Jan 252011

This afternoon I was on a panel on mergers and acquisitions in the social games market alongside a bunch of great folks. It was the last session of the day, and they asked me to go “all designery” so I did. 🙂

You can find a liveblog here:

ISA 2011: Live-Blogging the Mergers and Acquisitions Landscape for Small and Mid-Size Developers.

And a news article here:

ISA 2011: Small Developers Don’t Need to Sell Out Yet

You can also get the highlights of the entire conference by simply reading the search results for the #isa2011 hashtag on Twitter.

Game talkSpeaking at Inside Social Apps

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Jan 182011

I seem to have neglected to mention that I will be on a panel at Inside Social Apps InFocus. The event is on the 25th — next week! As I understand it, they expect the event to be full, with no registrations available at the door, so if you’re in the area, you may want to register now on the website.

The panel I am on:

M&A Landscape for Small & Midsize Developers

Paul Bettner, GM, Zynga with Friends (former Founder & CEO, Newtoy)
Sean Ryan, Director Games Partnerships, Facebook (former EVP and GM Games, News Corp)
Atul Bagga, VP Equity Research – Games, ThinkEquity
Raph Koster, VP Creative Design, Playdom (former President, Metaplace)

Some of the world’s largest media companies and game publishers have made major acquisitions of social game developers in the last 18 months. We’ve also seen consolidation in the space through several acquisitions of small-to-midsize developers. As we begin 2011, what do the shifting landscapes in the media and games industries mean for M&A activity, and potential acquisition targets, in the year ahead? We will investigate from every angle.

Game talkWikipedia and MUDs hits Wired

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Jan 162011

Funny how this sort of thing happens… two years after the big kerfuffle over ThresholdMUD’s Wikipedia article being deleted (see here and here and here), we get a Wired UK article on Wikipedia and MUD history.

Eventually, the community decided to move on, and founded MUD Wiki, a Wikia dedicated to the genre. Wikia was introduced in 2004 by Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley, and allowed free web hosting for third party Wikis. It made it easier than ever to make niche Wikis on the most obscure or insular topic possible, and let Wikipedia get on with talking about things that are truly notable.

And maybe, in the grand scheme of documenting gaming history, a dedicated Wikia makes sense. Individual MUDs might be better suited to a Wikia, and its also promising to see Wikipedia’s own page on the genre in general is large, comprehensive and bibliographically diverse.

“Wikipedia is not a directory of everything that exists or has existed”, the site explains in a manifesto detailing its scope. And It would be near impossible for Wikipedia to be a complete and thorough repository of gaming history, with Deus Ex or The Legend of Zelda sharing the same word count as something obscure like Biomotor Unitron on the Neo Geo Pocket.

Game talkWhere 3d browser stuff stands

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Jan 152011

Been awhile since I posted about how progress is going on this front. Everyone is very excited about HTML5, of course, but particularly with the latest H.264 news, Flash is still going to be pretty widely used. WebGL is going to be in Firefox 4, (basically, the OpenGL ES 2.0 API will be available).

To my eye, the WebGL stuff is behind the Flash stuff in terms of framerate consistency and performance — but it does have all sorts of nifty off-the-shelf integration with Web data on the fly, because it is literally “a 3d web page” made out of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Here’s a video of the “Flight of the Navigator” demo — if you have a WebGL enabled browser, you can actually try it yourself.

Continue reading »

Game talkWorldy vs gamey in one sentence

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Jan 142011

Lum has forums again. No, I don’t know what madness has possessed him.

However, there’s a fun thread there asking “what is the real difference between gamey MMOs and worldy MMOs?” There are detailed replies, like geldonyetich’s, which give nice coherent answers. But the fun answers are the one-liners.

Alas, the good one-liners are all on the gamey side. 🙂

Games are fun, worlds are work.

— Soulflame

So I started trying to come up with my own one-liner riposte. But mine weren’t funny and sharp. They were stuff like “Worlds are varied, and games get monotonous” or “Worlds offer choice, games don’t.” But these kinda suck.

So I figured I’d invite you readers to solve the problem for me. We need a comeback for Soulflame’s pithy statement. 🙂

Worldy gamers, attack!

