Gaming Data

17 11 2008

I find most press releases very ignorable, but according to this one on MCV today, Everton Football Club have licensed the football manager database from Sports Interactive, apparently allowing them to search through 340,000 or so players.

This is a very intersting by-product of such a popular game, and strikes me as related to a couple of interesting finds from the past few weeks: Aftershock, a game about earthquake preparedness based on a USGS report, and the fact that Google search results for certain terms strongly parallel flu outbreaks.

How many data sources are there out there that would readily plug into entertaining and useful game mechanics? While it’s by no means ubiquitous yet, games driven by data are going to become more common.

(CC image by isyria)

Infovore: Playing Together

28 08 2008

Tom Armitage has given a talk on games and social software entitled “Playing Together” at NLGD and also at Develop. We unfortunately missed it at the latter because we were running Games:EDU a couple of rooms away, but Tom has now posted text and images.

It’s a really broad ranging talk with some great thinking on what humans are and how we use games. It moves through the kind of social circles we engage in, how social software has drawn on playful experiences to cater to those, how people in turn find new ways of playing with things and each other, and what videogame designers might be able to learn from all of this. The large structure makes it difficult to quote from, so I suggest you go and read the whole thing.

And what do you discover about Nike+? You discover there’s a metagame to it. People start syncing late – filling up their run data and then only syncing at the last minute – to disguise how much they’re doing. They mess around!

Nike+ is ticking so many of our boxes: it’s asynchronous; it’s designed perhaps best for small groups; it turns running into a social object, putting it online. It’s a really great example of future for social play.

And it goes where I am: it’s a game that I don’t have to learn how to play. I already know how to run.

(CC image of volleyball by flyzipper)

ARGs Are Dead, Long Live nuARGs

14 08 2008

It gets tricky when you’ve been conferencing for three days, when it’s sunny outside, to muster the energy to get to that last session. So it’s a testament to the high quality of Margaret Robertson’s ‘Why You Should Care About Alternate Reality Games’ talk that, even though I arrived late, I was riveted until the end.

The crux of the talk was this: ARGs are cool, but they’re only cool for a very small amount of people. So, although they’re cool, they’re not really doing much other than that. The engagement curve is often referred to as this:

But there’s actually a steeper drop off, since the amount of people willing to decode complicated puzzles or actually go out to the countryside/desert to look for a buried cube/Land Rover is, unsurprisingly, not very many. In fact that amount can often be in the low tens, making the graph above look more like this:

So what do nuARGs do differently? “They’re overt, and there are no puzzles.”
They last, and they’re creative and playful. no over complicated puzzles. They stick around so that others can enjoy them after they’ve happened. E.g., World Without Oil. Archives and views mean you can go back and see the story unfold.

Margaret gave lots of great examples, some old and some new. One that I particularly liked was Kingdom Of Loathing. You can get objects that you pick up in the game actually sent to you in the post (for a price).

With nuARGs, even the people who haven’t played (or don’t have the time to) can see what’s going on and enjoy being part of it as a witness. There’s added kudos for the people who crack the codes that progress the story for everyone, the benefits are shared.

The talk finished with a view to the future, Robertson putting it out there that location based gaming is the next big thing. But it’s important not to make the mistakes of old ARGs and exclude people by relying on them being kitted out with a certain level of technology in order to play the game.

(CC image by przemion)

NYC Apartment Has Games, JJ Abrams Has Rights

25 06 2008

NYC Apartment

Last week the New York Times ran an article on a stunning apartment overlooking Central Park, which had various puzzles and games built into it for the owners. The article is here, though may require a login to view (try

What Ms. Sherry didn’t realize until much later was that Mr. Clough had a number of other ideas about her apartment that he didn’t share with her. It began when Mr. Klinsky threw in his two cents, a vague request that a poem he had written for and about his family be lodged in a wall somewhere, Ms. Sherry said, “put in a bottle and hidden away as if it were a time capsule.” (Ms. Sherry said that her husband is both dogged and romantic, a guy singularly focused on the welfare of children, not just his own. Mr. Klinsky runs Victory Schools, a charter school company that seeds schools in neighborhoods around the country, as well as an after-school program in East New York that his own children help out with regularly.)

