When I was a wee lad, the turnaround time for a piece of research was 5-6 years. From the first idea to the day it appeared in a journal. We now see functional models in game analytics that address practical social science problems in a couple months. Seems fast! But isn't fast enough. Game builders are making decisions hourly as their player bases shift and roil.
I wonder if we are on the wrong track in game analytics. We are using big data sociology, economics, and public policy as our models. Maybe the right model is meteorology. The weather is a vast complex system whose properties we need to interrogate on an hourly basis. Game companies are just the first to confront the problems of providing governance on an hourly basis. Also on an individualized basis. For a whole society, whose membership constantly shifts. It is a mind boggling problem and It seems that every time analytics catches up , the time scale has shifted down an order of magnitude.
Action and Virtue
Robert George in the April edition of the magazine First Things makes a case for limited government that relies on an Aristotelian view of human flourishing. For Aristotle, he says, "flourishing consists in doing things, not just in getting things, or having desirable or pleasant experiences, or having things done for you." You have to act to be well. Active entertainment is better for people than passive entertainment.
To do things in games would probably not be accorded the same respect by Aristotle as to do them in real life, I suppose. Not at first glance anyway. On the other hand, with real life as systematized as it is, and so loaded with powerful incentives, can we truly say that the average person has significant scope of action there? Whereas game designers as I heard today are planning entire worlds that respond organically to what we do. Moreover, the most significant actions we take are and always have been social and local: spouses and children and friends.
We flourish better playing games than watching TV. But real life is better than both, because it has touch. Of course, some day the games on computers will become the game of daily life; we will one day be playing games with touch. I hope this development helps people flourish better than they do now.
Next steps for AI
Games will become more reactive to us. The industry is beginning to build systems to produce environments that react in novel ways to the user. A World
Manager that directs your experience. Entities that analyze statistics before making choices. Game objects that dynamically acquire new properties. Props that think. Even small scale developers can build these things. The tools are making it possible.
Game education is scaling rapidly
Just saw a report from RIT, UCSC, and Northeastern about their efforts to build game programs. The meta data here is astounding. Ten years ago, nobody had anything. They launched little programs over significant opposition. The demand for places however vastly exceeded supply. The programs grew and now, top level support is creating huge cross campus centers to serve playable, interactive, game media.
If you've never been to this conference or E3, the first thing that impresses you is the scale. Gigantic and global. I still have trouble grasping how big the business of designing play has become.
This talk is by the CEO of Kongregate. It's about retaining players for the long run. She reminds us that games like EverQuest are still making money after a decade. Time scales are bigger than you realize too.
Let's all go back to 2007 when blogs were proto-tweets. This week I'll be sending stuff from the Game Developers Conference. My iPad doesn't support Typepad's nice text editing features so its just going to be plain text, no cutesy images and all that. Links? No, I can't do that either without writing <a href etc. etc. and the iPad of course buries HTML braces in its third keyboard. If youre interested in following up n something, Just Google it and you'll find it I guess. And this mode doesn't autocorrect either. Typos and bad grammar on the way.
Stop being so negative, you ninny! It's GDC, the funniest conference ever! So many arrogant old guys who never got a degree and make more money than anyone. They know what works and what won't work with players. They can tell stories, they know where the industry's bodies are buried. Then there are the hordes of indie boys and enterprenoors, with their carefully-chosen scruff, hoping against hope that their artistic talent and genius will finally be discovered. The women - both of them - are either wearing way too little and getting good money for that, or wearing a semi permanent look of disgust at being once again, fifty percent object / fifty percent person to those around them. Then there are people like me, outsider wannabes, lined up to get tshirts, lined up to get 30 seconds with that one guy from Blizzard, lined up to get a seat at the restaurant everyone goes to. O, the tag scanning that goes on! The name dropping! The project puffing!
But this happens at ever major conference. You should see the American Economic Association. Actually, no, you shouldn't. You're not ready. But the same stuff goes on, I am smarter than you, that guy looks important what does his tag say, rare girls, who is going to what restaurant with whom. It's what people do at conventions.
But the subject of an economics conference is economics fer cryin out loud, an area of thought that wandered into a cave and remains there, doing nothing. The talks - how boring! The dinners - how dry! The atmosphere - how chalky!
Not so at the GDC. It's actually pretty exciting. The social conventions of conventions, for all their soul-crushing effects, recede into the background as you experience yet another year of amazing innovation in games. Ok, so the industry is having a down year. Big deal! Is having a down year because the same changes that are killing profits in music and movies are having their inevitable effect on games. So what! Technology continues to distribute the capability to make stuff. Entertainment keeps getting better.
I'm just finishing up a book and I finally sensed a theme for it, maybe it applies here too. We are living in a time when technology is making our imagination ever more concrete. I'll try to carry that around and see how it fits at the conference.
Sent from my iPad
Conferences are boring, I want to play games
I know everyone has been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to spend money to get one of my papers. The wait is over!!!
