Friday, September 18, 2009

GDC Austin: Thursday MMO Extravaganza

Thursday saw the Blizzard keynote speech, which was not a very informative session. It was the Universe Behind World of Warcraft, so Brack and Pearce spent their 60 minutes talking about how Blizzard is organized administratively--everything from staffing to the number of CPUs contained in their server blades. The stats were interesting, and really didn't need a keynote, but the most interesting tidbit is that prior to WoW Blizzard had 400 employees. Today they have over 4600.

The disclaimer to the audience was that every studio and company will have a different team structure to them. Blizzard even said that they will reorganize an entire department if they change the people in director or manager positions. The same disclaimer was said at the BioWare session, Come and See the Elephant, given by Bill Dalton. So given that these structures are highly subjective and change frequently, what is the point on spending two-thirds of a lecture on volatile and useless information?

The day wasn't all bad though. Aside from networking with some very nice folks at the Expo, we attended a very fast-paced, highly technical talk on Texturing Massive Terrain. The senior graphics programmer at Blizzard, Colt McAnlis, gave a very informative presentation about optimizations, compression algorithms, and some dangling questions on texture synthesis. I'm not going to post those notes because they are intense.

Another notable session was Petur Johannes Oskarsson's case study on EVE's player elected council. My notes follow:
  • the Alliance system was the result of Corps forming emergent alliances without formal system
  • CCP wanted to implement governance for New Eden
  • decided to design democracy based on Iceland's democracy
  • the proposal was written as an academic paper and critiqued by Bartle, EVE's fanfest, and eventually forums and fansites
  • the biggest issue that came up was the definition of "democracy"
  • resolution was to spam the document with the "you don't have any power"; players were fine
  • Council of Stellar Management (CSM)
  • - 9 reps; candidates run under RL names; 6 month terms; 2 term limit
  • - general, anonymous election outside of EVE available to all EVE players
  • - liaison between CCP and players
  • - have forums; CSM reviews topics and after deliberation presents issue to CCP
  • - council is flown to Iceland to meet CCP occasionally
  • 1st CSM election: 64 apps; 11.08% turnout; 24.6k votes
  • 2nd: 42 apps; 8.61% turnout; 20k votes
  • 3rd: 40 apps; 9.74% turnout; 27.8k votes
  • low turnouts, but raw votes actually highest in latest election
  • but what can these metrics be measured against? how many elections have happened in MMOs? 3.
  • political parties are forming: Voice of Reason
  • no attempt from CCP at censoring or directing the topics raised by the CSM
  • CSM can request review on customer support polices and forum moderation, but can't bring up specific cases
  • role has expanded to two-way communication:
  • - CSM used to gather Apocrypha pre-release impressions
  • - presented with exploit report prior to releasing to public
  • these councils need trust to work
  • - in person meetings are a must
  • - NDAs help create trust
  • future of CSM? (these were just random thoughts by Oskarsson)
  • - earmark small budget for good blogs, fansites, or communities
  • - possibly increase number of reps as EVE population grows
  • - give Dust 514 players a voice?


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

So given that these structures are highly subjective and change frequently, what is the point on spending two-thirds of a lecture on volatile and useless information?

You ask this question because you don't understand the purpose of giving a talk. In many cases, it's not to inform people; after all, where is the benefit of giving away your "secret sauce" to all the potential competitors at a conference? After your first game conference or two, you'll understand that the real info isn't at the sessions (although you'll find the occasional gem), but between sessions. Making contacts and finding out the "real dirt" happening behind the scenes is what really helps.

Anyway, the real reason to give a talk at a conference is PR. Game networks are going to report the keynote extensively, just google "blizzard austin keynote" to see how many places covered it. It's cheap press for Blizzard for the cost of air fare, hotels, and days off from work. (Although Blizzard is probably important enough that the conference may comp the air fare and hotel for them.)

Personally, even though I mostly speak for PR purposes, I still try to give useful information that people can use; I'm old-fashioned that way. You can look on my blog for the slides and comments on my presentations from before.

But, yeah, info about how many processors someone has on their blades? Hooray "we're more awesome than you!" information!

motstandet said...

I kinda figured most of these sessions were PR. A lot of them had business spins and marketing pitches. The question of why would a company tell competitors how to make more money was always in the back of my mind.

Hopefully we'll see you at a future GDC, Brian :D

Verilazic said...

So given that these structures are highly subjective and change frequently, what is the point on spending two-thirds of a lecture on volatile and useless information?

My take is that aside from PR issues, the disclaimer was just a disclaimer. It still is useful to learn how other people run things, even if it's different from case to case. And really, even just learning that Blizzard went from 400 to 4600 employees is interesting in and of itself.

This comment is also to say hi, and that I got your message, evizaer. For whatever reason, I decided to check my now-defunct blog attempt to see if anyone had commented again. What you guys are doing here looks interesting, I'll drop by from time to time.

evizaer said...

Thanks for stopping by! I'm happy you happened upon my message.

Posts are sparse recently because of AGDC, but will pick up as I put my analysis and thoughts into more detailed and specific posts.