October 2006 | Main Page | December 2006

Where's the catch?

Thomas and I recently bantered simulation in MMOGs (why not more of it).  Before this David Edery wondered in a fine essay whether online gaming could be the lubricant for applying "the wisdom of crowds" to real world problems using simulation.  Earlier this year I wondered aloud whether Jason Lanier's beautful rant might also be directed against crowds in virtual worlds (are they overrated). 

Fortunately, Henry Jenkins comes along and forwards a great post to prod our muddle:  should we distinguish a "collective intelligence" from the "wisdom of crowds"?

In Henry's words:

The Wisdom of Crowds model focuses on isolated inputs: the Collective Intelligence model focuses on the process of knowledge production. The gradual refinement of the Wikipedia would be an example of collective intelligence at work.

He cites Edery's spin on the impact of the wisdom of crowds to game play:

Crowd intelligence can fail (and fail spectacularly) when there's too much information passed between members of the crowd. Members start to alter their opinions based on the opinions of others, which skews the results. The online communities that build up around any popular game would seem to promote exactly this kind of skew.

From Jane McGonigal Henry suggests that mechanisms such as competition and population diversity might help avoid "group think" and encourage "feature(s) which enable us to process information in more complex ways than could be managed by any individual member."  I recommend reading Henry's complete essay (Fn1) before jumping to comment here.  He mentions related points raised by Raph.   

Yet I wonder this transfer to virtual worlds:  is the problem of groups in MMOGs, say, not themselves but the lack of virtual world processes against which they can cut their teeth and "generate valued knowledge production"?  Crudely, do guilds become mobs with organization because there aren't enough levers for them to pretend City Hall and dress wisely?   Of course I could be wrong about the mob bit, wink, wink.  In any case, be sure to also read David Edery's essay (Fn2) especially the bit about "SimCity-esq game" and "(t)here's gotta be a catch."

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Fn1.  Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkin.  Collective Intelligence vs. The Wisdom of Crowds.  November 27, 2006.

Fn2.  Game Tycoon.  Using Games to Tap Collective Intelligence.   September 4, 2006.

Comments (10)

Hoping for WTF in the New Year

Not for the first time, I've tonight puzzled over the strangeness that is World of Warcraft's overall design structure.

There's the familiar problem, which I do not think is going to be alleviated entirely by the Burning Crusade expansion. Why does the game become so ruthlessly technical in its endgame? I actually appreciate the precision of the endgame instances, where every boss fight is as choreographed as the most elaborate Broadway musical. That isn't just a loose metaphor: it strikes me as being exactly what those sequences require, except that there is a game involved in the discovery of the choreography. It's as if George Balanchine once upon a time called in 20 or 40 dancers and said, "I'm thinking of a dance routine. If you don't figure out how to do it in the next hour, you're fired. Here's a few basic clues."

But there's the opposite thing in World of Warcraft, and in any other MMOG: really weird instances of structured  unpredictability, where the rollercoaster shuts off and flings players into an experience out of synch with the controlled design. WoW's designers have moved more aggressively than perhaps any other live management team to eliminate most of those moments in their design, but some still remain. The best example might be the Son of Arugal in Silverpine. It's a low-level zone, where the game is still very much holding the player's hand. It is an area that  has the same comforting movement from quest to quest which most of WoW offers. And then suddenly there's a relatively high level mob roaming randomly around a relatively wide area that tends to aggro at huge distances on unsuspecting low-level players. It's an atmospheric set-up for an instance that comes later in the zone, but you can't help but say to yourself WTF??? every time you get slaughtered by the Son of Arugal. And yet, at least for me, it's a comforting moment as well, a kind of human touch in the design. The Son of Arugal is somebody's darling, some touch of individuality, a rough-hewn seam in an immaculate embroidery. To be honest, of all the systematic conditions that the expansion could address, this is high on my list, but I suspect not so on many others, which are chock-full of more conventional requests for class improvements, endgame changes, and so on. A few more stops on the rollercoaster to complement the thrills of the ride.

Comments (35)

cyber-sexdaq

In an effort to keep TN’s front page family friendly, the whole of this post is over the fold.

NSFW!

A short time ago I thought it would be fun to have a look at the actual dollar value of the face value of Monopoly money. The difficulty with comparing things across worlds is that there is no common unit of utility that an in-game currency represents. The only thing that it seems sensible to compare against is the currency unit / hour rate that can be achieved under normal conditions of virtual world use.

Then it struck me that there might be at lest one comparator that could be common across worlds which might cast a slightly different light on in-world currency values, and that’s sex. More specifically paid for in-world sex, and potentially the ultimate unit of measure may be the ’15 min quickie blowjob’, giving us the QBJ index.

Why that? Well, certainly in Second Life it seems to be a standard offer, which has the advantage of being fairly well defined in terms of duration and activity. The issue with other practices is that they become blurry fairly quickly 30 min of straight sex may or may not include some fetish that it seen as a norm in a given environment, and I imagine fetishes are more highly subject to local market conditions.

From my limited sample set I worked out that the Average SL-QBJ rate is about L$360.

Which if I have my sums right is about $1.5. Given that this might include Skype and / or web cam (though those are higher rates), at about 1 [correction 28/10/06] 10 cent a min that’s some darn cheap virtual sex, especially considering that phone sex in the US can be way upward of $1 per min.

I’ve been digging around over the last day or so but I just can’t find any other sources of rates for cyber-sex in other virtual worlds. There must be, what do we call it, well, virtual prostitution services in all virtual worlds of sufficient size, I’d be staggered if there is not though it may not be quite as commercialized as in SL.

So - does the TN hivemind happen to know rates for WoW, Habbo, There etc etc? Is the WOW-QBJ rate higher or lower than the SWG-QBJ rate? Feel free to post anonymously. 

Why?

Well - one thing that I’m wondering is what factors might impact price. Would these be general strength of virtual economy factors or more local ones based on the community? One might think that supply of such services were harder to come by in There or Habbo, than SL. OK pretty much anywhere is likely to have a lower, or at least less evident, supply side than SL.

An interesting difference between this element of the MMO economy and ‘gold farming’ is that it would appear to be difficult to buy in comparative cheap labour from less well off physical world economies. The reason being that cyber sex requires a facility in language. I’m sure for many, bad grammar may ruin a fantasy (unless the idea of the other as foreign is part of it). Thus unless cyber sex is being fully automated it requires a skill base that is fluent in the dominant language and more specifically the use of sexual terminology and cultural practices. Interestingly this seems another area where SL offers opportunities to the skill rich not just time rich.

As an end note (warning this get's more explicit):
Data-gathering for this piece was an interesting exercise. For a long time in SL sex and sexual subcultures have been evident through clubs who’s walls are lined with porn, to the pose ball trade, sky-boxes and heavily sexualised avatars.

But, on the surface the cyber-sex industry, or cyber-prostitution had (at least it seemed to me, to have been a little under the covers) relying a thin code of ‘dancers’ and ‘escorts’ and ‘adult clubs’. These days there are just ads on walls and at least on web site devoted to the sex-trade: SL Escorts. Not only is this a great resource for prices but Cybering ads (a truly fascinating art to rival the little cards we get in phone boxes here in the UK) which display a truly bewildering array of ‘standard’ offers. Here is a sample: Complete oral envelopment and exsemination, Submissive Slut/Slave/Fucktoy
- Rough Sex/Forced Sex/Rape
- Interracial; Sex/Gangbangs
- Cheating Girlfriend/Wife; ageplay, roasting, death, gang rape, ponygirl.