It's this paper where I say "Instead of having talks at conferences, can we have games?" I don't know, I find talks so boring. I just get antsy. And it seems to me that the real work at conferences gets done outside the context of the talks anyway. So I had this idea that you could get rid of the talks and replace them with board games. During a board game, Player A is thinking while Players B, C, and D chat. That's where the work gets done. To publicize the work, and make it common knowledge, this conference would have a cheesy idea market and a pecha kucha at the end.
Now if someone organized a conference like this I would probably want to come. No matter the topic, you know? Hey it's a conference on abdominal secretions in mollusks, but you get to play biology-themed Eurogames for a day. Dominant Species, Evo, Pandemic. Cool! I would totally go to that.
Valve Economist on EconTalk
Economist Russ Roberts runs EconTalk, a rather cool series of podcasts on edgy topics in economics. These are the guys who brought you the Keynesian-Monetarist rap debate. What's not to love? Well, they've got a great interview with Valve's economist Yanis Varoufakis.
It's important for non-specialists to be aware that Econ is having problems right now. Different people point to different issues, and they point in different ways forward. From my brief interactions with Dr. Varoufakis, I'm convinced that he's pointing in a good direction and is very much worth listening to. Perhaps the most exciting thing about him is his career choice. At Valve, he can do economic science however he wishes. I can almost guarantee that good stuff will result.
Now, how to get Valve to tell the rest of us about it....?
Fun with mapping
Holy smokes, but someone did a real Mapping test using SimCity and his hometown's traffic. It's not exactly rigid science, but this is the sort of application I've been hoping to see since writing this thing.
Virtual sports offer better betting
As you may know, football (soccer, not handegg) is broken. The game as designed is strategically light (not enough scoring, too much luck - from a Euro game? How odd) and it has fallen victim to two unrelated forms of corruption, the unelected-international-body corruption that plagues the Olympics and the UN, and the big-money corruption that plagues US college sport and politics. Football would have doping scandals too, but FIFA is only just now getting around to it.
Who in their right mind would wager money on professional football? It's like betting on the outcome of a novel.
No matter. If real sports are broken, virtual sports can be pure. Head on over to Ladbroke's to bet on Virtual World Cup 2010. It runs anew every 20 minutes. Don't wait years, only to experience such execrable moments as this and this. You can encounter the beautiful game right now, in a way that somewhat lives up to its name - if only in virtual form.
Question: Why is 3rd Party RMT Evil?
Tom Mason blogs at the Nosy Gamer and is intrigued by CCP's ongoing efforts to combat botting and 3rd party RMT. It does seem strange, given CCP's libertarian philosophy, they they would actively resist trade in these limited cases.
Years ago I wrote a model that treated botting and farming as a pollution effect. Using hypothetical numbers, I showed that these things can be very costly to ordinary gamers; their fun is degraded. Tom asked me to reconsider and possibly update the analysis. His questions and my responses are below the fold.
Amazon launches virtual currencyLarry Dignan at ZDnet reports on Amazon's new money. The company sells everything, but the Amazon Coin will initially be used only for apps in the company's Kindle Fire platform. Still, if they build the currency, they can use it for anything else that they do. That means, the only reason you cannot use the Amazon Coin to buy this Batman Apron, this pumice stone, or this wood chipper is because Amazon has decided against it. For now.
World's biggest bank in 2023: Starbucks?
Square. Square has invented a smooth, cheap, flexible virtual transaction system. Paypal works only online. Dollars work only offline or online through expensive credit card companies. Square instantly makes offline transactions into online ones, utilizing small-computer technology.Your smartphone talks to Square.
Square and Starbucks have struck a payments deal. As an astute analyst has pointed out, Starbucks can now use the Square system to extend the purchasing power of Stars. Square's technology doesn't see a difference between dollars and Stars, at least not natively. I suppose there will eventually be a regulation. But for now, there's no reason why Starbucks cannot issue Stars at will, and allow people to spend their Stars through Square on anything you can buy in Square. Which is, anything.
Square opens the doors for all loyalty credits to acquire general economic liquidity. There may be a first-mover advantage, in which case, Starbucks wins. Move over, Fed: Here comes coffee cash.
How fractured the world - Wolf's Building Imaginary Worlds
Early in Mark Wolf's awesome new book about subcreation, he makes note of Eco's discussion of cult products. Wolf highlights the fact that a good cult film is not necessarily completely coherent. Rather, it has chunks and pieces that allow the audience to participate in creation. A good world is not a clean story from end to end, its a lattice with hooks for people to hang other things. As we all know from building toys, anything you hang on a hook should itself be a hook.
