Friday, May 17, 2013
Source: Let's Plays, Nintendo and the Audacity of Monetization
Author: Jenn Frank
When I first heard about Nintendo using YouTube's Content ID system to tag videos featuring their games, I figured it was within the company's rights. So, Nintendo wants to make their own ad revenue from people sharing videos of Nintendo games. I get it. That's what Content ID was built for. It all makes sense on a corporate finance and intellectual property safekeeping perspective.
It even seemed that indie developers who voiced opinions pro-Let's Play opinions only held that stance because they're from smaller companies, looking for promotion and word of mouth wherever they can get it. Nintendo isn't that desperate for attention, right? They have an ad budget. They don't need this kind of grassroots publicity to move units. At least that's what their actions are communicating.
Jenn Frank's piece for Gameranx sums up the situation nicely. While Nintendo is within their legal, if judicially untested, rights, using YouTube Content ID to take ad sales away from Let's Play commentators and direct them their way is bad for the company's image, which could be bad for their bottom line in the long run. Nintendo's actions are especially surprising given the warm reception Fire Emblem: Awakening received earlier this year, praise largely spread by word of mouth. This kind of bottom-up campaign is one of the things Let's Play videos do best and make more convincing arguments for certain products than TV or web ads.
With a struggling Wii U on their hands, Nintendo shouldn't overlook the goodwill that can be earned with popular YouTubers. While only well-informed enthusiasts will really follow this news, plenty of casual gamers like to peruse YouTube for videos of games before making purchase decisions. If fewer Let's Play videos of Nintendo games are on YouTube as a result of this Content ID move, Nintendo only has themselves to blame.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Source: Meet the man who's been playing the same Pokemon Character for a decade
Author: Jason Johnson
Site: Kill Screen
When the Mass Effect sequels were released, much hubbub was made over players having "their Shephard" transferable from game to game. The persistent design lead players to deeply identify with their protagonist and care about his/her relationships with other party members and story figures. While Mass Effect was a notable implementation of such a feature, Pokemon has offered similar functionality since it's original Game Boy debut.
A paleontologist, going by the handle Cunzy1 1, was recently interviewed for Kill Screen about his Omastar. That's a kind of Pokemon, if you didn't know. A fossil-type to be exact. Get it? Paleontology and fossils? Anyway, Cunzy1 1 has used his Omastar across 10 different Pokemon games. Though it differs across hardware generations, there always seemed to be a way for Omastar to make the leap from one game to the next. It's a fun little story about character attachment and the magic that can be contained in a couple lines of code.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Source: The Artist is Present on Skype
Author: Pippin Barr
Have you played Pippin Barr's The Artist is Present? It's an adventure game centered around a performance/installation of the same name by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art. In the game you can experience the artwork in simulated form with your character sitting across the table from the artist herself, staring at one another. Of course you have to play the game during museum hours, or else you won't be able to enter the building!
The Artist is Present (the game) was made a couple years ago, but just recently Marina Abramovic actually got in touch with Barr, said she had played the game, and wanted him to be a part of a new project. Details are slim for the time being, but it sounds like a cool collaboration that is as crazy as it is awesome. Can't wait to see what comes out of this.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Source: The Voting Problem
Author: Frank Lantz
Site: Game Design Advance
Let's think of the democratic election process as a game. For voters (players), are there ways that the system could be altered to make the process more meaningful on an individual level? Could there be a clearer, more direct correlation between voting and the political action that follows? NYU Game Center Director Frank Lantz states that voting doesn't scale effectively, and that it boils down to an act of self-expression rather than a move that initiates desired political outcomes. As much as we'd like to believe that our one vote makes all the difference, statistically speaking, that has never been the case. Lantz likens the act of voting to gambling, but where the gambler is more self-aware of their odds and the degree to which their own agency can effect chance outcomes. We view voting as a sacred civil action, deluding ourselves into thinking we're exercising more power that we actually have.
While the critique of how we view voting could lead to improvements down the line, I'd argue that looking at the significance of one voter misrepresents the game being played. While one vote has never decided a US national election, there isn't only one person deciding how to cast their vote or whether or not to vote at all, but millions. I see the parallel more directly with the act of bluffing than the superstitious dice-roller. The game is in convincing people that their vote matters, not in the actual act of voting; that's just the follow-through.
Imagine a demographic of voters wherein individuals conclude that their vote is insignificant and they decline to go to the polls on election day. As a result, the candidate they would have voted for does not win, but could have if given support from this particular demographic. Those individuals would be correct in their conclusion that their singular vote would not have swung the results, but the collective inaction of people who wish the game featured their vote in a more spectacular, high-drama scenario are looking to play a different game than what the voting process actually is.
The voter's role is not the star of a single-player campaign, that's the candidate. Voters are more like NPCs, reliant on protagonists for action, and most powerful as collectives.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Twofivesix, Kill Screen's first ever video game arts and culture conference, took place this past Saturday at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, New York. Unlike the large-scale, multi-day productions of a typical technology-centric conference, Twofivesix was an intimate, focused affair that was able to say its piece over the course of just a single day. Granted, it was a long day, but refreshingly paced with breaks, complimentary refreshments, and friendly chatter. The result was a tight, fun gathering of game thinkers.
