Archive for December, 2012

This is a test for the Nexus 7 WP client.

December 27th, 2012 No comments

Happy holidays everyone!

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Purchasing Power

December 15th, 2012 No comments

When the medium was young, game developers didn’t have to care as much about “player buy-in”, the investment of energy, time, money, and other resources that is put in by participants. The novelty, particularly in video games, was a sufficient hook to entice people to make that investment. It was something new, something so unlike what had come before as to produce the necessary buy-in. People were practically lining up just for the privilege of trying such a thing.

But as we’ve come along, and as we begin to look critically at tabletop and video games, it’s becoming clear that player buy-in is absolutely necessary for a successful game. Where once Nintendo would get that buy in with the mere idea of a game, the power has shifted to the players. “There are so many games out there that I have my pick. Why should I choose yours?” People involved in the development of games, either those they are writing themselves, or those they’re leading as storytellers or narrators, must be mindful of this facet of gaming.

First, a little clarity. This phenomenon of investment has always existed, in one form or another. It’s what creates fans of books, or movies, or TV shows. “Did you hear about…?”, “Have you seen…?”, “You know what’s really cool…” and variants have existed for as long as we could talk about our interests, and share them. The desire to make communities around things we love is a very primal one, but with games, it’s taken a decidedly more communal turn. Books are written, produced, and finished. Feedback is submitted to an author, and perhaps he takes note of it (turning The Jew into Fagin for example), but it’s not a prerequisite for writing a novel, nor directing TV. Just ask J. J. Abrams.

Games though are an inherently collaborative experience, and investiture in them means getting something out of them than more than just entertainment. When you grab your five friends and tell them you want to run a game of Vampire: the Masquerade, what you’re saying is “I have an idea for a story I want to tell, and would love for you to help me write it.” When you become part of a guild on WoW or a corporation in EVE, you are throwing a lot more than just your time and energy into the game: you’re building something. You’re investing in something that can be transformed, which is why it’s all the more sad when those structures we build fall, as all things do in time. I’m sad I’m not playing WoW with my guild anymore, even though they’re all still my friends, and we spend a lot of time on LoL now. Some of my sweetest memories of tabletop are the outrageous stories I helped to tell with my characters and their actions, and in one notable circumstance, my character’s death.

The people who are mindful of this property of games are going to be the ones who make the most successful ones. Doublefine and inXile used reward tiers on Kickstarter to promote the idea that we weren’t just investing our money in these projects; they opened up forums for backers to come in and give their opinions as the very games are being made, and I think that’s a very wise move. It’s also something that Kickstarter encourages: you’re not only putting your money on the line for a product, but you are also given an amount of control in the production of what you’re funding. I’m not just a backer of Wasteland 2, it’s in a very real sense my game. That buy-in is, in itself, a reward, and will make for a better experience when all’s said and done.

I think, and I’ve talked about this before, that Kickstarter’s role in gaming is expanding. The ability to invest in games will become the new norm, and big name developers have got to be more responsive to their player’s wants and needs. That responsiveness is one of the reasons Valve and Riot are so successful. What’s keeping the bigger names afloat, the ones who chronically and habitually ignore the ideas and investiture of its customers, is capital. They’ve already got the buy in, but now they’re living on borrowed time. Get ready kids: it’s going to be an exciting few years.

(Next week: Part 2! What does buy-in mean for the players?)

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Triumphs and Tears

December 12th, 2012 No comments

Eight days ago, Riot Games banned competitive player IWillDominate from playing League of Legends in any sponsored tournament for a year. Though this isn’t the first competitive ban, it’s definitely one of the more noteworthy, particularly for this side of the Pacific. In addition, it’s the first ban of a pro player I can find for League of Legends at all, and it’s worth a deeper look.