A few weeks ago, we discussed what makes good computer game worlds different from the current over-designed worlds we are getting. It's not necessarily free-form play or anything, but rather the presence or absence of features that provide hooks for our own immersion. A huge sandy desert is a great sandbox but, pace ATITD, is not a great world. A game filled with narratives and achievement ladders is also not a great world. A game with a million loose ends is not a great world. A game that has ends that are not loose but rather awaiting further development or discovery is the ticket. If there are mountains at the edge of the place space, we should not be told that over the mountains is "a place nobody goes." We should be told that "Across the mountains lie the sands of Khalibar; people who go there never come back. We do not know what happens to them." That's why it is so disheartening to open a new game and pop up the map, and see the entire world including a clearly defined boundary, beyond which is nothing. Once I see my progress on that map, I can't help extrapolate and sense how long it takes to explore the whole thing. It's kind of like, for an achievement player to kill the first mob and, from that experience, get a good guess as to how the final boss fight will go. Deflates the mystery. So: Get rid of the boundaries!
Anyways, you shoujld pick up and read Building Imaginary Worlds. You'd be surprised how many cool worlds there have been prior to Ultima.
The Decline of Worlds
Simon Ludgate documents the experience of another big-ticket MMOG, Star Wars, the Old Republic. Like many others, this one is going from subscription to free-to-play. Ludgate characterizes this as failure. While it certainly is the failure of the revenue model, it may not mean failure of the IP. F2P products make plenty of money.
But before we conclude that to use subscriptions is to fail, consider venerable EVE. She has reached new population milestones in her old age, having never abandoned the old subscription model.
I think something cognitively different happens when we enter a world as opposed to a game. People will pay subscriptions for a world. They will not play subscriptions for a game. MMOGs interpreted WoW's success as a call to improve the game elements of virtual worlds. But they have overdone it. Today's MMOGs are all game, no world. Thus no one is willing to pay a subscription for them.
What makes a world different from a game? Well, in a world, there's downtime and exploration and life. Downtime is, moments when there's nothing to do. You just be. And it is nonetheless interesting. Exploration is, you go places simply to see things, to discover them. You don't get a reward, you just go look. It's a cave with artwork in the bottom, and nothing else. It's a desert to cross, in which there's an oasis with a palm and an interesting little bear who sings rhymes. And nothing else. Life is, when you go to a place and there are people just being there. They're not on a quest, they're not grinding a craft, they're not shopping. They are simply being.
Current MMOGs have lost elements like this, believing them to be boring. EVE has them in spades. So EVE can charge subscriptions - people like to quasi-live in EVE. Nobody wants to quasi-live in SWTOR, or, it is not possible to just live there. You can't live on a race track. Race tracks are for racing. You go around a few times and quit. Why subscribe to that?
Evans v. Linden class certifiedThe Evans v. Linden Second Life virtual property class action lawsuit has overcome the class certification hurdle. No time for a full post, but Rebecca Tushnet covers the case here.
Micro rewards have weird effects on decisions
Most games use a sequence of little rewards to nudge players around. This is very different from most salary and hiring and review structures, which are big rewards in big intervals. Much has been made about the power of the games approach and how it should be used everywhere. To date (I haven't been looking very hard), I'd not seen a hard analysis of how a sequence of little payments might affect the quality of decisions. Do they help people solve new problems? Do they help people remember what they are doing, and transfer the learning to other situations?
Here's a little experiment by economists Neilson, Price, and Shor that comes to these conclusions:
- If you give micro rewards when people are doing the right thing, they remember the right solution for the current problem and transfer it to similar problems. But they don't learn how to solve new problems.
- If you give micro rewards when people are doing the wrong thing, they get better at figuring out new problems, because they learn more about the dimensions of the problem (including bad strategies). But they don't remember much about the current problem and how to solve ones like it.
Resources for Designing Virtual Economies
Recently I've been hit up a few times for resources on virtual economy design. I haven't written that paper yet, nor has the other most prominent academic virtual economy guru, Vili Lehdonvirta. No, instead we decided to write a book on the subject, which should be coming out next year. Meanwhile, though, here are some links that will help.
And finally, I would keep a close eye on Valve Economics and Yanis Varoufakis
Virtual Currencies Appear on Central Bank RadarThe European Central Bank has issued a report on virtual currencies. There's nothing to worry about, they say. Virtual currencies are no threat to the real world, since they are small and not enmeshed with the real economy in a significant way. This reminds me of a story. An optimist falls off a 30-story building. Passing the 15th floor, he says "So far, so good." When he hits the ground he says "Wow, I didn't see THAT coming."
Hurricanes and Virtuality
Long ago (in internet time) Facebook began letting people give each other virtual gifts. Last month, Facebook enabled this virtual system to purchase and send tangible gifts. The world yawned. Therefore, Facebook announced it would have an event at FAO Schwarz in Noo York City! At this event, the world would learn how many exciting opportunities the Facebook Gift program would provide. Strikes me as a big coupon book, but hey. Anyways, Hurricane Sandy has come along and canceled the event.
I keep thinking of computing as a slow hurricane, massively forceful, irresistable, steadily raising the waters and drowning the old ways day by day. Each year the coast looks very different. But since most people live somewhat inland, all they notice are the streaking clouds and the thundering surf. "My house is safe," they say.
