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New Daedalus: Demographics of WoW Players

A new issue of the Daedalus Project is out. Most of the new data focuses on the demographics of WoW players, emphasizing the relationship between in-game class/race/gender and RL gender/age/motivations.

Some highlights:

  1. Female players are older than male players. (link)
  2. Younger players prefer Rogues and Shaman. Older players prefer Hunters and Warlocks. Rogues and Shaman also score the highest on the Advancement (goals/achievement) and Mechanics (min-maxing) motivations.  (link)
  3. Older players prefer Dwarves and Gnomes, who also happen to score the lowest on all achievement motivations. Gnomes score the highest on the  Role-Playing and Customization motivations. (link)
  4. The RL gender distribution is 84/16. The in-game gender distribution is 65/35. 55% of female characters in the game are being played by men. (link)

I'm not as interested in WoW in particular as much as using WoW as an example of showing how RL demographics and personality factors map onto game variables - such as race. The WoW data provides one cohesive example of that.

Comments (20)

Michigan in October

OK, if you want to speak at this conference, you better get your skates on as the deadline for abstracts is 31 July 2005. No, that is not one of my usual typos, that is indeed in several hours time, but hey, they are “considering” abstracts and who hasn’t one of them up to the wire.

The three themes of  Future Play 2005 to be held at Michigan State 13-15 Oct 05 are:

  1. Future game development, addresses academic research and emerging industry trends in the area of game technology and game design.
  2. Future game impacts and applications, includes academic research and emerging industry trends focused on designing games for learning, for gender, for serious purposes, and to impact society.
  3. Future game talent, is designed to provide a number of industry and academic perspectives on the knowledge, skills, and attitude it takes to excel in the games industry.

See you in East Lancing (that’s middle of the hand).

Comments (4)

Culture vs Technology

I've been puzzling Constance's worry: are MMO's and virtual worlds distinguishable outside of their pragmatic constraints - whether they be technical, business, or research.  In other words, is there a message beyond the medium...

Kevin Kelly in his latest piece in Wired Magazine (We are the Web) suggests a perspective from recent history.  His suggestion is that visionary (and technical) foresight got it wrong about the World Wide Web:

We all missed the big story. The revolution launched by Netscape's IPO was only marginally about hypertext and human knowledge. At its heart was a new kind of participation that has since developed into an emerging culture based on sharing.

Yes, some of the language feels exaggerated, some of the extrapolations gushing.    And so while I may not entirely believe that the last decade of wrangling the details of machine, network, protocol, and information and knowledge exchange with all their myriad and clever transactions, to have been outside the big story...  yet, I might do.

If the impact of inventions lies not with their trajectory or the force behind their direction, but instead lies with some future emergent cultural fashion...  Yes, magic, but not a magic entirely of technology.

What does this say of the current technical vision of virtual worlds?   

Sure, it is likely to be wrong.  But more wrong than if it were wrought from a source liberated from the mire of the insight of mechanism?   Or is true insight only possible when grounded in the art of the possible?

Perhaps a vision of the future, however flawed, is best approximated by lots of blind folks groping the elephant and sharing notes.

Comments (34)

Mixing It Up For a Good Cause

Time to get that avatar into shape. A “mixed reality” event based on the American Cancer Society’s walk/run Relay for Life will be held in Second Life on August 27-28. 


Offline ACS Relays are team-based all-nighters, with each team attempting to keep at least one member walking or running on the track for the duration of the event.  This is the first time the ACS is offering a virtual version and they hope it will enable more people to participate who wouldn't or couldn't normally do so.

The virtual Relay is itself a team effort, organized by ACS Project Specialist Randal Moss, Community Director of the Acceleration Studies Foundation Jerry Paffendorf, and Second Life resident Keith Morris aka Jade Lily, with support from the folks at Linden Lab. Randal spoke about the origins of the virtual Relay and offered interesting insight into the challenges involved in merging real world events with digital environments at the inaugural Future Salon speaker series this past April. 

A Relay for Life intrinsically presents some interesting logistical challenges, as it involves real-time coordination of mobile avatars. While virtual world inhabitants are certainly no strangers to all-night online play sessions and this is one case where time zone differences will actually work in an event’s favor, it may be difficult to faithfully translate the sheer physicality of a run/walk into an avatar based environment.  In his Future Salon presentation, Randal acknowledged that exact replication will not be possible: “Nothing can ever be duplicated in the virtual world, and things need to be flexible. I had a couple of questions and demands on constraints and restrictions and regulations from some of the departments I’m working with, and I said, ‘You know what? We just can’t do that. It just doesn’t work like that. This is not the real world.’”

