Zenimax Online confirmed the use of full voice support for its NPC’s in Elder Scrolls Online earlier this year, but is that always a good thing? Blaine Smith of Camelot Post takes an in-depth look at the pros and cons of voiced characters in MMO gaming.
The origins of voice acting in gaming are rather difficult to trace, mainly due to the mixed opinions on what constitutes voice acting. Titles as early as the 1980s used synthesized voices to create additional sound effects but Dragon’s Lair was one of the first titles to feature actual voice actors. As we travel through the complex weaves of gaming history we arrive at a much more advanced era in video-games.
The first ever MMO game to feature full voice acting was actually DC Universe Online, contrary to the belief that it was actually Star Wars: The Old Republic following the Guinness World Records Award for most voiced entertainment product. BioWare revealed that over 300 individual voice actors helped shape the world of SWTOR, including over 1 thousands recording sessions and 200,000 lines of dialogue. So with a rather brief and somewhat inaccurate look back at the origins of voice acting in gaming, let’s get to the point. Is it really worth it?
The Pros Of Voiced MMO Games
The first positive to fully voiced gaming is probably the main reason it ever used in the first place, immersion. When you’re reading a book your imagination creates the characters, creates their voices and creates the world they inhabit. When that is already complete and in front of you in glorious 3D your imagination undergoes subconscious restrictions. The game world was already created, the character was already created, everything around you is the product of another persons imagination. So unlike when reading a book, you wouldn’t image the appearance or behavior of the characters as it’s right there.
Personally I feel this is why the typical gamer will just skip over the lesser important dialogue, mainly because it’s just read off in a robotic fashion. There’s also a certain talent to being able to read correctly. Obviously you can read or you wouldn’t be here, but there’s something special required to truly put feeling and emotion into words as you read them off a PC screen. With the inclusion of fully voiced actors in MMO games, that skill is no longer required.
Players can instantly hear and feel the emotion the character is attempting to portray. We can hear the urgency in the voice, the sadness, the joy. This allows gamers to truly experience a living, breathing world, not just mindless dialogue.
The second biggest pro to fully voiced MMO games is player choice. Although this hasn’t been officially announced for The Elder Scrolls Online and it’s not always included in games of that type; it has become a vital feature in many titles that utilize full voice acting. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragons Age; these are just some of the games that offer player freedom of choice.
I know what you’re thinking. Plenty of games feature player driven choices without voice and plenty of games feature voice without the choice; but you cannot argue that recent games that feature both have been hugely successful. The two features also aim to provide the same core appeal, immersion. Being able to make a choice that influences the world around you is a vital ingredient that’s made previous Elder Scrolls games so successful.
The Cons Of Voiced MMO Games
I think the level of impact each individual con has is completely dependent on the type of player having the experience. Personally I find the biggest drawback to fully voiced MMO games is grouping up with other players. I remember beginning my journey in Star Wars: The Old Republic; during a time where I had all but given up hope on the genre. I told myself I would enjoy the entire experience, sample the lore-filled world and not just rush through to end-game and although that was always my primary goal, I found I was forced to ignore it during any serious group content.
I was actually kicked from groups a number of times because I was halting the progress of my fellow party members. I spent just a few minutes listening to the story surrounding that particular quest or instance but apparently that was enough to toss me aside. One of the biggest selling points of Star Wars: The Old Republic was the fact it was tackling the MMO genre from a storytelling perspective. Forcing an individual to completely skip that part of the game was a sure-fire way of reducing subscriber numbers.
However, if you’re a player that would happily skip story to progress at a faster rate; that wouldn’t be a problem for you. But by pushing through content as quickly as possible you’ll be one of the first affected by the second major con, development time. Practically every single MMO launch suffers with teething problems and a large contribution to that factor is the lack of content. Developers can spend several years creating a AAA MMO game but players can still get through the entirety of the content in a matter of weeks, sometimes even days. The typical elements still apply in regards to developing content but not every MMO has to deal with fully voiced acting.
Even a small update, let’s say a new town and several new quest lines, would involve far more work than your typical MMO. The developers would still have to create new textures, model new buildings, implement new quests and add rewards, but on top of all of that, every piece of dialogue must be voiced. So those of us that enjoy dedicating our time to the end-game content of an MMO could face more delays than we’re use to. This leads us to the final con, cost.
Publishers rarely provide exact figures regarding costs of development and deployment so it’s usually just guesswork from industry analysts and experts. However despite my complete lack of education in anything financial, even I can see the basic maths involved. More people plus more time equals more cost. Investment that could be spent on creating more actual content rather than just voices. Maybe even advertising to attract more players thus earning more revenue to improve the game. Either way, it costs more to create a AAA fully voiced MMO than the normal AAA titles.
What do you think? Does the inclusion of fully voiced acting influence your decision to buy a game or would you avoid it at all costs? Post a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.