One of the issues that has come up in the discussions around the UK Government's consultation on consumer rights in digital stuff is the notion of a reasonable remedy. In the case of online games - what's reasonable?
One of the issues that has come up in the discussions around the UK Government's consultation on consumer rights in digital stuff is the notion of a reasonable remedy. In the case of online games - what's reasonable?
Holy hellions, Batman, 2012 is off with a bang.
Too bad about SWTOR and the LEGO Universe, but Guild Wars 2 might actually ship this year, and there are some other exciting things brewing. Tera Online might emerge unscathed from its legal machinations and make its promised launch date of May 2012. Blizzard is making a 'casual' MMO (with product placements)...
But here's what I'm waiting for...
Also, don't forget that DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association) is holding its semi annual conference in Tampere, Finland (where all the very cool kids are). They need papers and reviewers, so get in touch!
The New York Times in the last week has taken an interest in not just one but two virtual worlds. Both of them are something other than a reskinning of Zynga games that many former virtual world designers seem to have concluded is their inevitable future. Both of them have their problems, both as games and as worlds, but if you'll forgive me taking another ride on my long-established hobbyhorse, both of them also underscore how powerful "world-making" has been and could yet be as a design niche in interactive media.
Ha, got your attention, eh? But this is actually an important topic, of the 'reality is broken' variety. Like the fact that we're obsessed over sexting and other digital phenomena related to sex, yet we have done little to improve sex education in this country. In fact, we have vilified and cut funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that save people's lives by providing them critical information that affects them physically, emotionally, spiritually. I ranted about this on Quora recently:
Sexting isn't the issue. The lack of good, ongoing and honest sex education and support (from elementary school) is. I personally don't care what kids do in this regard, as long as they are well-informed and not succumbing to pressure from peers or romantic partners. And obviously this behavior is probably not appropriate in classrooms.
As an anthropologist, I will tell you that sex play in early pubescence and later is very, very normal, and in some cultures, very well tolerated with positive effect. We are extremely backwards in our proclivity to bury our heads in the sands.
I do, however, think all kids need to be educated on the potential ramifications of having a digital trail of activity like this, and what it can mean in terms of reputation (immediately) and career later. It's outrageous that kids learn most of what they know about sex from each other, tv/movies and the Internet. This leaves gaping holes in their knowledge and their judgment about something that can affect their lives in such profound ways, and can even lead to illness and death.
I've been thinking for some time that games could play an important role in helping to eliminate a lot of the misinformation that is spread among kids and teens. Typically this sort of thing is handled a la the serious game: take some existing curriculum - the sort of thing you'd see in a high school sex ed class (if a school is lucky enough to have it). 'Chocolate-covered broccoli'. Seldom about the realities of sex and the social and emotional contexts that surround it. And boring.
One of my favorite sites is Ask Alice, a community effort from Columbia University that provides a forum for kids and teens to ask any question about sex, drugs, what have you, and get a truthful and reasonable answer. I think it's an incredible resource, but most people don't seem to know about it. So where are people getting their sexual educations?
I was really inspired by a TED Talk a lovely woman by the name of Cindy Gallop gave not long ago. You should watch it yourself, otherwise I might ruin it, but I will tell you that she makes some rather stunning points about how porn culture has distorted the way people think about sex. Clearly we need to figure out some better ways to communicate all of this, aside from ignoring the groundswell of sexual activity that is incredibly normal for our species.
There's rather a dearth of recreational, digital sex games, a fact that surprises me given the proclivity of clever porn mongers who hawk every kind of sex ware imaginable. Have throughout history, using any available technology. It's well established, for instance, that early photography and film thrived on sexual innovations. And we certainly spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs of cybersex back in the day, when everything digital was a novelty. Are we jaded? Or recession economics?
