Four years ago, Bill Joy warned that some of the most exciting new technologies on the horizon - genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics - could kill us all. That horizon has gotten appreciably closer, and Larry Lessig has recently reminded us of the dangers. He also put them in the context of contemporary international relations, which, obviously, don't offer much solace about the chances that a disaster will actually happen. In a sure sign we really should think about it all, insurance companies have even begun to hedge the costs. Lessig's analysis of the situation suggests that no police powers, however intrusive, could possibly protect us. GNR technologies will be well within reach of small, otherwise unremarkable groups of dedicated killers. And if we can't control the killers, it seems, our only option is to reduce their incentive to kill us. That's becoming a tough row to hoe.
I'd like to argue for a third option: Run away. Run away into the comparatively safe haven of virtual worlds.
The article covers the use of addictive substances as game elements within virtual worlds and asks why a designer would purposely add a feature that could harm or even permanently kill a player-character - taking the introduction of gleam into Iron Realms’ Achaea and Speed of the Serpent into eGenesis’ A Tale in the Desert as current examples.
What makes the article really worth reading (apart from scoring an impressively low 1 on my personal EverCrack_Reference_Ometer) are the quotes from Matt Mihaly of Iron Realms (who readers of MUD-DEV will be very familiar with) and the rarely-sited-outside-Ancient-Egypt Andrew Tepper of eGenesis.
I just hope that the mainstream media either fail to read the piece or find it in themselves, for once, not to go silly.
Hiroshi Yamaguchi is a PhD economist and lecturer at the Japan Center for International Finance. He's written about the analogs between virtual world currencies and a more traditional financial instrument, the Local Exchange Trading System (LETS). What's interesting about virtual worlds, of course, is that they represent a potentially global LETS. The concept is fascinating, and to follow up on the research he's started Virtual Worlds Update Japan. The purpose is to report on events with a Japanese focus - badly needed in itself - but also to report on worldwide events in both Japanese and English, a tremendous service in terms of connecting international scholars.
As at May 21, Typepad (our blog hosts) instituted a comment spam blocking system. The details are here.
Unfortunately, the nature of the blocking has a distressingly large number of false positives. It seems that if your IP address falls into a range that has been allocated to a spammer previously then you're blocked. Since lots of spammers use ISPs with DHCP there is a non-trivial chance that the IP address you're coming in on now has previously been used by an "evil doer", and so you may be blocked. Some of our best friends have already expeienced this problem. Typepad note breathlessly in their comment that "on our first day [the spam block] blocked over 20,000 spam attempts!" And they could distinguish these spam attempts from legitimate comments how, exactly?
We're currently in negotiations with Typepad to get this thing fixed. If they don't work out a fix bloody quickly then you can expect a note here directing you all to a better blog host.
In the meantime, if you can use the comment fields of this message to let us know of any problems you've had in commenting, then that'd be helpful. And yes, I know that if you are blocked from commenting then it's going to be hard to comment here. But if you wait a while and try again you may find that your IP address has been reallocated, and you're on an address that hasn't been blocked. Or borrow a friend's machine. Or do some wardriving and find an open ssid (there is one outside my house in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia in case you're passing by). Do your best.
Thanks. And our apologies.
There just announced that they're scaling back their consumer service to focus on their technology platform. The basics of the pullout are on their official boards:
"Today I would like to announce that There is changing its strategic direction to focus on our technology platform.
The JoongAng Daily reports today that NC Soft is being threatened with a class action suit by a group of disgruntled Korean players. More than a thousand players have signed a statement protesting, amongst other things, the high cost of subscriptions for Lineage in South Korea. More interesting perhaps are some of the other grievances which include the failure of the developer to deal with hacks and dupes, and the existence of a market for virtual assets.
In a sample of 2200 respondents across several MMORPGs (29% EQ, 23% SWG, 12% DAOC), the following gender difference emerged as to preference for 1st or 3rd person perspective. The answer choice "prefer both equally" is excluded from this brief presentation for clarity.
While there were differences between games (i.e. more EQ players preferred 1PP, and more DAOC players preferred 3PP), the gender difference was always present in every game. Exploring the data by age groups also revealed a similar pattern.
I was asked recently to estimate how long it would take for someone to learn to "run around" (*) in Dark Ages of Camelot (DAOC). The asterisk indicates simplifying assumptions. Out pops "2 hours". Turns out someone in this conversation tried this - with no previous MMO or CRPG experience. Their number was 10 hours.
In today's May 19 Wired article How to Get Gamers to Play Online we see the MMO angst stirred again: why don't more people play? The article introduces those two chestnuts: they require too much time; their themes are too niche ("the geek ghetto").