There are also interesting exclusions for example: “Please, note that I am NOT Gorean”. Age play below 18 seems to be a big dividing line too, many, possibly most will not engage in it. My fave exclusion is “Will not remove her tail or ears for You”.

Disappointingly I find little that is SL specific e.g. zero gravity. I wonder if other virtual-worlds have a higher presence of world specific fantasies, c'mon Elves and Ewoks there must be some highly specific deviance in those cultures.

Comments (26)

Meaning, Games, and Bureaucracy

A while back in a comment posted in this thread, Ren posed an excellent question that I've been pondering for some time. Wondering about the implications of my model of games as process for the question of meaning, he asked:

Do we then just have that the meaning-generative property of games is just a fact of process [i.e., no different from other social processes] and the types of meanings [in games] are consequences of the contrived contingency?

Curse you, Ren! I haven't slept since August!

Puzzling through this in the wee hours of the night, I began with how I responded to Ren originally: on Weber and bureaucracy.  This has led to the beginnings of a paper that I hope to have up to ssrn soon, but I wanted to talk about it now because I gave my first airing of its ideas on a recent panel that I wanted to mention. Tom Boellstorff (SL: Tom Bukowski) and I co-organized a panel on virtual worlds and anthropology at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, where we were joined by Heather Horst and Mizuko Ito (co-authored paper, Ito presenting), Genevieve Bell, and Douglas Thomas, with the distinguished linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein as our discussant. The panel was filled with great ideas, on everything from virtual methodism in England to the Neodaq, and I hope to have news to those presentations' culminations in paper form soon.

As for me, I gave a version of my current and still-rough answer to Ren's question. I proposed that virtual worlds and their emergent effects demonstrate an aspect of the human condition that has largely been obscured under modernity – that of the human engagement with the unpredictable or contingent. Max Weber and his definitive account of bureaucracy and the state formed the backdrop for a century-long inquiry into the vanishing sources of meaning under the advent of rationalization; for Weber, charismatic leadership provided the only answer to the iron cage of rationality. But a consideration of bureaucracy, games, and virtual worlds alongside one another fills in this bleak picture. If bureaucratic projects are driven, at root, by an ethic of necessity (in their procedures and logic of consistency), games, and the virtual worlds based on them, are driven by its antithesis: contingency. As socially legitimate spaces for cultivating the unexpected, games provide grounds for the generation of meaning that is not ultimately charismatic. Virtual worlds like Second Life have largely retained this open-ended quality, and they rely on game architecture to create a domain that, while not utterly unbounded in possibility, has wide opportunities for success, failure, and unintended consequences, and it is this that makes possible the meaningful and emergent effects we witness today.

So the answer to Ren's question is that, in my view, the engaging mix of constraint and contingency that well-designed games (and the worlds based on them) have makes them more productive of meaning than those parts of our lives that are increasingly governed by regulatory projects which aim to eliminate the uncalled-for. (One might further say that those parts of our lives that are too contingent, too unbounded in possibility, also create a challenge of meaning.) Of course bureaucracy in practice is also a site for contingency (and regularity). Bureaucratic projects certainly do not perfectly realize the modern aim of consistency, but they always aspire to do so. Games, by contrast, are socially legitimate domains where unpredictable events are supposed to happen, and that is why they are valuable lenses through which to see key points of discursive and practical contestations over meaning and resources played out. Games, then, do not create "unbounded" contingency; they are not places where anything at all can happen. But they provide room for a contrived mix of constraint and contingency. By mixing the regularity and the sources of contingency just so, they create their potential for the meaningfully unexpected, as well as for unexpected meanings.

Claude Shannon in the mid-twentieth century presented the surprising finding from mathematical information theory that messages which contain the most information are those with 50% expected (redundant) information and 50% unexpected (noise) information. Katherine Hayles of UCLA expanded on this point during a visit to my seminar on ethnography and technology at UWM. Imagine, she said, a language in which it was impossible to say anything new; it would be meaningless. The lesson is that contingency is inextricable from meaning. New circumstances, new experiences, and new collisions between different systems of meaning are at the heart of meaningful human life. This is why we should be very interested in virtual worlds and the approach to cultivating the contingent which underwrites them. By leveraging the techniques of game design, Linden Lab and others have almost accidentally fallen into creating products which are supposed to do things they do not expect, and in this way they have made a choice that turns out to be strikingly anti-bureaucratic in its ethical stance. For Weber, it was only the individual virtuoso – a master of performance in a singular context – who could provide new meaning in an era of the iron cage. Virtual worlds show us another possibility; that meaning can be cultivated through techniques derived of game-making.

Comments (16)

Miss Norway found at U of M

I was dozing on the train this morning when someone on a podcast read the news headline “College Student Loses First & Second Life On The Same Day”. I snapped awake pretty quick at that. I knew SL could make you rich but not kill ye’ ass.

As the original story, which has taken a turn around the web and at least one podcast (any other reports of other sightings of this story?) said:

[Edit 28/11/06: for the avoidance of doubt, I believe the above ‘story’ to be entirely fabricated]

My theory is this: The ex Miss Norway, who played LegendMUD did not die in a car crash as widely believed but instead saved up an almost unimaginable amount of Monopoly money on the Pro-Monopoly circuit under the pseudonym F4t4l123y (pounced Georgina) which (s)he cashed in. Using the money in part of for a gender re-assignment becoming Jesse, and in part to study at the University if Michigan, no doubt under Professor Urizenus Sklar (Emeritus professor of journalistic ethics), majoring in illogical shemantics. 

But seriously, I’m starting to see signs of major video game addiction. News outlets, PR agencies and editors around the globe are starting to need higher and higher doses of virtual world ‘news’. It started with mixing partial facts with hysteria, now doses have been cut so thin that we no longer need any trace of a fact at all.

Comments (5)

Anshe reaches $1 Million

(c) Anshe Chung According to a press release issued today, Anshe Chung’s net worth (achieved through profits made entirely within a virtual world) have just reached the 1 Million US Dollar mark.

Blimey!

Limbering up for the formal press conference on Tuesday, Anshe dropped into TerraNova’s multiversal-uber-plex for an exclusive interview.

TN (RR): How long do you think the SL economy can sustain the level of growth that it has achieved thus far?

Anshe: I believe the real growth of SL economy will be sustained for very long time. At least until one strong competitor arrives, which I think is not likely soon. However, the "explosive growth" with 1.5 million accounts is a little bit of a misleading figure. Our own internal estimate of number of active paying users in SL agrees with Raph's estimate of about 100K. It seems the real growth of SL is about 100% every 6 months, which is still amazing. One must understand that people, once they are really immersed in Second Life and join those who are regular users, don't tend to get bored or to drop out, even not after years of use.  This is fundamentally different from MMORPGs. While 90% of those who try SL don't understand it and drop out before they get immersed, those who do stay seem to stay forever. We really see the birth of one new medium, not simply yet another game that will go away.

TN (RR): Is SL now a closed shop where new people really only have the option of being customers?

Anshe: Definitely not. There are still plenty of opportunities. If you can innovate you can still get rich. You need do careful market research to find something not everybody else already does though, keeping in mind that once enough people compete at the same thing there is a price race to the bottom - and the "bottom" price in SL is set by freelancers in Indonesia and players who do things for free and for fun. Innovation and creativity however rule the Metaverse :-)

TN (RR): Was the business week cover actually good for your business?