Ultimately I believe it is less important to produce an exact physical replication of an offline ACS Relay than it is to transfer the less corporeal elements of a walk/run event into the virtual environment – things like a sense of community and team spirit. If the organizers can give participants a real sense that they are part of a larger, worldwide effort and make them feel that by donating their time and money they truly are helping to make a difference, I think the event will be a success. 

What I really dig about the idea of a virtual walk/run is the way it uses virtual embodiment to overcome limitations of physical embodiment. This goes way beyond simply allowing people to participate who aren’t physically able to do so.  There’s just something inherently poetic about virtual bodies recreating the performance of a physical, corporeal event with the end-goal of extending the life of real, material bodies. It’s an interesting and purposeful breach of the magic circle.

For more information about how to volunteer, participate in, or donate to the Second Life Relay for Life, visit the event’s official site.

Comments (1)

Doctorow comes to town

D1Right now Cory Doctorow is in Second Life and is just about to start signing copies of his book Someone Comes to Town Someone leaves town. It’s a futurists’ w37 dr34m.

I
Cory, of course, is awriter,  Boing Boing’er, the book is SF, it's published free under a Creative Commons licence in a range of formats, in Second Life there was a contest to create a virtual version of the work, Cory’s avatar was created by an in-world designer, he’s being interviewed by Hamlett an ‘embedded’ journalist in a virtual space, and you can have the fricking thing signed, digitally, virtually.B1

omg my head is spinning.

10 points for the first person to form a decent, relevant proposition including the words simulacra, metaverse and Ramen.

[ed 23:13 bst] - all signed.

Formaline_1

 

 

 

Signing

 

 

 

Signed

 

 

 

Comments (13)

After me, after you

I’ve been thinking a lot about death and the virtual afterlife recently.

It all started with the bombings. Or 7/7 as our brand driven culture seems to want to term it. Then I read a posting on boing boing about the death of Keith Alexander – which got me bouncing from link to link having the increasingly spooky experience of reading his blogs. Especially the mini site devoted to the process of getting a huge Koi tattoo. Was this morbid voyeurism or a participation in a post mortem celebration of a fascinating life? 

But this was just the start.

I recently  learnt of the sudden death of fellow virtual world researcher Mário José Lopes Guimarães Jr. Mário was one of those conference / email friends that the loosely coupled world of academe throws up. We were due to meet up for drinks in London one Wed or Thurs but things came up so we had to postpone it till the next week, or sometime, definitely sometime. He died that Friday in a road accident.

Mário’s work dealt with avatars, in his words “constitution, performance and social significance of avatars” which he was looking at across virtual worlds and from a number of perspectives. A number of papers can be read on Mário’s site.

This all got me thinking about our embodiment in cyberspace, the way that it both exists in parallel to us and the way that it persists after us. There’s a bunch of SF about ways in which we can live for ever by way of loading our personality construct into an AI. But I’m wondering what we can do right now and how far we can take it. The considerations are very much like those in the Clock of the Long Now, but I’m not setting a 10,000 year target but wondering what a practical target would be.

This is where I went with this – first off I just started to think about hosting, say we just have a personal web site that we want to keep going after we die. 1 year is not a problem. 5 to 10 years we have to start thinking about companies that we think are going to be around for a while, say IBM. 50 years we get into all kinds of issues of long term funding, setting up ways to ensure that ones interests are maintained e.g. a legal firm holding a trust and fund stream that will manage changes across technologies etc. 

Then I started to wonder about the degree of personality that one could build into these things. We could move from a basic site to a virtual world or some kind of interactive system. But I wonder how that would work and where technology is going. For example I wonder if AI’s can start to mimic probably responses by data mining things like the 50k or so email that I have on my server. What would be really neat is an AI system that learn they way I am by watching what I do then can gradually take over or fill in. This is one the aims of projects like THE REAL, so I know people are working on it. What do I need to start to store, is it too late, does my data shadow have to monitored form birth, do we actually need access to the data of people I’ve interacted with, can we look at personally changes over time and project what they would be like in the future given new facts about the world.

Or, is this all just the most narcissistic project one could imagine?

So, for Keith, for Mário, heck just for the intellectual fun of it – thoughts? 

Comments (12)

Edinburgh in August

EiefWhile we are talking conferences, is only a few weeks to the Edinburgh Games fest, which has been re-branded (don’t you just hate that phrase) and is now called the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival – what games not good enough for you, eh, eh!!!

