Game talkState of Play reports

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Jun 212009

I didn’t liveblog, but others did!

Tim Burke at Easily Distracted has a series of liveblog posts.

TerraNova has a thread.

Virtual Learning Worlds has a bunch of posts too:

Hakawi Tech also has several posts:

I think that I will try to write up some of the specific things I was trying to get across in the keynote as a blog post at some point, because the vaious blogs and notes all seem somewhat partial in one way or another… are backchannels damaging liveblogging? In any case, here’s the backchannels, which may not make too much sense without the original actual content being commented on!

  • gsssop « Today’s Meet is the web-based backchannel for the conference, including the rather fascinating (and to my mind, somewhat jarring) responses to the panel I was on.

  17 Responses to “State of Play reports”

  1. Hey Raph,
    Good to meet you at the airport yesterday. :)
    Do you mean this comment from Thomas in the backchannel?

    “That first question was a good one. Metaplace seems built on the same picture of the human as Second Life. That’s a problem.”

    I am not sure I know what Thomas is talking about, but maybe you could explain or we can get Thomas to explain. (assuming it’s Malaby)

  2. Mark, actually, I meant the (what seemed to me automatic assumption) that developers treat players with condescension. A lot of the backchannel’s tone centered around that sort of feeling from the academics there.

  3. Yes, I see now. I mistakenly thought you mean your keynote, not the developer panel. I’m reading the comments from that now, and I can see what you mean. The gist seems to be the feeling that the developers are saying they want to do something but are actually doing something else. I think the tension is from the desire to create something great vs. making money off of it? Maybe not. Or maybe a tension between the subversive nature of gamers that intrinsically goes against any top-down control by devs, which of course is made paradoxical in that the devs created the games (though gameplay is emergent)?

  4. I think the developer-condescension thing is a tricky line to walk. I’m not sure there’s a workable defense of the “different-but-equal” approach to the relationship between developers and players. By nature, developers will have the control whereas players will have the attention-energy, and the relationship is different and symbiotic, but ultimately developers must ignore what some or even all players will say on given topics, for an assortment of reasons. And when developers don’t do what players say they want — as, by necessity, they sometimes-often-always will, the player response is going to be one of asserting perception of superiority on the part of the developer — which is actually there (they wouldn’t do something that is inferior intentionally), but it’s not a 1:1 comparison to what the _player_ thinks is superiority/inferiority axis. Look forward to what more you say about it, though.

  5. Raph, I haven’t read through the entire wad of backchat, but it sounds to me like the boys in the back of the room snickering at the panelists were gamerz and lamerz, and the main reason why their comments may have “jarred” you is that…you are now becoming a worlder, not a gamer. You are leaving the realm of gaming and going in to the realm of wordling with Metaplace.

    And…once you put down your pirate games and stuff that you do out of habit, and become more interested in governance, then it will get even more interesting. Or maybe the governance will be emergent behaviour from the pirates.

    The hatred and spite against Jim Bowers on Twitter and the back chatting was to be expected from gamzerz. These are people who sit still for their men-in-tights medieval war games that keep them in utter thrall to game gods, and who can’t change a thing about their world, let alone their devs, sniping at someone using a dev’s authority to make civil society and the rule of law so that people don’t live in the cynical and nihilistic newb-ganging space of a WoW or a UO or even a Second Life Welcome Area. So good for Jim.

    I look forward to trying to see something coherent — I feel like I saw a thousand twitters and a bunch of badly laggy and then crashing video within the SL edition of the conference, but I don’t know “what happened”. Yes, Twitter has destroyed live blogging. Live bloggers were a very serious crew who would be really dedicated to heads-down capturing of the transcript and the main theses, and now I see those same kinds of people chopped up into a million tweets that aren’t coherent.

  6. Could you just put up the text or main theses of your keynote? Because I can’t tell if this guy Easily Distracted is reporting it correctly.

    If you ARE saying that “nothing has happened in virtual worlds” and “it’s all happening on social media” — then sorry, you are profoundly ignorant, Raph, and I’m surprised you’d be that dense.

    I don’t even know where to START this is such a breath-takingly dumb claim. I can only say — I can’t wait for your own world to come and bite you in the ass if you think that way.

    Why do you think someone intelligent like me who isn’t a gamer would bother with a virtual world with Second Life if it didn’t contain within it profound developments about online economies, governance, virtual social relations, adapting to new media mechanisms, etc? It’s a huge wealth of material. It’s not about selling land as an equivalent to mining game gold.

  7. [...] I think the conference sessions were summarized pretty well by others (Raph, Tim, Bart, Sara, Greg L at Terra Nova, twitter hashtag #sop09), I’ll stick to the people I [...]

  8. Just to lay out a bit more of the argument about players and developers that I think was primarily reflected in a comment of mine in the backchannel, though we talked about it a bit later. It’s something that you and I have knocked around contentiously on a few other occasions, and I’ve definitely stated my views too sweepingly at times.

