Edinburgh Interactive Festival 08
I was with Rain at EIF08 and thought I’d pick up on a few of the other talks given while we were there.
In this post I've pulled together my notes from the presentations from Margaret Robertson of Gamecity and lead economist on Eve, Eyjolfur Gudmundsson. There's an interview with Eyo online as well as Graham Brown Martin from handheldlearning. I'll be posting my impressions from the Dare to be Digital competition in part 2 as soon as I can as well as my notes from Graham's presentation.
Overall I really enjoyed the festival. There was tons to play with and some excellent talks on subjects that you maybe wouldn’t find at other games festivals. Here’s my take on it all...
Eyjolfur Gudmundsson: Real Politics Infest Virtual Worlds - Emergence of economic and social institutions in EVE-Online
Eyo is the lead economist for CCP Games’ research and statistics unit. He is employed to examine the economic markets and emergent social structures within Eve.
A few stats
• Eve is an MMO operating on one server, hosting 245,000 subscribers in the same world
• Players range from 17 – 70, biased towards males
• There is no grinding in Eve. The universe continues while players are offline and they can level up offline as the universe evolves around them.
• PvP architecture
• The game is a free download but players pay a monthly subscription.
Emergent Social Structures and Economic Systems in Eve
• Eve is a dynamic universe. Factions are player created and destroyed. The interaction both within and between factions is dictated by the players, not the developers. The developers provide the game architecture but let the players create the universe. "Are developers janitors or Gods?"
• Emergence happens due to the increasingly complex social interactions generated by an increase in community size. More players leads to more self organisation.
• Larger social networks create their own rules and start to operate with their own purpose.
• "The number of possible 1-1 relationships in a network grows like the square of the population." I've tried to work this out and it makes my head hurt.
• Unleashing the power of players – The Titans in Eve are probably the biggest in-game objects ever built in an MMO. The first was built by one of the largest confederation of factions ever seen in the game and took 4000 players 8 months to build or, looked at another way, about 1,700 man-years.
Time line of emergence of social structures and services in Eve
Note - It was very interesting to see the reactions of Eve players in the audience to this graph. This information is not something that the players would normally be privy to.
Governance of Large Communities
• The emergent social structures within Eve have come about due to the way the game is hosted – a single shard, large size population.
• Eve has complex social structures and communication systems. Each faction democratically elects a head who represents them at meetings with the game’s designers, CCP. This is not a game, this is a social experiment!
• This democratically elected "Council of Stellar Management” are flown to CCP’s home country Iceland to meet and deliberate on issues that effect the game world. Voting within the factions can dictate the council meeting agendas.
• The council is currently made up of 2 women and 7 men. The youngest council member is 17, the oldest is 52. This is fairly representative of the game community.
• Council meetings take place out of game, in the metagame. The discussions tend not to be about political wrangling between factions but rather how to achieve peace and stability in the universe. Players want a game-world which works so that they have a stable platform to do with as they wish.
• Eve's player driven economy became possible around the 100,000 mark, before that it had to be supported by the developers.
• Markets in Eve are actually closer to a perfect lazes faire market economy than in real life due the relative transparency of information.
• The value that players assign to commodities is the driving force for prices in Eve’s markets. Weapon and mineral prices respond to effectiveness and perceived value.
• Supply and demand works in Eve. Price wars can be triggered by impending releases. Changes in the beta game can result in certain commodities being bought up in the full game as players perceive an impending shortfall.
Margaret Robertson - The Ten Most Important Games of the last year you’ve never heard of (sort of)
As always, the games Margaret showcased veered wildly from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. Her talk highlighted how much games are diversifying and integrating into people’s daily lives.
The Hardcore & casual gamer collides:
• There was a proviso used throughout the presentations at EIF that basically went along the lines of, “I don’t believe that there is distinction between the hardcore and casual gamer anymore but if there were then this is what I’d have to say about it.” This was Margaret’s take on it all:
Increased drive from developers and publishers to appeal across demographics
• Battlefield Heroes (EA DICE) - An established FPS IP given a new, more accessible art style.
• 3rd person perspective rather than the original’s more “hardcore” FPS approach.
• More humour and more flamboyant action.
• Lots of character customisation.
• Basic gameplay not as difficult.
• Pretends it’s a browser game even though it’s a downloadable file. Players have to go online to play so it feels less committed.