Anyway forget the pretentious ‘inclusive’ title. Don’t worry it’s all about the game. This year’s format seems pretty much the same as last year. There is a short industry conference, a bunch of ‘screenings’ and a chance to get you hands on fun – and bestest of all it’s all set within the Edinburgh Fringe festival so, if nothing else, it’s a great excuse to immerse you self in one of the best arts festivals in, well, Edinburgh, OK if not this part of the western spiral arm of the galaxy. 

For me the screenings are the most rewarding part of the event. Last year I got to see the truly awesome Lego Star Wars presented by the highly enthusiastic creators and managed to have a public row with developers of the depressingly crass Incredibles game – the screenings are open to the public so you can join in too.

Unfortunately the event seems pretty MMO lite – so no reprise of last year’s dust up with EAs Jeff Brown (see EAs Eyes wide shut). Though, Clive Roberts from developer Deep Red will be talking about “Actual Virtual Reality” which I believe is sim focused but may touch on our slice of virtual multiverse.

Comments (6)

DC in July

Base15_01You’ve got to be quick for this one: it’s in DC, it’s on Thursday at 14 hundred hours; it looks great if you have a uniform fetish – well it's hosted by the US Navy and it's called: Innovation at the Edge: The New Capabilities, Applications, Threats and Opportunities Unleashed by Global Technology Convergence and Proliferation.    

I was as confused about getting the press release as you probably are about me posting it on TerraNova, till I got to this bit:

- Virtual Worlds/Online Social Networks – Highly customizable simulated environments to explore the effects of various human interactions, foster advanced remote collaboration, as well as provide realistic training and simulation scenarios for both military and civilian use without real-life dangers and consequences.

The panel includes TN’s own Cory Ondrejka (who also moonlights over at Linden Labs), which makes a great deal of sense (though as far as I’m aware Cory does -not- have a uniform fetish).

All the details are on the appallingly formatted web site.

Regulars might remember that back in March I posted Simulating terror, which sparked of a lively discussion on the use of Virtual Worlds in understanding terrorism, I still think that there are insights and I’d really like to go to this conference (especially given that I work in central London just outside Parliament - so I’m very interested in the ability to predict terrorist behaviour); but I doubt I can make it over so feedback from any of the TN community will be very welcome.

Comments (0)

Copenhagen in December... again

In case you missed it, the next DAC (digital arts & culture) conference will take place December 1-3 at the IT University of Copenhagen. DAC has long been a host to game studies work so definitely consider submitting and coming out for it. Deadline for papers and workshop proposals is August 8. Full info can be found at the conference website.

Comments (0)

Is Love and War Turn Based?

A couple of summer loose ends are introduced here for these dog-days (Jeff Freeman's Love Story and "Turn-based Worlds")...

(1.) Jeff Freeman posted a fine read for the summer-time hive mind.   Love Story is fiction but well-crafted and suggestive of a number of Terra Nova themes (beyond the frequently discussed *spoiler* one).

(2.) I've long been musing  upon a post about "Turn-based worlds."    Never quite got around to squaring it all up.  But Jeff's Love Story wiggles a bit from my hand.  A starter's glimpse now, more later...

---

The demise of the turn-based strategy game is a common lament in grognard computer game circles.   There are many, including myself  (though not blindly), who consider the over-use of real-time simulation and strategy to be an unfortunate distraction.   One of the biggest sins (IMO) of the "real-time" fashion is how when overused it can hide otherwise apparent shortcomings in AI and game design.

By and large, the forum arguments in favor of turn-based games tends to be 'meta' in nature and fall into categories similar to those described by Trey Walker ("more strategic", "elegance"...).  A subtle and powerful point however, is that turn-based design is not an absolute but is a choice on a continuum of possibilites.   Chess played with a timer -- taken to the limit-- can approach real-time simulation clock-tics, though it would become a very different game.

Other board games discretize turns further  into segments.  For example, a turn-based  battle game such as Advanced Squad Leader  can by its 1977 ruleset, have turns segmented into 8 phases each averaging 4 sub-phases.  The purpose of segmentizing a turn into phases (e.g. "prep fire phase", "movement phase"...) is to balance  play and to better simulate the real-time process they seek to capture.

They also help the player to organize the mass of detail into coherent action.

Another notable  about turn-based design is that it can interleave  player interactions.  So, player A's movement phase might well be interrupted by  an "opportunity fire" phase, where player B decides choose to shoot at the moving vehicle, for example...  Interleave enough, and you are approximating simultaneous play...

In part, Jeff Freeman's Love Story is about how two players delve into an elaborate interpersonal dance of uncertainty and exploration.   It is a process of give-and-take, of banter.  By so doing, a protocol, a turn-based set of transactions emerge (btw, related tangent, see:  "Best. Phone. S*x. Ever").

