Global Game Industry News Blog

Monday, August 20, 2007

Punishing Wikipedia Violators?

Based on this recent news, combined with the numerous others listed on Wired. I think a nice little collected volume (yes, a real print book) widely publicized and distributed about what these companies are doing and why would be a fitting punishment.

Personally I'd be happy to look closely at what EA was attempting to remove, and expand and go into greater depth about why they're making those changes, and precisely what historical events they're attempting to distance themselves from.

I'd like to see my advisor Kim Fortun do an entry for Dow Chemical and their removal of the Bhopal incident.

Let's make it worse for companies doing this kind of thing. Publicize the hell out of it. Make it a new negative experience. Burn your fingers once and learn a lesson. Burn them a second time on the very same coil, prove your stupidity.


Dark Zero - EA Change Sections Of Their Own Wiki Page
Who is Trip Hawkins?

Thanks to a recent news item on Wired it has come to light that companies have made several changes to their own Wikipedia pages. However, the one that most interests us is the changes that EA have been made to thier own page late last year. Also, what interests us even more is that all those changes can be directly tracked back to their headquarters in Redwood City, California thanks to the ip address provided in the edit.

The changes to the article were numerous, but initially it seems one of the most notable was to remove the name of the company's Founder, Trip Hawkins from the article completely. In fact, his name was scrubbed from two separate sections, and all links to Trips new company, Digital Chocolate, were also no longer to be seen in the new edit. Following on from there the next big change was the removal of a whole section of text which was critical of the company which cited “The company has also been the subject of criticism, most notably for its business tactics and its employment policy.”

That's not all, even more changes were on show in the employment policy section, where it is highly noticeable that the whole paragraph was edited to paint the company in a better light. In fact, the phrase “Electronic Arts has from time to time been criticized for its employment policy of requiring employees to work extraordinarily long hours” was changed to the much better sounding “Electronic Arts has led the industry in reforming work/life balance issues that are endemic to the software industry.” Also in reference to the criticism brought upon the company by due to alleged unpaid overtime issues EA edited a brand new sentence into the section which read, “Since that time, many other game companies have been struck with similar lawsuits.”

You can check out all the changes yourself by heading over the difference between revisions page of the EA entry. That page shows the original entry on the left and the EA inspired revision on the right. The changes made are highlighted in a bold red font. Also, if you want to check the IP address you can copy and paste it into the Arin Whois Database Search and check it out for yourself. Interestingly, thanks to the moderating staff on Wikipeida it seems the changes made lasted only five minutes and were quickly changed back.

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I Said it While I was in India...

While in India working with game developers I spoke to several about the vast possibilities of using Hindu history as a resource for developing game titles for both at home and abroad. I used the interested in Greek and Roman mythology as a point of reference. Especially for American consumers who for the most part look abroad for historical narratives, or the ones we do have revolve around war, that there would be significant interest in these kinds of titles.

An MMO in 2010, that sounds... vague and far off. Interesting, surely, but vague and far off.

Joystiq - SOE announces Ramayan 3392 A.D. MMO
Sony Online Entertainment has announced a collaboration with Virgin Comics intended to transform the Ramayan 3392. A.D. comic book series into an MMO, "initially" bound for the PC. Based on the Indian Ramayana story and set in a post-apocalyptic humans vs. demons world (obviously), the Deepak Chopra-developed comic franchise would seem to lend itself well to the genre without resorting to Western swords and sorcery shenanigans.

The multi-year, worldwide licence agreement sees SOE developing and publishing the game with creative consultation provided by Virgin Comics. The company's chief creative officer, Gotham Chopra, noted the prominence of "duty, honor, sacrifice, and fraternity" in the story, as well as "uniquely Indian ideas like karma (how action and consequence are linked) and the malleability of time itself." Delving deeper, he concluded that working on the game with SOE is "just awesome."

With no release date announced, we likely have quite a wait ahead of us before learning about online duty, honor, sacrifice, fraternity and awesomeness.

