Infovore: Momentum

3 12 2008

Mirror's Edge

I’m going to be talking a little bit about the games press and criticism here for the rest of this week, as the relationship between the games press and game developers/publishers is something that’s been bothering me a lot over the past month or two.

Good criticism of games is also something that’s been very rare in the past, and I’ll be highlighting standout work on this as and when I find it. This week, Tom Armitage posted an excellent critique of Mirror’s Edge at his blog Infovore, which was a really refreshing change from reading the usual “me too” reviews and previews.

Advertisements




EA Terminates Casual Label

7 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/jlsotillo/2712496117/

Electronic Arts confirmed today that they will roll up their casual label, with president of it Kathy Vrabeck leaving and the label itself along with the Hasbro license being merged into their Sims label (as reported by Gamsutra). This quote is particularly interesting:

“We’ve learned a lot about casual entertainment in the past two years, and found that casual gaming defies a single genre and demographic,”

EA Casual was an expensive prototype with interesting results. It makes total sense that casual players have all kinds of tastes and come from all demographics, but it’s the kind of insight many people only have retroactively. For several years, the casual player has been thought of and talked about as a bored mid-thirties housewife, but this isn’t necessarily true.

(Apologies for the neglect over the last two weeks. We’ve been at the London Games Festival where we ran more events than we’ve ever done before, so things have been quite busy).

(CC image by Cosmovisión)





Little Big Outrage

21 10 2008

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or this is the only source you look to for videogames industry news, you’ll probably have heard that Little Big Planet is delayed, and all copies recalled, due to there being phrases from the Koran in the soundtrack.

Copies are still available in some places, with pre-cut versions fetching more than double the retail price on ebay. Fairly redundant, since they patched the music out of it as soon as they knew and the game is largely dependent on being online.

The BBC have the most interesting coverage of this, though already, Sony seem to have handled it well and it’s turning into a non-issue:

Manzoor Moghal, of the Muslim Forum think-tank, explained that words from the Koran should not be set to music because the words are seen to have come directly from God.

He added: “We must compliment Sony for taking decisive action by withdrawing these games immediately, and releasing a version that is not offensive to Muslims.”

It can’t be a good place for Sony and Media Molecule right now, though ultimately I expect this is all good mainstream marketing for the game. The really interesting thing about this crisis is that it underlines just how atrocious and unfounded the past religious hoohah surrounding Resistance was.

The BBC piece reminds us of the ire Sony once attracted, by way of Resistance developer Insomniac including Manchester Cathedral in PS3 launch title Resistance. After throwing a double barreled ecumenical ninny-fit and blathering on about gun crime for months, the church found that visitor numbers and interest in the cathedral had been boosted, no doubt due to the large amount of PR baiting they did during the “controversy”.

Given the tropes built around videogames in the 80s and 90s, it was understandable for them to be concerned about power fantasies involving shooting up churches, and I can see their outrage beginning with that assumption. However, I think it was inexcusable for them to willfully ignore that the content of the game wasn’t built around such ideas, even when it was repeatedly brought to their attention.

I wonder how the British tabloids will handle this, if at all? The gutter press have been vilifying both videogames and muslims for years now; and despite that muslims have a much more legitimate cause for complaint than Manchester Cathedral did, will the press suddenly jump to the side of games now they’re fashionable? Alternatively, will there be “Games company appeases Islam, yet ignored our dear old Church of England!” headlines? I really hope not, but could see hacks going for exactly that angle.

All very consternating, and poor Media Molecule are stuck in the middle of it through no fault of their own: The music they licensed has been around for longer than the game. Phrases from the Koran in LPB are an honest mistake, with Media Molecule in fact trying to do a very good thing in licensing music from small artists and labels. Nonetheless, the offence it could accidentally cause is genuine, much to MMs consternation.

(CC image by rutty)





MMO Behaviours, Bruce Sterling at AGDC

19 09 2008

Bruce Sterling gave a keynote at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference, and Rudy Rucker quickly posted a transcript of the talk. He manages to use a set of nonsense words to illustrate how the present regards the past, presenting his talk as someone from the future talking about our present. The entire thing is entertaining and worth reading, but one part in particular stuck out to me:

The other question they ask—if they’re smart—is, what is that I did not see? What was I NOT thinking about? What is that blindsided me? What is that I couldn’t see in my industry? The future development I just didn’t understand. The wild card, the black swan.

Well, I can tell you about that problem.

[…]

Entertainment is fun. Am I correct? I’ve gotta be. If it’s no fun, obviously it’s not entertainment. It’s one of those phony game educational applications that kids have to be tortured to use. You definitely want the users to have fun. That’s the definition of your industry. That’s what it is all about.

Except for three kinds of people. They’re not fun people. They’re not even users. They’re abusers, you might say, because they don’t obey your rules.

First, gold farmers. Rip-off artists. The excluded. The black market. The pirates. […]

Second, griefers. […]

Third—and these are the weird ones—the convergence culture people. They will play your game all right, but they play it while using six or seven other kinds of media. They don’t make any distinction between the media they use. They use the networks as a meta-medium. They don’t play the roles in your role-playing games.

People play roles in Dungeons and Dragons because that is a paper game, it’s like little theater for the home. People play roles. You don’t see D&D people passing each other text messages and looking for cheats on wikis. Convergence people are metamedia people who are looking for meta-fun. Not your fun.

New and emergent forms of game are dependent on new and emergent forms of play. Not enough of us are looking at these trends, least of all developers who mainly have their heads down in the trenches producing AAA code and art assets.

The picture at the top of this post is a mount in Age of Conan, inspired by this video of a griefer with a horse. Cut down, shown without context as in that video, we tend to find griefing hilarious, yet if it’s done to us in game we tend to be outraged.

As a behaviour, it’s probably only been on the radar regularly for less than a decade. We’re not even close to understanding it, though along with others it is being studied. Videogames are a fascinating lens to look at ourselves through, and doing so may give us some clues about the future.





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)





Stealth Outsourcing

26 08 2008

The most interesting thing I’ve read today is Gamasutra’s interview with Japanese outsourcing firm Tose. The company owns a little bit of IP, but the vast majority of work done in its 29 year history remains secret. The overall impression the anonymous interviewee gives is of a company that is humble, yet proud of the work they do.

I’ve seen similar attitudes from UK studio owners who do work for hire; AAA development gets prestige but can be volatile, whereas lesser projects can keep a business dependable in the long run, even if it is in the shade when it comes to publicity. While IP ownership is advisable for any studio, no IP is guaranteed to be successful, and banking solely on it is a high risk approach. Tose seems to take a very safe approach, and as a result employs around 1000 people.

(CC image by me)





The Image of Social Games

8 08 2008

A few days ago, Keith Stuart wrote an exceptionally good post on the Guardian Gamesblog, about the current advertising Nintendo are putting out for the DS.

It’s not just targeting older gamers and families, but now everyone, and with a slightly different approach. Very little gameplay footage is shown compared to social interaction, and this is sending a very different and positive message about games out into mainstream culture:

What he doesn’t mention is the way in which the relationship forms the focal point of the ad, not the game. It’s the same with the other adverts in the series (and the earlier versions which appeared at the end of last year), all of them based around warm, playful friendships in which the handheld console becomes a social/conversational facilitator. The message is, games aren’t something you slope off to do in private, they’re something to be shared. They’re normal.

The ads are also interesting in their use of a documentary-style presentation – they appear unscripted and ‘natural’, as though we’re peeping into private moments, as though Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters really do share a love of brain training software.

Go and read the whole post now 🙂