Day 1-ION 2008

So, I'm in Seattle, chilling and all. My head is spinning from that conference...like I said, there were a lot of higher-up people there and thusly a lot of the information was a bit outta my league.

Like the first session I ushered there, was a panel concerning the marketing and relationships between Asian gaming companies/MMOs (Such as in S. Korea) and Western ones. I didn't get to hear much, as the panel room quickly filled up and I had to step out, but what I did hear was eh, alright. They were talking a lot about how localization of games is fairly important in East<->Western relationships. I wrote a paper about this sort of stuff, so it makes sense to me. One of the panel members put it this way- while three characters in say, Korean, can mean a lot of words (The same goes for Japanese Kanji/Chinese characters), 3 characters in a Roman alphabet language (Ex, English), doesn't mean a great deal, so "8 characters for a name can not be enough".

There was also a little about how gameplay by players in say, Korea differs a lot from Western audiences. I learned a little fact that I didn't know about- apparently a lot of MMOs in S. Korea are free to play, unlike the Western world which the vast majority charges something. This was also an issue brought up in another panel I had to usher.

That was about all that I sat in on that one, like I said, I kinda got kicked out because there were gajillions of people in that room and of course, the business people who actually paid to be here probably needed the seat I was in more than somebody who was working at the time. It was a lot of talk about marketing success, so not too much about what I'm interested in....design, design, design.


The other panel I got to sit in was "Redefining Virtual Worlds for Mass Market Consumption", and well, had representatives as panelists from some of the biggest MMOs out there. There was a fellow from Linden Lab. There was a rep from Mindark (Entropia). Even the more casual games like Gaia Online were on the panel. (Hell, if you want the full "specs", go to the session page here.)

It was really interesting, the questions brought up during that panel. Many of these representatives tended not to think of online worlds as "virtual", and one person even flat out said "Why don't we just call them 'worlds'?". There was also a wide range of sorts of 'worlds' brought up during the panel.

In fact, the vast majority of the panel was about several very interesting and I think important issues.

- We are living in a time where the current generation is growing up with the terms of the virtual world as their entertainment, as their fun. In that context, like my generation grew up with the concept that video games like the Nintendo and the Genesis and so forth were "normal things to do", the kids see online games as "what you do for fun on the internet." One panelist said that "my son, recognizes that this avatar is Daddy." (I'm going to assume that he has a young son in that aspect). So we need to provide for them, with younger games and allow the games to "grow up" as they do.

-The rest of the panel pretty much was a pretty vivid discussion concerning Controlled Narrative vs. User Created Narrative. On one side of the table, we had the rep from Linden Lab's Seattle office, who, well, concerning Second Life, is totally the side of the MMOs that is open source, user generated content. It was interesting that he maintained that SL is like a company "like Cisco", who "provides tools" "provides framework" for the user to use it however they like.

Then we had I think, two other guys, who really, believed that a game really should have control concerning the narrative. They thought that while Second Life is a great concept, one of its perhaps, faults, is that the only people who really enjoy SL, are those users who can either A) find a niche in the wild of SL to either exist in a small portion of the worlds that are interesting or B) Those who are able to create their own context for being in SL (using the tools given to them, which are the ability to have land, "Prim" building, and the Linden Scripting Language, AKA LSL). Otherwise, they kind of float around SL, and you end up a lot of the times with people who "never spend a Linden" or "who have tried the game and said 'yeah, I tried it, but I never found anything to do. I didn't know what to do.' They compared it to the real world, in which Second Life has great places to go, but also some very dull ones. And

Somebody asked why can't in a place like SL, there at least be a sense of "structure of achievement", for example, jobs in SL that you work your way up of, for instance, starting as a pizza delivery guy and then as you go along, getting to the jobs like "Company head" and what not.

This was countered by the question of 'Who in the real world, creates these awards/achievements, and why should a company who has created a completely open world be totally responsible for providing such things? Who's responsible for providing narrative? Content? Etc,etc.'

I was also happy to hear some people in the panel (I think the person from Gaia Online) relating the narrative to games to animation/film, and acknowledging that things like Pixar films have incredibly crafted narratives within them. This person thought that people really, will get into worlds because of the narrative that is provided for them, but, there are some times when a user wants to openly explore. If they want something provided for them, there are quests, which yeah, they're finite with a set of parameters, and often offer user pleasure through an item or virtual currency which is awarded upon completion of said quest.

