My Response to Robin Kaminsky on Free-to-Play

This appears in the comments of section of Free-to-Play Is The ‘New Frontier of Western Game Development,’ says Former Activision VP — written by me.  Thought I’d re-post here cause I wrote a lot.  

Edit: Yah, totally forgot a title — whoops

==========
Alright – so I have a lot of problems with this article.  First off, it reeks of hype.  The arguments about emotional attachment stable economies — basically everything she attributes to the Free-to-Play model also applies to the console and traditional PC markets that she minimizes.  The emotional hooks, the hours of game-play that she cites as being solely the realm of free-to-play, stating in no uncertain terms that she sees the traditional market as flawed because no developer cares about their product after the initial purchase.

This view of the traditional market is over-simplified and in my opinion–flawed.  Gamers are a notoriously noisy and close knit community with long memories and a propensity for prejudices.  If a developer wants to be successful beyond the first game — they can’t treat the product as if they don’t care about the product after the sale–and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a traditional developer who treats their games as “done” after they are purchased.  Games would never be patched, new content would ever be developed for these games.  Similarly, if a developer really doesn’t care about the game beyond the initial sale, the product is likely to be a lot “hype” and not a lot of content — meaning that gamers will likely not purchase from that developer again in the future ion their investment in the game doesn’t pay off. T

Kaminsky’s problem here is that she views each game as an island – not as a part of a greater whole within the developer/gamer ecosystem.  No developer can succeed by pushing inferior products with lots of hype–especially in the game industry.  Reviewers are notoriously unforgiving, and many gamers take reviews as canon of a game’s playability and value.  Bad reviews of a game can spell doom for the developer.

Obviously there’s a ton going on here — way more than I can write in here that determines a game’s success, but the idea I’m trying to drive home is that Kaminsky is oversimplifying a vastly complicated and dynamic system with one that developers only need to care about first sale.

True, she pays homage to a few of the biggest names in gaming, such as Epic, Blizzard, etc  – but only mentions the juggernauts – none of the successful small – to mid sized devs who have created successful games, like Minecraft, for the Magicka games or Funcom just to name a few (Funcom is a debatable as to whether it’s mid-sized dev or not … it’s definitely on the upper edge).

Now on to actual Free-to-Play models – this is insanely difficult to do well, on this Kaminsky and I agree.  However, the primary difference is that Kaminsky defines the Free-to-Play model by the few successes (Such as Team Fortress 2), which in reality the shovelware far far exceeds the successful Free-to-Play models.  If we take a look for a second at a company like GluMobile, which I think that Kaminsky and I might actually disagree on their success.  GluMobile makes F2P games, most of which are somewhat successful.  One in particular is “BugVillage” which I already wrote about on my blog, but basically the game is borderline unplayable without paying.  In my utterly anecdotal experiences, and those of my colleagues, this is par for the course with F2P games.

 In my mind, a free-to-play game needs to be playable the free way, without purchases.  The purchases should augment the experience, not be required for the experience at all.  In the BugVillage review I wrote, I make the argument the ONLY way to enjoyably play the game was to pay a not-insignificant amount of money.  And this is EXACTLY why I think that the F2P model is near impossible to do well.

Finally, I have some ideaological issues with the majority of the F2P models–that being they are too focused on making money.  As with most things that attract mainstream attention, F2P models have become, with the help of new concepts like gamification, the next “get-rich quick” thing.  This has the effect of shifting the focus of creating a good game that people want to play, to using shady psychological techniques to urge people to play and pay without any real substance to justify the urge.  A good game will create lots of emotional connections and drive through engaging story, appropriate pacing, balanced game-play, and challenging game mechanics.

 Most F2P games, again I’ll use BugVillage as my case study, use game mechanics designed to be keep the gamer playing through underhanded psychological exploits.  In BugVillage, I played, creating my village and felt the urge to spend money to make things goes faster, or so I could get things quicker.  There was no story, no mechanic, no emotional tie-in other than my hate of waiting.   Even EA’s “The Sim’s Social” does this – just better.  They have quests with a slight storyline the drive the game forward, and the waiting within the Sims Social caps out at approximately an hour.  While annoying, I can easily occupy myself for an hour to go to do something else.  The game is playable without paying — and it’s engaging for a bit.  Now, I didn’t play for long because the game just doesn’t have the depth of play I need, but it was enjoyable for about a month of very light (approx. 10min) play time per day.

