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Guest Check
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by Tony Walsh on April 25, 2008 @ 10:46 am
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I meant to post this last month during SXSW, but life got in the way:



Geneviève Cardin of Baroblik handed the above Guest Check to me after one of my two gaming panels, and I thought I'd post it for interested readers. I don't hear much about Alternate Reality Games and related interactives going on in non-English languages. Cardin is a French Canadian working on some interesting projects--right now, she's doing a billingual (English/French) ARG known as The Rivard Project. She permitted me to keep her email address in the above photo, and she's looking for ARG-makers in the Montreal area, so drop her a line if you can help.

For those without graphics support, here's a list of Cardin's projects:

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A Smart Way to Handle In-Game Ads, For Once
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by Tony Walsh on April 17, 2008 @ 10:25 am
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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:

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Send Your Kids to GameCamp Toronto [Corrected]
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by Tony Walsh on April 16, 2008 @ 9:22 am
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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.

Speakers include Mare Sheppard and Raigan Burns (N+ creators), Jean-Luc David (Microsoft), Mathew Di Iorio (Independent Games Project), Nelson Yu (Casually Hardcore Games), David L. Blazetich (Bedlam Games), and Jim McGinley (ToJam).

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.

Register here to attend GameCamp 2.

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Mixed-Reality Sweatshops
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by Tony Walsh on April 11, 2008 @ 9:59 am
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Annie Ok sent word that Invisible Threads, a video she co-directed and shot in Second Life is available on the interwebs. The 8-minute film outlines "10 Simple Steps to your very own Virtual Sweatshop with Telematic Manufacturing."



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.

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Imminent Toronto Gaming Action
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by Tony Walsh on April 8, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
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Indie warlord Jim Munroe informed his mailing list today that his Artsy Games Incubator is holding an open house in Toronto at the Mobile Experience Lab on Wed. April 23rd at 7pm. Writes Jim, "there'll be short presentations of the games we made using accessible tools... we're also inviting people in the indie games community at large to bring their games-in-progress to demo -- and no, you don't have to identify as an artist." Yes, but how do we define "indie?" And what if I'm not indie but I'm making an artsy game?

The third installment of the Toronto Game Jam was announced to mailing list members today. Registration is now open for the frantic game-making event, which runs May 9 - 11, 2008. From the call-out: "It's FREE and open to anyone in the world with a modicum of game making ability. Coders! Artists! Designers! Musicians! All are welcome." Sounds like fun, if you can stay up for 72 hours straight.

Lastly, the Second Skin virtual world documentary will make its Toronto debut on April 21 and 23. I make a 15-second appearance in the film, so I'm totally biased when I insist that you go see it--more importantly, help the filmmakers get the word out to local media so that the uninitiated flock to the film in droves.

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VWC NY Postmortem
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by Tony Walsh on April 5, 2008 @ 11:46 am
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Nothing to do at the airport right now except wait for the bar to open and blog, so here goes: I'm on my way back home from the 2008 Virtual Worlds Conference held in Manhattan. Overall, I think it was a worthwhile trip--next year will be more so once Phantom Compass is able to talk about and demo some of its projects.

High PointsLow PointsDespite the low points, it's likely I'll go again next year. Definitely to the meetups if not the conference itself. I'll be interested to see how VWC evolves--will attendance continue to grow? For the next year or two, almost definitely. Beyond that, who knows. This internet thing is just a crazy fad.

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The Answer To Your Burning Question Is…
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by Tony Walsh on April 1, 2008 @ 1:57 pm
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I Am A: True Neutral Elf Sorcerer (5th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-12
Dexterity-13
Constitution-12
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-13
Charisma-13

Alignment:
True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Race:
Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

[Generated by the quiz "What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?" Incidentally, I created a character nearly identical to this for the last Neverwinter Nights campaign I played. Coincidence, or shockingly-accurate self-portrayal?]

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Google Spreadsheet As Virtual World
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by Tony Walsh on March 28, 2008 @ 9:38 am
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Probably someone out there's already mentioned this, but the Google Docs spreadsheet application shares a few features with virtual worlds. I've been using the Google Docs quite a bit lately to work with my distributed team, and the spreadsheet seems to really shine in terms of worldy potential. Here are the features:Certainly a Google spreadsheet is not a fabulous virtual world, but I see potential for socializing and play there. The barriers to entry are definitely very low, and content creation is easy, too.

[Update1: added real-time chat to the list. Update2: added spatiality to the list.]