The rep from Mindark, well, thought that his company's product, Entropia Online, provided very well for both sides of this issue. On the issue of controlled narrative, they had their first planet created, Calypso, which was completely created by the developers and maintains a fairly closed source concerning the world. However, they are currently expanding with other 'planets' done by other developers in all sorts of countries, creating "meta-verses" within the big concept of "Entropia Online". (kinda like how Second Life has 'Islands', but concerning Second Life, I still think that needs a bit of work as when you fly over stuff, it all just really seems like one big mess of a world, not meta-worlds like what SL can be- if you teleport places and never fly...)

-With those things in mind, the panelists tried to ask the question concerning free-to-play MMOs and those with a subscription fee/premium. Most of them acknowledged that a lot of players, will not pay fees unless they really have a reason to be in the world, and a lot of times that is related to the things that have been provided to them by the company. Allowing the user to do what they want "because they can" might not bring as much money as one could hope for. (I really wanted to hear the Linden Lab's guy opinion about this issue, but he really didn't say much about it from what I remembered in terms of Second Life...I really don't know how much Linden Labs actually makes with Premium users vs their free users...I don't have a premium account on there...yeah...)

Then of course, being a panel, the attendees had a chance to contribute. Some of the things I wrote about in my notes that I really agreed with:

- While content/context can be Narrative, one person really thought that the narrative is also a community generated issue. So what should be important for mass-marketing a game is how the games become successful, how they become main-stream within society.

So in response, one of the panelists related a virtual world to "a bar"- with the right people it "becomes Cheers", the place where everybody wants to be.

- Controlled Narratives= gives fuel for narrative that the user will generate. For example, a teen doesn't always know what they want until they're provided examples.

-Games online are traditional storytelling minus the protagonist...

-One person thought that players controlling the vast part of the narrative is really, "depending on serendipity". A users "needs training wheels" to really understand the world they've been placed in before they can question and create.

-"The future is a niche market", meaning that as people have created webpages, things of the sort on the internet to satisfy their niches, online games need to do the same, and provide for the user with their content.

Whoa. Like I said. Lots of information going on there. If you want my personal thought- my likes tend to gravitate towards providing a basic sense of narrative to the player even in an online world. I suppose it comes from my training as an animator, that ya know, "Story is King" (And one of the panelists said this statement from I guess the gaming perspective, "Content is King, Context is Emperor")- so I appreciate the well crafted story and narratives within games. Really open worlds like Second Life do have problems with providing their users with the context of their world, they have the content, tools, to let the users create, but for what reason? Why should I care about this world when I don't yet have a reason to be in it? All I see are people just milling about the welcome areas, wandering among weird parcels of scattered objects, and when I actually do find a fairly interesting piece of land, it seems rather "foreign" and really are diamonds in the rough for a user like me who really doesn't have many "buddies" or what not in this world yet.

But, on the other hand, I do admit I really liked that concept that Second Life brought into the "mainstream" with the open source world. Its more than a game. It allowed me to infinitely customize my avatar with textures/attachments/an facial/body editor. I can build using prims, any model I so wish (although I do wish that well, they had things like Maya where you can carve, sculpt, and cut up the model...building using primitive shapes only can take quite awhile...), and I can do lots of things with their scripting language.

Hmm. So to sum that all up, my opinion is, gimmie a world where I can create, but at least find some degree of seperation between these creations so I don't feel so lost. If you really want to serve everybody, that is. There are times, that well, I do appreciate the games that provide just a little bit of context *cough*WoW*cough*, but allow their users to still, do their thing, maybe a bit of customizing, without much say from the company or anything beyond the general community they hang out with.

And as for the marketing of online games, well, this is certainly a rather perplexing thought, and currently my opinion about it is rather unformulated. From what I can gather, really, there's a wide variety of how games promote themselves, their missions to achieve such goals such as mass-marketing, and it really is just well, as I remember one of my professors at Ringling saying, a pretty open and "golden age" of discovery of such ways to do everything in gaming. Gaming is still a maturing industry.


Hmm, I may have rambled a bit there, but you get the idea. Tommorow I'm going to go to a few more sessions, so I might have more I want to blurt out to the random blog world...

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