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09/11/2003

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Jia

Mark Jacobs Keynote
Talked about the three ages of online gaming, here's my notes:

Age of Discovery - Where development occured in schools and basements, with zero pay, budgets in the 1000s, development in a few months rather than years. It when people first discovered computers for play, rather than work/business/research.
Some pioneers that he recognized where:
Bill Louden - One of the first believers in online gaming, founded GEnie network (which he convinced GE to sponsor), where Kesmai and other companies got their opportunity to put games online and test them.
Jessica Mulligan - Writes the "Biting the Hand" series of articles on online games, worked for various companies (Quantum, AOL, GEnie, Themis, Turbine)
Plato - early day graphical online games
MUDs - Dr. Bartle and Roy Trubshaw
A-maz-ing - first FPS online, crossover on Prodigy
Air Warrior - Kesmai on GEnie
RS Everything - John Weaver on GEnie
Neverwinter Nights - Stormfront on AOL
Meridan 59 - Archetype on the Internet
TEN, MPath, Dwango, Sega, etc - dot-com distractions, spent lots of money on wrong problems (latency, matchmaking) with baskets of games rather than a feature game.

Age of Delight - The sudden rise of popularity of MMPOGs, where everything's still bright and shiny.
The Holy Trinity - UO, EQ, AC
Marks of success - large scale subscriber base, large retail sales, successful series of expansions, high conversion rate and longterm retension (loyal to brand and company)
DAoC - couldn't originally sell idea to publishers, said there was "no room at the Inn", not enough space left in market
Lineage - brought interest in Asian market, players in the millions, Korean as gateway to rest of Asia
Publishers apologize and fund like crazy, why?
12 X 10 = 120, "If Mythic can do it..."
Greater potential reward = higher risk (DAoC as last great independent development success)

Age of Disappointment - money, money, money
Dollars + Desire != Delight
Too many companies and funding, not everyone can succeed
Making online games is more difficult than people think
Asia overhyped and underestimated - will not roll over to US companies, gearing up to invade US market
Magic leaves the world - indie houses as exception to Hollywoodization of gaming marketing
"The Elves head to the Grey Havens" - old games and developers retire

Gender Inclusive Game Design - Expanding the Market
Session speaker: Sheri Graner Ray of Sony Online

Began by lamenting the closing of Purple Moon, one of the few female-orientation game design companies. Gave a few surprising figures like how Mattel Barbie Fashion Design sold 600, 000 units their first year. Claims that in 2000, the girl gaming market basically folded when developers/publishers weren't making enough money. Currently, industry is at an all-time low with games like BMX XXX and DOA Vollyball actively hostile towards female gamers.

All this is counter-intuitive when the traditional 12-25 male market is not growing as fast as the gaming industry as a whole. Claims "It's not about making games specifically for women, it's removing the barriers to women in gaming."

52% of internet users are female
70% of casual online gamers are female
Less than 15% of Nintendo's usebrase is female
Less than 10% of audience for tradional PC games is female

Where Barriers Exist
Learning styles and tutorials (generalizations)
Male - risktakers and explorative
Female - want to know how it works first by mental modeling
In arcades, boys immediately rush to stick in coins and then play game, girls watch the attract loop (which doesn't teach how to play)
Explorative style tutorials are not appealing to women

Price of failure
Male - Punishment for error
Female - Forgiveness for error
Gender split game design teams at MIT - death (reset) penalty versus delay (forgiveness)

Avatars
Consensus on women developers mailing list is that exaggerated avatars are the biggest hinderence to more women players.
Exaggerated characteristics include:
Males - large shoulders, slim waists, slim hips (virility)
Females - Large breasts high on chest, slim waists, round posteriors (fertility)
One differencer, female avatars display exaggerated physical signals of sexual receptivity (not true for males)
Signals - red full lips, heavy lidded eyes, heavy breathing (open mouth), erect nipples

Product Environment
Who do you design for?
Does that remain consistent throughout your documents and processes?
Girl games developed as exception, males as status quo.

Finally, before I head to my next session, I'd encourage you to check out the Women in Game Design Virtual Development Team Project. According to Sande Chen, who I just met, they're still looking for mentors.

Cog

I'll be at the conference tommorow, I hope. This damn college stuff is starting to get in the way of my normal and all-day-video-game-playing day.

Vertigo

Jia: Is there a possibility that a transcript of all you have mentioned will be available? I'd love to give it a read through, even if the transcript doesn't involve any reactions or discussions as it looks extremely interesting.
I wish I could get along to more of these events. Last time I went to anything game-related was ECTS a couple of years ago, where game of the show was Universal Studios :-/

Draigon

Age of Discovery should also include AOL games. Yeah, I know, we're supposed to hate AOL, but the fact is alot of people were introduced to the idea of MUDs and online games through AOL with games like Gemstone (or was it called "Gemstone III")

Draigon

Oh, and I'm not sure if it counts (maybe as pre-age of discovery), BBS legendary games like Usurper and LORD.

Jia

Social Systems in Online Games: Building the True "Global Village"
Session speaker: Patricia Pizer, former lead designer for Asheron's Call, now with Ubisoft working on Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

Good introduction to community building in MMPOGs. Key points:
Shared experience are compelling experience
Social networks drive retention
All players are social
Social equity transcends the game

Good quotes, paraphrased: "Real life is becoming increasingly more nomadic and isolated. Most of us move multiple times during our lifetime, leaving behind and partially severing a set of friends and connections with each move. Online communities help address this growing sense of isolation in modern society. MMPOGs are becoming a reliable social outlet for many people who have limited social means (stay-at-home housewives, physically disabled, etc)."