But ultimately (and traditional games are NOT exempt from this at all), there’s been a shift away from making good games, to making games that make money.  These two things are not at all mutually exclusive, there are plenty of good games that make lots of money.  I think the difference is that there’s a new focus on primarily making money, and making a game second.  This is a subtle distinction between wanting to make a game and make money; it’s also a distinction one that I’m not prepared to expound upon right now.

For the TL:DR crowd : free to play games are hard to do well, and the result of a lot of hype of people trying to get rich quick.  They can and have been done well, but I think of them as flavor of the month, and not a frontier of gaming.

Game Studies Information!

So, Game Studies is a new(ish) field of media studies that only recently come into being. At it’s heart, Game Studies takes the tenets of media studies and applies them to games.  However, games have an added layer of influence on the story and the experience that make them a unique study within the media field.  All of my graduate academic work up until this point have been in game studies.  As such, I’ve done a lot of reading and research already, and wanted to give you all the opportunity to check out some of the fruits of my labors.  

Primarily, I have books and websites/blogs that I’ve uses as resources in the past that I think have a lot of great (and really interesting information) about Game Studies.   You can think of this as kind of an informal annotated bibliography.   Right now this is just a blog post, but I’m going to change the format a bit and post it on my Resources page.  If you have anything to add or change, please let me know! 
There are a few websites that I frequent for academic looks at games.  The first is the ever so intuitive www.gamestudies.org which is a digital trade journal published quarterly with game studies topics.  Who knew?  Since it’s only updated quarterly, it doesn’t have a ton of up-to-date content, but that’s also not really it’s focus.  Regardless, it’s probably the single best resource of purely scholarly publications to do with video games.  There’s also the more generalist webiste,www.gamasutra.com which, among other things, has very academic writings about video gaming.  Bogost is a frequent contributer to Gamasutra, and there’s lots of great general information on video gaming as a whole on Gamasutra.  It’s awesome for just a quick perusal with high quality content.  
Finally, there’s my favorite gaming-related magazine/blog, The Escapist.  The Escapist Magazine has a collection of news articles, opinions, blogs, and videos which are again, very high quality that make it enjoyable to read and highly informative at the same time.  They release weekly issues, each containing 3-4 articles from contributing writers around the topic at hand.  Additionally, the staff writers also maintain blogs and additional posts, as well as creating the fun extras on the site.  If you have a few minutes, do a search on the site and watch an few episodes of “Extra Credits,” which is a very forward thinking weekly video that I find very informative, inspiring, and entertaining.  There are some other sites, http://www.IndustryGamers.com focusing on the business side of the fence with some news and op-ed mix in, and websites like DestructoidKotaku, and Joystiq all have good articles from time to time, but are more focused towards entertainment than informing academically. 
First on my list is Bonnie Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest which is an anthropological study on gamers, and more specifically the World of Warcraft community.  I would rank this as a number one must read if you are at all interested in video gaming and the communities it creates.  She makes some great observations that being an insider to the game, I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed on my own.  If you are curious at all about what World of Warcraft is all about, I strongly urge you pick this up and give it a read through.  It shows from both an outsider and eventually an insiders perspective the phenomenon that is the World of Warcraft.  
  
Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which she references in her TED talk is a really interesting take on the gamification movement.  She paints a very powerful (if a little idealistic) view of gamification and the power that gamification can have in the world today.  She has some great ideas and great insight.  But as I mentioned, her view of gamification as an ultimate force for good is a little bit optimistic and idealistic.  She also has a community of gamification people called www.gameful.org if you are at all interested.  Gameful.org (which I’m a member of) does a lot to network like minded people, and there are groups – and they have a really interesting implementation of gamification on the website involving completing certain “tasks” and leveling up before you can post, or keep a blog, etc.  I think between her TED talk, Reality is Broken, and Gameful.org, there’s a ton of great information about gamification just from Jane.  
Another major player in the Game Studies field currently is Ian Bogost.  Ian is a professor of Comparative Media at Georgia Tech, and has runs his own website for persuasive/serious games — http://persuasivegames.com.  Additionally, he’s written 2 books thus far (with a 3rd on the way): Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism and Persuasive Games: The Expressive power of Video Games.    In these books, Bogost attacks the particular challenges of critiquing games from a structuralist perspective.  Unit Operations addresses the relationship between different chunks of functionality within a game, and focuses on how that relationship, that unit operation influences the player.  In Persuasive Games, Ian creates a new idea, called procedural rhetoric, which attempts to address how the rules inherent in game program have a rhetorical function.  His most recent book, How to Do Things with Video Games will be released on Aug. 30, 2011.  
 Henry Jenkins is another big name in the game studies, though he hasn’t done as much as some others in the way of explicit writing about game studies.  His book Convergence Culture, while not dealing with gaming directly, does mention it a few times and is a good for just understanding the transition of media to filling in the gaps.  Additionally, his other book which is a collection of essays Fans, Bloggers and Gamers has some good material about gamers as a community, though he has some frustration with the state of video games, and that comes through in the writing strongly at certain points.  But, he has been an ardent defender of gaming in the past, and noting his work is important when looking at game studies.  His blog can be found at http://www.henryjenkins.org/.
Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds by Celia Pearce covers a more somber topic – the death of a virtual world.  The book primarily covers the exodus of players of a game called Uru that was shut down, and it’s community of players became essentially homeless.  I haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire book, but what I’ve read of it has been fascinating, and something I can related to, with the decline of a multiplayer game defined a lot of me as a gamer, Anarchy Online from Funcom.  An easy read, I really enjoy what I’ve read of it so far.  Another book that I haven’t read the whole way through is Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by T. L. Taylor.  T.L. Taylor is another big name in game studies, but not as well known.  Her book deals primarily with the creation of community within a virtual world, through the lens of the game EverQuest.  You can find her website here: http://tltaylor.com/ with some additional work.  
Edward Castronova also has two books that are worth reading, though it should be said I didn’t enjoy them as much as I have some others.  Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, Castronova tackles a primarily economic reading of virtual worlds, which I was a little turned off on when he talks about the earning potential of virtual worlds, but I’m also biased against anything overtly business related, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.  He also wrote Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality.  Again, I viewed his book with a bit of trepidation after the reading Synthetic Worlds, but as much as I might dislike it, it’s still important to understand the implications that Castronova tackles.  
There are two other books that I want to mention here that have a less academic tilt — World of Warcraft and Philosophy is a collection of essays that are academic in nature, but geared towards an non-academic audience.  There are some good seed ideas in the book, but over all I found the general critique to be rather shallow – which makes sense considering the audience.  I wouldn’t imagine it to be very complicated and complex critique when not focused on an academic audience.  Overall though, it’s a good, easy read with some really interesting, if mal-developed, ideas.  The second, is a book by a writer and professor, Tom Bissell called Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.  While not an academic writing, Bissell talks through games from a gamer’s perspective–deeming games a term of Self-Surrender.  A good read in itself to help you understand the gaming world as a whole, if you aren’t familiar.  
Finally, from the books I’ve read (at least in part) Gamer Theory by McKenzie Wark, who teaches at The New School.  Wark’s book I found very difficult to read.  He writes in a very much flow of consciousness style of writing, and is writing strikes me as more of a manifesto.  His premise is to make that we are all gamers, in one manner or another.  I need to re-read the book to get a better understanding, but it’s definitely an interesting concept I’m hoping I increase my understanding of on subsequent read-throughs.

So, that’s my list to start with.  Obviously this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list and there’s a lot here I’ve read, but lots more I haven’t read.   If you have anything to add, please let me know.  I would love to have a really comprehensive list.  Anyway, from this posting here,  I listed out all the resources here on the bottom with links to Amazon so you don’t have to dig down through to find something.  If you have any questions (or additions!), please feel free to hit me up and let me know.   

