Okay, another hunt at the bookstore and came across two morebooks I need to read in depth, although I’m still finishing The Long Tail
and The Wisdom of Crowds
. (see my reading list
The first book is MassivelyMultplayer Online Game Development 2
published by Charles Media in 2005,and edited by Thor Alexander. The first edition of this book was much more focused onthe programming issues around this topic, but this edition also has a number ofchapters—almost a third of the book--on managing the overall community,building guilds (groups), policing/managing member conflicts, analyzing memberbehavior, reward and punishment methods, and even pricing policies and marketadoption strategies. I’m surprised by the amount of detail they have in here. I have not seen a copy of Richard Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds
around here but that is also something to add to the list.
The other book is Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class …andhow its transforming work, leisure, community & everyday life. Thislatter book is interesting due to new ideas that I learned the other day on theimportance of Services and the service industry.IBM has an ongoing focus on what we call Services Science, Management and Education (SSME)which is a look at the science (or business theory) behind the serviceindustry. The reason is because in leading nations and even some emerging ones,Services is becoming a significantly larger portion of the overall GDP versusAgriculture and Industry. We’re talking 70-90% of the Gross Domestic Producthere version less than 5-20% for Agriculture and 10-30% forManufacturing/Industrial output. It’s hard to describe, but for example,Starbucks is a service company (a café or caffeine delivery service) eventhough it produces caffeinated input for others; grocery stores are the same:they sell stuff, but selling is a service action not a production action.
(Just so you’re not confused, I’m not talking about SOA orWeb services here)
The word “Service” in terms of an industry is difficult todefine; it is generally considered is different than a physical (or virtualproduct), although products are sometimes outcomes of services (and is oftencalled ‘consulting’). Even much of IBM’s revenue comes from services.So if you look at the stats, the real “business” in topnations is in the service industry, producing stuff for the other customers.Yet, there is still a lot of vagueness about the subject (even after 200-300years). The Communications of the ACM has a special issue just on the subject,contributed by social scientists, business folk, technical folk, and more,indicating the wide range of applicability of this new science.
For the community side, services have a lot of impactespecially on measuring the value of each service provider. Any community is aninformal (or formal) environment for brokering knowledge or other services. Soa greater focus on this can only help us.
In any case, Florida’sbook gives an idea of how people are providing and consuming services to a muchgreater degree and that I need to read.
I was discussing this topic with several other friends today: when it's your turn to watch the baby, what computer game do you play?
I have a night shift from 8 to about 12 to watch the baby and the best game I can play is Civilization IV
. It's a little older now but it's still a good game and the turn-by-turn basis gives me a lot of time in case I need to stop and attend to him. Also Civ IV is can be played almost as well whether you have just a keyboard or just a mouse, which is an important factor when you have to do your turn one-handed (while bouncing on a big rubber ball holding the baby). Also, the game takes many hours to finish and that is just what I need.
My friend Eric is/was quite into World of Warcraft
, but when the baby cries, he put his priest character into "follow" mode. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work so well, when the others need your help. E.g., they're off fighting a creature and you're just standing there while others are begging you to heal them. So, I won't mention what his character's name is...
Another friend plays a version of Half-Life--I think it's Team Fortress
--where you can turn your character to Observor mode, thus essentially making your character invulnerable but ineffective in the game. Your teammates still probably won't appreciate you taking yourself out.
Anyway, I've played Civ IV to death and new I'm looking for another building/management strategy game. I hear good things about Caesar IV
, so its next on my list.
In search of more turn-based games to fill my baby-watch time (see my reasons), a friend told me about this fantasy mod for Civ IV where they redesigned the gameplay almost from ground up. I went looking for it and found Fall from Heaven
, a free player mod (version 1.0 released in April) that rewrites much of the Civ IV game from classic countries and developing nations, to more of one set in a fantasy world where it is about improving characters and combat. If you want to download this use the download.com site
; they also have some screenshots there.
The set up is that there are a number of different races: orcs, merfolk, minotaurs, knights, etc. that each have their own religion. The units are very different and there are many more upgrades/enhancements that each character can get. Thus most people start with Warriors that can actually last quite a while gaining new skills. The city buildings are completely different with lots of added benefits: with wine, your brewery raises revenue and food; hunting lodges to improve your scouts to hunters and assassins. You can tame wild animals, etc. The tech tree is very different, and so are many of the Wonders.
While the map style looks the same and some of the units are still around, the gameplay is quite original. This took a lot of work to put together. This is what I call a player mod done right. Most other mods are simply changes to the units, or smaller fixes here and there. I'm surprised Firaxis doesn't consider licensing and selling this commercially. I'd put this comparable to the Rise of Nations
commercial add-on, Rise of Legends
, but instead of three new nations, this one has about eight. It's obviously more well known because of the big marketing engine of Microsoft Games behind it.
