~ Archive for Games ~

Will Rockfree become the Club Audition of the US?

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Rockfree is like Rock Band online, only you’re using the keys to navigate instead of an actual instrument. While it has potential because it doesn’t have that many competitors, I don’t know if the game will become hugely successful because of two things: the broadband situation in the US and the poor graphics.

A crucial part of the game is to hit the keys in time to the music. But with Internet connection being what it is in the US, you may experience a slight lag, and that can ruin the entire experience. Hopefully, the publisher will be running a lot of servers to alleviate the problem when more users join up. A lot of flash-based games are already using this DDR-type thing with the arrows, but again, network connection has to be extremely good.

The second and MAJOR flaw of the game is that the graphics suck. The avatars are two-dimensional and really ugly. There’s no visual pleasure.

The best thing for the publisher to do is to look at Audition. Although I really hate the avatar designs in Audition (their eyes are huge like Anime characters) Audition has done a really great thing in tying in social networking so that it is “the” social networking site to go to if your a teen or in your early twenties (it was also the best online dating place for young people). You dance together, chat together, etc. It has also done a great job in using microtransactions to pimp up your avatar- because people kids don’t mind spending a dollar or two to make their avatar look cool.

The thing is, without the social networking, a music or dance game that you play with your fingers is just not fun. The reason guitar hero is fun is because you have an actual toy guitar that you can pretend to play. It’s that element that makes the game enticing- because why would the average person be interested in meticulous rhythm? (If you’ve seen people doing karaoke, you’ll know that perfect rhythm is the last thing on people’s minds)

I would be interested to see how virtual worlds aiming for teens such as Habbo integrate this. Until now, social networking in virtual worlds has been two-dimensional (except for sex, but that’s not really a major feature of the teen VWs). Even if you’re playing games, the interface is mainly 2D. But playing games (think of what happens in the real world) should be a 3D experience, where you can see the other people and interact with them as the gaming takes place. Game developers for virtual worlds are really missing that point. If you get a 2D game (say, playing tetris against someone) in a 3D virtual world, what’s the point of going into the virtual world in the first place?

That’s why of all the games I played within Second Life, the ones I liked best were extremely interactive. The funnest ones were a game of paintball, walking through a haunted house with a couple other people, and playing checkers. The cute thing about the checkers game was that someone had actually made a 3D checker board, so there were two people playing the game, and people standing around watching and talking- you know, like real life. That totally beats playing checkers online where you can’t see your opponent or have any interaction with other people other than chat.

Sony Digs Its Own Grave, Then Tries to Fill it in

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Last week, MTV Multiplayer had an interesting scoop about how Sony has been charging game publishers for content that users can download. According to this article, Sony started charging publishers a “network bandwidth fee” since Aug. 1 last year– 16 cents per Gigabyte. Because MTV is a publisher, the article did have a whiny tone, but it wasn’t making anything up and definitely put Sony in a tight spot.

Sony’s spokesman responded to the article saying that it still anticipates good content, but people are pointing out that the incentives for game makers to make games for the PS3 has dropped down even more because 1)Ps3 games are more difficult and pricier to make than xbox games and 2)ps3 has less users. Some blogs (Here and here) even suggested that developers avoided releasing PS3 demos because of this fee. Basically, it’s the vicious cycle theory: Xbox doesn’t charge publishers, so publishers will develop more Xbox games =>fewer ps3 games are developed=>people migrate to Xbox.

Interestingly enough, Sony announced today that it is going to make things easier for third-party developers– by lowering the price of development tools and offering technical support. Maybe it was thinking about this all along and the timing was a coincidence, or maybe it took this incident to point out its disadvantage. Who knows?

But I think this addresses a really important issue about content distribution- now that everything is digital, it’s very easy to distribute content. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even if the distributor is willing to make the product free for marketing purposes, someone has to bear the cost of transmitting those bits. It’s interesting to see that in the game community, the end users are willing to pay, while in the news community, users are not. Is it because users wanting high-quality games have to receive them through an architecture that does not allow more flexibility? How come there isn’t a huge trend of migration from console to PC?

Outrageous abuse of patents

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I know that patents are abused, but this is outrageous. Virtual World News reports that Worlds.com filed a complaint against NCsoft for infringing on its virtual world and MMO patents. These two patents are about scaling virtual spaces and enabling users to interact and chat in 3D environments. They claim that this patent infringement applies in most of NCsoft’s MMOGs including City of Heroes, City of Villains, Dungeon Runners, Exteel, Guild Wars, Lineage, Lineage II, and Tablula Rasa.