Books
Extra Lives – Tom Bissell 
Gamer Theory – McKenzie Wark
Persuasive Games – Ian Bogost
Unit Operations – Ian Bogost
Synthetic Worlds – Edward Castronova
Exodus to the Virtual World – Edward Castronova
Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal
Convergence Culture – Henry Jenkins
Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers – Henry Jenkins 
Communities of Play – Celia Pearce 
Play Between Worlds – T.L. Taylor
My Life as a Night Elf Priest – Bonnie Nardi 
World of Warcraft and Philosophy – Luke Cuddy, ed. 
Websites

Supreme Court Decision Expected Today

Update: Supreme Court upheld the lower courts ruling in a 7-2 decision.  I’m currently reading the opinion and I’ll post a summary as soon as I’m done.  

Exciting Day!

According to the Huff-Po, SCOTUS is supposed to release their decision on EMA vs. Schwarzenegger.  I’m excited, I wrote a 20 page review of the failed video game legislature for a grad class, so I think I know the result of the ruling, but it’ll be nice to see the actual response.

Originally heard by SCOTUS in November 2010, the legislation tries to make it illegal to sell ‘ultra-violent’ video games to minors.  The bill is riddled with problems, but being unconstitutionally vague to attempting to apply obscenity law to media and violence, which every previous failed legislation has tried and failed to enact.  Check out Joystiq for a quick over-view.

Check the Huff-Po and I’ll update this as soon as I hear the result.

Supreme Court Violent Video Games   via. HuffPo

WoW vs. Rift and Gamers

I’m finding as time goes on, Gamers are perhaps the most obnoxious group of people.  I don’t know–there must be something about playing the hero all the time, donning our pixel armor and awesome hair (you have to admit, the blood elves have GREAT hair) that make us feel like social skills are something not worth grinding.

This all comes out of the Facebook post for the Rift 1.3 patch announcement.  While most of the comments on the post are positive, there are some people who come on just to say how horrible the game is, how they can’t wait for it to die, etc.  This is responded to by people to telling them to go back to that heinously terrible game, World of Warcraft.  The whole thing degraded (at the time of this writing … 13:27pm EST) into a name calling fest.  And in my rage, wrote a huge post on there, that decided was better served on my blog … which has been sadly neglected of late.

I just don’t get it – why is it so alien to some people that they cannot like a game, but someone else can …with good reason?  There was so much vitriol flying around about which game was better, it’s like no one cares whether they actually enjoyed the game.  At that point, what’s the point?

I have a subscription to WoW, but I haven’t logged in to actually play in probably 6 months.  The game, for me, lost the luster because it lost the ability for me to be wrong.  I have just as much of a chance of failing in raid because I lagged than I did because I didn’t know the fight.  Blizzard’s current definition of skill is not something I find engaging. I want my skill to be measure by more than knowing not to stand in fire.  Complex rotations, having to do research and find out what others have done – that’s engaging to me.  Mutlimodally engaging as well (across multiple media, if you were unsure).

 Does that mean the World of Warcraft is a horrible game?  Absolutely not.  Does it mean that I think WoW is the greatest game ever?  Absolutely not.  You see, I have my personal opinion on the matter, but  I treat my opinion as subjective, not objective fact.  It’s a matter of taste, not a matter of fact.

That being said, I still  my subscription open in the hopes WoW will again become a game I want to play.  Right now, I find the game Rift to be so much more engaging – even though it’s not perfect.  It does a lot of really great things, and actually has some staying power against WoW, which is great.  Most sub-MMOs can’t say that.  Rift took some cues from WoW, but it also took them from WAR, AoC, and a few others try and make something new, and better.  One of the best qualities in my mind is the class system.  It feels like Anarchy Online a little bit where I could choose however the hell I want.  It might not be the best choice, and it was harder to level up and harder to make use of, but damn I could do it I wanted.  While not 100% the same, it has the same spirit.

It also reminds me a bit of D&D with the open ended way they do things.  They do lots of things well–public groups, public quests, zone wide events regularly.  The class system is complex enough that it’s almost impossible to have true cookie cutter specs, but not so complex that you need a PhD to figure out what to do.

Clearly, as it stands Rift is more to my taste at the moment.  Is Rift better than WoW?  Nope, not at all, but it is different, and those pieces that are different are the pieces that I dislike about WoW.  So, I prefer Rift.  So why the vitriol?  Why the trolling?  Why do gamers have to be on the forefront of proving the Internet Fuckward Theory?  I wish I had answers to these questions.

