Many Terra Nova readers have no doubt already heard about the impending launch of Disney’s “Virtual Magic Kingdom,” which will (re)construct several popular theme park attractions like the Haunted House and Space Mountain in a virtual MMOG environment. This is a promotional project with the specific goal of motivating increased visits to Disney theme parks.
Chris Crawford was kind enough to send over a review copy of "Chris Crawford On Interactive Storytelling." Between State of Play 2, Accelerating Change, my own writing tasks, and Second Life, reading his book kept getting pushed down the stack, but I've finally had a chance to read it. I disagree with Chris on several points, but I still quite enjoyed it. I also appreciate his zeal in blazing his own path.
Read on for the ups and downs of "On Interactive Storytelling."
There is so much VW/MMOG discussion in the blogosphere today that I can't begin to make sense of it all. So I figured I'd spew out some placeholders for others to follow up on. First up:
The Economist has a short piece on game economics (subscription required), with the obligatory quotes from Ted. Best discussion on this is probably happening over at Crooked Timber, lead by the genuinely marvellous John Quiggin (whom I admire not just because he's Australian (like me) but who, alas, mispells Ted's surname).
We've done a lot on this before, so I won't make any comments here. They have some active comments running at the moment.
There is an ongoing discussion at another thread about how Thottbot impacts Explorers. While several people identify as being an Explorer, and others talk about what an Explorer is, it's not clear whether everyone is talking about the same thing
TN readers will no doubt be aware that 404 games are working on a ‘hip-hop’ MMO. The list of collaborators is starting to read like a who’s who of rap and now includes DJ Pooh a.k.a Mark Jordan “writer” of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
I started to imagine role playing a character like the one that I play GTA:SA, this immediately started to make me wonder about the idea of what one might call “race-bending”.
Santa Clara University School of Law is hosting Rules & Borders: Regulating Digital Environments on February 11th. It looks like a good mix of industry folks, law professors, and legal practitioners. The panel topics look very interesting--of special note is the "Ownership in Online Worlds" panel, which will be moderated by Professor Tyler Ochoa.
If you play WoW and have never used Thottbot.com, you should stop whatever you're doing and check out Thottbot. But regardless of whether you play WoW, anyone interested in online communities should be fascinated with what Thottbot is doing.
Rich Thurman, at one time possibly the biggest gold farmer in Ultima Online, ICQ’d me the other day to let me know it’s all over. He’s moving on and – in the hallowed tradition of MMORPG liquidators everywhere – putting his famous automated gold farm (pictured left) up for auction on eBay. No, the machines don’t come bundled with the gold-harvesting uber-macros he wrote for them, so don’t go getting ideas. But if you want a piece of virtual-world history, make your bid. And if you want a rare first-person glimpse into the world of the hardcore farmer, check out Rich’s farewell confessional to the UO community, in which we learn of high-tech hacks for dodging GMs, mob wars between competing bot-runners, and the curiously ludic motivations of at least one unrepentant exploiter. It can now be revealed, as well, that virtual crime pays: Rich claims to have produced and sold over 9 billion gold pieces in two years, for a total rake of about $106,000, all while holding down a respectable day job as a software consultant and putting in quality time with his wife and three kids.
What then to say? As Brian Sutton-Smith and others have pointed out, the hard distinction drawn between work and play is a peculiarly Western and modern one. I would further argue that computer networks in particular and the drift of modern capitalism in general are working hard to collapse that distinction throughout our culture, and I’ve been trying for months to find the right words to make that case (for my latest effort, see this essaylet I just submitted for publication in the German art magazine Kunstforum). But for now, I think Rich’s story says it all a lot better than I’ve managed to.