It's these kinds of player mods that I really enjoy. From over a decade ago, the MMORPG text-only games like MUDs had a programming aspect to it so users could add more areas to the game. Most MMORPGs don't allow that any more because of uncontrolled growth and often poor execution on most users parts. Secondlife, while not really a game, is gaining a lot of success (see Wired article) because it goes the very opposite direction: build all you like. It can be chaotic, but this is really pure capitalism at work: the successful ones should get the most attention and reward. To make a success, you need good planning and execution, as well as all the other things: marketing, delivery, customer satisfaction, etc., but it still starts with having a good idea that people will want.
I was about to go pay $50 to buy a new game like Caeser IV, but I thinkthese guys should get my money instead, if I can figure out how.They're off working on the next version, Fall from Heaven 2
Eric Sniff and I were having a conversation on MMORPGs today starting with Age of Conan and eventually ending at SecondLife.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
(AoC) is an upcoming MMORPG that is based on the character and fantasy world
created by Robert E Howard
back in 1929. They are doing several things fairly interesting with this MMORPG starting with how you get into the game: you start off isolated in single-player mode within a fixed area playing until you develop your character to a certain degree and generally become familiar with the controls. It then transitions into the multiplayer world alongside everyone else. It solves a common current issue of game development and getting started on multiplayer games (dealing with noobs
). The game is visually gorgeous
, on par or perhaps better than Oblivion
, one of the top single-player games of 2006.
One interesting aspect of the game is that rather than fixed predetermined attacks ('press this button for "slash"'), it is much more analog allowing more realistic combat. This means you actually have to direct the sword where to hit. This exact same feature is what I liked about another game available for the Nintendo Wii
, Red Steel. (ok so I really do like swordfighting, and not just in real life)
The Wii itself is raising a new phenomenon in game, that of 3D motion-sensitive game controllers, where you have to move the controller around to perform an action, rather than simply a joystick or by pressing buttons. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk is changing how people play games rather than what they play. For example, if you're playing tennis, you have to wave the Remote around like a bat. Just look at what everyone is doing with it: tennis
, etc.) It's only starting out and there's not a huge selection of games, but I for one am excited that this new direction is succeeding. Rather than playing an ever increasing war of more complex systems--not that I mind the improvements in graphics--Nintendo came up with real outside-the-box innovation. Now if it will only spread to PCs and other consoles.
This kind of playability got us talking about other issues of MMORPGs. This introduces even more information about each player's movements that have to be conveyed across the network to other players. It would be interesting if it strikes a good balance between playability and performance with this level of complexity. Some of it lies in the problem of managing servers... I'll come back to that.
Where most MMORPGs require a lot of work in development is filling out the world. SecondLife which is not a game in particular but still a MMO system solves this by letting users develop the world. That however results in a wide variety in the environment from the well-made to the random garbage and litter. But the question remains: can you design an MMO where the game is networked and functions peer-to-peer style, rather than a multi-server based system run by a company like most MMORPGs.
With most true peer-to-peer systems, each client itself is smart enough to provide the application environment and only the peers that interact exchange traffic, rather than a more centralized system of servers (even if distributed). Games like AoC have the capability to display everything in one user's direct view in 3D, but it works well when all that data is local on the drive. If new data was available (new buildings, environment features, etc.) in each peer, they would need to be transferred to other peers that interact with them, and in a 3D world, that may be a lot of data.
SecondLife does a slightly different model I believe (I only understand the server system on a basic level), where each island is a server and all avatars on that island are essentially on the same server. When you move off an island by walking, flying or teleporting, it transfers the avatar object to the other island. This can be slow in redrawing all the details when receiving the data a bit at a time. This isn't bad or incorrect, it is a matter of complexity and traffic.
Who knows? The net certainly has grown by a billion percent since the old days of text muds with a max of 3000 simultaneous players. Game development has reached magnitudes of greater sophistication. MMORPG players today simply demand a lot more and there are a lot more of them. They're certainly taking over or replacing other forms of entertainment (in terms of dollars).
I picked up a copy of The Kids are Alright
by John Beck and Mitchell Wade at the airport a few weeks ago. The subtitle How the Gamer Generation is is changing the Workplace
is very apt. It is a sort of business-oriented sociological report on the behaviors, interests and incentives of this particular generation.
This is probably a must-read for all current managers and those who simply don't consider themselves as part of this generation. What is this generation you say? It's a cohort/generation that probably started around the early 1980s up until the current block of 10-year olds. They generally consider anyone over 34 or 35 to most likely not be part of this generation. I'm in that generation myself although I'm just about exactly at the cut off point.
