Archive Page 3

Digital Worlds – The Blogged Uncourse

Digital Worlds – Interactive Media and Game Design was originally developed as a free learning resource on computer game design, development and culture, authored as part of an experimental approach to the production of online distance learning materials. Many of the resources presented on this blog also found their way into a for credit, formal education course from the UK’s Open University.

This blog was rebooted at the start of summer 2016 to act as a repository for short pieces relating to mixed and augmented reality, and related areas of media/reality distortion, as preparation for a unit on the subject in a forthcoming first level Open University course.

Friday Fun #20 Net Safety

For games that are sold on the UK High Street, the PEGI classification scheme allows purchasers to check that the game is appropriate for a particular age range, and also be forewarned about any ‘questionable’ content contained within the game, such as violence, sex or drugs references, and so on (e.g. Classifying Games).

At the time of writing, there is no mandated requirement for online games to display PEGI ratings, even if the games are made specifically for the UK market, although PEGI does have an online scheme – PEGI Online:

The licence to display the PEGI Online Logo is granted by the PEGI Online Administrator to any online gameplay service provider that meets the requirements set out in the PEGI Online Safety Code (POSC). These requirements include the obligation to keep the website free from illegal and offensive content created by users and any undesirable links, as well as measures for the protection of young people and their privacy when engaging in online gameplay.

So how do you decide whether an online game is likely to be appropriate for a younger age range? One way is to ‘trust’ a branded publisher. For example, games appearing on the BBC CBeebies games site are likely to be fine for the youngest of players. And the games on CBBC hit the spot for slightly older children. If you’re not too bothered about product placement and marketing, other trusted brands are likely to include corporates such as Disney, although if you’re a parent, you may prefer games hosted on museum websites, such as Tate Kids or the Science Museum.

But what about a game like following, which is produced by Channel 4 and is intended to act as a ‘public service information’ game about privacy in online social networks?

What sort of cues are there about the intended age range of the players of this game? Are there any barriers or warnings in place to make it difficult to gain access to this game on grounds of age? Should there be? Or is it enough to trust that the design and branding of the site is only likely to appeal to the ‘appropriate’ demographic?

Look through the Smokescreen game website and missions. To what extent is the game: a simulation? a serious game?

How does the visual design of the game compare with the designs for games on the ‘kids’ games sites listed above?

PS if you get a chance to play some of the kids games, well, it is Friday… :-) I have to admit I do like quite a few of the gams on the Science Museum website ;-)

Friday Fun #19 Let’s Make a Movie

A recent post reporting on the 2008 Machinama filmfest on the Game Set Watch blog (The State Of Machinima, Part 2: The Machinima Filmfest Report) mentions, in passing, how in certain respects machinama – films made using game engines – can “be best described as digital puppetry”.

So for the budding digital puppeteers out there, why not wind down this Friday afternoon by having a go at putting together your own digital puppetry performance using xtranormal?

This online application allows you to select a “film set” and then place one or two characters within it. The characters actions can be defined from a palette of predefined actions:

and facial expressions:

Dialogue can also be scripted – simply type in what you want the characters to say, and it will be rendered to speech when the scene is “shot”.

You also have control over the camera position:

To get you started, here’s a quick tutorial:

If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can remix pre-existing films… Here’s one I made earlier, a video to the opening lyrics of a New Model Army song: White Coats.

The following clip shows a brief demo of the application, along with a sales pitch and a quick review of the business model.

Based on the demo pitch and some if the ideas raised in Ad Supported Gaming, how do you think xtranormal might be used as part of an online, interactive or user-engaged advertising campaign?

PS For a large collection of machinima created using the Halo game engine, see Halomovies.org.

The Technical Cost of Persistence

One of the most compelling features of many games set in online virtual worlds is that the game world is persistent. That is, life in the game world goes on, even when the player is not there. When the player returns to the world, their character and belongings are as they were when the player left the world, but the state of the world itself will have moved on – buildings may have been constructed, monsters killed, and so on. Any artefacts left by player in a public area of the game when they went offline may have been moved or taken by other players whose characters are still roaming the virtual world.

At a technical level, what this means is that the game world must always be available – the computer servers that run the game must be online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, keeping the virtual world running. Even when there is no-one in world, there may be elements of the game physics that require some computation to be carried out.