    It’s not that developers in general or you in specific condescend to players, that’s really not what I mean. What I mean instead is that you especially have a strong view that what happens in virtual worlds is often a result of problematic or flawed player responses to essentially neutral or functional mechanics. You’re quite honest (to the limits of NDA constraints) about when a design is so technically screwed up in some respect that it is the primary cause of a problem. But when things aren’t going entirely as you want in terms of social practices and player behavior, you’ve tended to attribute that to some deep ‘prior’ cognitive, social or cultural disposition on the part of players (Theory of Fun is premised in part, for example, on the proposition that game-playing is driven significantly by pattern-recognition and exploration of patterns), that players want to do something (and can’t help but want it) that messes up design, forces compromises.

    Travel mechanics I think in this case was the topic that triggered this thought for me–you (and others on the panel) suggested that players want instant gratification, that they want to be with their friends or accomplishing economic goals *right this instant*, regardless of what damage that does to other functionalities in a virtual world. So you frame this as, “We can’t give them what they want because it would be bad, but I guess we can give them a bit of it, and lose something else good.”

    I think you (and I and everyone) should be curious about that: are we sure that’s why players hate travel times or travel mechanics? Why are we sure? How universal is that motivation? Maybe travel mechanics are a synecdoche for something else they don’t like about virtual worlds: the degree to which obstacles and goals in most worlds feel arbitrary, are signed “by the developer” rather than feeling organically present in the world. Maybe this is really an objection to the lack of dynamism in most worlds, or a preemptive irritation with the way that developers manipulate time sinks for the sake of retention rather than pleasure, using time sinks as an alibi rather than a imaginative premise. I’m not saying those are universal sentiments, but players do often seem to get framed as intrinsically against developer objectives on some deep level, where developers have plans and ideas and will and players have human nature and instincts and behaviors.

    The ‘chasing tails’ observation, somewhat paradoxically, was a thought that you guys seem overwhelmingly pessimistic about virtual worlds in ways that surprise me. If we’re at a plateau, maybe it’s the plateau that says, “these are not the media form that will liberate the world or that we will live in for the future…they’re one more form of entertainment and expression with their own characteristics, and that’s *fine*.” It just seemed to me that all of you were looking everywhere else and saying, “over there, look at teh shiny”.

  9. On the players issue: it is absolutely true that we don’t know why players seem to hate travel times and travel mechanics (and I say seem to, because even THAT may not be factual).

    The way designers have to approach this is not that different from someone dealing with any other relatively chaotic system. Let’s take flowing water as an example. We can see water flowing in a direction, and we can see turbulence. We can’t always see under the water, and even then, when we drop something in there to affect the flow, it doesn’t always do what we expect. Our ability to control the flow is rather crude.

    Our job in this case is to get the water to specific places. But our ability to do it scientifically is still pretty limited. We rely on hypotheses which may or may not be accurate.

    Does the water resent those trying to build canals? Maybe. Players often do resent developers channeling them.

    Do canal makers resent the water? Maybe. And it can be very dangerous and damaging to both parties and the community they share. It may be that taking the step back to see the water as a whole dehumanizes the individual players in a way that creates propensity among developers to regard them as Other in some way. On the other hand, when dealing with group dynamics, we all know it is often more fruitful to look at the systemic characteristics of the stream rather than the individual molecules of water.

    On chasing tails — I am very struck by the notion that the panel was overwhelmingly pessimistic. Have you been a real developer bitch session, a GDC rant, or the like? We were moderately upbeat! Seriously.

  10. Sure, I’ve seen developer chat more pessimistic than that, but as you say, it’s of the “this racket sucks” type, which most professions can generate at will when they gather together.

    I can only say that analogizing players to water is kind of an example of what I’m thinking about, and you seem pretty aware of that–it agglomerates players, makes their agency and actions into something natural to be channelled. I’m not really sure that when you’re looking at group or social dynamics that it helps to think about them as a single system, in fact. Or to forget that developers are part of the same system, not necessarily standing from somewhere outside of it, building channels.

  11. Tim, I agree that it’s incredibly important that developers not forget they are in the stream too. Then again, how is this question different from what is faced by sociologists, anthropologists, and others who work with aggregations of humans?

  12. [...] many other people live-blogged the event, so for a more detailed account I recommend a look at Raph Koster’s list. My personal highlights included Koster’s own keynote presentation, learning about Dmitri [...]

  13. It isn’t. Actually, anthropologists can take it to the other extreme at times, and become almost morbidly self-reflexive, so I wouldn’t advise that. And developers *do* develop their worlds, not just study them, and that’s a crucial difference in all sorts of ways. But I think if there was one thing to start over with, it’s not classes or levels or quests first, it’s the assumption that players come into virtual worlds with some fixed nature that is channeled by design, and which makes designs sometimes go awry if they haven’t got the right hydraulics. Design and player practices have a mutually constituting feedback loop in a lot of cases.

  14. It bears repeating: developers are players. When they use mod kits or mission-creation tools, players become developers. With worlds like Metaplace, we’re all some combination of tool-maker and tool-user. If you enjoy yelling at the devs or sneering at the players, make the most of it while it lasts, because I think it’s going to become increasingly difficult to tell which is which.

  15. Why do players not like travel time?

    Hypothesis: after perhaps the third or fourth month of play, and certainly after the first year, players are chasing the high, driven by memories of high-stimulation events. Travel is rarely a high-stimulation event. Ergo…

  16. [...] am I particularly cogent after the fact so for those keenly interested in the reportage check the index on Raph Koster’s website or the SoP site.  If you need some pre-filtering help then I [...]

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