REAMDE and a thesis
Hello! Two sort of related things:
1) I'll be speaking with Neal Stephenson this evening at the University of Washington about his new book, REAMDE, focusing on the legal dimensions of gold farming and virtual property. The available seats seem to be booked at this point, but there's standing room -- more about that here.
On page 35 of REAMDE, Stephenson describes the way that Richard Forthrast, the book's protaganist (well, the main protaganist) hit upon the idea that made him rich -- a MMORPG that encourages gold farming and is premised on a stable virtual currency:
It didn’t take a huge amount of acumen, then, to understand that the value of virtual gold in the game world could be made stable in a directly analogous way: namely, by forcing players to expend a certain amount of time and effort to extract a certain amount of virtual gold (or silver, or diamonds, or various other mythical and magical elements and gems that the Creatives would later add to the game world).
Which sounds suspiciously like Bitcoin, no?
2) And speaking of Bitcoin and its intersection with virtual economies, earlier this month, Mark Jansen pinged Ted and I about his M.A. Thesis, recently submitted at Utrecht University. It is embedded below and it offers a whirlwind tour of Bitcoin, goldfarming, currency systems, cyberlibertarianism, etc. Very much of a piece with the themes of Stephenson's REAMDE and a nice intro to the issues.
Update: Worth reading from Technollama -- it seems like there's a very large amount of concentrated wealth in the Bitcoin economy.Bitcoin the Political Virtual of an Intangible Material Currency
Can I get a tax deduction for cheating?
About £34 million worth.
We can know whether we are in a simulationRemember the Bostrom argument from 2003? He argued that since technologies of simulation increase without limit, the only reason we would not be living in a higher power's simulation right now would be if that higher power simply did not enjoy making simulations. It's one of those asymptotic arguments - carry a thought out to infinity and the probability of something weird goes to 1. Do I understand it? Nah. But physicists in Germany argue that with current technology we should be able to detect whether this existence is a simulation - because of the physics of simulation. Do I understand that? Nah. But it is fun to think about.
More on the Exodus Recession: Technology, Entertainment, and Our Economic Doldrums
Interesting essay today by Robert Samuelson, a respected nonpartisan economist. He argues that our expectations are out of whack. During the 20th century, it was normal for an economy to grow, on average, several percent per year in real terms. This meant that when a crash came, it was followed by an energetic recovery. In the future, says Samuelson, we may have to get used to a zero-growth environment, and when recessions come, we may have to tone down our expectations of the recovery. It will just OK, just enough to get us back to zero.
As evidence, Samuelson cites a recent paper by Robert Gordon, a pretty eminent fellow. Gordon talks about technology and growth. Since 1800, technological advance has been associated with economic growth. The new stuff being built saved labor input, which was then put into the construction of other things. However, the most recent technological advances may not be growth-inducing. As Samuelson puts it, "Gordon sees the Internet, smartphones and tablets as tilted toward entertainment, not labor-saving."
This research puts some nuts and bolts and evidence on the table, making an exodus recession, a recession caused by people devoting more attention to digital things ("entertainment"), a little bit more than mere conjecture. Back to Samuelson though. He points out that an era of zero growth and massive inequality confronts our societies (he's talking about Europe, the US, Japan, everybody) with a completely different set of policy problems. For example, when an entitlement program is heading into bankruptcy, there are only two *painless* ways to save it. Either you have to have more babies (and hence more young contributors), or you have to make the workers you have more productive. But the developed world's culture is just not into babies any more. And that means, either we have to get productivity growth, or we'll be forced to dramatically cut benefits or dramatically raise taxes - just to stay solvent. Without productivity, the politics of the next 30 years look really, really ugly.
Which, by the way, will only encourage people to take refuge with even greater frequency in digital worlds, where every problem has a satisfying solution.
WaPo on Virtual Economies
Nice article on virtual economies, this weekend in the Washington Post. I still wonder about the economy. Here we have the Fed moving into unprecedented degrees of stimulus, after almost four years of huge deficit spending. The textbooks say that our economy should be screaming along by now. In fact, the textbooks I studied in the 1990s all would have judged the current policies to be dangerous. If you push a machine hard for a long time, they said, you're going to break the machine. But this machine won't run. The government is doing everything in its power to make the economy go, and it just sputters along. The rules must have changed. I keep wondering if we're seeing the first effects of a broad virtualizing of the economy. It doesn't take much to make an economy sputter. If the people simply decide to spend less money, even a couple of percent, it's enough to get the whole thing to sputter.
What have we come to expect of a "healthily growing economy," after all? We expect something like 1-3 percent real growth per year. That means, 4-6 percent measured growth, with 3-5 percent inflation. This is what we've enjoyed ("we" being the developed countries) since about 1800. Think about how different, how much richer, the world has become since 1800. From the standpoint of human history as a whole, a persistent 1-3 percent growth in wealth is extreme. It ain't normal in any way, shape, or form. Until 1800, and for most people in the world even now, "normal" meant subsistence. But we expect now to go beyond subsistence, persistently. We insist that this must be so, now and forever, indeed for everyone.
