March 2, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of March 02, 2007
*Opening Note: Stefan Werning on Episodic Gaming, Part II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Multiplayers: A Preview of the Upcoming White Paper from C3's Alec Austin
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.
This week's update features an opening note from Stefan Werning, a C3 affiliate in Germany, who takes a look at episodic gaming "beyond business models" and compares them to current rhetoric about serialized television, in the second of a two-part series. The first part of this series appeared in last week's update. The closing note is a preview of the next C3 white paper due for release soon from Alec Austin. The piece examines massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Episodic Gaming: A Look Beyond Business Models, Part II
By: Stefan Werning
The following is the second in a two-part series from C3 Research Affiliate Stefan Werning about serial storytelling formats in relation to episodic gaming. The first half of this piece appeared in the closing note of last weekend's Weekly Update.
Last week, Werning examined a series of questions about episodic gaming based on a blog post from the C3 blog by Sam Ford back in December, focusing on whether serial television is a format or a genre. Particularly, Werning examined the conceptions of continuous spatial opening and expert knowledge in gaming.
An older blog article (http://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2005/12/tv_episodes_in_.html) provides a fresh perspective on how writing for a serial TV format could be adapted for writing episodic games. This process is technologically enabled first and foremost since most assets a game company produces (models, environments, shaders, textures, sounds) are being archived and tagged and thus made available for future use (maybe in a varied form) through asset management tools. Since these tools tangibly preform the spectrum of conceivable games (consider games made with the Speedtree engine to get an idea, although this only refers to the conceptualization of environments shaped by the desire to capitalize on a purchased piece of modular software technology), the key idea which ties the episodes together is paramount.
For instance, the momentum of these tools is a plausible reason for what, as quoted by the initially mentioned blog post, Jason Mittell termed 'unmotivated complexity' of recent TV formats. It is safe to assume that relying on database technology to manage not only digital 'assets' but also narrative elements of an episodic format carries the danger of uncritical overuse, i.e. falling into the pitfalls of what Lev Manovich sketched as 'database logic.'
Similarly, it could be speculated that episodic formats in print media might equally be on the rise due to a parallel, albeit less pronounced adoption of the same tools (databases of the diegetic components etc.) The recently increasing serialization of fantasy-themed books, however, must certainly also be attributed to economic patterns of transmedia adaptation, e.g. given the appeal of 'annual updates' of literary adaptations such as Harry Potter or Eragon.
Shifting the focus to patterns of media usage emerging around episodic content, a controversial but successful example might be KumaWar, an episodic 3D shooter transforming actual news events into a sequence of unrelated downloadable missions. (http://kumawar.com/) The title uses the 'Source Engine' which might suggest a particular flexibility of the engine that encourages episodic game production as evidenced in the surprising episode model for Half-Life 2.
Most importantly, I would argue, the the game ties in with the daily routine of watching a news program in the evening, thus inscribing itself into a set of socially acceptable, even constitutive cultural practices. Although it is hard to speculate on the success of the franchise since the game is not available in stores in Europe (as far as I know), the considerable investment in the 2006 engine update probably requires a reasonable number of monthly paying subscribers.
Since serialized game formats occupy a middle ground between hermetic games series and MMOGs, the latter already exhibits adaptable types of emergent behavior, even on a rudimentary level such as taking screenshots and arranging them in albums on-line. Different from e.g. music video production which attracted much more scholarly attention, the screenshots trigger an important concurrent cultural practice, namely the taking, archiving and presentation of holiday or wedding photos. (cf. e.g. http://starwarsgalaxies.station.sony.com/en_US/players/content.vm?id=66895) While Sony apparently decided to formally integrate these practices into the Star Wars frame narrative through their homepage, catering to these fan practices in the game would probably have a much stronger, yet technologically feasible effect.
Thus, principles of (para)social organization among media users that are as critically important for episodic gaming concepts as for MMOGs heavily depend on 'everyday' practices as e.g. Michael Billig pointed out in his book Banal Nationalism (1995). Greg Noble strikes a similar chord, strengthening the understanding of national identity as a product of common experience and practice rather than e.g. narrative. (cf. Noble, Greg "Comfortable and Relaxed: Furnishing the Home and Nation" Continuum 16:1, 2002: 53-66)
These texts might provide a framework of thinking about game mechanisms designed to foster (and, indirectly, control) cohesion between media users. For instance, 'nation' is already implicitly used as a metaphor for 'soft'-structuring MMOG audiences, i.e. modifying the parameters of their self-organization as Luhmann would phrase it. The existing rhetoric around MMOGs, with clans or other groups 'migrating' to a different server or game and companies 'governing' their game worlds, e.g. regulating in-game 'inflations,' demonstrates the applicability of this concept. Channeling players's re-telling of their 'virtual' national or other affiliation within the game, e.g. enabling players to create an in-game newspaper pertaining to their community, could dramatically enhance immersion; again, the 'real world' impact of newspapers on national identity is a well studied phenomenon, prominently investigated e.g. by Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities (1991).
Stefan Werning is a doctoral candidate and works as an associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn, Germany. He is a member of the working group 'computer games' at the German Association for Media Studies and writes on topics including e-learning solutions based on digital games and modeling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Famed Pro Wrestler to Take on Superman Artwork Project for DC Comics. The crossing over of a performer in one genre as a creator in another raises questions about cross-branding opportunities and the appeal Jerry "The King" Lawler's artwork for Superman will have to both wrestling and comic fans.
