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.
Still selective bombing of RMT in S. Korea. But this time, Magic Circle missile loaded
Since 2007, by Game Industry Promotion Act and its implementing decree, S. Koreans should not do business for exchanging or mediating exchanges of, and repurchasing in-game money or data like in-game items that are produced or obtained by copying, adapting, and hacking the game program or by way of abnormal game-play.
The word of 'by way of abnormal game-play' has been generally understood as 'using Bots in game', and many sweatshop owners and RMT dealers who broke the law were punished.
On the other hand, Supreme Court of S. Korea ruled that RMT itself is not totally banned by this act in the sphere of MMORPGs where in-game items are basically obtained by sweat, not by luck. So, RMT dealers can buy and sell in-game items as far as those are produced and obtained by normal play.
In summary - human play : normal(OK) vs. Bot play : abnormal(banned).
But, practically, it's not that easy to tell Bot play from human play. Korean government have been worrying about the growth of the grey market of RMT and the crime related to this. Government agency assumes that 60% of RMT in korea were unhealthy one.
To cope with this matter, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism just now amended the implementing decree. Next july, the revised implementing decree will be effective. This time, Korean government enlarges the scope/depth of the word 'abnormal'.
Using the others personal information & Doing for a business also belong to the scope of 'abnormal'.
In summary - amateur play : normal vs. pro play : abnormal
(Probably the first 21th century law that is Johan Huizinga's Magic Circle graven on)
According to korean Value Added Tax act, anybody who supplies goods or services for business and earns more than 12,000,000 won in 6 months should register as "enterpreneur". Enterpreneur shall be liable to pay VAT. This new Implementing Decree do not permit game player be the enterpreneur of VAT act.
This is the end of my brief introduction to the new game law of S. Korea on RMT.
For me, it seems somewhat odd and interesting that Korea recently enacted another law called E-sports Promotion Act. The definition of E-sports is 'through the medium of games, human compete for the record, or win the game against human'. Of course, Main purpose of this act is to assist pro-gamer who play StarCraft, Dungeon & Fighter etc for a living.
Earning REAL money from the inferno be banned, while from the space is not.
Former relating posts.
Korea to Ban Sale of Virtual Items, Botting
We reported in 2006 that the National Assembly was considering something like this. However, later Korean Supreme Court decisions seemed to legalize some game-to-real market activity. Now however the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is pushing ahead a series of provisions that will criminalize virtual item sales and especially the use of automated programs to farm virtual items. This was first mentioned by Shander in our Diablo III comment thread, referencing this reliable source elsewhere (thanks Shander!). According to the source, maximum penalties are 5 years in prison and a 50m Won ($45,000) fine. Justifying the law, the government man said “The main purpose of the games is for entertainment and should be used for academic and other good purposes.”
One blogger thinks Diablo III is the cause. I would love to hear Mr. Yoon's thoughts. Judging from this site, Korea has been doing quite a bit legislatively to restrict game playing: Banning students from beta tests, prohibiting late-night play by teens, enforcing a cooling-off period.
One is forced to wonder, again, is Korea an odd case or a leading indicator? We have asked this for 10 years, but in that time it does not seem that the US and Europe have become as generally crazy about online games as Korean society seems to be. Here in Indiana USA, it does not appear that the intensity of online gaming has yet risen to the level it seemed to be in 2002 in Korea. Where once I was certain it would happen, lately I've begun to doubt. Something is happening, but not *that.*
Diablo III Real-Money Auction House: First Thoughts
Yesterday the Diablo III Real-Money Auction House opened for business. I'll call it the RMAH and it's interesting that the game company also calls it that. "Real money auction house." The company, Blizzard Entertainment, wants the players to think that the gold coins of the game are not real money while the dollar is real money. We'll see how long that lasts.The terms of service for the game actually put "real money" in quotes at one point.
After the fold, a little of my personal experience and some thoughts on what it means.
Out with the new, in with the old
Two quick things:
1) the weblog got an overdue facelift, and
2) we apparently outlived a certain television show.
Both are causes for minor celebration.
