Greg Lastowka died last night. I really can't find the words, if you can, feel free to comment below.
There may be much truth in the feeling that many Terra Nova people share, that MMORPGs and the gamer community are evolving into far less interesting forms. Today was the last day for one of the best other blogs about MMORPGs, Massively.
And a commentary from a competitor:
Oh, yes, and SONY is bailing out, too:
As my Pandaran reached level 100 in World of Warcraft, knowing that 10 million other people were playing alongside me, and something over 100 million accounts had been created over the decade lifetime of that influential game, I couldn’t help but think of how much I personally like some of the most unpopular games. If our goal is to study “popular culture,” then of course popularity matters. But there are so many other scientific, scholarly, and personal goals we might legitimately have! Experimental studies typically use small Ns of research subjects. Ethnographies of cultures often study low-population societies. How many books did Bronislaw Malinowski write about the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands, a society that today Wikipedia tells me has only 12,000 members and must have had fewer nearly a century ago? Two of my own earlier books were ethnographies of “religious cults,” the Process (Satan’s Power, 1978) which had 100 inner members and a total around 500, while the Children of God (The Endtime Family, 2002) had about 10,000 members, 1,025 of whom filled out my questionnaire. A valuable study of a gameworld might not even care about the players at all, for example analyzing it as a total work of art.
When the magazine New Scientist asked me what was the best game of the year, back in 2010, I could not resist answering A Tale in the Desert 5. Of course, this was already the fifth telling of this MMO, set in an ancient Egypt that is born, grows, and dies, in a seemingly endless cycle of rebirth, beginning back in 2003, not really a new game. The sixth telling began in 2011, so we might have expected the seventh to give way to the eighth about now. In fact, the sixth telling has entered some strange kind of suspension, as a new owner apparently hunts for funding, and it is possible to play for free. If the seventh telling ever launches, perhaps it will be a subscription MMO again.
I explored Tale extensively from July 2009 to March 2010 during the fourth telling, then carried out a quick census of guilds in 2013, during the sixth telling. Just this minute, I downloaded the software again, entered, and checked the census of "permanent citizens," which totals 4,682 at the moment. When subscriptions were required, during my visits, the population never surpassed 2,000. Tale is all about cooperation, ritual, puzzle solving, and exploration, with no combat at all. What does it say about humanity that the most popular virtual worlds require slaughter? If you want to know more about A Tale in the Desert, you can enter now yourself, or check out many blog posts about it during earlier years of Terra Nova.
Another quasi-historical favorite of mine, somewhat more popular, is Pirates of the Burning Sea, set in the Caribbean in 1720. Unlike the now defunct Disney competitor, Pirates of the Caribbean, it eschews zombies, has pretty good but not perfect historical accuracy, and requires intellect to appreciate. Oh yes, one inaccuracy is inclusion of the Barbary Pirates, who never went to the Caribbean, and were not really pirates, but in appropriate ways PotBS admits these facts. If you check, several of the NPCs were historical figures. I suppose one attraction for me is that the historical William Bainbridge after whom I am named (the grandson of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather) actually was held captive by the Barbary Pirates for two years, but let that pass. Can we complain about the anachronism that PotBS depicts string quartets, when that form of classical music did not become popular until a later decade? Can we complain about the inaccuracy that the ships still make a little headway sailing directly into the wind, given how many of the sea battles take place in archipelagos of islands where only real experts could navigate in the real world. Like Tale, PotBS is in the midst of an ownership change, and we cannot be sure it will survive.
Last April and May I tried Xsyon, another unusual low-population virtual world, existing precariously in both PvP and PvE variants. In many respects a sandbox game, it takes place in the future on the shores of Lake Tahoe at the California-Nevada border, after the fall of civilization, requiring the player to rebuild from scratch the technology required for survival. My avatar was an impersonation of the classic American sociologist William F. Ogburn, for a book I am currently writing, Virtual Social Science, in which avatars based on many social scientists analyze worlds selected to energize their theories. Ogburn was an influential technological determinist, who in 1945 argued that world government was essential, or nuclear war would destroy humanity. So having him explore gather-craft technologies in a post-apocalyptic world seemed very appropriate.