I'm reminded of Richard's point about Code is Law in software-based real-time virtual worlds.  Yes, sometimes, rules are meant to be discovered by trial and error.  But other times, rules are better left explicit as anchors within a process.  The spaces between are what of interest.

Whether your world is explicitly rule-based or not is a choice.  Arguably, these choices imply different kinds of worlds.  And arguably, both have their places, but they shouldn't be mixed up.

[ End of part 1.  Your thoughts? ]

Comments (3)

[July 18th, 2005] Daily top 30 Online games in Korean PC-bang

This is daily top 30 Online games in Korean PC-bang by Gametrics.com [record date: July 18th, 2005]

The company has been sampling 1,234 PC -bangs(around 61,100 IPs)  *reliability: 95%, Sampling Error: ±2.85%

comment:

Guild Wars disappeared in the list(it ranks 44th today) and the Archlord(being serviced in open beta, published by Naver.com, one of Big 3 IT companies in Korea, to the effect of defeating Lineage and WoW) fell to its knees.

Blizzard Korea recently(june 28th - july 4th) did poll taking on the need of WoW servers integration or account transfer to solve the population disproportionation of alliance to horde widely happened in considerable number of servers since its commercialization at January 18th 2005.

According to today news, Blizzard Korea primarily categorizes war(PVP) servers into 4 groups (A: alliance & horde both over-population, B: both optimal, C: horde want, D: Both want). 7 servers belongs to A group, 8 to B, 11 to C, and 21 to D.

**********************************************************

Rank Up/Dn     Title             Genre    occupation        min/per a PC-bang          Biz Model

1     -       Special Force          FPS           16.41%           1989.47         item sale*(means basic service & items are given free, while premium item could be sold)

2     ▲ 1    KartRider              Racing      14.30%          1733.68         item sale

3     ▼ 1    Brood war              RTS          14.19%           1719.50       package sale

4     -       Lineage2                 RPG           8.25%            999.92        license

5     -       Lineage                   RPG            7.76%            940.74        license

6     -       Free Style            Basketball      5.16%            624.95        item sale

7     -       WoW                     RPG            4.96%             601.43        license

8     -       WarRock                FPS             2.46%            298.47        open beta test*(means under developing, testers free to play during the test term)

9     ▲ 1   Mu-Online             RPG            2.36%            286.43        license    

10    ▼ 1   Maple Story         RPG             1.94%            235.30       item sale

11    ▲ 1   YulHyulGangHo    RPG             1.79%           217.43        open beta test

12    ▲ 1   Hangame New Gostop  Board  1.79%           217.16       item sale

13    ▼ 2   Guns Online          FPS             1.74%            211.10        item sale      

14     -     Dekaron                   RPG            1.21%             146.57        open beta test

15     -     ArchLord                 RPG             1.15%            138.83        open beta test

16     -    Get-Amped            Arcade         0.92%            111.88        item sale

17    ▲ 2   Hero Online          RPG           0.64%             77.07        open beta test   

18    ▼ 1   Everquest2            RPG           0.63%             75.94        closed beta test

19    ▲ 2   RF Online               RPG         0.57%             69.09        license   

20     -     Hangame Gostop  Board       0.54%             66.05         item sale

21    ▼ 3   Mabinogi               RPG          0.50%             60.27       partial payment

22     -     PangYa                   Golf            0.50%             60.12         item sale

23     -     Nine Dragons          RPG           0.49%             59.34        open beta test

24     -   New Fotress             Arcade        0.46%             55.38        item sale

25    ▲ 2   Silkroad Online      RPG          0.34%             41.79        closed beta test

26    ▼ 1   Fotress2                Arcade         0.30%            35.94        item sale 

27    ▲ 2   BNB                     Arcade         0.29%             35.33          item sale 

28    ▼ 2   Pimang New Gostop  Board  0.29%              35.16         item sale

29    ▲ 5   Knight Online         RPG        0.27%              32.39          item sale

30    ▼ 2   Gersang                  RPG            0.25%           30.64        item sale

Comments (28)

RMT and Osmotic pressure of VW

Perhaps the strangest feature of some current MMORPGs which are based on Medieval backgrounds (eg Lineage, Everquest) is that players can sell or gift their in-game items which practically function as production goods / goverment licenses in modern world without any restraint.  In the Middle Ages, it is hard to imagine that one could sell or otherwise transfer one’s fiefdom(eg castle)/ one's peerage to someone with no blood relation.  Feudal property law simply forbade or regulated this type of activity.

But unlike the medieval milieu on which they are based, freedom of contract is the fundamental principle of those MMORPGs,  And the force of this overwhelms that of any other principle in these games.