Anshe: It was definitely good for Second Life and Rob Hof did an excellent job in the article explaing to people what Second Life really is. I have been very open and not hidden my business model or success story from the public, because I have consider it the right thing to do to accelerate the change and show people the opportunity :-)

TN (RR): You have gone for themed areas and language areas, are there Anshe communities within SL now it might be argued that creating sub-groups is bad for the overall community how do you think it helps?

Anshe: Diversity and choice makes places more interesting. Some communities, especially the German SL community, we have also grow directly by draw in people from outside.

Comments (44)

Mike fright

Nate has been talking and talking about VATSIM, the Air Traffic Control simulator environment. One of my guildies in WoW is a pilot and was explaining why he hasn't got into the VATSIM environment:

One interesting thought that popped into my head -I have the vatsim software for my flight sim, I presume it would work and as I mentioned its a very good thing. I wonder why I havent tried it. My thought is that I dont want to look like an idiot in front of real (all be it virtually real) people. People get mic fright in real life, the unwillingness to talk on the radio. I wonder if thats the same in a virtual sense? In WoW and similar there isn't the requirement for real time voice communication and action, you can chat via text if you feel so inclined but you respond at your leisure. I wonder how it would be if you could only chat using your real voice and the normal rules of sound were enforced so you could be out of earshot of things if you were too far away...

This led me to wonder about the nature of voice, the problem of mike fright, and the great big hairy furball of the magic circle.

Richard has an extended meditation on the introduction of voice into VWs, where he argues against it on the basis that it kills the magic circle and ruins the play characteristics (and lots more, of course, but I'm paraphrasing). I think that this is right if your job, as Richard's is, is to think about this from the perspective of the designer of immersive MMOGs where suspension of disbelief is key. But this can't be the complete answer from the Terra Nova perspective. First off, we have the empirical observation that the punters love it and are rushing to use voice. There could be lots of reasons for this, but my guess is that it may have something to do with that problem we keep bumping up against: the love of the magic circle, which I will define (badly) as the intuitive sense that these worlds are separate places where the self may be expressed without the limitations of the real and should therefore be protected against the osmotic pressure of real world considerations like money (and voice and external regulatory activity). Now, I don't buy the magic circle in the way that people like Richard and Ted do. I think the concept and experience of VWs as wholly distinct place is useful and I often find myself immersed in the environment; but my acceptance of the concept is highly contingent. Like most people I'm not a role player, even in games where that is rewarded. So I don't have any obvious play-based objections to the introduction of voice (pace Richard) or RMT (pace Ted). And in performance-critical environments such as MMO raids it's hard to imagine doing without Teamspeak or Vent; otherwise how else can the raidleader scream that "the next hunter to grab aggro will get booted"? (Although I do recall the amusing moment when of the class leaders in one old raiding guild I was involved in finally got a mike and we all discovered that he was a 12 year old. There was an extended period of total and utter silence. You could hear the crickets).

Leaving aside the magic circle problem (yes, please, let's leave it), the effect of voice doesn't play out consistently in all worlds, and the reception of it must be different depending on the social conventions and milieu. The truly social worlds (SL, There, etc) don't have any sense of a magic circle as far as I can tell. If the standard greeting in There is "ASL?" then it's not a big step for its residents to expect to hear reallife voice as well.[fn1] The social conventions of There assume identity-revealing behavior, and voice is an important part of that.[fn2] It's a neat trick, and totally in keeping with the social expectations of the world, for There to introduce a space-sensitive voice system where your voice fades as you walk away from me. It's hardly a surprise that it would be done in There and not, say, WoW. (Where I have never been asked for ASL info; unlike say CoH where I got it all the time).

Which leads me back to the thing that motivated my interest in this to start with: the psychology of voice use by players when it is available. Krista-Lee Malone, one of Thomas Malaby's students is looking at the way that women play MMOs within raiding guilds. One of her neat observations is that some women just refuse to talk at all, and will initially claim all manner of hardware-related excuses to do this. Or in the end they just abandon the pretense and it becomes clear in time that they don't want to talk and won't. Although I'm not female, I've had some experiences with mike fright. Of the two raiding guilds I've been involved in in WoW, I basically never said anything at all in one guild because I didn't have any sense of possessing any social capital within that guild and also because I felt that my voice would signal me as a Kristevian Other (Like the rest of me, my accent is Australian; and the rest of that group was distinctively North American). Even in the other raiding guild, where I feel much more at home, it took a while to feel comfortable saying much.

I don't have any strong sense about voice, except that it's pretty clear it is a significant issue to study. Richard's essay on this was called "Not yet, you fools". I wonder if today's response is "Yet. And yes, we were fools."
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fn1: "Age, Sex, Location."

fn2: Let's leave for another day the interesting paradox that a world that has been adopted by teenagers has (internally generated) social conventions of identity disclosure that are problematic for exactly that class of individuals. I find it hard to conceive of a better lesson for "Save the Kiddies" regulators of privacy and identity than the emergence of these conventions in There and Myspace. But I digress. More on this when I get a moment.

Comments (9)

Whale watching

Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) in "The Germans" episode of Fawlty Towers fashioned "(d)on't mention the war" to really mean "yes do, incessently" and "what is the buffoon going on about," depending upon your seat on that stage.

In a virtual world, where you parked your seat might also affect the client software you are using.  For example, Eve-Online has started offering a German client for Germans to interact with the universe of Tranquility [FN1].  I have an English version.  Neither version helps when it comes to communicating with each other: in the reaches of Eve-Online areas where German seems to be the first language, I am still at a loss for words.

None of this will help me make the fly-in from (e-)Boston to (e-)Keflavik this Sunday (see here) -  my "Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network" (VATSIM) simming skills are not up to it yet.  Yet, the Germans I've encountered in Eve-Online might explain the odd sensation I had the other day looking into Microsoft Flight Simulator X...

In the Flight Simulator universe, modding aircraft (e.g. new models) and scenery (e.g. more detailed 3D textures/models for airfields) is as old as the hills.  Yet the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator (version X) apparently allows developers to create a fuller range of simulated objects (see the SDK).  For example, I read somewhere that one could create AI whales swimming off the coast of Nova Scotia.

This is a point that distinguishes a single player game from a multiplayer game client.  In the single player game what I see is of no matter to you. Whereas, in the multiplayer game perhaps it might be.  But not always.

If you are flying around in VATSIM and are able to see whales off Nova Scotia and your wing companion cannot, yes this is an inconsistency in the game world that separates you from him.  However, since VATSIM is not about whale watching and it since it is also a world where one can participate with different versions of Flight Simulator with different sets of scenery installed, it is fair to guess that these differences don't matter.  A cooperative player universe means that were there any gain from seeing those whales I couldn't use it against you.

This would be less true for other worlds where you and I may be in direct or indirect competition.  Let's say you can mod up your client software in such a way that provides you with some advantage over me, is it unfair if I don't share it with you?  If I were a hyper suspicious Eve-Online player I might want to have a look at that German client (humor).

I think I'll go whale watching instead.

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[FN1] See here:

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND - AUGUST 16, 2006 -- CCP, creator of MMOG EVE Online with 170,000
subscribers worldwide, will launch a German version of EVE Online at the Games Convention
in Leipzig, Germany, August 24-27, 2006. The German client will be the first localized
version of the EVE Online client on the Tranquility cluster. Visitors to the Games
Convention are welcomed to view the first showing of the German EVE Online client
in the CCP stand B05 in Hall 5 of the Leipziger Messe.

"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time to offer localized versions
of EVE Online, and this marks the beginning of a new chapter for EVE Online,"
said Nathan Richardsson, Senior Producer at CCP. "German is the first language
we offer besides English on our Tranquility cluster and we hope that the German
players will appreciate this new feature. A lot of work has been done to prepare
the EVE Online client for localization and we have plans to support other languages
in the very near future."....

