All at TN would like to welcome Nick LaLone and Bill Bainbridge on board.
“Instead of saying I’m going to be best Pro Gamer I’d like to say that, especially in the eyes of the fans, I’ll work hard to be a pro gamer that always gives his all. A gamer that really enjoys and embodies the spirit of competition”
Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong, StarCraft II Player
“The difference between me and any other fighter is they’re talented, I’m God-gifted.”
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, Boxer
I said I’d been working on TN content. Well here is the first slice.
For a long time I’ve been curious about the names people use in online spaces. This fascination grew as I began to watch eSports and saw how commentators / casters have to navigate a complex name space to make sense of the on-screen action. My fascination has turned into several thousand words exploring the way names are used in a number of eSports contexts. Here is the first part of the jottings, the second part is on StarCraft, Race and Culture.
I for one did not want to see TerraNova fade away (after all they named a TV programe after us, right?), and I've got three blog posts on the exciting world of eSports in notpad that I'm trying to get finished. Ted has been kind enought to hand me the keys, so Arise TerraNova you live again.
Terra Nova began on September 11, 2003 and maintained steady intellectual activity for a good 7 years afterwards. For about 4 years now the site has been kept alive out of a sense of good will. I think though for the good of the world it is time to let it pass. All this means is, I won't be auto-renewing the credit card payment. I assume the content will stay here.
It's interesting to reflect on why TN existed and why it went away. For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin. As these applications grew in popularity, the need for a core intellectual group about virtual worlds themselves waned. The community dried up and the conversation dwindled.
In closing - and I invite other authors to close too if they wish - it seems to me this morning that there was one factor of virtual worlds that did not "go" anywhere but proved irremediably toxic to the medium itself: The people themselves. It proved impossible to make everyone feel like a hero in a world populated by millions of would-be heroes. It proved impossible to construct mechanisms that allowed people to find fulfillment from their fellow-players rather than frustration. In the end, the concept of a multi-player fantasy world broke on the shoals of the infinite weirdness of human personality.
Perhaps virtual world designers were the latest incarnation of the utopian community builders of the 19th and earlier centuries. "If only we set up the rules correctly, people will naturally have a blast together!" No; I guess they won't. Not even if the utocrat can control physics down to the very atoms. Not even if the art and sound of the world is heavenly. Not even if people are given thousands of meaningful missions and wonderfully uplifting stories. Perhaps the mere presence of Others breaks whatever dream people are trying to have.
Ah well. The goal of designing perfect human communities remains unmet. Someone will take a crack at it again soon, I am sure.
Until then, good-bye, Terra Nova!
Since our last post was in March and it's almost July, I'm going to promote Ted's new book on wildcat currencies here, since he hasn't done that yet.
March 25, 2014 was a pretty interesting day for virtual currency and virtual reality!
It seems the IRS deems mined bitcoins (& Dogecoins!) to be income. So it seems pretty clear that Linden Dollars are a "convertible" virtual currency and should count as income too. I'm assuming professional goldfarmers should have to report loot drops too, since they're skilled at converting that virtual currency. But I'm still unclear about participants in primarily virtual, ludic economies -- e.g. MMORPG players who may occasionally sell or buy virtual property.
Language from the IRS follows -- full text is here.
...Virtual currency is a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value. In some environments, it operates like “real” currency -- i.e., the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that is designated as legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance -- but it does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction...
...Virtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency, is referred to as “convertible” virtual currency. Bitcoin is one example of a convertible virtual currency...
..Q-8: If I “mine” virtual currency, do I have income from mining? A-8: Yes, when you successfully “mine” it, the fair market value is income.
Q-9: Is an individual who “mines” virtual currency as a trade or business subject to self-employment tax? A-9: Yes...
It's been some time since I haunted the distinguished halls of TN, but after some tumultuous times that got me out of the habit of putting my working papers up on ssrn and pointing to them here (and at my own blog), I do have a piece that I wanted to share (and I'll be cross-posting this to Doubt is an Art, as I do with all game-related stuff). I'm sure my skin has grown thin from all this time away from the rough-and-tumble world of collaborative blogging. Be gentle. ;)
Last year I had the opportunity to give the keynote address in February at the Ray Browne Conference on Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, as well as to participate in a symposium in April convened by the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity on Modernity and Chance. Both venues seemed apt arenas for developing some ideas about game as a cultural form, one that we could place alongside ritual and bureaucracy in our understanding of institutions and the techniques for control at their disposal. The core question I'm asking is: What might we learn by examining the increasing use of games by modern institutions in the digital age as analogous to their longstanding and effective use of rituals and bureaucracy?
Social Value is the amount of behavior that one person generates among their friends. An anology might be the ripple on the social pond. Let's say this person goes to see a movie, listens to a song, or plays a game. Now let's say that this person is influential. How much more likely are their friends to go see the movie, hear the song, or play the game?
Each person has a unique amount of influence in their social network, and on each friend. Maybe you are highly influential on Bob, but Steve doesn't care what you do. What the Social Value algorithm does is to add up all of your influence and put it in units we care about--like sessions, time, or dollars.
Clearly demarcated as blatant self-promotion: I'm happy to announce that an effort I've been working on for about 3 years in semi-stealth mode is now live. After doing big data work for the spooks in the government and running a team of social and computer scientists, a few of us spun out a commercial venture I dubbed Ninja Metrics (www.ninjametrics.com).* Much of this comes from constantly asking game companies for data, then getting smart people to do cool things with it. Our team has now published 80 papers on game data, which is kind of ridiculous. It was time to put that power into an engine so we don't have to work quite so hard.