Folks in the Green movement might say that this is precisely the problem, that we have been growing too fast for too long and are now suffocating the planet with our flesh.
The vision of perpetual enrichment is internally consistent. If everyone is devoted to getting more stuff, their passions spur the economy to grow rapidly. Their demand for things create profit opportunities. The profit opportunities attract productive resources. Stuff gets made and sold. The profits enable people to pursue still more passions. The machine runs.
But virtuality throws a small wrench in the works: Satisfaction at extremely low cost. Suppose we discovered that we could satisfy all of our mental needs by sitting down in a quiet room and meditating. The economic consequences would be catastrophic, wouldn't they? A society of hermits needs food and a bunch of quiet rooms - that's it. Therefore a society moving toward hermitage will have an economy in free fall.
Now compare two groups of people: "Car People" and "Internet People." Car People are folks from the 1950s. They want big houses, fast cars, fine food, prestigious degrees, big families, high-powered jobs, and sexy sex. They want stuff to play with and they want stuff to happen, all the time. They are out and about. Internet People are folks from the 2000s. They want sugar and fat. They want freedom - from work, obligations, expectations. They want sexy sex (some things never change). They connect online, hang out at home, and commit to nobody and nothing. They hate ads and avoid them wherever possible. They want to pass the time as cheaply as possible.
Internet People are not hermits by any means, but they are a lot closer to hermitage than Car People. Their interest in the acquisition of material stuff may just be 10-20 percent lower than that of the generations before. They still want stuff, but they're happy to get it virtually. If that's true, then the turn to the virtual may explain why the economic machine just doesn't seem to run like it used to.
Spry Fox Attacks the Clones: Is Palpatine Behind This?
A few days ago, there was an interesting ruling in the Triple Town / Yeti Town game cloning case, a.k.a. Spry Fox, LLC v. Lolapps, Inc. Triple Town and Yeti Town are both casual puzzle apps where tile elements are assembled and evolve. Spry Fox had sought to license the game to the defendants, but the defendants pursued a cloning strategy instead. The litigation presents roughly the same sorts of legal issues as the current EA/Zynga dispute and the recent Tetris clone decision.
This particular case has been talked up pretty extensively in the blogosphere over the last year. For instance, James Grimmelmann had some thoughts about the early stages of the litigation and game cloning generally:
"if Triple Town flops on the iPhone because Yeti Town eats its lunch, at some point Dave and his colleagues won't be able to afford to spend their time writing games any more."
Eric Goldman weighed in yesterday on this new ruling, connecting it to the EA litigation:
"The Triple Town ruling suggests that Zynga probably can’t score a quick win."
Happy Birthday UO
Ultima Online was launched 15 years ago! Happy Birthday. How old is that exactly in MMO years?
Anyhoo, what are you all still doing here, go to Raph Koster's site and read some of the untold history: http://www.raphkoster.com/2012/09/25/ultima-online-is-fifteen/
In other news - Pandas.
Tolkien, Natural Law and Video Games
I wrote this paper as a talk for a symposium on Ethics and Games at DePauw University, organized by Harry Brown. I submitted to an academic journal (Ethics and Information Technology), but they rejected it. The reviewers said that an academic journal is not the place for a paper that cites Wikipedia and the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 rulebook. Well, you know, they're right. So I've just posted it on SSRN. And it's got 2 downloads! Yay!
As far as substance goes, here's the abstract, after the fold.
A reasonable remedy
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?
About a spaceship
He was killed.
Game Accessibility GuidelinesI'll just leave this here: www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com
A login attempt from the following location is currently awaiting your authorization.
City: Xinpu Region: 04
Hmm, I don't remember going to China earlier today for the express purpose of playing Guild Wars 2 - I think something odd is going on.
Using Games to Change BehaviorJim Cummings at Motivate.Play interviews Michael Kim, CEO of Kairos Labs. There's a science to this business, and Kim is on to it.
Game Cooperation Reduces Aggression
Gamasutra reviews recent research showing that even the most violent video games, when played cooperatively, reduce measured aggression.
Cool Job Opening at Bioware
The state of the virtual economy is such that we now see the following kinds of job openings. Oh to be 20-something again! Check out this one:
The BioWare Label is a division of EA which crafts high quality multiplatform role-playing, MMO, social, play-for-free, and strategy games, focused on emotionally engaging, rich stories with unforgettable characters and vast worlds to discover. Since 1995, BioWare has created some of the world's most critically acclaimed titles and franchises, including Baldur's Gate™, Neverwinter Nights™, Star Wars®: Knights of the Old Republic™, Jade Empire™, Mass Effect™, and Dragon Age™. BioWare currently operates in eight locations across the world, including Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), Montreal (Quebec, Canada), Austin (Texas), Fairfax (Virginia), San Francisco (California), Los Angeles (California), Sacramento (California), and Galway (Ireland). BioWare Austin is located in the vibrant city of Austin, Texas. This city is known as the 'Best Place for Business and Careers', the 'Live Music Capital of the World', the 'Best City for Relocating Families', and 'Best Cities for Singles'.
