MIT BiG Recap, Part One: Social vs. Hardcore

Last week TriplePoint attended the 3rd annual MIT Business in Gaming conference in Boston. This series will break down some of the biggest and best ideas into tasty, digestible morsels.

Are you a hardcore gamer or a casual player? With each passing year, more and more people fall into at least one of these categories. To some extent, the console wars still rage on as players debate graphical prowess and the price of getting online. However, the fanboyism of the last two decades has fallen to the wayside as gamers take up arms in an even larger battle, one that pits Volvo-driving soccer moms against Mountain Dew-swilling video game fanatics. There’s been a great deal of discussion surrounding social vs. hardcore gaming, and this panel put forth some lofty ideas.

Gaming's a BiG deal.
Gaming's a BiG deal.
  • Social gaming is dead …or at least the term “social” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. As social elements such as matchmaking, leaderboards and the automatic “I just trumped your score” pings from Geometry Wars 2 work their way into more hardcore games, their presence will be less notable. Features like the Autolog competition-between-friends system in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is destined for all upcoming Criterion releases. These are both clever ways to make that million-player leaderboard relevant to you and your gamer buddies. So even when you’re alone, you’re still playing (asynchronous) multiplayer.
  • Play with your buddies, not just their scores. Synchronous gaming is on the rise; this occurs any time players are all participating at once, rather than just watering one another’s crops whenever it’s convenient. Gazillion’s Nik Davidson went so far as to say that synchronous gaming is “fetishized” by the industry, and that a hybrid of the two makes the most sense. Letting players take their character on the go means the game is always in mind and close at hand. More engaged = more likely to spend.
  • Whatever you call it, it’s growing fast. Casual games that make money hand over fist, like Ravenwood Fair, are popping up like weeds. IGDA NY President Wade Tinney points out, “With each passing month comes a new MMO or casual title that changes all the rules.” This ongoing evolution is drastically outpacing all other entertainment markets.

The boys and girls of the NES Generation are now becoming parents, and the game industry’s growth will continue to accelerate. As more and more of the populous understands game mechanics and is willing to invest in gaming entertainment, this social/hardcore/whatever industry has quite a sunny future.


Speakers included:

  • Nik Davidson – Gazillion/The Amazing Society
  • Nabeel Hyatt – Zynga Boston
  • Daniel Witenberg – Lego Universe
  • Wade Tinney – Large Animal Games & President IGDA NY

Fantasy University Opens – Schools Facebook Gaming

Too late for back-to-school news?  We don’t think so.

Facebook – meet Fantasy University, the latest project from veteran development team Simutronics.  Since 1987, Simutronics has been entertaining millions with games such as GemStone IV, the longest-running commercial MUD in the world.  If CEO David Whatley and company could turn text-based games into entertainment enjoyed by millions, imagine what they could do with Facebook.  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fantasy University.

Fantasy University combines snarky humor, endless pop culture references, and the FUBAR (the game’s form of virtual currency) with solid, RPG gameplay.   Facebook, a platform that has been subject to mounting criticism by gaming journalists (and sometimes ignored altogether), is now host to emomancers,  slackninjas, mathemagicians, cheermongers, and dodgebrawlers.

There’s plenty to say about F.U., but sometimes game art speaks louder than words.

We’ll be playing right along with you – don’t be late for school!

(“Facebook Credit” – get it?)

LEGO Universe Pre-Launch Press Bonanza: If you build it, they will come…

LEGO Universe launched last Friday for a special fans-only release period, and boy has the PR team been busy! Over the summer and into fall, we’ve been across the country and back again with the LEGO Universe developers – and that’s not even counting pre-E3 and international happenings. From E3 in Los Angeles, Comic-Con in San Diego and PAX in Seattle, to press meetings in New York and family media day in Colorado, LEGO Universe has amazed and inspired everyone who sees it.

The LEGO Group (creative brick-building toy icon) teamed up with NetDevil (supernaturally talented development team), and collaborated with some of the most imaginative and passionate fans in the world (LEGO Universe Partners, or LUPS for short)… It’s taken 5 years to get here, and the real works just begun, but together this LEGO trifecta has created one helluva MMOG.

TriplePoint couldn’t be more thrilled (or proud) to work with the brightest minds in toys and technology, and finally help launch LEGO Universe this month. It’s been a while since we shared media feedback, so today is a double whammy – first, here are highlights from recent press events and releases. Then check out part two this afternoon, for the latest previews, reviews and such. You can find more LEGO Universe coverage from E3 and earlier in the archives. Continue reading LEGO Universe Pre-Launch Press Bonanza: If you build it, they will come…

Enthusiasm for LEGO Universe Builds at E3 2010: Awards & Impressions

The LEGO Group and developer NetDevil made a resounding splash at E3 2010 last week with LEGO Universe, the upcoming MMOG that will change the way you think about online play.

