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Mar 04, 2008



Having decided to have associations, how did you decide how many you'd have and what they'd be?

If you're stressing the role-playing aspects of the game, why are you asking people for real-life data such as gender and age?

What's the aim of the game? I don't mean why is it fun, I mean where's the perceived finishing line?

Can I take back my last few visits, for when I forget to switch the game off when I visit the porn site? Or when I accidentally click the link on the poker ad?

How do you make money from this, or don't you?



The last two paragraphs, of what Richard said, is precisely what I was pondering about.

I'm no privacy fanatic, but I think that the guys who oppose Facebook, for this very reason, would start falling unconscious when they see this page. Storing usernames, encrypted passwords, all browsing data, etc. Effectively combined with Facebook you'd have more than enough material to blackmail pretty much everybody. How are you planning to address the issue?


The associations evolved from noticing the behaviors that people participate in online, which are very much like the player types that you've noticed in MMOs. I applied one "type" to each behavior, at that point there were four. That is also when I was first told about your work, actually. Now there are 8 associations and each has one tool. As the game progresses the associations will be used in combination with each other to unlock other tools in the game.

I think I misused the phrase "RPG" in the article, when I should have said "Making the MMO Casual" - they've become rather inseparable when they should not have. DnD is an RPG; World of Warcraft seems not to be. So I don't think we're so much stressing the role-playing aspect of the game as we are playing with the role-playing aspect of playing online together. It seems like the avatarization of identity online has, at least for the Facebook generation (of which I am a member), made each of us characters, removed a bit from our other selves that we display in school or with our families. The associations are very changeable, and I think that cuts down on the expectation for role play from the player. In PMOG most players play under pseudonyms, so far, and age seems to be neither here nor there.

I'm continuing to develop the leveling system (we have 20 as of now) and increasing players' agency as they level up. I don't know... I don't perceive a finishing line yet. That is partly the freedom of not running a 3D client, being a lightweight Firefox extension makes the game malleable. It can grow with its players and in response to them in very core ways. Ways as core as the point of playing, I guess! :)

You can always erase your history without losing the resources that you've gained from surfing, you can have a completely private profile, or hide the tools that you've used. Here's a screenshot of the information you can choose to reveal about yourself.

The game doesn't care if the site that you mined is a porn site or an Evangelical charity, it only cares if you've decided to participate in the game in that place. Otherwise the site itself is just a way to accrue resources. We used to attribute characteristics to the sites themselves, and at that time I considered porn and other sex sites to be a little too general as a type to apply characteristics to it. Perhaps if we'd continued down that path there would be a difference between the players that like furry porn and the ones that like BDSM, because that create a meaningful or interesting difference. But before we abandoned that system we'd instituted "genres" of sites, and sex in general seemed to only say that the player was, in fact, a human being.

Right now we don't make any money on this. I can foresee a time when players may choose to earn badges or temporary powers by opting to participate in sponsored content from media companies. Customizable characters that a lot of the free-to-play casual games employ wouldn't work for PMOG, since we're more textual than graphical. I suppose we could create a "space" online a bit like Animal Crossing, but I'm relatively unsupportive of taking the game too far outside of its natural habitat, the web. We've been advised that business models are emergent, and that the best one may not be the most obvious. That sounded true at the time. :)

At some point we'll need to make money to support and grow the game. I think that what we're doing is new enough as a medium that it's okay not to know exactly how to make money; overall we're committed to the player experience and maintaining the enjoyable lightheartedness of the world however we make money. So if anyone has ideas, I am all ears!


"Can I take back my last few visits, for when I forget to switch the game off when I visit the porn site? Or when I accidentally click the link on the poker ad?"

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that once we started playing PMOG for ourselves, we quickly realised that there were a number of privacy controls we needed, such as those Merci posted and also these ones that allow users to delete their entire browsing history, or their entire account.

With regards to the concern that we're "Storing usernames, encrypted passwords, all browsing data, etc.", it's a valid concern. However, PMOG only stores urls that you visit and even then only http urls, no https or IP addresses. You can delete this information from our servers at any time (see the privacy screenshots in my previous paragraph).