BioWare’s Analytics and Reporting team aggregates, analyzes, and reports data in order to inform decisions and track KPIs. The Austin studio is looking for an experienced, energetic, full-time Monetization Analyst (Digital Merchandising Specialist) to work with our development team. This person will focus on analyzing, managing, growing, and optimizing the in-game item catalog to maximize monetization potential for Star Wars®: The Old Republic™. This job requires previous experience working with item catalog management systems, high-data volumes, and monetization optimization.
More details inside.
Does depriving gamers in Iran from World of Warcraft and the up coming Panda Expansion help anyone?
Hoping people are going to rage-quit their regime?
"Not OK: 'GET THE FUCKING CAVERN SCUTTER ENERGIES YOU FUCKASSES.'"
Following up on my recent cri d'coeur about the misanthropy of multiplayer gamer culture, I have to say I'm heartened by the diligence of the Guild Wars 2 developers in trying to create a more friendly, less offensive chat culture from the first day onward.
There's a thread at Reddit where the developers have offered to tell anyone who has been suspended why they were suspended or banned. Basically it breaks down into two major causes: first, that the account has been hacked by gold sellers and second, because the player was saying racist, homophobic, or grossly offensive things in public chat. It's an interesting thread just in purely documentary terms, since developers normally maintain a steely silence about bannings and allow players to represent themselves as the innocent victims of a mistake or a vendetta. But there's also a real pleasure to be had in seeing a player put up their character name, ask in all apparent innocence why they were banned, and to read the community representative quoting back to the player what they said in chat.
I get that this is too labor-intensive to keep up indefinitely. But it's a sign of some smart social thinking to at least do it now and hope to "seed" the emergent culture of the game with a lighter, more inclusive feeling.
Run and catch the game
If you run you can catch the start of (friend-of-the-show and guidie) Kevin Werbach's course on gamification. 63,000 have signed up so far, but it's ok the class room is big. Internetnet big.
Course stats today so run and hop on the bus: https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification
Hashtag: #gamification12 if you want to follow the discusion on the twitter.
Oh, it's free.
Making real money with virtual roses
Voice of America reports on a new Chinese social network, YY. The name is similar to that of a rival, QQ, aka Tencent. You may recall that QQ Coins caused an intervention by the Central Bank of China; they were being used too much as normal currency. The currency of YY is a rose. But guess what, you can make real money with virtual roses. VoA tells us that musicians will set up a video site in YY (video is a capacity that QQ does not have) and if people like the music, they give the band a couple roses. The roses are worth something, and there are stories of significant incomes from this practice.
Couple things to note. First, we are seeing more and more examples of direct transfer of value from one average schmoe to another. Things like, people using Square to be credit card merchants, or PayPal, or people shaking their smartphones together to make a transaction. Imagine a future where there are billions of tiny money receivers, not just tiny money spenders. Every man, woman and child is a firm. The middlemen fall away; I wouldn't want to be a young guy in the credit card business right now.
Second, it's striking how quickly this thing popped up. It targets middle- and low-income Chinese, which means, it came out of the white space. There's an awful lot of white space out there. There are billions of lower-income people just now getting access to smartphones. Social norms are changing - how much longer will we say "women don't play games"? Farmville once had 80m users, and if we take churn into account, maybe ten times that saw it at some time. That's still a drop in the bucket. Deeper experiences like WoW have been seen by even fewer people. There's a huge upside and it's not always going to arrive gradually.
Bitcoin Vendor Sued
Someone hacked a Bitcoin vendor. The vendor had some trouble making payments to account holders. Now some of those account holders have sued the vendor to the tune of about a half-million $US.
There's a tension between the freedom of a virtual currency and its security.
I wonder - how secure are holdings of priority points and rewards and the like? How secure is Facebook-based money? How secure are credit card systems like Square? Dollars and Euros and Yen are protected by law enforcement. Other things aren't. Will that in the long run make the difference between currencies that survive?
“Let’s kill all the lawyers”
Jokes. They can go wrong. Very wrong.
Hell Is Other Gamers (And Some Games)(x-posted to Easily Distracted) Game developers talking about "culture" are often deeply frustrating. Either they are overly credulous about how design directly and symmetrically can create a particular set of cultural practices and outlook within a game, as my friend Thomas Malaby has observed about Second Life, or they see gamer culture as a hard-wired or predetermined result of cognitive structures and/or the wider culture of the "real world". Only rarely both in a somewhat more nuanced but contradictory way: Raph Koster, for example, has at times argued that particular design features in games (say, the implementation of dancing and music in Star Wars: Galaxies) can create or transform cultural predispositions among players but also has argued in his Theory of Fun that gameplay and "fun" are driven by fixed cognitive structures and tendencies.
