Tag Archives: MMOG

Can’t We All Just Game Along?

our Video Game Events Master Calendar is really filling up!

UUG

This is last call to buy tickets for the Toronto Unity Users Group, which runs tonight at the Gladstone Hotel. Here are some fast facts about Unity 3D to refresh your memory:

  1. The game engine has been around for a number of years, but the recent port to the PC and the price reduction to FREE has garnered a boatload of attention.
  2. It’s kinda like Flash, except it uses 3D graphics, and it’s actually tuned to make games. So instead of bending it to your steely will as Flash requires by adding 3rd-party physics, for example, Unity comes with many crucial game features right out of the box.
  3. There is a world of opportunity in marketing for folks that can use Unity. Unity 3D games can be played directly in the browser. Advertisers looking for something shiny and new (“new”) will be plenty impressed by the technology.
  4. Can’t do 3D? If you live in Ontario, there’s plenty of under-utilized, inexpensive talent coming out of the colleges and universities. It seems every school has at least one 3D art program, but the demand for these graduates is rock-bottom in the province.

Here’s an example of what Unity 3D can do in skilled hands:



MUG

On Wednesday, there’s a double-shot of Unity goodness. There’s a half-day workshop at George Brown College. After that, i expect most of the participants will pub crawl a few blocks over to Kensington Market, where the Rich Media Institute is holding the monthly Mobile Users Group for Games and Apps. They’ll be talking about (among other things) the u3dobject framework, which enables you to communicate between Flash and Unity.

When i read the MUG description, i was worried that it stepped on the UUG workshop. Then when i read about the content of the meeting, i was really concerned – not only was it stepping on the other event, but it was about Unity 3D! As it turns out, one event begins as the other ends. i know that the UUG organizers, DimeRocker, had met with Shawn Pucknell at the Rich Media Institute, so i’m glad that everyone is playing nicely together.

Streaming Colour Studios’ Owen Goss is a regular at the event. Here’s his latest vblog developer episode:



No Elbow Room

It wasn’t the case last week, when the Vortex Game Competition ran concurrently on top of the DIG London conference, which split a few loyalties. But as anyone who’s tried to organize a Christmas party in December can tell you, sometimes there are just no openings. Other times, the event has to happen because it’s reliant on a funding schedule – that was the case two years ago when interactive ontario’s GameON: Finance conference ran the week before GDC in San Francisco.

i am THRILLED that gaming is so red-hot in Ontario that the calendar is so packed with events. i sincerely hope that we all stay well-connected enough so that there’s enough breathing room in the schedule to give everyone a break. If you’re running a game-related event in Ontario, please check the calendar first to ensure that you’re not encroaching on another initiative. And if you know of any game-related events – in Ontario or abroad – that should be on the calendar, please feel free to add it to our events page and we’ll update the calendar PDQ.

Mr. McBadTouch visits Green.com

We took some time yesterday to dip into Green.com, one of the many, many new kids’ virtual worlds in perpetual beta. The kids’ virtual world space is hot like a tamale these days, thanks in large part to the $700 million buyout by Disney of reigning champeen Club Penguin last year. Investors are flocking to the space in droves, hoping that they, too will … be bought by Disney for $700 million? i’m not sure. It’s a different space than the grown-up MMO racket, where World of Warcraft is proving very tough to dethrone. Kids tend to bounce around from place to place with far less loyalty. So it’s not a matter of a kids’ virtual world being the best – there’s room enough for money to be made by multiple parties; the world just has to meet the bar in a number of key areas.

One of those key areas is safety. Ask any nervous parent, and you’ll learn that the Internatz are packed with pedophiles desperate for their chance to lure underage netizens into real-life park bench trysts like digital pied pipers. It becomes a do-or-die mandate of kids’ virtual worlds to reasonably protect their inhabitants’ safety, or they could actually face fines, lawsuits, or – in the case of this article – bad press.

Green.com makes the standard claims of protection that have become rote in similar products. The safety blurb on their Parents’ website section proclaims:

Green.com is a unique online world where kids and their parents can safely gather, learn, and interact with each other. We know the challenges of keeping kids safe online. After all, we’re parents ourselves. Kids want to hang out in the cool places and look for stuff on the web. But you’ve heard the Internet scare stories, and you may think the Internet is just not safe, period. Not us. We believe it can be safe and still provide all the things kids can’t wait to try.

Alright – so far so good. As a parent who thinks the Internatz are a series of tubes, and whose favourite web browser is Google, i’m willing to take Green.com’s claims at face value and sign my kid up. But we at Untold Entertainment have a somewhat more rigorous test. We have Mr. McBadTouch.

The Advent Of Dr. FeelyFingers

We signed up for a Green.com account and, like any wise 8-year-old, lied about our age. We typed in some spare address in the “Parent’s email address” field, and off we went.

Meanwhile, we signed up for a second account, in which we would roleplay our Mr. McBadTouch character.

In this demonstration, the role of Mr. McBadTouch will be played by user WaterWaster. The role of the innocent preteen will be played by user markergreen.

