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Mar 23, 2006

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1.

This is going to look like I'm teeing off on Thomas, but I'm not. Trust me. Think of us this as a plea from a dev.

I think you're missing the obvious. Developers have a hard time listening because you haven't been there and done that. Most of us have been on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar Crater Maker Mark I. That tends to teach one some things and we trust our experience. Most academics have been on the reciving end of... what? Spending grant money to create 35 new words and a paper that maybe 10 people world-wide will read?

Few or none of the academics studying the industry have ever been on a development team, much less a live team that has to feed the needs of thousands or hundreds of thousands of MMO gamers. Most aren't even gamers, per se, but academic tourists who don't play to play, but play to observe. Out of that, what do we get? Jargonized research papers that even most researchers can't puzzle out. Is it any wonder that developers have a hard time taking academics seriously? At State of Play III, I saw Ted Castronova, on a panel, get frustrated with the questions he was being asked by his fellow academics, to the point where he finally exploded and said, "You know, if you would just play the games as gamers, instead of being tourists in them for a couple weeks, you wouldn't be asking these questions."

As for players: OK, which players do we listen to? The very vocal minorities that press causes on forums? Some 'silent majority'? The guy who emails us and says, "I'm leader of a 500 member Guild and if you don't listen to us and make changes, we're leaving your game"? There are so many agendas in the player base that, if a developer were to try to listen to them all, nothing would ever get done. How, then, do you choose which players you're going to listen and respond to? Choosing the wrong ones can be disaster; look at SOE's decision to dumb-down the complexity of SWG. In most cases, we DO listen to players and take into account what we hear. But we also check our own data from the backend, because what players say and what they actually do are often wildly diffeent things.

In that sense, I understand exactly where Eric and Raph are coming from; for the most part, academia *is* irrelevant to commercial MMOs. Hell, we'd love it if you guys would study something that might actually have a benefit to the industry, such as Nick Yee's work or that of Julian Dibbel; much of what passes for research in this field is nothing more than trying to count how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The data might be trivially interesting, but who really cares?

When someone like Raph, who has an MFA and may be the most educated and academically-inclined member of the dev community, starts talking like that, academia should take notice. If HE doesn't find what you're doing as even mildly relevant to commercial gaming, the rest of the group surely doesn't, either.

It may be that researchers shouldn't care whether their work has commercial relevance. However, *I* care, because I'd love to see academia and business get much closer. Business has the money to fund research and we *should*, but we're sure as hell not going to send money if what we get to read at the end of the day is the scholarly equivalent of staring at one's navel and chanting "Ohhhhhhhm!"

It doesn't even have to have a direct application immediately discernable; all I'm asking for is something that actually advances our understanding of these things, not the incredibly heavy, meaningless drivel that comprises 90% of what passes for research and which I read until my brains start oozing from one ear and I begin hearing bells.

So there's my plea; if you want us to get closer, you have to start looking at issues that we find relevant. Ask us, we'll tell you what those are or at least bounce ideas around with you until you come up with something interesting.

2.

I appreciate the comment, Jessica, but you're partly making my point.

To take one (self-serving) example: As Heather Kelly's lead-in to the question mentioned above, she noted a mobile (I believe) golf game that allows the player, after hitting a drive (which to do well of course takes skill), to immediately push another key which makes a micro-payment to correct the drive while it's still in the air. Clearly she was interested in the implications of this: "Why does money trump everything?" Well, academics have answers to precisely this question. In fact, my own presentation a few hours before provided a model for understanding *exactly* this kind of issue. I pointed to this model indirectly above, because it just may be possible that devs, precisely because of their vaunted experience, have difficulty understanding how, for example, the nature of code itself may make the introduction of the market into virtual worlds, MMOGs, and other games in this way so easy. While I can't promise that my presentation had no jargon, developers have to meet us halfway on these kinds of issues, because their ideas about how society works (with some exceptions) are deeply impoverished.

In a way, you haven't met me halfway here (and I know you weren't trying to slam me, and this response, too, is just in the interests of sorting this out), because you don't see that my argument here an attempt to suggest that putting the blame on researchers for the lack of communication (and indirectly citing their lack of experience) as you are doing may be a cop-out. Actually, precisely the practical experience which you cite as giving the devs license to ignore what experts on society are observing and asserting about virtual worlds is what I'm saying may be the root of the problem. Hubris is in the offing when devs -- yes, even those with some academic cred like Raph (although I'd point out that MFA by itself means nothing on these issues) -- get blinded by what they believe is the singularity of their own position vis-a-vis virtual worlds. They believe that academics have nothing to tell them because they do not (and, for most of them, cannot) listen.

3.

An additional thought, that might help clarify this. Imagine that an MMOG exhibits some unusual effect or emergent behavior that people interested in it seek to explain. Are its devs already in the best position possible to explain it? That is, not only do they have the most access, are they the ones most ready to separate what matters from what doesn't in seeking to explain it? To say yes is to believe so deeply in the value of the dev position that no amount of de-jargonizing will ever make academics' claims relevant.

4.

Hmm... as someone who's rather undercredentialed in either school, but a dabbler in both, I have to pipe in and say, "Jessica and Thomas are both 100% right. Neither side listens!"

Developers aren't (always) listening to Academics, Academics aren't (always) researching issues of immediate interest to developers, and both of them (often) fail to see the game as gamers do.

This isn't anything new- Despite complaints regarding content ("just another Tolkien clone") every development project runs headlong into new territory, hammering into obstacles that must be resolved, often by a "shoot from the hip" attitude.

Working in such an environment, you learn to value experience over theory. Theory is what you used until the unknown appears. Then, it's experience that gets you past that obstacle.

Is it any suprise that developers would be wary of abstract theories over people with concrete experience?

However, as the frontier is pushed back, it's important to examine exactly what is there, and perhaps rethink whether the technique taken was really the RIGHT WAY or the most expedient, or maybe the only solution available at that time. It's time to examine what (if any) phenomena have emerged and what the impact of this trailblazing could be.

Such a broader perspective can make the "old frontier" a better place, but here the developer's value of experience over theory deafens them to such guidance.

Perhaps it's human nature- when I take on difficult challenges, I'm often very sensitive about the result. Questions based on 20/20 hindsight seem unfair- even when they're not critical, but simply alternate perspectives that can lead to better decisions in the future. Instead, I'm more likely to get defensive, feel I have to justify my actions, and discard the opinions of others who "weren't there."

Of course, that's why I troll these forums. Its one of the few places where the parties DO seem to meet and show any semblance of dialogue. There's alot being said, and occasionally, a little being listened to.

5.

Jessica, I think your 'plea' only proves the point Thomas is making.

Pulling the commercial card out of the deck is irrelevant when one months profit from World of Warcraft covers the revenues of every online world you have ever contributed to. I mean, your opinion means squat next to the people who work CS for WoW, doesnt it?

6.

Something that I have seen a lot of here and in my other experiences is that developers often deal with details and reality, while many of the researchers whose papers and topics that I've read (especially here) deal with the absolutely abstract or generally applicable.

From what I've seen (and I'm not claiming to be an expert), most of the discussions here have not resulted in concrete solutions or even a useful methodology that would allow a developer to solve problem X, or incorporate human trait Y into their game. In fact, some of the discussions in the comment threads have completely ignored what is technically possible at the time of debate.

Something else to consider is that the results of one study based on one MMO or virtual world will not be applicable in almost any cases to another MMO or virtual world. You may get some intriguing hints, but there are an almost infinite number of variables that self-select for the population in a game or virtual world, as well as the architecture of the game/world itself. Why not, instead of asking general, unanswerable questions, study specifically ONE example, and focus on how to concretely improve that example? Kind of like how PlayOn seems to be completely focused at the moment.

So, for academics, how can developers take your work seriously if you don't produce anything that the developer can use?

On the other end of the spectrum, how can developers get good, useful academic research if you don't accept that it will be helpful? If there are reasons why academia can't produce good research, why not try to solve the problem by giving the field more access to your raw data, and ask good questions that they can solve? If you don't allow the research to be relevant, and make an effort to MAKE and KEEP it relevant, it won't get the chance to be!

7.

Excellent work Thomas! Hehe, your gonna hear plenty from the devs on this one!

(Gamer rant deleted)

8.

Strangely enough, I think Ted's got the right of it on this one. Strange, because he hasn't actually said anything. =P

The games industry has been a developer's industry. It's their turf, they have experience. By the same token, experience in what? The people who innovate are generally not the people with old hands.

There are actually three distinct roles here that don't account for each other. The Academic, the Developer, and the Player. Players who haven't tried rolling their own game don't have an appreciation for the Developer's position; Developers who haven't dabbled in theory don't get the Academic's perspective; and so on and so forth.

I think what we're looking for here is Multiculturalism. =P

9.

Thank you, Technocrat, I think ;-).

Actually, to make sure that this doesn't veer back to the standard way of framing this argument, I'd like to highlight some of Alex's comments here (and answer, in a way, Spur's as well).

Alex wrote:

Why not, instead of asking general, unanswerable questions, study specifically ONE example, and focus on how to concretely improve that example?

Actually, many people here do just this.

Alex wrote:

From what I've seen (and I'm not claiming to be an expert), most of the discussions here have not resulted in concrete solutions or even a useful methodology that would allow a developer to solve problem X, or incorporate human trait Y into their game.

Actually, I'm suggesting that part of the problem here is that developers (again, with obvious exceptions!) tend to think that they are the only ones who can frame relevant questions about MMOs. When they don't see work that proceeds from the questions/problems as they conceive them they see no reason to listen. In fact, researchers do explore not only important questions about MMOs from a social science point of view. They also conceive of and explore questions relevant to the MMOs long-term growth and revenue.

By the way, these kinds of excesses happen in every profession. Cultural anthropology, for example, is particularly prone to see the world (as a result of their deeply interpretive qualitative method) as only about "meaning" and "discourse." It's when this goes too far that they start dismissing the quantitative researchers. The opposite can of course happen as well (Dmitri is very good at articulating this). The issue, again, is that developers should own up to the possibility that their ideas about which questions are relevant to ask about MMOs are themselves culturally located, as it were.

So it's not about an opposition between practice and theory at all. It's about the hubris that unconsidered practice can lead to.

10.

It's all well and good for researchers to accuse developers of willfully not listening, but unless you've lived the developer life, you really don't know what you're asking. I'm sure hubris and stubbornness enter the equation somewhere, but even more than that, working on a MMOG is often an 80 hour a week job -- more, if you consider that no MMOG developer can afford to get out of touch with what is new and popular in the marketplace. We are constantly trying to figure out how to make the thing in front of us more fun, more accessible, more stable, of higher quality, etc etc, with the limited time and money we have allotted. Except for a very few notable exceptions (many of whom are regulars here), anyone who is actively working on a professional MMOG doesn't have the extra hours to think up new questions to answer, or to wade through dense papers peppered with jargon, or to try to find the one kernel of wisdom buried amongst the vague and unrealistic academic assertions.