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Game Narrative Quick Links for 2008-03-19
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by Tony Walsh on March 19, 2008 @ 6:25 am
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Headless Linden Lab Seeks New CEO
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by Tony Walsh on March 15, 2008 @ 8:46 am
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I'm about a hundred internet-years late on this 24-hour-old story, but here it is: Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale will step down as the company's CEO, becoming full-time Chairman of the Board. In an official blog post about the transition, Rosedale wrote that he will "focus on product strategy and vision, continuing to design the right kind of company, and being an effective communicator and evangelist about Second Life."

I'm not really qualified to comment on Rosedale's move (I'm no business analyst), except to note that it follows Linden Lab's long-time CTO Cory Ondrejka's departure from the company late last year due to philosophical differences. It's curious that a replacement for Rosedale wasn't secured before the announcement--the choice of a new CEO will say a lot about the future direction of Second Life as a technology and social platform.

Previous Rosedale Riffs on Clickable Culture:

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Alternate Reality Band:  ‘The All-For-Nots’
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by Tony Walsh on March 14, 2008 @ 1:44 pm
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While in Austin for SXSW, I caught the launch of The All-For-Nots, described by BuzzFeed as "a new web comedy about a fictional indie rock band," except that what I saw on stage was just a band--the comedy occurs offstage, apparently. As explained by a friend of mine at the event, the band's scripted between-gig antics are shot for webisodes, which you can check out on the band's official web site. Not entirely clear on the target demographic for this--I'm going to guess 12 - 24 year-olds (the project is going after both MySpace and Bebo users, which seems around that age range).

I suppose what I saw on stage was a salad comprised of alternate reality bands like The Monkees, Josie and the Pussycats, Jem and the Holograms, and Spinal Tap--a pref-fab band appealing to your love of music (if you like derivative indie-rock), comedy (via webisodes rather than on-stage), and presumably to your wallet as well (merch? albums?).

I kept waiting for something crazy to happen during the band's energetic set, but no. What would have been cool is for them to fire their drummer on stage... anything involving fire, actually. Oh well, will keep my eye on this project, maybe it'll blossom.

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SXSW 2008 Notes:  Jane McGonigal’s Keynote
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by Tony Walsh on March 11, 2008 @ 4:28 pm
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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...


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SXSWi 2008 Notes:  ‘Casual Multi-Player Online Games: Serious Revenues’
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by Tony Walsh on March 11, 2008 @ 12:13 pm
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Following are my rough notes from the SXSW panel "Casual Multi-Player Online Games: Serious Revenues," featuring Michael Smith (Mind Candy), Adrian Crook (FreeToPlay.biz), Joe Hyrkin (Gaia Online), Jeremy Liew (Lightspeed Venture Partners), and Nabeel Hyatt (Conduit Labs)...

Moderator: What constitutes immersiveness for a virtual world? 3D? 2D? HTML?

Crook- A casual MMO is like Puzzle Pirates, in terms of delivery platform, java, etc. Facebook and Travian are other examples. For me, a Casual MMO is a place where people gather online with some kind of game structure, like Club Penguin with a loose game structure. A casual MMO is an online world with reduced barrier to entry in terms of price or platform.

Hyrkin- A range of categories apply. Casual MMO success depends on the community and engagement between users.

Smith- Presentation matters, we've stayed from avatar-based virtual worlds. At the last SXSW, I heard a lot about avatar-based worlds, but that space is getting very crowded now. Room for other types of games, such as PMOG.

Hyrkin- Not being 3D has a lot of benefits; nothing to download, easy access, reduces barrier to entry. MTV has 4 virtual worlds, built around their shows, they came top us and asked for a Gaia-like experience. We had huge success with Virtual Hills in Gaia.


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SXSWi Reminder: ‘What Can the Video Games Industry Learn From ARGs?’
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by Tony Walsh on March 10, 2008 @ 12:20 pm
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As previously threatened, I'll be kicking off a conversation today at SXSW about how the video games industry might pick up a few useful tips from Alternate Reality Games. The conversation takes place between 3:30pm and 4:30pm in Ballroom E. I'll be joined by Steve Peters of 42 Entertainment, probably Dan Hon of Six to Start, and whoever else wishes to drop in.

The idea for this so-called "Core Conversation" was pitched months ago, so I hope to freshen and expand the topic by identifying some areas in which video games have already adopted ideas and mechanics made popular by ARGs. Looking forward to the chat, hope you can make it.

