.. things like Battlegrounds, or public quests… but by and large this idea of the MMO company making stuff for the players to  do has become the defacto.

My belief is simple – the content driven model is not where we should be aiming as an industry. Why? It’s unsustainable. When we first began making these kinds of games 18 years ago (I mean no disrespect to the Muds and other games out before Everquest) there was nothing to compare our games to. Players were so excited about being able to be a part of these virtual worlds that just about any content was exciting. Over the years the quality has really been steadily rising to the point where we have some brilliant narrative and exciting storylines in many MMOs today. We still thrill at completing a quest to kill the dragon or save some poor townsperson who was unlucky enough to get kidnapped by orcs. The real issue is a simple one – our ability to consume that content as players has gotten to the point that most content is done by the players nearly immediately after it’s released. It’s also laid out for all to see on any number of websites that contain complete spoilers up to and including the loot drop percentages.

I won’t argue why I think that part sucks. It’s too subjective. The thing that is tough as a game maker is that players are going through the content we make so much faster then we can make it that we’re constantly in a state where our players are looking for stuff to do.

A great example of this happened with SWTOR. I happen to think it’s a very well done game and the team at Bioware should be proud. However people that played the game went through the content so quickly that they became bored a whole lot sooner than the developers wanted them to.

This is a problem we all face. We all as game makers have to deal with the fact that we’re not just competing the content of WoW at launch. We’re dealing with 9 years of it. That’s a very daunting task and it makes the genre unapproachable if people try and fight that fight. Don’t get me wrong.. someone with deep pockets can still pull it off. TESO looks like it’s going to follow the content model and it’s going to have a lot of players. I’m willing to bet that it hits the same problem that  SWTOR did. Just not enough to do.

So if that’s the problem what’s the solution?

In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other. Battlegrounds are an excellent example of an Evergreen style of content where it’s the players themselves that actually create the content. Auction houses are another example. So are things like storytelling tools in SWG.. or the brilliant music system in LOTRO. Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it. Imagine an MMORPG of a massive city.. and the Rogue’s guild is entirely run by players. Where the city has an entire political system that is populated by players who were elected by the playerbase.

There’s a great example of this today with Eve Online. It’s a brilliantly executed system where the players are pretty much in charge of the entire game. Sure there is a lot of content for players to do, but anything that’s important in the game is done by the players. This is a shining example of how this kind of system can thrive.

Our belief at SOE is that it’s smarter to head in this direction now rather than waiting. We want to innovate and let players be a part of everything we do including make the game in the first place. We’re going to take the idea of sandbox gaming and we’re putting it at the core of everything we’re doing. We’ll obviously still be making awesome stuff for players to do, but we’re going to aim very high in terms of letting players be a part of the game systems. The more emergent sandbox style content we can make the less predictable the experience will be.

Smed

New Blog

After checking out a bunch of the sites suggested by people via Twitter, I’ve settled on WordPress. It seems to have all the functionality that I’m looking for.

Purpose of this Blog -

The idea is to have a place for me to post longer form ideas or thoughts that won’t easily fit into Twitter size chunks.

 

Smed