As a former Eve Online player, I was disappointed but not surprised to hear about poor behavior at the latest CCP FanFestevent. What did surprise me was that the behavior was attributed to a panel speaker.
Video game company Bioware has been in the news quite a bit lately. It is not surprising given that the third and final episode of their Mass Effect franchise was recently released. But some of the Bioware news was not a direct result of the hype associated with driving sales of their games. From what I have read, I have to give props to Bioware for both supporting their employees and listened to their customer base.
Bioware took a proactive and supportive stance behind one of their employees last month. Jennifer Hepler could have been thrown to the wolves not because she was necessarily wrong her opinions about the value of action vs. narrative in but because Bioware could have chosen to minimize the potential downside of negative press and image coming from one of it’s writers. +1 for Bioware for being supportive and not leaving Ms. Hepler to swing freely in the wind.
Bioware has also taken the latest “cries” from their hardcore Mass Effect fans seriously. Instead of telling their Mass Effect fans to pound sand and deal with the ending, Bioware has agreed to make some modifications in the storyline to appease fans. While the cynical crowd might see this as a suck up move by a spineless game developer, I’d prefer to think of it as a game developer listening and responding to fan concerned. +1 for Bioware taking an interest in what their customers want and for trying to make that happen.
Companies should look at what Bioware is doing. Sure, the content is great and very addictive, but the company seems genuinely interested in providing the best product possible while simultaneously being supportive of their employees. Those facts can only improve customer loyalty and make it easier for their customer base to purchase future products.
Wired’s article on progress made on Halo 4 is certainly an interesting read (and development of Halo 4 video is worth looking for IMO). Having said that, it is hard to say whether the latest news release from the current developers of the Halo franchise is good news or a sign of bad times ahead. 343 Industries, the Microsoft group that took over from Bungie, seems to be pursuing a gritter and more realistic vision in pushing the gaming franchise forward.
While 343 wants to forge its own way going forward, they risk abandoning things that Halo players expect from their game in terms of style and tone. Abandoning too much might make the game unrecognizable, or worse yet, uninteresting and predictable.
The development team has indicated that they are interested in producing a title that delves more deeply into the background of the returning Master Chief. Part of what made that character so intriguing is that so little was known about him. 343 needs to be careful that they don’t turn the Master Chief into another boring video game protagonist.
If 343 can find the precarious balance between mystery and knowledge necessary to keep its core players interested, the fleshing out of character backgrounds will provide an additional foundation from which to build future story-lines and perhaps even increase its player base. If they get it wrong, all the shiny new graphics won’t help it from sinking.