This is one of those books that talks about the implicit life lessons that influenced those in this generation, even if they were not heavily into game playing. It is very likely that those in this generation were surrounded by this and the closer you get to the current time, the less likely that they know a world where video/computer games were not commonplace. The preface lists 7 Habits of Highly Typical Gamer
s which seem quite relevant to the behaviors I've experienced amongst others in this generation. I'd even put it as something to think about when designing or delivering products and services.
The book appears quite on the point but almost dates itself, not because of time necessarily but because it was likely written at the turning point in the game industry: the rise of MOGs (for the non-gamer generation folks: multiplayer online games). At one point of the book, it talks about how gamers are tuned into solely individual experiences, in that the game-world exists solely for them.
While this is/was case for single-player games, recent years have shown that multiplayer games can become successful, recurring sources of revenue. While single-player games are still the vast majority, many leading games now are either designed solely, or have special modes, for squad (4-6 players), team vs team (16-32 players), or massive-players (up to hundreds of thousands simultaneously).
players today probably won't even understand that even ten years ago, even squad-team games were not worth their development time. I recall in 1996 trying to convince a VC and game developers to consider creating multiplayer games. Most just shrugged or plain laughed at the idea. Thank goodness for a reversal on that. (For me, it does suck to be way too early to a party and no one's there).
Anyway, MOGs may change the rules for gamers once again. One key point in this book is that because it's a world customized for your experience, it does not emphasize the more-challenging issues of building social connections within games. Even when players get together to play a game, with SP games, it was mostly a solitary experience. With MMOGs, players once more are faced with social relationships and often with total strangers from other locations, and with much larger crowds and changing people. On top of that technology has evolved so that it is even simpler to interact: actual live audio conversations rather than typing a lot of text, greater bandwidth and better computing power for richer environments, and even social networking sites for recording/blogging events, etc.
It's my belief that games are so much better these days for their multiplayer aspect. For myself, I started on MMOGs back in the text-based MUD days around 1990 or so, so I'm pretty ingrained into this from an early date. So when I play a top-10 single-player game like Oblivion
, even with one of the richest environments, most detailed graphics and storyline, open ended gameplay, and a reactive environment, it still feels a little dull because of the lack of other real human players.
In any case, I'd be curious to see a followup to this book in another 4 years examining how MOGs have affected the gamer generation. Let's face it, after a certain point, you can't really call it a separate generation because games are likely going to be here from now on.
In the last post, I introduced the book The kids are alright
that talks about ethics, interests, and motivations of the gamer generation as it is starting to enter the workplace. The post was getting long so I left out this bit.
To me the idea of SecondLife
was only a dream back in 1992, when text-based MMOGs were available. Even then, there were many MUDs, MOOs, etc. where players eventually got bored of playing the hack-n-slash life and switched more to socializing and creating. The lands I created in lpmud
using a derivative of the C programming language inside the game is a similar notion to Lindenscript
in SL now. Of course, with a text-basis, you did not have the sheer coolness of a 3D world. But that came back to bite me when I tried SL programming. While I can do the programming, I'm pretty lousy & slow with 3D graphics. That and my lack of time just made me give up (too easily I'm afraid).
My own scripting woes aside, it's the change from game-playing to game-making that made those programmable MUDs really fun. I don't want to say it's a bit of growing up but for me it was a switch from entertainment to using my skills. Not everyone wants to do that and even those who didn't want to play but still returned to the game to socialize points to the need for a different kind of environment: the same that SecondLife is suited for.
What's more, by taking the game aspect out of SL, it allows those of the non-gamer generation (per that book) to relate even better. My guess on what sold companies on getting involved in SL is not just the 3D factor, the programmability, the multi-user environment, etc., but because it is a transition environment between the two generations. Gamer-gen folks can work on this and still explain to their non-gamer gen bosses and seniors that it's okay because "It's not a game." That may sound silly, but the reality is that the non-gamer gens generally still consider games a waste of time, so anything that suggests that it is a game is most likely not worth the attention, and that the gamer employees are probably slacking off.
I bring this up because it is not limited to SL and the like, but even to other community & web 2.0 services. This same parallel exists in situation when a developer becomes an active member of a discussion forum, a chat, a wiki or are blogging . One common first assumption is that they are slacking off, rather than the reality that they may be building better relations than what you pay loads of money to communications, marketing and PR departments for, or even make the right connections to help them in their work.
Very often they are asked to justify themselves spending their time in such activities, in terms of some sort of results: solutions, work products, clientelle, etc. The difficulty lies in the fact that the benefits that they get from communities is building social capital
, which itself is an intangible and variable product. You'll find dozens of books that all talk about the value of social capital in business, but it is still hard to measure and compare. But then again some folks have figured out (somewhat) complex ways of determining other intangibles like productivity, loyalty, coolness, etc., so I think there is hope yet for some form of measure.
After all, if we are fixated on results-driven and measured processes for everything, we would definitely need a way to describe that. Enough for now, I'll gab about some ways of measuring this in other posts.
