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  Easy Solution to ‘HIV Challenge’  
Posted 2007-01-30 by Tony Walsh
The Kaiser Family Foundation and the ironically-named mtvU challenge game developers to come up with "a new, creative idea for a video game aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS among young people in the United States." Frankly, a video game solution to the HIV Challenge is all too easy: If we are playing video games, we are not having sex. The more we play video games, the less sex we have. Abstention is extremely effective in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I hereby proclaim World of Warcraft, with 8 million sexually-inactive subscribers worldwide, the winner of the HIV Challenge!
  ‘World of Warcraft’ Hooks 8 Million Subscribers  
Posted 2007-01-12 by Tony Walsh
Blizzard Entertainment has announced that 8 million drooling gamers subscribe to its hit MMO World of Warcraft. The company says there are over 2M players in North America, 1.5M in Europe, and 3.5M in China. Blizzard's definition of "subscribers" includes those who have paid a subscription fee, have an active prepaid time card, have purchased the game and are within their free time allotment, and those who have accessed the game in the last 30 days.

Previous Warcraft milestones include:
6M in March, 2006
4M in August, 2005
1.5M in March, 2005
  Digital Decay  
Posted 2006-11-23 by Tony Walsh
Is there a practical use for decay in a digital world? Data doesn't normally degrade over time, through usage, or by replication--except by design. Nicolas Nova points out a 9 year-old Lucent project that introduced decay into electronic documents. The function of this artificial decay was to communicate the amount of "handling" a given document receives over time, "aging" a page by simulating rips, stains, and wrinkles.

Wired contributor Momus notes how we once scorned the analog audio crackles associated with vinyl records, but have since artificially re-introduced "snap, crackle, and pop" into recordings.

Decay already exists in some games, such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies. These MMOs stimulate their economies and provide tasks for players by forcing virtual items to degrade over time and with usage. This sort of system doesn't seem to be used in (non-game) virtual worlds. For example, Second Life doesn't intentionally degrade items, but has been known to introduce unintentional flaws in objects over time.

Continue reading: Digital Decay
  ‘Toronto Star’ Takes Bizarre ‘Warcraft’ Trip  
Posted 2006-11-16 by Tony Walsh
Wow. There are so many things wrong with this Toronto Star article on World of Warcraft. I barely know where to start. Wait, yes I do: The reportage is terrible. I'll just pick on a few of the worst points so you know where I'm coming from on this. Writer Christian Cotroneo claims:

"...World of Warcraft is the granddaddy of online communities. On one hand, it’s a sprawling, seamless fantasy, where you choose an avatar — a rogue, fighter, Mage — and go forth in this virtual world to hack, slash and maim your way to glory." World of Warcraft is not the granddaddy of online communities. It's not the oldest one by a long shot, and it hasn't spawned any sequels ("grandchildren," keeping with the metaphor), and it isn't even the largest "online community." And why is "Mage" exclusively capitalized? Don't they have proofreaders over at The Star?

"On the other hand, it’s supremely social. Players band together, chatting incessantly. They hook up for virtual drinks at the inn, share a slab of wild boar meat. They dance, they have picnics in the woods, they even share a bed on occasion." Dude, I don't know what server you are playing on, but I have never heard of players going to an inn in Warcraft for a pint and a slab of meat. Picnics in the woods!?! Cotroneo is embellishing here. Maybe he plays on a server dedicated to role-playing, where players imagined they were eating and drinking together, or having cybersex in the woods, or whatever the hell he thinks he's talking about.

"'Yay! I got my Voidwalker!' some warrior declares in the general chat window that runs along the bottom of the screen. He is, I assume, referring to some fancy piece of equipment earned in battle." For the uninitiated, a Voidwalker is a minion of a Warlock and has nothing to do with warriors or equipment earned in battle.

What I have been seeing a lot of lately are mainstream media outlets increasing their coverage of games and virtual worlds, but not applying the same journalistic skills, methods or ethics to those spaces. No "average" audience member would ever catch the errors, although they might walk away with the wrong idea. But gamers and virtual world residents (of which there are increasing numbers these days) know better.
  Universal McCann Doesn’t Understand MMOGs  
Posted 2006-11-10 by Tony Walsh
MIT's AdLab brought to my attention a rather awkward Universal McCann report entitled "Parallel Worlds" on MMOGs and virtual worlds. Published in June 2006 the report aims to cover innovations, trends, and opportunities for company executives. I found the report to be barely-informed--frankly, I pity Universal McCann's clients if executives are making decisions based on its dangerously-oversimplified "Bottom Line" advice.

The report includes this gem:
Second Life and World of Warcraft are currently working together to form a cross-genre community MMOG, SLoW. The idea is to combine fantasy, reality, games, guilds, avatars, businesses, parties, and community in one world. It’s certainly a risk and is expected to take close to two years to build; the combination will allow hybrid interaction in a world of blended niches.
Bottom Line: This will be an exciting opportunity for marketers to test out new marketing techniques in an "otherworld"while breaking down the barrier of the fantasy genre.