Developers tend to favor one of these two viewpoints because they either make the culture of play in a particular game something that they can design towards or they make it a fixed property that they have no power over, something they can imagine either completely controlling or being completely helpless to control, and in any event, something easy to summarize in a reductive, mechanical way. They'd rather either than what the culture of play in a particular game really is, an emergent and contingent result of interactions between particular design features, the general cultural history of digital games and their genres, the particular sociological habitus of the players, and the interpretation of visual and textual elements within the game by different players (individually and in groups).
When Aris Bakhtanians said that sexual harassment was "part of the fighting-game community" he was, in a way, perfectly correct in an empirical sense. This is not to say that all or even most players of fighting games, even in competitive gaming, practice harassment of the kind Bakhtanians infamously displayed, but that sexual harassment and harassing attitudes are commonly witnessed or overheard in a great deal of online gaming, as are the harsh and infantile abusive responses flung at people who complain about such behavior or expression. The one truth sometimes spoken in such responses is that outsiders don't really understand how such things get said or what they mean. Outside critics and designers alike would often prefer for "culture" of this kind to be easily traced to the nature of the game itself, either its semantic content or the structure of play, or for the culture of the game to be nothing more than a microcosm of some larger, generalized culture or cognitive orientation, an eyedrop of sexism or racism or masculine misbehavior in an ocean of the same. If that's the case, either there's something quite simple to do (ban, suppress or avoid the offending game or game genre) or the game is only one more evidentiary exhibit in a vastly larger sociopolitical struggle and not an issue in its own right.
Understanding any given game or even a singular instance of a game as "culture" in the same sense that we understand any other bounded instance of practice and meaning-making by a particular group of people, with all the unpredictable, slippery and indeterminate questions that approach entails, means that if you care about the game as an issue, you have to spend time reading and understanding the history and action of play around a particular game. The stakes are very much not just academic (are they ever?): certainly the viability of a particular game as a product in the marketplace hangs in the balance, sometimes an entire genre of game or an entire domain of convergent culture is at financial risk. But also at stake are the real human feelings and subjectivities of the players themselves, both within the game culture and in the ways that those identities and attitudes unpack or express in everyday life as a whole. If we're going to argue that game cultures teach all sorts of interesting and useful social lessons, or lessons about systems and procedures (as we should) then we have to accept that some of the social lessons can be destructive or corrosive. Not in the simple-minded, witless way that the typical public complaint about violent or sexist media insists on arguing, sure, but we still have to ask what the consequences might be.
Ethics of ARGs
In the latest Social Change Technology podcast Dr Burcu Bakioglu talks to Andrea Phillips about Alternate Reality games, their design and some of the interesting legal and ethical issues that come up.
Those in the TN community that have been watching / making / playing ARGs for the last few years will be familiar with some of the issues - such as what if someone gets hurt, how far can a 'fiction' go before it is deception?
While some of the issues raised in the podcast are specific to games that have a very physical element and a fictional layer that sits over the everyday - still raise interesting questions about the ethics of game design and what responsibility the designer has for the players' actions.
You can listen to the podcast and see the full show notes on the Virtual Policy Network site.
The decline of Zynga and Facebook?
Interesting things happening on the interactive social media front. IPO darlings Facebook and Zynga have seen their stock prices falling quite a bit lately. There's more analysis than information, but one thread stuck out at me: The idea that the attention garnered by Zynga and Facebook is not sustainable. For example, Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra carefully unpacks the dyanamics of attention when the portfolio consists of shiny empty games. It works for awhile, but eventually the users become bored at what is after all a very shallow experience. Over at CNN Money, Ben Rooney reports one analyst's conjecture that Facebook is sinking now because parents are using it. If there's any law of modern families, it is, Into the Tents of the Elders go no Teens. Advertisers are not at all desperate to get the rheumy, bloodshot eyeballs of the aged, which are still fixed on TV ("Figure skating is SO beautiful!") but they've lost the young people and can't find them. They thought the kids were on Facebok, but now, eh, where'd they go? In both cases the markets seem to be worried that there isn't nearly as much to this phenomenon as they thought.
OK, so what is the phenomenon all about really?
When FPS becomes virtual world
Our friend Marcus Carter (PhD Student at the University of Melbourne) sends in this report about DayZ. Back in the day, we pushed CounterStrike and friends out of the virtual world category because the multi-user environments were not persistent. Now of course all the lines blur; console-based achievement systems create a persistent community at the hub of every FPS. DayZ takes it a step further, adding a massive spatial environment. When an FPS gets a huge persistent map, we are back to Trammel.
Here is Marcus' report.
Have you heard about DayZ yet? If you’re willing to do battle with the installation process, the runaway successful Arma II mod is definitely worth the time. It is a hyper-realistic, ruthless, multiplayer zombie survival game that strings together a series of interesting and unique features that feels like the MMO/FPS experience I didn’t know I was missing.