Well, it seems like a business opportunity to me. They appear to sell plenty of books and board games in those novelty sex shops. People could certainly use some variety in their sex lives. Yet the ecosystem somehow manages to eschew innovation, just like the video game industry. Microsoft, for instance, is blocking sexual uses of their Kinect device, citing 'unintended puposes' (imagine a mash-up of a Kinect device and teledildonics - long distance love, FTW!). I did find A-Chat , but it seems like a graphics enhanced chat room app, and that's boring, too... I suppose there's the seedy underbelly that is Second Life's sex subculture, but it seems, well, seedy. And not terribly educational. But if people are into it, great. Let's just have some other options.
Most sex and videogames conjecture has been about either glorifying or bastardizing sexual content. There are few balanced perspectives: Brenda Braithwaite's work is very insightful, and Bonnie Ruberg has made quite a few contibutions, too. That's sort of not the point I'm trying to make, though. Sure, we could be more mature about sex and sexual imagery in games. But I sort of don't care about that stuff. I want us to ask, yet again, how can this incredible platform for persuasion be used for the greater good? How can we inform people, encourage safe play and experimentation... delight with escapism, encourage fantasy and role-playing... do all the things that we know video games are so good for?
So, brilliant Terra Novans... what games would you design to solve this problem?
Posting on behalf of former TN guest author Mark Wallace
This report comes from Travis Ross.
As I walked around GDC this week I was hard not to feel the power of the FTP/Microtransaction business model. Yes, companies like Intel, Sony, Crytek, and Ubisoft dominated the expo floor, but companies like Zynga and Playdom pushing behavioral metrics like ARPU, DAU, engagement, and retention seemed to dominate the discussion. Theories from behavioral economics and psychology along with multivariate testing are being applied and flouted as means to improve metrics, and design – to some extent – seems to be driven by metrics.
From these metrics and methods a dichotomy of industry professionals seems to have emerged. On one side are individuals who embrace the model of micro-transactions and metrics as a way to increase revenue and be successful. On the other are those who are concerned that these methods will lead them to making slightly more complicated slot machines. These are the professionals concerned with ethics and the suppression of creativity. For my last talk of GDC I attended a round-table discussion on monetization in games based around microtransactions. Two of the points discussed “What are you most paranoid about with this business model.” and “Where is the social games industry headed?” lead to animated and impassioned discussion about the ethics and creativity of game design.
Mike Ambinder of Valve spoke about using skin conductance and muscle movement to track player arousal and valence. One experiment had a timer counting down more quickly as the player gets more aroused. Stay calm to win! But since arousal is typically a good thing, I wondered why they didn't do this in Berserker mode. The more aroused you get, the more damage you do. RAWR!
Of course, we kind of knew that already, but Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation touches on WoW's number-centric play brilliantly.
I've been playing Cataclysm almost every day since it's release last month (minus some traveling days). At first, the abundance of "new" kept me going for a long while. Now that I've hit a little slump, waiting for the guild to get enough toons to start raiding, I'm in that part of the cyle where I reflect on the play a little and wonder why I was so sucked in. I think for me it was seeing everything there is to see, flying around in (new) Azeroth, leveling-up in the new zones, seeing the new dungeons, etc. I suppose I like exploring (though, I'm not an explorer, as I don't like typifying players; rather prefer typifying behavior).
But now that I've done that, what do I have to fall back on? Just numbers and the maximizing thereof? I sometimes think that every design decision in the last 5 years was purposefully done to narrow legitimate play, not just encouraging number play but normalizing it. I started on an RP server way back when, yet these days all I seem to be doing is theorycrafting (or, more precisely, consuming theorycraft). It makes me uncomfortable.
Even more uncomfortable is the thought that maybe the reason why no one seems to be able to compete with WoW is because they don't focus on number crunching as much... Is that true?
It's that time again... the persistent rush at the beginning of each new cycle of time to reflect and predict. Well, we like that sort of thing around here. Sometimes we're right, sometimes wrong. But we're always trying to draw out our inner oracles...
My 2011 (and onward) predictions:
- our small people will continue to overrun our Facebook accounts as they fiend for more and more digital bling, especially since Facebook apparently doesn't let kids under 13 have their own accounts. I will continue to shell out the credit card for $10 of 'presents' for my kid's best gamer friends. Perhaps this economic boom will fuel the 'maybe we will survive this media change!' mentality.