It's interesting to see the evolution of reward mechanisms in MMORPGs. In multiplayer situations, it is often difficult to tell who completes a task when there are a number of steps involved. For example, in a raid on WoW against a single monster, who gets recognition for the kill when it takes 40-80 people working as a team to kill that beast? It's defined now in WoW but this same problem existed all the way back to the days of text MUDs.
In the first generation, essentially there was no thought involved in this. Whoever made the killing blow got the points for the kill. Very primitive and the cause of many an argument. The next few improvements--it came in several different ways--was to add a list on the create being attacked where it kept track of who the attackers were and distribute the points based on how many points of damage each person made on the creature, so the distribution of experience points for the kill was more even. WoW provides a newer version of this whereby each person engaged in the raid gets dollars per kill
, which once the creature was dead, they could spend to buy the reward items.
However, this still raises a problem when there are items that several people want to share from the common pool of rewards. In the people-administrative way, the guild--there's usually a guild involved--makes a decision on who gets what. This is where it breaks down again: what happens when there is an item so unique that the top contendors or leaders will argue for it. As my friend Eric described, that is the death knell of many a guild.
If you think this is a situation limited to MMORPGs and games, you're mistaken. This same situation exists when you have a community that is working for a shared goal, and there is some reward that needs to be distributed across the membership. In team scenarios in corporate environment, that is not very different than negotiations for annual bonuses. The differentiating factor is that in MMORPGs as in other communities, the group of people are not part of a single formal organization with defined managers and advocates. Instead it is up to each person to argue their own case. In other words, it is even more difficult in communities.
I don't have any answer here, but it is important to recognize that the situations are similar here, and compare what methods of distribution or approaches people take.
I think it was inevitable that something like this would emerge: a top console maker integrates with the Internet and start creating online communities, to combine its graphics system, user-to-user interaction and build a following.
And it looks like Sony has beat the others in the race with its announcement of the Playstation Home
. It leverages the enormous power of the PS3 to render truly gorgeous graphics. News of it is already starting to make the rounds as a serious contendor to other 3D MMO systems like SecondLife
. Since I missed the Game Developers Conference last week, but I believe it was announced according to this article
Since I haven't actually tried it, it is difficult to tell how well it works over a network link. Also, graphics aside, it still remains to be seen what you can do inside this virtual world. From reports, it is much more like a true-3D system competitive to Cyworld
, where users have homes they can decorate, buy stuff online, etc. and used primarily for socializing with friends. There's no word about programmability or if there is a way to develop new items or objects within the world, as you can in SecondLife. This is what has helped make SL so popular, and has contributed to its growth. Plus, it's free. On the other hand Sony certainly has a huge marketing machine, an established base of fans, and a network of games that could integrate with it. This might even give MySpace a run for its money in terms of social spaces.
Is this the death knell for SecondLife or MySpace? Let me know what you think.
Per my previous post about Playstation Home
, the rumor mill is hitting full steam. From what I understand now, companies will be able to develop for this new virtual world by partnering with Sony. So in other words, it may have the programmability of SecondLife but in a different fashion. Jay
's also gathering info on the PS Home.
Sony is used to partnering with game development houses only for their Playstation environments. This kind of development can involve a build environment in conjuction with a game unit simulator that also supports debugging and large-scale development. I have never worked in this environment but the last I heard, it works with the Eclipse environment. In any case, theirs is not an open development environment and you essentially have to join their partner program to be able to do such work. This and the much higher cost of entry for developers and customers ($600+ PS3) creates some hurdles for them.
Obviously they really need to have a compelling offer and in this case, visually at least the PS Home looks appealing. Programmatically, it's value is still to be determined. With IBM's support in terms of the cell processor, I'd think we would be thinking of working with this environment too, but I am not privy to such information either so I can just speculate.
In any case, there are also two types of development involved here: application (or prim) programming and the 3D visual design. The 3D design is outside my skill level; I've done 3Ds of buildings before, but you really need to become immersed and practised with the tools for a while to become a good artist and I'm just not that caliber. This should translate to either Secondlife or Playstation Home, since these visual objects are fairly standardized in the industry. The app programming however, is definitely specific to the world. Nintendo's Mii
, on the other hand, is slightly different animal. From what I gather, essentially it allows you to edit/update characters and the environment of existing games. This to me is more like what WindowBlinds
does to the Windows desktop environment, i.e. customize an existing system. This is particularly different than a MMO environment where you can build new things, exist in a mass population, and it is not centered around the structure or rules of an existing game. Another way to look at it is what tuners do to cars. You can improve the car vastly or personalize it to the extreme, but in the end, you usually still end up with a car. (but sometimes also a nightclub, a performance stage, a giant dinosaur, etc.)
So I don't really consider the current Mii and Mii channel comparable to Secondlife or PS Home. Please do prove me wrong.