I am in favor of research, and I'm in favor of developers being more aware of good research. I can think of a couple of examples off the top of my head of research that has changed my point of view on the work I am doing -- specifically Nick Yee's Daedalus Project, and the MDA paper by Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek. I have actively incorporated both into my design philosophy (and practice!) and would be very interested in seeing more research of this caliber.

From my point of view as a developer, I believe research needs to be timely, concise, specific, and concrete. Give me exact numbers, short descriptions, and easy to understand graphs. Don't try to justify your work or tell me how it could be applied to MMOG development -- I'm a professional developer, I can figure that out by myself, and can probably think up a few applications that hadn't occurred to you to boot. Don't, in 2006, give me statistics on behavior in AC1 and expect me to take it seriously; I'm not saying that the only valid numbers come from WoW these days, but the popularity of the game and the date it was launched do have a bearing on how relevant the results are.

I realize that the above is likely quite a bit different from the standards that would get you published in a social science journal. If that's the case, maybe consider publishing two different versions.

One last thing to keep in mind: when you get right down to it, professional MMOG development is a business, and as such, money is the most important thing. Don't ask to mine my database unless you can show me a specific business plan that lays out the Return on Investment. Blizzard, SOE, Turbine, etc, are no more "obligated" to release their internal statistics or databases to researchers than Disney is. Vague claims that research will lead to better games, higher player retention, wider audience, whatever, just don't hold water without specific numbers and business plans to back it up. As developers, we're simply too busy with the next thing to spend precious hours ruminating on where the genre could be ten years from now.

11.

You seem to be responding to things that no one has said in this thread, Samantha (such as the notion that developers are "obligated" to share data--not sure where that could have come from).

Samantha wrote:

I believe research needs to be timely, concise, specific, and concrete. Give me exact numbers, short descriptions, and easy to understand graphs.

Of course, no one would argue with many of these adjectives. But if overall this means that the research needs to be in a form that is easily digestible, than do not be surprised if all it does is confirm your existing expectations.

12.

You seem to be responding to things that no one has said in this thread, Samantha (such as the notion that developers are "obligated" to share data--not sure where that could have come from).

I was preemptively addressing an idea that was raised last time the topic was brought up here on TN, about a week ago, here. Specifically, the suggestion was made:

So, I know this may sound silly, but why not just put together a research proposal and pitch it to Blizzard? Then you don't have to write silly scrapers... you just get the *real* data. Of course, you have to actually offer a compelling *reason* for your research that Blizzard will find of direct benefit to their business (That's always seems to be the hard part). I mean, wouldn't most of these queries take about 15 minutes if you had the actual system logs?

I've seen this suggested in the past when the topic turns to researcher-developer relations, and it was only a matter of time before someone once again suggested that developers would get better information out of researchers if we just allowed them unfettered access to our databases. The "developers'... need, above all, to make money" had already been brought up, so inevitably someone would have suggested that if developers weren't so obsessed with money, we could help the research of VWs move forward. I was just trying to head that off at the pass.


But if overall this means that the research needs to be in a form that is easily digestible, than do not be surprised if all it does is confirm your existing expectations.

I find both the Daedalus Project and the MDA paper easily digestible, but both changed my perception on the goals and process of development. I don't see why research can't be both easily digestible and influential, but then, I'm not the one requesting that the research be carried out in the first place.

13.

Heather Kelly, one of the developers on a panel on Monday asked a great question about game development that she hoped researchers could help answer: Why does money trump everything?

The fact that you think this is a great question and the fact that Ms. Kelly was hoping researchers could answer it are the most illustrative points about the divide between devs and researchers in your piece. :-)

I sincerely hope one day that researchers do find the answer to this question and publish it widely to teach the other researchers...

14.

I'll take this one step further and go so far as to say game development even shuns other forms of software development as much as it does academic research. This trend seems to have lessened over the past few years. Early MMO developers took their roots from MUDs that had no need of large scale database platforms and scalable transaction systems. Outside game deveopment expertise in these areas are things that could pay immediate benefits if the brotherly love of the game development community looked beyond its borders for solutions. How many of us remember unreliable billing systems, horrible web site performance and nasty user interfaces in the early MMOs.(EQ anyone?) Billing systems, UI design and web site construction have all been done by software teams far better suited to the task than game developers. (Generalization incoming) Most game developers couldn't architect a scalable, stable multithreaded server platform if they wanted to, yet that's precisely what the early developers did and it showed. Why is it that even today, game development shops don't look beyond their skilled programmers for non-game programmers that have experience with these types of software? We, as an industry are getting better, but we're redesigning the wheel instead of figuring out how to attach it to something useful.

That said, we've come a long way. Most shops realize today that they need experienced UI designers, web programmers, database developers and a whole host of non-3D programmers to deliver a game but even Game Developer Magazine still lumps all programmers into one category in their salary survey as a represntation of job segmentation in the industry. The business software industry has long since pulled database programmers, systems programmers and web programmers out of the general category of programmer and into their own category with vastly different pay structures. There's a lot game development can learn from outside industries and it doesn't start or stop with just academia. Getting development shops to notice it though is a whole different ball of wax.

Please note: I know not all companies are like this but the vast majority of development teams I've spoken with still believe that their programmers are skilled enough to code anything that a game requires and are elite enough to not know when they are in over their heads. Ask your server programmer where he/she cracked his/her experience on server design. It's likely OTJ training on a previous game and not from an industry that already did that type of programming well.

15.

Keith wrote:

The fact that you think this is a great question and the fact that Ms. Kelly was hoping researchers could answer it are the most illustrative points about the divide between devs and researchers in your piece. :-)

Not sure I follow you here, Keith, but I'm glad you brought it up again. Heather was not one of the devs I was complaining about, which is why I thought it was a great question. While I may not have made it clear enough in my presentation earlier that day (and I certainly don't blame Ms. Kelly for not making the connection, under those circumstances -- it was a 10 minute presentation on my part), I did therein suggest an answer to this question (which, if fully fleshed out, would of course also point to the history of private property and capitalism :-) ). In short, it is easier for devs to conceive of markets and to code for them than it is for them to code for other less precise resources, like fine-grained, real-world equivalent competencies (the ability to drive a golf ball 300 yds). This is because markets share a lot of features with code (precise isolated computations), and rely heavily on distributing information, which IT does relatively well.

P.S.: For more on this, see the jargon-laden paper linked under my name, to the right, above. :-)

16.

A few points:

1. While clearly Thomas' concerns are valid and extend beyond the episode he used to trigger this discussion, it should be remembered that GDC is the Game Developer's Conference. It is precisely the practicalities and concerns of the developers that need to take center stage.

2. While the industry and the medium has changed greatly, it is still only about 30 years old. Indeed, less than 10 years ago, very few people really were ready to take games seriously. In fact, much of culture, academics included, were incredibly dismissive and disparaging about games. Now that model-based media are clearly going to be a dominant force in the culture of the 21st century, everyone not only has an opinion and interest in the medium but also they aren't shy about their pet analyses. As Cliff Bleszinski put it to me in an interview once, "It's like we were in this closet playing D&D and none of the cool kids would talk to us. Now all of a sudden they're knocking on the door and asking, 'Ooh, can we play too?'" Claude Commair expressed to me back in 2001 a similar frustration about how people from the film industry were incredibly cavalier about how well their own talents and particular skills could easily tranfer to game making. From this perspective it's not surprising that there still exists today a significant reticence on the part of developers to listen too closely to 'outsiders' and tend to be quite protective of their 'turf'.

3. It's worth remembering that Games Studies is itself increasingly an industry. Universities understand that their students will readily enroll in classes that have to do with gaming. As a result, departments are battling each other even on the same campus to pump up their class enrollments (and therefore often departmental funding) by offering 'games studies'. I don't think anyone here is ingorant of the explosion of curricula, research groups and credentialed programs on campuses around the world. Toss in the fact that the military is spending huge amounts of money to study model-based communication and the ground for professional claim staking has become very fertile. There are careers (and money) to be made, and the scramble seems to be (generally) following the path of least academic resistance...favoring the application of paradigms/research programs that flow from existing disciplines rather than the develoment of new methods that are more specific to games as a discipline in it's own right.

4. Just as equally certain that there is a tendency for developers to be dismissive of the value of academia, something that I think is in part a mirror the longstanding tension between the 'sciences' and the 'humanities', there is also a tendency on the part of many academics, particularly those who are gamers, to operate as though what they really wish they were doing is designing games instead of researching them. And no one responds well to back seat drivers.

All this is just to say that, frankly, there's a lot of noise in the system right now, and probably will continue to be for quite some time to come. I think developers would probably be better served by checking back in with academia in about 10 years, particularly if they're interested in practical applications research.

That's precisely why I find TN valuable, however. It's a place where discussion can be promoted without requiring that developers satisfy any sort of 'obligations' and where academics can muse with creators in a way that will help guide the development of quality games research, generating (among other sorts of important work) research that directly addresses the concerns of developers.


17.

Personally, I think it’s really a matter of WHICH academics you’re talking with, and to what purpose.

At the moment I work for a “serious games” company on various projects, including one that involes emergency medical and first aid training using classic MMOG technology to teach teamwork and human interaction. We have are working with a GREAT group of doctors and educators at Stanford University (their SUMMIT group, see http://summit.stanford.edu/ ) who totally understand where VWs shine and where they are weak, are very helpful, and absolutely first rate partners. In some projects we’re the prime contractor and they’re the subcontractor, in other projects it’s the opposite. All the projects run the same – as a true collaboration.

Both sides have a financial stake in the results, but above and beyond that, the result could actually help some very useful people do their RL jobs better. Validating that will be Stanford’s task. The academic integrity of the Stanford people is top notch – we can trust them to call it exactly as they see it. If they see failures, we hope to understand why and make changes until things succeed (or we go out of business for lack of clients, which seems highly unlikely right now).

To make a long argument short, it all depends on which academics you talk with, and for what purpose.

18.

Paging C.P. Snow....

Not to be flip, but isn't that what's at the heart of most of these "You're irrelevant!" "No, you're irrelevant!" exchanges?

Thomas, I believe you're onto something when you describe game developers as "seeing a different world, all the time." With some notable exceptions, software developers in general do share a mechanistic view of the world -- there is no virtual world problem that the appropriate application of code cannot solve. At heart, developers are engineers, and they bring an engineer's concept of things as fundamentally real and immutable to what they do.

Under many circumstances, that's not a problem. Where this gets interesting is that virtual worlds aren't just about girders and models -- they're about people; they're places where human behavior gets expressed. And people are damnably hard to engineer... but the engineer rarely recognizes this. (I'm reminded of the First Harvard Law of Behaviorism: "Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.")

Yet many academics (again, there are are exceptions) have their very own version of this certainty that their perception of the world is the only valid one. Where the engineer sees a clockwork universe, the more humanistic academic sees the universe as infinitely malleable. Nothing is fixed; meaning and even reality are merely temporary and arbitrary constructs.