Here’s a low-down of the interesting features in the DayZ alpha for TerraNovans who haven’t had a chance to play.
UK Consumers have rights over you
The UK is considering a set of laws that give consumers rights over the providers of digital stuff. These new consumer rights will blow a hole through EULAs and side step a whole mess of intellectual property law. All UK consumers of ‘digital content’ would have these rights irrespective of where it’s provided from, the rights cannot be contracted out of, and the remedies apply to content providers where ever they are.
In short, if you are a game company based anywhere selling to the UK - you need to pay attention.
The right of publicity in video games
I've got a short essay up over at Gamasutra about the right of publicity in video games. The fundamental question is this -- if you create a game (or virtual world) and you want to include in that setting an indentifiable individual, do you need to pay a licensing fee to that person or the heir of that person?
If games are like books, and not a second class medium, the answer should be "no." If I write a book, and a character in the book has a chance encounter with William Shatner or Harrison Ford, the artistic use of that celebrity's identity in a fictional content should be protected by the First Amendment. In other word, Shatner or Ford should not have a right to prohibit the creation of literature that makes reference to them. If the reference is misleading, or false, or defamatory, of course, there would be a legal problem -- but if not, the use of the identity in a work of art should be fine.
So why should there be a difference result for video games? In my opinion, games should have the same stature as other forms of artistic expression. But as William Ford and Raizel Liebler have explained recently, games have historially been of treated as a second-class medium when it comes to the right of publicity.
Now that we have EMA v. Brown, I think it's past time to change that rule. Hopefully the many courts considering this issue in the next few years will get this question right and protect the creative freedoms of game designers. The case I talk about in the Gamasutra post is Hart v. EA. The amicus brief in the case can be found here at Harvard's Berkman Center, with more commentary on the issues raised.
The Secret World
An interesting new MMOG is the Secret World. Much is being made of its class-free system, but for me the real innovation is in the spatial relationship of meaning to the geography. Thank heavens (or is it a plan by the Council of Rome) that we have finally gotten away from quest hubs. Instead, as you run through the zombie apocalypse, you see a smashed delivery truck and a package that is interactable. This leads you on a little mystery that is of independent narrative interest, and gains heft in the circumstances of the game. A package being delivered to - whom? Are they still alive? And why would someone here want a radiation detector? These symbols on the package - do they mean something? Is this a lost love situation, a consortium of devils, back-handed political shenanigans - or something else? OK, so you get to combine shotguns with lightning bolts if you want, but to me that's not the big draw. The big draw is running around in a varied and unpredictable signficance space, something that WoW had all but killed.
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Book Review: "As If" by Michael Saler
I don't normally go in for cultural studies. But every once in awhile, there's a piece that comes up with concepts that tightly and elegantly express thoughts that many are feeling but cannot put to words. Saler's As If is such a book. He addresses himself to "the literary prehistory of virtual reality," drawing connections between the works of Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, and Tolkien and our current exodus into computer-generated fantasy spaces. We have all known that there is a kinship between the 1930s dame obsessed with Holmes and the 2010 gamer obsessed with Onyxia, but it has never been delineated so clearly. Among the concepts Saler uses to make the connection is "animistic reason," a version of rationality that insists on the internal coherence of the fantastic. Animistic reason is the sensibility that delivers the feeling of confirmation and extra horror we feel when Lovecraft's demons turn out to be not spiritual beings but rather scientifically-confirmable alien species. It also produces the "aha" when we trace the Shire calendar to our own and discover that the Ring was destroyed on March 25. Animistic reason tells us that these worlds are fantastic, yet genuine; impossible, yet possible. It produces sensations similar to those of a mathematician who proves something outlandish, or the young theoretical physicist when he first grasps relativity. "Time does not flow the same for everyone? Impossible! Yet not only possible, but necessary!" Saler's book brings many other interesting insights to the table and, rather unusually for a cultural studies book, is a gentle read. I recommend it to you!
Facebook Credits Are Dead, Long Live Virtual Currencies
Yesterday, Facebook killed its virtual currency. (Thanks Travis Ross for the heads up.) However, the payment systems behind the FB Credit remain in place, including the outrageous 30% redemption tax, which provided FB with 18 percent of its revenue last year. The difference seems to be one of branding. An FB app can have its own virtual currency and give users a link where they can pay cash to FB (in local currencies - Yen, Euros, whatever Greece decides on, etc.) in return for the virtual coin. The coin then flows through the app back to the devs. The devs then send the virtual money to FB and redeem it again in the local currency (less the 30% tax).This works just like the FB credit, except that the name "Facebook Credit" is not attached to the virtual money. The name is given by the App developer.
So you won't be seeing Facebook Credits, but in an age of seemless, costless translation from one currency to the next, the *name* of the currency no longer matters. The question is now, to what exchange system does a currency belong? What are the transaction fees between it and other currencies? What does it let you buy?
This just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.