• Ad supported front end means it’s free to play.
The rise of User Generated Content in games
• UGC in games is becoming more and more prevalent, either by way of contributing to existing IP or creating entirely new games.
• New IP - Fruit Mystery (Brett Graham) – Utterly ridiculous and hysterical UGC game with dreadful graphics, sound and grammar. Totally compelling as it doesn’t attempt to be anything other than a dumb diversion.
• The Sims Carnival (EA MAXIS) - Provides players with the tools needed to create games.
• Newtoon (Soad/Futurelab), java based game creator for mobile and web. This stuff is mainly just curios but it does signify a change in expectations. Gamers now expect UGC content.
• The result of all this UGC is the overwhelming impression that making a good game is really rather difficult. Anyone can make a game but making a good game still requires talent. There is some seriously pro UGC stuff out there like Desktop Tower Defence (Paul Preece) & 2Across (Eliza Block), a UGC iphone app.
• Perhaps in response to this glut of UGC old school game designers such as Peter Molyneux are now starting to come back into the industry to provide quality products like Fable or Spore. – DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice (Ron Gilbert/Hothead) is such a game and also highlights a move towards the episodic release of games.
• Creative collaboration – While already prevalent on PC there is a growing trend for high quality console games to deliver the option for UGC. Little Big Planet (Media Molecule) allows gamers to personalise their avatar to an incredible degree, design their own levels and submit those levels to the gaming community. Halo 3’s Forge and Theatre options allow players to edit levels in a real-time multiplayer context. Game design and the creative process has become a much more important part of the game experience.
• The amount of money people are making designing games is going to lead to more independent game designers. Why should someone with a good idea have it swallowed up by a company when they can now realistically go it alone?
Who makes games?
• Quizmania represents the convergence of platforms and content. It is an interactive late night quiz game from a company which doesn’t normally make games. Originally a TV product but now web based. Quizmania only runs at certain times (9pm – midnight) to appeal to a certain demographic. It supports live chat with both the presenter and the other players. The quiz mechanic encourages interaction and players can choose whether they want to bet real money or not.
• Chain Factor (AREACODE) - An ARG for CBS series, Numbers. Chain Factor is featured in an episode of Numbers where a serial killer is murdering people based on their scores in the game. But the game is real because you can play it. But it’s fictional because it’s in a TV programme. Oh dear, I’ve gone cross-eyed.
• Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – Another episodic game available on PC and WiiWare. the game comes from established online comic IP, Homestar Runner.
• Song Summoner (Square Enix) ipod game. Statistic based RPG that uses your ipod’s music library. Every character is based on a piece of music in your library and there are bonuses for listening to the tune that relates to them. Can completely change listening behaviour as players try to “level up” songs they might not normally listen to.
• When you start using a game like this with something like the Nike+ achievements then you end up with people creating their own agendas for games. What do I want to do today? Level up this character? Achieve a certain BPM? Set challenges for my friends? This MAKES you run for a reason other than simply keeping fit – it can achieve other purposes.
• Phase (Harmonix of Rez and Rock Band fame) is another ipod game that lets you play through any of your tunes as a game. Harmonix have a rich history of music based games and are now starting to implement player’s own musical tastes into their products.
• "The one thing I know about ARGs is that they’re dead." With videogame designers and other businesses traditionally thought of as outside gaming starting to merge realities and introduce playful mechanics where does that leave ARG designers? With powerful open source design and publishing tools you can now go from ARG preproduction through publishing and onto the blog in 12 hours flat.
Flash reaches loads of people.
• Flash is a good test-bed for demographics and is easy to monetise. On the Rain-Slicked Precipice of Darkness (Hothead Games) is an XBLA game that shows the rise of affordable engines and platforms to facilitate smaller games developers.
Grown Up Games - Games as a mind expanding experience
• Games should have meat on their bones. Braid (Jonathan Blow) is an XBLA game that treats time as precious. It uses that time to improve people and their lives.
• Gravitation (Jason Rohrer) is, according to it’s creator, “a video game about mania, melancholia, and the creative process”
• But it extends beyond smaller games. The narrative in Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft) changes people’s perceptions. Margaret recommended Patrick Redding’s own presentation for GDC 08. I haven’t had chance to read it yet but apparently I should. And so should you. Check out more at Margaret’s blog at lookspring.