Rough notes liveblogged from Jane McGonigal's keynote presentation at SXSW...
The Lost Ring has been in pay for a week, there are already over 100 screen grabs from the game trailer posted to flickr.
We need more alternate realities... the real world needs to be redesigned as a game...
Slide: "A game designer's perspective on the future of happiness"
Research around the subject of happiness... the science of happiness... we've started to see a backlash after a period of happiness study... one area of study looks specifically at what makes us happy and function well... it's been all over the popular press...
There's an amazing parallel between what makes us happy and the core tenets of game design...
Gary Gygax, father of the seminal Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game, has reportedly died. Gygax's D&D is the reason I became a gamer 27 years ago, and why I work in the interactive and gaming industries today.
I started "Dungeon Mastering" a D&D campaign with some friends early this year, and it's a real pleasure to get back to the tabletop again after a quarter-century. Online gaming has its charms, but sometimes you just can't beat role-playing the way it was originally intended: Snacks, polyhedral dice, lead figurines; rulebooks and maps; Led Zeppelin on the tape-deck.
Mr. Gygax, thanks for the positive influence on my life. Your legacy lives on.
Since 2006, I've been following the adventures of the team at Pure West--filmmakers researching and journaling MMO game culture for a documentary which would come to be called Second Skin. The team's blog gave a behind-the-scenes look at the trials of the documentarians and their evolving subject-matter, but I was fortunate enough to meet the filmmakers first-hand during one of their many journeys across the U.S., Canada, and overseas. These guys weren't just trying to cash in on the swelling interest in MMOs, or exploit players as objects of curiosity or ridicule--it was clear their mission was to seek out and reveal some compelling human stories at the intersection of real and virtual worlds.
The Second Skin trailer makes its debut today, and I'm not excited about it simply because of my brief on-camera appearance :) I feel like this will be a topical, socially-relevant documentary that will make a lasting mark. Something that may end up as course-material some day (certainly I'll be buying the DVD). The filmmakers clearly poured their blood and sweat into Second Skin, and at first glance, it really shows. Congratulations to the Pure West team and everyone (it seems like dozens) they interviewed. I think you have a hit on your hands.
For the past 14 years, I've been freelancing under my own name, but in 2008, I've become the founder and first employee of Phantom Compass, an interactive development studio involved in both pre-production service-work and end-to-end internal product development. I'm already involved in one collaboration and one co-production in the proposal stages.
In only 10 weeks I've gained a new understanding of and respect for the challenges new media producers here in Canada face--certainly I see my clients in a new light, and now that I'm involved in producing my own IP, a host of previously-unexplored aspects of business development have come to light. As owner of my own studio, I'm now eligible for a variety of Canadian funding programs, tax credits, and other boosters. Most importantly, I'm running my own ship and can initiate my own large-scale projects. I will be opening up all available communications channels next month and reaching out to friends, associates, and strangers to see what opportunities might be on the horizon. Talk to you then.
So, how does all of this affect Clickable Culture, a blog I've been hammering at since 1999? Realistically, the number of posts here is likely to decrease (which is why it's a good idea to subscribe to the feed). Clickable Culture will now serve as the public-facing research blog of Phantom Compass, which probably means less articles and more short-form thoughtbubbles. Phantom Compass will soon have its own blog, which will be a bit drier than Clickable Culture, a blog I like to think of as shot from the hip. Pow!
"Our ambition is to harness the power of video games in the service of humanistic principles, or human values, knowing that their work can have a tremendous and wide-ranging impact on our world." Yes, but will publishers buy in?
"Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life." If true, most MMOs are preparing a legion of youth for future success
CNet.com: "Kids who are active members of virtual worlds are learning how to socialize, how to be technologically savvy, and how to be good little consumers." Last year, I did some concept-development for a consumer-driven kiddie-world. Feeling a bit sheepish about it now.
MedPage Todayreports that Wii Sports, a game for the Nintendo Wii console, wasn't found to contribute to recommended daily exercise standards set in Britain, according to a Liverpool University study. Nintendo has been hoping its console would be seen as a fitness aid, releasing the Wii Fit controller and Wii game in Japan earlier this year (due out elsewhere in 2008). A number of academics, researchers, and consumers around the world have been looking at the console as a potential fitness device, with varying results. A Canadian hospital is even using the game console as part of a physical rehabilitation program.
The Liverpool study--ironically, funded by Nintendo's UK marketing arm--might have dashed the game-maker's health-hopes if it wasn't for the fact that only eleven subjects were reportedly involved. The teens--six boys and five girls--were physically fit to begin with, and were studied playing only two games: Project Gotham Racing for the Xbox 360, and Wii Sports. The study found that active games like Wii Sports burn about 50% more calories than passive games like PGR, but that ultimately this only represented a 2% increase in energy expenditure in a typical week.