In this worldview, players generate their own universes within the games they play. The rules imposed by the designers (that is, the game code) are trivial; what really matter are the social arcologies (or, even better, sociopathies) that emerge from multiplayer interactions because these validate the academic's existentialist belief in reality as constructed, rather than revealed. Thus, game developers are naively optimistic in their belief that they have the capability to control gameplay.

I brought him up; let me quote him: "The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic, unaware of man's condition. On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men, in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential movement." -- C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, 1959.

Half a century later, and the engineer and the academic are no closer to accepting that the other's way of seeing the world -- real or virtual -- has much value.

I'm not about to pretend I can see an answer to "How can you think that way?" Still, Snow remained hopeful that there was a solution: education. If Terra Nova can supply that to either side in this discussion, then it's done good work, and the virtual worlds that might result will be improved for being founded on a better-rounded concept of the nature of shared realities.

But then I'm one of those optimistic engineer types. :-)

--Bart

19.

I have to say that I don't think Thomas quite got what I was saying. I personally am a huge supporter of the academic work -- heck, Dmitri spoke earlier in the day about our academic outreach efforts at SOE. That doesn't reduce the relevance of my question, which is how we make it relevant to the industry as a whole. Ascribing it to an incapability to understand, or some sort of cultural gap or some notion of "they just think differently", is just another illustrative example of my point.

20.

Thomas Malaby wrote:

Clearly she was interested in the implications of this: "Why does money trump everything?" Well, academics have answers to precisely this question.

If I'm misunderstanding the context you said this in, I apologize in advance. GDC frequently involves lots of alcohol, and tonight is no exception.

What do you mean, academics have answers to this question? Half of our playerbase knows the answer to this question. That question does a fantastic job of illustrating exactly why developers don't see how academia generally is particularly relevant.

The question you ask above should answer the general question you pose in this thread. If you need to spend more than 5 seconds, answering it, you're behind the curve.

I'll give you a crib sheet. Money trumps everything only in the limited range of MMORPGs you choose to play. Money trumps everything in those MMORPGs because there is no other resource that the player has that is as valuable to the developer.

--matt

21.
"The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic, unaware of man's condition. On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men, in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential movement." -- C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, 1959

That fairly well describes the tension between programmers and designers within development as well. Not all developers are engineers; some of us are writers, artists, dreamers. Besides, in this situation, who is the scientist and who is the "literary intellectual"? The one who dreams up a mythological world, or the one who gathers statistics on it?

It's a fantastic quote, but I don't think the divide between researchers and developers of online worlds can be boiled down to the old hard science vs. soft art debate.

22.

The best way to put the assertion (and this is all it is at this point; and again, please keep in mind that there are a number of familiar exceptions) is that the practice of game software development generates a way of seeing and defining problems (as essentially precise, logical, and algorithmic), and creating solutions (through linear, text-defined code) that makes other ways of accounting for what happens in VWs seem at worst nonsensical and at best irrelevant or quixotic.

While this may be true of programmers there are usually more artists and designers working on games than programmers, people who studied English or Art at university. Almost every conversation I have with a designer involves me taking their vague description of what they want to happen and turning it into precise, algorithmic code. Designers in general just don't understand that way of thinking, which is a good thing! More ways of thinking on the dev team can only help.

We can have a discussion on programmers as the ultimate guardians of the game content, and how this and their arrogance makes them think they're most important. But this is an old struggle between designers and artists and programmers that has been going on since more than one person worked on a game.

I don't think the disconnect between academia and development can be blamed on this, simply because your argument doesn't apply to 75% of developers. In fact (and I hate to say it) only someone who's never worked on a game would think it could.

23.

Thomas Malaby>I am coming to believe that game designers and developers, on the whole (some of the august exceptions being right here on TN), are simply not able to see beyond their own way of thinking about MMOGs.

What game designers want is better games. What academics want is better AI or better law or better economics or better anthropology or ...

Games may be interesting to academics as objects of study, but they're just that: objects of study. If their research actually proves useful to game designers, that's seen as a welcome validation of their work, but it's not actually the point of it.

Example: AI researchers are working on ways to make games adapt to the skills of the player so that the challenges presented are always just at the right level to keep that player in the flow zone. This is helping to advance the field of neural networks, which is great for neural networks. It's actually counter-productive for games, though, because any challenge you're guaranteed to be able to overcome isn't a challenge, it's just an obstacle.

Academics who want better games are few and far between. There's a concentration of them at ITU in Copenhagen, but the rest of us are scattered across the globe. To get published, we have to write about how games are relevant to teaching, or gender studies, or sociology, or literature; we don't get published if we just want to say how to make better games.

>yet two leading voices on games research and design, Eric Zimmerman and Raph Koster, took the opportunity to publicly ask how these ideas could possibly be relevant for them.

Most game designers read extensively outside the subject. If you so much as glance at "A Theory of Fun" or "Rules of Play", you can't possibly accuse either Raph or Eric of not being open to academic research, or incapable of understanding the jargon. Being a renaissance man/woman is almost a prerequisite of game design.

I wasn't at the conference session, so I may be wrong here, but my guess is that the reason Raph and Eric questioned the relevancy of the academics' ideas was because those ideas were of questionable relevance to game design.

Richard

24.

Great minds think alike, but greater ones write it down faster :)

25.

Great minds think alike, but greater ones write it down faster :)

Lol. Well I got a headstart by using a large blockquote. Glad to see I'm not the only one who sees the designer/programmer divide in that quote. ;)

26.

The President of My Fan Club (Spur) Said:

---
Pulling the commercial card out of the deck is irrelevant when one months profit from World of Warcraft covers the revenues of every online world you have ever contributed to.
---

Oh Anonymous One, online games I have contributed to have raked in over $300 million in profit, counting from the day I arrived. Not WoW or Koster numbers, but respectable. What's in your wallet?

The President of My Fan Club (Spur) Further Said:

---
I mean, your opinion means squat next to the people who work CS for WoW, doesnt it?
---

I've run online game service organizations with 3,000 members and over 350 people on a shift (granted, counting volunteers). How big is WoW's organization, not counting CS run locally by their licensees?

In regards to the other comments made by people who are not anonymous snipers: Yes, I do tend to make Thomas's point... but that's the point, isn't it? If you want developers to open up, maybe academics should change their focus. I guarantee you, many of us read everything that comes out of game study programs and we find little of relevence to the commericial market. We're already full-time academics as well as full-time developers, in the sense that we are reading and trying to understand the research.

On the other hand, we find many academics who don't get involved in commercial MMOs any farther than they have to to write a paper. That is why we have such respect for people like Nick Yee, T.L Taylor and Ted Castronova; they play the games.

There is a gulf, and I frankly believe that if it is going to be bridged, academics are going to have to take the steps necessary to become full-time gamers as well as full-time academics.

And it IS a gulf we can bridge, or I wouldn't be here.

27.

I personally spend a lot of time on theory. Theory is what I do; my expectation is that, once I've got a working theory, I can then hand it off to someone and way, "Use it; make it happen."

I'm currently a student, but I've made my attempts at design of more things than just games. I've listened to my classmates complain about the overly theoreticaly papers we read about sense-making and search behavior.

Most of my classmates are trained to be developers. They're interested in making stuff -- for money, of course. The proportion of us interested in developing theory is fairly low. Most of us don't seem to recognize the overlap; the professors aren't very good at explaining it, either.

Right now, the developers who would walk across the room and the academics who would walk across the room usually start out in the middle, because they were trained as both. Both Raph and Eric, the two dropped names, are classified as both.

Their problem, near as I can guess, is that the academics were not walking across the room. This IS the developer's turf: you don't make them come to you. Like monkeysan says, this is a conference for developers. You come to the conference, you talk to developers. So you need speak in a way your audience can understand. A message is useless when it's not framed in the language of the listener.

If developers go to a Game Research Conference, then the developers should speak as if they were speaking to academics. The problem, of course, is that most developers wouldn't believe that attending such a thing would be of any use to them. Why? They haven't been convinced that this research stuff is going to help them.

So is it the developers' fault? Yeah, kinda. They aren't listening when they should be. But whose fault is it if you fail to get your message across? Not the audience.

28.

A lot of great comments, and I'm so glad someone brought up the designer/developer cultural divide as well.

Of course there is plenty of blame to go around, as I've acknowledged at every opportunity, Michael. But I continue to be surprised at how readily developers would like to see themselves as blameless.

Jessica wrote:

There is a gulf, and I frankly believe that if it is going to be bridged, academics are going to have to take the steps necessary to become full-time gamers as well as full-time academics.

But there is apparently nothing more that developers need do? ;-)

29.

Matt wrote:

Money trumps everything only in the limited range of MMORPGs you choose to play. Money trumps everything in those MMORPGs because there is no other resource that the player has that is as valuable to the developer.

Actually, the resources that are most valuable to the developer are the players' time and their ability to play the game at all, which is why it was so important that WoW appealed to those whose competence was previously with stand-alone and console games. Money can only substitute for this competence to a limited degree (at least for now...).

So I guess, Matt, that an actual answer to that question is (surprise!) not the one your experience led you to expect. All the experience in the game industry in the world can still lead you to see things in limited perspective. :-)

30.

I recently finished grad school in a hard science (materials science and engineering). When I entered grad school, my prof had spend several years developing a technology to the point where it might potentially have commercial applications. During my five years of grad school there was constant work on taking this new technology, which was itself a particular application of a technology my advisor had already spent several years working on, and making it work well enough to potentially viable. Last I heard, the technology just might be turning the corner now.

Now, there are significant differences between a physical science/technology and software-based science/technology, the big one being that new software ideas can usually be implemented much faster than a new physical idea. I think that's only half the story, though. I don't think the process is

Academic Research -> Industry Product

I think it's closer to

Academic Research -> Industry-oriented Development -> Industry Product

The middle step is important. It's where jargon-filled academic research transforms into something that someone might want to pay money for. This works really well in physical sciences. Academic research can turn into small-scale product R&D pretty inexpensively. Once R&D has a product that looks like a winner, it can turn into a finished product.

MMOGs don't have a good middle step. Developing a crude, small, simple MMOG for an experiment that tests some radical new idea seems to be pretty inexpensive, as research goes. But how do you convince someone to bet $20 million (or whatever, probably more) that people will actually want to play the game? There's a missing middle step, from what I can see. As long as that middle step is missing, dev's will often find academic research worthless.

I don't think it's a bad thing if someone doing research in MMOGs doesn't really play the games they research. When I was in grad school, I didn't read scientific journals for fun (one of signs I shouldn't have been in grad school, I suppose). What's bad is when there's /no one/ who can pull out the bits from academic research that might actually be relevant to industry, do more work that tests those bits an a way that's also relevant to industry, and then pass the results on to industry.

Ultimately I think the field needs to mature more. If there's really work being done in academia that's useful to industry, someone will start playing translater because there's too much money involved for someone to not start doing it. Figuring out where exactly that money will come from might be tricky, though. I also have no idea when it might happen. But until then I think both sides will keep flipping out.

31.