Asheron's Call has been around a long time and ownership went from its developer, Turbine, to Microsoft, and now back to Turbine. There's been eBaying forever, but just now they've decided to ban it. See coverage at /.
Is it news? The EULA bans it anyway. So what's different here? Well, they are now the second company to ask eBay to actually close down auctions. But again, is it news? After the ban, all EQ auctions moved from eBay to playerauctions.com, where they continue today, unabated. I checked PlayerAuctions a few hours ago, and there was no main-page link specifically for Asheron's Call auctions. Now there is.
So: not sure if this is news. Let's see if there's any enforcement. And thanks Brian Whitener for the first heads-up!
It’s a small world. Even, it seems, when the universe is expanding physically, virtually and intra-virtually.
Back in February we covered the sale of 2Ls ‘Island’ (see: 2L's Virtual Land Sales Attract Investors, Controversy). Things are now up and running. The Island has become Avalon and it looks like violent collision between the physical and the virtual might just chip off a few L$, US$ and £.
If you are interested in VWs, in the north of the UK next week and are free on Friday afternoon – you’re in for a treat. Situationist Sim City is being held at FACT in Liverpool and features, amongst others, TNs own Julian Dibble. As this event seems to have gotten absolutely no publicity I’ve posted the full details here.
David Thomas of buzzcut.com, writing for the Denver Post, has penned a beautiful meditation on the state of the games industry. In the piece Nobody walks in LA Thomas reflects on E3 as a celebration of dreams: where lies are mixed with the desire to be lied to, and where mere bits and bytes - sometimes - are transformed into something wonderful.
The medical profession seem to be taking quite an interest in all things virtual at the moment. The current edition of the prestigious British Medical Journal has a paper titled: Health related virtual communities and electronic support groups: systematic review of the effects of online peer to peer interactions. Similarly there is a long history of the use of Virtual Reality in medicine, especially in the treatment of pain.
While this research is not about virtual worlds it seems very likely that the potential therapeutic effects seen in other forms of virtually would be seen within VWs.
So does this add another angle to the general status of VWs argument? Forget eBay, forget free speech, what when closing or kicking someone out of a VW can be shown to impact a treatment regime and impact their health negatively?
It has all the usual features of virtual worlds--avatars, chat, as well as griefing and server-load problems--but is an interesting experiment in broadening VW appeal into the spiritual arena. My question is why they go to the trouble of building this from scratch, instead of renting a server from Second Life and building a whole island retreat, or just building a church in TSO?
At E3, the Entertainment Software Association released its latest survey results. Read the press release here (look under current news releases). Numbers that confirm suspicions. I'm just awaiting the day when movies are released first in-game, before coming to a drive-in (who can remember those) near you...
Good-looking workshop on Sept. 6, 2004, at the University of Leeds. Organisers (note the "s") are John Halloran, Geraldine Fitzpatrick and Barry Brown. According to the website: "This workshop brings together researchers and professionals interested in the social potential of online multiplayer computer games. These games support complex social networks which are both large or small, ad-hoc or pre-organised. This workshop addresses how these networks support connections between players and new forms of social behavior and interaction."
Good stuff. CFP in full below. (Thanks to Gonzalo, for spotting this.)
The Walrus (a “Canadian general-interest magazine”) has a bio piece by Clive Thompson on TN’s own Dr Castronova. As well as an interesting summary of Dr C’s work, the piece touches on a number of what we might term: virtual-physical world intersection issues. Ludlow, Balkin, Dibble, Will Harvey – they are all quoted.
But hay, the reason you should read this, the reason you _want_ to read it, is the choice descriptions of Dr C and the unmasking of his double life as a thespian.
Thanks to Brian Whitener of Games Guides Online for the tip-off.
Two Wharton undergrad honors students, Evan Schneyer and Justin Nash, saw a presentation I gave on the economics of virtual worlds, and decided to study Final Fantasy XI:Online. FFXI is a tough world to study, coz the data is not out in the open like some other worlds: all auctions take place in game-hosted auction houses. So, for anyone who wants to try to do this, here is the process you have to follow:
1) Build an eleborate screen-capture-OCRing system to gather the data.
2) Collect a mass of data about the prices that objects sell for in the world, making sure you account for the different auction houses, nations, and the like.
3) Create a series of meaningful charts to understand what was going on.
Of course you don't have to do this, because they've done it and written up a report on the economics of the world, which I'm hosting here.
Some highlights of the report:
I, Cringely, columnist for PBS Online, reports that a case of currency-exchange fraud has a group of would-be sellers up in arms. Value of losses? $2,300. Lead suspects? Yantis and IGE. [Edit: This is according to Cringely, not me. The evidence he adduces is suspect, in my opinion.] The fraud seems to rely on the unwillingness of payment services like PayPal to accept the legitimacy of virtual items, a feature (bug?) reported last fall by Julian Dibbell.