E3 attendees were able to demo the game live on the show floor and take home customized Minifigures from the “build bar.” Members of the press got a special look at the game’s unique “behaviors” system, which enables players to apply simple programmable abilities to their LEGO creations and literally bring in-game models to life.

As the development team works around the clock to perfect LEGO Universe for an October launch, enthusiasm is rapidly building among LEGO fans, gamers and press around the globe. From hardcore MMO enthusiasts and game industry influencers, to mainstream media, kids and parents, LEGO Universe is striking an imaginative spark in everyone who plays it.

Judging from journalist reactions at E3, what’s not to love? LEGO Universe beat out big names like Final Fantasy XIV and Star Wars: The Old Republic to bring home some of the top E3 awards, proving to gamers everywhere that LEGO Universe is a force to be reckoned with – not just for kids, but for LEGO fans and gamers of all ages.

See what all the cool kids are saying about LEGO Universe at E3 2010, including top awards and preview impressions to-date:

Continue reading Enthusiasm for LEGO Universe Builds at E3 2010: Awards & Impressions

Looking For Group: Applying MMO Techniques to Learning and Business

Lee Sheldon, Assistant Professor at Indiana UniversityPlayers of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games have long known that working cooperatively and competitively within the game space has improved not only their leet gaming skillz but also real life abilities, including leadership, communication skills, creative thinking and adaptability. Lee Sheldon, assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, has taken the use of MMO design and terminology to the next level and applied it to his classroom education.

Referenced by Professor Jesse Schell in his talk at DICE, Sheldon has applied basic elements of MMOs to his classroom, including forming guilds (small groups within the classroom), quests (activities and projects – both “solo” and “guild” based), offering “Boss battles” (exams), and using XP points instead of grades. While the media has focused mostly on Sheldon’s use of a non-traditional grading system, they’re missing the bigger picture.

According to Lee Sheldon, the use of the MMO system for classroom instruction has resulted in better attendance, greater class participation and more quality coursework. By utilizing terminology that students understand, Sheldon’s ideas may help students become better prepared for the real world, having expanded their collaborative skills, adaptive thought patterns, communication abilities, and leadership.

While Lee Sheldon’s classes are specifically tailored for game design—he teaches courses in Theory and Practice of Game Design and Multiplayer Game Design—these MMO principles (and game design theory in general) could be applied to nearly any classroom situation.

It’s not so far-fetched for the workplace, either. According to IT News in Australia, companies are already adapting some of the basic tenets of good game design and applying them to the work place, even though they’re not necessarily using the terminology of “guilds,” “raids” and “questing.” Some workplace game-like offerings include clear, well-defined goals and gradual, incremental rewards, such as points for showing up on time…

Simple psychology explains the benefits of using gameplay principles in all aspects of our lives. Offer rewards, get better results; you don’t have to be Lee Sheldon to understand that.

Afterword: Later this year, Lee Sheldon will be reporting more of his findings and detailing this project in his book “Practical Game Design: A Toolkit for Educators, Researchers and Corporations.”

Micro-transactions and MMOs: The New Capitalism

Micro-transactions have taken center stage lately as a hot-button controversy in social gaming, particularly on Facebook. But the debate over micro-transactions in other genres, particularly massively multiplayer online (MMO) titles, has been going on for quite some time, even prior to the advent of Facebook. The reaction to micro-transactions as elements of game play in MMOs has often been virulent, with proponents on both sides attempting to sway the other to their point of view.

Why such strong feelings toward one game element? For many MMO players, particularly those in subscription-based games, the use of micro-transactions comes down to a concern about fairness. For the hardcore “raiding guild” players, why put in so much effort and hours of play time into a game, only to have others succeed in the game by buying their way into it? For average MMO players, incorporating micro-transactions into core game play can also create an in-game society of “haves” and “have nots,” with some the players unwilling or unable spend the cash to be a viable part of the game universe.

Auction page from Audition 2, a F2P game from Redbana
Auction page from Audition, a F2P game from Redbana

One could posit the theory that—for Western gamers at least—the issue is really not about fairness, but that micro-transactions violate the virtually sacred principle of what we consider capitalism, or at least its idealized “American Dream” version: “work hard, and ye shall be rewarded.” To many MMO gamers, micro-transactions violate that principle by offering rewards to the user who merely pays extra cash. In some ways, it could be argued that this is a more pragmatic (or realistic) view of capitalism, i.e., “pay money, get what you want.”

It’s not just the players—the micro-transaction debate is an ongoing headache / concern for game designers, particularly those in the West, who have long struggled with the dilemma. In the past, Western designers have steered clear of incorporating micro-transactions into their mass market MMOs to avoid throwing off game play balance and risk losing their loyal customers. However, free-to-play games (F2P), which are supported through micro-transaction purchases such as enhanced character customization, special clothing and weapons, have long been popular in Eastern markets like Korea and China and are now rising in popularity in the Western world. With the increased success of the F2P model, game designers are taking a closer look at this model as a new means of monetization, customer retention and attraction of new users in order to survive in a new era of gaming.