GamesIndustry.BIZ - MMO to bridge culture divide
New project from SOE will tap local talent to "think like the consumers there."
Sony Entertainment's head of business development, David Christensen, has pointed to some naiveté when it comes to the Western understanding of other cultures.

He was speaking following the unveiling of the publisher's new MMO, which takes inspiration from a holy Hindu poem, and aims to promote awareness of the religion to Western audiences.

"Unfortunately I think most people - not just those in the gaming industry - are a bit naïve when it comes to any culture but their own, which is precisely why SOE believes it is of the utmost importance to partner with local talent in every foreign market we enter," David Christensen told Eurogamer. "To be successful in a territory you have to think like the consumers there."

Virgin Comics will be joining SOE on the project, and will be using its Ramayan 3392 AD publication as the basis for the game. This retells the ancient story of the Ramayana in a futuristic science-fiction setting.

The game is being built predominantly for the Indian market, but Christensen believes it will find success around the world and might help teach us a thing or two in the process.

"The game is being developed in India for Indian gamers, but we expect it to be a success worldwide; to anyone that enjoys a rich and colourful storyline," continued Christensen.

"The comic Ramayan 3392 is meant to be entertaining, but at the same there are lessons in honour, duty and karma to be learned from it. I'm hopeful we can capture some of those lessons in our game."
The MMO based on Ramayan 3392 AD is yet to enter development, and Christensen expects 2010 is a likely release date - although he insists it will be given as much time as it needs to ensure maximum quality.

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Game Studies Love/Hate Relationship with Game Development

You know you're behind with blog posts when you've had a tab open in Firefox for nearly a week and a half, with every intention of posting about it, but not having time. I blame my dissertation, which is currently at about 40% completion.

This is an interesting post over on Terranova, which is a site I look forward to reading in the RSS feed. I would say however, that typically they suffer from the regular game studies myopia of "in games" syndrome, where their concerns are focused on the play/use/experience/economics/social issues/etc "in games." I knew at some point that there would be a realization that production is an important aspect of all of that, and despite any arm flailing that I might do would not otherwise convince them. To put it in perspective I've submitted several chapter proposals to collected volumes on "social, economic, etc" approaches to games, and they were completely uninterested in anything to deal with production or industry inter-weavings.

So anyway, "authoring tools" came up, and I see some light. Perhaps it is simply a train barreling down, but I cannot help but think that game studies interest in authoring tools will lead to an interest in tools development, which will lead to an interest in game development more generally.

It's hard to say. You have to get past your Miyamoto/Wright worship for that to happen. Here's to hoping.

Terranova - A Hierarchy of Authoring Tools
In virtual worlds, we've seen some of the pitfalls with user-generated content (problems that have a parallel in Wikipedia). When users are given access to that layer of a virtual world, a few will attack the world as a whole, while others will look to ruin or damage the experience of other users. User-generated content as a whole is also often not quite as appealing or attractive as what authors with the full resources of a developer can create: open-source creativity sometimes generates broad but subtly unsatisfying experiences.
Doing something similar in the most "open" virtual world environments is a lot harder, or at least I find it to be so. Second Life gives me a lot of tools, but I feel like the learning curve and time demands involved in using them is very steep. Author-oriented non-persistent games like Neverwinter Nights have seemed more demanding to me.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Escapist: Schizophrenic on Game Development

I'm constantly wondering why The Escapist pretends to be more targeted at gamers and "not into the development side of things." Then they go and do something like this. My overall opinion at this point is that their recent web-redesign (which I was sad to see go, but understand why it did so) has also thrown them into a tumult to reach new audiences.

Regardless the recent piece is mostly about game development with an excellent piece about XNA, and Erin Hoffman weighs in on Scrum/Agile and another piece on using middleware... which I guess fits into an Agile model, but the title doesn't really help because you think you're going to read about Agile, but instead you're just reading about something else.