Comments (6)

Korean National Assembly to Outlaw RMT

From correspondent Unggi Yoon and our friends at VERN, we hear that the Korean National Assembly is considering a bill that will impose fines on companies that engage in RMT for business purposes.  Jun-Sok Huhh has the report. Apparently the idea is that individuals can freely buy and sell informally, but if you take it to the business level and set up a gold farm or a business that makes money by reselling, you pay a fine.

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving. We're often asked what we are thankful for. Today, I am thankful for the Korean National Assembly.

Opinion: My oh my is this the right answer. Nobody cares about small-scale gold-trading for convenience - the guy who sells his character's gold to pay for college tuition, the dad who buys a heap of gold once because it's a gear-based leveling game and it would take too much time to get to the fun stuff.  According to the analysis I wrote, gold sales are no problem at low levels. It's when their scale rises that macro-level effects start to be visible, including (what's most important to me) the erosion of fantasy.

I have the sense that gold trading is problematic only when amplified by the efficiencies of business. IGE and the gold farmers have created an entire industry of gold farming, that sets millions of man-hours to work on the gold pumps, day in and day out, enough to destroy what a game is all about. That's got to stop. And this bill will stop it.

Comments (25)

There’s nothing ‘just’ about Monopoly money

TN readers must hear the phrase ‘But it’s just monopoly money’ all the time. This seems to pre-suppose that Monopoly money is not worth anything, but it is.  1 Monopoly Dollar is worth about US$ 0.000231176 (if my sums are correct).

Phaa! You say.

But hold on just a moment. That’s about the same as the cost of C&C Plat right now, half as much as a There Buck and a heck of a lot more than EvE Isk.

Oh, I wish he had a table comparing the cost of Monopoly money with a basket of Virtual currencies I hear you shout. Well dear reader over the fold at least one of your wishes shall come true.

Before we get to comparison, here is how I worked out the worth of Monopoly money. It’s very simple and yes it ignores the fact that since 1935 about 200 million sets have been sold, so there’s certainly a money supply out there. I simply went to the Hasbro web site and found that each set contains bills with a face value totalling $15,140, and that replacement money (which I take to be a full set) is $3.50. The rest of the figures I got from around the web.


Virtual CurrencyUS$Virtual Currency :
Monopoly$
DoAC (Plat)
WoW (Gold)
FFXI (Gil)
EQ II (Gold)
SL (L$)
CoH (Influence)
Lineage 2 (Adena)
There (T$)
D&D (Plat)
Monopoly
Guild Wars (Gold)
SWG (Credit)
Anarchy Online (Credits)
EvE (ISK)
0.7134
0.17072
0.020805
0.02035
0.005044
0.00221375
0.001156333
0.0005
0.0002393
0.000231176
0.000064
0.000000841
3.334E-07
0.000000145
3085.964571
738.4859429
89.99648571
88.02828571
21.81890286
9.57605
5.001967619
2.162857143
1.035143429
1
0.276845714
0.003637926
0.001442193
0.000627229


I almost adjusted Virtual Currencies down to Copper where they were in Plat, but that would have just been a bit obsessional and geeky. I've no idea yet what this table tells me, if anything, other than - don't underestimate the Monopoly $.

Comments (36)

Endgames and Expansions

I have a few questions that perhaps you can help me with. They're about the nature of raiding and the "endgame", and what happens when MMOGs introduce expansions. Everyone in WoW-land is twitterpated about teh Burning Sensation which apparently goes live on Jan 16, when all of Azeroth is to be given over to Blood Elf paladins and Draenei shaman. I'm interested to know what happens to the raiding situation when the expansion takes place, especially since the level cap gets bumped 10 levels. The official line is that there will be new raid instances (of course) but that the endgame raid content will be found in 25-toon raid instances, not the 40-toon versions that we've come to know and love.

My interest was piqued when talking[fn1] with some raiders who couldn't quite believe that Blizzard would only provide 25-toon instances. To them that wasn't really raiding at all; that was more like the 20-toon instances Zul'Gurub and the Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj which they all have on farm status. I literally heard someone say: "But the 25-man instances must just be the beginning. Blizz must be planning on introducing real instances later."

I have all sorts of questions about this.

One obvious set of questions is about how we got to the point where 40 person instances are real raiding, and anything less isn't. I've heard Andy Phelps pine for the good-old days of EQ where raiding instances encompassed so many players that we can only express the numbers neatly using scientific notation. So why is it that some numbers connote a real raiding experience and others don't? And what's with the reduction in numbers that we seem to be seeing, from EQ's 75 (or whatever it was) to WoW's 40 and now 25? Will Blizz relent in the end and have to up the raid numbers lest they lose the players who are defined as successful within this environment?[fn2]

My other set of questions is about what happens with MMOG endgame content when the endgame gets shifted. I don't have experience with the endgame in other MMOGs that have introduced endgame and level expansions, and so I want to know what happens when the centre of gravity shifts. Come Jan 16 is anybody going to bother to run Molten Core or Blackwing Lair or Naxxaxxaxxaxxaxxaramas? When level 68 greens are better than the tier 3 set, why would anyone bother? I mean, I can understand the situation with 5-toon instances a lot better, because we've got lot of experience with level 60s farming Scarlet Monastery solo for lewt. But outside of some reputation rewards and some annoying chain that Blizzard could introduce to force everyone through, say, Molten Core before they go to Gruul's Lair, why would anyone go to the level 60 raid instances? Presumably Blizz will nerf all 40-toon raid instances and make them doable by a smaller number of toons; but unless they nerf them down to 5-toon instances then they are going to have a problem aren't they? Why would a raiding guild invest the effort to get 20, 25 or 40 people through these elaborate puzzles? Naxx will fast become the equivalent of Silverfang Keep: a place people have heard of but never go to. I wonder whether we have any precedents from previous games of what will be the response by raiding guilds to these changes.


----
fn1: In a double super secret backchannel, one that isnt even known to the backchannel, muwhahahahahaha.

fn2: Please, can we not have a discussion about whether being kitted out in Tier 3 and raiding every night is "successful". Can we leave the sophmoric "Hardcore Raiders vs Get-a-Life-You-Sad-People" Punch-and-Judy Show for the WoW forums, ok? Let's just stipulate that the game design says that the Tier 3 is objectively better than the Tier 0 set, and take that as evidence enough that Blizzard is saying that having Kel'Thuzad on farm status is the best that you can be in this game.

Comments (47)

"Every Time You Vote against Net Neutrality, Your ISP Kills a Night Elf"

Ok, so I am totally in love with this report. It's written by Tony Greenberg and Alex Veytsel from a firm called RampRate that provides IT-related market and strategic analysis. I stole the subject line for this post from their report, and while I love cutsey titles more than life itself, the actual analysis in the report is even better than the title. They talk about the effect of the probable demise of net neutrality--the principle that your ISP and backbone net providers should not be allowed to discriminate between packets--on two industries, VOIP and MMOGs. I can't believe I didn't think of this myself, but net neutrality is all about jitter and latency and guess who cares a lot about these issues:

Companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sony Online Entertainment, and countless others, have built a business on the fundamental assumption of relatively low latency bandwidth being available to large numbers of consumers. Furthermore, a large — even overwhelming — portion of the value of these offerings comes from their “network effects” — the tendency for the game to become more enjoyable and valuable as larger number of players joins the gaming network. With the permanent barriers that the removal of net neutrality will erect for these uses, the worst-case scenario includes three waves of change:
  • One or more mainstream ISPs will introduce excessive lag that will effectively prohibit their users from participating in online games. The move will not be aimed at restricting usage per se, but rather to extract a fee from the game operator. However, as the Cablevision and YES dispute of 2002 showed us4, a fee disagreement between a cable company and content provider can effectively lock out the use of a popular service for over a year;
  • As online gaming guilds, clans, and partners disappear into the rifts created in the Internet fabric, players that derive value from the community of the game rather than the playing experience per se will drop off. This vicious cycle of scarcity of users will lead to diminished enjoyment for existing users which will lead to still fewer users, until more games follow Asheron’s Call to oblivion;
  • Hardcore users will write strongly worded messages to their ISPs, who will classify them as unreasonable malcontents using more than their share of bandwidth.