Other people say it’s the anonymity of the Internet that brings it out, I have to say I feel like it’s more than that.  Sure, that helps, but I can’t help but feel like it’s something else.  Maybe it’s the feeding the trolls–they do it cause they get a rise out of people.  But why the absolutes – what is it about the Internet that says that everything has to be good and bad.  Black and white, if I dislike something, it automatically has to be bad.  Maybe it comes from our polarizing in games – the clear cut good guy and bad guy.  The faux-moral choices of “Save the Maiden” or “Eat the maiden’s baby off of her face,” that make people so willing to fling around the absolutes–but doesn’t explain the vitriol spewing forth.

I don’t know – just a rant – this bothers me.  I just want everyone to get along.

TL;DR – I hate trolls; Rainbows and Ponies for everyone!

Dead Island Trailer Perspective

I feel like a Dead Island Trailer perspective is the kind of thing that I, a game-theorist in training, should endeavor to write about.  It’s been all over the place that controversy this trailer caused because it depicts violence against children.  The trailer, set to some somber music, starts at the “end” of scene and moves backwards, showing the girl being bitten and infected and her father essentially abandoning her when he realizes she’s been infected.  In the end, the whole family is slaughtered by the zombies.

It’s a very emotional moving piece–arguably one of the most well done trailers I’ve ever seen, I would say even surpassing Blizzard’s CGI abilities.  So this stirred up some rage from people saying that the company was trying to profit from depictions of violence against children, and called the piece manipulative and salesy.  For once, (and this is a rare thing) Jim Sterling and I are in agreement in that this is a needed piece of media.

I wouldn’t say that I loved the trailer–that implies a degree of … affection for it that I don’t really have.  What I do–I admire it, it amazes me, and most of all, it’s revealing.  A large portion of cultural theory (of which game studies is a part) deals with looking at what we take for granted, those things that we choose to ignore on a daily basis.  Violence against children is one of those things that we hide our heads in the sand about, effectively plug our fingers in our collective ears and yell “LALLALALLA” until it goes away.

Again, I agree with Mr. Sterling here when he says that often in media, children are rarely the subjects of violence–they almost always emerge unscathed as if somehow their perceived innocence of the world protects them from the horrors the rest of the world is facing.  But the reality is – that isn’t the case.  Violence far worse than what appears in this trailer happens to children every day.  Literally.  Every.  Day.  In a conversation with a friend recently, he mentioned in a class about genocide, that children are not exempt from genocide, are not sold into slavery.  To the best of my knowledge, Hitler didn’t make exceptions for children. The European colonists didn’t make exceptions for the Native American children during the push west.

Yet, we find even amongst gamers, there are those that are crying this is too far, that this mere marketing stunt is manipulative and immoral.  Even those who have been staunch proponents of free expression in games. But I think this is a farce.  There’s the assumption that this makes light of their deaths, and yet the same is never said of movies that show similar content–and really a movie is only a longer trailer designed to get money without the middle-man of the game.  Both a movie and trailer function to make money.  A trailer and a movie are functionally the same, and yet we treat them differently here because one is less underhanded and is thus vilified for it.

We claim it inappropriate to show this kind of imagery.  We say it manipulative, underhanded, immoral, insensitive.  The argument has already been made by others that it’s accurate.  It’s not that it’s manipulative or any of those things that we find it reprehensible–it’s because it’s true.  For all of our ostrich head in the sand tactics, it’s still true.  It’s still accurate.  More than that, I think that more than a few people would have abandoned the girl the same way, knowing she was already lost.  I think that knowledge, that urge of self-preservation when you know the child is lost to you scares people.  There’s a sense of helplessness that comes across in the video, and a sense of finality, and doom for lack of a better word.  They were always going to lose–the family was always going to die.  In this way to me, the trailer is beautiful because it elicits those responses; because it deliberately makes us unapologetically uncomfortable.

For me – the fact that this trailer is uncomfortable to watch, that it forces us to think about lose-lose situations, that it shows us even the innocent are not free from violence makes it all the more important to *have* this kind of media available.  These are the kind of things that if gaming ever wants to be viewed as more than just something for kids–as Mr. Sterling states (I can’t help but imagine with a bit of a sneer), “take games seriously.”

