A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Gaming Category

ampp3d on #gamergate

Seriously abbreviated version of the #gamergate mess:

A bunch of predominantly male gamers are using “concerns about the ethics of games journalism” as a shield for a series of deeply misogynistic attacks on prominent women developers, critics and even celebrities.

Does game journalism have ethics problems? Yes. Are they any worse than those over other branches of journalism? No.

However – we in the media might be guilty of one thing: giving the #gamergate supporters too much publicity. As Ryan Cooper points out:

[…} there aren’t that many committed Gamergaters, a few hundred at most. They openly boast of using sock-puppet accounts and bots to give the illusion of strength.

It’s not quite as clear-cut as he makes it sound – there are many more people than that who define themselves as in support of #gamergate – but that’s certainly about the size of the core. Indeed, it’s the mainstream media’s lack of understanding of sock puppetry and non-Facebook and Twitter social tools that mean that many mainstream press accounts don’t really understand the underlying dynamic of the movement.

The end of the gamer

I suspect that lurking under this is the fact that “gamer” is becoming meaningless as a term. Would you describe yourself as a “televisioner” or a “cinemaer”? No – because these are mainstream activities, and you actually have to look to sub-genres to find some sense of identity from them. Think “horror movie buff” or “historical drama fan”. Gaming is reaching the same point. The number of people NOT playing some form of digital game is rapidly becoming vanishingly small. There will always be some – just as there are those who don’t watch TV. But not many.

It can be profoundly unsettling to have something you hang your identity on assimilated by the mainstream – that’s at the root of people in their 20s complaining that bands have “sold out” when they become popular.

Dealing with shifting identity is part of being an adult, though. And no sense of threat justifies this sort of behaviour.

tl;dr – #gamergate in two sentences.

  • Games journalism is no better or worse than most journalism in its ethics
  • None of this justifies your insecure misogyny

Bingo card

Love this:

The problem with gamification of course, was that the people who were trying to do it didn’t know their games from their elbows. While the number of good brains in the gaming arena goes up every single day, there are still very few people really get what makes games tick in the first place – and that’s just among people who make games professionally. People who work in marketing generally don’t even understand how marketing works, let alone games, so once they’d attached their feeding tubes to it, gamification was never really going anywhere.

I bet Mary will, too…

I have something of a background in games myself (my Wikipedia page is largely about it), and so much of the second-hand nonsense spouted by marketing folks about gamification pains me.


Mikael Hed

That bizarre image of our host dressed up as the most basic of the Angry Birds had a purpose: it was setting the scene for the arrival of Mikael Hed, CEO, Rovio, the people who are stealing away our lives in avian/porcine conflict…

There was a little background on the game, and its roots in sketches for an entirely different game, and its growth to ubiquity. The differing business model of Android versus iPhone apps seems to have been as much an access of accessibility as anything. On iPhone, you have to have an iTunes account to manage the device, so that’s an easy route to the market. The app store ecosystem is more complex, and the free-plus-ads seems to make it easier to get the game onto people’s devices – and it was a gamble that has paid off financially for them.

It’s interesting, because as much as Angry Birds has become a cultural phenomenon, there hasn’t been much evidence that Hed has a clear idea why that might be. Even the sell-out success of soft toys based on the game seems to have caught them by surprise. If anything, they seem to be leaving it to partners to build revenue from merchandise, while they continue to expand the platforms the game is available on. For example, he’s taking about consoles and downloadable content as a major target for next year.

Fun talk, but in the end, Angry Birds is Angry Birds, and phenomenons are rarely repeatable.

Other Bloggers

Stuck at your desk while all your colleagues are on their holidays? Then waste time with the Take Off Challenge[No longer online – they this page full of helicoper games instead] from my colleagues at Flight Global:

The Flight Game

It’s a remarkably silly affair, wherein you have to fly one of three planes as far as you can. For those of you who are old enough to remember Daley Thompson’s Decathlon on the Spectrum, there are remarkable similarities. 

Joi Ito

The presentation that most people have mentioned to me as changing the way they think about something was Joi Ito’s talk on gaming. Me? I loved it, but then the talk was about World of Warcraft, and I’m a player. (“Hi, my name’s Adam Tinworth and I’m a night elf druid“).

Ito started of with a crowd-pleasing assault on the perception of gaming in society as a whole.