- the fantasy MMO reaches saturation levels except for the truly committed. This is not a lore problem, but a pattern matching one. Expect regeneration in 5-10 years or when the new LOTR movie comes out. Oh wait. Guild Wars 2. Does war count as fantasy?
- more 'brand-affirming' virtual worlds. Some might be good.
- more alternative/augmented reality and transmedia MMOs (mobile plus tv plus Kinect plus books plus movies plus 3D-everything). More and more exodus.
- more sci fi, speculative fiction, near term possibility exploration (simulation, as predicted by Ted eons ago)
- Is the MMO inside out yet? More and more I find myself gaming with people like my ex mother-in-law (lovely woman, not a gamer of any description tho!)
- More worlds, fewer games? (does Facebook count as a world?)
- The phrase 'casual gaming' will die as everyone begins to game, casually and otherwise. Already so in South Korea (I find it useful to consider parts of Asia as possible reflections of our future(s)).
- The gaming industry will more fully begin to fund and rely on research.
There are far too many of my interests resurrected in this post. Please add your favorite memes and join me in documenting our predictions! (how will we otherwise remember?)
[nepotism alert: I do work at Microsoft, but not currently in games. However I have been hearing about Kinect for a long time, under the codename Project Natal, whispered around the usability labs with a reverance usually limited to the more deserving nirvana or mecca.]
Moving your body instead of your controller(s) creates a range of viscera that surely denote a million possible magic circles. Sure Wii paved the way and some may continue to like that experience, but this is true evolution. The controller-less interface liberates developers to entertain any possibility for interaction. Select the best aspects, refine them, imagine what’s possible, and what people want that they don’t even know they want.
I have been watching my kid play since digital Santa delivered the magic device: dancing, delighted, shouting AWESOME!! repeatedly, enchanted by the physical experiences enabled by a small black bar, with wonder shouting ‘Mommy, I can fly!!’, nurturing pets and programming hamsters to compliment her in the way she loves. Always, always MOVING! ‘You can do two players and you don’t have to select anything, the second person can just jump right in!’, she crows. Techno-ambivalent auntie is even awed as they play dodgeball with one person controlling legs and another controls arms.
I'm enchanted in a somewhat uncustomary way: gamer-me, parent-me, vain-me (unboring exercise!), citizen-me and educator-me. We’re living in the future, people.
And now we have it, a Kinected WoW. Next time you see me: 30 pounds lighter.
The other day, a reporter asked me whether video games are art, and thus the waves of Roger Ebert's lately weakly retracted opinion to the contrary crash lap upon our shores. If Roger Ebert can offer a strong opinion just for the heck of it, so can we! So let's dive in.
Here's my take: Good art is shocking, interesting and true.
Shocking: It takes you out of your normal mode of thinking. It forces consideration and reflection.
Interesting: It draws you in. You find yourself unable or unwilling to ignore it.
True: It accords with a proper understanding of the human condition. It pierces the shell of your biases and immaturities, allowing you to come upon thoughts that are neither lies nor myths but rather subtle and profound insights.
Are video games capable of being shocking, interesting, and true?
I have recently taken over shipwright duties (with greglas' help), re-skinned TN, and added some social media bling. You should expect to see some more changes in the next day or two. Perhaps more widgets (like a library, links to papers, conference calendar, etc. etc. etc.)
As TN lives on Typepad, this is really only a superficial change of template and layout. If you have any comments/suggestions/feedback, please post below!
Flipping the switch to the new design now!
(image is a Wordle of our RSS feed)
Gustavus Adolphus thought so. The great King and General used flexible military formations to create Sweden's great empire. (Sweden had an empire? Who knew?) Today, the US military prefers guided missiles, robots, and drones to heavy artillery. Flexibility results in a W many times simply because it adapts to changing circumstances, and there's nothing like a conflict for generating those. Moreover, people seem to fall into mental comfort zones that lead to big, expensive, heavy, cumbersome resources, sure-things, that run along on rails and have the capacity for decimating anything in their path. That's great, so long as the things you're targeting agree to step in front of you. Flexible enemies won't.
