Archive for the ‘Game Research’ Category

Evil Within

It is now abundantly clear that MAGA-ism involves simply bringing back all the most reprehensible aspects of the US past and trying to make them acceptable to talk about in polite company.  Although clearly we are also in the process of rewriting what polite company means.  So perhaps it was inevitable that this process of making America grate again would turn its beady-eyed stare upon the videogame industry.


Ancient Tablet Image

Apple Announces New Tablet Designed to Improve Paperweight Functionality (Image by Ilovebutter, CC license)

It has become increasingly obvious over the last couple of years that some gamers are convinced that after Obama satisfies his deep-seated yearning to take away our guns he is going to send in the UN black helicopters and take away our hardcore videogames.  In the past I’ve written about how the irrational fear that casual games are “taking over” has produced pathological troglodyte behavior directed against women who have dared simply to voice an opinion about games.  Recently I came across an instance that has at its root the same pathology (oh no!  Games are being played by everyone!) but adopted a refreshingly different approach: denial.

Throw an Apple hard enough and it can really sting
In a recent opinion piece for Polygon, Shawn Foust, currently VP of Design at Quark Games argued that “In two years mobile and tablet games will be predominantly hardcore.”  Admittedly this pronouncement could be seen as a little self-serving given that Foust’s company is dedicated to producing hardcore games for mobile platforms.  But let’s give Foust the benefit of the doubt and assume that his work has followed his passions and beliefs.  What justifies the confidence behind his statement?  Simple.  “Every media platform optimized for games eventually ends up going hardcore. Mobile will not be different.”  The PC, the Internet, consoles, all started out as oriented toward casual games and moved inevitably toward hardcore.  The reason, he argues, lies in the desires of gamers themselves: “For all of our faults as customers (we’re very torch- and pitchfork-oriented), we gamers — and I’m speaking of the hardcore variety — are loyal and dedicated. . . .For us, games aren’t an idle pastime. They are a commitment. We can’t be distracted.”  Casual games, he makes clear, are all about simple distraction, passing the time.

Sadly, this piece simply confirms why people should not be in a rush to invest in Foust’s company.  In the first place he’s exhibiting the classic circular reasoning evident among so many game developers.  Notice the nifty little rhetorical sidestep?  I’m going to talk about all gamers. . .by which I mean hardcore gamers.  But this is typical of the industry more broadly (indeed, in a former age it virtually defined the industry): all we make are hardcore games which people are buying therefore all gamers are hardcore gamers which means that we need to keep making nothing but hardcore games.  It is a completely fallacious argument to believe that your intended audience thinks exactly like you do and in the game industry it has led to some of the most problematic industry practices: the widespread hypersexualism (we like big boobs so of course everyone does) and racism (we like plucky black sidekicks, doesn’t everyone?).

Yet that all pales before the major problem here which is simply that Foust is wrong.  He’s wrong about the past and he’s wrong about the future.  But it is the reason why he is wrong that interests me.


Today I would like to start a discussion on the artistic integrity of games with 3 topics in particular in mind: revised endings, HD upconverts, and extended editions.  When I say revised endings, I’m talking about the Bioware idea of trying to revise the ending after having already released the game.  HD upconverts and reboots refers things such as Age of Empires II’s new HD edition that was recently released on steam.  Extended Editions I find to be something of a misnomer because in this case my example is the extended edition of Anna which I would argue is not so much an extended edition as the developer releasing an entirely new version of their game and saying “Wait! Wait! Give us a second chance!”  I have very mixed feelings on each of these.  They have merits, but there is a question of whether the change is too much and thus irrevocably and sometimes even negatively affects the game.  Let’s go through each of these and then see what kind of discussion we can generate. (more…)

Dear Esther is, in short, complicated.  It’s hard to describe.  In my brief research, the best description I have been able to find is “graphical masterpiece”, which was the description given by Joe Martin in his review for bit-tech.  Graphical masterpiece, however, does not really account for the music or the feelings it evokes, so maybe something more along the lines of sensuous masterpiece or a beautiful invocation of the senses, but neither of those quite sound right and that is not what I’m here to talk about.  I am here to talk about what Dear Esther is.  It is very complicated and certainly up for discussion so here goes. (more…)

I recently read an article entitled “Game Over for Gamestop” on a website called which suggested that Gamestop as a business will collapse at some vaguely defined point in the near future if their business model does not change.  Now I see several flaws in the theory and logic that they are using to make this claim, but let’s begin at the beginning.  Who is Seeking Alpha?

