Game talkWikimania 2014 in London

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Aug 042014
 

wikimanialogoI am speaking this week at Wikimania 2014 in London. I’m speaking in the “social machines” track, which is about systems wherein the code and the people are inseparable — as in Wikipedia itself, social network systems of all sorts — and of course, multiplayer games. I’ll be doing both a lecture session and participating on a panel.

In the talk, I am going to be very literal, and talk about Wikipedia as a game. It seems to me that Wikipedia as a system is unquestionably what I call a “ludic system,” a construct that lends itself to game-playing. It was not constructed as such, however (my term for intentionally constructed systems like that is “ludic artifact.”) The fact that it was not intentionally designed as such means that we can look at it with a jaundiced designer’s eye, and see ways in which is functions poorly as a game.

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Game talkOn SiriusXM tomorrow!

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Apr 132014
 

I’ll be speaking on SiriusXM Business radio on The Digital Show Monday at 2pm Pacific/5pm Eastern, with Kartik Hosanagar of Wharton. It’s on channel 111, and the topic will be virtual reality.

This is of course occasioned in part by my post on the sale of Oculus to Facebook, but I hope we spend time talking about the broader context: how VR is one of the things that a beleaguered core gamer audience is looking to as a great saving hope, and how VR has the potential to link into long-dormant Metaverse dreams, and more. And of course, whether VR is really where it’s going to be at, or whether AR is really the hotter space… though really, I am of the opinion that they are more or less the same thing… about which more on the show. :)

Game talkGDC: Building game retention tips

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Mar 252014
 

Aside from the ten minute talk at Critical Proximity that I posted yesterday, I spoke for an additional six minutes at GDC2014 (yes, that’s unusually low commitment for me!). It was a microtalk on retention tips for free to play games in the “build and invest” genre — stuff like farming games, city games, all those isometric games where you plonk down little objects. You can find the archived presentation here.

Quests work against self-expression. They force you to build what the developers want, not what you want.

Most of the panelists focused on the “modern” use of the term “retention” — which is to say, they focused on how to get people to come back for the second day, or for a week. The phrase “daily login bonus” was a common reference. But I knew that would be the case, and so took the opportunity to continue my hapless crusade to get social-style games to greater heights of community and user involvement.

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Mar 242014
 

The debates about “what is a game” happened between multiple overlapping circles that have very little to do with one another… “Games” is never going to fall into one bucket or critical lens… We enrich ourselves and our mutual understanding not by claiming pre-eminence of one circle, but by learning to move between them.

On the Sunday before GDC, I attended and spoke at Critical Proximity, a games criticism conference. It was quite excellent. I am left with many thoughts, which will have to go into a separate post on the subject. In the meantime, there are write-ups available in several places:

As regular readers know, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about “formalism” in games over the last few years. This talk was an attempt to reset the conversation with insights into “formalism in the real world” as Brendan Keogh put it on Twitter, a look into the ways in which looking at the formal structure of games is able to help out and illuminate all sorts of games criticism. Including “softer” or more humanistic approaches, such as historiography, study of play, and cultural studies approaches.To that end, I deployed a set of analogies from other media: fine art, and poetry, and music, to help draw connections between the ways formal approaches and even notation are used in these other fields, and how we might use them in ours.

My talk is below the fold (hover over the slides for the notes text), and for the full transcript plus a link to the video, go here.

There were many other talks I highly recommend… the entire Twitch stream is available (see that same link) and lasts 8 hours!

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Game talkMe at GDC 2014

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Mar 132014
 

gdc_2014As usual, I will be in San Francisco this year! It’s a relatively quiet year for me though.

I’m giving a talk at Critical Proximity, which is a brand-new conference held on Sunday, the day before GDC kicks off. It’s a conference all about games criticism. My talk is called “A New Formalism,” and it’s about ways to apply various sorts of picky craft approaches to games in ways that hopefully enrich the non- formal styles of critique.

I am also giving a microtalk as part of the GDC F2P Summit, on retention tips and techniques specifically for “build and invest” style games:

Microtalks: Retention Tips for Free-to-Play Genres

The two pillars of free-to-play gaming are retention and monetization. Because players monetize over time, you need to keep as many of your players coming back for as long as possible. But how do you accomplish that? In this uniquely-formatted session, seven battle-hardened free-to-play veterans will give microtalks about retention techniques for seven different free-to-play genres: builders, hidden object games, card battle games, RPGs, word games, shooters and social casino. Learn the tips and tricks that the pros use in each of these genres.

That’s on Monday, Room 2016, West Hall, at 4:30pm-5:30pm. Remember, my part is all of six minutes — I share the time with a bunch of wonderful folks.

Beyond that — a whole bunch of business meetings, dinners and networking and whatnot. I will have a copy of my card game with me at all times, so if you see me, expect to get dragooned into playtesting. I will also have a variety of other game prototypes too…

 

 

Feb 052014
 

Slide14My GDCNext talk “Playing with ‘Game’” has been posted up here as video with slides:

Gamasutra – Video: Playing with ‘game’ – What games can be, and what they can mean.

I described the talk thus a while back:

The talk starts out with some basic semiotic theory — basically, the difference between a thing, the name we give a thing, and what the thing actually means. This serves as an entry point into talking about not only the way the word “game” is incredibly overloaded with different people’s interpretations, but also as a way to start discussing the way games themselves can mean things.

