Feb 262010

Dan Terdiman at CNet engages in some handwringing over the fact that kids worlds and social games are taking over the hype that used to belong to virtual worlds.

But to someone who cut his virtual world teeth on more immersive, 3D environments like There and Second Life, these never-ending announcements of new companies trying to jump on the social gaming bandwagon have left me with one nagging question: Where is the innovation?

The innovation lies in making something that matters to ordinary people.

Now, I am a virtual world person, obviously. I don’t see much distinction between the game worlds and the non-game ones like Second Life. I have been working with them since the text muds, for over 15 years, which doesn’t exactly put me in the true old dino category where Richard Bartle and Randy Farmer reside, but I think it is fair to say that I have been closely identified with the space for a long long time now.

And I think that they aren’t over, but the form that they have taken is.

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Game talkPlaceness is a feature, not the point

 Posted by (Visited 14639 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Feb 242010

so rather than worrying about getting a virtual world in a browser has #slviewer2 side stepped by becoming a mixed media browser?

– Ian Hughes aka @epredator


Plenty of analysis is out there now on the new SL viewer — which is, undoubtedly, a big step forward. Full web functionality on a prim including Flash — check out Habbo Hotel running on a wall inside SL! A usable interface! Non-programmery design!

But the answer is still no, because for better or worse, virtual worldness is increasingly a feature of a website, not a destination in its own right. Placeness is a value-add to something else — a game, a community, etc. And adoption is driven by the something else, not by the placeness.

To phrase that differently: The new viewer makes Web integration a feature of SL. Which is a great value-add for SL people. But it is not a value-add for Web users. Wagner James Au breaks it down into a series of questions, but fundamentally the question a new user asks is “why?” And for a web user, the first question is “why go somewhere else?”

The SL experience might be a value add for Web users, but for that to happen, SL would have to be a feature of “something elses” on the Web, and as Mitch Wagner points out, it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong — a great step. But I would be surprised if Linden isn’t working on the larger problem.

Game talkGameifying everything

 Posted by (Visited 15457 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Feb 182010

Just a little meditation here…

Lots of chatter this morning already over a speech given at DICE by Jesse Schell (author of the excellent Art of Game Design) on games Beyond Facebook: How social games terrify traditional game makers but will lead us to gaming everywhere.

I have a long long article brewing on Facebook game snobbery by traditional gamers… and Jesse touched on this in his speech. But he also touched on something that folks like Jane McGonigal have been talking about for a long time: the gameifying of the world.

Where is this going? Schell says that the achievements and incentives that have wired us into playing Facebook games compulsively will soon be built into everything. Your toothbrush, for instance, will give you 10 achievement points for brushing your teeth in the morning, Schell said. Then it will give you more points for brushing for the right amount of time. Then it will give you points for brushing every morning in a week.

You may also get credit for eating your Corn Flakes. If you take the bus to work, your local government will give you 10 achievement points for reducing traffic. You will get credit for walking to work, as your digital shoes will testify. If you kid gets straight A’s on a report card, he or she will get 2000 points. And the Obama administration will give you 5,000 points for being a good parent.

The quote starts someplace that sounds amusing to innocuous, and ends on a note that probably sounds disturbing (“good parent by whose definition?”) to many, particularly to those who are freaked out by the microscandal over Cass Sunstein’s behavioral economics approach to politics.

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Game talkWhere’s kids MMOs are at

 Posted by (Visited 11841 times)  Game talk
Feb 172010

VW traffic for kidsThree years ago at a GDC panel, I said that big media companies were coming into the MMO space hard and fast, and would be the authors of the most significant releases. At the time, I was pointing at kids’ and youth worlds as the big area to pay attention to.

Daniel James replied on that same panel saying “I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag” and Rob Pardo of Blizzard and WoW fame said “I don’t think the most important MMOs will come from big media.”

Well, here’s the Toy Fair (!) charts on MMOs that VentureBeat has published. The article breaks it down in tables — 7 from toy companies, 8 more from entertainment and media companies, and 20 more from independents. Oh, and two from established game companies. Kids’ worlds are by far the dominant form of MMO today, and many of them are rather not Diku-like.

Compare the below chart to the number of AAA MMOs released, and how large they have managed to get from 2007 to today. Note that below does indeed say that Poptropica is at 4.5m monthly users.

Was I right? Well… depends how you slice it. But I think that in terms of impact to the genre… yeah, these kids worlds and media-driven worlds are probably more important than most all the AAA MMOs released 2007 to today. Whether that’s a good thing… exercise for the reader.

Game talkSoccer ball that is a generator

 Posted by (Visited 12028 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Feb 172010

Brilliant, simple idea. Kick a soccer ball around, have it capture some of the energy, then give a plug so you can get the energy back out. Then give it away in Africa.

The ball uses inductive coil technology–similar to flashlights that power up when shaken. Each 15 minutes of play with the ball generates enough power to light up an LED lamp for 3 hours, so a soccer game could easily provide light for a day.