Patents, like copyright, should protect . But to wait for a zillion years to sue just seems like a pathetic attempt to get some quick cash. If they win the case, will they move on to every other MMOG? Now, everything “massively multiplayer” including Second Life, PlayStation Home, and World of WarCraft are all vulnerable.

I can’t wait to hear Worlds’ side of the story. Interestingly, they’re located in Brookline- just a few T stops away.

Trading cyber money offline is illegal in Korea, er, unless you earned it fair and square

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Of all countries, it angers me that Korea thinks offline trading of cyber money is illegal. According to the wire service Yonhap, a local court in Busan fined two 30-somethings for trading Lineage cyber money with real money, saying they violated gaming laws. Judge Lee noted that the law forbids offline trading of cyber money, and that that would apply to regular games, not just online gambling sites. It would not have been a problem, the judge said, if the exchanges were made on an individual basis, but these men were doing it for business purposes. This implies that only people who shed blood sweat and tears (and vast amounts of time) playing online games have the right to “fairly trade” their virtual goods offline.

The ruling was somewhat outrageous, because these two people had been using cyber item broker sites such as Item Bay or Item Mania to buy cyber items at a low price and resell them at a higher price. In doing so, they had made about $20,000 in about two months. It wasn’t like they are employing people to play games or running a program to generate for auto game-play (both of which have been done in the past). They did what was legal and typical of anyone who plays the market. Smart guys.

The government tried to explain the rationale of the court, saying that the current game law only supports sales of cyber items that are acquired through “normal means.” Buying those items on an eBayisque site and reselling them is not “normal,” an unnamed government official said in the Yonhap article.

Naturally, the broker sites are not happy about the verdict, because the court’s interpretation could very well make them illegal. Gamers are interested in seeing how things will develop, especially because this was the first time a court made a ruling on offline trading of game items. Being a country where online gaming is a quasi national pastime, there is naturally a huge market for cyber item sellers and brokers. According to the Korea Game Development Institute last year, the market for that kind of trade is estimated to be about $700 million in Korea, not including individual trading and the black market, because the figures are based on tax reports filed by the broker companies.

When they first developed Lineage in 1998, NCsoft had no idea cyber items would be traded for cash offline. They realized it was a huge market when people were not only trading hard-to-obtain “items” for hard cash, but also game characters– for people who wanted to play at high levels but did not want to spend hundreds of hours developing their character. A similar problem happened in World of Warcraft, released by Blizzard in 2001. Blizzard had less trouble with the offline sales of cyber items, by making rare items acquired through quests non-transferable. However, that did not solve the problem of offline sales of in-game gold; although it tried to address som companies in the U.S., it has little jurisdiction over numerous gold farms in China, where people are paid to sit at a computer and play games to obtain cyber cash.

Why can’t we leave everything to the market to decide? For Korea, there is also the more complicated issue of online gambling falling under the umbrella concept of trading cyber goods for real cash than playing a fair game. In Korea, gambling is only allowed to foreigners with the except of one casino (tucked away in a remote mountainous location). Gambling on the Internet is also illegal unless all of your cyber earnings remain in cyberland. In addition to local web sites, the government makes sure Internet service providers block addresses of foreign gambling sites.

Of course, the matter of offline trading of cyber items has many people worried– not just gamers, but also the government, which is in an uncomfortable position because it is trying to nurture the game industry as a major driving factor for the economy while trying to clamp down on gamblers. A year ago, it amended laws on “game industry promotion” in which it attempted to create a basic framework to block cash exchange for gambling purposes and “other new types of digital property.” (That is quite ironic, given the fact that digital property and copyright was almost rendered useless in Korea because of its 99% broadband penetration and average household Internet speeds at 100mbps.)

Do we have to exercise so much control over online games? Why should game makers have entire control over their games? Second Life gives the perfect example of how the seamless exchange of cyber money and real money can fuel a virtual economy. But I think that is exactly the point. When the government talks about trying to boost the local economy, they are thinking of how to make things better for gaming companies. So Linden Lab would be a great example that shows how a virtual economy could be actively linked with an offline one without the game company itself making much profits.

It’s great that the government is trying to help out the game industry, but it really shouldn’t be making laws to snub the free market. They made a mistake and made a law so general when they were only trying to stop people from online gambling so now that it can be applied to almost anything. It’s only slightly comforting that Korea’s law system, unlike Western systems, is not entirely based on precedents because this ruling was obviously a bad precedent.

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