To get an idea of what’s involved in developing the infrastructure that supports a persistent virtual world, read the article Massively multiplayer online games, Part 1: A performance-based approach to sizing infrastructure on the IBM developerWorks website. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the terminology – the article was written for an audience experienced in the design of large computer systems. There is a still a lot that you can learn from it as a less technical reader. For example, as you read the article, try to answer the following questions:

  • what does the author mean by the phrase “game platform”? What are the dominant game platforms for Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs)?
  • what strategies do developers use to cope with large numbers of players, particularly when they come from different areas of the world, speak different languages, and so on?
  • how does the design of the EVE online game compare with that of most MMOGs?
  • what is the “response time” of a game, and how is it likely to affect a user’s experience of the game?
  • what factors are likely to impact on the performance of the game? How might the design of the game’s computing infrastructure address these issues?
  • the article suggests designing the infrastructure using a “tiered” approach – what tiered levels are suggested, and what does each one do?
  • what are ‘bottlenecks’ and how are they likely to affect the performance of the game?
  • what is “latency” and how is it likely to be perceived by a game player? What elements of the system design are likely to affect the latency of the game?

Phew… you maybe found that quite a challenging exercise? But hopefully a worthwhile one? When reading a document like that, it’s always worth trying to ask yourself questions about what’s being said to further your understanding of it; and if there’s jargon you don’t understand – don’t worry. Try to read the document “for sense” the first time through. You can always go back to the document after looking up the terms you don’t understand, or asking for clarification from someone who may know via your social network…

If you did answer the questions, and maybe even jotted down a few notes, trying writing a blog post (500-1000 words or so – and link back here!;-) to summarise the original article and communicate some of the high level issues and considerations involved in designing the computational infrastructure for an MMOG. And if there’s anything you didn’t understand, try posting a comment back here and then keep an eye on any follow up replies…

Making Casual Games Pay

Like many other creative industries, the games industry is not just about helping people have fun. It’s an industry, made up of businesses, and those business exist to make money.

In the post Ad-Supported Gaming, I described three different models for using advertising as a way of making computer games pay. In this post, and the ones that follow it in the topic, we’ll consider some of the other business models that support games and gaming, and look at how the distribution models for different sorts of games compares with the distribution of other digital media such as music, movies and even books.

But for now – let’s consider casual games, which in many cases need to (appear to) be “free” to the end-user, or they won’t play them… And if they are being sold, then they need to be affordable (which means they need to be sold in volumes large enough to cover the cost of development and distribution, though not played in such large volumes as if they were purely ad-supported).

The following opinion piece – The Future For Casual Game Revenue Growth? – that appeared on the GamaSutra news site tries to identify the different ways in which the developer of a casual game can make a living. Try to answer the following questions based on your reading of it:

  • what are the three main ways of covering the development costs of, and ideally securing a profit from, casual games that are identified in the article?
  • how does the use of advertising in casual games compare with advertising on television?

The article identifies three main ways of raising revenue:

– In-game advertising, in which advertising space is sold within a game; the developer uses ad-revenue to provide them with an income;
– “the direct route”, whereby “a direct connection [is made] between independent developers and gamers”; here, the developer tries to sell direct to the end-user. This position is contrasted with ‘selling out’ to a publisher who is likely to market the game in a traditional way;
– “increase the perceived value of their games by upping the price”: that is, sell the game as a “superior product”, a counter-intuitive and potentially risky strategy in which differentiation of the game is achieved by pricing it above that of competitors, some of which are made to look cheap, and – one hopes – of lower perceived quality!

Several other approaches are mentioned in passing in the closing section: “promotional contests to award points to those who purchase new games, thereby increasing sales and loyalty. In-site ads, merchandising and game trailers, which are sold as advertising elsewhere”.

Casual games are seen to be similar to television sitcoms in that “…in exchange for the ability to play and be entertained for a short period of time, people are willing to watch ads” (these ads correspond to the interstitial or pre-roll ads that were described in Ad-Supported Gaming). However, it is also possible “to integrate dynamic in-game advertising platforms into the game. [That is, in-game advertising.] With the constant connection, the adverts can be altered based upon a player’s moves, or even their geographic location, providing targeted and more effective advertising. … It wouldn’t be surprising if in-game ads soon become integral to the content of a game, offering clues, extra levels or other hidden rewards for the player who clicks through.” In-game advertising, even in casual games, offers the potential for interaction. By engaging the player emotionally in the game, they may well be forced to pay more attention to the promotional message or advertised goods (for example, if you have to go in search of the missing Nuvo Cola can…!)

Can you think of any other “routes to free” for casual games? Post your thoughts back as comments… Here are some ideas to get you started: Lions, Tigers, Free Games… Oh My!.

Ad-Supported Gaming

One of the most influential business models – for web companies at least – over the last few years has been ad-supported publishing. So it is not surprising that adverts are also being used to generate revenue in the context of computer games. (Advertising also contributes significantly to underwriting the costs of traditional publishing. If you have ever wondered why many glossy magazines have so many high profile adverts, that’s why!)

How do you think advertising could be used to provide an income stream for the publisher of a computer game? Think about whether any games you have played brought you in contact with adverts from other companies, or browse through some of the posts on Business & Games: The Blog, to give you some more ideas.

