Future of gaming
February 23, 2010 12:00 PM   Subscribe

"Forget everything you did today. Clear your schedule and spend the next half hour watching this video. It’s a presentation by Jesse Schell, founder of Schell Games and former creative director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio. A veteran game designer, he is also on the faculty of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. In a talk at the DICE 2010 conference held last week in Las Vegas, he gave a presentation called Design Outside the Box. It is the most mind-blowing thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. And while this presentation was about the future of games, Schell could very well be talking about the future of technology."
posted by erikvan (65 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
I was a student in Jesse Schell's inaugural game design course at the ETC. He's an incredible instructor in a field that few people understand how to teach.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 12:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is so oversold I already hate it.

(MetaFilter: etc.)
posted by DU at 12:08 PM on February 23, 2010

Wait, you mean it's not Natal?
posted by NationalKato at 12:17 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Enjoyed watching this yesterday, especially the second half.

Also, I'm earning 10 points for something just by writing this comment! *super mario bros coin noise*
posted by localhuman at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2010

Why the shoutout to Brian Reynolds?
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:23 PM on February 23, 2010

I haven't watched it yet, but from the comments it appears this is some kind of incisive synthesis of all of my fears regarding the current state of gaming with its dopamine jacking achievements and microtransactions. Oh boy I can't wait until I have to worry about my status in the e-realm too! I'll check the video out first before I start cutting myself, though.
posted by palidor at 12:25 PM on February 23, 2010

This was disturbingly like watching a tech presentation by Mitch Hedberg.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:26 PM on February 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

This is so oversold I already hate it.

Don't hate.
posted by erikvan at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2010

I enjoy a nice mind-blowing. But 30 minutes of video is an awfully large buy-in. Would it be possible to break this down to one or two possibly-technology-changing bullet points?
posted by Joe Beese at 12:31 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Using the phrase Outside the Box, especially without any apparent irony, makes me quite a bit less likely to listen to your talk.
posted by Babblesort at 12:33 PM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

That was brilliant and depressing.

I've already noticed in my own life that I'll do the most tedious shit on xbox games to get achievements, but I struggle to do normaly, everyday shit, like cleaning my room.
posted by empath at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Started off pretty well, very insightful; but by the end he started sounding like the man with only a hammer...
posted by Mister_A at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2010

by the end he started sounding like the man with only a hammer...

Dude, we're game designers. We're going to solve all of life's problems with game design. That's why you pay us.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is an old argument, and a recurring one. Discussions on utopia/authenticity vs. dystopia/artificiality go back to Plato, if not earlier.

The idea that this game 'analysis' can be peddled to corporations, who will then peddle it back to us via mass entertainment lab rat levers embedded into all our everyday devices, seems to me, on the one hand, to be completely superficial, and on the other hand, to be deeply cynical. It sounds like a mixture of Idiocracy and 1984. The world he describes is one I'd run a hundred miles from. IMHO.
posted by carter at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2010

Would it be possible to break this down to one or two possibly-technology-changing bullet points?

First 10 minutes: a brief explanation of the psychology behind casual games of the farmville, webkins, mafia wars variety.

Then five minutes of a sort of strange digression about reality TV and organic groceries and authenticity, which to be honest I'm not really following what point he's trying to make here.

Then another digression about convergence and divergence in technology (technology diverges, except for things that fit in your pocket, like the iphone and the swiss army knife.)

At about 20 minutes he starts to get to the point: he's talking about applying these same psychological tricks to non-game situations: he namechecks fantasy football, geocaching, crowdsourcing games, weightwatchers point system, the"virtual plant" that shows up on your hybrid car's dashboard as existing examples.

After that he's describing near-future life as an MMO: points for brushing your teeth, doing your homework, eating your cornflakes. Gain levels for riding the bus instead of driving. Net-integrated sensors in every device to keep track of your score and upload them to Facebook or wherever. Tax incentives if you get a good enough score on your kid's report card or read the right books.

Basically he's describing an ubicomp panopticon, dressed up in a casual MMO point system.
posted by ook at 12:44 PM on February 23, 2010 [23 favorites]

The executive summary:

1. The most successful games today got where they are by exploiting psychological 'tricks' to keep us investing time and real money into them. Tricks like publicizing scores so people compete for higher rankings, and making costs come in small amounts, one at a time, so that we think 'Well, why not pay $5, I've already spent a lot of time on it.'
2. In the future, there will be more of this.