We both chose one of the half-interesting, half-unsettling photo clipart avatars and met up in the desert area. Green.com’s visuals are definitely a point of difference, and it was refreshing to see someone trying a bold and different style. Even better, your character can instantly fly without having to grind up to level 70, as in other games. Insta-flying was very fun, and nearly distracted us from our child-luring mission. But never mind! On to the safety testing!

Our first task was to see if we could reveal personally-identifiable information like addresses and phone numbers. Best-in-class worlds like Club Penguin block access to numbers and address-related words like “street” and “avenue” to prevent this. Let’s see how Green.com fared:

Green.com address safety test

Fail.

(of note: having been part of a beta launch for a relatively unknown kids world, i am almost positive that EddieD is a Green.com staff member. “sweet moves dude” “your totaly radical!”)

So you can enter numbers into the chat. Hmm. Let’s try a phone number:

Green.com phone safety test

Double fail.

Uh-oh. That’s not good. Then Mr. McBadTouch and our victim decided to exchange IM addresses:

Green.com email safety test

Double plus fail.

We’ve tried this exact same test in Club Penguin, and none of this stuff would have made it through their chat filter. i was beginning to wonder if the chat feature filtered anything, when the markerGreen avatar suddenly spat out “****”.

Ok – so the place has swear filtering, at least. i asked my cohort what he had typed. He said “i typed ‘nerd’”.

So Green.com’s priorities are lining up thusly:

  • allow users to exchange personal information like email addresses, street addresses and phone numbers: CHECK
  • allow one user to call another user a “nerd” : FORBIDDEN

Maybe it’s me? Maybe i have different priorities as a parent? i’d rather keep my child safe from indellible real-world physical abuse than inevitable virtual abuse.

In and through this conversation, user Sam, a Green.com moderator, chimed in with helpful warnings like “Please don’t share personal details.” The trouble is that he piped up after the fact, after the damage was done. In any truly safe kids’ virtual world, a moderator should have skewered my avatar through the heart and strung him up in town square to be made an example of, before i could squeeze out something like this:

Green.com content safety test

zOMG.

i was a little relieved to see that there was a moderator in the room, but his presence raised two questions:

  1. Could the moderator “see” the conversation in a separate room log, or did his avatar have to be on the same screen as the other characters to monitor the conversation? Green.com uses very long, scrolling environments, and it’s easy to miss out on a lot of dialogue.
  2. If Green.com takes off, is a post-moderation strategy enough to police potentially hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously?

i decided to throw the Green.com moderators a bone and flag the fact that i should NOT be playing in their world, to see if they had any sort of killswitch or live kick/ban tool to boot my ass out:

Green.com content safety test

IRL stands for “in real life”

IRL is a fairly standard web acronym by now, but i used it to underscore the importance of keeping your mods up to date on slang, acronyms, l337 speak, and filthy phrases. i remember one situation while i was working at a kids’ site where the player used a dirty Japanese word in his username. A lot of the kids knew what it meant, but the mods were clueless. They have to be like filth-busting ninjas, these mods – up on every trend.

But i digress. After revealing my nefarious plan, i thought for sure that the crack ace Green.com mods would boot me back to Timbuktu without so much as a parting gift basket, but no. All i got was another weak warning from user Sam to not share personal info.

Green.com content safety test

Sam and EddieD look on in horror, apparently powerless to stop Mr. McBadTouch.

And now, the money shot:

Green.com content safety test

Mr. McBadTouch moves in for the kill

Of course, this is all just to illustrate a point. i don’t even know if there IS a St. Patrick’s park in Brandon, Manitoba. But despite Green.com’s moderator presence, and due to their lack of chat filtering, Mr. McBadTouch successfully set up a real-life meeting with one of the game’s players.

Fallout

Hours later, i received an email from Green.com (emphasis mine):

Dear Waterwaster,
Thank you for signing up as a beta tester with Green.com. Unfortunately, there is a concern with communications associated with your account. As a result, we have temporarily suspended your access to Green.com.

We are committed to providing a safe, child-appropriate environment on Green.com. Obscene language, bullying and other inappropriate interactions are not tolerated on this site.

If you would like to have your account reopened, please respond to this email with your confirmation that you understand and will adhere to the expectations of conduct for the Green.com community.

Regards,

The Green.com staff

It’s obvious that Green.com has taken steps to make good on their promise of a safe environment for kids. They have live moderators, chat filtering, and a kick/ban process. But they’re clearly not cutting it yet. Since it’s a beta, a certain amount of slack can be cut, but here are my early recommendations:

  1. The live moderator needs to be able to see chat logs for the whole screen area, rather than merely snippets of it (i’ll leave it to Green.com staff to confirm that this is in place).
  2. They need a good ratio of moderators to users so that things don’t slip through the cracks. The ratio we saw was good (there were only a few users in the world), but they have to be ready to ramp up in case the world takes off.
  3. The chat filtering needs to get waaay better. Blocking numbers is an obvious first step.
  4. The moderators need to be well-trained on slang and acronyms.
  5. The moderators need instant kick/ban tools to prevent shenanigans and the likes of Mr. McBadTouch.

