Monday, November 07, 2011
What college degree for MMORPG design?
If you are the kind of person who reads a linked article up to the footnotes, you might have noticed the following phrase at the bottom of the MMO Champion article linked to in my previous post: "Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. The last time he used “Fig. 5” in an article, it related fish predation to estuarine hydrocarbon contamination." Google is your friend, so it appears the remark is related to this scientific paper, in which Greg Street is named in the acknowledgments as student having contributed. So it appears Ghostcrawler studied marine biology, and got a Ph.D. in that. Now having a science degree myself I'd say that any kind of scientific studies should enable you to learn how the scientific method works and apply it to game design. Nevertheless marine biology isn't necessarily the first science that comes to mind when you think of what somebody could have studied to prepare for game design.
At which point I couldn't help but wonder what college degree would be most appropriate for a career in MMORPG design. And I'm not talking about programming skills here, but rather about getting the incentives of a game right, so players are having fun without causing too many problems for other players.
One obvious candidate would be psychology. I'm reading the Psychology of Video Games Blog, but unfortunately the posts there are few and far between these days. Nevertheless I do think that psychology has a lot to say about how people behave in virtual worlds. A virtual world is a much simpler place as the real world. So if you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs for players in a virtual world, you'll notice that the lower half of the pyramid doesn't apply; there is no need for breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. And the need for safety is much diminished if even death is a just a minor temporary setback. Thus a virtual world makes for an ideal environment to study the upper levels of this hierarchy of needs, that is belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
But I do think there are other strong contenders. Behavioral economics would be a great science to explain the reaction of players to incentives. And sociology or even anthropology would provide many of the answers of how players interact in virtual communities and tribes (aka guilds). And of course there are actual colleges, usually art schools, which teach game design. I'm not quite sure how useful these degrees are, or how widely accepted.
So, if you were to hire a MMORPG designer, and you had several candidates with different backgrounds, but identical intelligence and "soft skills", what kind of degree would you be looking for?