I'm no scientist, but it seems clear that a larger-scale study might be in order. A more diverse, and larger group of subjects; a wider range of games, particularly some which could be considered more active than Wii Sports. In my own experience, playing 30 minutes of Raving Rabbids on the Wii reminded me how atrophied my spaghetti-thin arms are. While the Wii may not appear to affect fitness levels according to this study, I'd rather play an active video game than a passive one, and I suspect most parents would rather buy an active video game for their kids. Perhaps the next study will involve the Wii Fit peripheral, hopefully with more promising results.
American watchdog group Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood isn't happy with how popular kiddie-world Webkinz has begun running external ads atop its already-commercial service. According to GamePolitics.com, "A current Webkinz campaign is promoting the film Alvin and the Chipmunks (screen shot at left), while similar ads ran for the recent Bee Movie." Virtual Worlds News reports that Ganz, maker of Webkinz has since pulled one of the ads, although it's not clear to me if this is a response to public pressure.
The ethics of advertising to children aside, Ganz's choice to blast ads at kids whose parents are already paying for Webkinz access comes off like a crass cash-grab . It's the same story with in-game ads found in many of today's video games--the consumer isn't sharing in the publisher's increased cash-flow. A more reasonable approach to advertising via Webkinz (again, irrespective of the ethical issues) would be to offer a discounted or free service in exchange for client-side ads.
The Associated Press (via CNN) reports results from a poll released this week, which found that parents don't play computer and video games with kids:
81% of kids aged 4 - 17 play games "at least occasionally."
38% of adults play games "at least occasionally."
44% of adults play online.
43% of kids who play games don't play them with their parents. [Update: Matt Mihaly says the other 57% must be playing with their parents, meaning kids and parents DO play together.]
30% of parents who play with their kids spend under 1 hour weekly doing so.
50% of adults and kids play more than 2 hours of games weekly. 50% of adults and kids play less. Roughly 30% [not clear if it's both kids and adults] play 5 hours or more weekly.
59% of adults aged 18 - 29 play "at least sometimes," said to be "double the rate" for adults aged 50 - 64
31% of adults prefer casual games
Roughly 16% of adults prefer action games, "the next most popular alternative [to casual games]."
"About half of women cited casual games as their favorites, triple the number of men who did so, while twice as many males than females preferred action games."
"26 percent said they spent nothing on the pastime last year, another 46 percent spent up to $200 and 12 percent spent $500 or more, with men usually the bigger spenders."
"Price is the chief factor for people purchasing a gaming console, followed by the availability of games."
The poll, conducted by AP and AOL Games, surveyed just over 2,000 adults last month. 770 of these said they play digital games.
I'm not terribly surprised by the results finding parents and kids don't enjoy screen time together--not only does each group enjoy its own type of games, most computer games in a single household are played solo (you don't often find dad and son crouched behind the same computer screen). Furthermore, and this is simply my opinion, parents seem to be taking a less active role in the media consumption habits of their kids as each year passes. More family-oriented games, please.
"...just as punk said anyone with a guitar could make music, I want anyone with a keyboard to be able to make games. I want more radical speaking in the industry and more radical thought outside of academia. I want argument and discussion, then perhaps a fight in the car park afterward … in effect; I want some rock n roll attitude in games. I don’t care if someones game is un-original, just as long as it does to my senses what voiceover guy said it would on the trailer!
If you want to make games, don’t even bother about the rest of the industry and what they’re doing… just get out there and go for it. Punk style!"
Hey, as long as you're punk-rock enough to live off beans on toast and bargain beer, that's a great plan. Seriously: if you're young and on fire, why not go the risky route and churn out the games you always wanted to--screw what everyone else is doing! Speaking from a post-punk parent perspective, that's not the most practical route, but it sure is nice to dream about while I sniff the leather of my old biker jacket.
Canada's largest city becomes the backdrop for an alien invasion in City 7: Toronto Conflict, an unofficial expansion to the Half-Life 2 story created by a team of George Brown College students lead by instructor Sean Guadron. The initiative was the first thesis project of the College's postgraduate Game Design program (in which I teach several courses), now in its third academic year.
City 7: Toronto Conflict puts the player in Gordon Freeman's well-worn boots as he teleports unexpectedly into Mel Lastman square, raining carnage upon a variety of other well-known Toronto landmarks, all recreated faithfully by the students, who spent months taking photos of the city, mapping game levels based on real locations, and making detailed models including recognizable street furniture. The project also involved a scripted storyline and original voice acting.
The expansion has enjoyed more success than its creators hoped for, getting published via DVD in PC Games and PC Action magazines in Europe, and written up on a variety of web sites, including GameSpy, which recommended the student-made project as an alternative to the official Half-Life 2 expansion pack. Personally, I found the landmark recreations to be very impressive--anyone familiar with the city is bound to agree. Congratulations to the team on the recognition they've received.