Thanks Thomas for the report from GDC... On this matter we should I think continue to take some lessons from academic engagements with other fields of cultural production.

Academics don't write novels but the engagement with creative writers and writing is as old as "academia" itself (lets call it the birth of the modern University - them old jesuit institutions). We don't make films either but we sure do write about them a lot.

... and while its not clear to me that Hollywood filmakers and pulp fiction writers are clamouring for more jargon free discussion with academics (so that they can make better films/novels that sell more). We do know that there are very vibrant middle grounds in this areas now in universities, in the industry itself (btw - writing is a business too and so is academia...thats why we are hatching game design programs left, right and center), and at conferences.

Is there something going on in the best of our film schools and creative writing programs that we shouldn't seek to emulate in the world of game development or are cutting edge liberal arts simply spent or not worth the effort.

yo, yo - it wasn't long ago that we were all learning the jargon of Plato and Aristotle... we are so much less jargon ridden in academia these days you wouldn't believe... unless you miss the days when de rigour was some solid Latin and Greek.

But I get Eric Zimmerman's rhetoric point (he of the oh so aristotelian persuasion). I frequently ask the students in my theory classes to explain to me the relevance of the material I am teaching them.... there is always a great debate in class when I do this.

32.

Bart said:

In this worldview, players generate their own universes within the games they play. The rules imposed by the designers (that is, the game code) are trivial; what really matter are the social arcologies (or, even better, sociopathies) that emerge from multiplayer interactions

While I agree there is a large contingent of developers who are fascinated by ever more powerful rail guns, the ones who work on MMOs find this idea of emergent sociologies based on the laws and rules of the VW to be what makes the industry interesting. Asking any of them to go back to working on single player games would be a punishment. (BOCTAOE.)

The real issue here seems to me to be that these researchers aren't really game researchers perhaps, but are actually sociology or psychology researchers. MMORPGs and VWs are the Skinner boxes of the new century--tools to evaluate and modify behavior and thus to learn about the underlying organism, not to learn about the box.

Developers for the most part spend their lives dedicated to building better Skinner boxes, which is a construction task not a means for further experimentation on their test pigeons. And by "better" I mean more financially lucrative because a) that is the developer's true goal, and b) whether players say they love you or hate you, whether their credit card gets charged every month or not is the unvoiced opinion that matters.

So the divide here is between people who want to measure and judge the risk profile of roulette vs. blackjack and how gambling addiction affects one's ability to bet on the flop and the people who are trying to build or run casinos. Game Theory is a great subject, but to the construction guy trying to determine how to put a roller coaster on top of a pyramid like the spec insists, it is a distant one.

As pneutalk said above, the missing middle step in the MMO research and dev divide is perhaps analogous to the behaviorists who study how to make people spend more or stay longer in a casino. Use chips instead of real money. Don't have any clocks. Dealers dressed up in tuxedos make people spend more. Having a winning celebration somewhere on the floor every 10 minutes creates peer pressure to bet larger amounts. Put the slot machines BETWEEN the front door and the buffet. Whatever. This is a huge industry in Vegas of course and I don't see it in the MMO industry.

If Vegas behavior researchers only asked themselves questions like "What would a casino be like if there were no cards, because cards are an impure abstraction of risk?" they would probably have the same divide between MMO devs and researchers being observed in this forum. Until there are overlaps in the interests of the two self-selected groups, we shouldn't be surprised to see little communication.

-Keith

33.

"Spur" (Anonymous Coward) said to Jessica:
Pulling the commercial card out of the deck is irrelevant when one months profit from World of Warcraft covers the revenues of every online world you have ever contributed to. I mean, your opinion means squat next to the people who work CS for WoW, doesnt it?

Dumbest... post... ever...

---------

Anyway, Thomas, Raph's MFA may or may not mean much when considering why he finds certain, current academic approaches to games unhelpful in a commercial sense. But when he has managed to write a book in the field himself, which addresses many of the core questions involved, doesn't that give you pause before getting worked up at what you seem to see as ivory tower non-academics?

That book, of course, should be required reading for all those who think that, in order to gain acceptance in a field, it is necessary to burden oneself with the language and cliches of critical theory. To many us who write code (although my degrees are in the arts and social sciences), if a text isn't written clearly and without waffle on a subject then the assumption is the author doesn't properly understand it.

34.

Thomas answered Matt:
Actually, the resources that are most valuable to the developer are the players' time and their ability to play the game at all, which is why it was so important that WoW appealed to those whose competence was previously with stand-alone and console games. Money can only substitute for this competence to a limited degree (at least for now...).

Do you honestly think that "time and ability to play the game" are what mattered most in the design process for WoW. That the design team said "right, we want as much of their time as we can, and it's important to maximise our use of their abilities: let's make it *really* challenging and incredibly grindy!"

I suspect you don't really believe it yourself: it certainly reads like an attempt to trump Matt. The designers of WoW wanted money from their customers: a noble endeavour, as Tycho would say. If they could get the same amount of money from customers from 8 minutes of gameplay a month over 16 months, you bet they would take it: bandwidth costs. Time comes into the calculation, sure, as a way of getting as much of the lucre as possible for as long as possible.

Blizzard don't really mind how my time is spent in general, whether in WoW or playing rugby. They don't care if I find the game pleasantly challenging or pleasantly easy. They care a very great deal about whether I hand over the readies every month. The rest of their design is pretty much geared to ensuring that happens.

35.

Jessica Mulligan: There is a gulf, and I frankly believe that if it is going to be bridged, academics are going to have to take the steps necessary to become full-time gamers as well as full-time academics.

Developers, too, though, need to find a way to play their games as players play them.

36.

Aw man, I set off the italics bomb just after shaking my head at Matt for doing it on another thread. Trying this to fix it.

37.

Hmm, isn’t this dynamic found in other industries?

There are pure research, applied research, public research, proprietary research, etc. Obviously pure research isn't easily applied and may collect dust for years until someone find out a way to apply them in a creative way after looking through dozens of reference to get to the primary source.

Some of the research is public, but in the financial area (the area I am most familiar with), all the best research and ideas with the most commercial value are proprietary. However, financial companies do collectively finance public fundamental research as it is more efficient use of resources.

The industry is still young, so the dynamics won't be the same as in a matured industry. It may take 30 years before some theoretical research will get applied, or it may take one year. I don't know, but I sure can identify what research has immediate commercial value.

So why does money trump everything? It's not really about money or currency, it's really about value and equivalent exchange (from an alchemist POV). Money is just a common token of value and at some point, the “buyer” and “seller” meet at the middle point and agree to the “equivalent exchange”.

What does that mean? Well, using the movie industry as a reference point: Munich may get a best picture nod, but it's Spiderman 3 that's going to make the big bucks. The production of Munich may advance the art, but it's LOTR that meet at the middle getting both commercial and technical acclaim.

Based on the current industry development, the sweet-spot between pure and applied is where the research will get the most mindshare. The more dialogue between all stakeholders, the more we will come to the middle-ground.

No one is at fault here. It's just a basic dynamic of different objectives, perspectives and interests.

Let's start talking about the common ground rather than the differences.

Frank

38.

Maybe this will work. if not, I'll give up and wait for Michael Chui to come along...

39.

Samantha LeCraft writes:

"One last thing to keep in mind: when you get right down to it, professional MMOG development is a business, and as such, money is the most important thing. Don't ask to mine my database unless you can show me a specific business plan that lays out the Return on Investment."

That's why I'm not seriously trying to do research on games these days. If I can write a business plan, it's not research any more, it's development. (This is a bit different than the slant in many comments because I'm in computer science, not social science.)

So about a year ago I was talking to a colleague who'd written a recent paper on area-of-interest management. This was a topic I was really interested in during grad school in the mid-90s, and yet another thing that the senior faculty said "there's nothing left to do there" and have since been proved wrong about. I thought my colleague's approach didn't really address the problem satisfactorily, but would need real data to rebut his assumptions.

Where do I get real data? I can't say to you "I'm going to make your game better"; all I can do is say "I want to understand the way your game works, because (from observing as a player) I think there's one particular facet that might not be implemented well; any changes I can suggest are probably going to be so major that you'll use them in the next game, rather than refitting them to this one." But without real data, the research will never get done, or will continue to be (in my opinion) irrelevant.

So, if any MMO company wants to spend a couple of days talking about how you manage the area-of-interest problem, if that pans out give me access to reams of logs, and if that pans out possibly augment your logs if you aren't recording all the data I need, I'd love to talk to you.

(*FWIW, I had a great visit to Linden a while ago, but we got seriously sidetracked talking about the graphics engine and how it interacts with the network, and they already have plenty of good graphics programmers in-house. Their architecture makes the AOIM problem very different than anything I've seen, and I think is atypical enough that any interesting solutions we came up with for them wouldn't be generalizable. But one of the ideas Cory mentioned as blue-sky may be coming out as a student's MS thesis in about a year; we'll see.)

40.

Thomas said:

But there is apparently nothing more that developers need do? ;-)
---

To put it succinctly, not yet. Most academics haven't made the case that they can bring anything to the table in which we would be interested.

We can provide money, access to ongoing data and, if you like, some direction on areas we'd like to see researched. But, yes, I see the first step as being up to academia, to be become gamers and developers as well as researchers, so we can talk the same language. Once you can talk the language - which is arguably as arcane and jargonistic as anything dreamed up in an ivory tower - then we can figure out how we can help each other.

And yes, that smacks of arrogance, but we're just too damn busy spending company money on the next update to do it any other way.

41.

I fixed the italics.

Endie wrote:

Do you honestly think that "time and ability to play the game" are what mattered most in the design process for WoW. That the design team said "right, we want as much of their time as we can, and it's important to maximise our use of their abilities: let's make it *really* challenging and incredibly grindy!"

This is a great example of how hard it can be for people to think broadly about these issues. I'm reminded of a story The Onion pubished about a new perfect casino in Vegas to which folks just mailed money. To think that the ability of players to play the game (and the game design challenge of engaging them to try) doesn't matter is to throw everything that game designers know well out the window. Sure, Blizzard would just love to have people mail checks, but player time (note: the key for WoW is that it doesn't demand huge blocks of time, at least until end game -- do you think they didn't design this?) and competence are all any given MMO has to start with, in terms of trying to get off the ground at all. That's why they're the first resource.

P.S. (in case this point wasn't clear): If player time and competence are the most important resources for Blizzard to think about in designing WoW, it doesn't follow that Blizzard would seek to maximize its demands on both from players, as you suggest Endie. It wants to maximize its returns on both; i.e., low daily time plus familiar game movement interface, etc.

42.

RickR said: "Developers, too, though, need to find a way to play their games as players play them."

You make an excellent point. Good teams do this, though I grant you, I, too, have heard the occassional developer excuse of "I'm just too busy to play the game!"

It can be done; management just has to emphasize it. My AC1 and AC2 Live teams at Turbine, everyone single one of them, played the game for fun in their off hours. I was also lucky in that we were able to recruit team members right from the player base. In fact, every single member of the AC1 Live team was an AC1 player before they joined us as a coder or artist or designer.