There is lots more. Honestly I just want to excerpt the entire report here, but obviously I won't. But go out and read this. It's really good.

Comments (37)

Lights will guide you home

The Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) is a virtual world that I feel has something to say to the rest of us.  I'm having a hard time putting my finger on what exactly, but it is a feeling.  A little while ago, the Oakland ARTCC on VATSIM posted a fine (and first official) video...

The strangest component of a VATSIM ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center) might seem to be those who play the air traffic controllers.   To be one seems odd in what must already appear to be an odd world experience to most outsiders:  I'd much rather fly a plane than instruct others how to land one!   Add into the mix the exhaustive training regime controllers undergo  (see [fn1]), and there comes a sense of sacrifice or at least commitment.

Yet, on this Saturday night, I casually note that at e-Oakland (e-CA, e-USA), just one hub in the VATSIM universe, there are 4 controllers and 25 pilots online.

In Civicus I asked whether a measure of a good world, virtual or otherwise, is the degree to which one can rely upon the duty-mindedness of strangers.  Thus my question.  Were you to devise a set of metrics to measure the health of a virtual world, what would they be?  High on my list, I suspect, would be the willingness and the commitment of strangers to bring me home.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you.

-ColdPlay

-----------------------------------

/Ed 11/19.  The VATSIM Online Flying Survey 2006 is available here.  Relevant to a number of details wrt comments below.  Including:  99.3% players are male; ~50% have no RW aviation experience; ~25% are private pilots; ~25% other RW aviation involvement.  Interestingly, 66% of 4463 respondants said that they have controlled on the network.

The Oakland ARTCC on VATSIM  website.

The Virtual Air Traffice Simulation Network

Post-gazette reprint of May 18 Wall Street Journal article By Peter Sanders.  See also General Discussion on forums here ("VATSIM Makes Front Page of Wall Street Journal").

-----------------------------------

[fn1]  (From the Oakland ARTCC on VATSIM website, emphasis added):

"The most important step in starting your training is to become familiar with the contents of this site... Pay special attention to recent changes by checking the NOTAMs page and be sure to review the SOP and Policy statements from the SOPs/LOAs page... Download the Oakland CTR sector file and any tower other sectors you might be interested in. Familiarize yourself with the airports, navaids, and geography of the ZOA airspace.

You are required to take the ZOA SOP exam and Clearance Delivery / Ground exam. The Training Administrator or an Instructor will arrange to have it emailed to you, and it will test that you have read through the SOPs and policies and are familiar with basic airport operations. The procedure for taking this test is the same as the VATUSA pilot/observer test that you took prior to joining ZOA ARTCC. You may not control unsupervised until you pass this test. When you do pass this test, in accordance with our Facility Certification Policy, you may work any DEL, GND, or TWR position except at KSFO and KOAK.

New controllers should begin to work through the Student 1 (S1) Syllabus on the Controller Training page. Extensive practical training information is at your fingertips in this section of the web site.

Student S-1 & S-3s are primarily trained by the Mentor Team. The Deputy ATM runs the mentor program and can assist you in locating mentors for your initial training. Posting in the discussion forum is the best place to introduce yourself and alert the mentors to your joining the ARTCC."

Including (from here):
FAA Order 7110.65 - ATC Procedures
FAA Federal Aviation Regulations - Part 91

Comments (18)

Is CopyBot Bad for V-Business?

Copybot3 It's been an exciting week in Second Life! Dell opened a new store in-world, IBM's CEO, Sam Palmisano, made an in-world appearance, and so did the dreaded CopyBot. The presence of companies like IBM, Dell, Reuters and many others in Second Life shows that there is growing interest in using virtual worlds for more than killing orcs and avatar-based flirting. Sure, these companies are just beginning to experiment with business applications of virtual worlds, or "v-business," but things are moving fast. It seems like every week there is an announcement that another new company or institution is trying to go virtual by buying an island in Second Life.

But also this week, the now infamous CopyBot reared its ugly head in Second Life. Here's a brief recap: CopyBot is a tool that enables the unauthorized copying of virtual objects by a player (see Raph for more detail). Since virtual objects in Second Life are created by other players, rather than by Linden Lab, there was an outcry from many players to stop the use of CopyBot. Players protested and closed their in-world stores in fear that their creations would be stolen, resulting in the loss of real U.S. dollars.

In response, Linden Lab banned the use of CopyBot under its Terms of Service agreement but at the same time stated a reluctance to enter an "arms race" with players (e.g., by implementing Digital Rights Management technologies like Apple did with iTunes). The Lindens are taking the position that unauthorized copying is a general problem with the internet, "Like the World Wide Web, it will never be possible to prevent data that is drawn on your screen from being copied." Thus, player/creators in Second Life are panicking just like the Recording Industry Association of America did a few years ago when it began suing individuals for the unauthorized copying of music.

So what impact, if any, might the unauthorized copying of digital content in virtual worlds have on the still nascent v-business industry? Will CopyBot and its successors scare off some early would-be v-businesses?

On the one hand, if companies like Dell use their virtual store fronts primarily to sell physical products, like XPS laptops, unauthorized copying may not pose any problem at all. On the other hand, to the extent that companies attempt to sell digital products - virtual houses, avatar hair, code, images, books, music, etc. - their revenues will be vulnerable to digital piracy. Should companies be worried?

Comments (18)

The MMO Brand Goes Bad?

It’s easy to look at the graphs of MMO growth over the last few years and think that it’s a game category that will continue to grow exponentially.  In fact, I have often said that since games have always been largely social (and single player gaming an anomaly that resulted largely from technological limitations), that once people have a taste of gaming with others few will choose to go back to solo play.  And I do believe that.  Other players represent that sort of super sophisticated AI that no NPC can begin to approach.  And for me, the only thing that makes the average MMO grind at all fun, for instance, is the chaos and uncertainty brought forth by other random players.  Social structures make games more complex and interesting, to be sure.  But is that always a good thing?

I think we are at an interesting crossroads with regard to the continuing appeal of the types of MMOs we are currently seeing in the marketplace.  If there isn't some significant diversification soon, I fear that the whole MMO category is in jeopardy of plateauing or even seeing numbers drop off, due to various negative impressions that are circulating about the game environments and the ongoing commitments (financial, social and time) necessary to experience them.  Marketers often refer to negative brand equity to describe what happens when a product (or category) develops a reputation that is not desired.  For instance, no one involved in its development or distribution wanted people to think of the Yugo as a crappy car from some obscure country in Eastern Europe.  However it didn’t take long for stories (worse yet, jokes!) to emerge that belied whatever messages the marketers were concocting

Similarly, I think MMOs, at least in the West, are developing some seriously negative brand equity.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some non-MMO gamers about why they haven’t been bitten by the MMO bug and have been surprised by how passionately some of them feel that MMOs aren’t for them.  Here are some of the reasons that have been cited:
 

- Some people simply refuse to play a monthly fee on top of paying for a game.  This seems to be a matter of principle for many, but is often related to the fact that they feel trapped into one game environment if they are paying the fee.  They don’t feel that they can pick up a game, drop it for a while, then pick it up again later if the mood strikes them.  (the Asian predilection for item-supported models, etc. seems to be a decent way to deal with this issue)

- The second most common thing I hear is that people don’t feel like they have the time for an MMO, even if they spend lots of time playing videogames otherwise.  The perception that one has to play upwards of 30 hours a week in order to play properly is a huge barrier to a lot of people who perceive themselves as more casual gamers.  (Jim Rossignol wrote a great piece about this in a recent issue of the Escapist).