Give one of these three unusual MMOs a try, yourself! Or, tell us about some unpopular but fascinating virtual world you happen to inhabit.
“Instead of saying I’m going to be best Pro Gamer I’d like to say that, especially in the eyes of the fans, I’ll work hard to be a pro gamer that always gives his all. A gamer that really enjoys and embodies the spirit of competition”
Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong, StarCraft II Player
“The difference between me and any other fighter is they’re talented, I’m God-gifted.”
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, Boxer
I said I’d been working on TN content. Well here is the first slice.
For a long time I’ve been curious about the names people use in online spaces. This fascination grew as I began to watch eSports and saw how commentators / casters have to navigate a complex name space to make sense of the on-screen action. My fascination has turned into several thousand words exploring the way names are used in a number of eSports contexts. Here is the first part of the jottings, the second part is on StarCraft, Race and Culture.
I for one did not want to see TerraNova fade away (after all they named a TV programe after us, right?), and I've got three blog posts on the exciting world of eSports in notpad that I'm trying to get finished. Ted has been kind enought to hand me the keys, so Arise TerraNova you live again.
Terra Nova began on September 11, 2003 and maintained steady intellectual activity for a good 7 years afterwards. For about 4 years now the site has been kept alive out of a sense of good will. I think though for the good of the world it is time to let it pass. All this means is, I won't be auto-renewing the credit card payment. I assume the content will stay here.
It's interesting to reflect on why TN existed and why it went away. For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin. As these applications grew in popularity, the need for a core intellectual group about virtual worlds themselves waned. The community dried up and the conversation dwindled.
In closing - and I invite other authors to close too if they wish - it seems to me this morning that there was one factor of virtual worlds that did not "go" anywhere but proved irremediably toxic to the medium itself: The people themselves. It proved impossible to make everyone feel like a hero in a world populated by millions of would-be heroes. It proved impossible to construct mechanisms that allowed people to find fulfillment from their fellow-players rather than frustration. In the end, the concept of a multi-player fantasy world broke on the shoals of the infinite weirdness of human personality.
Perhaps virtual world designers were the latest incarnation of the utopian community builders of the 19th and earlier centuries. "If only we set up the rules correctly, people will naturally have a blast together!" No; I guess they won't. Not even if the utocrat can control physics down to the very atoms. Not even if the art and sound of the world is heavenly. Not even if people are given thousands of meaningful missions and wonderfully uplifting stories. Perhaps the mere presence of Others breaks whatever dream people are trying to have.
Ah well. The goal of designing perfect human communities remains unmet. Someone will take a crack at it again soon, I am sure.
Until then, good-bye, Terra Nova!
Since our last post was in March and it's almost July, I'm going to promote Ted's new book on wildcat currencies here, since he hasn't done that yet.
March 25, 2014 was a pretty interesting day for virtual currency and virtual reality!
It seems the IRS deems mined bitcoins (& Dogecoins!) to be income. So it seems pretty clear that Linden Dollars are a "convertible" virtual currency and should count as income too. I'm assuming professional goldfarmers should have to report loot drops too, since they're skilled at converting that virtual currency. But I'm still unclear about participants in primarily virtual, ludic economies -- e.g. MMORPG players who may occasionally sell or buy virtual property.
Language from the IRS follows -- full text is here.
...Virtual currency is a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value. In some environments, it operates like “real” currency -- i.e., the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that is designated as legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance -- but it does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction...
...Virtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency, is referred to as “convertible” virtual currency. Bitcoin is one example of a convertible virtual currency...
..Q-8: If I “mine” virtual currency, do I have income from mining? A-8: Yes, when you successfully “mine” it, the fair market value is income.
Q-9: Is an individual who “mines” virtual currency as a trade or business subject to self-employment tax? A-9: Yes...