At the LA office, in preparation for the AC1 expack development, the expack team all started new characters and we played together as a team on a live server for two weeks, on company time, to remember what it was like to be a new player in our own game. After that, we played together once a week on company time, to stay sharp. Not that I needed to mandate it; the team loved the game.

If management is making it a priority, it will happen.

43.

Thomas,

thanks for fixing the italics: though since I was disagreeing with you you should have left me to wallow in a slough of panic and incompetence...

You said:
To think that the ability of players to play the game...[snip]... doesn't matter is to throw everything that game designers know well out the window. Sure, Blizzard would just love to have people mail checks, but player time ... and competence are all any given MMO has to start with, in terms of trying to get off the ground at all. That's why they're the first resource.

I utterly agree - and was trying to say - that Blizzard certainly designed so as not to make huge demands on time (nor, if we are honest, vast ones on ability). But those are tools, sliders, goals. The resource that they really care about, that they manipulate those sliders to maximise the return of, is cash. Without it, they would be out of money hats to wear when lounging by their cash pool, etc... But I suspect that each of us is not so much disagreeing here as talking past each other...

44.

Indeed, Endie. See the P.S. added above. :-) I just don't want us to mistake the resource that game devs care most about getting (money) for the resources they need to care most about leveraging.

45.

This is interesting reading. I think I'm mostly with Richard.

1. The problem here is that companies (incl. game companies) don't need academics to make more money--if they need academics with some kind of skill to make more money, they hire those people and those people are no longer called academics, they're called developers.

2. Academics don't need game companies to take them seriously to do well on their path, provided that path is not becoming a consultant/developer. See #1.

3. The two camps meet with folks like Richard and Raph and Matt, who are not *just* trying to help corporations (evenly small, closely held firms) make money, but are trying to... well, Richard said "make better games" and while I don't think that covers the complete field of why we see dialogue (and sincere frustration with dialogue), I think it does a pretty good job. The reasons to be talking across these lines run, to some extent, counter to the idealized motivations of either idealized group.

46.

People are tossing around so many extreme comments about developers and academics that I don't really trust this discussion. Even money grubbing capitalists in the auto and pharmaceutical industries donate time and money to charities. For example, the company I work for encourages all employees to spend two days (paid) working for a charity.

What about all the free software developers and starving artists that work for love of the craft? There must be some of that motivation in the game industry -- even if the execs don't understand it, they'd be crazy not to exploit it.

The number one problem for the MMO industry seems to be growing the pie -- wasn't that the point of "the new golf" conversation? Basic demographic research on the player base seems like a no brainer for any game developer.

47.

Ken, I hope I'm not tossing extreme comments here. Don't read my point #1 as saying that corporations are evil -- but at the same time I don't think Tom is appealing for charity here.

And, fwiw, it's widely understood here that players produce content in games & esp in MMOGs--but I think the industry perspectve is that they (especially the service-side) think they know the players better than the avarage game studies academic--and they may be right. Nick's work is praised and valued, I think, because he gathers data on MMOG players that the industry didn't have before and that it can use.

Thomas's original point -- I think this thread, like the last one, got laregly sidetracked off its most interesting point-- was that industry people have a code-solution mentality. I actually think that's right in some sectors and true of some of the personalities that Tom is talking about here (sorry, Raph!), but I don't think that is true w/r/t the CSR folks like Jess. I wouldn't accuse Jess of responding to Thomas with the type of closed systems techno-logic we could ascribe to some folks of the computer programming persuasion.

I guess one question is whether there is an inherent cultural politics to the technology of creating and maintaining virtual worlds? Alas, this is not a question I think most in the industry would feel is worth their time.

48.

I just noticed I said "CSR folks like Jess" -- I mean "customer service focused" folks like Jess. Jess is--ahem--not a CSR. (Not that there's even the slightest thing wrong with being a CSR!)

49.

But there is apparently nothing more that developers need do? ;-)

Oh, that's simple. They need to be interested and tell the academics what they want.

The relationship between academics and developers is strangely similar to the relationship between developers and players...

50.

I adore threads that double in length when you go away to sleep for eight hours (no sarcasm intended, I really do love 'em!). So, backtracking a bit...

Michael Chui said, I personally spend a lot of time on theory. Theory is what I do; my expectation is that, once I've got a working theory, I can then hand it off to someone and way, "Use it; make it happen."

Unfortunately, this is simply not how the game industry works, and I think confusion over this issue may be one of the sticking points between academics and developers. Game development does not suffer from a lack of theory, or a lack of ideas, or a lack of game concepts. Every designer (and most programmers, artists, producers, QA, CS, etc) have at least one "sweet idea" or "killer theory" riding around in their back pocket, just waiting for the chance to pitch it to the Money Men. Game developers don't sit around saying "gee, we have all this money, but no idea what to make with it; I wish someone would come along with a great theory that we could use." Rather, they say "I have this idea I think would be great, and maybe after I prove myself by working on this game, someone will fund my idea."

And it's not just the MMOG side of the industry, this applies to every area of game development. Check out Tom Sloper's take on this if you think I'm exaggerating. Working on the front lines of development, almost certainly on a game concept that wasn't yours to begin with, can't help but inspire other ideas. If all the licenses and pet ideas from Executive Producers dried up, we could still run for years on just the ideas every developer is carrying around in their back pocket -- if we could get anyone to fund them, that is. ;)

I really do think it's important for academics to understand this reality of the industry, because it's as frustrating coming from you as it is coming from players. If you have a theory you would like to see realized, you have the same three options everyone else does: 1. Get into the industry and work up the point where you have enough clout to pitch your idea to the Money Men; 2. Develop the idea yourself, and once you have a playable demo, take it to the Money Men and see if they'll fund and publish it; 3. Write your theory up in a book, and hope that game developers will buy your book and incorporate your theory.


pneumtaik said, Academic research can turn into small-scale product R&D pretty inexpensively. Once R&D has a product that looks like a winner, it can turn into a finished product.

That is, in fact, exactly what I was saying with point #2 above. Develop a playable demo based on your theory and see if you can get funding for that.

MMOGs don't have a good middle step... As long as that middle step is missing, dev's will often find academic research worthless.

That's probably true right this moment -- playable MMOG demos take an absurd amount of money to make -- but I hope to see this change by this time next year. There are a couple of products on the horizon (Multiverse specifically comes to mind, but there are others) that, if successful, should allow academics (and hobbyists, and players, and full-fledged developers) to cheaply create playable prototypes. I'll be interested to see how the researcher/developer divide changes once anyone can put together a working prototype.


Keith said, As pneutalk said above, the missing middle step in the MMO research and dev divide is perhaps analogous to the behaviorists who study how to make people spend more or stay longer in a casino... This is a huge industry in Vegas of course and I don't see it in the MMO industry.

The obvious difference, of course, being that the researchers in Vegas have been able to demonstrate that people will play longer if there aren't any clocks, and bet higher if the dealers wear tuxes. If MMOG researchers could demonstrate that their theories would generate (or save) money for developers, developers would be more than happy to pay the researchers for their ideas, and incorporate those ideas into their games. Of course, that brings us right back to the missing step of being able to cheaply demonstrate that the theories work, but hopefully that will change soon.


Ken Fox said, Even money grubbing capitalists in the auto and pharmaceutical industries donate time and money to charities.

Game companies donate money to charities, too. Check out the list of corporate donors just for Child's Play. Game developers and game studios donated money to the victims of Katrina, as well as all sorts of other causes. You aren't really saying that "starving" academics are on the same level as children with cancer or people who have lost their homes, are you??


So when we get right down to it, I guess the crux of the issue is that game developers don't feel they have any shortage of good ideas and plausible theories, and they don't feel that academic research into games is a cause worthy of donations of charitable funds. If academics want developers to listen to them, they need to prove that their ideas are worth the developers' time and money. Hopefully providing that proof will get easier over the next few years, but getting developers to listen is never going to come without quite a bit of work on the academics' part. We aren't going to listen to you just because you say we should, and we aren't going to give you money just out of the goodness of our hearts.

Are developers blameless in this? Of course not, but this isn't an issue of blame. Should developers be expected to work to fix this? No, I don't think so. Why? Because you, the academics, are trying to get our attention and our money, not vice versa.

51.

Samantha:

If MMOG researchers could demonstrate that their theories would generate (or save) money for developers, developers would be more than happy to pay the researchers for their ideas, and incorporate those ideas into their games...

We aren't going to listen to you just because you say we should, and we aren't going to give you money just out of the goodness of our hearts...

Because you, the academics, are trying to get our attention and our money, not vice versa.

Obviously, there can be something of a conflict of paradigms in these discussions... :-) But I do agree with Samantha that game developers shouldn't think of talking with Thomas and TL as a form of charity. (NB: It probably wouldn't fly as a tax deduction.)

52.

It was a very interesting day for me when I first realized that there was a difference between the programmer mind and the designer mind (and that I had the latter type and was never going to be a better-than-average programmer).

Yes, the artists and writers and musicians working on games probably do see the world in a more humanistic/academic way than the programmers and designers. But even if 75% of "game developers" aren't designers and programmers, it's the 25% who are who exercise the most control over the shape of multiplayer worlds, and who therefore define "the industry" for non-developers. (Unless we're talking about the biz side. Sales and distribution are the province of the producers and publishers and investors, who have yet a different worldview from either the engineers or the academics.)

There's been more than one discussion here on TN about how "Code Is Law" (and Law Is Code). Various developers have agreed with this premise as though it's, like, duuuuh, obvious... but where does that come from if not the engineer's innate conception of the world (including people) as a set of gears to be fitted together to make a functional device?

I agree that there are differences between designers and programmers. (Architecture vs. construction, strategy vs. tactics, etc.) But I also see the much more significant similarity of rational, mechanistic thinking that they share. So I don't believe I'm too far wrong in saying that, while there are exceptions, as a general rule developers (including game developers) have the engineer's view of the world -- including people -- as a collection of systems. Thus programmers and designers, while different, are more like each other than either is like the average academic, whose humanistic worldview is considerably less sanguine about anyone's capability (or, in a political sense, right) to control social behavior.

The fact that there are some especially talented people who can straddle the gap of understanding between these worlds doesn't mean there isn't a gap. I say again my last: I'm glad TN exists. More bridges like this one could only help.

--Bart

53.

This is a truely facinating topic and, in my experience, a common problem in many fields. It is a dynamic that happens within companies, standards bodies, etc... well actually anyplace more than a few people are put together.

Since none of you know who I am, I will give you the few salient bits that apply. I have been a developer (not a game developer, but a software developer) for 25 years and lead teams, large and small. My field is digital television entertainment. I have worked as a professional illustrator and am married to an artist. I am not an academic, though I know and respect many.

I’ve gleaned the following observations from what I’ve read.

Academic: You need to listen more to players.

Developer: Which players should I listen to? And BTW, I don’t understand how to apply your research to my practice. I need something concrete, actionable, not these broad observations and discourse.