The Escapist - The DNA of XNA
In the world of science, DNA is a recent discovery. In the world of game development, XNA is even newer. Simply put, XNA is an easy-to-use software suite. It lets you make games for both the PC and Xbox 360. First announced as an initiative at the Game Developers Conference in 2004, the project was led by J Allard. By the end of 2005, the proof of concept was up and running. At the 2006 GDC, Microsoft released the completed XNA framework.

XNA makes game development more accessible. "It's really about providing the same tools, the same libraries, the same capabilities of both platforms," says Dave Mitchell, Director of XNA's marketing department. "So you can write your game once and have it run on both platforms. The real sweet spot is casual games."

It all started when Microsoft decided to build their technologies specifically with developers in mind. Mitchell says XNA came about when Microsoft realized the small-time developers, people new to development, were encountering "the 'country-club mentality.' You sort of have to know someone to break in [to console development]."

It's a big catch-22: Developers need at least one game under their belt to attract a publisher, but developing that first game without a publisher's substantial investment is usually impossible. "We just saw all of these complexities and challenges," Mitchell says, "among indies, hobbyists, students, university settings, in particular, of building a pipeline of creativity to come into the industry." After identifying that problem, Mitchell recalls looking across the rest of Microsoft for answers. "One of the things we take great pride in is really engaging with the hobbyist and enthusiast level with a lot of our technology and arming and equipping them." Visual Studio Express serves as one example.

"We really then set off to see what we could do to open up the Xbox 360 as a console," he says. "We were asked internally, can you make games on Windows? Sure, check. Can you do that on a console device? No, you really can't without getting thousands and thousands of dollars in equipment. And, of course, getting an agreement in order to get to that point."

So, in the beginning, the XNA team wanted to democratize game development. XNA represents the first time in the 31-year history of console gaming that retail units are also development boxes.
As for Microsoft's competitors, Mitchell can't speak for the other console manufactures' ability to support a technology like XNA, which might allow user-created games to run on a PS3 or a Wii. "For the overall health of the industry, I certainly hope that they look to enable some of that." Considering what XNA has the potential to do, we can only hope other shops lift their licensed curtains, as well.

The Escapist - Scrumming It
It's true: making games is hard.

When it comes to finding an effective management paradigm, the game industry is still young. That youth is a double-edged sword: Game companies appear (and disappear) so rapidly that new methodologies can be fully implemented and tested in a short time-frame, leading to faster innovation and open-minded approach, while simultaneously insisting rebelliously that no previously described method from predecessor industries in either entertainment or software science could fully apply to game development. They just don't understand us, man!

To some extent this is true. Game development, especially at the AAA level, mixes some of the most difficult elements of software design and development with the uncertainty and volatile creativity that drives every other entertainment business. It doesn't help that games did not gradually or gracefully develop, they exploded.

In the earliest days of game development, the average team was 2.5 people, and most of the early games for the Atari 2600 were one-man bands. Some of the earliest mid-'80s hits by familiar names such as Namco boasted development teams of four or five.

By 1988, teams expanded; Sierra's King's Quest IV had 17 names on its credits, many appearing more than once. A transition in a single decade from teams of five to teams of 20 doesn't seem like much, with single developers still covering multiple bases, but it was the first critical step in differentiating between old-style development - work designers like Howard Scott Warshaw called "authorship" - and modern development, where people management and communication became essential not just to the success of a game, but to its basic completion.
Neither Scrum nor any new production methodology provides a complete recipe for a successful game; there is no such thing. Making games is hard. What these new methodologies do, and perhaps more importantly, what they indicate, is responsiveness to the development process, and working smart as well as working hard. Ultimately, what remains fascinating about Scrum is its simplicity and common-sense approach as a toolbox for managers, the same way compilers and libraries are tools for programmers. Scrum, in addition to being its own method, in recent years has become the gold standard for attentive process. That there is great interest in this new batch of tools, and great interest in advancing process in the way we advance technology, may be a sign we're growing up.