I think that these are the basic issues we should be expected to address. Even if it did get access to them, PMOG doesn't infer any gameplay mechanics from encrypted passwords, usernames, and so on, so the most sensitive data (from a privacy perspective) is actually the least interesting to us, in terms of making a game out of that human data.


I think, I'll have to reword the statement:

My point is not to say that you can easily abuse the data entrusted to you, but rather that you may not be able to provide the security needed for this sort of thing. Here are just some things that you might want to consider:

- Are your IT security systems efficient enough to protect the data from hacking attempts?
- Was the system tested by a reliable party?
- Was the system written by a party with previous experience and expertise in the field?
- Can you provide basic phishing protection?
- Which data can I re-acquire from your servers, should I gain a foreign ID?
- Is the data sent to and from your server encrypted?
- Which employees can access the data? Can the access be backtracked?
- etc.

As I've said, I do consider the idea behind your project very interesting, however with the sensitivity of data you are acquiring, you are bound to higher security standards than an average MMO (exception: banking details). This applies just as well for your IT security, lines of authority within the group and the legal declarations you make on regards of selling or giving away the information to third parties. Currently, your privacy page is still rather slim for a program that sends my passwords back and forth across the net.


This seems like one of the coolest ideas I've heard in a long time. I hope to get a chance to play with it and find out how it works, in the mean time:

How many people are playing? How casual is it actually? Are people having fun? What kind of innovation (if any) have the players exhibited in manipulating the game resources that really got you jazzed?


Have any of you "played" google image labeler?

Its a two minute timed round where you try to match tags of pictures with an anonymous partner and you get more points for more detailed key words and more images tagged in the period.

Is it fun? It provides a dopamine rush in terms of association and score motivation and the meeting of the minds with hidden person part of the fun even though there is no direct contact before, during, or after.

Perhaps there are other moderately useful and slightly interesting tasks that could become quests. Typing a few lines of text from images of old books like recaptcha ? Vetting and scoring websites for original content, topic, versus advertising spam. Participating in a survey?


How many people are playing?
As of today we have more than a few thousand people playing in our closed beta and we have over 15,000 people queued up to play.

How casual is it actually?
The casual-ness of the game depends on how the player decides to play it. Pixielo, the player whose profile I used in the article, has taken all but three of the missions in the system. She is obviously, a less casual player than most. I actually play very casually, since I'm pretty busy and don't have a lot of time to take the game up on the offered invitations.

Are people having fun?
Here's an example of the fun players are having. From what I've heard, people are having a great time. Here's another example from Techcrunch of Michael Arrington having a good time playing.

What kind of innovation (if any) have the players exhibited in manipulating the game resources that really got you jazzed?
So one of my favorite examples so far comes from a player called the1joebob, who wrote a script that automated crates filled with datapoints to re-up on a site he owned. He wanted to be radically generous and it was really inspiring to me, that he was customizing the game in order to gift other players without cheating even, just within the context of the game currency. Another player, Zous, helped to fund the1joebob's generosity by giving him datapoints when he (inevitably) ran out. That was pretty awesome.


I don't get the "passive" part of the whole thing. Could you elaborate?


The resources (datapoints) are accrued passively by hitting top level domains. The associations (they determine which tools a player can freely buy as they level up) are generated by the game for the player, rather than the player choosing to be a certain race or class. Additionally, you can hide the toolbar and forget you're playing the game until you accept an invitation to take a mission or otherwise participate. You'll still be gathering resources; this removes the grind from direct player action/attention.


very exciting Merci!

"The game doesn't care if the site that you mined is a porn site or an Evangelical charity, it only cares if you've decided to participate in the game in that place."

are there other ways to classify not only sites but online activity, so that PMOG could more meaningfully understand/account for what players are doing? e.g. it might not have to know which sites users are visiting in order to know that they are uploading content, downloading content, writing, scrolling, streaming media, etc. I'm fascinated by this, but would Love to elaborate ways to more meaningfully correlate what players are doing online with how they fare in the game.

as a side note: this is Stephanie, a friend of Howard's - we still have a date in late March, right? just checking ;)


If only you could see our feature list... One of the most interesting problems we face in the future is how to expand the game to become deeper and richer without alienating our players. Chances are, nobody likes a page-scraper. And not everyone knows what good people we are. ;)


This is really fascinating. Browsing = grinding. Well, I was browsing anyway, eh? Turns StumbleUpon into QuestUpon. Some thoughts...

