Budgeting the voices
When I hear that some famous voice actor is a part of the cast of a game, I get excited. I was ecstatic when I heard that the
Batman, Kevin Conroy
, who voiced Batman throughout most of the animated series, was playing Batman in DC Universe Online
. As a Mass Effect
fan, I don't think I could hide my joy upon hearing that Jennifer Hale
was going to make an appearance not only as the voice for the female Trooper but also as Satele Shan in Star Wars: The Old Republic
. Perhaps it's because of my background in performing arts, but I am extremely happy to hear that professional actors at the top of their games are finally making it into the MMO genre.
A couple of years ago, Reuters reported
on A-list actors in the video games. Specifically, the article spoke about Keith David
, whom you might recognize as Admiral David Anderson from the Mass Effect
series. David has been an on-screen and behind-the-screen actor for decades. The first time I heard of him was in one of my favorite cartoons from the '90s, Gargoyles, in which he played the leader of the Gargoyles, Goliath. The 2008 Reuters article mentions that a voice actor can expect to make about $760 per four-hour session on the low end, but actors as seasoned as David can expect to make double that and beyond -- not a bad gig for an actor looking for a steady paycheck. Can you imagine what Mark Hamill was paid for playing the Joker in DCUO
, what Adam "Jayne Cobb" Baldwin
earned for voicing Superman, or what Lance "Bishop" Hendriksen
made for performing Master Gnost Dural in the SWTOR
timelines? In the Reuters article, General Manager of Blindlight
Lev Chapelsky said that it isn't uncommon for top voice actors to receive a check in the high five figures for a single session.
An MMO the size of SWTOR
must already contend with considerable costs, so adding voice-overs might tack on an additional five million dollars to your already inflated budget. Most likely it's in the tens of millions. Is an MMO worth that extra overhead?
Comparing apples to apples
Until recently, the most successful subscription MMO, World of Warcraft
, has had very little voice-over, but that game is eight years old now. Times have changed. Let's look at another recent MMO that I deem as being quite successful: RIFT
. I mentioned in my Choose My Adventure
tales that I loved the story in RIFT
. However, the voice acting left something to be desired. I also praised the aesthetics of RIFT
, and I loved taking screenshots of that game. For a post-WoW
MMO, it fares well with its 11 well-populated servers and another dozen or so lightly populated servers. And obviously the producers of the game feel that the subscription model still works well for the game since they have not announced any plans to go free-to-play.
On the other hand, our MMO clad in super-powered voiceover, DCUO
, changed its business model before its first anniversary. If you remember, I used to livestream DCUO
. I love the game's story, so that wasn't the issue for me. Art design was obviously not missing from DCUO
, either; one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, Jim Lee
, served as artistic director for the game, and if he didn't personally do the concept work, his renowned WildStorm studios
did. I also loved taking screenshots of this game. From a theatrical perspective, the only thing setting RIFT
apart from DCUO
was voice acting.
are not the only games we can compare and contrast. Some people might argue that the game mechanics of DCUO
made it a very different game from RIFT
. I will concede that, so let's add Guild Wars 2
and Star Wars: The Old Republic
into the mix. Both of those games are story-heavy, too. Guild Wars 2
boasts a very dynamic and different combat system, while SWTOR
's combat system is very traditional for an MMO.
I've already talked about the voice acting and story in TOR
so much that's it's been done to death. The story and VO is great; SWTOR
doesn't get points for that anymore. Aesthetically, it's also one of those games that I like to take screenshots of. My SWTOR gallery
here on Massively is one of the largest, and it's still being used in articles now. Needless to say, it's a pretty game.
Guild Wars 2
is no doubt pretty too, or so says our latest gallery
from the game. Yet when you examine the voice acting in GW2
, it falls short, similar to the way RIFT
does. Generally, though, the story received favorable reviews, especially in the way it was integrated with the players' personal investment in what was happening in Tyria.
In my opinion, we have four successful games (although GW2
's fate is yet to be determined). Two have high-quality voice-overs, and two don't. But in all other ways, they are equal. For all the time and money SWTOR
spent on voice acting, it gave them no advantage in the end.
I don't believe cutting voice-overs is the answer to all MMOs' problems. As I said, I was excited to hear that certain actors were featured in DCUO
. I also think that MMOs need a high level of voice acting if you want the game to be immersing. However, I believe a line has to be drawn. Did we really need Wil Wheaton
to play Robin in DCUO
? He has only a few lines. What about Rachael Leigh Cook
as Jaesa Willsaam, the companion for the Sith Warrior? I don't believe her salary was justified by the few lines of flat dialogue she gave. On the other hand, it is worth it to me to know that my Jedi Knight will be voiced by Solid Snake (David Hayter
) and that when I'm facing the Joker, I'm facing the Joker who has played the role for literally decades (Mark Hamill). In the end, that kind of thing should be a marketing piece, not a driving force behind the game as a whole.
I believe that since these are games players will invest years of their lives into, developers should concentrate on what the players will be spending the majority of their time doing
. Unfortunately, that will not
be listening to well-trained actors read dialogue. They are great advertising hooks and a valid part of immersive gameplay, but players will spend the majority of time building communities within the game. Give us more tools for that before you spend another 10 million bucks on voice-overs, please.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!