Archive for the 'Video Games' Category

Commercial Gold Rush in Second Life

October 19, 2006

A critical mass seems to have been reached over the past six months with regards to the popular online 3D social networking platform, Second Life. Having passed through the initial word of mouth/blogosphere zone, the SL meme now makes regular appearances in mainstream magazines and newspapers from Wired to The Guardian. All this attention has solidified the virtual world’s place at the forefront of what SL “residents” sometimes refer to as “the 3D web.” In what might be the most impressive stamp of approval to date, the Reuters news agency has gone so far as to set up a bureau inside the game. As Richard Siklos notes in today’s New York Times, a mini gold rush is on amongst large media companies to establish themselves within Linden’s virtual economy:

…now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost. (New York Times)

See also my earlier posts, Realtime Performance in Second Life, and Second Life: First Impressions.


Confessions of a recovered MMO addict

October 18, 2006

The compulsive and open-ended treasure-hunting gameplay of World of Warcraft can destroy lives as efficiently as heroin. This account by an anonymous survivor is particularly harrowing:

First off, let’s go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That’s the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows “lack of commitment”. To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The “good guildie” who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that’s almost two full-time jobs. (The View From The Top)

Minesweeper World Records

October 17, 2006

Minesweeper is a game of extraordinary longevity. For most of us, it’s an old friend that we call up from time to time when we have a minute or so to kill between tasks. But for some, Minesweeper is an obsession, less an old friend than a needy co-dependent lover. The focus and determination of “serious” Minesweeper players is on exhibit at Planet Minesweeper, where you can view YouTube videos of world-record performances, such as Dion Tiu’s masterful 38-second solution of an expert-level minefield. Watching Tiu’s mouse pointer as it floats across the board revealing tiles is like observing a factory worker assembling a circuit board for the ten thousandth time — except, of course, in this case, nothing is really being made, either for Tiu or the factory. And it begs the question: is this kind of obsessive skillz-oriented game mastery the omega point of all gaming experiences, or is Minesweeper truly as outmoded a design as we would like to think it is?

Gaming Grandfather Ralph Baer

September 19, 2006

Although common consensus has it that the first ever video game was “Tennis for Two,” an oscilloscope-based analog video game developed in 1958 by William Higinbothom, an engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory, recent web chatter suggests that game pioneer Ralph Baer had working concepts for TV-based games as early as 1951:

In the early 1950s, television sets were quickly gaining popularity. As Baer worked on technology for these devices he began to dream of opportunities in this budding marketplace. He thought it would be fun to add some kind of interactive, game-playing element to TV sets and mentioned it to his superiors at Loral in 1951, but few showed any interest.

Fifteen years later, though, Baer found himself thinking more seriously about the concept. He began drawing up plans for a chase game that would be playable on a TV screen. He demonstrated a working prototype to his Sanders superiors in October of 1966, and they agreed to fund further research. A few months later, one of Baer’s associates created a “light-gun” that allowed players to shoot the TV screen. This, plus Baer’s game idea, began to get others excited about the possibilities. (

Last year, Mr. Baer, who is rightly credited as the inventor of console gaming, received the US National Medal of Technology. Congratulations, Ralph!

Chinese Gold Farmers Documentary

September 13, 2006

Ge Jin, a PhD student at the UCSD Department of Communication, is working on a documentary about “Chinese gold farmers” — MMORPG players who gather treasure and experience in virtual worlds to sell via eBay. A trailer for the video is available online here.

Tietou went from Shanghai to Amherst College in the US to study computer engineering in 1999. However, he felt very alienated in the US and spent most of his days playing online games in his dorm, often trading virtual assets on Ebay. One day in 2002 he suddenly realized that he could use cheap Chinese labor to produce virtual assets, so he quit college and came back to China to establish gold farms. Although he was very successful at the beginning, now his gold farms have collapsed because of the fierce competition in this business… (

Nick Yee, founder of the Daedalus Project, a major series of surveys and statistics about virtual worlds and online gaming, comments on the video in a Terra Nova post entitled, “Disembodiment, Hypermobility and Labor:”

In watching the video, I am most struck by the intertwined empowerment/disempowerment that is occurring simultaneously for these Chinese workers. Their lives in these virtual worlds are brighter, but yet their interactions with American players (and associated slurs) are a constant reminder of their inferior socio-economic status. The disembodied hypermobility granted by these virtual worlds is, to a certain extent, dispelled when they are labeled as “Chinese gold farmers”. For them, it is a double-edged sword. (Terra Nova)

…to which Ge Jin himself adds a handful of evocative questions:

Is the gold farmer phenomenon a step (probably not the first) in creating productivity out of pleasure? A parallel example is how the military uses immersive games to prepare soldiers for war.

