The developers of "DC Universe Online" explained how they're making their new DC Comics MMO more appealing to women. They also talk about how their game differs from "World of Warcraft."
When I spoke with Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley last year, I asked if the company had any plans to make their MMOs more appealing to female players. He said, "We are going out of our way in 'DC' because we saw that women were really the largest part of the audience for 'The Dark Knight' [movie]."
Certainly the publicity and the widespread acclaim surrounding the latest Batman film couldn't hurt, but creative director Jens Andersen and senior producer Wes Yanagi told me some specifics of how their game will appeal to the ladies.
MTV Multiplayer: A few months ago, I spoke with John Smedly and he said that "DC Universe Online" is trying to be more female-friendly. Can you elaborate on that?
Creative Director Jens Andersen: Well, we definitely want to make sure that people can participate in the action. Obviously, it's a comic book game, right? So there's a lot of punching and stuff like that. A lot of my friends play with their significant other or spouse, and they usually like to play the stuff that's not so up-front combat-wise; they like to do the healing, the support, the buffing, and that sort of group management. So we made sure that we tried to make that more than just watching people's health bars on the side of the screen. It wasn't just playing the interface; it was actually still just playing the game. So our concepts for having the support people involved are very different from what other MMOs have.
And also, we don't have death in the game; we just have knock-outs so when you do "die," you can get right back up again and into the fight. So there's less critical failure points for people who are more casual and aren't necessarily as into a hardcore of an experience. It's a lot more forgiving in a lot of ways. And it's not a necessarily a male-female thing so to speak, but it's just what I've noticed when it comes to what characters females tend to gravitate to gameplay-wise as opposed to men.
Wonder Woman is in our game; she's one of the most recognizable female characters in the world. So the appeal that we have as far as just female presence in the [intellectual property] is very large. The amount of customization that you get to do -- we're taking a lot of care in terms of like what types of characters and archetypes that women gravitate to when they play -- have the cute character, we have the motherly character, we have the sexy character -- all the different kind of traits you can kind of choose from and can identify with.
MTV Multiplayer: Have you had a lot of women try the game?
Andersen: We actually have a lot of female team members, but certainly, they're outnumbered by the males on the team for sure. And since we're not in the open beta or anything like that, it's typically been skewed towards men but we do let people play our game at all the conventions that we've gone to. I would say that the response is both good from men and women that have played the game. And we're also live within the company, so there are a lot of females in the San Diego office that have played the game, too. and I think that they've responded to it very well.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you find it challenging making a game that's aimed at hardcore MMO gamers and the more casual gamer who's just a big DC fan?
Andersen: This game is about the DC universe, bu it's not just about the DC universe fans. We're not making specifically for that one gorup. We're making it for everybody including that group. So we have to inlcude a lot of mainstream concepts. Like what's the ideal version of Batman, right? It's Bruce Wayne as Batman. If they're writing a story in the comics where Batman's back has been broken and it's actually this other guy playing Batman right now -- several people have actually played Batman -- it wouldn't be Harvey Dent as Batman. That doesn't make sense [for this game].
What we're trying to do is make a game that is for the action gamer and the MMO gamer. there's a market there already, and what we want to do is bring a new take to the space. We want to make people that like playing that long-term game, we want them to not play the same game only with capes.
Senior producer Wes Yanagi: I think your question is also about function or usability as opposed to the design. Maybe "World of Warcraft" would be the best example -- people say it's easily accessible, right? And I think it's really because their usablilty at the early stages was really well done. If you took someone's "WoW" character at level 70 -- even if they didn't use any interface add-ons and if it was just their default interface -- you'd be overwhelmed because there'd be too many options. But what [Blizzard] did, they did a good job at gradually teaching you how to become an expert at that game. And I think that a lot of other games, especially MMOs, don't do that very well.
Andersen: You do need to teach people how to play your game early on. Product knowledge is really important -- to know what's great and not great. But we're such a differet game fundametally [from "WoW"], like how you play moment-to-moment is completely different, how you team up with a player or tactically fight against another player because of the physics nature of our game, how you target things is completely different because we're not pointer-driven. So there are certain things that we can't take from them. But we can say overall, "Hey they did a wonderful job in ramping players up on how to play their game." We should that. But how we do it is dependent on our game.
(Wonder Woman photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)