The solution to this dilemma will most likely be a combination of the subscription-based model with a judicious use of micro-transactions, enabling both the idealized and pragmatic versions of in-game capitalism to coexist to the benefit of end users. Ultimately, all successful MMOs will need to include some content in the form of micro-transactions as an additional revenue stream as well as a method by which to obtain and retain users. As an example, one has only to look at Blizzard’s juggernaut World of Warcraft, which recently introduced two vanity pets for purchase (the first micro-transaction that has been offered in this game).

Capitalism in its ideal and real forms can indeed mesh in an MMO economy; by offering convenient and cosmetic enhancements that do not impact core game play on a micro-transaction basis, developers can give gamers the opportunity to purchase items that allow them to express their individuality and personality while still enjoying the fruits of their labor. This solution works for both gamers and game designers, as enhanced content can be added relatively quickly, provide entertainment and ultimately keep the player as a long-term customer.

LEGO Universe Demo Debut Reactions

Last week we conducted the very first preview press demos for LEGO Universe at the TriplePoint offices in San Francisco. Journalists were invited to check out the game, snag some new screenshots, talk with the development team, and get answers to all their LEGO MMO questions.

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Ryan Seabury, the game’s Creative Director from NetDevil was on hand with an in-depth gameplay demo – the first peek for journalists into myriad challenges and worlds awaiting players when LEGO Universe releases next year.

Continue reading LEGO Universe Demo Debut Reactions

Giving Away Games for Fun and Profit

DDO Unlimited

Since 2008, over 20 Eastern-developed, free-to-play MMO titles have launched in the US, and more will be released before this year is out. The list includes Atlantica Online, Deco Online, Florensia, LaTale, Runes of Magic, and many more. With these titles comes a new way of thinking: free-to-play.

While the Western MMO market has stuck largely with the monthly subscription model, Eastern MMO companies have been successfully giving their games away for years. Instead of relying on every user for payment, they offer in-game perks and items for a small fee (aka: microtransaction) and let users decide how much to spend.

The downside, obviously, is that the revenue stream is somewhat unpredictable. In an interview with Gamasutra, Daniel James of Three Rings revealed that only 10% of Puzzle Pirates players spend money on microtransactions. The upside? Users who do spend money spend an average of $50 per month, significantly more than the average monthly subscription fee. Combine that with reduced development costs, zero packaging costs, and lower barrier to entry for new players, and you have some serious potential.

Considering the number of F2P games that currently coexist in the Asian market, it’s hardly surprising that the microtransaction model can be profitable… but can it truly be competitive in North America?

Continue reading Giving Away Games for Fun and Profit

Defining the Social Media Landscape, Comparatively Speaking

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Vivity Scenes allows users to create a 3-D virtual scene “experience” to embed on any blog, brand or site. Vivaty created services for  Facebook and AIM in May 2008.

To sum up in response to my original question – are social networks (SNs) and virtual worlds (VWs) merging into one medium? In my opinion, not only are they converging, rather social networks are, at the core, just more user-friendly versions of virtual worlds.

The only real differences are user interface (UI), visual presentation, text opposed to graphics/pizzazz, and most of all, the idea of escape from- versus extension of- real life. In other words, either it’s an “escape” – as in an MMOG, where players create an avatar and explore a fictional world and/or storyline, or it’s an “extension” of the real world – as in a social network.

The 2008 VW Report shows that adult and teen VW development numbers are on a steady decline, while kids VWs are more rampant than ever. I firmly believe this is because adults today aren’t generally interested in treading the confusing and often complicated waters of a VW user interface. Our lives are increasingly busy as it is, and most adults don’t have time to build and maintain a “second life”, or for that matter even bother trying to figure out the technology. But we sure as hell have time, and eagerly welcome a SN where we can easily keep up with friends, family, professional colleagues and a million and one other things in-between. I think it’s safe to say that an “extension” must be more important than an “escape” to adults and teens in today’s society…

Continue reading Defining the Social Media Landscape, Comparatively Speaking

What They Play Gets Early Look into LEGO Universe

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What They Play’s President John Davison got an exclusive first look at LEGO Universe during GDC last week:

“Unlike the ‘building’ found in titles like Lego Star Wars or Lego Batman (where players simply hold down a button to automatically construct predetermined objects) Lego Universe incorporates a full building simulation where players can construct items within the game environment just as they would with real blocks. The team told us that one of the main objectives for Lego Universe has been to work very closely with the community to build the game world, and to enable fans to have a deep impact on it from the beginning.”

Check out what the parents’ guide to video games had to say about the upcoming MMOG from the LEGO Group and developer NetDevil in the full story.