Euro Fears Drive Wealth Into Virtual Currency
According to the Financial Post, as confidence in the Eurozone falls, purchases of Bitcoins originating in Eurozone countries is rising. It's a correlation. But perhaps indeed some people are seeing the Bitcoin as a safe haven. You wouldn't put it in Facebook Credits, because of the exorbitant cashing-out fee of 30%. This is another instance of completely normal economic behavior - switching from risky money to safer money - that nonetheless seems weird because the allegedly safer money is generated by a software program and has nothing to do with the real world. But what, after all, does the Euro have to do with the real world?
We've become used to the idea that a social media or game developer would launch their own currency within their system. With Facebook Credits, we have a third-party cirtual money approach. That idea is apparent in other areas, notably GetJar Gold. GetJar is a distributor of Android apps, but it also offers a virtual currency service that can be integrated into the apps. For us iPhone users, it would be as if iTunes had something like "iBucks," where the iBuck appears in the apps you use.
This is an interesting parallel to the real world, where at some point it was deemed important to separate the monetary authority from the political authority. One runs the country, the other the country's money.
Virtual Comedy Stages
Got an email (copied after the break) from a comedian seeking to drive traffic to a charity website. He and his buddies are playing games in Iron Man Mode: One death. Nice, funny premise. It's consistent with Yogscast, the effort by two Brits to perform through Minecraft. My kids watched Yogscast as much as they played the game. "O Lewis! O Simon! AHHHHHH" It was funny.
When serious game content goes over the top - see Tera - it's too, too funny to knock it down. Drives role-players mad, of course. In this ironic age, we're all looking for a lore we can believe in and whatever is produced is just not good enough for some people. So everything gets griefed. I suppose that's healthy.
Healthy or not, if we treat all virtual worlds and everything on the internet as sites for mockery, we do get a heck of a good laugh out of it. Just don't take yourself too seriously out there.
After the break, read the appeal from the Iron Man.
Smithsonian Art of Video Games
So I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibit last week by curator Georgina Goodlander. If you're in DC, it is worth a visit, plus it will be venturing off on a traveling tour at the end of the year.
What I found curious, but not surprising, was my mixture of excitement and disappointment at seeing video games displayed as "art" in the Smithsonian. During a long stretch of my adolescence, I trained as a visual artist, with the hope of one day producing something worthy of placement in a museum. At the same time, I spent a significant amount of time (perhaps too significant) with video games and early computer graphics programs. At that time, it never struck me as strange that video games were not in museums, since the divide between fine art culture and gamer culture was so wide and clear.
So now, in 2012, I get to stroll through a gallery of screenshots and video captures of the Atari VCS, Intellivision, C64, Sega Genesis, etc. On the one hand, it's thrilling to see the Smithsonian take these small steps into categorizing and curating examples of the video game genre. (Curiously, in a way that Ian Bogost and Nick Monfort might appreciate, the major room in the exhibit adopted a platform-based taxonomy, with genre-based subcategories.) And surely, that was my dominant reaction to the exhibit -- it was really great to see the genre put on a pedestal, so to speak, as art.
My slight disappointment: how much was not there. It struck me that it is impossible it is to put the art of the video game in a small exhibit, or perhaps even to conceptualize this art form as fully expressive in the museum context. Video games are often such rich, interactive, social, and contextual experiences -- how to capture all of that in a few rooms of exhibits?
Perhaps, though, this is not unique to video games. I can only imagine what an ancient Egyptian might think, confronted with the average museum's scattered artifacts under glass. How much does an exhibit on ancient Egypt really give us a sense of what it meant to live in that culture? You can get a glimpse, perhaps, but not much more. The odd thing for me about the Smithsonain exhibit, I guess, is that all that you glimpse inside the exhibit is still very much alive outside of it.
Anyway, there's a website that goes along with the Exhibit which has some interviews with game developers -- I have yet to watch them, but I'm sure they're fascinating: http://www.americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2012/games/artists/
Update: Gamasutra does a piece on this topic, featuring Henry Lowood's efforts. Must be something in the air this week.
