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Default Spiderweb Software - Jeff Vogel on Videogame Stories

October 18th, 2021, 07:37
Jeff Vogel, of Spiderweb Software fame, has been keeping a blog. In his latest opinion piece he shares his thoughts on videogame stories.

Observation 1: When people say a video game has a good story, they mean that it has a story.

Gamers have a reputation for being intolerant, perpetually angry complainers. This isn't true. Gamers are the most forgiving, tolerant audience of any media.

If your game is barely functional, somewhat coherent, and gives you a sufficiently satisfying way to grind away your time, gamers will give you a billion dollars. Games that ship in a buggy, non-function state rocket to the top of the sales charts all the time. That's how tolerant gamers are. They don't even require your product to WORK!

So, if your game has a story that coherently gets from the start to the end, has a couple memorable characters and lines of dialogue, and doesn't waste a ton of time, the world's most forgiving audience will hail it as great.

But it doesn't really matter, because …

Observation 2: Players will forgive you for having a good story, as long as you allow them to ignore it.

Gamers don't generally care about your game's story. They want the adrenaline spikes of shooty-bang-bang, or the sweet dopamine hits from filling up status bars.

If you are in the mood for good storytelling, you can watch a movie. Or a TV show. Or (shudder) read a book. Each of these is a thousand miles beyond the best video game in terms of storytelling. Whether your tastes run toward Raiders of the Lost Ark or Hamlet or Guardians of the Galaxy or Breaking Bad, video games have worse stories. Sorry.

Doesn't matter, because the vast majority of players just tune out the story. As long as you let them skip past it, it's fine. There are a lot of people out there who have put hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft, myself included. If you quizzed us all on World of Warcraft lore, 99% of us would get an F-, guaranteed.

Good story isn't what gamers are after. Which is good, because they ain't gettin' it.

[…]
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October 18th, 2021, 08:26
If your game is barely functional, somewhat coherent, and gives you a sufficiently satisfying way to grind away your time, gamers will give you a billion dollars. Games that ship in a buggy, non-function state rocket to the top of the sales charts all the time. That's how tolerant gamers are. They don't even require your product to WORK!



Finally a developer admits the truth about modern games & gamer's.
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October 18th, 2021, 08:55
Originally Posted by Couchpotato View Post



Finally a developer admits the truth about modern games & gamer's.
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October 18th, 2021, 10:21
He's mixing mainstream and indie games, his article is a bit confusing at first for someone who claims to make a living out of good writing
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October 18th, 2021, 11:17
Indeed. It's more than a little ironic coming from someone with as little talent as him.
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October 18th, 2021, 12:16
Woah, this one is a really bad article. Like hilariously bad.

Examples taken just to prove his point, skipping games that have a great story (we have those, even in AAA segment). I can take Steven Seagal action movies and prove that cinema is dead with its predictable plot, weak characters and so on, so on. But what is the point? Certainly not kicking people in their teeth. I can take a washing machine manual and say 'look, this has letter and no story, books are bad'. So yeah, WoW is a great example.

Games have a wide spectrum of things to focus on. And story is just one of those. And if we dive into generalisation anyway, I can say that most gamers look for, well, gaming in games, doing things. So that what most games want to give, a good gameplay.

Oh well, there are more dumb things stated there, like the fact you need to kill bad guy at the end (nope, not a default ending for books and movies, not at all), but don't really like to kick something too much (I leave it to Steve).

And the fact that he is so proud that his games will never look good. Ugh.
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October 18th, 2021, 12:25
I think it's all part of his marketing cycle; these slightly provocative, pontificating articles that get people talking always seem to pop up at a certain point when he has a "new" game brewing. I guess, in his defence, the fact he's still flogging this stuff means he knows what he's doing, to some degree.
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October 18th, 2021, 12:41
Ad hominem statements aside, he does have a point. I'm not going to pretend that the story in games is what gets me playing them. If the combat/mechanics are bad or not challenging, if there is no feeling of progression, if the visuals aren't appealing (appealing, not being the same as incredible last-gen, indie pixel games can have appealing aesthetics), then the game is out for me. The story just helps thread things along, and it just needs to be there, with the typical cycles of "struggle-betrayal-loss-final heroic victory" that about 95% of games use, RPGs included.

I've stated in different threads more than once that if I want to enjoy a good story, I rather cuddle in bed with my partner and some snacks over a 50" screen with 5.1 and subwoofer watching an actual quality movie/show, than sitting on my own, in front of monitor and a keyboard. Games are made for gaming.