- Tied to the previous issue is the idea that one’s time is not one’s own in an MMO.  For a lot of people, having to adhere to a guild’s schedule or priorities is a responsibility they are unwilling to take on.  They hear stories about mandatory raids and other prescribed activity and think (rightly so, perhaps) that it sounds an awful lot like a job.  And unless you don't have a job already (the core MMO audience of university students, it would seem), then who needs a job that doesn't pay some real cash?

- A lot of people complain that it is too hard to just jump into an MMO and start playing.  There are complex social rules to be learned, grouping can be tricky and time-consuming, and navigating huge worlds can take a ton of time just in terms of travel.  I have heard lots of stories about people logging on at lunchtime to play, but not even being able to prep and find playmates in that time.  And I have heard other stories about people joining a game to play with friends, yet being unable to meet up with them in a reasonable timeframe.

- Although it’s appealing to play with others, it is a double-edged sword in a level-based system where people have to play at a similar rate in order to be able to continue to play with each other.  WoW is particularly problematic in this regard (to the point that people have to work hard to synchronize quest chains, etc.), but CoX is somewhat better with its side-kicking/exemplaring system.  Still, it’s a big problem for those buddies who want to invest significantly different amounts of time in the game.

- Many standard videogame players, especially those attracted to adventure/RPG genres, perceive that MMO gameplay  is extremely non-linear with too few concrete goals (yes, yes, even with WoW's linear questing system - just having more than one path or option, or a whole world that one could explore, is overwhelming to the gamer brought up in the Myst-like box-to-box environment progression).  For them, there is too much freedom of choice, making play difficult and diminishing the satisfaction of progress (aside from leveling, which while pleasurable in that Skinnerian/dopamine unleashing sense, may not be so appealing to those who look for more complex challenges).

- A LOT of people fear becoming addicted, even people I work with in the game industry. Nearly every person I have talked to has some terrible story to tell of someone they know who knows someone who locked themselves in their room for a year or two and completely forgot the real world after getting sucked in by some MMO.  And then there are the stories of silly Koreans falling over dead or Chinese gamers killing each other for virtual swords which make people think that MMOs are like some kind of crack that makes completely normal people go crazy (not to mention the possibly apocryphal stories about people wearing Depends so they don't have to afk for their bio breaks).

- Finally, many non-MMO gamers think that MMOs mean, by definition, PvP, or more accuratel,y open PK-ing.  And no one wants to pop into a game world a n00b and get killed right off the bat. (this happened to me, btw – I played UO very briefly back in the beginning, was repeatedly ganked within 5 minutes of entering the game, and as a result I didn’t play another MMO for years).

So what does this all mean for the burgeoning (?) MMO marketplace?  Is there still an untapped audience for MMOs?  Maybe, but maybe just about everyone who might be compelled to play an MMO has already been tapped by WoW?  And if so, what effects are those experiences having on both those gamers and those who observe their infatuation?  It seems to me that MMOs frighten a lot of people, even relatively hard core gamers - and that can't be a good thing.

Parodies like the recent South Park episode inspired by WoW have alerted mainstream non-gamers to the darker side of the MMO compulsion (at least those who watch South Park – your Grandma is still probably in the dark about this, unless she reads Slate or the NY Times regularly…).  In fact, the Everquest Widows list was in a gleeful frenzy after the episode: they viewed it as a sort of unintentional PSA for the perils of online gaming.  Yet it’s easy to look at that sort of thing and think, wow, MMOs have really arrived.  They’ve been parodied on South Park, written up in the mainstream media -- all we need is Britney Spears to write a song about her hawt night elf and we’ll know that the tipping point is nigh. 

But we could be wrong. 

The thing is that WoW could well be an aberration, a red herring that makes us think that MMOs are really taking off when it might in fact be the only MMO that several million of those players ever play.  For a lot of people (in the U.S. anyway- I'm painfully aware that Asia is a whole different ball of wax), WoW is their first MMO – and the reason they started playing was either a) they simply thought it was the next installment in the Warcraft franchise and didn’t give much thought to the MMO aspect or b) they got nagged by friends to play it and flocked to it in the same way they all rushed to set up their MySpace pages (and as uncommitted Web 2.0 types will all follow sheeplike the inevitable diaspora, as well).  They may  decide that the investment/pay-off equation just doesn’t add up, or just experience boredom with the whole repetitive experience (WoW-nnui, as our own Mike Sellers calls it) – not all of us can possibly find the grind to be a delightful experience in Zen, after all. 

So my question is this… how can MMOs evolve to combat these perception problems and barriers to entry/continued participation?  Or will they continue to remain a niche activity for those who have the time and inclination to make the necessary investments? 

Comments (47)

Tetris

Tetris the movie is out (again).

The "venerable BBC documentary" contains plenty of Tetris nostalgia for the hacks and Tetris history for the newbies.  For the First Lifers it is choc-o-block filled with Soviet-era drama laced with cut-throat game industry/ entrepreneurial intrigue.  An excellent watch, whether it be your first or second time.  There is also plenty of opportunity to admire that 1980's tech.

Tetris never seemed so exciting as it does cloaked by this edgy cold-war world tale.

Or.  Is it the other way around:  a grade-C thriller raised into art by the incomprehensible madness of video colors and falling blocks.

Anything in this tale for the Second Lifers?  I'm not sure, you tell me.  If you had a free evening and invited Tetris and WoW over for dinner, who would do most of the talking?   

-----------------------------------------

Via Grand Text Auto, "The Book of Tetris", including the video link.

See h2g2 for an overview of the age of Tetris.

Comments (7)

Concept: Virtual Worlds For Economic Development

Norman Maynard of the Economics Department at University of Oklahoma sends us his paper, which proposes to use virtual worlds to test different approaches to economic development. The paper is available here.

Comments (13)

It's so easy

What do Julian Kucklich, T.E. Lawrence, The Alphaville Herald, and Linda Rondstadt have in common?

T.E. Lawrence went native and made such a splash they made a film about it.  Now there is Labouchere of Arabia ("maverick commander of the Queen's Royal Hussars").  Meanwhile, Suzanne Nossel thinks a diplomatic corps that "go(es) native" is a good thing. 

However, perhaps a lesson of the Alphaville Herald was that too much mixing it up with the natives invites controversy:  it's so easy (that song!).

This reminds me of Julian Kucklich's excellent question [1.] on whether using the tools and short-cuts of game worlds (FAQ's, forums, walk-throughs, ..) instead of experiencing the game world directly hinders one's understanding of it.  Tamara Paradis framed the counter-question well (in comment to Julian Kucklich's post, emphasis added):

...the prejudice within the social sciences to the idea of “going native”. And yet, if you haven’t been there entirely, immersed in the digital culture, can you truly and deeply understand it? Alternately, how does being native sometimes blind you to alternate views? DO we forget to ask questions we should ask? Do people just assume that we know because we are “one of them”?