It was alright, but it wasn't really mind-blowing.
posted by echo target at 12:44 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

"What do these things have in common?"

Um, they're artificial means for people to compete with each other? And humans, being socially evolved, love that shit?

I kinda laugh because all you have to do is see people blogging shit like their shoe collection, or pictures of stuff they've bought, or twittering how awesome their new Apple product is, and you can see the game already working.

The only major game design crossover I'm waiting for in non-game life is for folks to start taking lessons from Final Fantasy games about menu design- I mean, fuck, you can make navigating a menu FUN means you're on to something.
posted by yeloson at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

And it's funny to see how game designers are succumbing to the idea that they can fix everything with game design. Kind of like when graphic designers got the same idea. Is Adbusters still being printed?
posted by echo target at 12:46 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Beyond the obvious stuff you can hand-wave away, (ubicomp panopticon, game designers think they can solve the world's problems with games) the intriguing thing here is that this approach, judiciously applied, could potentially lend a modicum of meaning to the dozens, if not hundreds, of absolutely meaningless decisions we make on a daily basis.

I mean, do I choose Rockstar or Rockstar Diet, this school or that school, these shoes or those shoes -- all meaningless. We all know the pictures are photoshopped, we all know the corn flakes contain just a fractional amount of corn. But there's a glimmer here of something that could lend a little weight -- perhaps just the right amount of weight -- to these kinds of decisions now that our primary tasks aren't hunting, gathering, and reproduction.

As usual, though, not holding my breath.
posted by fake at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

After that he's describing near-future life as an MMO: points for brushing your teeth, doing your homework, eating your cornflakes.

This used to be called "parenting."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

Oh, I can't wait til they take this idea and put it into actual WAR!

Bodies implanted with RFID - Kill counts tallied by each side -- every battle victorized, armament production tallied, ratio of armaments used vs produced giving a higher score for more efficient use of weaponry...

Oh, what kind of wonderful high scores could we have.

MULTI-WARRIOR CO-OP! Oh, such fun... GLEE!
posted by symbioid at 1:01 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is he serious about any significant number of people getting sensor implants so they can earn XP by high-fiving people that have matching advertisements tattooed on them (and other sensors which make sure the tats stay uncovered)? Or wearing sensors that phone home to their employer and insurance company? Because if so lol.

Although it would be interesting to see what the equivalents of grinding, boosting, and gold-farming would be for those technologies.

I mean, MW2 was almost unplayable for a couple weeks after Christmas while all the kids were boosting nukes, emblems, etc; and even now you can't go more than a couple games without getting messages offering to boost your prestige in exchange for MS points or headshots or whatever. I'm pretty sure once there's more tangible rewards for adults (like not getting kicked off your health plan) there will be way more people using exploits/boosting than doing whatever it is the game wants you to do while you're making money for some advertising firm.
posted by hamida2242 at 1:02 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also? Dude just ripped this off: http://www.chorewars.com/

Big woop, he's not that original. He just techified it up a bit.
posted by symbioid at 1:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

It was a really interesting presentation for several reasons:

1. He had some novel perspectives on trends in entertainment and gaming.
2. He made falsifiable predictions, which are the best kind of predictions.

I felt he stretched the "authenticity" argument to thin-- most of the surprise trends in gaming could only tenuously be defined as "more real/returning to nature" By what jungle-rope-bridge of the imagination is Guitar Hero's toy guitar reconnecting man with his primitive hunter gather roots?

Also, his "everything will be a gamevertisement" Maxheadroom-esque future had some problems. For instance, people cheat at games, especially if there's a financial incentive.
posted by justkevin at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

By the way, if you're intrigued by the whole "we can use game design to make the world a better place" hypothesis, you should also check out the work of Jane McGonigal (ilovebees, World Without Oil, The Lost Ring, etc.).
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2010

I actually don't want to sound like a hater. It's actually a very interesting concept, although not as ground-breaking as one would think. For example, the idea of providing positive feedback for driving habits that resulted in good gas mileage was a feature in some Audi cars from the 1980s -- a little arrow would light up on your dashboard. Not as interesting as a flowering plant, though.