Analysis of innovative features in current MMPOGs
Toontown Online - menu-based chat for easy communication with "secret friends" system to protect childen
Shadowbane - guild heraldy and chat customization
Asheron's Call - allegiance system (aka the "Amway" pyramid scheme) that links xp/social status with mentorship
DAoC - matchmaking service for grouping. Interesting note: Tends to promote one-time cooperation (blind date phenomenon) rather than lasting social connections.
SWG - also uses matchmaking service which includes non-game related personal information like hobbies, interests, and even blood-type (personality type in Japanese culture).
The Maxtrix Online - plans to use AOL's AIM as ingame chat client.
ATITD - legal system, multiple guild associations, mentorship test
Blade Mistress Online - rewards positive community behavior

The Power of Collectability
Damion Schubert, who's worked on Meridian 59 and canceled UO projects and is now on the Shadowbane team of Wolfpack

Spoke from the perspective of a former "Magic: The Gathering" addict about putting rare objects and other collectibles in your game. Good examples of rares in UO, like horse dung, which seem to have no value but are prized by players due to their oddity and uniqueness.

Instantiated vs. Persistent spaces: The great debate
Starr Long, currently working on semi-secret "Tabula Rasa" project at NCsoft Austin

Good discussion prompt on the current hot trend in MMPOGs, instantiated spaces, which was pioneered by Anarchy Online's generated missions but can now be found in Everquest's latest expansion. Most future MMPOGs also plan to include the feature. Consensus at the end of the discussion: future games will most likely feature a blending of both instantiated and persistent spaces.

Austin Game Conference Floating Party
Not bad as far as gaming conference parties go. Afterwards went to a local goth concert on a whim with some people I met. Might write about that later and post some pictures.

Day Two
Keynote by Raph Koster, former Creative Director of Star Wars Galaxies and now Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment
Very good speech about innovation in MMPOGs. I'll write more about it once he posts a copy of the presentation on his site.

Lost Tribes
Jonathan Baron, formerly of Kesmai, Humongous Entertainment, Origin, XBox Live, and now with Sony Online Entertainment

My personal favorite session of the conference. Great analysis/rant of why most online games currently "suck" and a passionate rallying call for improvement in the industry. Can't really give a good summary of the talk, you really had to be there to get the full experience. I'll just link again to some excellent papers Barron's written:
Glory and Shame: Powerful Psychology in Multiplayer Online Games
Heat into Light: Community Generating Conflict in Online Multiplayer Games

Minimum Feature Set: What An MMO Must Have To Compete
Dave Rickey, currently developing Wish for Mutable Realms

Dave's an interesting guy, a man who used to be a business applications programmer and got into online games development through the hellish job of being a GM in Everquest. He then went on to work on Dark Age of Camelot for Mythic Entertainment as a world builder and the designer for the economy-related systems before finally being the lead designer of Wish, which is supposed to be the first "ultra-massively multiplayer" game (goal of 10,000 users in same shared gameworld). Anyway, his notes aren't online yet, so go read his new series of columns on skotos till then.

Social Design for MMP Games
Mike Sellers, former lead designer of Meridian 59, the first 3D MMP game, The Sims 2, Ultima Online 2.0 and now Chief Alchemist of Online Alchemy

Good overview and critique of the lack of cohesive social systems in most online games now. In case you haven't noticed yet, I didn't take notes the 2nd day so yet again I'm using the "wait till he posts his presentation online excuse." However, luckily enough, I know Mike reads and posts here on GGA so that should be pretty soon.

Crafting a lasting Intellectual Property
Richard Garriott of NCsoft (no need for other credentials, you should know who Lord British is)

Very packed presentation, which was expected for someone who's regarded as one of the most influential game designers (notice how often Ultima is mentioned) around and is a local legend in Austin (his castle is just outside of town). Gave a very detailed explaination how he crafted a complex internally coherent magic and virtue system within the Ultima world, which he attributes to the success of the series. Also spoke in length about the symbolic language he created for his upcoming MMPOG project and the pseudo-science the gameworld is based on. Unfortunately, a copy of his presentation will not be available since he spoke about several things in his upcoming game which is NDA and I hope I didn't inadvertantly already violate that with the previous sentence.

Concluding remarks: Overall a very successful conference, especially for its first year. Over a thousand attendees and they only expected a few hundred to show up. I attribute the success to Austin strong local gaming industry (#3 in the nation), the quality of the presentations/speakers, and the tight focus of the conference (MMPOGs).

reinhard

yes wireless makes it possible. Hope that there are many interesting themes ...

chris

17 speaker presentations have been posted to the
Austin Game Conference web site.
We'll continue to post more as we get them.

Raph

Mine's posted now on both my site and the AGC site, so I look forward to your dissection. ;)

Mike Sellers

Mine's on my site as well and on the game conference site. Dissection welcome.

Good to meet you there, Jia.

Overall, this conference exceeded my expectations. I have to say I'm really looking forward to an alternative to GDC. The only problem will be next year when the conference is reportedly going to be a few weeks later, which will push some folks into the Christmas rush period.

Oh, one other comment, since I've been asked a couple of times: what's on my company site is related to what I'm working on, but it's not what I'm working on. For that you'll have to wait a little while.

outsider

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