Seeking Alpha is, first and foremost, a blog.  It is not news.  It’s not market research.  It is a financial blog that attempts to guide stock market investors with tips, analysis, and sometimes the support of news.  They are making an argument and drawing a conclusion.  According to their About Seeking Alpha page “Seeking Alpha is the premier website for actionable stock market opinion and analysis, and vibrant, intelligent finance discussion.”  And yes they really did boldface their font just like that to jump out at you so you won’t have any delusions about who they are or what their business mission is.  Now as with every business in the modern competitive world, they have to justify who they are and why we should be reading this blog as opposed to say the online Wall Street Journal.  In answer to this quandary, they respond “Seeking Alpha differs from other finance sites because it focuses on opinion and analysis rather than news, and is primarily written by investors who describe their personal approach to stock picking and portfolio management, rather than by journalists.”  And once again they did feel the need to bold those specific phrases so there would be no confusion.  So putting this all together, Seeking Alpha is a blog written by investors seeking to provide financial advice with regard to the stock market.  They are not journalists, which I believe is a two-fold point.  They are not writing news so if you are looking for stock market news, turn around and run the other way.  Secondly, they are investors not journalists, but specifically not stock market (Wall Street Journal?) journalists.  They are not judging companies based on the news of that company.  Well really they are, but that’s not why they are here.  They are here to take the news and take the history and take the products and take the numbers and take their own investment experience and coalesce all of that information into a coherent opinion of the company specifically with an eye toward consumer advice.  Really this just makes them bad editorial journalists and product reviewers, but I digress as that’s an argument for another time.  Now I apologize for having spent my first 500 words on this website and I’m sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with games and gaming, but don’t worry I’m getting there.


Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Kn...

Image via Wikipedia

Hard to believe but the Artificially Intelligent blog is now almost three years old.  Quite a lot of virtual ink under the bridge since then.  I thought it appropriate therefore to use the anniversary both to reflect on a piece of the past and to start something new.  This will be the first in a series of posts over the next few weeks attempting to think through what I term the “Monkeys Typing Hamlet” problem but which others refer to as “Crowd Sourcing.”

Quite some time ago I wrote about the facile reporting in a Newsweek article that described the imminent demise of crowd sourcing.  I haven’t changed my mind about the article.   It is still a perfect example of contemporary journalistic practice and therefore an indictment of everything that is wrong with the training and practice of many mainstream journalists today.  But the article struck a chord with me for an entirely different set of reasons.  Consider this portion:

There’s no shortage of theories on why Wikipedia has stalled. One holds that the site is virtually complete. Another suggests that aggressive editors and a tangle of anti-vandalism rules have scared off casual users. But such explanations overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature: most people simply don’t want to work for free. They like the idea of the Web as a place where no one goes unheard and the contributions of millions of amateurs can change the world. But when they come home from a hard day at work and turn on their computer, it turns out many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good. Even the Internet is no match for sloth.

That’s why Wikipedia’s new recruiting push will not rely merely on highfalutin promises about pooled greatness and “the sum of all human knowledge.”

You can sense the authors’ delight here in being able to get a few digs in at those who have the temerity to believe in “pooled greatness” and who actually care about big ticket items like the state of human knowledge.   You can feel the satisfaction in declaring these kinds of dreams no match for the unstoppable power of LOLCATS.  There’s nothing quite as distinctive as the smell of superiority.  Then it hit me.

I could have written this piece.


I’ll probably start off with this story in every blog post that I write in my life, but when I was thirteen years old I had the honor to found and lead a clan called The Order in the game Star Wars: Jedi Academy. What proceeded was a five year journey that would change my life. I met hundreds of people online, made friends around the world, and most importantly created just the kind of organization that Clay Shirky describes in his book Here Comes Everybody. Clans are different then other online communities, but still operate below the ‘Coasean floor’ and still use the interaction of promise, tools, and bargain in order to achieve this. Still, online game communities serve as excellent models of organizing without organizations and raise interesting questions about the democratizing effects of online social tools.

Online communities in video games go by a number of different names and these names can highlight some very important differences. In Jedi Academy, communities are called clans, while in most other games they are called guilds. Some games have different names for their communities according to the content of the game. For example, both Second Life and EVE Online refer to their communities as corporations reflecting the economic nature of the game-play. In general, however, games that come with a developer supported interface, tools, and other systems that allow the players to create and maintain communities are called guilds. For games that do not support communities, players create their own systems in order to organize clans. For example, in the games Counter-strike and Jedi Academy, the game does not support the creation of guilds. Still, players band together and create communities anyway, usually signified by changing avatar’s name to share some characteristics and staying to one server or location. Clans are an important example of organization below the Coasean floor because of this fact: players go out of their way to create organizations where there were none before and where none are required or even supported, but they do it anyway. There is little value to an organization like a clan other than the enjoyment of it’s members. Without modern social tools, creating a world-spanning organizations simply in order to enjoy a game would be too costly compared to their value.