It is often said that real money trades (RMTs) destroys MMORPGs, and that real world capitalism has invaded these pure and holy virtual (gaming) world.  The truth is less palatable:

By the phenomenon of some kind of osmotic pressure, the real world's rarefied, controlled economy/market has been absorbed into the virtual worlds’ high density, uncontrolled economies.

Then, (as an extension of developer or player's mind to console game) dreaming of pristine or medieval clan life free & autonomous fantasy life in those MMORPG is just daydreaming. It is like the modern man who admires the stone age's primitive communalism in his head but aware it's improbable in these days.  Actually it’s more like the modern man who dreams of primitive communalism or medieval communitarianism and has some kind of time machine which would transport him into those world; but chooses instead to live in the current world and criticize it as unacceptably “modern.”

I recall the dialogue I had with a Lineage developer in Seoul, in 1999. He said to me the philosophy of designing Lineage was to "set free the players who were stressed enough in current capitalism."  His ideal is impaired, of course, by freedom to trade/gift everything in game, which has lead to a kind of hypercapitalism within MMORPGs, and then engulfed real money.

My question then is how we might rehabilitate his ideal?  Do we seek to introduce to the theories of  P. J. Proudhon, K. Marx, or William Morris, G. D. H. Cole?  Or do we accept that his ideal was flawed from the beginning?

Comments (44)

Shake my Hand?

A few more thoughts on the nature of our communal relationship to a future virtual world...

Earlier, we wondered:

... (whether) the virtual threads of interconnectedness are multi-layered, from cell phones to chatrooms, leading to a foggy but resiliant virtualized space.   We now live in such a place, and are moving through it to somewhere else.  To what effect then, become the  larger webs of interconnectedness in a more consolidated vision of the virtual world?

A point raised by Craig Perko: what is the nature (if not the likelihood) of a consolidated vision of the virtual world?  Will it be a "super-world" or will it be a quilt of highly specialized service relationships - i.e., in a manner of speaking, a tapestry of many virtual worlds?

While we've wondered the viability of players moving around in game worlds (e.g. here) - this is a more general question.   After all, once you have met and are wired up to your 150 or so associates, that very may well be it in terms of direct relationshps.  Is community and interconnectedness more about the distant "buzz" of crowds and less about shaking their hands?

If so, what does "buzz" mean to you?

Comments (7)

Marvel Xbox MMORPG

As "That Chip Guy" noted in a comment thread yesterday, Marvel has licensed Microsoft to do a superhero MMORPG for the Xbox.  Plenty of news coverage available here which references the success of World of Warcraft, yadda yadda. And DC Comic is apparently doing an MMORPG with Sony for the PS3 -- see here.  We've talked about consoles and MMORPGs here from time to time.  Is there anything lost if the MMORPG mainstream shifts to consoles over the next few years?  Sure, you'll need a few more buttons, but aren't the multimedia Xbox 360 and the PS3 just PCs in console disguise anyway?

Comments (15)

C*n*orshi*

Here's a question I've been meaning to post here since a conversation I had with Dan Hunter at State of Play last year:

Is there any subject matter that can appear in a virtual world which should always be banned by real-world authorities?

There are several caveats that we can make, but I'm only going to supply one for the moment: the virtual world is assumed to have effective methods for keeping out children. Thus, you might want to argue that full-frontal nudity (say) should always be banned, but if you did then you couldn't use "because children might see it" as your reason.

Richard

Comments (47)

Major MOG Cancelled

Mythic has cancelled Imperator, reports IGN. Not sure what to make of it. Thanks to Samantha LeCraft for the tip.

Comments (17)

Babbage & Cabbage

On-topic: Richard is going to be speaking in the Second Life future Salon on August 14th.

Off topic: Jim Purbrick (a.k.a. "Babbage Linden") just wrote this nifty MP3 featuring Richard saying - "If anyone samples this for a hardcore techno dance track..." 

 In other news from the home of 22K virtual crimes, it appears that cabbage is to baseball as sploit/rare is to MMORPG?

The Korean Baseball Association met in special session after cabbage leaves twice fell from Park Myung-Hwan's cap live on television. After two hours, the committee ruled that cabbage was a "foreign substance" and therefore banned from the field. Players may now only wear cabbage by presenting a doctor's note in advance.

Wouldn't you love to have a transcript of that special session?  The sports law blog remains strangely silent, but Boing Boing is interested...

Comments (6)

What Do You Want to Know?