On the whole, an unhappily rapid development for those trying to come up with a solid protection for the membrane between games and life.
Just a quick reminder that the registration deadline for the May 21 Community Work: Managing Multiplayer Culture symposium is this Friday. Speakers for the event will be Richard Bartle, Edward Castronova, Julian Dibbell, and Jessica Mulligan.
*** Spaces are filling up quickly so please register asap if you would like to attend. ***
Registration is free. Send a message with your name, email address, and affiliation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full details, including the program, can be found at the website.
Look forward to seeing some of you here next week! :)
This month’s Game Developer magazine has a fantastic piece by Rod Humble VP of Development at SOEs Studio 1. The feature covers the practical side of keeping a 24x7 operation like EQ going year after year. Or to put it another way: even if you have managed to create a great game this is all the boring dev / ops stuff that you have to get right if you are going to provide a viable service.
I think that the piece is print only, so for those of you that don’t have a subscription here are a few highlights:
‘Video games can improve self-esteem’
Many TN readers probably take this claim to be fairly self evident, in same way that much of the popular media probably see the statement as at best dubious and at worse either (a) so self evidently wrong that its is pointless researching it, or (b) a lie cooked up by the games industry.
So it’s good news that the psychology department at McGill University _has_ taken the trouble to do some research.
Thanks to Gonzalo Frasca for pointing to a story in the New York Times on Mary Ann Buckles, who in 1980 was writing a Ph.D. thesis ("Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame 'Adventure'", University of California, San Diego) on Crowther & Woods' Adventure whilst Richard and Roy Trubshaw were turning the genre of text adventures into the genre of MUDs.
When is the best time of year to release an MMORPG?
Major single player games all seem to come out for the Christmas buying spree; film releases seem to be timed to coincide with school holidays - but MMORPGs don’t seem to fall into any seasonal pattern at all.
The California legislature is currently debating a law forbidding violent video games. The bill seeks to control electronic games that "taken as a whole . . . appeal to minors' morbid interest in violence, that enable the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and that, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."
This sort of regulation crops up often these days, and obviously implicates First Amendment principles. Over at Findlaw, Professor Vikram David Amar (UC Hastings Law School) and Professor Alan Brownstein (UC Davis Law School) discuss whether the First Amendment will forbid this sort of regulation, and they do a nice job of explaining why there is no clear answer. Their conclusion, isn't going to win them any friends in the game developer camp:
"In the end, the First Amendment doesn't necessarily foreclose sensible regulation in this area. For that reason, states like California should feel free to experiment in this realm if experimentation otherwise makes sense."
Thanks to E. Izawa of the Women-Dev list for pointing to an interesting interview with Anastasia Odiakova, beta liason for Wild West Sim MMOG. While the game's plans to implement a system for player offspring (new players will be "born" into readymade families of other players) is interesting, the vision of what women will do in the game (not to mention what they might want out of one) seems a bit... narrow:
"Female characters will have more of an impact in WWS than in any other RPG. Since new players are introduced into the game as offspring of existing players, women are an absolute requirement for the game world.”
Lest this get written off as just some random cluelessness/bad wording/design choice we should not forget it comes pretty close on the heels of the Intel IT Manager game incident (memorycard, watercoolergames, and vesterblog on that). You remember, the one where you couldn't hire women? ;) I've written elsewhere that I think it's actually pretty amazing how many women play despite games often working to disenfranchise them. But do we write off WWS as an anomaly or are there still ways MMOGs need a good dose of critical analysis/design interventions around gender? (And I'm not even touching on the issue of race, something that really needs to be picked up on more.)
One such cybercriminal is a 16-year-old high school boy taken into custody in early March by the Toyama prefectural police on suspicion of violating a law banning unauthorized computer access. The boy, from Fukuoka Prefecture, reportedly told investigators, "I didn't think the police would investigate because it was just a game."
Holocron (aka Raph Koster) has posted some of the metrics that Star Wars Galaxies administrators use to gauge the health of their economies. This is the first time many of us have been able to see how developers track things. Kudos to Raph for making the numbers public, and thanks to Oracomm/Richard Beyko for sending us a link.
Some brief comments to jump-start discussion (if any)...
Games that communicate political messages are well among us. In some cases, one might consider them as where "simulation meets political cartoons" (in the language of Gonzalo Frasca, Newsgaming.com). Wired News recently published a related piece (Playing Games With a Conscience). A challenge is to communicate a caricature of the real-world as entertainment. The designers of the recent computer game Republic: The Revolution reported "...(that) game makers spent a lot of time trying to work out how to convey complex political ideology to gamers."
But this is just the beginning, it gets better.