Square Enix, developers of Final Fantasy XIV, have gambled that most people don't really think of flexibility as power. In this video (thanks to Travis Ross for the link), they explain their new solution for a rather intractable problem: When you put millions of people in a game with levels, some of those people burn through the levels quickly, others more slowly. Real life is like that, too. Name an achievement area; no matter what it is, some people zoom right to the top, the rest of us plod along. It's because we all have different resources: Some have more time than others, some understand fighting with pikes and muskets better than others, some are taller, some have a brain well-adapted to grasping the intricacies of Lady Gaga's social circle while others of us do not.
Such inequalities in skill are inevitable; they are part of being human. Are inequalities in outcomes also therefore inevitable?
Disclaimer: I confess to being a fangirl of NCSoft, publishers of City of Heroes, which I studied for about 5 years. They have also published the Lineages, the original Guild Wars and Aion.
- accessible to the 'casual', newbie MMO gamer.
- highly instanced combat (Sir Richard cringed).
- grouping that includes NPC mercenaries.
- very beautiful emotes like the Monk's dance. Amazing landscapes, architecture, everything.
- alternative play modes allowing high-level play for the low-level n00b.
- observer mode: enjoy the gank gladiator-style, you emerge un-scathed.
- 'no loot stealing, spawn camping, and endless travel'.
- guild capes (I confess to leaving guilds if they had ugly designs that didn't match my outfits. How shallow of me!)
I have more than a few opinions about what an exciting, 21st century MMO might encompass. Happy to say it appears that true evolution is in the works. Deviations/expansions of established MMO conventions in Guild Wars 2:
- Doing away with the grind. Not all will agree this is a good thing, but as my kid says, there is nothing worse than a videogame that is both 'hard and BORING'.
- New character classes (professions) like the Ranger.
- Personalized story-lines. NPCs remember you. You are not on the exact same quest path as everyone else, with the same goals, outfits, spells, items, etc. at the same levels.
- Cause and effect prevail, personal agency is paramount. Changes you effect on the environment persist.
- Dynamic events, a mechanic that has worked very well for CoX.
- PvP in non-zoned, non-instanced areas. Huge-scale world vs world combat events.
- Variations on healing and death rituals.
And for the techno-geeky among you, it's all being built on a new physics engine, Havok, that allows the designers and developers to more fully realize their conceptual vision:
We're creating a world, and what's the point of exploring a world if
there isn't the awe and wonder, you know? We try to create those moments
of awe and wonder. - Jeff Grubb, ArenaNet
For those of you who don't readily embrace change, Guild Wars servers will continue running, and an ongoing free trial is on offer.
Any predictions on the effect on social dynamics, innovations that are likely to stick, etc? Other games trying new things? My kid, for instance, is obsessed with Wizards 101, a pay-for-stuff-the-kid-MUST-have MMO that creates accessibility and safety for the semi-literate aspiring gamer.
I think things are about to get very exciting in Videogame Land. To over-use an over-used term, epic!
More on GW2:
It's April 1! But this isn't an April Fool's post (though there are plenty around). It's April, so it's Spring! Literally and metaphorically we seem to have come through a long hard winter. At the end of 2007 here on TN I wrote about the possibility of a virtual world winter, and Bruce Damer wrote similarly in 2008. Since then there have been some hard times, as well as a huge amount of growth in online games -- just not so much in virtual worlds or traditional MMOGs. In that area World of Warcraft continues to dominate, while other major efforts struggle and dwindle.
Over on my blog I've been posting more frequently recently, including some thoughts on the end of this virtual world winter -- punctuated by the demise of three different and significant virtual world efforts. My conclusion is that yes, we've been through a tough winter, and now it's coming to an end -- but the new growth blooming all around us isn't perhaps quite what many of us, steeped in prior generations of virtual worlds, would have expected.