[Ed: Posted on behalf of David Reim, firstname.lastname@example.org]
I imagine that most mmog, VW, and online game companies would agree that cheaters aren’t welcome. The definition of what constitutes a “cheater” is an essay in itself, but for this thread let’s focus on the cheaters who can be characterized as premeditative, chronic, and self-aware (i.e., “I’m going to do this; I’ll do it again if I get a chance; I know that it is cheating.”). The effect of this type of cheating ranges from disruption in game play issues to the infrastructure exploitation (and potential damage) that can be characterized as hacking. Since this is an industry-wide problem, it seems to me that there might be an industry-wide interest it advancing our understanding of these issues. And, I believe that our academic brethren might be in the best position to get the ball rolling on addressing these challenges.
There is a good read over on the Guardian site about Era of Eidolon - a new development in MMO(RPG) and mobile gaming:
Danish developer Watagame has managed to produce a massively multiplayer RPG with a persistent online world and over 10,000 subscribers throughout Europe. What’s more, Era of Eidolon can be downloaded to an array of current Java phones and takes up less than 100k of space. And it has a soundtrack composed by C64 legend Rob Hubbard ...Currently, Eidolon revolves entirely around a simple but compelling turn-based combat system. You fight, you upgrade your character, you fight again.
In a digital twist on the idea of a ex-lover cutting up one’s clothes before leaving, a story is doing the rounds that suggests that a woman “deleted” her ex-lover’s Lineage items, weapons and clothes. According to the stories she has been arrested for unauthorised access to the account and has admitted the crime.
I don’t know what the connection is but the last story about virtual crime that I remember also involved the Toyama prefectural police dept.
Into the woods,
But careful not
To lose the way
Into the woods,
Who knows what may
Be lurking on
“Into the woods” Stephen Sondheim
If you do venture into the deep dark woods what duty of care to you have for others in your party – especially those that are AFK but soaking upthe XP?
This tale sent to us by Mike Cox might be a salutary lesson for all.
I only made 1 prediction last year: that going to the Austin Games Conference might prove to be the most worthwhile thing I've done all year, but I turned out to be 100% correct. After the amazing TN dinner, Cory and I spent the next few months firing e-mails back and forth and the upshot is that I have left Climax, founded Digital World Developments and I'm now working on Second Life.
Unlike most of the eBay auctions we talk about, this one is for some very real, very big iron. Following the cancellation of Wish, the hardware that was going to support 10,000 players in a single world is now up for auction. So, if you want to, for example, build a virtual world which supports 10,000 players, this could be just what you need.
If Law is Code, then too is it a critical point of intersection between our virtual and real lives. Yet, these software and hardware edges are combat zones. Hackers, scripters, on the one side, on the other, developers and their supporting cohorts. It is an important struggle that goes to the heart of the integrity of our worlds. On the one hand exploits unchecked can topple our virtual cathederals. On the other hand, sometimes the solutions ask compromises from us. When is the cure worse than the disease?
We thank Sean Meadows for bringing to our attention an interesting turn in this struggle involving NCSoft and some of their games...
We'd like to welcome Dmitri Williams to the merry Terra Nova hivemind. Dmitri is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He studies online behavior from a communication theory point of view. While this means he's done some aggression work, his primary interests are the social impacts of online games and virtual communities (check out his two current courses here). His publication list is impressive and extensive (available here) and Ren even blogged about his dissertation here a while back. But his real credential is his level 48 gnome rogue on the WoW Illidan server that stalks n00bie g4nk3rs...
Given that all the cool kids have whitepapers published by The Themis Group, I was excited by the opportunity to do one of my own. "Changing Realities" (released under a Creative Commons license) expands upon the topics I spoke on at my Accelerating Change keynote, exploring the interaction of digital worlds with ownership and innovation. It was a difficult project, but the process has really clarified my own thinking on these topics.
As we have noted here before, Marvel has filed a lawsuit against NCSoft and Cryptic Studios based upon claims that City of Heroes infringes Marvel's intellectual property. NCSoft has now retained Cooley Godward LLP and last Monday filed a Motion to Dismiss in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
WoW had a rough weekend. The lack of stability has been so bad that Penny Arcade has decided to revoke their 2004 Game of the Year award. This, of course, comes on the heels of their concurrency announcement and amidst rumors that WoW is being pulled from shelves in order to limit growth.