I’ve long held that Riot’s system is innovative and the standard by which other games, particularly those that want to make a name for themselves in the competitive gaming arena. DOTA, as a genre, has long been known as a place for trolls and griefers to get their kicks, due in large part to the somewhat unbalanced areas of play in the original maps that spwaned from Warcraft III. As more polished versions of DOTA came out, a more forceful change than simple graphics needed to be implemented if any were to distinguish themselves from their competition. Riot’s solution was the Tribunal, a system by which players could review the conduct of other players, and see if it breached , a set of loose rules and guidelines to promote good behavior and sportsmanship. Balanced on the other side of rewarding players for good behavior (with the Honor Initiative), the twin facets of carrot and stick have generally enhanced peoples’ experiences with the games, according to many accounts.

Of course, there were still some people who were abusive and toxic to the environment, at all levels of play from the low brackets of 600 Elo all the way to Dignitas’ jungler, IWillDominate. In a indictment of his behavior, Riot’s Senior eSports Manager
, letting the community know in no uncertain terms that even players of IWillDominate’s caliber need to comport themselves by the social contract all the members of the League of Legends player base have agreed to.

I think it’s brilliant.

When we start talking, as gamers, about gaming being taken seriously, we have to embrace that notion. Games as art must be able to share human experiences that are not easily conveyed, and be able to transform the witness. Games as entertainment have to be genuinely pleasant experiences, rather than just something to frustrate and annoy our friends, neighbors, and parents with.

But games as sport must hold themselves to a greater standard, for two reasons: money and respect. Though these two don’t often go hand in hand, they do with real life, traditional sports. We pay our athletes a great amount of money, and challenge them to be better than us. We revel in their accomplishments, erecting Halls of Fame to immortalize our great competitors. We bring charges against those who betray our trust, going all the way up to the highest levels of government. In short, we build pedestals for those who compete to put themselves on, and we extol them when they get to the top.

As competitive eSports comes into mainstream society’s awareness, we must be ready to build those pedestals for our own digital competitors. We have to be ready to praise their acts of honest, good natured gamesmanship, and we have to be ready to scorn them for their misdeeds, as Riot has done. By prohibiting IWillDominate from competing at the highest level of play, Riot reinforces the very ethos behind competition: the thrill of the game, and the joy of victory. Going hand in hand with the fines levied against AzubuFrost in October, Riot seems ready to treat this just as seriously as they need to, as we move into the future of gaming’s potential. I commend Riot, and their VP of eSports RedBeard for taking this step, and hope they continue to act as a leader in the competitive gaming world for a long time.

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Turning It To 11

December 1st, 2012 1 comment

Two years ago, I had the privilege of participating in something amazing and ridiculous. I got to indulge in what video games are designed to do. I got to be a rock star.

When it came out in late 2007, Rock Band made waves. It took Guitar Hero to the next level, and let people indulge in their musical exhibition streak. I have fond memories of getting together with my friends and making bands, such as Tannenbomb and The Robin Sparkles Project. Those happy nights (at least the ones I can remember) were filled with my friends, willingly playing the part of fans until the song ended, and they got their chance to take the stage. I took my show on the road occasionally, and got to play for a bigger audience at the Penny Arcade Expos I went to, and generally had an amazing time. Those days were capped by a fantastic experience: Umloud.

Taking the stage to sing “Epic” by Faith No More while tossing out Its-Its is an experience that I will never forget, but though you might not be in San Francisco to be able to indulge in the atmosphere of the Geekiest Rock Show Ever, I want to highlight the reason for the entire experience: Child’s Play. Founded in 2003, this charity has a long and storied history, and one that gamers everywhere can point to when they say that their hobby is only for the immature and childish.

Since I’ve recently been employed by the San Francisco Food Bank, it’s my honor to point people towards worthy causes, and Child’s Play definitely is. If you’ve got some spare time, consider applying to be a volunteer for an amazing experience, or simply wend your way down to the DNA Lounge next Saturday and have a blast with your fellow geeks, improving some lives and having a stellar time all at once.

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