We're certainly seeing unprecedented growth in online games, though many of these remain fairly primitive (and early examples were sometimes ethically questionable). I don't believe we're going to return to the days of huge multi-tens-of-millions-of-dollar-budgets any time soon (though they aren't all gone yet), or to the all-inclusive all-immersive MMOGs and VWs that many here have come to know, love, research, and even defend vociferously.
I believe instead that this new generation brings with it new forms of growth, just as MMOGs and VWs were once new. These new games and proto-worlds are primitive just as many early MMOs were, but are also developing in fascinating ways, from both economic and psychological perspectives.
Welcome to Spring.
About two weeks ago, I told Ren that I'd write up a post about the Stern v. Sony decision, which was issued early last month. This is a case where a federal court essentially answered the title question of this post. The answer, at least according to this particular court, is "no."
(who appears to have lost the keys to this place)
"World of Warcraft UI Add-On Development Policy Blizzard announced a WoW UI Add-On Development Policy for World of Warcraft addons today. Among other things, the policy that all addons be distributed free, unobfuscated, and it bans them from advertising in-game.
In a few short hours, a very lengthy -- and sometimes overheated -- discussion (http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=15864747207&sid=1) has started to take place on the game's UI forums about everything from the causes that prompted Blizzard to take this action, to legal and moral issues surrounding such a policy, to the real-world mechanics of how some mod authors make the transfer from for-fun to for-profit addon development.
In collaboration with the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) in the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the SWI at Indiana University has developed a tool for collecting survey data within Second Life. The usual protocol with such surveys is to attract respondents in-world and then send them to a web page to complete the survey. This is a poor protocol because it causes attrition and breaks immersion. It is usually necessary, however, because objects in SL usually cannot serve questions quickly and clearly enough. The Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI) is an SL object that optimizes question delivery and data retention so that the respondent experience is very close to the typical experience with web surveys. It allows respondents to quickly complete surveys while remaining in-world. We think it is the only tool in SL with this feature, but maybe one is out there and we just haven't heard of it.
The VDCI draws on existing formal survey protocols developed by scholarly survey-creation experts. It extends these protocols into the virtual realm, creating a new protocol that can be termed Virtual Assisted Self-Interviewing (VASI). VASI represents an early step into the future of rigorous in-world data collection from users of virtual worlds.
This working paper describes both the protocol and the tool. Questions or comments? The corresponding author on this project is Mark W. Bell (typewritermark 8t gmail d0t com).
I ran a roundtable session at IMGDC last weekend on the subject of "Government Interference: How Much Can you Take?". The way it worked, I presented a number of scenarios in turn, ramping up each one of them to see when (if ever) the situation would become so intolerable that it would stop the attendees from ever wanting to develop an MMORPG.
Some things were irritating, but not so irritating that they'd cause the assembled developers and designers to give up. For example, government requirements for tracking every single transaction to prevent fraud fell into this category: it adds a huge overhead, but it's something people can just about live with.
There were two proposals, however, which hit the abandon ship button for everyone. Both of these are ones I've seen advocated a number of times, included here on TerraNova.
I attended the Metaverse Roadmap workshop last week at Stanford, and I was pleased to hear Mitch Kapor touting the benefits of gestural input for virtual worlds (see Dan's blog post). I was especially excited when he said you can (almost) buy "3D webcams" - cameras plus an infrared depth sensor - for only $39! (Not sure if he was talking about the ZCam specifically). A couple of years ago, when Richard Marks of the Sony EyeToy team visited PARC and demonstrated their "real-time motion capture" for games, he said 3D cameras still cost $20,000!
Now I don't know if gestural interfaces will revolutionize computing in general, but I'm very excited about the new possibilities they create for 3D avatar control. As I've written about before, avatars will never be fully expressive until they are enabled with free gesticulation. With 3D cameras and real-time motion-capture techniques, "Players could use their own bodies and faces as joysticks in puppeteering their avatars." Currently in MMOs, gesture and facial expression are limited to a pre-specified library of commands (/bow, /wave, /point, /smile, /wink, etc.). Imagine if text chat were like this? What if you could only send chat messages by selecting them from a pre-specified library of phrases (like chat between strangers in ToonTown)? This would be severely limiting in terms of communication and expression. However, that's the current state of avatar gesture in virtual worlds.