Finally, since the world is in beta and the safey tools have some way to go, the website should say as much. i should not see a gleaming white Dudley Do-right credo proclaiming the site as a safe space when clearly, it isn’t. That’s tantamount to plunking a 40-fathom shark tank in a toddler’s playground and posting a “Caution” sign next to it.

A kids’ virtual world will never be completely safe. But with so many developers flocking to the space, we need to do more than simply pay lip service to the concept of online saftey. Club Penguin, before the $700 million, spent the time to turn their chat filter into a fortress, to the point where i’m amazed those penguins are able to say anything to each other (aside from “Hello”, and that might not even be allowed since it contains the word “Hell”). Virtual world creators should either go above and beyond the minimum requirements of acts like COPPA, or simply refrain from claiming that their worlds are safe.

As a parent, if i’m going to throw my kid into the water, i appreciate knowing ahead of time that it’s filled with sharks so that i can monitor my child and respond appropriately, rather than read the “No Sharks” sign outside a shark-filled tank, and walk away leaving my child to swim alone.

Of course, i’m more the type of parent to climb into that tank and punch every shark in the face. But with a mother who was a child protection case worker for fifteen years, i’m wise to the fact that until we mandate a baby-having license, we can’t rely on all parents to do their job properly either.

Ankama Lanches Eye-Popping Wakfu Beta

The first art book released by French MMORPG team Ankama has been a staple in our collection since we were lucky enough to snag one at E3 a few years ago. According to Worlds in Motion.biz, Ankama has launched their closed beta for Wakfu, the follow-up to Dofus.

Due to my addictive personality, i’ve avoided the more “hooky” or “hardcore” MMOs, and have likely saved a lot of pennies over the past few years. But when Wakfu is released, regardless of whether it’s even a good game or not, i may shell a few coppers for a chance to stare, goggle-eyed, at their horribly gorgeous artwork:

Wakfu Screenshot

Wakfu Screenshot

Be sure to visit the Wakfu site for full-screen shots that will make you weep!

Avatar Permutations: i call bullshit

i was just reading an interview on the Worlds In Motion biz site with Jamie Ottilie, whose studio is set to release a kid-targeted MMO called Freaky Creatures.

In the interview, Ottilie crows:

The initial creatures come with 50 different parts, 20 powers and 4 objects that can be placed into the creature’s lair. The variety of parts and powers will allow players to create more than 3 billion visual combinations.

This is an extremely common attempt at impressing people with your virtual product: calculate all the possible permutations of your avatars based on the number of their component pieces. Ottilie is not the first person to try to dazzle the press with big numbers – this tired hack stat is dredged up again and again by designers desperate for something impressive to say about their work, and it betrays a lack of confidence in what could turn out to be a very lacklustre product.

What’s the appeal of 3 billion visual combinations when every kid picks the red dragon wings because they look the coolest?

A few years back, i worked with an outsourced game studio who said the very same thing about their avatars … there are FIVE body zones with TEN pieces per zone, which works out to ONE POINT FOUR ZILLION avatar combinations. (Math police: it doesn’t really, i know – but you get the gist.) They even went on to say that the colour pallette allows players to choose from over 16 MILLION colour hues.

16 million, eh? You don’t say. Are those the same 16 million colours we’ve been enjoying in every computerized paint program since 1993? (And aren’t 4 million of those colours indistinguishable variations of black, white, and bleh?)

MSPaint Pallette

MS Paint’s 16 million colours. Feast thine eyes … IF THOU CANST HANDLE IT!!

Boasting about your avatar permutations is like a vacuum cleaner salesman proudly proclaiming “Our SuckMaster 5000 can pick up SEVENTY FAJILLION dust particles in a matter of minutes. FAJILLION, ma’am. That’s one hunnerd thousand herpillion.” If a salesman tried that line on me (aside from taking him out for calling me “ma’am”), i’d seriously doubt the efficacy of his product. The most impressive thing he could say about it was that it could suck up an impressive number of atomic particles. Suspicious.

SuckMaster 5000

Well, it certainly does suck.

How can i be so sure this is bona fide flimflammery? i’ve used the line myself in trying to trump up an otherwise weak product. i admit it. But i’ve seen the error of my ways. From now on, if i need to jazzercise up a feeble game, i’ll sing the virtues of its Blast Processing.


[flash]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlulSyBI2aY[/flash]

The Myth of In-Game Advertising Perpetuated

A day after i railed against invoking Coke in discussions of in-game advertising, Massively writer Shawn Schuster predictably invoked Coke in a discussion of in-game advertisting, in his post The Eve of In-Game Advertising.

And (as a few of his readers were quick to point out), if Schuster thinks that in-game advertising is just now dawning, i’d really like to take a trip back with him in his time machine to whatever previous decade he’s writing his articles from.