In most African countries, 95 percent of the population is living off-grid with no access to electricity. With sOccket, people in developing nations will no longer need to walk 3 hours simply to charge their cell phones. The power will—quite literally—be in their hands. The sOccket ball can be used to light an LED lamp, or charge a cellphone or battery.

Jessica Lin is a Changemaker | Changemakers.

(Via Jane McGonigal @avantgame)

Game talkWhat social gamers look like

 Posted by (Visited 8650 times)  Game talk
Feb 172010

All these come from a study sponsored by PopCap (PDF), for game players in the UK and US. (GigaOM has an article here: Average Social Gamer Is a 43-Year-Old Woman – GigaOM).

  • There’s around 100m social game players
  • 24% of US and UK Internet users play social games at least once a week
  • Slightly more women than men
  • Average age of 43
  • Only 6% of them are 21 and younger
  • They’re not all housewives: 41% of them work full time, and only 11% are homemakers.
  • 2/3 of them also play other sorts of games — casual or hardcore.
  • And if they, do they spend more time on the social games than on the casual or hardcore games
  • And they’re stuck: more than half have been playing for a year.
  • A third play more than once a day
  • 2/3 of them play over an hour a week — 12% report over 10 hours.
  • And they report that their social game playtime is increasing
  • For half of them, it’s why they use Facebook at all.
  • And also, half of them say it’s very unlikely they will spend real money

Game talkGarriott goes to social games

 Posted by (Visited 13557 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Feb 172010


The highlights:

  • A plugin to allow deploying games written as standalone titles. Torque2d is referenced as the tech for the first title, a poker game.
  • A virtual world hub called CenterPort, with a “semi-3d world”, minigames, ad-driven quests, housing, and microtransactions.
  • A social network. It looks like this will be tied into the OpenPlay network, which is a separate endeavor by other well-known ex-Originites that tries to develop an industry standard for social play data portability.

The requirement for a plugin will have all the same barriers all the other plugin efforts do, of course. (Unity is doing well, but it is having to fight hard for every user). One big example — it’s Windows only right now.

This is a play for anticipating the curve on the social gaming market lifecycle. The bet being made is that social gamers will ask for greater sophistication over time. It’s a good bet that this trend is valid — even “simple farming games” like the new sequel to Happy Farm feature farming, apartment decorating, and a central town; and Island Paradise has merged in a cooking game… showing that greater complexity is well on the way.

That said, the Facebook game explosion — social gaming in general — is more a phenomenon of distribution than it is one of game design or technology. The users tend to be older women, and not that technologically sophisticated.  Social gamers don’t care what technology you use. They only care how long the loading time was and whether it worked perfectly on the first try.

So the plugin choice may be banking on the wrong aspect of the trend. You don’t need a better rendering engine to make richer games.

Read more about Portalarium at this VentureBeat article.

Game talkWhat roleplayers look like

 Posted by (Visited 9966 times)  Game talk
Feb 152010

Oldish news now, but a pre-press copy (Word doc) of the latest study using EQ2 data is out.

The paper combines the big trove of server-side data and quant analysis of our other EQII papers, with a full-on second step of participant observation and ethnographic interviewing. The result, we hope, is a pretty deep look into who role players are, why they play, and what makes them tick. The chocolate and peanut butter of combined qual-quant methods we think gives the paper good generalizability, but with depth to boot. As always, there were some obvious findings and some unexpected stuff…

Terra Nova: Role Player Study released.

The focus of the study here is to specifically examine roleplayers — they give the genre its name, but as has long been noted, are a minority of users. The paper has a great overview of the history and theory behind RP for its intro that is worth the download in it own right.

Some of the big findings:

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MiscWhy I don’t care about Google Buzz

 Posted by (Visited 6173 times)  Misc
Feb 132010

I don’t use GMail because I didn’t like the idea of handing over all my email and contacts to a third party company to scan and run automated processes on and potentially publish to the world. Everyone said that it was silly to worry.

Now Google has released a feature that scans and runs automated processes on your email contacts and publishes them publicly to the world. And you have to opt-out, and it is actively hard to do so.

Lawyers are one group that may not like this.

Game talkA proofreading sim

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Feb 122010

I’d like a proofreading sim, please, that all my students could play…

— Andy Havens, in this thread on Terra Nova

Proofreading sim: slurp a text file, pop words on screen scrolling by, put randomized typos in them, require the user to buzz in when the word is spelled wrong. Sounds like a game to me! Bad spellers need not apply!

When I was a practicing journeyman letterpress printer (both my wife and I did this in college) we learned the way to proofread under those “no takeback” sorts of circumstances: read each word in isolation, one at a time, in a group, with a pause between each word, sometimes spelling out the whole word as you went.



Attention, a-t-t-e-n-t-i-o-n.




…which is of course a big part of the challenge of proofing text, because that’s not how we read — we read words holistically, not by piecing them together out of letters.

In any case, it would be interesting to see if making a game like this would make someone into a more accurate proofreader.