Shirky borrows the idea of the Coasean Floor from a 1937 paper called “The Nature of the Firm” by Ronald Coase to help show what online social tools do for group forming. The Coasean floor is the point which transaction costs are high enough that no matter how valuable an activity is it is not worth creating an organization to do it. Before online social tools, communication and organization costs money, of which there is none for online gaming communities. The internet, the mobile phone, and other technologies changed this. For example, it no longer matters how much time it takes for a message to reach point B from point A; it matters how long it takes for the recipient to notice they have a message. Clans operate below the Coasean floor, regardless of the fact that there is no system to support them, they create themselves anyway at very little cost. “Loosely coordinated groups can now achieve things that were previously out of reach for any organization structure, because they lay under the Coasean floor.” (Shirky, 47) Applied to clans, this means that anyone can form an organization around a game they enjoy, even if the game does not support such organization.

Clans are created through the interaction of promise, tool, and bargain, just like how Shirky describes other online organizations are created. For guilds in games that have a goal, joining a guild means joining with a promise to progress in the game farther, earn better rewards, and work together better. For clans, the promise tends to be more like “let’s identify together in order to make the game more interesting.” Games with guilds tend to have a lot more replay value, are updated consistently, and are much more populated. People create clans in order to increase replay value in games that aren’t constantly updated with new content, joining or creating a clan is like making your own content. In the case of Jedi Academy, this is often done through role-playing. In Counter-strike, this is done through inter-clan tournaments. The internet also offers a number of tools that are critical to the formation of clans. Most importantly of all is the design of the game itself, Jedi Academy‘s game-play is a much better equipped game to foster the development of clans than Counter-strike‘s game-play is. Both games however, support game-modding, which means to literally add in your own game content. This allows players to customize their games and create game content that supports their clans. Finally, communication programs like X-Fire and online internet forums make communication between members easy and easily allow players to connect to the right place so that members can play together.

Most interesting of all is the bargains that clans develop. Shirky writes that “A bargain helps clarify what you can expect of others and what they can expect of you.” Clans establish joining procedures, codes of conduct, complicated hierarchies and ranks, and even governing documents. These governing documents are particularly interesting, because nearly always in both guilds and clans democracy is the basis of the governing system, usually combined with some sort of oligarchy. Observations have shown that nearly all online communities (but particularly clans) will go out of their way and force the vote into their system. The vote is a powerful bargain, giving every member of the organization a say in what is going on. However, the most successful online gaming community, the Syndicate, is governed by the benevolent dictatorship of it’s founder. Contrary to what is anecdotally the best model for governing an online gaming community, players will still design their communities with democracy in mind.

An often found model of clan leadership is the ‘officership’ model. A few selected members, titled officers, make the decisions for the organization as a group. These decisions can range from who to recruit, who to promote, what server to play on, to various game-play related decisions. These officers are often selected by the other officers, but vote enters anyway generally through two ways. Between the officers, decision making is always done through a majority-rules vote. Also, any larger issues that the officers do not feel they can make alone are submitted to the organization for vote. The Syndicate runs with an officership model also, except that the officers serve simply to advise the guild master on the best course of action, however what action to take is the guild master’s responsibility to decide. This model, as long as the guild master acts to the benefit of the organization, is far more efficient because it reduces the transaction costs of the leadership of the clan. An organization within an organization that suffers just the same benefits and problems with online social media as the organization does as a whole.

Why then, are communities forcing the vote into their bargains? One could use this as evidence that new social tools are indeed democratizing the world, that guilds and clans are examples of a new age where democracy and the vote are the default mode of governance. However, before this claim can be argued, one has to ask oneself an important question. If we find democracy in guilds and clans in America, will we find it in guilds and clans in other countries as well? Will the vote be held to the same respect in China, or will authoritarianism be the default governing style of online gaming communities? What about in the middle-east, will theology be forced into every governing document, or does that one depend on the game’s content? Where does the officer oligarchy fit into the picture, if most guilds and clans use a combination of democracy and rule of the elite? I would like to say that guilds and clans can be a case-study of the internet democratizing the world, but I’d be willing to guess the answer is that we have just gotten really good at teaching our youth about the importance of the vote. So much so, that they force it into even the smallest and seemingly most inconsequential of groups: the clan.