I think Thomas has made an accurate observation about the “mentality” or “cultural norms” of developers. It has been my experience that we developers often have trouble respecting very different perspectives (whether customer/player, management, or academic). I think I can shed some light on this behavior, if you will kindly bear with me. Although I not comfortable putting "developers" in a petri dish and waxing on with generalities (I am offended by non-developers doing it to me), it is necessary for me to express my point of view.

Some of this lack of respect is motivated by arrogance, some by a pressure to create under tremendous deadlines. I submit that engineering is a discipline that requires a certain mindset to be successful. The engineering mindset (wiring/world view/perspective) is extrodinarily powerful at pulling apart apparently intractable problems. That mindset also has very real limitations which Thomas touched on, hence, the developer's reactions rather than self-exploration or support. I will delineate those limitations in a moment. – As a person who must understand other peoples mindset and translate a variety of issues to and from other people’s mindsets (e.g. executives, marketing, sales, etc.) I speak from first hand experience. I've been an engineering executive for a long time. I can tell you for a fact that some engineers have no idea they’ve even got a blind spot. In my experience, the stronger the engineering mindset, the larger the blind spot can be. Everyone has blind spots in all professions, we are not all-seeing we're just human.

An engineering mindset is quite different than others (it has similarities with those of an artist, but there are key differences). The most important quality is the capability/desire to decompose any problem/topic into smaller parts which are workable (drag out your Godel, Esher, Bach we are touching on the schism identified in the book). While it is a very powerful and often reliable engineering technique, the approach works upon the profound assumption that the sum of the parts is the whole. This reductionist belief is what causes the blind spot to form. I am not talking about a forest for the trees effect here. It goes much deeper than that. There is an almost basic faith at work here. We engineers believe that the path to a problem's solution is through a reductionist approach. If we break it up, we can solve it. The alternative to a reductionist approach, (pardon my hyperbole here) smacks of something untrustworthy; using intuition, hoping for a spark of genius, crystals, divine intervention. Every non-reductionist point of view sounds like it lacks foundation, or intellectual rigor. It is difficult to take that leap.

This disbelief in non-reductionist approaches when taken to an extreme forms a blind spot that impinges upon an engineer’s ability to translate holistic observations and apply them to their practice. The reductionist mind is part of the engineering mindset, sometimes it's dominate and only rarely it will overwhelm an engineer's mindset.

The creative dimension is another aspect of the engineering mindset that is essential when dealing with engineers and understanding engineers. Engineers have a strange relationship with creativity. If we broaden the definition of creative to include all processes that lead to the creation of something new, clearly engineering is as creative a discipline as blacksmithing or painting. Because of this drive to create, engineers (like me) are drawn to creative people, but often we find it difficult to work with them because of differences in our mindsets.

I believe it is the capacity to take a holistic observation and translate it into an embodied response to the observation that is the essence of the creative process. That process can have elements that are formulaic, but most often the process is led by intuition. Artists in the creative community are focused on developing the skill the traverse the gap from observation to response. The methodology used in the creative community is not at all like the formalism engineers used to decompose a problem. It is rarely reductionist and almost never formalized. It is this difference of approach that make collaboration between engineers and artists difficult. (My wife cannot understand why I insist on making pictures, diagrams, blueprints of my ideas before I build them. She thinks its funny that I can't work more freeform and tackle the problems as they present themselves. I go looking for the problems up front so I know there are a path to success. I am a true reductionist.)

It is the mixture of the creative process and its influence on the reductionist methodologies within engineers that creates the broad spectrum of engineering mentalities we encounter. Each combination of these ingredients lends itself to different roles within a project team. I have truly exceptional engineers that have little creative skill and others that think laterally but are weak when using a reductionist approach. I'd hate to have a team that wasn't a mixture. Within these teams disrespect between members of different strengths occurs often.

I want to throw out another thought about what mindset differences exist to create the gulf between the academic researcher and the developer. I don’t have a culturally accepted word that puts a fine enough point on this difference, so bear with me for a moment. If we accept my definition that the creative processes is the translation of holistic observations into an embodied response, then the academic discipline that generates the observations comes before the creative process has been applied.

Since developers can make observations like anyone else can (commonality of a certain bodily orifice comes to mind), we cannot appreciate that the academic discipline of formulating valid observations is any more valid than the observations we can make ourselves. The result is a gap in the procedure from observation to results. “Who’s gonna pick up that ball?” Developers are asking academia to be creative and academia is expecting the developers to be. Hence, the reason they’ve said, “guys even our best and brightest (read creative) developers are telling you we can’t use this stuff.”

Since there is a creativity gap, they are frustrated because they say, “we don’t have time [to be creative]. Don’t you see the pressure we’re under?” Academia on the other hand is not supposed to be creative at all, it would adversely affect their objectivity.

It is clear to me that academia may be having difficulty putting their observations into a digestable form that developers can grab onto and apply their creativity. The language of academia is not nearly as foreign to us (developers) as ours(C++) is to them. But they are using the English language, terminology(jargon), and historical references in a more precise way then we developers have been taught to use. They use English is as exacting a way as we program (communicate) in Java/C/C++. That's why their papers and presentations seem unnecessarily complex and abstract. In reality they need to express themselves in these ways to clearly communicate with one another. We are not part of their tribe, their ways seem strange to us.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

54.

Welcome to TN, Passing Observer.

They use English is as exacting a way as we program (communicate) in Java/C/C++. That's why their papers and presentations seem unnecessarily complex and abstract. In reality they need to express themselves in these ways to clearly communicate with one another. We are not part of their tribe, their ways seem strange to us.

This is a wonderful insight. And the idea of a "creativity gap" is definitely food for thought...

55.

I totally disagree with the notion that money trumps everything. Anyone who's taken Peter Drucker seriously knows that value is the foundation of business, money is just the scorecard. Thomas characterized this notion as the gamer's time, which I'm sure he meant more broadly. Not actual clock time but perceived value worthy of their time and paying their monthly bill.

It is a shame the developers can't see the relevancy of an academic perspective of their customer's behavior. The comparisons to other industry's relationship with academia, and their reluctance to extract user behavior from their databases for analysis, illustrates that they really don't get that this ain't television, or health care products. These virtual cultures go beyond the control of the developer's intentions (coded laws) and recognizing that it is the application of behavioral studies to identify what value the gamer is getting from his experience and translating that into game design that could mean very really money in their pockets (or even the success or failure of a business).

If I read into the comments in this thread, I'm lead to believe that Game companies don't know what motivates the gamer to use their product versus someone else's, cuz they're:
a) too busy working on their next game release;
b) too busy counting their money and thinking self-important thoughts; or
c) sure they understand them, 'cuz they're gamers themselves.

If television programmers worked that way, FX, HBO, and Discovery channel would never have pulled primetime viewers away from the major broadcasters.

I'm sure lots of real money has been made by on-line games, however the effect these programmers have had on the major broadcasters is far bigger. Do you have any idea how valueable The Shield was to FX in advertisinig dollars? Do you know why there's so much cheaply produced reality television shows on the major broadcasters? It has everything to do with understanding the value these programmers give to their customers through relavent programming.

The truth is that online games is going to draw players from well beyond the small subculture these developers come from. It may already be doing so. Understanding why Joe six-pack likes to pretend he's an invincible warrior, isn't as obvious as it may first appear. The cultural currency he receives (value) is rooted in understanding Nascar nation, not old D&D players (of which I am one). I chose an exaggerated example with Joe and a warrior, the cultural exchanges of currency are much more subtle. Hence, the need for expertise in cultural studies from academia.

I had a truely surprising experience when I joined the television industry and found out I had absolutely no idea how middle america thought. I had designed a remote control that we (technically astute individuals) would think was simple to use it made Tivo look like a PC. I sat behind the one-way glass observing a focus group critique my remote control designs in Memphis, TN. I started off confident I would hear certain praises and criticisms. I couldn't have been more out of touch with these people. It shocked and humbled me.

56.

I'd like to relate an experience I had some years ago that I believe is analogous to some of the developer's experience on this thread.

After being humbled by middle America, I was invited by the executives of the DBS company I worked for to attend a presentation from a prestigious New York market research think tank that my company had paid handsomely for. I sat through a 1 hour meeting as they described the broad cultural trends that were happening in middle America looking foreword from 1997 into the next century, (this was 1997). They spoke of the implications our then-booming economy would have and how it would effect the purchase and leisure-time habits of Americans. They spoke in Madison-Avenue speak with all the jargon and slanted use of everyday terms that we expect from them. They were slick, confident, and articulate. I wasn't going to buy any of this drivel for even a second. Yah sure I'd gotten it wrong in Memphis, but these guys seemed to be selling me snake-oil. I wanted a rational reductionist analysis that examined these trends. They had statistics, but I had learned you can interpret statistics to suit you own end. You couldn't back up their observations with statistics anyway. Money-oriented, well duh who isn't, right?

I couldn't for the life of me translate these broad observations into something I could act upon, it seemed totally irrelevant to my immediate challenges. (which were to change the way people used television and give satellite television a major advantage over cable). We were developing interactive television and on-demand TV. I left feeling I had wasted my time even listening to them.

Within a year as I was attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), up to this point I had been trying to explain to my management that having a harddrive in the settop box would make time-shifting television possible (I had discussed the idea with a brilliant man named Walter Bender at MIT's media lab some years earlier and I thought it was brilliant). Anyway I had been pushing this rope for months, I kept talking about the technical aspects of the device and how a user could get so much more out of watching television whenever they wanted. So I'm at CES and I come across Replay and TiVO. I grabbed everyone of my executives and showed them. Even with a concrete example staring them in the face, they understood it, but they didn't see why it mattered.

I was a few weeks later that I finally started to get some traction, because of one of the trends those Madison-Avenue slick marketing types had said, "People value there time more now than ever before [duh, that's empty], they will have less time to watch television, their focus is shifting toward their careers and making money." It all made sense. A TiVO box gave people the same value from their television, but used up less of their time giving them that value. It all gets down to that time of the month (the bills), when you stare at the $80/month your paying for a hundred of channels of television you didn't watch and you say to yourself, "was it worth it?" That's when the rubber hits the road.

Broad platitudes and observations may not seem relevant. They may seem overly simplistic, or down right obvious, but they matter, boy do they ever matter. By the way interactive television was receiving the same hype from far less credible futurist, but they never said how interactive television was better for the consumer. They always spoke about how it would make us a lot of money. Strange, nearly 10 years later and I'm still not using my TV to buy the sweater Kiefer Sutherland wore Monday night, go figure?

Listen to the academics, there's gold in a well-informed opinion. Fool's listen to the hype machine and get pyrite for their time.

...What's the value... what is the value...why do they pay money for this, isn't the real world free?

57.

So, I just wanted to comment briefly that the closing session at GDC today on "10 lessons from game studies" was EXACTLY the sort of session that is needed to bridge the gap, and got a phenomenal response from the developers in the room. Wonderland has notes, but it's late so I won't dig up the link (sorry) and I will post my notes on the blog sometime soon.

58.