This isn’t about the game–tangentially it could be – we don’t know the game.  The game could be profound and different from all the other zombie games and live up the precedent set by the trailer.  Or it might not.  But that’s not the point.  This is an argument about what is OK to display in media, the issues that are OK for us to explore in media.  This is an issue about games (as opposed to the game).  If we start claiming this early in the fight that, yes there are certain things that shouldn’t be in games, that sets the precedent in a way I don’t think we want.

See the Trailer here.

An Argument for the Stand-Alone Avatar

I read this article over at IndustryGamers about the idea of a having a single avatar for all of your virtual interactions.  While I agree this is a great idea, I feel like they didn’t consider all the important pieces that I think they need to consider.  

First and foremost, the creation of the ArchAvatar, the avatar that travels between different services, is an artifact of cultural identity.  The urge for the creation of an Arch Avatar is driven around the desire for a continuity of identity within the new metaphysical cyberspace.  In a cyberworld where I could be everything, how do I define myself as any given thing?  Questions like, “What does my pure (outside the content of a service) avatar look like? How do I view my avatar?  Can my avatar only exist in the context of a ‘service?’ immediately come to mind.  The people you are trying to appeal to are those who want continuity to different disparate parts of their cyber-life, which you are attempting to give them through this very abstract concept of the “avatar.”

You should also keep in mind that people define themselves beyond just their physical appearance.  The kind of house I own, how I decorate my house, the clothes I wear, the books I read, the games I play, the banks and stores I frequent all play a role in the definition of who I am in a very tangible way in reality.

Even on something like Facebook provides this needed level of defining one’s self within the cyber-realm.  In fact, what is Facebook but the definition I who I am in a cyber context?  Everything that goes into who I am is contained within my Facebook page.  If you want to create a CentralAvatar, lets call it for simplicity’s sake, the ArchAvatar, you will need to take certain aspects of what Facebook does to assist in the definition of the self.

BUT what Facebook lacks is a cyber-reality by graphical representation.  Within Facebook, the abstract avatar you created (meaning it has no identifiable manifestation–either physical of cyber) can never truly be seen by anyone–there’s not “Home Space” for it, though Facebook has become a bit of a “Home Space,” within cyberspace, but ultimately an imperfect one.

So the issues are, 1) creating a unified graphical representation of myself 2) In such a way as to make it simple for developers (and time/resource saving) 3) Simple but not restrictive for users while creating a value for using the service and making the user actually “care”.

This is a pretty tall order, I think.  BUT not unsurmountable, but I’m not sure if the author of the post is going about it the right way.  There are 3 main ways to look at this issue – the interaction with user, the interaction with the developers, and the interaction with the cyberspace.  These are by their very nature all very much interconnected and related, so talking about one without referencing the other two is pretty much impossible.

First, the interaction with the user–this is pretty self-explanatory.  How does my avatar relate to who I am really am?  What do I get from my avatar?  How does that make me want to do anything with it.  Does it have a gateway (Do I have to sign up for it?  To use avatar services, do I have to log in a different way?)?  What barriers does having a unified avatar present to the user in terms of playability and utility?   What options of customization do I have?   How do those effect my disparate avatars within the different services?  How do those different services effect my unified avatar?  Do they effect my unified avatar?

With the developers–instead of forcing the developers to confirm to the unified avatar (let’s be realistic, not the most feasible expectation), why not create a spec for if they choose to, you can import certain features of your unified avatar into their disparate avatar.  That way, instead of forcing (and limiting) the representation of disparate avatars, you put in on the developers to take what you send and determine how much it can effect their disparate avatar depending on how much customization/which customizations they offer.

Then, create a standard protocol for sending the information from the games back to the avatar.  This is where it would get a bit tricky because invariably people would want to use the images of l33t gearz they have–which might run into some copyright stuff, but assuming that the game opted to use the export protocols, it stands to reason it would be OK.  Similarly, you run into a manpower thing–most companies are not going to have the resources to model/skin/texture items twice – once for the game and once for the export to their unified avatar.  I think the easier way to solve this would be to create a framework where if the developer doesn’t export the models, the community can work to recreate the models they want from their individual games–potentially pending source-developer approval?  The increasing popularity of achievements would be easy to centralize, just exporting from the game in a standardized protocol to be imported into the the unified avatar service.