What are the pitfalls of going native?  When one frames a position (positive/negative) with respect to a specific personalized virtual world experience, it makes for good what?   

---------------------------------------------------------------

[1.]  "Walkthroughs in Research: Cheating or Education?"    on The Montreal GameCODE Project:
Cultures of Digital Environments.  May 30, 2006.

Related:  Terra Nova "Stranger in a Strange Land." 

Comments (15)

State of Play / Terra Nova Symposium, Dec 1-2, NYC

Yes, the lunatic has finally taken over the asylum.

I'm organizing an academically-oriented virtual worlds workshop under the aegis of both State of Play and Terra Nova. It's running at New York Law School on Dec 1-2, down in bee-you-ti-ful Tribeca. Attendance is very small and exclusive. The people speaking are very smart, and the audience is going to be even smarter and involved in all the panel discussions. The conference registration is cheap. The food will be good.

Details are here and registrations are now open.

Comments (11)

Project Horseshoe

HorseshoeThis past weekend I was privileged to attend the first Project Horseshoe, a small, intense, focused gathering with the stated mission of “Solving Game Design's Toughest Problems.”  That’s aiming high, sure, but if we didn’t solve these problems we at least made a good – and most importantly, action-oriented – run at them.  This three-day event was organized by The Fatman, George Sanger, and his band of game ninja cowboys.  It was filled with vibrant, eclectic, accomplished, opinionated, talented people from across the game industry – mostly but not all game developers, but all with incisive views on where games are now and where they could be going in a year or two or five.

This gathering wasn’t focused on doing game design as much as identifying and offering workable solutions for what stops effective game design from happening.  It also wasn’t specifically aimed at online games or virtual worlds, though that subject was laced throughout the discussions I heard and participated in.  When it wasn’t directly present, the subject was never far away; everyone is keenly aware of the importance of the online experience, even for those focused on single-player experiences.  Virtual worlds have, as we all know, changed the landscape of games and entertainment irrevocably. 

After being killed by werewolves, reading our own obituaries, and listening to a brief quasi-spiritual orientation message by The Fatman, things really got rolling.  There were short punchy keynotes by Mark Terrano, Nicole Lazzaro, and Raph Koster, after which we coalesced our overall agenda, set by the group in an innovative bottom-up fashion.  It is notable to me that the keynotes were as insightful as you’d expect and would have been worthy of strong applause anywhere.  They received it here as well (each gave me something to chew on), but in this conference they were all but submerged in the strong brew of grounded, cogent discussion swirling everywhere around the clock.  In many ways this conference was for me a sort of “best of” – it was like being in the hallways of GDC and AGC having those discussions that leave you reeling (in a good way), but for three days straight. 

And then there was the food.  And the toys.  Both were there in abundance and both helped ratchet the level of discussion intensity higher and higher (it turns out that Nerf rocket launchers and silly string – lots and lots of silly string – are highly effective Creativity Tools).  Then there was the live music (hey, this was run by The Fatman), the board/card games, the beautiful site at the Canyon of the Eagles by Lake Buchanan, your favorite liquid refreshment at every turn, and even a few almost-successful pranks. We started early and ended late each day. I don’t think I’ve ever been as gratefully exhausted by a conference before. 

As for the working part of the conference (where we really did spend most of our time), we self-separated into four groups.  Each group focused on a different umbrella area of game design or development: business issues; games as a legitimate medium; online issues; and the future of game design. (I spent most of my time in the online group, but poked my head into the business group as well.) Each group dug in to what they saw as the most difficult problems facing their chosen area of game development today, and what the group members thought they could do about it in the next year or two.  Not abstract ideas like “teach the world to sing,” but more realistic solutions like “champion a more rational method of determining development milestones” or “foster more effective connections with academia” – in one’s company, on a blog, at a conference, etc.  We didn’t flinch from the problems we all saw, and people stepped up to offer what they could in the way of actual, specific paths toward a solution (mostly – we did have a group that also focused on high-falutin’ game design ideas, but this helped us all keep our eyes on the distant horizon). 

Near the close of the conference the groups each presented their results to the entire body using methods ranging from drawings to Powerpoint to limericks to skits (truly – it was a bit like the end of summer camp for creative demented adults).  Each group created a written report complete with action items which we will all be following up on throughout the next year (and which will be available in various forms online in the next few weeks). To me it is the groundedness provided by these action items, and the thought behind them, that made this more than just a really fun, creatively satisfying weekend. 

Will this bear fruit?  I think so.  But the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.  We’ll see how things roll out over the next few months.  But several days after the conference, I’m still astonished at the level of communication and commitment, and the opportunity this gathering represents to move our industry forward.  I’m excited to see where this goes and what effects it has on our industry. And what happens at next year’s Project Horseshoe.

In the meantime, I’d like to toss this open for discussion here. We had a limited amount of time and people at PH.  What sorts of things would you have wanted to discuss? What do you see as “game design’s toughest problems”?

Comments (24)

Multiverse > SL > WoW?

At the heart of my cheesy bet with Cory is the tension between virtual worlds created by savvy, experienced developers and virtual worlds created by some schmo in his/her garage. I was betting on Hollywood and he was betting on the people (no matter that I would prefer to lose).

Which is the future of virtual worlds? Experts or the masses? Multiverse appears to be hedging its bets by allowing its tool set to be used by either.  And it's no longer vaporware, as their open beta is now out.

Their newsletter post reads:

The Multiverse team proudly announces the launch of our long-awaited open beta program. The Multiverse platform is now publicly available for download<http://www.multiverse.net/developer/login.jsp>and development (you'll need your developer program login info).

The Multiverse platform opens a new chapter in MMOG and virtual world
development: a robust, scalable, extensible platform available without prohibitive up-front licensing fees. A plethora of new worlds, new game ideas, and new creative visions of all kinds will be built on the platform.

*This beta release is most appropriate for teams with experienced engineers.
* Ideally, you should be comfortable with command-line interfaces and hand-editing config files. Future releases will be increasingly "user-friendly", so jump in whenever you like. And naturally, there are still bugs to be worked out and features to be added, but we're ready to take the next step in building the Multiverse.

We've heard about Multiverse before, but heck, the thing is now out on the street.

They ask, "What world will you build?" Like many, I'm curious. Ted gets to start building Arden, which is terrifically cool.

Now, will Multiverse be the equivalent of really good mod tools like Half Life 2's or NeverWinter Nights'? Will there be filtering technology to let the best worlds rise to the top like a good mod? Will anyone interconnect their worlds a'la Snow Crash's "Street"? Or will the whole thing be so dang hard to use that it'll just subsidize a few indie developers and then flame out as more polished titles like WoW dominate?

If you are of the long tail persuasion, you probably want to see the niche thrive and hope that Multiverse is the silver bullet.

Or maybe you are a Second Lifer sensing barbarians at the gate . . .

Comments (51)

Pointless Killing

Here's a design discussion for a change.

The default mechanism in game-like virtual worlds is that characters kill things to get points to go up levels so they can kill bigger things to get more points and go up more levels. There are other ways to get points - quests and exploration, for example - but the bulk comes from killing things. If there's no reason to kill things other than to get points, this is called grinding, which people don't like but do it anyway.

What if you got no points for killing things?

Actually, many players already don't get points for killing things. Much endgame play involves characters killing things to acquire items which will help them kill bigger things to acquire better items. There are still quests, and there's still grinding (for reputation, for reagents, for training), but there are no experience points. So what's the point of points?