Game talkThe world, virtual

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Jan 072011

Lately it has been hard for me not to see recent trends ranging from gamification to the increasing prevalence of robots in the household as a sign of the way the real world is starting to imitate a virtual world.

  • We’re adding friends lists via well, everything
  • And bots via robots
  • and reputations via LinkedIn
  • and auction houses via eBay
  • and secure trade via Craigslist
  • and profiles via Facebook
  • and virtual currency with Facebook Credits
  • and quests via serious games
  • and points for meaningless grinding via gamification
  • and strategy guides via Quora
  • and guild chat via status updates
  • And stats to ourselves via ‘quantified self’ approaches
  • And classes and skills via the march of specialization in job roles

Now, you may say that all of these are things that existed before. Yes, and we then built adapted versions of them for the virtual world that accommodated the fact that they were being simulated in a virtual space. And now those adaptations are being ported back to meatspace. We could call these three stages of development:

  1. real world, inhabited by people
  2. virtual world, inhabited by users
  3. wold virtual inhabited by userplayers

Take a look at Leigh Alexander’s hilarious and spot-on critique of Foursquare:

Continue reading »

Jan 062011

New World Notes calls our attention to Avatar Kinect, which basically brings graphical chat rooms to the XBox Live platform.

This is indeed a powerful development. The Kinect has been selling like hotcakes (8 million of them in sixty days), and as a result, there’s now a pretty substantial install base that could get into this.

It’s clear to see the potential for sales of virtual goods and the like; right now, they offer scenes in which you can conduct your chats, but over time, adding in the features to make those into virtual apartments is not at all hard to picture. Add in robust enough objects to buy and the ability to customize your space, and you start getting something that feels like, well, Metaplace.com or Second Life with voice chat and kinesthetic controls. But for now, it’s more like IMVU or Lively, probably, and we shall see how it goes.

One thing that is interesting is that Live is centered on avatars that are pseudonymous but strongly identifiable; there’s an intrinsic extant reputation system there that this system will effectively plug into and leverage. This may reduce the amount of prurient chatrooms and the like (which something like the Kinect surely invites!). It is also telling how little the video centers on technology and how much it centers on women.

Given the connectivity, I cannot help but ponder why avatars as an intermediating technology, rather than video chat.

  • Avatars intermediate; this lets you put all participants in one environment, rather than stitching together disparate couches and living rooms
  • There may well be plans to leverage the pseudonymity into synchronous social game experiences
  • The avatars do allow for a more radical expression of personality that video would, essentially making for a richer profile; I can’t have my weird pet from Limbo cavorting around me in a video call, but I could here.

All in all, an interesting development; I look forward to trying it out.

Game talkFeedback does not equal game design

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Jan 042011

Not familiar with game mechanics or game theory? Ralph Koster, author of Theory of Fun for Game Design, says game mechanics are “rule-based systems / simulations that facilitate and encourage a user to explore and learn the properties of their possibility space through the use of feedback mechanisms.”

In conventional terms, think earning rewards for swiping your credit or debit card or staying at a particular hotel or flying a certain airline. Unconventionally – and this is where my prediction comes into play – think affording your customers and prospects accumulating rewards in exchange for engaging via your website (i.e., points, badges, leaderboards, awards, etc.).

via Entrepreneur.com Daily Dose – Game Theory And Gaming Mechanics For Your Website.

I feel bad picking on this article given that it surely is selling copies of my book. Except that  the above example does not include “exploring and learning the properties of a possibility space.” So it’s wrong. To be more blunt, the second paragraph misses the point of the first.

Just giving feedback is not game design, and it will be lousy “gamification.”

When we train game designers, when we critique projects, and when we discuss what makes games compelling, we certainly do discuss feedback. But what we dwell on is the game systems, the core loop.

If you really want to gamify something, you need to make the core loop be something to explore and master. Buying an airplane ticket or staying at a hotel isn’t something you “master.” Piling up points is not good gamification.

The feedback exists to give cues to the user that they are learning something. It isn’t food pellets for rats to reward them for pushing a lever. Good gamification will be less Skinnerian and more like getting an A in class as a recognition of how well you mastered the subject.

Oh, and hi everybody, I’m back blogging, I hope. 🙂