Among other things, we've figured out how to automate predictive analytics. WTH is that, you ask?
Toontown is shutting its doors. (Thanks Pidge Fielder for the tip.) When gamer properties close down, the gamers rant and, understanding that no one will actually listen, move on. Toontown is a Disney property, however, filled with ordinary people. They've started numerous petitions at Change.org, a place dedicated to windmill tilting."Disney! We insist that you ignore your bottom line and do what we want instead! Or else, or else..." Or else what? You'll throw away your Mouse ears? You'll stop going to horrible movies like Planes? You'll refuse to go to theme parks that charge a million dollars for the experience of standing in two-hour lines while eating food that would kill a buffalo?
One of the petitions is targeted appropriately. It asks Jesse Schell, a developer of the world, to take it over.
If I were Jesse, I'd consider buying the property and creating a new format for the industry: The Community MMOG. Make it a corporation and sell all the shares to users. Like the Green Bay Packers. Set up by-laws to regulate affairs among shareholders. Have an annual meeting to appoint a board of managers. Running a community MMOG would be a natural stepping stone for young people who want to build their own.
It would be good for the world if old virtual worlds were sold to their users in this fashion. And if it doesn't happen, I will refuse to purchase any Jesse Schell branded merchandise, INCLUDING the bobble head, the mud flaps, and the his-and-hers towels. Who's with me?
Got an interesting law article in the snail mail by Dan Burk. "Owning E-Sports: Proprietary Rights in Professional Computer Gaming." Unfortunately the digital version is behind paywalls. Man, does that seem stupid. Amazon charging $10 for a law article? It's an interesting article, but not $10 worth of interesting. Is any research article worth $10 sight unseen? Anyways.
Burk's analysis highlights the fact that the law of real sports depends on the physical instantiation of those sports: Stadiums, bodies, playing fields, equipment. As a result, e-sports, where all these things are intangible, cannot rely completely on the pre-existing sports law. And as we know, intellectual property law seems out of place, since the primary issues do not revolve around the writing of created signifiers to RAM. As a result, the legal foundation of e-sports is murky.
Here's the intro anyway.
I posted here soliciting participation in the Rutgers Player-Authors survey of player UGC practices in games. We are beginning to study the results. A draft summary report of basic descriptive statistics is posted here. Please do not cite or repost this draft version, as the numbers will likely change slightly. We will have a firmer version posted on the Player-Authors website soon.
However, based on initial analysis, the following appear to be true:
More information about the player survey, including a finalized version of the Survey One summary, will be posted on the site shortly as we continue to refine and analyze the data. We will also be posting initial results of other components of the Player-Authors project.
Please note: If you are a game developer and want to participate in Survey Two of the project (targeted at the UGC perceptions within the developer community), that survey is still live and posted here: http://bit.ly/playerauthors2
As part of the Rutgers Player-Authors project, we're conducting a survey of industry perceptions regarding player-created content in games. If you're in the game development industry, please consider taking a few moments to share your views on player-created content.The survey is here:
And please pass the link along!
When results are collected, they will be posted on the website of the Rutgers Player-Authors Project.
Steen and Owens ground play in human evolution. Now sociologist Robert Bellah makes play not just any element of human evolution but a core element of it. From play, he believes, springs almost all culture, including the topic I steadfastly refuse to bring up on this blog because of the anger it generates among TN readers; therefore I will not raise it here. It is the topic that Tolkien also believed was intimately bound up with fantasy and subcreation.
Recently in First Things, a scholarly magazine about the unspeakable topic I am not discussing, scholarly experts on that topic discuss Bellah's work and spend quite a bit of time on play. Huizenga is mentioned approvingly on several occasions. Interesting to see play given such weight by this brand of intellectual.
Also, I owe to this edition of the magazine a quote I will savor for many years: "The only time I ever saw Richard Dawkins reduced to stuttering silence was when an Irish philosopher repeatedly asked him about human freedom." Professor Dawkins, as you may know, though a biologist by trade, has positioned himself as a rather indomitable expert on the fantasies of certain ancient goat-herders. I have long wanted to ask him whether he is free and if so, how that could be. According to Professor Bellah, being free, and free to play, implicates a host of other assumptions all of which are closer to the goat herders' way of thinking than Professor Dawkins would likely accept.
Microsoft announced that it is retiring its virtual currency, Microsoft Points. This follows Facebook abandoning Facebook credits. Companies are trying to figure when and where it makes sense to have your own currency. The thing about a rewards-type currency, such as Microsoft Points, is that it adds a click to the buying process. Put in your credit card, buy Points, buy games (or movies or whatever). MS is saying, why not have it be just: Put in your credit card, buy games. What after all is the point of having the virtual currency in there?
Perhaps we are laready moving beyond virtual currencies to the next innovation, for which I conjured the name "digital value transfer." The technology FB has developed allows it to instantly and costlessly translate value from one app to another. Currently FB funnels any such transaction through dollars (so it can take its 30% cut). But it doesn't have to.
Games like Path of Exile have many things called currencies and a back-end system for translating the player's holdings of X, Y, and Z into different things of value.
The thing that makes Bitcoin valuable isn't Bitcoin, its the DVT that allows you to exchange Bitcoins for other things.
An economy backed by DVTs doesn't make any distinctions between the virtual entities it is tossing around. They may be currencies, or assets, or resources, or even virtual goods such as movies. Files. The DVT just knows how much of one thing is needed to exchange with another. Imagine a vast traingular matrix listing every good in the world. Each cell says how much one good is worth in terms of the other.