We're starting to see a convergence of virtual worlds and social networking sites in the new wave of virtual "social" worlds (e.g., Kaneva, vSide, Virtual MTV) and new 3D Facebook applications (ActiveWorlds, Gaia Online). This might be dismissed as fad. After all, everyone is either trying to replicate or piggyback on the success of America's #3 (MySpace) and #9 (Facebook) top-visited websites. World of Warcraft's 10 million users is impressive indeed, but MySpace has 30 times that. However, I think there is more to a convergence than mere hype. I see some interesting similarities and possible synergies between virtual worlds and social networking sites but also some important differences that could make integration tricky.
There is an insightful interview of Sulka Haro, the lead designer of Habbo Hotel by Brandon Sheffield on Gamasutra. The interview covers a broad range of issues and may be of interest for who-ever is intrigued by "gameless games" or the "social web" or the evolution of the game industry as a whole. It's not all about MMOs but it shows how the topic overlaps with other themes such as social software, multiple on-line identity or scrum development etc.
Often when I write about games, I'm interested in an experiential perspective on play and in the kinds of social and political structures that evolve within virutal worlds, but TN readers probably have noticed that I'm equally drawn to questions about design processes, about the authorship of digital games.
Last month, I had the pleasure to co-organize a small event in Seoul about digital and physical space, and how technologies reshape them. One of the speaker, Jake Song gave an interesting talk about the evolution of "virtual space" in multi-player games. A South Korean programmer, regarded as one of the greatest game developers in Korea, Jake is one the of the creator of Lineage and is now CEO of XL Games.
While the idea of trading card tie-ins is not new, Rory Starks, one of the designers and artists of Arden, reports that Sony will make a trading card game that is played from within the MMO. There are some new issues. Rory's analysis:
**** BEGIN QUOTE***
EverQuest: Legends of Norrath: Oathbound: The Trading Card Game
During the Fan Faire MMO event a couple of weeks ago, SOE president John Smedley revealed a new trading card game based on the Everquest franchise – "Legends of Norrath: Oathbound". At first glance, this news was not too entirely exciting considering that EQ fans can play the EverQuest pen-and-paper RPG, various spinoff games, and they can even light up their cigarettes with EQ-emblazoned Zippo lighters (provided they have the requisite skills in fire crafting). On the other hand, what was interesting about this announcement was that Smedley revealed that the game is online-only and played from within EverQuest 1 and 2. Players can purchase cards and construct decks inside the two games and then challenge other players to a game. There will eventually be a standalone client so that players can even play the game outside of the two EQ titles (and without having to have a subscription).
People log in and go to a place in cyberspace for a reason. Recent posts suggest that this place doesn't have to exist before they go there (and it could disappear when they leave). Each place, though will have a tone or atmosphere to it. To some extent this is the result of the software developers' intent, but many systems allow the user varying degrees of control over this atmosphere. I remember when it was a big deal that AW had implemented fog. Not a computer game fan myself, I didn't understand why this would move people. In retrospect, I think they wanted the worlds to look like their favorite games and they recognized that implementing fog can make for more intimate spaces, and I think they just wanted more control.
As a scientist, science communicator, and artist, I got into virtual worlds as a means of communicating scientific data; I got to play in the first CAVE installation at Supercomputing in the 90s, put VRML data worlds online in ‘95 (no one could see them, of course). Now I am most to see how teens and tweens create their own places (from homes to playgrounds to knowledge spaces and games) and how teachers and other educators adjust to seeing this new medium as a tool for more traditional learning—is this changing? I think so, truly. But the question remains: Where’s the Beef?
The title of this post is also the title of my thesis on IBM’s 3D Internet initiative, of which I would like to share some of the discussions as my final post as a TN guest author. My arguments are within the frameworks of Network Society & Innovation Strategies, and User Driven Vs. Community Driven Innovation.
