Social Games and Misused Terms

19 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/pulguita/2868952310/

Some excellent stuff from Tadhgk Kelly, formerly of Sky Games but now working for Nottingham startup Simple Lifeforms, on Social Games. He points out that “social games” is a term used as lazily as casual games was a few years ago, and has this excellent piece of insight on them:

The single most defining feature of a true social game is social gameplay. What does that mean?

[…]

Social gameplay? It tests your social skills.

So a social game is one in which your social activities with other players (trading, dating, lying, flirting, charming, imploring, cajoling, whatever) actually matter. Many games have socialising (such as chat) as a part of their overall framework, but those social activities don’t really matter to how you play. World of Warcraft is a good example of this. Every player in the game has a character, but if you actually watch games in progress, 95% of the time players do not bother to play in character. There’s no test or reward for doing so.

“Social” is a really lazy buzzword being thrown around a lot right now, but it could mean something vital and unique to certain types of game. As of now, Tadhgk is right about them. Games I’ve played on Facebook such as Packrat are some of the most asocial experiences to be had on the site.

(CC image by pulguita)

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Companies Request LittleBigPlanet IP Whitelisting

7 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/sillygwailo/348769786/

LittleBigPlanetoid brought this very interesting nugget to my attention on Monday: Companies have been asking Media Molecule to add their IP to a whitelist for LittleBigPlanet, meaning that rather than being treated as copyright infringement, works based on their things will be treated as fan art or free marketing, and allowed to stay in place.

Sony have taken a very cautious approach so far: that nuking things from orbit is the only way to be sure. At first there were complaints of overly zealous moderation, and lack of explanation for it, but MM/Sony have worked with the fan community to improve this immeasurably. It’s very pleasing that they seem to be just as amenable with companies too; LittleBigPlanet is so polished that people want their IP to be in it.

Merely squashing copyright infringing user generated content is often a terrible step to take, as it’s generally non-profit making, and those who put their time and skill (of any level) into creating it tend to be the fans who care the most.

There’s a story from the Unreal modding scene I often use when talking about these things, but it seems like pretty much all of the blog, forum and news posts about it have rotted away as it was about 8 years ago (Blimey. Link rot could get a lot worse than we expect…). A modder named Patrick “BadKarma” Fitzimmons was making a Star Wars map pack for Unreal Tournament, and repeatedly got cease and desist letters from Lucasarts’ lawyers. After (IIRC) several years of justifying it as non-profit making, sophisticated fan art, and getting people to sign petitions on his behalf, Lucasarts eventually stopped with the threats and started tacitly backing them, with it going on to become a fully fledged mod.

The entire struggle threw the issues into very stark relief, with a protracted fight between Lucasarts and BadKarma that led to a lot of head scratching. At the time, Twentieth Century Fox had also gained a reputation for threatening and generally stamping on all mod makers who infringed their copyrights, to the extent that the verb “foxing” was invented to describe it. Conditions laid down on an Aliens mod for Half Life were basically: “Cease work, hand over all assets and copyright to us, delete all of your own copies of your work, and we reserve the right to still sue you even if you comply”. The problem with this is that the fans have put a lot of time, effort and love into their creations, and the companies are engendering disillusion by attacking their strongest devotees.

LittleBigPlanet is actually quite a nice compromise, acting as a sandbox that, hopefully, will keep the lawyers happy too. The news of whitelisting is excellent, and it seems likely that EA are on the list given some of the levels that have been permitted to exist there. Impressive, for a company that used to be regarded by many as the evil empire of the games industry.

(CC image by sillygwailo)





Emote Launch First Game

24 09 2008

We’ve only had a vague idea of what UK based Emote are up to until now, as they’ve been keeping their technology close to their chest, only demoing it behind closed doors at GDC this year.

Some details on their first project are now coming to light though, with Develop reporting on a collaboration with Avalanche on a hunting title:

Online social games start-up Emote has announced that it is collaborating with Swedish studio Avalanche on a new free-to-play online title.

The title was first unveiled by Develop via interviews with the Emote team in April 2008.

Called The Hunter, the game seeks to build an online community of game hunters, able to use the social interface to post blogs and images of recent kills as well as collaborate in tournaments, challenges and competitions. The online nature of the title will see Avalanche regularly adding new content, and plans to actively encourage its community to share ideas and suggestions for new features.

