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SXSW08: Edit Me! How Gamers Are Adopting the Wiki Way


With such a strange and specialized topic, I couldn't help but stop into this SXSW panel with speakers Jake McKee (Ant's Eye View), April Burba (NCSoft), Angelique Shelton (Wikia) and George Pribul (WoWWiki, the second largest English-language wiki in the world by traffic, according to the panel). The basic topic: the state of gaming wikis, particularly those built around MMO games.

The panel began with a call out to the audience to determine what people wanted out of the presentation. One attendee wanted to better serve business clients with a wiki; another wanted to get a sense of the wiki world beyond Wikipedia; another wanted to use wikis for science education. It wasn't an entirely game-focused crowd, but the emphasis was on emergent information organization anyway, and not necessarily any one game.

In response to a question about the utility of wikis versus forums, Pribul said that forums are not good ways of collating information, while wikis are. In a wiki, things like fanfiction, storyline info, and strategies can be organized and archived in a permanent, easily-browsable form.

Another question probed the difference between hardcore MMO groups and other, non-gaming industries. Shelton pointed out that Wikia has roughly 7,000 wikis already, not all of which are focused on games. Burba then brought up the idea of "social currency" as motivation for wiki participation. She also cited Linux as an example of what this social currency (or being "Internet famous) could motivate people to do.

The next couple of questions dealt with convergence: first, an audience member asked if the game world and the wiki world ever collided, referring to people meeting/making friends in one setting and then sharing in the other together. Pribul mentioned that he met his girlfriend via the WoWWiki. Interactions with people are what drive his interest in the wiki. It isn't explicitly mentioned that he plays WoW with these people, but it seems likely. The second convergence question: about the possibilty of integrating the out-of-game materials like wikis into MMO environments. Apparently, according to the panelists, EVE Online and LOTRO have integrated web browsers, which facilitates the in-game use of wikis. Burba joked that you "don't ever want anyone to close the game," especially in an MMO.

The panel briefly discussed the competition to gaming wikis: strategy guides and GameFAQs. The wiki-positive panel compared the constant updating of a wiki to the single print run of a strategy guide or the site-approved update process of GameFAQs, citing only the "day one" release of strategy guides as a strength (versus "day 2001" for a wiki).

The panel had differing opinions about the visibility of developers editing fan-made game wikis: Pribul encourages anonymity among all users, fan or developer, but Shelton offered an anecdote to the contrary. Apparently Will Wright did a bit of editing to Wikia's Spore wiki, which then drove the community into an editing and updating frenzy.

Corporate wikis versus fan-created wikis were the next topic: is an "official" wiki better? Does a developer/publisher-owned wiki stifle user input? Burba insisted that the "public should be empowered," which is harder (but not impossible) on an official site. She offered the rule that if users can't speak in their own voices, they should be allowed to be autonomous (i.e. create their own sites). She suggested that companies creating wikis need a system in place by which those working for the company on the wiki can "stand up to their bosses" to ensure user empowerment.

The panel then broke into quicker Q&As with audience members. One attendee asked who owns the IP on a wiki, and if a developer can put ads on a fan wiki. Shelton responded that the "ecosystem" of fansites had been around for a long time, and that developers and (at least Wikia) wikis get along and usually don't have property issues. Similarly, in response to another attendee's question about information moving the other way (from a wiki into a game), Shelton said that their wikis fall under the GNU license, so it is possible to use the contents.

Pribul discussed the issues with pre-release material and expansions, saying that if something is under NDA, he simply does not allow it to go up. But once it's released, expansion information is in the same place as information for the base game, but flagged or in a box or otherwise noted that it's expansion-specific.

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