BooksPrice RSS Price Watcher Creates a New Variation on Comparison Shopping for Media. This business model provides for comparison media shopping for users with RSS updates when the price changes at any of several online retailers.
BitTorrent Transforms into Digital Video Store. BitTorrent continues in its efforts to go legit, but does it have the clout to make a major impact on the digital video store market against heavy hitters like Apple and Amazon?
Preparing for the Digital Conversion: Dingell Criticizes Industry and Government Alike. U.S. Rep. John Dingell criticizes almost everyone involved for the poor handling so far of preparing for the conversion to digital television signals and the subsequent public education campaign necessary. He posits that it's already clear the new deadline will not be possible, either.
Cramming That Genie Back into the Bottle: Industry Desires to Protect Copyrighted Video Online. A story by Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek recently focused on the business model surrounding protection of online content and the industry's desire to protect the status quo.
MobiTV's Users Double to 2 Million in Less than a Year--Signs of a Coming Explosion in Mobile Consumption? The mobile television content provider is hyping major growth, echoing recent predictions for a major boom in mobile content in the next five years.
Hip-Hop Japan. C3 Affiliated Faculty Ian Condry's new book provides an interesting perspective both on globalization in the music industry and also how consumer behaviors provide clues for the future direction of an industry, focusing on the growing Japanese rap and hip hop music industries.
First Round of Decisions in NBC Universal and WGA Spat Over Webisodes. NBC Universal looks to have lost its initial round with the WGA, but it's somewhat unclear what the goal was--and what the decision means for the production of Webisodes.
Finding More Nuanced Ways of Understanding Most Popular Sites, Posts. A recent post from Read/Write Web and the model of Todd And's Power 150 provides fodder for a continuing discussion about how to really measure Internet traffic and the popularity of particular sites.
Online Reaction to Proposed Bill for Government to Require ISPs to Retain All Tracking Data Indefinitely. Republican Rep. Lamar Smith has proposed the SAFETY Act, focused on preventing the activities of child predators but requiring service providers to keep ongoing records of users' surfing activity, IM conversations, and e-mail.
Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek. This post responds to a recent Flow essay focuses on trying to identify the phenomenon of game console fandom and where it ranks in relation to brand communities and media content fan communities.
Guitar Hero and Girl Gamers: Highlighting the Work of Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka. This post responds to a recent Flow essay about Guitar Hero and its appeal to girl gamers.
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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
A Preview of the Upcoming White Paper from C3's Alec Austin
The closing note in this week's newsletter features an extract from C3's forthcoming piece on Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Virtual Worlds. Written by Alec Austin, this is the first of two pieces looking at player motivation and participation in MMOGs and online worlds. Austin provides an overview of theories of player motivation developed for studying MMOGs, arguing these player models provide appropriate frames through which participation in Virtual Worlds such as Second Life can be explored. The paper draws provides a survey of the current state of MMOGs and draws together demographic data on participation in these spaces. It establishes some theoretical frames that act as a foundation for future research into using virtual worlds and MMOGs for community building and branding for the consortium
The following excerpts come from the paper's introduction and executive summary:
Few subsets of games have drawn more attention than Massively Multiplayer Online Games, or MMOGs. Much of this attention has stemmed from the realization that "real" money can be made in virtual environments. Edward Castronova's 2001 announcement that Everquest had the 77th highest GDP in the world drew a great deal of attention, as have more recent economic developments in Second Life, such as the real-world financial success of Aimee Weber (a virtual fashion designer) and Anshe Chung (a virtual real-estate baron). Despite the media's interest in financial success stories, however, relatively little media attention has focused on understanding the divisions between different kinds of Massively Multiplayer Online spaces (MMOs), who the players and users of MMOGs and virtual worlds are, and why they find these virtual spaces so compelling.
Models of Player Motivation
This is not to say that models of player involvement or motivation and studies of player demographics do not exist. Many of the models the game industry uses to understand player motivations date back to the 1970s and 1980s, when players engaged with text-based precursors to today's MMOs and virtual worlds. Player motivations in the game-like space have been explored extensively and are generally broken down into three dimensions: achievement, sociability, and immersion. Studies of player motivations in (non-game) virtual worlds, however, are thinner on the ground. Furthermore, while Second Life has attracted a great deal of academic attention of late, the culture and composition of its user base is changing with sufficient rapidity that much prior research may already be obsolete. As such, the best course for understanding player motivations in virtual worlds like Second Life may be to adapt models originally developed to understand player motivations in game-like MMOs.
Clearly, these virtual spaces are increasing in cultural relevance as they increase in popularity. It is becoming vital, therefore, to gain a better understanding of the nature of virtual spaces and the individuals who use them. Attempting such, this report focuses on three primary questions:
1.) What is the current state of the MMO field, in term of active MMOs, subscriber numbers and the like?
2.) Who are the players of MMOGs and the users of virtual worlds?
3.) What motivates individuals to engage with these virtual spaces as deeply as they do?
The bulk of the report will focus on players of MMOGs rather than the users of virtual worlds such as Second Life or Virtual Laguna Beach, due to the preponderance of studies focused on MUD or MMOG players. The models developed in this prior research for understanding MMOG players, however, can be utilized to understand the users of virtual worlds as well.
Alec Austin is a media analyst with the Convergence Culture Consortium and a graduate student with the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. His work focuses on how commercial concerns, ads, and product placement affect the content of (and audience reactions to) TV, movies and new media such h as video games and blogs. His work has ben published in The New York Review of Science Fiction and Web sites such as Strange Horizons and Savant, the latter of which he was a co-founder.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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