A few of us TN types participated in a GDC panel on industry-academic collaboration in which we layed out some of the barriers and benefits of working along with devs. We academics spelled out why we can't do anything we want any time: chiefly for reasons of tenure & publishing, but mostly because of lack of access to data and developers. At the same time, I heard many good comments from the audience about how we could better address their concerns and questions, i.e. Why don't you call us, and how about reading and writing in our trade publications?

Let's just pretend for a moment (work with me, people) that we have all of those things worked out. Academics have great access to developers and game data and industry folks can take advantage of our time, methods and ideas seamlessly. We are standing by ready to deploy teams of highly motivated Ph.D. students to tackle your problems and collect data. Call today!

All that's left is the big question: What do you want to know?

What are the key questions you want answered about virtual worlds, their inhabitants, their real-world components, their operation, whatever?

I'm asking those  in academia and in industry because this is such a rare and useful forum where the two meet. For each group--for anyone really--what are the central questions you'd like answered about virtual worlds? What are the little silly curiosities?

These might relate to subscription retention, what's fun (Raph alert), how people use the games, game effects, what kinds of people play, what makes some games appealing and others not, what mechanics work for some people, general opinion questions for users, etc., etc. Don't feel constrained by this toe-in-the-water short list. Think broadly, narrowly, laterally, whatever. Be pragmatic or blue-sky it.

What do you want to know?

Comments (47)

How Did We Miss This?

All of us got so excited about Sony Station going live that we somehow missed EA's attempt to sell Ultima Online items for real US$.  I say "attempt" because Stratics has details on their emergency publish to roll back all of the items.  Apparently there was a dupe bug, which is unfortunate when you had players paying $2.99 for each item (or $12.99 for all 6).  Sounds like they're going to try again once they debug their problems.  While this isn't traditional real-world transactions, selling upgraded and special items seems to be inline with the approach that would fit other EA games, like Madden, with online components.

Comments (34)

GLS Webcasts Up

For those who missed GLS, a many of the talks are available here.  Where else can you see Psychochild do a shot, see slides of baby seals, and hear a full collections of Ted's evil voices?  Not sure how long they will be hosted, so enjoy them while you can!

Comments (4)

London

Terra Nova has been reflecting with others, the weight of the terrible events this last week in London.   Collected here are but a few thoughts related to to the shape and hope of virtual worlds in the future.

Willard McCarty kicks off this discussion with an insightful observation (from here, with permission):

...what's remarkable about these events is the massive role all forms of (computer-mediated) communication are playing in drawing people together, uniting communities, summoning help, giving reassurance and contributing intelligence to the current investigation. Communication has, I suspect, played a very large part in helping to maintain calm and order amidst all the violence and chaos.

It is a  hopeful thought  for virtual worlds:  if our movements in a virtualized and highly interconnected world are  indeed coalescing and helpful to humanity, rather than vaguely  peripheral, cacophonous or disruptive,  then the marriage between the virtual and real worlds is an empowering one.  Such would not be an 'escapist' vision, but one that may speak  to a strengthening and stiffening of humanity, especially in times of crisis and turmoil...

In many ways this is suggested, though incompletely, by the increasing ubiquity and sophistication of Citizen Journalism.     Robert MacMillian pens an excellent piece (Washington Post, "Witnesses to History"):

Their stories of the moments following the bomb blasts that struck the city during the Thursday morning rush hour captured public attention in a way that few news stories could... citizen journalism passed the breaking-news test.

Dmitri Williams (TN) cites Doug Thomas and Joshua Fouts where they speak of the "globe flattening"  potential of the virtual:

The global information culture is fundamentally shifting from a broadcast environment to a topology where broadcast amplifies, and is amplified by, many-to-many networks that are increasingly enabled by information technologies – including web services, publicly accessible databases, social software (weblogs, wikis, buddy lists, online games, file-sharing networks), mobile devices (camera phones, text messaging, global positioning systems), and the tools and technologies that blur the line between online and real-world spaces (web cams, wi-fi, distributed sensors, Internet cafes, MeetUp and other smart-mob phenomena)...Early research has confirmed that within [virtual worlds], there is a unique opportunity to create, foster and sustain intercultural dialogue and that perception of national values, ideals, and character are both reinforced and altered by the real time interactions that occur in these spaces.

Furthermore, Dmitri asked:

As Thomas Friedman argues, the world is flat. Is the virtual world flat as well?

We saw some of this with London, as was reported, a modest chat room went a long way at building confidence within the regulators  in how well the London financial system was coping.

However, this is misleading when examined in isolation.  To return to Willard's original muse, and to Robert MacMillan's hint: the virtual threads of interconnectedness are multi-layered, from cell phones to chatrooms, leading to a foggy but resiliant virtualized space.   We now live in such a place, and are moving through it to somewhere else.  To what effect then, become the  larger webs of interconnectedness in a more consolidated vision of the virtual world?