Whoever wrote this report can't tell an independent project from an official one. Metaverse maven Jerry Paffendorf invented the SLoW concept, but it's not being developed by Warcraft-maker Blizzard or Second Life-maker Linden Lab. Paffendorf's idea was published in May--Universal McCann's report was issued in June. What kills me is the degree of embellishment Universal McCann added: "It's certainly a risk and is expected to take close to two years to build." And by embellishment, I mean "making stuff up."
  ‘Warcraft’ Corpses Speak  
Posted 2006-11-01 by Tony Walsh
Players of World of Warcraft have been swapping stories about the art of "corpse graffiti," a phenomenon I've seen before but didn't realize had a name. In my first few months of play, I regularly spotted a corpse named Jeff Buckley floating face-down in a pool of water in the dwarven city of Ironforge (Buckley was a real-life recording artist who drowned in 1997). Others have found lighter fare, such as "a pile of gnomes with names like 'Oompalumpa' outside Orgrimmar. At the top was a dead [Night Elf] named Willywonka."

Corpse graffiti, a form of emergence, is created by building a character with a clever name, i.e. "Mailbox" and dropping dead in a contextually-appropriate location, i.e. a mailbox in a high-traffic area. As long as the player refuses to resurrect the character (a feature in the game), the named corpse remains for all to see. The primary use seems to be humour, but some players have used corpse graffiti to criticize the game design of World of Warcraft. I don't think it's a very effective form of criticism, but it certainly is a novel one.
  ‘Financial Post’ Bungles Virtual Worlds  
Posted 2006-10-14 by Tony Walsh
Canada's Financial Post took a tumble into virtual worlds this weekend. Writer Jacqueline Thorpe inexpertly covers goofy Canadian web-based startup Weblo, which runs a dubious, web-based mirror-world where users can pay real cash to "own" copies of real people, places and things (destined to be sued into the ground, I'm sure); she mentions World of Warcraft, a massively popular online computer game; she delves into the virtual world of Second Life.

I personally don't consider Weblo much of a virtual world, as it more closely resembles a game of Monopoly--Thorpe even writes that "Weblo hasn't seemed to quite figure out what it is yet," making me wonder why she'd bother mentioning it at all (desperate for a Canadian angle, most likely). Thorpe seems confused about the virtual worlds she covers, at times suggesting they are all web-based (they aren't), and at other times suggesting they are all games (they aren't). Canadian media commentator Jim Carroll supplies some generic soundbites that don't add any substantial information to Thorpe's story (he says people buy virtual goods because they are "in their mid-30s and they're into this stuff.") On the one hand, it's great the Financial Post is covering virtual worlds, but on the other, I think this article could be a lot clearer and more informative--its contains numerous technical inaccuracies, which is a shame for a mainstream media piece.

The only decent take-away from the article is in this cautionary note: "No doubt this second-generation land rush on the Web could fall prey to the same hype that created darlings and then deadbeats during the 1990s tech boom and bust. The field could get crowded and games fall in and out of favour." The sentiment is accurate, even if the terminology isn't.
  ‘World of Warcraft’ Comes To ‘South Park’  
Posted 2006-10-04 by Tony Walsh
If appearing on the ballsy cartoon series South Park marks the pinnacle of pop-culture success, massively-multiplayer game World of Warcraft really has hit the big-time. The online fantasy game, which boasts 7.5M players, will be the subject of South Park's 10th season premiere, according to Blizzard Entertainment and Comedy Central: "In this episode, the boys come into contact with a gamer who doesn't play by the rules. Even the creative people behind World of Warcraft don't know how to stop the renegade. They are forced to put all of their hope into the hands of the kids of South Park. The boys dedicate their lives to defeating the mad gamer and saving the game for all."

I'm not sure which entertainment property just jumped the shark here, but I'm leaning towards South Park's downward spiral. This is at least the third TV appearance for World of Warcraft, having made a cameo appearance on Stargate Atlantis last month, and being the subject of a Jeopardy question last year.
  ‘Gold Farmers’: The Movie  
Posted 2006-09-22 by Tony Walsh
Gold Farmers is a fascinating documentary (in post-production, I assume) concerning Chinese gold farmers--people who amass virtual resources through MMO game-play for the purposes of re-selling the goods to gamers for real currency. From the documentary's official site: "In China, there are tens of thousands of gaming sweatshops that hire people to play games like World of Warcraft and Lineage... many myths about them are circulated in the game universe."

The film will look at lives of the business owners and employees of gold-farming operations, and includes a segment involving veteran virtual-worlds expert Julian Dibbell, author of the recently-released Play Money. Dibbell visits a Chinese gold farm to discuss with farmers "...what the game world means to them, how gold farming impacts their real and virtual lives, why China became the world factory of virtual goods, whether it signifies the beginning of a new new economy and our collective evolution into science fiction, or the inevitable reproduction of global capitalism in the virtual world…"

No idea when Gold Farmers will be released (or through what venues it will be available), but I can't wait to watch it.
  ‘Games and Culture’ Journal Covers ‘World of Warcraft’  
Posted 2006-09-20 by Tony Walsh
The October edition of the Games and Culture academic journal is now available, featuring the mega-hit MMOG World of Warcraft. Articles include:I'm particularly keen on the "WoW is the New MUD" angle, after drowning myself in Warcraft last year, but only having dabbled with text-based virtual worlds over the last two decades.
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