Thanks, Raph. Here is the Wonderland link for Alice's report.

Lots of of qualitative, micro-level studies that address very specific questions. Great stuff.

59.

Thomas Malaby wrote:

All the experience in the game industry in the world can still lead you to see things in limited perspective. :-)

Pot....kettle....black.
--matt

60.

Oh jeez, Matt. My point is that some people are ready to admit it, and some not. I already related the common excesses of qualitative research academics -- at least we're ready to admit it.

One definition of being educated is to know how much you don't know.

And another thing (this teapot's getting steamed): You didn't even acknowledge the substance of my response to you (which should be even clearer after the productive interchange with Endie); and you wonder why it's sometimes frustrating to address these broader issues (as opposed to the functional micro-research conclusions at the Friday panel) with developers. I would think non- (or less) commercial MMOG developers would be the first to recognize that all successful games (no matter how you measure it) depend first on the successful leveraging of the player's time and abilities. That's what the alchemy of game design is all about.

61.

This fascinating thread has encouraged me to reflect on the message that I send to aspiring researchers in an undergraduate course on virtual worlds research.

In the humanities and the social sciences, researchers are required to justify their studies by answering the infamous "so what" question. As Karen Markin (2005) explains in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, this question asks: "Why is your project important? How does it contribute to theory building in your discipline? What significant question will it answer for your field?"

I have just finished reviewing fifteen well-written student research proposals, and at least a third of the proposals answered the "so what" question solely by referencing the needs of game designers and the game industry.

When comenting on these proposals, I told students that benefiting game designers is not sufficient justification for an academic research project. It can work as one of several justifications, but the students' papers should also have broader significance for communication research or game studies research.

I'm excited to see my students asking questions that will benefit the game industry. I also want them to supplement such questions with more critical lines of inquiry.

For more than six decades, the field of communication has witnessed a long-standing tension between proponents of administrative research and those who advocate a critical perspective. Administrative research deploys "empirical research for the goals of corporate and state institutions," while critical research situates "the media within the broader context of social life (Kellner, 2004)."

These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. T. L. Taylor's (2003) article on female gamers is a good example of research that bridges both approaches. Critical of the way that women are represented in virtual worlds, she also discusses ways that designers might address these issues. Ren Reynolds' (2002) essay on game ethics also combines critical insights with consideration of design implications.

Samantha LeCraft writes that "research needs to be timely, concise, specific, and concrete. Give me exact numbers, short descriptions, and easy to understand graphs. Don't try to justify your work or tell me how it could be applied to MMOG development -- I'm a professional developer, I can figure that out by myself."

As someone who worked in the computer industry as a programmer, usability specialist and project manager for the better part of a decade, I empathize with the need for useful and concrete data. Yet, there are many valuable insights embedded in more abstract and theoretical papers. In my experience, the best programmers and graphic designers have been those people who read widely and think beyond the parameters of their job description.

Jessica Mulligan mentioned Ted Castranova's passionate plea for researchers to actually play the "games as gamers, instead of being tourists in them for a couple weeks." This is clearly a prerequisite for anyone who wishes to be taken seriously.

Yet, on the flip-side, is it really so unreasonable to suggest that leading developers might want to investigate -- or at least listen to -- research that is more abstract and critical?

In his keynote at the Austin Game Developers Conference last October, Richard Bartle made the compelling argument that "We're stumbling along when we could be making a permanent mark on humanity for the better."

This is one reason that it's important for developers and academics to meet each other in the middle. Virtual worlds matter.

62.

Although this industry was nursed as an infant in the halls of academia, its been 25 years since MUD-1.

In the meantime the developers have transformed Dr Bartle's AI-sandbox into an industry large enough to have its own academics and grants to fund them.

The very nature of being an industry means that those who are developers are seeking to develop, not to study or research. And development is measured by achievement and success.

If, unlike Dr Bartle, you don't have those things, then you need to come armed with a healthy dose of relevance.

There is nothing unique about this, the same thing occurs in every industry-lead discipline.

"The presentations by academics were interesting, wide-ranging, and mutually conversant", i.e. of no intrinsic value to game developers, yet not only did Eric and Raph attend, they asked a vital and critical question: "how [could] these ideas []possibly be relevant for them"?

As for this notion of developers disparaging their players; any industry that deals with sufficiently large numbers of people tends towards a safe default stance. I don't know many stores who let you take your purchases out to your car *before* paying or signing something.

Games can be incredibly complex software systems, and some fantastic ideas don't survive that translation. And as practitioners rather than researchers, game developers tend to try and avoid publishing failures. And developers wind up doing a huge amount of research during the process of developing a game. Unlike their academic counterparts, however, they don't publish both sets of findings for peer review.

Resultingly seemingly fine ideas presented by players are given short shrift by the developers who have either already run the concept or have a detailed knowledge of constraints that thwart the concept. Neither of which it is useful for them, as developers rather than academics, to publicise.

"Try this idea", "It doesn't work", "Why won't you try my idea?", "We tried it, it doesn't work", "No you didn't, I would have noticed!", "We never released it because it didn't work", "You won't try my idea!"

I currently work for a game whos characteristics and core principles ought to be of some academic value. The fact we were trying ideas gamers had dreamed about for years, that on paper are fantastic concepts has kept us alive. We've kept ourselves alive for 5 years despite many of the concepts we've tried turning out not to be good MMO material.

As a result, we're still frequently referred to by other developers. But we barely even register on the academic radar. Academics see nothing important in our tale of nearly-ran, we aren't a failure or a success. But the matter of our unattainable success is relevant to developers, especially because we haven't outright failed.


> Aaron Delwiche wrote, "is it really so unreasaonble to suggest that leading developers might want to investigate -- or at least listen to -- research that is more abstract and critical?"

If the developers wanted to figure out how to change the world, they'd be academics. Developers want to make successful games. If you want the ear of developers then offering them an academic reward for doing so is futile. There are academics bridging the gap. Folks like Ted Castranova and Richard Bartle. They listen to the questions that developers like Raph and Eric ask. Even if you don't understand the developer mentality, listening to the questions they ask ought to be insight enough into helping you communicate with them.

63.



I have mixed reactions to this thread, the tutorial that triggered it, and GDC in general. I suspect I'll just need to do a post once I hash it all out, but I do have a couple of thoughts.

Second Life is a better place because of academics. An incomplete list would start out with Larry Lessig, Ted C, Beth Noveck, David Johnson, Susan Crawford, Tom Malaby, Constance S, Jim Gee, Josh Fouts, Doug Thomas, Terry Beaubois, and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger as people who I've regularly pestered with questions. No single person or community can possibly internalize sufficient knowledge, experience, and data to solve the range of problems that exist in virtual worlds.

I can say the same thing about non-academic researchers, including employees from IBM, EBay, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, BCG, PARC, and others, who have found virtual worlds and/or Second Life interesting enough to share their brains. Ditto for employees of other game companies, who I won't mention here in order to protect the innocent.

Over the last 5+ years of Second Life development, we've had to learn about fields ranging from terrain compression to learning theory and I have no doubt that the next 5 will offer up even more challenges. It would be silly to assume that all, or even most, of that knowledge could best be learned from within the game industry. Hell, even areas that should be core competencies, such as network operations, are handled far better by the Akamais, Yahoos, and Googles of the world.

I wasn't at the day of tutorials that sparked this thread -- I was over at Serious Games and only wandered in for the last two sessions -- but I did see Eric's panel. I knew a lot of the developers in the room as well as many of the academics, so I think that I had a somewhat unique sense of the irony of the situation. After all, here were two communities asking whether they could help each other when dozens of people in the room had already collaborated to improve Second Life.

64.

Okay, I'm in. Julian got me to the blog, and my doctoral student pointed me to this thread and now I'm hooked.

First my bkgrd - I'm an academic. But I also arch-wiz'ed a MOO on campus for about five years. I've even attended a MUDShop. I just bought an island in SL for the doctoral and masters programs to use and study. I play WoW...a lot...okay, too much. I am also pretty darned good on console and handheld. I play because it's fun. In the 80s, I made two software pkgs for education till I realized how stupid that was.

My main interest in the game community is in MMOGs becaue I'm interested in community as a setting for learning and how the interaction between design and player supports that. I don't want to suggest ideas to game developers. I want to understand design and play. Maybe it's an accident of unconscious experiential learning guiding your work, tacit cultural knowledge in the dev community, but I think the community can actually articulate some of this in ways I'll find useful. For instance, I've slogged through a lot on MMOG dev (eg, Massively Multiplayer Game Dev, 2 - ed'd by Alexander). Before you mock me, consider how hard I am trying to understand the back end. I have actually found this turgid stuff to be pretty good at getting me a sneak peek at some of the thinking. Things I thought were emergent from the interaction of players and design turned out to have been intentionally seeded and controlled. Hmm, cool. Do you realize that I am saying that there is knowledge that cannot be gleaned from mere play (or players)? There are many folks writing in education about games, by relying on personal play experience or on reported experiences of players.

Look, I just want access. Maybe you get nothing back, but another sector (education) might profit from the work. But as an academic I have to lie to get in to E3, which I will have successfully done for the third year this year. And, check this out: I've been harrassing Blizz about human subjects policies so I can do my research legally (and thereby seek funding for it). Blizz's response? First it was "huh?" and then it was "well stay within your end user license, okay?" As a member of the university IRB (institutional review board...federal human subjects protection laws) As I read the email, I laughed so hard I made my 'toon fall of the cliff in the Hinterlands.

You know what? I have NO INTEREST in functioning as free, or underwritten, and outsourced R&D for the gaming industry. I don't much care whether or not my work has value to you, though I think it might. I'm not doing it for you. In my case, I'm interested in trying to make schooling/training a less noxious experience for that end user group. I see in MMO games some pretty successful things that I'd like to understand better.

In all the rants so far I haven't seen anything to rebuff the assumption that academic research is supposed to be of commercial value to the game industry. Did I miss the source on that?

The most interesting thing I've read so far was the CES/Tivo story:
Even with a concrete example staring them in the face, they understood it, but they didn't see why it mattered. I'm working the same problem for a different community/industry: education. Although, in this case, I would probably qualify that quote with they *think* they understand.

Lindax

65.

In all the rants so far I haven't seen anything to rebuff the assumption that academic research is supposed to be of commercial value to the game industry. Did I miss the source on that?

It only matters if you want something from the industry in order to perform it. In that case, it's only natural for there to be a quid pro quo.

66.

Jessica wrote: "But, yes, I see the first step as being up to academia, to be become gamers and developers as well as researchers, so we can talk the same language. Once you can talk the language - which is arguably as arcane and jargonistic as anything dreamed up in an ivory tower - then we can figure out how we can help each other."