While London Calling is  loud and clear, it may speak less to the underworld than to our steadying march into the virtual one...

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20 Days

Back in February, Dmitri got us thinking about our /played time. At PARC, one of the things that the WoW longitudinal census data allowed us to do was to estimate the accumulated play-times of players based on their character levels. To do this, we tracked over 80,000 leveling events - the time it takes to get from one level to the next. That allowed us to calculate the average leveling time and the accumulated play-time for every given level.

And that's where the 20 days comes in. The average level 60 character has spent 20 full days of real-time in the game. That's the equivalent of 60 8-hour work days - or roughly 3 work months (assuming 5 days of 8-hour shifts each week). And roughly 10% of all characters in WoW are level 60. In other words, many players have spent 20 days in the game. And that's just to hit level 60 and not counting the time spent afterwards.

Given that WoW has been out for about 8 months, it's quite striking that approximately 10% of players have spent 3 work months of time in the game.

Note: It's true that we tracked characters and not players. In that last sentence, we're assuming that there's an approximately 1:1 relationship between level 60 characters and actual players. In other words, that very few players have multiple level 60 characters.

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Wagging the Dog

Here is a story I've been sitting on for a while, hoping for some insight in the shower as to what the lasting meaning behind this really is.   I don't have it, maybe you do, but I do have a hunch and it starts with baseball...

On June 21 it was reported that the baseball game between the Kansas City T-Bones and the Schaumburg Flyers would be played virtually, in a manner of speaking.  Armed with X-boxes:

...two video gamers will climb into recliner chairs around home plate at CommunityAmerica Ballpark and slug it out on the park’s 16- by 24-foot video screen.

Their scores from playing two innings of MVP Baseball 2005 on an Xbox will stand when the T-Bones and Flyers take the field to finish the last seven innings of the game.

True, it was reported as an unabashed all-American publicity stunt:

“The Northern League is known for its unique promotions, and Kansas City is setting a new standard,”

Nonetheless, it snagged my imagination.   

In small part it is because there is an ancient memory about how many of us used to cobble various, different games together to create a whole different experience.    For example, for those of you who do, or used to play board games - how many of you used to freshen up a top-level grand strategy game (oh, say, World In Flames)  with, say, at an extreme - Advanced Squad Leader?  Both perspectives, when combined had their purposes in communicating a gestalt experience of a different sort.  But this was manageable (if not time-consuming)  stuff.   It was well bounded by bits of  cardboard on someone's living room floor.

Things became trickier when they become more interactive. Computer Games,  seemed to have a rough go, from hindsight, with the same balancing act:  it is  too easy to feel like one half of the cobbled whole is an afterthought.   There are some examples,  such as the Total War franchise, and say my love affair with X-Com (UFO Defender), which suggest it can work on occasion... 

Back to the Kansas City T-Bones.

A week or so later,  it was reported that the Northern League commissioner thought better of the enterprise, there was language about the ambiguity of virtual game scores impacting the RL team standings and the "integrity of the league."

Personally, I can't claim to have been put out by this reversal  - the enterprise had a gimmicky feel to it from the git go.   But it does  suggest an interesting tension that I suspect we will see a great deal more of in the future:    conflicts arising from different styles and forms of gaming joined for various reasons (whether novelty, entertainment, or commerce) will be exacerbated by their different impacts across  different mediums.

Unlike the actions of those seeking to cross-fertilize  cardboard (boardgame) empires , the ubiquity and pervasiveness of different gaming forms now, when impacted, suggests more complicated conflicts.

I am vaguely reminded of the 1997 film Wag the Dog, and its premise:  "Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail was smarter, the tail would wag the dog."

Dogs and their tails will be surely harder to discern as we go forward,  if for no other reason, there will be more of them, and they do wave  so.   The question is, where are the brains.

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My Other Car is Made of Meat

The estimable Cory D alerts us to the fact that my favorite almost-MMOG, Kingdom of Loathing, is now merchandising the hell out of itself.

Ah, the pleasures of meat...

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1.3 Billion Chinese Can't Be Wrong

This piece of eye-candy came across the transom recently. If you enjoy cute Chinese girls, WoW, Coca-Cola and orcs, it's just the thing for you. Blizzard is localizing WoW for the Chinese audience. And it's a big audience.

For me, it brings up the realization that I have a pretty cursory knowledge of this extremely large country a few thousand miles west of me. I've visited Korea and Japan numerous times, and still have a hard time understanding what the heck is going on over there. China? Forget it.