Also, gamers are very tolerant towards games, especially with those that play more or less into their niche tastes, because, to sum it up, "beggars can't be choosers". Much less tolerant towards studios or individuals that achieved success because gamers are also humans, and then envy alone pushes them out of their confort zone.
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October 18th, 2021, 13:46
It's obviously subjective, but for me there's one key story element games offer and movies or books don't. Active participation in the story. The good ol' thing called role playing. Having a personal stake and active role in a story can elevate the narrative experience in ways watching someone else's story never can.
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October 18th, 2021, 14:47
Well, shouldn't he have said you can recycle the same story material between multiple games and people will still support you like you did something new?

Jeff is the dev of zero chances.
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October 18th, 2021, 19:58
Observation 2: Players will forgive you for having a good story, as long as you allow them to ignore it.

Gamers don't generally care about your game's story. They want the adrenaline spikes of shooty-bang-bang, or the sweet dopamine hits from filling up status bars.
I fully agree to that - but only regarding "power play" players. Those who are not interested in story, but in their character "rising into powah" and becoming "the b iggest badass there ever was".

For this kind of player, what he writes is absolutely true.

I currently see that in the DDO forums.
Anything PvP is also like that.
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October 19th, 2021, 00:46
lol. I love Jeff; that grognard has been around forever and won't ever change. I'd have a beer with him if I drank alcohol. I'd have a coffee with him, at least.

I love his games. Looking forward to Queen's Ambition 2 or whatever the Hell it's called. To me, the graphics are appropriate for the gameplay.

As far as "stories in games" vs. TV or whatever… whoa. That's a whole other argument. I appreciate a good "story" in games when it's there but yeah, it's usually not the focal point of a game for me. Planescape: Torment keeps coming up as a game with a great story (and say, Disco Elysium - which had a great story and couldn't be told over the medium of a large screen TV with or without snacks) - BUT these games are so rare that we keep talking about them, over and over, because they are the exception about storytelling in games and not the rule.

I'm also a reader, and I think books and VNs are completely different mediums. I'm reading Franzen's new "Crossroads" novel on my Kindle right now, and it's fantastic; I'm more than halfway through. However… I also enjoyed the really bizarre Japanese VN "Wonderful Everyday Down the Rabbit Hole" and that story couldn't be told really in any other medium that exists today and have the same effect.

Jeff's games aren't the TV equivalent of a great story told on TV or through a book; nor are they really even up to storytelling games that stick out in my mind; but I think his point is that competent writing is all you really need to get gamers to say your game has a "decent story" - that's it.
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October 19th, 2021, 02:24
If your game is barely functional, somewhat coherent, and gives you a sufficiently satisfying way to grind away your time, gamers will give you a billion dollars. Games that ship in a buggy, non-function state rocket to the top of the sales charts all the time. That's how tolerant gamers are. They don't even require your product to WORK!
Well, Gabe discovered it many years ago and even managed to make a decent coin out of it. That's how Early Access was born.
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October 19th, 2021, 03:37
Prophet Vogel speaks with authority. Absolutely hilarious that the man, the myth, the iconic legend that, through his company, actually releases games that function perfectly on day one. I'd have a pizza and an ale with the bloke, anytime! Embracing truth is always a good way to stride forth.
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October 19th, 2021, 04:34
"Videogame Stories"

Stories? Plural? Like more than one?
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October 19th, 2021, 04:39
It does depend what a good story is for him - if it is about long text and pausing game for cutscenes = getting in the way - why would you like it? Is it even appropriate for videogames as medium? On the other hand, I really miss enviromental storytelling - no I'm not talking about scattered pieces of papers or arranged sets of assets, but about combination of audio design, uncovering mysteries in the right time to keep you hooked, and graphics to enhance it. Some action games surprisingly do have it.
Also I'm not sure what he meant by mentioning WoW - that it was successful without a good story? But it was very immersive game with a lot of lore in background - that is something I noticed successful games always? had. And if it didn't have a good story, ofcourse players appretiate to opt out.
Those devs observations are sometimes so frustrating…
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October 19th, 2021, 07:50
To me, the story is essential to a good RPG. Otherwise I'd just play an arcade game or a shooter.

I'd wager that the writing/storytelling is the main factor that has kept Vogel in business. It certainly isn't the graphics, and his game mechanics aren't anything new or innovative either.
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October 19th, 2021, 10:34
When you do something for 10, 15, 20, or even 27 years, there is always danger you will stop enjoying it in the process. Especially if you do it for living. Some people, when they realize it, go and do something else. They might sell their company and start brewing beer for example . Someone else might be afraid of changing step, for different reasons. And others might not even realize they dont enjoy it anymore and just go on day by day.

Not sure if any of that might be case of Mr. Vogel, but he definitely doesnt sound as one happy chap.
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