It's been some time since I haunted the distinguished halls of TN, but after some tumultuous times that got me out of the habit of putting my working papers up on ssrn and pointing to them here (and at my own blog), I do have a piece that I wanted to share (and I'll be cross-posting this to Doubt is an Art, as I do with all game-related stuff). I'm sure my skin has grown thin from all this time away from the rough-and-tumble world of collaborative blogging. Be gentle. ;)
Last year I had the opportunity to give the keynote address in February at the Ray Browne Conference on Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, as well as to participate in a symposium in April convened by the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity on Modernity and Chance. Both venues seemed apt arenas for developing some ideas about game as a cultural form, one that we could place alongside ritual and bureaucracy in our understanding of institutions and the techniques for control at their disposal. The core question I'm asking is: What might we learn by examining the increasing use of games by modern institutions in the digital age as analogous to their longstanding and effective use of rituals and bureaucracy?
Social Value is the amount of behavior that one person generates among their friends. An anology might be the ripple on the social pond. Let's say this person goes to see a movie, listens to a song, or plays a game. Now let's say that this person is influential. How much more likely are their friends to go see the movie, hear the song, or play the game?
Each person has a unique amount of influence in their social network, and on each friend. Maybe you are highly influential on Bob, but Steve doesn't care what you do. What the Social Value algorithm does is to add up all of your influence and put it in units we care about--like sessions, time, or dollars.
Clearly demarcated as blatant self-promotion: I'm happy to announce that an effort I've been working on for about 3 years in semi-stealth mode is now live. After doing big data work for the spooks in the government and running a team of social and computer scientists, a few of us spun out a commercial venture I dubbed Ninja Metrics (www.ninjametrics.com).* Much of this comes from constantly asking game companies for data, then getting smart people to do cool things with it. Our team has now published 80 papers on game data, which is kind of ridiculous. It was time to put that power into an engine so we don't have to work quite so hard.
Among other things, we've figured out how to automate predictive analytics. WTH is that, you ask?
Toontown is shutting its doors. (Thanks Pidge Fielder for the tip.) When gamer properties close down, the gamers rant and, understanding that no one will actually listen, move on. Toontown is a Disney property, however, filled with ordinary people. They've started numerous petitions at Change.org, a place dedicated to windmill tilting."Disney! We insist that you ignore your bottom line and do what we want instead! Or else, or else..." Or else what? You'll throw away your Mouse ears? You'll stop going to horrible movies like Planes? You'll refuse to go to theme parks that charge a million dollars for the experience of standing in two-hour lines while eating food that would kill a buffalo?
One of the petitions is targeted appropriately. It asks Jesse Schell, a developer of the world, to take it over.
If I were Jesse, I'd consider buying the property and creating a new format for the industry: The Community MMOG. Make it a corporation and sell all the shares to users. Like the Green Bay Packers. Set up by-laws to regulate affairs among shareholders. Have an annual meeting to appoint a board of managers. Running a community MMOG would be a natural stepping stone for young people who want to build their own.
It would be good for the world if old virtual worlds were sold to their users in this fashion. And if it doesn't happen, I will refuse to purchase any Jesse Schell branded merchandise, INCLUDING the bobble head, the mud flaps, and the his-and-hers towels. Who's with me?
Got an interesting law article in the snail mail by Dan Burk. "Owning E-Sports: Proprietary Rights in Professional Computer Gaming." Unfortunately the digital version is behind paywalls. Man, does that seem stupid. Amazon charging $10 for a law article? It's an interesting article, but not $10 worth of interesting. Is any research article worth $10 sight unseen? Anyways.
Burk's analysis highlights the fact that the law of real sports depends on the physical instantiation of those sports: Stadiums, bodies, playing fields, equipment. As a result, e-sports, where all these things are intangible, cannot rely completely on the pre-existing sports law. And as we know, intellectual property law seems out of place, since the primary issues do not revolve around the writing of created signifiers to RAM. As a result, the legal foundation of e-sports is murky.
Here's the intro anyway.