Nearly every one of the dozen or so free iPhone games I've downloaded and tried are just plain awful. Most are barely games at all, or are simply slight variations on classic (boring) games such as Pong or Simon.
I had (seemingly incorrectly) understood there was some sort of quality bar that Apple set for its first round of developers. Clearly the bar was set very, very low. I don't understand the strategy here: my entire outlook on iPhone games and small developers is now tainted. Why pay for a game if the free ones are terrible? Is Apple trying to boost the major brands by allowing this indie crap into the App Store? Confused. Disappointed.
Because WebFlock is Flash based, it's accessible by over 90% of the web browsers out there: in other words, everyone can get in easily (unlike the recently-launched Google Lively, which requires a large plugin download and only runs on Windows-based PCs running Internet Exploder). Gotta like low barriers to entry.
Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck reportedly puts the price of basic private-world hosting at "under $100,000" for a year of service. Well out of the range of any but rich corporations. Showtime is coughing up for the service, bringing an extension of its L-Word TV property to WebFlock after a successful splash in Second Life. I suspect many major brands will follow suit, as controlled spaces are much more attractive than "anything goes" sandboxes.
I'm happy to announce that my company Phantom Compass has partnered with IT GlobalSecure to offer security features integrated from the ground up into our digital and cross-media games. Phantom Compass is in the business of "productive play," and with IT GlobalSecure, we're going to be able to offer our clients and end-users expertly-crafted safeguards against hacking and exploitation. What's the good of a "serious" game if it hasn't accounted for security? From the press release:
Social gaming is growing rapidly and faces increasing security challenges: educational games include high scores that can be hacked, advergames and social games collect sensitive personal and demographic information, and many games need secure payment processing. The partnership between Phantom Compass and IT GlobalSecure brings the best in innovative game design and security to our clients and their customers.
Thanks to IT GlobalSecure's Steven Davis (author of the fantastic Play No Evil blog) for his support. With IT Global Secure, my company can offer a level of secure game data and systems design that other boutique developers aren't even thinking about, let alone capable of offering.
So far, Armor Games rejectedTwo by Two completely, but at least they did it within 24 hours. I think Ryan's experiment is definitely worthwhile, but it's not exactly going to tell us how 'any' Flash game would do--we need more test-subjects. Maybe later this year I can repeat his experiment with one of Phantom Compass' upcoming Flash games.
On a related note, I've been running Google AdSense text ads on a suite of re-skinned and tweaked games (I didn't design or code any of them), and probably make about fifteen dollars a month on click-throughs. Nothing to write home about, but I haven't exactly optimized the pages for ad-space--and the games aren't very good, either. Maybe once AdSense for games becomes a reality, there'll be easier cash to be made.
"Look at all the debit cards available at supermarkets - impulse purchasing is powerful. If games cost what a paperback does, how many more would be sold?" Some interesting ideas from Steven Davis about price structuring and piracy, etc.
"...opportunity is found in new locations. We are seeing consolidation in the space and real build out from larger networks of applications including Zynga, Social Gaming Network, RockYou, Slide and similar companies."
The operator of the upcoming adult-oriented Age of Conan MMO intends to establish strict rules about role-playing on designated servers, according to an official community bulletin. This might be great news for role-play enthusiasts, but I have to wonder if AoC's operator has a plan to police and enforce its own proposed rules. Any such plan must involve human moderators at some point along the chain (software isn't smart enough for the job), which is an awfully costly investment in role-playing, if you ask me.
Names from outside the 'Conan' universe (as in, from another fantasy universe, such as Pokemon) are not allowed. Names from inside the 'Conan' universe (such as Conan) are also not allowed. Neither are derivatives or sound-alike names. Out of character chat is to be "avoided." Making fun of role-players is not allowed. Using role-play to justify immersion-breaking actions and exploits is not allowed. Interfering with in-progress community-driven role-playing events (such as a wedding) is not allowed.
These rules are setting the game operators up for major headaches. A good rule is one which doesn't need to be discussed--it's simply incontrovertible. These are bad rules. Not only do they require human supervision, they are open to interpretation. Who's going to moderate player names, and when will that moderation occur? How much out of character chat is acceptable, and when is it acceptable to speak OOC. What if the sight of weddings drives my character into a berserker rage--isn't it about my immersion, too? What if my entire clan of players has an in-character grudge against that wedding?
Unless the rules are tightened up, enforced transparently, frequently and consistently, the whole system's going to spiral out of control. Transparent enforcement (i.e. we see who was busted for what, and how the policing or punishment was carried out) and frequent enforcement are expensive. Consistent enforcement is sure to be a joke--I can't even go to a bank and get the same answer about the same question from 5 different tellers.
Long-time readers of this blog will know how I loathe in-game advertising and how it is often rammed into games with ham-fisted clumsiness. This being said, I'm pleased to discover that in-game ads are coming to massively-multiplayer superhero games City of Heroes / City of Villiains (known as CoX in combination). Why am I pleased? Because those responsible for the move have obviously learned from past advertisers' mistakes and are being considerate of the players and the world they inhabit:
Ads will only be displayed in areas that had already featured fictional ads--not a major impact on the aesthetic of the game, and, arguably a method of increasing the world's "realism"
Most importantly, players can turn the ads off.
Players have been invited to submit their own advertisements for inclusion in the world. Great move, getting the players involved and feeling ownership over their environment--players are probably less likely to turn off ads this way
Ad revenue will bankroll further development of the subscription-based game rather than simply make the publisher richer.
Andrei Petrov wrote in to tell me that GameCamp Toronto 2 will be held Saturday, May 3, 2008 at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. Billed as "Toronto's game development showcase," the free event is aimed at "indie game developers, professionals and aspiring students." I'm sure the organizers didn't mean to suggest that "indie" and "professional" are mutually-exclusive terms.
I didn't attend GameCamp 1, but Ryan Creighton did, and posted a brutally honest review about his experience. Here's hoping that the GameCamp folks learned something from their debut event--I already know they're trying to do a better job of publicity, which suggests they're aware of the earlier problems and are trying to correct them. Nothing wrong with errors if they teach you something.
The film is satirical in tone, but actually, worlds like Second Life which allow user-created content and real/virtual currency exchange are viable places for hiring out "sweatshop" labor, depending on what sort of work product you're looking for.
So-called "camping chairs," which pay Second Life users to linger in specific locations (known as "camping" in gamer parlance), pay a very low wage to workers in North America and Europe, but could actually provide a decent income in some countries. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that most Chinese gold farmers make under $0.25 USD per hour. The sweatshop featured in Invisible Threads pays in virtual currency equivalent to $0.90 USD hourly.