Go visit Petra's Planet
Petra is a Finnish girl who, in the storybooks, is able to fly around the world and see many different cultures. On the Petra's PLanet MMO, the player does what Petra does: Go to different countries. There's nothing special or amazing about this, and that's what's special and amazing. In a decade, we've gone from 4 MMOGs and perhaps 6 immersive world-type games, to the point where a small country's story for children spawns its own immersive virtual environment.
Remember in 1995 when the headlines screamed "Soon there will be computers in cars and refrigerators!" Well, today there are indeed computers in cars and refrigerators, but there's big headline. It happens without noticing.
Therefore, take a moment to notice Petra's Planet.
Substantively, is this a good thing? You've walked through Epcot and enjoyed the sensations induced by faux-France and faux-Norway. You tink, hey I learned something about France and Norway today. But did you? Maybe you actually lost knowledge about them.
New name same cast
Just to let TN readers know - I changed the name of the Virtual Policy Network's podcast to: Social Change Technology. That seemed to best sum up what it's about.
We've done a few shows recently that TN'ers might like - they are also a bit of a TN All Star cast:
- TL Taylor on e-Sports
- Mia Consalvo and friend-of-the-show Ron Miners on the social aspects of so-called Social Games
We've also had a preview of this year's Federal Consortum for Virtual Worlds conference; Burcu Bakioglu talkiing to Michael Andersen about transmedia story telling and me talking to Rita J, King about Science House, robots and stuff. For all of 'em you can grab the iTunes feed or RSS.
Bitcoins can be stolen
Couple of reports from the world of the virtual currency Bitcoin indicate that it has become a hacker target. A BTC is worth about $5 at the moment; the thefts are in the 6-digit area in terms of dollars.
What do we have here? A real-world currency who holders are subject to extraordinary attacks? Or is it a virtual currency that is necessarily more vulnerable to security risks? Or, are the holders of Bitcoin small-scale operations with insufficient security? I can't tell; I don't know enough about security. I wonder how this hacker-theft rate compares to the theft rate for Chase's electronic dollar holdings.
The fact that the thieves have acquired a good with stable value - $5 a unit - indicates that Bitcoin is alive and healthy, though.
New Book: Virtual Economies and Financial Crime
I thought reader must be interested in the forthcoming title from Edward Elgar: Virtual Economies and Financial Crime, by Dr. Clare Chambers Jones.
Here is the description from the publisher:
Virtual economies and financial crime are ever-growing, increasingly significant facets to banking, finance and anti-money laundering regulations on an international scale. In this pathbreaking and timely book, these two important issues are explored together for the first time in the same place.
Clare Chambers-Jones examines the jurisprudential elements of cyber law in the context of virtual economic crime and explains how virtual economic crime can take place in virtual worlds. She looks at the multi-layered and interconnected issues association with the increasing trend of global and virtual banking via the ‘Second Life’ MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). Through this fascinating case study, the author illustrates how virtual worlds have created a second virtual economy which transgresses into the real, creating economic, political and social issues. Loopholes used by criminals to launder money through virtual worlds (given the lack of jurisdictional consensus on detection and prosecution) are also highlighted.
Looks very promising and timely!
Is it gambling?
So, you do something in a virtual world and you get a random item. Say, you kill a dragon. The item has real-world value. You obtained it as a result of three things: You paid or registered to play the game, you performed an action that may have required skill or maybe not, and the system executed a random item generation process. Still, it's not gambling. Right? It's monster-raiding.
OK, now you go into a social network and do something and you get a random virtual item of nontrivial value. Say, you 'Liked' somebody's pic and you got a free virtual rose. Or you wrote something that 100 other people 'Liked.' But you joined the network, you did something that may or may not have involved skill, and a random process of the system gave you an item of value.
We need to be firm at some point that there's a difference between killing monsters in games and 'Liking' things in social networks. It's not a technical or functional difference, its an aesthetic and experiential difference for which there is no bright line distinction. If we don't work to clarify this difference, courts will start calling monster loot gambling income. Not good.
Game worlds need to be identified as such and then tightly walled off, to the extent possible, from reality.