That got Mr. Clough, who is the sort of person who has a brainstorm on a daily basis, thinking about children and inspiration and how the latter strikes the former. “I’d just read something about Einstein being inspired by a compass he’d been given as a child,” he said. The Einstein story set Mr. Clough off, and he began to ponder ways to spark a child’s mind. “I was thinking that maybe there could be a game or a scavenger hunt embedded in the apartment — that was the beginning,” he said.

The flat is full of keys, ciphers, puzzles and hidden compartments. The article is an absolutely fascinating read, and there’s a slideshow here.

Paramount have now bought rights to the article from the NYT, apparently for a film to be produced by JJ Abrams, and I’m not surprised. He gave a fascinating talk at TED about mystery last year, about how it is a potent element in creating compelling experiences. Games and puzzles, by combining this with specific objectives, are among some of the most compelling experiences we’ve produced.

Hide and Seek Festival

12 06 2008

The full programme of the Hide and Seek Festival has been announced, and it’s looking great. It will feature an entire weekend of new and experimental social games based around the Southbank Centre, London, June 27th – 29th. Give it a look; we’re going down to play some games.

The Dark Side of Play

12 06 2008

Jane McGonigal blogs about a flash mob in Leeds that went wrong and caused a lot of damage:

More than 300 people ran riot and destroyed an award-winning garden after they responded to a campaign for a mass water fight on social networking website Facebook.

As I’ve pointed out here before, like technology games are for the most part morally inert, and specific manifestations can go very wrong. In the next five years, I’m expecting an ARG to arise that specifically and intentionally exploits people.

(CC image by atomicjeep)

Lost Ring Sponsored by McDonalds

25 04 2008

The Lost Ring

This is quite a surprise: Beijing 2008 ARG The Lost Ring is sponsored by McDonalds. The NYT has a registration wall, so I suggest bugmenot, but here’s a highlight that conveys the gist:

“I think finding out that it was McDonald’s was kind of a big shock for everyone,” said Geoff May, a player in Ontario who founded a Web site ( on the game. “Obviously it’s McDonald’s, and not everyone likes them,” he said. “Personally, I don’t mind as long as we don’t get products forced down our throat. If we’re getting McDonald’s meals sold by characters, it’s going to be hard to suspend our disbelief.”

That’s part of the reason McDonald’s has remained behind the curtain thus far. A successful alternate-reality game relies on the players’ continuing interest.

“If an A.R.G. is too clearly corporate or commercial, the gamers will not want to engage,” said Tracy Tuten, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who studies new-media marketing tools. “It’s very important that the game be written in a way where the branding is not obvious.”

McDonald’s has been careful to reflect that, Ms. Dillon said. “Above all, we want to be credible, authentic and respectful to this new audience,” she said.

As a recent academic report pointed out, marketing is now about relationships rather than transactions. There are still many large brands that don’t understand this, and McDonalds getting it took me unawares. I’ve a feeling that by the time ARGs are established, the reputations of more than a few brands will have been turned on their heads.

Henry Jenkins Interview

19 03 2008

Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins has been interviewed by Steven Johnson at SXSW, and Gamasutra has a piece up on it. As ever with Henry Jenkins, it’s a torrent of incredibly valuable insight, and I recommend you read it. While his blog is prolific, the Gamasutra piece creates a nice snapshot of some of his thinking:

Asked Johnson, “Do you ever look at a new technology and think, that is just stupid?”

“It’s a momentary flash in my mind,” admitted Jenkins. “But people don’t do things, in the end, that are meaningless. We may couch potato out sometimes, but that’s meaningful to us as well. So the challenge is to dig in and figure out what is meaningful about it to the person doing the activity. It may not be meaningful to me, but it’s clearly meaningful to the people engaging in it. People aren’t idiots. They do things for a reason. And the reason is usually very interesting. “

On TV and work:

Whereas Lost seems to push us in a new direction in terms of what it is to engage in a television experience. “

“It’s amazing how much time people have,” Johnson added. “One person creates a map from 45 freeze frames – it must have taken 3 days – and they put it in the discussion frame, and then other people chime in with corrections and additions. But the time commitment is amazing. “

“Rather than pathologize that, and say what’s wrong with these people that they spend so much time this way, let’s ask what’s wrong with America that these incredibly intelligent people are given so few opportunities to demonstrate their intelligence in their workplace,” said Jenkins. “Right?”