We’d so far heard that Emote’s platform would enable players to interact with the same server from a lot of different platforms. The project above reads as social networking for hunters, kind of like Facebook crossed with Nike+ in terms of functionality.

How long before they can feed the interface back to hunters in the field, turning it into augmented reality?

(CC image of easter-egg hunters by Lyle58)





Packrat: Game Creates Ripples on Facebook

17 09 2008

Techcrunch highlighted Facebook app Packrat on Monday, which seems to be causing a bit of a disturbance there. In a piece titled “Facebook Isn’t A Social Network. And Stop Trying to Make New Friends There”, Michael Arrington writes:

A big part of the game is “stealing” cards from friends, and so a lot of users add other users as friends so that their cards can be obtained. The application’s popularity has also led some users to create Facebook accounts for the sole purpose of playing the game.

Some of those accounts are now being disabled by Facebook, according to this discussion forum on the application site.

What’s curious is the email sent from Facebook to one deleted user, which states that Facebook isn’t a social network (it’s a “social utility”) and isn’t meant to build large groups of new friends. Instead, Facebook is meant to reinforce “pre-existing” social connections

The game revolves around collecting, earning money and stealing inventory items. A continual stream of new and fairly slickly produced new content perpetually plugs into the old framework, while old content expires and becomes irrelevant, unless you can collect it fast enough.

I tried it out a few weeks ago, and it really does reach the heights of grind and tedium usually reserved for MMOs. As such, there’s something weirdly compelling about it, so much so that Facebook have evidently performed some contortions around their terms of service to nip a potential and unintended community in the bud.

Packrat had the potential to become a trojan MMO, embedded in Facebook and incurring loads on their servers. Games are a very strange behavioural tool, and I think Packrat shows we only have a very superficial understanding so far.

(CC image by SCO)





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)





Neil Young Leaves EA

20 06 2008

Boom Blox

N’Gai Croal broke news on Wednesday (early hours of Thursday GMT) that Neil Young has left EA to form a new company. Of note is the litany of games Croal cites him as working on:

During his 11 year tenure at EA, the affable Brit captained such projects as the ahead-of-its-time alternate reality game Majestic and the well-received licensed game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Following that, Young was put in charge of Maxis during the production of Sims 2 before being promoted to vice president and general manager of EA Los Angeles, where he supervised Medal of Honor Airborne and Boom Blox. Before his departure from EA, Young was heading up EA Blueprint, which was exploring the creation of adventurous new intellectual properties with smaller teams and budgets.

With the four horsemen of the gaming apocalypse now riding*, even the biggest, slowest players are frantically trying to innovate with games such as Spore. Is it possible that they still not moving fast enough? After all, Phil Harrison and Raph Koster both left Sony because the company wasn’t fast enough off the blocks on social gaming.

* “Casual, ARGs, Convergence and Big Media” as far as it appears right now. The word “apocalypse” only has negative associations by context, in itself it’s a fairly neutral word





Orange / Poke – Web Game

6 06 2008

My Raccoon

We saw this amazing new web game from Poke London today.

Visit: playballoonacy.com

Basically they are going to set off loads of balloons across the Internet. The one that goes the furthest in 7 days wins – and the prize is a £20,000 VIP trip to Ibiza including everything that you and 7 friends could hope for, ever. That’s it in a nutshell.

Oh and there’s all kinds of stars and bonus doo-dahs along the way – collect 5 stars and win stuff. Hit rainbows and get warped into the future and all that kind of thing.

Sign up for the race

Visit the site now and get a balloon. Then when the race starts in 3 weeks you’ll be right up the front. Well you’ll be in the race anyway.

Be part of the race course

The course is made up of sites that have agreed to be part of the racecourse, or are about to agree to be part of the racecourse. That’s right folks. If you’ve got a blog or a website you can add it to the race by simply adding a small snippet of widgety code to your site. You can visit the site to sign up, but if you’re impatient and really want to add your site you can bust straight there using this URL: http://www.playballoonacy.com/account/sites

What’s in it for sites that take part?

Well in hard terms it’ll drive traffic to your site. There’s going to be people visiting your site to see their balloons pass over it. And if the race passes over an interesting page people might just stop by to have a look. In softer terms it might just be a bit of fun.

Let Balloonacy commence.

My lovely Raccoon Balloon is here – Ballonacy.