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.