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SXSWi 2008 Notes:  Human and Property Rights in Virtual Worlds
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by Tony Walsh on March 9, 2008 @ 5:26 pm
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SXWi 2008 rough notes: "Human Rights and Property Rights in Virtual Worlds"

Susan Wu- If we don't address legal issues as publishers and developers, we will lose control [presumably through regulation]

Scenario: Your Tier 5 armor which took 6 months to acquire gets nerfed, do you have legal protection against devaluation?

Eric Bethke- No.

Boyd- Game world designers should have control over that decision [to nerf the armor, I think].

Scenario: You lose equipment following a server crash, do you have the right to have that property replaced?

Andrew Schneider- yes

Bethke- yes
Boyd- publishers can treat you however they want within the law. If I were running a game I would bend over backwards to give it back.

Schneider- This is all covered in EULAs, ToS, how rules are communicated to gamers

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SXSWi 2008 Notes:  Stories, Games and Your Brand
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by Tony Walsh on March 9, 2008 @ 3:58 pm
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Liveblogged from SXSWi in Austin, my rough notes from the panel "SXSW 2008 Notes: Stories, Games, and Your Brand."

Dan Hon case study: Cloverfield.
-- More people heard of the marketing than saw the movie (based on informal audience survey)

Rachel Clarke case study: Honda.
-- Puzzles built into posters, web site, game play engages viewers, every time you play the game it takes you closer to the brand

Roo Reynolds case study: Perplex City.
-- PC had a nice collecting element, but a great backstory, bits of everything in it... in my work in virtual worlds, I've been disappointed to not experience this level of depth (although VWs are good at turning people into participants)...

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SXSWi: ‘Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs’
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by Tony Walsh on March 9, 2008 @ 1:21 pm
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Thanks to Dee Cook and Dan Hon of Six to Start for joining me yesterday on a last-minute SXSWi panel entitled "Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs."

We chatted about how ARGs and video games relate, and how these two game-forms might learn from each other. There were at least 60 people in attendance, many of whom were probably expecting the original panel "ARGs: The Future of Entertainment." Given that we only lost a few people during our panel, and given the number of eyeballs focused on the panelists, I think it was a success. Attendees joined in the discussion during and after the panel--I'm hosting a follow-up conversation on Monday at 3:30pm if anyone at the conference is interested in further conversation about ARGs and video games.

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SXSW 2008 Notes:  What Teens Want
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by Tony Walsh on March 8, 2008 @ 12:31 pm
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Liveblogged from SXSW... rough notes...

7 tweens and teens on the panel, Goodstein moderated.

-- 12 yo: "goodreads.com" social networking and book reviews. "Purevolume.com" signed and unsigned bands.
-- MySpace, Facebook, "you can create your own layout," "customize your own designs," "communicate with friends and family after school"
-- MySpace, Facebook, prefers FB because of the add-ons "if everyone from my school wasn't there, I wouldn't be there", Digg.com, favorite game is Counterstrike Source
-- MySpace, "high five," helps her keep in touch with friends, "can't live without music," meet new people, talk a lot, make new friends. 12 yo in real life, 16 yo on MySpace
-- MySpace, "Mix Matters" music site, and "DATpif" (?) mix tape web site, keeps him up to date on recording artists. A gamer, plays sports games, plays Halo 3
-- 17.com for hair and makeup tips, Hipster.com for playlists and new artist discovery
-- MySpace, Runescape online roleplaying game, likes to make new friends with people around the world, 12yo in real life, 99yo on MySpace.

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Gary Gygax, R.I.P.
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by Tony Walsh on March 4, 2008 @ 9:14 pm
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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.

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‘Second Skin’ Documentary Debuts Friday
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by Tony Walsh on March 4, 2008 @ 8:46 pm
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Those of you in Austin, Texas this week for South by Southwest may be fortunate enough to take in the debut of Second Skin on Friday. I've been following the documentary about virtual worlds and the real people who inhabit them for some time, and can't wait to see the final film (having weaseled my way into its trailer). The makers of the film will be vlogging their Texan misadventures for your enjoyment, and have been keeping a production blog for millions of internet-years.

Here's when and where you can catch this potentially generation-defining documentary:

Friday March 7 - 9:00pm - Austin Convention Center Theater

Tuesday March 11 - 7:45pm - Austin Convention Center Theater

Thursday March 13 - 1:45pm - Austin Convention Center Theater

See you at the Convention Center!

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