If you are visualizing the Internet as place, and sites as sub-geographies, one way you could identify origin for players is through association with a particular site, either automatically or by number of visits (which wouldn't, of course, work if you're not storing that data...). Let's say, for example, I want to make Terranova not my "home page," but my "home." OK... everyone else who "homes" TN is, by definition, my ally. Not that we can't argue... but we aren't enemies, eh?

The trick is in calculating distance and (eventually) url-o-political (e-opolitical?) relationships based on this "location." How far away is LifeHacker from TN? How about Kotaku? Do sites with much in common aggregate or compete for resources? There might be some way to mine inbound and outbound linking information to determine distance and relationship.

I'm thinking that some way to self-identify with other players as "us" and "them" that doesn't involve "me knowing you," would help the play. It would also trim down the numbers when you get lots more players.

As far as making money... yikes. You've got a game that rewards going to a web site. Allow site owners to sponsor unique quests and items or to become specific "places" on the map, ideally related to what they do in RL. Have pre-made packs of items/quests/activities for players related to classic game locations like inns, training areas, forests, fountains, mountains, sports venues, etc. and sell them to interested sponsors.

So, for example, Killian's (and Heineken, Bud Lite, Absolut, etc.) could pay to sponsor in game pubs/inns where health can be regained, messages for friends can be left, people can play mini-games (darts), etc. A company that provides GPS tracking systems might want to sponsor items/quests for hunters. A security company might want to sponsor thief stuff.

I can also see licensing a mod-able version of this for academic use where a university department puts items/quests on pages with information about class and major-specific resources. I'd love to see the guild wars between the psych department and the architects...


We're also presenting a big breakdown of PMOG at SXSW on Monday at 2pm. Here is more information on that. :)


Very intriguing; I'm waiting to see what turns up!


I'm not a developer but I've been a player on PMOG beta. I love how this article addresses more of the direction the game aims to take and some of the methods used for gathering the data which makes it possible.

The information presented here does raise some security questions but I have faith that this band of developers have the combined knowledge to make PMOG happen or they would not have taken the challenge in the first place.

Changes will be made and security measures will be reinforced before PMOG opens to the masses without invitation. As a beta tester I know there is a chance something may not work properly and it is my responsibility to report it. I accept this for the sake of taking part in something which harnesses information never before used for gaming purposes. It's clever and fresh and unlike anything else out there right now.

Andy Havens- I love your spin on this. I would love to have the acquaintance system based on nesting points that we tend to visit most often. As these sites do not earn additional datapoints, they should be used for something. What better way to determine our allies than through the data we feed into the game. I also like the idea of sponsors setting up "shops" for us to stop at along the way on our missions. The game will have make money eventually, and this seems a good way as long as it doesn't get ridiculous.

Richard Bartle- What's the perceived finishing point of any MMOG? I'm not being facetious. I play and have played a number of "active" MMOGs and MMORPGs and I thought the goal was to meet people and track achievements through an entertaining outlet. With PMOG we have the acquaintance system, we have badges to strive toward, and we have an appealing steampunk style backdrop for our adventure.

BCKing- I haven't visited the PMOG site for a few days or taken any missions. I've also had my toolbar minimized. Therefore, I've been as passive as possible while still participating in the game because I was signed in and not paused. I've still earned datapoints and added to my surfing history. Other times I'll visit the site daily, visit new websites strictly for the purpose of gaining datapoints, create missions, lay portals for the purpose of guiding other users, and take user created missions. This would be an example of the more active Passivist.

In-game I'm Ellavemia, I've got nothing to hide. Look me up, I'm pretty chaotic neutral most of the time. Cheers!

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