With some shards having long queues and no method yet in place to transfer characters between them, I wonder how long it will be before WoW offers a "pay money to switch shards" option. Expect guild migration to quieter shards if that option appears before their scaling problems are solved.
What are the defining qualities of virtual worlds? What defines their worldliness: the there of There, the everquestness of Everquest?
These questions are central to Lisbeth Klastrup’s recently published phd thesis: Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds: Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story.
The Melbourne Age has a piece on VWs (regn required: bugmenot suggests "obfuscator"/"whome"). For the life of me I can't really understand what the author is trying to say, and the whole thing is mostly incoherent; but these slight negatives aside, it does reference/cite Jools, Betsy, and this blog.
But what's niftiest for me is that this the main paper of my home town, and I grew up reading it. I've lost count of the number of pieces I've sent to them, only to receive a terse, editorially-precise, "Thank you very much for your proposed editorial. Unfortunately, you suck. We look forward to your next piece, which no doubt will suck also. We remain, yours etc etc"
On the plus side, they reference Betsy.
The Boston Globe reports that Electronic Arts is mulling over a proposal to have "Sims TV". In the words of Jan Bolz, vice president of marketing and sales for EA Europe: "One idea could be that you're controlling a family, telling them when to go to the kitchen and when to go to the bedroom, and with this mechanism you have gamers all over the world 'playing the show'."
Now the first response to this must be: Genius.
Pat Kane cites Boing Boing for posting on 'The Cubes', "a corporate drudgery playset for grown-ups". This, he offers, as a wry contrast to Lego Serious Play ("LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is an innovative, experiential process designed to enhance business performance").
Dan mused "it seems to me that there are a helluva lot of MMORPGs that could use a sense of humor." I don't know if Kingdom of Loathing qualifies as a parody, as funny as it is. Some might argue that the entire MMO genre exists in a humorless self-parody...
How people interact with games is often conceptualized in terms of "nouns" and "verbs". Chris Crawford is the often attributed source of this meme: "games are about verbs." Indeed, in these days when game and virtual world discourse bleeds so freely into so many mainstreams, the real world, as well as our virtual ones, are beginning to look like hotbeds of verbs. Yet I wonder, if this view is too simplistic, take the case of MMOGs as illustrative...
MMOG design is nothing if not path-dependent in the extreme: it piles the path-dependence intrinsic to coding large, complex applications with the path-dependence that comes from the accumulated activities and expectations of a virtual society.
It is interesting in this regard to see Mythic's recent announcement that among the future changes they hope to make to Dark Age of Camelot is the addition of a new server type designed for "casual players".
The Daedalus Project is 2 years old! In this issue:
MMORPG Hours vs. TV Hours - Does one influence the other?
The Transfer of Stereotypes and Prejudice - A brief exploration of sexism, homophobia and nationalism through player narratives.
Engineering Altruism - What does to mean to engineer how and when people can help each other?
Faces of Grief - How are Griefers and Achievers related? An exploration of overt and subtle forms of griefing.
Police State - Imagine a world where every conversation you have is automatically recorded, and where every word you say can be altered without you knowing.
Daniel Terdiman (who seems to be the alpha games beat reporter for Wired these days) has a little article about how the real world doesn't use a joystick. The intro bit talks about a person who had been playing a little (too much?) Katamari Damacy (see Tim's review) and, for a split second, tried to pick up a real mailbox with a real car.
Over at Broken Toys, Scott is understandably a bit skeptical regarding whether this behavior can be generalized (assuming the term "complete crack monkeys" denotes skepticism). But there is a shred of truth to the existence of a post-video game cognitive haze, is there not? Other anecdotal evidence provided in the story:
What are your experiences? Any ideas about whether these effects are amplified or muted in MMOGs? Any good paper references from the cog psych folks?
WoW has sold 600,000 units in the the US and ANZAC countries and broken the region's concurrent user number records, with more than 200K during the holidays.
