[Game design veteran Ryan -- most recently a designer on Fracture -- looks at the Wiki as a game design and development tool, asking -- is it the right tool to use to document game creation, and what are the pros and cons of using it to store design information about larger-scale games?]
As a self-described old-school developer, I have written or directed the creation of game design documentation since the early '90s, but recently I had the opportunity to work with teams using internal Wiki websites to document their game design specifications. I wasn't sold at first, given the discipline that goes into creating clear, precise documentation, but I saw a lot of positive aspects to the approach.
I did some asking around, and I found that quite a few people have worked at companies that used Wikis. The vast majority were making self-published games where the demand for documentation milestone deliverables to a publisher didn't force a printed format onto the team.
I realized that Wiki is probably something that's here to stay and I'd better learn to adapt. So I did a little bit of research and found the pros and cons of using Wiki for game design documentation and some methods for overcoming the cons. This article seeks to share what I learned.
Wiki was invented by Ward Cunningham in 1994 as a way for programmers at his company to share ideas. It is a simplified markup language loosely modeled after Apple's Hypercard -- which, interestingly enough, is credited as the forefather of HTML, the standard Web Browser markup language. The difference with Wiki is that it is much simpler and hasn't spun out of control in complexity like HTML has over the years. Anyone can edit it, which is the point. It's not an information presentation language: it's an information sharing language. It promotes communication and group contribution through ease of access.
Over the years, Wiki has spread to other companies and to public websites. The most famous is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, written entirely by individual contributors around the world. The prominence of Wikipedia as a respected repository of information is the ultimate proof of the success of Wiki's goals. Thank you, Ward.
Wiki was originally designed for use in a software development company before being adapted for community and commercial sites. From what I could gather, a few game companies have used it for quite a long time. The fact that more and more video game development companies are starting to use it should be no surprise. It's caught on.
Our industry has grown. The size of the projects, the depth in the games, and the sheer amount of information is staggering. There is just too much for a single designer or producer to write up. There is also just too much information for a single design document, even if it were divided up into sections. Wiki solves this issue because it allows many individual contributors and a browser interface to organize and find information.
Perhaps this is just a side-effect of being gamers or an influence from the MySpace, Blogger, and Twitter culture, but game developers seem to have a small attention span and appreciate the bite-size pieces of design that Wiki encourages. They don't like wading through 100 page design specifications. Each Wiki page is a topic, and it can easily be linked to other topics, be grouped into sections and be labeled for searching. In short, Wiki makes design more accessible.
The answers are simple:
1. Sharepoint isn't cheap. Many Wiki solutions are free or fairly inexpensive.
2. Sharepoint is cumbersome and is more of document hosting solution than a website. I've literally waited minutes for a document to transfer off the site and be loaded by my MS Office application rather than come up in my web browser as a web page like Wiki does.
3. A tool that's used is more useful than a tool that's not. In my experience, Wiki is more readily used by the team members. It gets more contributors and more readers alike.