The Escapist - The Small And Agile Approach
For decades, every game was a unique snowflake. Teams started from scratch every time, reinventing the wheel with every game, as each one required a new engine, new art, new everything, and that all had to happen before the designers got to the part where they made a fun game. Times are changing, though, and the craft has advanced enough that third-party developers can specialize in art, physics or engine design, and enterprising game companies can focus entirely on the hard part: actually making a good game.
The rise of middleware means Remedy can stay small and agile, while making a game that might be better than one they could make in-house. "I think Havok is a perfect example," he says. "Today, it would be crazy ... to write your own physics module." While it was common several years ago to write your own physics, today it's unlikely you'll compete with the top packages, and you'll have to fund a much larger team to build out your own physics engine. He also called NaturalMotion's Euphoria system "very interesting," adding, "We are not using it at the moment, but that's something I can clearly see is the way of the future," partly because it's a good engine, and partly because something like Euphoria can replace a lot of animators. This seems to be a natural progression for the industry, he says, and while he wasn't authorized to tell me exactly what middleware Remedy was licensing, he was adept at discussing the various packages and how they fit into their overall development strategy.

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The Rise and Continued Top Position of Consoles

I'm currently in the thick of dissertation writing, so my blog posting has dropped considerably. It happens when you're already writing a significant amount of text into a word processing application. Even checking my RSS reader seems to give me anxiety.

I actually just went over a section of Chapter 1 of the dissertation looking at the rise of the console and why despite so many people saying it should/will/ought go the way of the dodo, it doesn't. Then these two nifty little blog posts happen. It's always nice to read stuff that goes right along with what I'm already writing.

Game Set Watch - Why Consoles Are Here To Stay, Yay
Now sure, Edery works for Microsoft, but these are his own personal views, and he hits the nail on the head when looking at some of the issues currently dogging the console: "In terms of user interface and functionality, the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 are all far more complicated than their predecessors. In many ways, that complexity is still better managed than it is on home computers... But we’re on the edge. My wife cannot navigate the 360 menu system nearly as easily as I can. Both the PS3 and Wii offer remarkably sloppy digital shopping experiences... We’re dramatically increasing the things you can do with a console, but advances in UI development and “assistant technology” are not keeping pace."

Of course, the interesting step is when/if the open Internet makes it properly to the living room, given the Flash game and browser-based MMO. But will it, and if so, on what devices? Seems like some of those might just be... consoles. But then people would be able to play games through the Internet, even subscription-based ones. So what - are we looking at a walling-off of browsers sophisticated enough to do that eventually? Or maybe I'm overthinking things here, you never know.

Game Tycoon - Console Demise? Don’t Hold Your Breath
Every so often, I hear someone say that the demise of the video game console is inevitable (and likely not far off). Their reasons vary: “closed platforms can’t survive”, “consoles are becoming too specialized”, etc. Having thought about it, I just can’t come to the same conclusion. Consoles aren’t going anywhere in the next ten+ years or so (beyond which I can’t claim to understand what the market will look like. There’s too much cultural and technological uncertainty.)

To be clear: I’m defining “console” as “a closed or semi-closed hardware platform dedicated primarily to interactive entertainment.” Does that necessarily mean “software and hardware designed, produced, and distributed by a single company?” No. There could be alliances on the software or hardware side of things, and those alliances could result in independent product variants that share a base level of compatibility. What matters is the presence of very stable standards that lead to a reliable, accessible, and affordable gaming experience. In other words, a guiding hand still matters.
Consoles, because they are closed, also offer a vastly superior environment in which to feature parental controls (for those consumers who care about filtering the content that their children consume.) And people still don’t have to worry if they have enough RAM or processing power to play the latest game; consoles remain the great equalizer, to the benefit of consumers and developers everywhere. Console-mandated certification processes also help produce games with fewer problems and inconsistencies (though certainly not bug-free games.) And last but not least, the ten foot experience has grown more important than ever; two signals of this are the advent of party games like Buzz and of space-consuming games like Dance Dance Revolution.

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