One of the most important aspects, that the IndustryGamer article doesn’t tackle is the idea of having a graphical “home” within cyberspace.  There are bits and pieces of my avatar that I may want situationally.  Typically, this handled via a menu in other games.  While this isn’t a horrible way of doing things, image a virtual “space” within cyberspace that has a PublicSpace, where I could put achievements from games, games I play, places I’ve been, and pictures and additionally pure vanity items–windows, wallpaper, room layout, furniture (think living room).  Then I could have a PrivateSpace – a place to keep those things I wouldn’t want people who visited my public space to technically be able to see all the time (think: bedroom).  Or even be able to have models of those bosses I’ve beat from games, that legendary item I won in WoW hanging on my wall in my public space–my “taxidermed” familiar.

The idea isn’t radical– it’s essentially the concepts of Facebook, SecondLife, and an RSS aggregate all put into a virtual space.  It’s technically possible, just hasn’t been done yet.  You could even expand on it by creating the use IM, Skype, GooglePhone all from your HomeSpace.  Your email gives you a visual indicator within HomeSpace.  Open it up the community–allow them create APIs into the HomeSpace and the avatar, create plugins, themes.  Maybe I can access Amazon via a wall-picture–when I purchase an item a virtual model of it appears for me to use in the HomeSpace.  Create the frame work and let the community (being users and developers) fill in the gaps.

The fun part is all of these pieces of what I just mapped out exist today, they just don’t play well together.  They don’t mesh on the level I’ve mapped out.  True, SecondLife creates a platform where you can create a “HomeSpace,” but it’s not user friendly, and difficult to learn.  It also doesn’t play well with other services–it’s pretty well silo’d.  Facebook solidifies your virtual existence, but without a space to call you “own.”  Most of the feeds from games are text or achievement notification– not the whole of true interaction of data.

All in all, I think this is the way things are heading in the virtual realm, and on the venture, we’ll get it wrong along the way … a lot.  I’m sure there are a thousand and one reasons why what I mapped out won’t work, but it’s not meant to be the end all.  It’s a continuation of an idea started by Mr. Gerson and which will undoubtedly be continued well beyond both of us.

Via: http://www.industrygamers.com/news/industry-insights-one-avatar-to-rule-them-all/

Gamer is a bad word … I mean, what?

Gamer Logo

 

Gamer Logo

I don’t want to imply that I took offense to Yahtzee’s article entitled, “Don’t Use the Word Gamer,” but I can say that I did vigorously disagree with most of what he said.  The sum up his article, the word “gamer” implies two things – it reinforces a negative stereotype of overweight, neck beards, acne, and smelling faintly of milk.  Second, he says that the concept of “gamer” creates a division where there isn’t one.
Continue reading “Gamer is a bad word … I mean, what?”

BioShock Infinite’s Vision of a Nazified America

BioShock Infinite Billboard

Irrational Games released a trailer for the third installment of their BioShock franchise – BioShock Infinite, and just the trailer has people squirming in their seats. To start, the game appears to deal with the very 19th century obsession with eugenics (breeding in desirable traits) and racism in the fictional American city of Columbia.

In the article on Game|Life from Wired and the ECA’s GamePolitics, I got a sense of general queasiness, an uneasiness not about the quality of the game, but rather the moral choices the game will force you to make. With all the racial tension currently in the the US–from the Arizona law, to the the Shirley Sherrod incident, to the even more recent Dr. Laura N-word controversy, it’s clear that race is once again entering the lime-light as one of the most contended and persistent issues facing America today. The anxiety (and anticipation) present on Wired and GamePolitics about the issue of race and eugenics in “BioShock Infinite,” is palpable and expected to say the least.

We can leave out the criticism of turn of the century America, as well as the criticism of current day America – as both articles state, I’ve no doubt that political pundits will use this game to push their own agendas as they are often wont to do with media that pushes the envelope.