If we get rid of real money trade in the game world, the American gamers will have pure immersion and a level playing field. But many Chinese gamers will lose access to a place that compensate many things they don’t have in real lives, because they depend on real money trade to afford gaming facilities. If we consider the virtual world a public space, can we take into account the issue of “access”? (Terra Nova)

Political Games

September 12, 2006

Activists, political parties and special interest groups have used games to spread their messages for a while now. While artists such as Italian collective molleindustria use Flash-based web games to interrogate economic and sexual politics, and satirists such as those behind the Bush Backrub game use interactive web toys to poke fun at public figures, more mainstream groups like the California Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights are getting into the, er, game with diversions aimed at specific issues of public policy.

Other games use less direct but equally powerful methods to push for political change. The forthcoming Left Behind: Eternal Forces presents the dystopian world-view of fundamentalist Christianity in game form, insidiously targeting children with a staunchly anti-United Nations, pro-apocalypse point of view.

Great coverage of everything related to politics in gaming can be found at the regularly-updated blog, Game Politics.

The rise and fall of Atari

July 29, 2006

The tale of game manufacturer Atari’s rise to market dominance in the late 70s and early 80s is as much about innovative electronic art as it is savvy business operations. It is unsurprising, then, that when the creativity dried up at Atari, so did the profits.

At its peak, Atari was the pre-eminent video game manufacturer in the world. But by the mid 80s, its fortunes had so radically changed that it was forced to literally dump hundreds of thousands of game cartridges and consoles in the New Mexico desert.

In the early 1980s Atari owned 80% of the video game market, they accounted for 70% of Warner’s operating profits, and in the fourth quarter of 1982 the Wall Street “whisper number” concerning Atari’s expected earnings predicted a 50% increase over the previous year.

If one game cartridge could be selected as the symbol of the sudden demise of Atari’s golden goose, however, it would have to be the ill-fated E.T.

Atari rushed E.T. through development in a matter of months to get it onto the market in time for Christmas, and the result was a virtually unplayable game with a dull plot and crummy graphics in which frustrated players spent most of their time leading the E.T. character around in circles to prevent him from falling into pits. Atari produced five million E.T. cartridges, and according to Atari’s then-president and CEO, “nearly all of them came back.”

Some other video game manufacturers attempted to rid themselves of excess inventory by selling it at sharply reduced prices, but Atari, stuck with millions of games and consoles that were largely unsellable at any price, sent fourteen truckloads of merchandise from their plant in El Paso, Texas, to be dumped in a city landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico in late September 1983. In order to keep the site from being looted, steamrollers crushed and flattened the games, and a concrete slab was poured over the remains.

Read an exhaustive history of Atari and other early video game companies at “The Dot Eaters”.

SAIC overseeing development of US Army video game

July 24, 2006

Ubiquitous government contractor SAIC doesn’t just handle psychological operations in Iraq. Its InfoTech branch is now hiring managers for the development of America’s Army, a freeware first-person shooter that is the narrow end of the US Army’s recruitment spear:

[The successful candidate will]…manage the software development of the public Americas Army Game and all Americas Army based training and simulation application. Experience with simulation and training applications, video game programming and 3D modeling is desirable. This position involves managing, designing and directing the development of real-time simulation software. The person selected for this position will provide software management over the Americas Army development teams and Americas Army code/asset repository and will also be required to handle duties such as scheduling, estimating, product demonstrations, software project documentation and training. These duties will involve travel assignments to support program reviews, or support demonstrations.(SAIC Job Opportunities)