Katherine Isbister received her PhD from Stanford in 1998 on the topic of reading body language in onscreen characters. Nicole Lazzaro founded XEODesign, a contract firm that conducts player testing on games at an early stage to ensure a quality emotional experience – she has fifteen years experience in the industry.
Gamasutra already covered 'Emotion Boot Camp,' the tutorial they gave at GDC 2006, but also had an opportunity to talk with them in depth on character and interface design, and discuss ways to tap into a vast market of people who want more emotionally involving play.
Gamasutra: What problems do you both see afflicting the game industry?
Dr. Isbister: From a character standpoint it’s a real opportunity time. Developers are feeling the pressure of new platforms and bigger budgets and yet are realizing that too many sequels and licenses are going to lose the interest of the broad audience they want. I've had mainstream developers that might have attended my talks a few years ago and seen it as a blue sky sort of thing and now they come to me and say "hey, we really want to do this stuff, lets talk about how to make it happen."
I've also seen students put together portfolios and get jobs based on issues around character. It’s a scary time, but there’s an opportunity for developers and people bringing new ideas to the industry.
Lazzaro: The industry is in a real quagmire, the technical demands of next-gen hardware are increasing budget and team size at an exponential rate and risk, likewise, is increasing at that same rate. But we do need to innovate, even though it’s becoming more difficult, so we need techniques that allow developers to tell early on what their design is going to play like. During prototyping the methodologies we use [XeoDesign] help developers detect early on what the experience is going to be like.
The other thing is to create experiences that are innovative in new spaces, so I think the casual games space is a very interesting opportunity right now because the cost to get in is so low. There is something of a glut of content, but you do have the ability for a $100-150K budget and a five- to twelve-person team to go in there an make an experience that can do really well in that space.
They're saying by 2008 it'll be a billion dollar business, that’s not too far away. If we keep chasing this curve of more and more polygons we're not going to get more emotional expression. The effectiveness of greater realism is hitting a plateau and the next phase is really about understanding what makes a compelling play experience and what goes on inside users' heads as they play and how to make that experience more emotional. Without emotion there is no game.