“We still say ‘addicted to games’,” he said. “We don’t say ‘addicted to church’ if people go to church every week.”

He’s quite right – it’s a non-useful way of viewing the situation. It’s rooted, he explained, in the way we use language around the internet, at least in the English-speaking world. We have this word “cyberspace”, which implies a separation between the online world and the “real” world. We have “real” friends and “virtual” friends.

“For kids the internet is ubiquitous. It’s not something you log into or out of,” said Ito. And, to them, gaming is certainly not the “masturbation-like activity” many adults seem to view it as. For one thing, people are often interacting with existing friends in the game…

So what is it?

Well, as an example he showed a video of a Molten Core raid, a challenging adventure in the game that requires 40 people to complete, and usually takes many hour spread over a week. (To the WoW players out there, sorry for the simplistic description and yes, I know that it’s an old skool raid now Burning Crusade has been with us for the best part of a year, but I guess Ito’s been giving variations of this presentation for a while now.)

Co-ordinating 40 people, and getting the right balance of classes to achieve the challenges of the game is almost like a ball, a dance, he suggested. “A 40-man raid can unravel in minutes if all the emotional tension isn’t co-ordinated,” he said. “MBAs suck at this, because they’re no good at listening in these games.” People in service industries are the best, he suggested, because they’re used to managing through persuasion, rather than coercion.

However (and this is the good bit, folks), he suggested that you need to look at these games in terms of similes or metaphors. A simile of office life would just be the office recreated in detail online. A metaphor of it would be an environment where everything is different, bar one thing – in this case, the management and communication skills needed to succeed.

Loïc and Joi Ito

The open voice channels guilds use to communicate in the game are also a good example of the useful skills that come out of these environments. Many conference calls struggle to operate with a handful of people in the call. On these open voice chat applications (usually Ventrilo or Teamspeak), people manage to successful communicate in a task-based environment despite 40 (or 25 or 10) people all being able to speak. We’re used to opening and closing calls, because of telephone technology. Should we be using VOIP in the same way? Maybe not. (Incidentally, my wife often wanders into my office while I’m playing Warcraft and uses voice chat to say hello to mutual friends who also play. That’s exactly the sort of “open channel” communications he was talking about.)

The “dashboard” displays that people create using add-ons to the game are, according to players in the Ito’s guild We Know who are active members of the military, are often superior to those found in real weapons systems. There’s plenty that can be learned from the innovation in these gaming environments that could be applied to other areas of life. (I found myself typing “real life” there, and had to correct it swiftly…)

Oh, and he’s involved in a start-up called Rupture. The plan seems to be getting data from the various game companies, to allow you to find your friends (or guildmates) across various games. Sounds cool.

An Aside on Creative Commons

Ito had been thrown a difficult task: to integrate Creative Commons and gaming in one talk. The CC section ended up a bit of an add-on at the end of the talk. He suggested that CC was effectively an open standard for content transfer; an interface for copyright, if you like.

His thesis was that Creative Commons needs to be embedded in needed in the tools used to create content. Take pic on your Nokia, choose an CC level for it then and there. Games companies could embed CC into their games, so Mechanima makers using the game to make a movie know what they can and can’t do. It makes the process simple and opens content sharing to all.

How do we provide a common location where trusted writers can find an audience, and readers can find a source of trustworthy writers? Aggregation.

Specifically, moderated aggregation. There clearly needs to be editorial control, otherwise the screeching howler monkeys just hurl their faeces down the aggregated feed instead of in their nasty little forums. But aggregation steps the role down from commissioning to moderation, and with a suitable definition of the feed the traffic should remain fairly low. Sure, from a critical point of view it’s not as good as a rigorous editorial process, but it has the benefit that it might actually maintain a flow of content.

And you know what? This might actually work. Lea suggests using the RSS format and moderated aggregation, so basically an editor can build a web page out of reviews submitted to him.

There are alternatives. People who pay careful attention to the look of this blog might have noticed that I’m testing the Movable Type 3.0 beta right now. If seen some interesting uses of Trackback at work during the testing, where blogs have been built out of the Trackback pings from other blogs. Here’s how it works: blogger a writes a post, and then sends a Trackback ping to a set Trackback address. Blogger b gets e-mail notification of the ping, reads the post and then goes onto the MT interface to approve or deny the ping. If it’s approved, it becomes part of the visible reviews blog.

This might even be worth a try.