Johnson is not someone I’m very familiar with, but he too has some great insights. He says of moral panic:

“The young people who grew up with these interactive media – what are they like?” Johnson asked. “If you look at the broad demographic trends, they are incredibly good. They are the least violent since the 1950s, they are the most entrepreneurial on record, and the most politically engaged generation since the dawn of the television. Do we have a crisis here or an incredible opportunity? People seem to be more engaged generally than they’ve been since the rise of mass media. The idea that there’s some kind of reason for a moral panic at this time is very strange.”

The Lost Ring

19 03 2008

Tails loses rings

Jane McGonigal spoke a little bit about her new ARG, The Lost Ring, at GDC. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in them, since it’s probably the most ambitious yet: Eight languages, many countries, and running with the Olympic games. It seems to be the fulfillment of ambitions she’s had for a while. Here she was speaking about running ARGs in China a year ago:

How you would pull it off, I’m not exactly sure. That’s one of the things we’re working on, ARGs in China and India… The idea for that project is teens in American having to recruit allies across the world because missions will be taking place locally in, you know, Latvia, and Bangalore and you have to somehow get real people in these cities to play with you and work with you to solve stuff and coordinate. Coordinating with people in another state, that’s not really that big of a shift. So Hong Kong might be the city for that.

It will be fascinating to watch this unfold.

(Edit: Jane has posted her SXSW Keynote slides here)

Games and Personal Development

13 03 2008


Ubisoft are making a weight management game. It sounds like Nike+ Lite (or maybe heavy). It’ll use a pedometer coupled with the DS and game mechanics to help people set goals and manage their weight. I love this kind of interactive work, and the technology to implement it has recently become a lot more basic and thus cheaper. Interactive has an incoming dark side though…

I’ve been using Nike+ since last October, and i love it. It’s a very game-like service. A sensor in your shoe connects to a sensor on an ipod nano, recording data and, as you run, periodically giving you vocal status updates on your pace, total time, distance covered, and distance to your goal.

Once you’re done, iTunes connects to the Nike+ website and uploads your run data, where each run can be graphed, compared to others, and mapped. As well as setting a mileage goal on the iPod each time you go out, the site also allows users to set and track long term goals, which keeps me motivated and thinking about running even when I’m not doing it.

Given that I prefer VLC to iTunes, and feel very queasy about Nike’s labour history, Nike+ has to be quite a compelling service to have snagged me so deeply. Tying things to game mechanics works, and providing access to data also turns people into self-educating geeks: From knowing virtually nothing and being prone to injuries in previous years, I’ve gone to knowing about running gaits, foot types and the right kinds of shoe for them, and as a result, am now able to run much further with far fewer injuries.

What’s really lacking is a social aspect. I know several people who use it, but we have no proper way to search, connect, share or look at each other’s data. There is no real way to communicate through the site or find others. The furthest it goes is to create challenges and either open them to everyone, or invite friends who’s screennames or emails I already know.

There’s a palpable sense of a next step that’s missing: That I’m on my own when I’m using Nike+, or that game mechanics are missing when I’m using Facebook.

It appears that this growing bubble of interactive services is going to turn my life into an MMO, and I largely welcome it. I’d like to shape its future development too, as I’m acutely aware that the technology is ethically inert. Jane McGonigal and Raph Koster talk about using games to save the world and that they’re the best medium to contribute to that, and I think they’re largely correct, but points and data alone are quite compelling when you present them to people in the right way.

Technically, the same kind of system could be devised to work with “sitting on your ass eating junk food and watching TV”. The Obama campaign is using Twitter right now, how long before a campaign actually uses game mechanics for influence? How sugar coated a pill could game mechanics be for drip-feeding people ideology or propaganda?

At first blush it seems like self-interest would limit the power ARGs and MMOs could have over people, but reading something like The System by Cao Yunwu makes it all too apparent that people are not always rational choosers. Of course there are going to be cultish, astroturf ARGs that exploit this one day.

(CC image by portfolium)