This leads to exploring the notion of “play” as space — free movement within a system, which is not a new idea at all, ranging from Derrida to Salen & Zimmerman. And then to looking at the two big sorts of play I see: the play of the possibility space of a set of rules, and the possibility space of a set of symbols or signs, which we might be more used to calling the thematic depth of a literary work. Along the way I break down writing techniques, game design techniques, and more, trying to find the ways in which these tools can be applied to games of different intents — which tools work best for a given craftsperson’s purpose?

For me, a lot of the reason I did the talk was to try to bring together the parties separated by contention over “what is a game” and similar debates. I wanted to show that there’s a lot more commonalities there than not, but also that different creators have different goals for their work, and therefore pick up different tools from the workbench. And that, actually, sometimes this means that games we’d never link together actually have structural commonalities just because the techniques that the creators choose to use.

I actually think I ended up spending too much time on the first half, which is effectively “game critic inside baseball” for quite a lot of people (though might be interesting nonetheless). The result was that I kind of rushed the second half, the part with the tools and techniques. Ah well. I am told it was an interesting talk anyway, just not one of my best.

Enjoy!

Jan 272014
 

Slide1Periodically I have gotten requests for either audio or video of the talk I gave at Living Game Worlds IV back in 2008. I have the slides, but they aren’t even posted up here, and honestly, without the actual talk, they don’t make much sense.

My talk was complex. I just watched it, and honestly did not remember it all; how it came together linking railroad yards, the first major copyright case, Kenyan mobile phone companies, Wagnerian opera, text muds, shipping containers, molecular biology, microtransactions, and of course, the future of games. But yeah, it hit on all that and more.

Videos from LGW IV (mine is “evening keynote”).

It still feels rather relevant today, even if my ending on Metaplace doesn’t. In many ways, what I was talking about has come true via indie games, Unity, Twine, Gamemaker, and countless other “banjos.” In fact, I am particularly hopeful that it will be watched by those who see me as a ludological fundamentalist or representative of “the old guard” or whatever, as there is a moment in there where I jeer at Game Informer magazine for the ludicrous term “impostor games” they used for games that were not challenge-based. FWIW, I also bluntly call MMOs colonialist and racist at one point.

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Nov 222013
 

Here is the full video of my talk at EVA13, entitled “El mundo de sistemas” (the world of systems). It’s in Spanish, and it’s an hour and a half long!

Sorry, no translated subtitles or anything. The talk starts out talking about systems and games, how there are many sorts of games but that a large proportion of them have what I call ludic systems underlying them. I talked a little bit about what some of the implications of systems are, how we learn from them and what sort of lessons they teach. And, of course, also how flaws in systems (or even emergent properties) can cause systems to really run amok, or enable players to really break everything.

That then leads to some anecdotes and postmortem thoughts from Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Most of these are probably ones that many of you have heard about before:

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Nov 062013
 

Slide20Here are the slides for the talk I gave yesterday, entitled “Playing with ‘Game.’”

The talk starts out with some basic semiotic theory — basically, the difference between a thing, the name we give a thing, and what the thing actually means. This serves as an entry point into talking about not only the way the word “game” is incredibly overloaded with different people’s interpretations, but also as a way to start discussing the way games themselves can mean things.

Slide14This leads to exploring the notion of “play” as space — free movement within a system, which is not a new idea at all, ranging from Derrida to Salen & Zimmerman. And then to looking at the two big sorts of play I see: the play of the possibility space of a set of rules, and the possibility space of a set of symbols or signs, which we might be more used to calling the thematic depth of a literary work. Along the way I break down writing techniques, game design techniques, and more, trying to find the ways in which these tools can be applied to games of different intents — which tools work best for a given craftsperson’s purpose?

I was really stuck on this talk. I had it conceptually all worked out, and could ot figure out a good way to convey it at all. My first several drafts were dry and jargony and a mess. And then I saw Daniel Benmergui give a talk at EVA in Argentina about the difference between “sense” and “meaning,” using David Lynch and Braid as examples, and it unlocked everything for me.

So if you want to know why I think a six-word story is like Journey and how Howling Dogs is like Super Mario Brothers, this is the talk for you. And if the above sounds incredibly intimidating and way too much like grad school in literary theory, the good news is that the talk is full of waffles.

Slide107

Nov 052013
 

Here are the slides for my talk at EVA ’13 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last week. They are in Spanish, of course.

If I had to summarize the talk, I would say that it covered a lot of the same sort of ground I have touched on before in terms of the ways in which games teach systems thinking. I open with some discussion of the wide range of stuff that we call “games” — something that is also discussed in the GDCNext talk I am posting shortly. I talk about what a ludic structure looks like (something that folks who read the blog will probably find familiar), and the way in which ludic structures arise naturally in the world, and thereby are playable even though they are not designed games.

And then I move into anecdotes on exploits and loopholes and other ways in which we didn’t grasp everything about the systems we ourselves had designed, in games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. The talk ends on speculation on what we’re doing to the world, as we create systems that break outside of games. Are we the most qualified to do this? We might be.

It likely loses a lot without the actual speech, compared to most of my slideshows, but hopefully the video will go up at some point. In the meantime, the PDF is here.