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It's All Games Now
November 7, 2011 6:47 PM   Subscribe

It's All Games Now: The Convergence of Games and Social Media (video, 61 minutes), is a talk given by Raph Koster, one of the lead designers of the MMO Ultima Online, at the 2011 Game Developers Conference Online in Austin Texas. In it he looks at how digital games have changed as a social experience from MUDs to World of Warcraft, where they are going in the future, and the bleed between games and the real world. Koster has posted a summary here on his site.

Koster has previously been discussed here.

In addition to his work as a designer, he's the author of the classic book on game design A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

A brief introduction to the 'magic circle' concept in game design, which is discussed in Koster's talk.
posted by codacorolla (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Raph is one of the most interesting and insightful game developers out there. I've been paying attention to what he has to say since way back during the development of UO.

He writes quite a bit on the net, I don't know why he doesn't contribute to the virtual worlds group academic/industry blog, Terra Nova. I've read it for years but it's become somewhat moribund lately.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:14 PM on November 7, 2011


Wikipedia gives a somewhat more comprehensible explanation of the Magic Circle.
posted by modernserf at 8:00 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


From modernsurf's link to the mighty PEDE:

According to Castronova, our culture "has moved beyond the point" where distinctions between the virtual and the real are helpful.

Shall I be the old fogey game designer to call BS on this, or does someone else want to be that this time?

Two specific problems I have with this:
1. "Virtual" goods are extremely cheap to produce and are almost entirely without duplication cost. Costs for real world goods are justified because of production costs; costs for virtual goods don't have that. Ultimately it's consumer recognition of costs that justifies prices, and ultimately profits. When this breaks down for virtual goods, the market will crash. I think this is a matter of time.

2. A wise man once said of a virtual world something like, "This world exists at the whim of the real one." There is not even a theoretical way to detach a virtual world's dependence on reality. It doesn't matter if you have PHAT LOOTZ in Elf World if you can't pay for your internet connection, or a computer, or, like, rent.

For example, when a pilot of a plane receives instructions from an air traffic controller, at that very same moment, somewhere in the world, there is someone flying a simulation of that plane, or something like it, on a similar flight path, and that person also receiving path instructions from a controller; all of this is occurring through VATSIM.net, a virtual air traffic simulation system. Through the website, flight simulation has adapted into a multiplayer format, and ordinary people get to interact as pilots and interact with air traffic controllers to create a natural reproduction of actual air traffic.

That's great, until someone takes that last step around the circle, and actually tries to get gamers to direct air traffic. Then you get alternating screaming fireballs careening through the skies and terrible trollzy LULZ.
posted by JHarris at 8:43 PM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


This "magic circle" thing can be found in everything from literature to film to art, it's not exceptional to video games, other than the specifics, it's what art is about, a mirror of life and life which mirrors art. A continual dialectic going on between art and life.
posted by stbalbach at 8:45 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This "magic circle" thing can be found in everything from literature to film to art, it's not exceptional to video games, other than the specifics, it's what art is about, a mirror of life and life which mirrors art. A continual dialectic going on between art and life.

I know. That's why I phrased it like I did and linked to the game design specific article that I did instead of linking to the wiki article.
posted by codacorolla at 8:49 PM on November 7, 2011


I'll just point out that the magic circle is quite contentious within the field of game studies, which Castronova found out to his detriment when he delivered a keynote at DiGRA in Tokyo back in 2007 based heavily on the theme of the value of videogames as a magic circle 'escape' from the concerns of reality.

That was quite the interesting Q&A session following.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:02 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This "magic circle" thing can be found in everything from literature to film to art, it's not exceptional to video games, other than the specifics, it's what art is about, a mirror of life and life which mirrors art. A continual dialectic going on between art and life.
posted by stbalbach at 8:45 PM on November 7 [+] [!]


It's even broader than a dialectic between art and life - Huizinga argues in his book Homo Ludens that play is a necessary factor in the generation and development of culture.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:39 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. "Virtual" goods are extremely cheap to produce and are almost entirely without duplication cost. Costs for real world goods are justified because of production costs; costs for virtual goods don't have that. Ultimately it's consumer recognition of costs that justifies prices, and ultimately profits. When this breaks down for virtual goods, the market will crash. I think this is a matter of time.

This already happens, albeit in a cyclical fashion. Anti-botting crusades in MMORPGs reflect the fact that MMO scarcity, whatever that scarcity happens to be (ISK, XP, whatever) is tied to the ability to convince players that they should grind rewards; when players decide they can't be arsed, they automate boring and repetitive tasks and come back rich as an end-run around it.
posted by rodgerd at 11:21 PM on November 7, 2011


"Virtual" goods have been common in "real" stock markets for quite a while. They are called stocks.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:32 AM on November 8, 2011


man i have to wonder what guy debord would say about this
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2011


You mean Guy Debord who designed wargames?
posted by Hogshead at 6:48 AM on November 8, 2011


You do know that we're all in a game that is currently being played by the 0.001%, right? However there's no save point, no respawn, and no guiding hand of the genial basement dweller. That's what makes it different -- it's a game, sure, but it's our game; we're the pieces, not the players.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:53 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bah. ".... it's not our game...."
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:54 AM on November 8, 2011


The summary sound like a reaction to games like farmville are taking over a large segment of the games industry. Lots of people don't care about the next ultra realistic FPS or know what to do in a creative free-form MMORPG, but will grab any extra 10 minutes to bump up points to beat out cousin Sally.
posted by sammyo at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2011


So many ideas in 60 minutes, it's hard to pick what to focus on.

As someone who is still making MUDs, the most important take-away for me was the idea that if I made an online social game with no communication protocols, no one would care, because the web has solved those problems better than I can. The flipside of that is, it really harms the illusion of the magic circle when instead of talking about your adventures and excitement inside the circle, you will do it instead via Facebook.

Does that mean games devolve in to essentially soccer matches - something to do with your feet/hands/fingers and to help build social narratives around which a community can form? Did you see how Bob scored that goal? Did you see how Alice slew that dragon? I think that trend will be arrested by games increasingly moving to pointless, thoughtless grinding activities (compare WoW levelling now to Vanilla), or letting the emerging time-poor money-rich customer base escape the grind by RMT, that won't happen: did you see how Bob spent 20 hours clicking cows, did you see how Alice spent money to buy that tank? Soccer remians interesting because of the contest of skill, something that's increasingly less the case in most MMOs.

So a social activity without any events to build social narratives and create social capital only makes weak links, and the magic circle fades a little more.
posted by kithrater at 7:15 PM on November 8, 2011


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