Lord of the Rings Online just had its first major content patch since going live. In addition to a major new zone and a lot of new quests, there have been numerous tweaks, adjustments and changes to the look and feel of the gameplay.
One small change that caught my eye--or rather, my ear--was the removal of various shouts and yells that accompanied the use of some class abilities, particularly one used by captains.
In terms of my consistent interest in how structures of play and sociality form and solidify in synthetic worlds after their "initial condition", this change raises some intriguing questions.
Almost exactly a year ago I asked whether virtual world makers with significant economies and RMT should "'open their books' about how their economies operate, given how much control they have over the conditions and mechanisms of those economies." Today, via the New York Times, comes this account that suggests that the makers of EvE Online have answered in the affirmative.
Hallo, TN readers.
For some time now I have been processing thoughts on the matter of, if virtual world facilitation of real world social connections and interactions is a previously somewhat unknown essential key to success, which game designers need to have stronger focus on in the future? I guess my question asked, positions me as part of the “suits”, with a question to the “talents” as categorized by fellow guest author Robert Bloomfield, and also reverses Roberts direction arrow of real world actions migrating into virtual worlds, to an apposite scenario of whether virtual world interactions migrating into the real world prolongs the lifetime of the virtual world because of those potentially new bridging connections.
The discussion of Nate Combs' recent post about the current hubbub over at EVE Online made me think a bit about the process of design in virtual worlds. Many scholars with an interest in synthetic worlds have studied some aspect or another of design, and some of us have done design work at some level or another. There are also a number of articulate designers who provide a window of some kind into problems, issues and processes in design. There are entire curricula devoted to design, and books written to accompany those curricula.
But do we have a lengthy, detailed narrative account of the design process from initial concept to live management of a single major existing commercial synthetic world, basically an insider's history of an existing world? I can't really think of anything that comes close, just fan-dancer glimpses of the underlying flesh and bone behind existing games. There are studies of Second Life underway that might address this, but I think the kind of sub-creation and user participation that is a basic part of Second Life, not to mention the much more consciously introspective attitude of Linden, makes it very different than the other synthetic worlds out there in processual terms.
So right now I'm mainly talking about gamers with mobility limitations (could include a whole range of things) but a lot of these controllers can help those with severe learning disabilities depending on the level of the game and the type of learning disability.
Yes. I am advertising a service but at the same time I'm letting you know about a resource called One Switch by London game enthusiast and SIG member, Barrie Ellis. Not only does he sell accessible gaming solutions in his shop, Barrie has helped the DIY (Do-It Yourself) hobbiest with a DIY page with detailed information and also a blog. But something you really need to look over is his excellent page on physical barriers in video gaming: problems and solutions.
Everyone loves user-created content in virtual worlds. It’s the flavor of the month and a key feature in several new and upcoming worlds. It’s arguably what has made Second Life so popular. Linden Labs has estimated that it has the equivalent of 5100 full-time content creators working for it on content, all for free! How can that be a bad thing?
Some friends and I were talking about this recently, and the question came to me: if everyone loves user-created content and SL is so popular, why do so many people complain of the place feeling so lonely?
The answer: it’s the content, stupid.
One of the central features of the public securities market is that it forces the disclosure of all manner of information that otherwise would be commercial-in-confidence that would never become public. David Grundy alerted us to the recent prospectus by Interplay which details the financials for the development of the MMO version of Fallout.
The headliner is the cost structure for developing and publishing a high-end MMO, for a total cost of US$75M. A few interesting aspects of this...
In Richard Bartle's recent item on First Principles a number of interesting discussions have come up that deserve to be looked at on their own. One of these is the question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) is necessary, preferable, or even possible in online worlds. What do you think?
Because we haven't had a crazy, abstract, whacked-out design thread for a while...
One of the things that bugs me about virtual worlds (game-like ones in particular) is how the paradigm doesn't really change much. We still get designers discussing what classes and races their world will have, without having considered whether they need classes or races at all.
So here's a question: given the absolute minimum that you need to have a virtual world, how can you extend that in ways that don't take us back to Second Life or World of Warcraft?