A large part of the conference's success can be attributed to its thematic, conversational format. This saw on-stage pairings between Journey executive producer Robin Hunicke and MoMA curator Paola Antonelli under the banner of "Games as Interaction" and Dance Central project director Matt Boch with Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey in a session titled "The Controller is Dead." All the while, Kill Screen co-founder Jamin Warren drove conversation forward, interspersing targeted questions with supplemental humor that really helped to keep the presentations agile and charming. In fact, props to Warren for holding the stage down for the better part of 8 hours.
As is usual with presentations of this sort, my biggest takeaways stemmed from the topics that I knew the least about. I was fascinated by Jeff Lin's account of the tribunal system in League of Legends. Lin's team at Riot Games asked their own community for direction on behavioral standards and enacted a transparent disciplinary system designed to help players learn from mistakes. Did you know that the majority of "toxic behavior" in LoL is not from trolls or spammers but from infrequent incidents by a large portion of "normal" players in accumulation? It's true. Riot Games uses this data to skew the behavioral psychology of their gigantic player base. Having Lin on stage with Chris Poole, founder of notorious Internet netherrealm 4chan, was a genius move as well, and made for a great comparison of community management styles.
The vibe of the Invisible Dog Art Center was befitting the carefully curated DIY ambiance of Twofivesix. The venue looked a bit rundown, like the owners claimed squatters rights sometime not that long ago, but the aesthetic was also rustic and nicely complemented by an art exhibition of pencil drawings and miniature dioramas. It all seemed purposeful. The conference took place up on the second floor which was just one big room. The whole scene reminded me of when I saw Gang Gang Dance play in what seemed to be an unfinished loft in Philadelphia in 2005, but with nerds instead of music weirdos (I identify with both by the way).
Key to any enthusiast gathering is a welcoming, conversational atmosphere, which Twofivesix did its best to provide. I chatted it up with journalists, developers, volunteers, presenters, students, and advocates over brisket sandwiches and Vietnamese iced coffee. Because food, drinks, and restrooms were all accessible within the second floor conference area, most attendees stuck around, only sneaking out for smoke breaks. The sporadic downpours also contributed to most people opting to hang inside between talks. Twofivesix's attendance was a little over a couple hundred people, if I had to guess. It was a good number. Seats were relatively full, but not jam-packed. The crowd felt like it was part of a little community, which is not always the case at larger events.
There were no Q/A sections following talks, so it was up to attendees to make the most of those conversational in-between segments. If there was something you wanted to ask a speaker, you had to engage directly as if approaching any other conference-goer. Most presenters actually stuck around for the duration of the conference, which made it a little disappointing for the few who did not. Busy schedules, I understand, but the tone of Twofivesix was such that even the folks on stage didn't come off as hierarchically "above" the masses. For what it's worth, the stage was a relatively low height as well.
I hope Kill Screen puts on another Twofivesix next year. I'd be curious to see what they'd decide to keep or change. I vouch for the return of the beef brisket, oh, and the thematic pairings of speakers from different industries; that too.
:images from Kill Screen:
Friday, May 10, 2013
Source: The Minds Behind Dwarf Fortress
Author: Patrick Klepek
Site: Giant Bomb
I've only watched videos of ASCII fantasy-sim Dwarf Fortress in action; I've never played it myself. It's one of those games that I greatly admire, and am glad exists, but have very little interest in playing. That said, I was eager to hear what the minds behind the game, Tarn and Zach Adams, had to say about their interminable development process (10+ years and counting) and what it's like to have Dwarf Fortress acquired and on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Giant Bomb's Patrick Klepek caught up with the brothers at EVE Fanfest a couple weeks ago in Iceland where they proceeded to shed some light on Dwarf Fortresses dark corners. It's cool to hear opinions on contemporary game design from developers that have been so dedicated to one game for so long.
If you like that video, you'll probably also enjoy some other videos and write-ups on Giant Bomb from this year's EVE Fanfest. I particularly got a kick out of their travelogue video where they document their week in Iceland, highlighting some very unique local cuisine. Iceland wasn't on my must-visit list, but it is now.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Source: Completely Hands-On
Author: Dan Solberg
No one ever said I couldn't use this blog to promote my own work. Heck, that's pretty much what it's for anyway. So, I'd like to draw your attention to my first piece for Unwinnable, a look at the video game controllers installed as part of the Applied Design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The controllers aren't the subject of the show, the games are, but the museum made some interesting curatorial decisions with the controllers in an attempt to amplify viewer focus on "interaction design."
The results are a bit experimental, but largely successful. MoMA strikes a balance between staying true to how you would expect the games to control and altering interfaces to meet the needs of the exhibition. Of course, if you want to full details, I'm just going to direct you to the link above. Don't worry, I'll return to talking about other people's work tomorrow.