Making Games Pay the Advertising Way

Looking across the ad-supported gaming market as a whole, there appear to be three dominant ways of using adverts to support computer games:

  • “Ads around the edges”;
  • Advergames;
  • In-Game Advertising.

Let’s look at some of those models in a little more detail.

“Ads Around the Edges”

Many online casual games are hosted on websites such as Kongregate or games.co.uk that contain adverts. The games are the hooks that pull people into the websites where they are forced to view adverts. The ads may appear as banner ads along the top of the screen, or in a sidebar alongside the game. Alternatively, the advert may appear as a “pre-roll” advert that plays in the game window before you are allowed to play the game.

Not surprisingly, Google (which is an advertising sales company…) has got into the game advertising business with its Adsense for Games product that operates in both these ways, providing opportunities for publishers place “appropriate” adverts alongside Flash games on gaming websites, as well as ’embedding’ pre-roll and interstitial (“ad-break”) adverts “within” the game.

Advergames

Advergames are games that are heavily branded and as such essentially “are” the advert. Advergames typically present a game world that reflects the advertiser’s branding, or at least the message the advertiser wants to communicate, and in so doing potentially engages the interest of the player for many valuable minutes in what advergame developer Skyworks calls “branded interactive entertainment”.

Advergames are typically casual games, although two extremes are possible: for example, a pre-existing game may be bought “off-the-shelf” and rebranded with a particular company logo (a digital equivalent of company branded giveaway pens!); or they may be custom designed for a particular campaign.

The custom design route is particularly evident in large corporate advertising campaigns, where the advergame is just part of a wider campaign, and is likely to have production values as high as the other parts of the campaign (photo ads, TV adverts, and so on). As you might expect, such advergames can be very expensive to develop.

A good example of a game developed as part of a wider campaign is the Honda Problem Playground website. The rationale behind the website – and its role in the campaign – is described here: Honda Joy of Problems and how it got there.

Visit the Problem Playground website and play some of the games there. How would you know that this game is an advergame if you came across it whilst looking for a new online game to play? What message is the Problem Playground trying to communicate? Post your thoughts as a comment back here.

Now read through the “How it got there” article – does the rationale for the game described there fit with your interpretation of the game?

Have a look round for some other high profile advergames and see if you can identify what sort of message they are trying to communicate. Here are a couple of examples to get you started: Stella Artois advergame and Guinnes “Legend of the Golden Domino” advergame.

In-Game Advertising/Product Placement

In-game advertising places adverts within the game itself, either as an advert inside the game, or via product placement (giving a particular make or model of car a prominent place in a racing game, for example).

Watch the following promotional video from IGA Worldwide, a video game advertising agency. As you are doing so, note down the different ways that adverts are placed into the games. Does the setting of particular genres of game make in-game advertising more or less appropriate? What would be a good example of “in-context” advertising within a game? And what might an inappropriate advert be?

For more examples of contemporary in-game advertising, see the Case Study showreels from the IGA Worldwide advertising network.

Revenue streams for in-game advertising are determined in different ways for the different modes of in-game placement. For example, adverts shown on in-game billboards might be paid for using a “traditional” internet advertising model – “CPM” (cost per thousand impressions). For every 1000 views of the advert, the advertiser will be charged a certain amount.

For each of the three modes of ad-support described above, write down the pros and cons of each approach, either in a blog post that links back here, or as a comment to this post. Some of the things you might consider are: time/cost to produce the ad; time spent by the viewer watching the ad; likely reach of the ad (how many people are likely to engage with it, is it amenable to a “viral” (word-of-mouth) distribution model); and so on.

Further Reading:: if you would like to learn more about ad-supported gaming, this History of In-Game Advertising is well worth a red (it includes video walkthroughs of several early advergames), as well as the more comprehensive Advertising in Computer Games MSc thesis (MIT), both of which are by Ilya Vedrashko.

Friday Fun #18 Let’s Go F1 Racing

It’s coming up to the end of the Formula One Grand Prix season, so what better way to spend the weekend than doing a bit of F1 driving ourselves?

Enter the Puma Racing advergame, a game designed to promote the Puma all-in-one racing suit, apparently…

The controls are “typical” racing game commands:

So get suited up, and let’s go :-)

If that’s not to your liking, how about this F1 racing game from Intel?

First you have to check your reaction times…

Then try a pit stop:

Then you can drive….

Err, only I couldn’t – because I couldn’t make the pit stop… and even after repeated tries, it didn’t seem to get any easier and I gave up… So does this mean the game failed insofar as I would have spent longer playing it if I’d actually made it as far as the game proper?! ;-)

For more advergames, check out the Vanksen CultureBuzz Advergame blog or this AdvergameBlog.

PS I’ll be writing a post or two about advergames – and ad-supported gaming over the next week or so – so I thought I should get a little ad in for those too… ;-)


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