Yes, academics and developers speak different languages because they operate in different worlds of expertise. If the two parties didn't have different languages they would have little to contribute to each other's worlds. You spend 80 hours hammering out a product for commercial release. Most academics spend 80 hours a week drawing on the huge tracts of accumulated knowledge about the various fields they are engaged in, to try and explain and understand human phenomena which people like you cannot appreciate or fully understand because you don't have 80 hours and X years to devote wrestling with issues that cannot be simplified. And specialised academics worth their salt cannot learn, in one lifetime, your language. If simplification (from either side) is undertaken you will be faced with (a) mis-representation of the issue (b)a narrow perspective on it. Academics are needed not only to talk to devs but to work with them on a day to day basis. Those decades of theoretical wrestling and research make academics translators for those phenomena which are not as easily addressable as people like you seem to think they are.

Giving you (plural) a packaged, simple study to take in is doing you (plural) a dis-service. It's scratching the surface. Taking one academic perspective on this as an example, if you are in the business of creating worlds which societies of people play games in, you need to account for each of these three interrelated realms. If a lot of work is placed to modelling an attractive world and a fun and interesting game, how much real understanding is going into modelling how the first two shape the societies that will bring them into effect and keep them alive?

Speaking from the academic side of the debate, I agree with you that we need to play extensively, but to contribute to what developers are doing fruitfully, we need to work side by side with you as interpreters of the stuff you are not trained to appreciate in the complexity and depth that the human phenomena under consideration require.

67.

Oliver, you wrote that "If the developers wanted to figure out how to change the world, they'd be academics. Developers want to make successful games. If you want the ear of developers then offering them an academic reward for doing so is futile."

The notion that developers don't care about changing the world is deeply misguided.

Most of the truly great programmers and developers -- the people who built the infrastructure that enables this conversation in the first place -- have made no secret about their desire to change the world.

This list includes people such as Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Ted Nelson, Mitch Kapor, Linus Torvalds, Alan Kay, Phil Zimmermann, John Draper, Doug Engelbart, Lee Felsenstein, and Richard Stallman. Even Bill Gates and Paul Allen have spoken at great length about how their development activities influence the world. Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the world-wide web, is a developer and an academic.

All of these talented programmers have managed to avoid starving while also considering the social impact of their creative work.

In recent postings to this thread (and the affiliated thread), people identified as designers, developers and academics have expressed their desire for mutual respect and continued productive engagement. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly.

68.

to contribute to what developers are doing fruitfully, we need to work side by side with you as interpreters of the stuff you are not trained to appreciate in the complexity and depth that the human phenomena under consideration require.

Ah, there we go. While I agree with you, that's exactly the kind of statement that sends developers running for the hills.

It founders on two things:

1. Since you're almost certainly going to delay the production process, you had better be providing enough practical useful insight to make that delay pay for itself.

2. There's a significant timesink in getting you to understand the "stuff you are not trained to appreciate in the complexity and depth that the human phenomena under consideration require."

Both of these are very reasonable, concrete objections that must be overcome in order to achieve what you desire.

69.

Those concerns hold far more for some research plans (and research methodologies in general) than others, Raph, so it's a bit misleading to frame them as things which must be overcome in every case.

I can't presume to know what Linden Lab thinks of the impact of my being there 1-2 weeks out of each month for a year, but I do not get the sense that I was slowing them down at all -- especially because my research method depended primarily upon learning how they work. Yes, interviews took employee time, but everyone takes coffee and lunch breaks. I think it worked well (and I hope they think so too!).

Yes, I was in a position to ask stupid questions that could slow them down (and I'm sure I did now and then), but between the long period of time that ethnographic research demands, and the multiple media resources they have and use (wiki, email lists, etc.), I was able to take it in gradually, and hopefullly without getting in people's way.

Ironically, it may be the researchers that you allow the most access to (especially in terms of time) who are least likely to become obtrusive.

70.

If the developers wanted to figure out how to change the world, they'd be academics.

Thank goodness the long list of creative artists in every *other* field, who have changed, are changing and will change the world through their art, didn't follow your advice.

71.

I keep reading this thread, trying to construct a reply I'm happy with, and failing miserably, mainly because I want to feel I'm appreciating this from both sides.

Unfortunately, I keep reading stuff that translates itself in my head to: "You can't possibly understand even the fundamentals of the concepts I wrestle with on a day to day basis, because they require language that is beyond the possible scope of your comprehension!"

Sweet.

Unfortunately, I don't think that's the sort of attitude that does anyone here that much good. It reeks of someone who sucks at communication and hates simplifying concepts because they think it sounds like it trivialises their work.

On the other hand, to critique myself, I'm sitting here wondering if many academics have any better understanding of what it's like to be on the other side of the design curtain than the 98% of forum warriors who also think they can do a better job by making themselves happy. The "If I were a dev I'd wave my magic wand and fix everything" thing, or "Fix X, by doing Y, which I like!" without consideration of the other consequences.

It occurs to me that it's the academics and developers who meet in the middle and cooperate that are going to be the winners, not the academics that stand in a corner and grumble that their research is far beyond normal human comprehension or commercial concern, nor developers that assume they're doing everything right and have nothing to learn.

I actually don't think there's really that many people of either of those categories - academics and researchers have been working with companies doing commercial research in many fields for years, and developers are so used to keeping up with radical change that I think they're usually open to new ideas.

As I see it, there's a lot of stuff that academics can usefully bring to the table for developers, but this is generally a commercial table where the developers are generally looking for stuff that's going to help them build better games. As time goes on and that sort of research proves useful, I can see developers becoming more amenable to more open ended research, especially for large companies like SOE where there are many more opertunities to benefit over time with many different possible products (and considering that I remember hearing that they've already started when I was at the GDC).

At the same time, there's also stuff that game developers understand from years of their own "ethnographic research" and hands on experience of running "experiments" with players. I imagine that most would acknowledge that the idea that a myopic look at individual game systems (or indeed some research results) may not lead to solutions that are better for the whole, but that an understanding of reductionism and mechanical understanding are often required in order to design and build games because artistic chaos just doesn't work with huge team sizes, incredibly complex systems and millions of dollars at stake. It's no good coming at this looking down your nose at what the people who have all these players you want to research have achieved.

72.

Thanks, for the comments, Daniel, but I do not in any way think I was looking down my nose at developers (and I don't think many of the other posters were either!). Consider this thread instead as an attempt at a corrective to the habits of close-mindedness to which we are all prone, but which the Monday panel suggested to me need at the present moment to be confronted on the dev side.

73.

>>Thanks, for the comments, Daniel, but I do not in any way think I was looking down my nose at developers <<

When you call people myopic, arrogant, and unable to think outside the box, don't be surprised when they assume you're looking down your nose at them.

Just saying.

74.

Sure, if I didn't take pains to point out that we're all prone to similar excesses. Unfortunately, this was in my opinion a necessary move to stake out the need for developers to approach academic research with something more than a narrow set of utilitarian expectations.

75.

Those concerns hold far more for some research plans (and research methodologies in general) than others, Raph, so it's a bit misleading to frame them as things which must be overcome in every case.

I'd argue that the structure of a given research plan is in fact one possible answer to those objections. The objections will be there either way -- in this case, you have a good answer. :)

76.

Slippery of you, Raph, if one reads your post about the objections carefully, but I'll take it :-).

77.

Heh. You don't even have to read it that carefully. :)

I really do think that the sorts of research plans that people tend to want to do are usually disruptive. I also think that there typically is a big learning ramp that the researcher has to climb, just as the developer does.

It really requires a champion on the dev side to make the case and hold the line, is what I've found.

78.

I was just pointed to this thread by a friend, and although it has been an interesting discussion, it was started on a misunderstanding. Thomas Malaby wrote: "Eric Zimmerman and Raph Koster, took the opportunity to publicly ask how these ideas could possibly be relevant for them."

I can’t speak for Raph, but I actually said nothing of the sort. Prefacing my comments by saying that I was actually NOT asking academics to make their research relevant to developers, I noted my fear that the day would pass without meaningful interchange between academics and developers. If and why that did or did not happen could be fodder for its own thread.

The reason I want to point out this error is that I can say without irony that I am the poster boy for game academic - game developer interaction and exchange. I’ve helped organize some of the earliest conferences along these lines. I regularly attend academic functions, workshops, seminars, and conferences. I lovingly slammed my dear colleague Richard Bartle at Other Players for suggesting the very thing that Thomas asserts I stated at GDC. In fact, I was a prime mover in convincing Jason Della Roca of the IGDA that he should add an academic tutorial to GDC. Sorry to seem so catty and self-aggrandizing, but it’s frustrating to be tarred as my own evil twin.

Regarding the important issues that have been raised in this thread, my feeling as a developer is that I should NOT look to research in the humanities, social sciences, or other academic fields to directly address my needs as a designer. Sociology has its own important disciplinary questions to answer. Although some Sociological research may be directly or indirectly relevant to what I do, I would never expect game-related research to automatically be game development-related research. Although some researchers do have such practical application or interdisciplinary exchange as a (quite valid) goal, most do not and should not. Much of the pleasure for me in being inspired by ideas in Sociological research, or the experience of chamber music, or what have you, is the GAP between that work and my own, as I wrestle with notions from a different domain and use them to challenge my assumptions about my own disciplinary practice.

I hope that clears things up – at least in regards to what I did and didn’t say.

79.

Thank you for contributing to the thread, and (re)affirming your commitment to the value of research, Eric. We can agree to disagree about to what extent your and Raph's comments contributed to the habit of dismissive thinking that I've tried to identify here. Certainly in such a context some things said are likely to play well to certain constitutencies in the room, to the point where the interpretation departs from the original intent, perhaps. But the important thing for me is that both here and in Mia's thread that habit, one that was in danger of becoming so taken for granted as to be unquestioned, has been held up for scrutiny a bit, and thereby we have re-established grounds for the potential value of critical research on virtual worlds to both academics and developers.

80.

I find myself having a lot of things I would like to say but for simplicity, allow me to venture a suggestion:

Would it be an idea to establish a forum where the industry could promote the questions they would like researchers to look at, and where researchers could promote ideas they have that the industry might be interested in? Where translations between the two worlds could take place? There are already conferences where this happen. Getting to a conference takes time and money however.

There are so many issues in this thread, so many differences, but when it all comes down we just need to be in a dialogue. Yes, it will take time from both sides, but I think it would be worth it.

On another note I would like to point out that a lot of us games studies students do not think of ourselves as researchers really, but more like a combination of players, academics and developers. We do a little of it all, and would like to be involved with it all. This can however be a bit tricky when communication between the environments is limited. We have a lot of ideas though, so I am personally spending a lot of time trying to forge some relationships between the industry and academia down here (Australia that is). There IS a benefit to both sides in collaborating - just look at Cory's email above.

Finally, Jessica Mulligan asks the academia to ask the industry, pitch proposal etc.. Ironically I have been trying to find a means of contacting her without success ;-) - So please forgive my use of TN ... Jessica, I would like to be able to pitch a proposal to you on a few ideas about natural ecological systems in MMO's and their potential use in e.g. forging more intimate relationships between quests and the game world. This is something I think has a very practical application, but which also includes excellent research potential. It is something I see a point in looking at as an aspiring game developer, as a researcher and as a passionate player - if interested let me know how to get in touch with you.

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