A small datapoint about the regulation of MMOGs:
Korean consumer protection authorities are expanding their investigation of MMOG companies poor consumer satisfaction levels and complaints of abusive terms of service, poor quality, etc. Ten companies are now involved. This comes on the back of complaints filed last year by consumer rights groups.
Extract from the Korean Herald below the fold.
My local supermarket recently removed some of the seasonal goods they had in stock, and took the opportunity to move a bunch of other stuff around. The dips are where the milk was, the milk is where the cheese was, the cheese is where the eggs were, the eggs are where the cereal was and the cereal is where the seasonal good were.
There are reasons why supermarkets do this. If you're looking for stuff you want, you may see stuff you didn't want (but do now) or stuff you didn't even know they sold. People hate it, but the supermarkets all do it because it works.
Virtual worlds have chunks of content that people don't want or don't know about. Could the above psychological technique be usefully employed to breathe life into such content? I know players would complain about it, but does that matter? Shoppers complain about what supermarkets do, but that doesn't stop them from doing it...
A recent, eloquent essay by Sue Thomas ("Walter Ong and the problem of writing about LambdaMOO") provokes earlier questions about the meaning of the MMO experience in an online world (e.g. TN's "The MMO Divide", "Socially (Charged) Software") and on how to talk about them (e.g. "Ye Olde Disciplinary Punch-and-Judy Show"). It strikes me that a basic challenge for the virtual universe lies in how hard it is to communicate about their insides to the outside. MMOs would seem to be a particularily difficult instance because of how they entwine "performance" (and fiction) with function. Relatedly, Sue wrote:
it is impossible to convey exactly how it is for each of us as we venture into that very idiosyncratic negotiation between the real and virtual. As Erik Davis wrote about the text-based virtual world LambdaMOO as early as 1994 "In a space where everyone is at once person and persona, identity itself becomes a performance art."
At times it almost seems like there is a bidding war over which country can given the most to support relief work in Asia following the recent tsunami. Well, now Britannia has joined the race. That is, the good people of Ultima Online can now make donations of UO gold to vendors set up by ‘Crazy Joe’. According to his site the gold will be eBay’ed and the cash donated to the Red Cross.
05/01/04 Update: Thanks to Cory for pointing out a news item which states that eBay have pulled the UO Gold auctions on the basis that they do not allow individuals to hold auctions on behalf of charities. Hmm – so will the Red Cross get a UO account, will EA exchange the Gold and pony up the cash,,,
What's the point in making predictions unless they are graded? Clearly it's time to shine the harsh light of history on my fearless 2004 predictions that were posted on January 2nd of last year. Read on for the predictions and the grades:
Many players of today's virtual worlds may not realise it, but there are actually two strategies for resetting "used" content. The more familiar one is respawning, whereby an object or mobile or puzzle is restored to some variation on its original state after a period of time. Sophisticated versions of this can involve spawning different things depending on the current world state (for example sheep instead of wolves).
The other strategy for resetting is the sudden reset, also known as the groundhog day approach. In this, it's not individual content items (or linked collections of them) that are respawned, but the entire virtual world. The advantage is that quests, puzzles and game-like content can be far more complex and intertwined, because they don't have to be unpicked a thread at a time. World-altering events can occur - cave systems flooding, mines collapsing, volcanoes erupting - which have so many causal effects that it would be impossible to follow every one through to undo it. The disadvantage, of course, is that everyone has to be dumped out of the virtual world while it resets, which inevitably occurs just at the precise moment you really rather wish it wouldn't.
How about a hybrid approach?
There has been a fair amount of press in the last week or so about Louisiana's attempt to lure video game development via tax credits. Broadly speaking, tax credits to capitalize and drive development of industries in new areas is an old idea: biotech, automobile manufacturing, and a raft of other places and spaces. In fact, Louisiana has already tried it with the film industry - with enough success, apparently, for it to proceed with this experiment.
This offers us the opportunity to parse the video game industry...