First off, a big woot to the 25 nations who have joined the TerraNova region of NationStates, the MMO (but not quite virtual world) that occupied parts one and two of this three-part series. Those first installments dealt with a couple of interesting NationStates game mechanics and how they might be ported to a more "worldy" MMO like WoW. This final part looks at what to me is most interesting: a mechanic through which NationStates rewards players for roleplaying their nations in the game's forums.
Discussions of emergent types of game play and questions about whether MMOs are more than “just a game” have made my anthropology senses tingle. In a previous post I brought up ritual but now I’m beginning to wonder why games aren’t tapping into all the different kinds of human culture that encourage human sociality?
Interactivity, room for player controlled practices in-game, a sense of realism and participation in a “living, breathing” worlds all seem to be major VW design goals reflected by the drive for ever better graphics – yet it seems that content writers and designers inevitably fail to acknowledge what it is that makes us human. Although MMO back-stories are often extraordinarily rich and detailed, where is the “culture”?
If you've visited the TerraNova region of NationStates lately, you'll see that its grown to a whopping 11 nations in the little more than a week since the first post in this short series of thought experiments in hypothetical game design. For this second post, I want to look at the interplay between the UN "resolutions" that member nations are are asked to vote on and the way that collective decision-making affects the NSUN's individual members. To me it's a simple and interesting game mechanic that could perhaps be extended to cover more functional aspects of an MMO game. But that's for you to decide.
I'd like to launch a series of three thought experiments in hypothetical game design by introducing you to The Incorporated States of Walkering Industries, where the nation's children are widely acknowledged as the most foul-mouthed in the region, employers may fire workers without giving any reason, citizens can be frequently spotted going about their business stark naked, and married couples must call each other "darling" or risk a fine. How did Walkering Industries get this way? Because of the decisions its leader (that's me) made in the massively multiplayer online game (but not quite virtual world) known as NationStates, in which players take the helm of individual nations, enact legislation affecting their citizens, and may join a virtual United Nations whose collective decisions also affect their virtual populations.
I bring up NationStates not to examine it as a virtual world (for indeed it is not, lacking any aspect of "presence"), but to examine in turn three interesting gameplay mechanics it incorporates, and to ask whether these might be brought into a more "worldy" MMOG (such as WoW) in an engaging and enjoyable fashion.
The first one I want to think about is known as Regional Influence.
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.
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?
Just got back from the Austin Game Conference where I heard several interesting talks. A major theme this year was of course the commercial success of World of Warcraft and the reasons for it. Rob Pardo, lead designer for WoW, gave a keynote on "Blizzard's Philosophy and the Success of WoW" (see Gamasutra summary). Also, Damion Schubert, Lead Combat Designer, Bioware gave a talk titled "Moving Beyond Men in Tights" (see Raph's summary) in which he outlined what makes the fantasy-combat-grind formula of most MMOs work. There was much overlap between these two talks so I've taken the liberty of lumping several of the factors they mentioned together in one list (below). Although there's not really much news here, I think this list is a nice summary of currently popular MMO design principles.
I was idly browsing for some information about Pirates of the Burning Sea the other day, and ran across this bit of information about how Flying Lab Software is looking to integrate the internet meme du jour, "user-created content", with a traditional MMOG design. Here's what they say:
We put the player community in the designer's seat. Using industry standard tools, you can create new textures and even 3-D models and submit them to the peer-reviewed web site for incorporation into the game. And you own what you create - if you design a new sword hilt or throne or sail design texture, you can make it freely available or charge for it within the game world. Earn in-game income from the sales of your designs! Or keep them to yourself and customize your own unique gear to the nth degree.
This paragraph is fascinating to me, because it manages to capture almost all of the most difficult aspects of player-created content within MMOG gamespaces, and all within a few lines.
Dan Terdiman has a story over at CNet on Second Life's server architecture, and the way in which servers are loaded generally in the MMOG arena. References to our Cory Ondrejka and Mike Sellers, and some interesting questions about balancing and server architecture design.