Suppose this model were applied to the whole game. What if quests gave you money or objects or reputation or training, but no experience points? What if there were no levels, just equipment sets or property or titles or employees? In short, what if the endgame were the game?

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but what do you think?

Comments (72)

Calling All Alts

Listening to some discussions of the uses of alts in complicated financial scams and strategies in various MMOGs, I wonder at whether available information about other players (through mouse-over, clicking, /whois, etcetera) shouldn't include a list of all their alts on a given server. I assume this would not be a technically difficult thing to do.

What legitimate social or ludic purposes would be spoiled by including this feature?

Comments (25)

State of Play Book

State_of_playJack Balkin and Beth Noveck have just published The State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds.  There are some extremely encouraging cover blurbs by Jon Zittrain ("spectacular"), Richard Garriott ("extremely comprehensive"), and Henry Jenkins ("the best thinkers in their fields").    In addition to articles by Jack and Beth, the book has pieces by: Richard Bartle, Yochai Benkler, Caroline Bradley, Edward Castronova, Susan Crawford, Julian Dibbell, Michael Froomkin, James Grimmelmann, David Johnson, Dan Hunter, Raph Koster, Greg Lastowka (that's me), Cory Ondrejka, Tracy Spaight and  Tal Zarsky.

If you've got to have one book on virtual worlds and law (plus), this is it.  The most important essays that made State of Play such a vibrant conference are now under one pretty roof.  And even if you have most of these in some other form, like I do, this is a just nice book for your shelf and reference: a pleasant weight, a firm binding, and a nice readable typeface.

Comments (0)

Smack talking to your base

Those of us  in the US have a midterm election coming up this week.  In the short period of time before the polls open is when it seems that political advertising is at its most negative.  Do the dynamics of negative advertising have parallels with the role of "smack talking" in online games?

Anecdotally, it seems that people frequently complain about negative advertising.  So too it seems that many players complain about 'smack talking'.  I wonder though whether the offended are missing the point: they are not the target audience.  Is smack talking really about rallying the base in your game?

Subjectively I might describe smack talk as the player clap-trap that clutters communication channels involving baiting and outrageous claims about how one side is better/worse than the other (humor, see Fn1).  The BBC h2g2 narrowly suggests that smack talking is a subcategory of leet talk:

As with any type of competition, 'smack' talk became prevalent in online gaming. Phrases such as 'I am elite' became common place, and somewhere down the line l33t speak crept in, reforming the phrase into '1 4m 3l1t3' in order to demonstrate that the speaker was a hacker and someone to be feared. It was further exaggerated by purposeful bad spelling and eventually wound up as something like this, '1 4m 3l33t!' and simplified to, '1 4m 133t'. Hence the name 'l33t speak'.

This is misleading in that it is quite possible to find articulate non-leetish smacking (smack talking on boards tend to be more coherent than in text chat).   Yet this does emphasize two important points (IMHO) about online smack talking.  First, it likely started out as an import from  real world examples (sports).  Second, once taken root in online spheres, it has evolved into its own rituals.  Yes, in some cases those rituals may be linguistic.  But too those rituals can be pragmatic in terms of the game world.  In "Verone's Survival Guide : How To Survive A Ransom Attempt (in Eve-Online)", rule number one is:  Don't smack talk... "Like you, pirates can be sensitive to certain abuse... and will probably just kill you if you start being an obnoxious turd."

World of Warcraft (WoW) discourages direct smacking between players of the two sides (Horde and Alliance can't communicate).  Other games (e.g. Eve-Online cited above) do permit it.  I think this speaks more to the nature of these game worlds than anything else.   WoW, in spite of its name, seeks less of its content to be driven by interplayer conflict, whereas Eve-Online (again in spite of its idyllic name), does so. 

This brings us to what I believe is a basic trade-off.   Succinctly, it is this one"(e)ven though I despise rude smack talk from people, those people who spout it definitely provide me with hours of entertainment."  Look but don't touch.

Yes, but too much looking may suppress one or both sides turn out for a while (from here):

...just repeats the stuff that both sides are responsible for spewing on to the forums. "They're taking bigger losses in (numbers/ISK)", "Our killboards are right, theirs are wrong", "They're on the defensive/we're on the offensive" etc etc. If either side think that forum smack is going to win or lose the war then they're ignorant as well as arrogant.  Smack talk may discourage a few people for a while, but when push comes to shove both sides will go "all-in" and no amount of crotch-grabbing on the forums is going to make a difference.

But perhaps those who do turn up are more fired up for it, and hence the effective but perverse logic of it.  Get your based fired up.  Everyone else may be a no-show anyway.

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Fn1.  Ian in comment #34 in the Terra Nova StrangeLove discussion  brings us a tongue-in-cheek  "(d)etermination of a discrete unit for the measurement of smack talk" (Eve-Online, P.S. can someone attribute this to its original source?): 

Determination of a discrete unit for the measurement of smack talk

By: Culmen

Smack continues to be a staple of the eve community. However studies into the causes and effects of smack has thus far been limited by an inability to quantify smack in a discrete and scientific manner. While there have been studys on a subjective determination of smack (Allen et al 2003). These determinations are not scaleable, and are unable tocope with levels of smack occasionally seen in game. A recent study conducted by Jerkov at al in 2005 has attempted a similar scale, but fails to differenciate smack by side, instead measuring the overall content of smack in the entire local channel. Thus I have compiled a  scientific study in the hopes of better understanding the phenomenon of smack talk in a quantifiable manner...

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Source Identification and Soulbinding

From the Department of Non-Wow studies:  I've begun looking at D&D Online - Stormreach.  It's a great game, despite their recent server troubles.  But the game's more robust trade system does cost me something: knowledge about the people I'm adventuring with.

In DDO, there are level limits on traded items, to restrict twinking.  But, within reason, it's possible to twink a character out.  The difficulty I have is with this is that soulbinding is a "source identifier."   In WoW-like systems, you know if a person has been through a particular dungeon because the item they're carrying could only have come from there.   I have a Misplaced Server Arm, thus, you know I've been in Naxxramas.  Fine.

But in DDO (which does have soulbinding, but to a lesser degree), the difficulty is that I can't read the life story of a potential groupmate in their equipment.  This is similar to the story we tell about trademark law.  People want to pay more for a specific trademark -- Gucci bags, for example, or Armani suits -- even if the generic is of equal quality.   Often, of course, the generic isn't of equal quality, and that can muddle things.  But if generics are just as good, the question becomes: Why do we protect the interests of "snobs" (the idea of snobs in trademark is not mine -- I heard a good paper at the Midwest Law & Economics Conference on it) by protecting source-identifying trademarks against dilution. 

This has implications for virtual property.  Trademark law protects trademarks not only against source confusion, but against source dilution.  That is, even where consumers know darned well that the Gucci bag is a fake (no source confusion), the law stops the sidewalk-seller from diluting or tarnishing the trademark.  Or, similarly, if one were to sell a Gucci piano, there would be no confusion about whether the apparel designer was involved...but dilution law again says you can't do that.

Is this the source of some of our issues with purchases on e-bay?  It's not that the person who is buying the e-bay equipment is a bad player.   (I've talked about the myth of the e-baby before.  People who buy accounts are highly skilled players, and are successful enough in real life to afford the purchase -- both strong indicators of high quality gaming skills).   But what we resent is the loss of information the purchase represents -- the information the avatar or equipment carries with it about the skills of the players is diluted.

Thus, we come full circle.  Should we protect gaming "snobs" (I use the term in the technical legal sense) the way we protect trademark "snobs?"

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