Of course, if we take a *slightly* more expansive view of things, we know that China is a massive and growing global presence that must be reckoned with. China is probably going to be the world's largest consumer of energy, putting it on a political and economic (if not military) collision course with the United States.

The Chinese workforce has the potential to be the next Bangalore and then some--representing new threats to Western programmers and artists. As Cory has suggested, the demand for content in the next generation of console and PC games will far exceed the current capacity of developers to meet it: hey it's great that you can now do all of these things in games, except that, err, now you have to do all of these things in your games. You can almost hear EA_Spouse revving up. If the Chinese train their middle class to do the jobs (which seems likely), does this make that nation a threat to Western middle class game makers? Or does the potential of 1.3 billion new customers pretty much outweigh everything?

As Thomas Friedman argues, the world is flat. Is the virtual world flat as well? What do we make of China? And what do we make of Chinese gamers, now and in the future?

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Journalist Explores the MOG Shadow Economy

Read about gold farming wage slaves in action, courtesy of James Lee of 1UP.com. We've been waiting for this for awhile. Thanks Brian Whitener of gameguidesonline for the tip.

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Review of the Research - Good Luck

Recently, I have been faced with the task of "Reviewing the Research on Virtual Worlds" (yes, with capitalization) as part of my dissertation requirements (ch. 1 of dissertation for me, due in 13 days and counting) but also to be published in a "Handbook of New Literacies," edited by well-known literacy scholars such as Michelle Knobel and Conlin Lankshear. So, for the past few weeks, I've been burying myself in old and new writings on the very spaces we all hold so dear – MMOGs, MUDs, virtual worlds of all forms.

The task is, well... obscenely hard and messy. There's stuff on MUDs, web-published but never peer reviewed, that's held up as "canon" for the field. Then there's the academic papers, much of which consist of conference papers and proceedings publications. There are a few books, here and there, written from fairly atheoretical stances that focus on game design or personal stories. And then the occasional academic paper, such as T.L. Taylor's work or Hunter & Lastowka's (to name a few). Our collective work is all over the place. And that's fine for individuals, but not fine for the development of a field of research for others to draw on.

Am I naive in thinking that we exist as a field? If we do, where do we send our students to read through the literature? So far, I've treated Terra Nova as a sort of repository of ideas. But this will not easily sustain us as more scholars join the field. So... I wonder. Is it time we publish a journal of our own? Or at least a yearly review of some form? I worry that knowledge gets lost as generations move on to other topics/activities and newcomers will see nothing but a whole lot of webtalk without much scholarly, peer-reviewed writing on the issues.

And, yes, it does matter. If academensian's (pun intended) are to take virtual worlds seriously, then we have to give them reason to do so. R. Bartle, you question why it is that MMOG's are constantly translated into the home fields of those who write on them. Well, without a defined audience of our own that proves itself legitimate, we risk becoming nothing more than a fandom community around a technology that will, itself, grow tired, as all eventually do.

So, my questions include: Are we ready for a peer-reviewed journal on MMOGs? And, if so, who exactly ought to serve as peer review? And too, would we be "selling out" or whatever to establish such a forum for paper publication? And could we create one that worked in conjunction with the lively discussions here?

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Game Diversity

Brad King (EEG News) cites an article from Technology Review claiming Electronic Arts (EA) intends to diversify in order to minimize exposure to the cyclical console game release schedule.  EA seems to be considering involvement in other media (e.g. music and movies) as well as broadening its game title and platform portfolio.  This activity raises an interesting question: what is diversity (in a business revenue sense) when it comes to  games/worlds genres?

While the symbiosis between hardware and software  is often clear.  Sure consoles represent a good example of this.  Are there other notable  relationships between games and consumers?  Can these relationships be characterized in general terms, or must they be  product-centric, such that a view towards diversity has to be pieced together case-by-case? 

I suppose one problem is that  its hard to get beyond a parochial view.  If we're lucky we might believe that we have got a handle on just a handful of niches.  Yet the diverse demand  of gaming (and their interrelationships with other media) will likely be hard, I imagine, to spot from niche trendlines.  This is where large corporate entities with plenty of numbers and departments of researchers likely have an edge.

Nonetheless, is there any cunning worth discovering here - beyond just strapping the rosy goggles and lashing oneself to some rocket du jour fueled by a particular  retail whim?

Could one ever say, ever want to say: "If I were building a portfolio, genre-by-genre...  I'd start with an MMO that involved sunglasses, add a racing-game, consider an arena shooter, and throw in a dating sim with alpine skiing... and yes, pass one of those Spore thingies! "  Where would you start, or would you not even bother to try?   

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