Nike + operates similarly, and Wired did a series of articles about the visibility of personal metrics.

There's a giant sign I drive by every day that sums this up. A local person fed up with city politics placed it on his property, directly across from a large development project.

"People do only what you inspect, not expect."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:07 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dear Mrs. xXxRecep0n1st420xXx,

Blue Cross/Blue Shield takes the integrity of our policyholders very seriously. It saddens us to inform you that your policy has been rescinded due to

[ ] spawn-camping
[ ] preexisting condition
[ ] GTFO noob
[X] wallhacking
[ ] non-payment
[ ] glitching
[ ] OMG fukken HAX!
[ ] change of employment
[ ] use of third-party applications or services

We would love to welcome you back to our service. Please note additional fees and terms of service may apply. You can view available plans at any time via the Marketplace by pressing the Xbox Guide button.



Claims and Benefit Underwriter
Blue Cross/Blue Shield Health Plans
posted by hamida2242 at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

His book, the Art of Game Design, is excellent. I wanted to go to DICE this year, but forgot all about it until today.

I think Schell's got some good points here. He didn't actually say the words "augmented reality", but I think that's a closely related topic.

In the comments at the site, someone said that it will never go as far as he says in his final 10 minutes because people won't give up their privacy. I'm in partial agreement, but then again, I've never played the facebook games due to the privacy holes, and I don't think I would ever send my Wii Fit or DS walking meter info to a 3rd party company (like a health insurance company). But then again, if the incentives are high enough, who knows what could happen.
posted by johnstein at 1:22 PM on February 23, 2010

I watched this a couple of days ago and almost wrote an FPP on it. What stopped me was the feeling that doing so was exactly the kind of thing that would earn me points – "You helped a meme go viral! 100 points!" So maybe there should be a place in this future LifeGame for stubborn, pointless contrarianism. Or maybe that just earns you a special kind of points that leave you feeling even more patronised, like the "green points" you get on your supermarket loyalty card for bringing your own shopping bags.

I don't know what point I'm making. I'm still a bit disconcerted by the tone of the lecture – by the end, I couldn't remember if this intrusive dystopian future was being warned against or pitched.
posted by him at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've never played the facebook games due to the privacy holes

Just play them on the alternate fake account you have set up with a funny name and bullshit information; or as I like to call it "the account your girlfriend knows about."

Wait- I've said too much...
posted by hamida2242 at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2010

Scientology understood the power of "leveling" long before World of Warcraft.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

Dude, we're game designers. We're going to solve all of life's problems with game design. That's why you pay us.

For years I've robbed you blind and paid not a dime.
posted by clarknova at 1:31 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

For years I've robbed you blind and paid not a dime.

So there are still problems in the world. I rest my case.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2010

Now I understand what old people are feeling when they loudly and adamantly refuse to use e-mail or the internet.
posted by straight at 2:06 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

But that's what makes video games shit! Designers who can't craft compelling experiences instead lie to us so we'll spent time on their trash.

What we need are game designers who learn the art of selling their game, moment by moment, the way poets sell their sentences and directors sell their books. We do NOT need reality being crafted by people too lazy to learn a craft with any more subtlety than violence, competition, and consumerism.

Let Gabe Newell and Jonathan Blow give me Existence 2.0. The rest of you fuckers I don't trust.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

*movies, not books
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2010

This was excitingly depressing! I can't wait to not live in that society!

That said, I've never understood why the government doesn't just line all its property (and highways, at determined-to-be-safe intervals) with digital ads, and award you ad time based on your tax contribution (your choice: "This bridge brought to you for the next seven seconds by John Smith" or "Visit the JohnSmithCompany.com!")

Still, this video does point toward to that future point when the Web will become largely invisible-- when you will stop visiting websites, and as Yakov Smirnov would have, Website Visits You.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:34 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

And it's funny to see how game designers are succumbing to the idea that they can fix everything with game design. Kind of like when graphic designers got the same idea. Is Adbusters still being printed?

Makes a lot of sense to me--those of us who create for a living are incited to affect the lives of the people who patronize our products. I think that's why a lot of people go into design (of whatever flavor): to create and change, rather than merely consume.
posted by danny the boy at 2:47 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, it does appear that the life cycle of every 'designing' or 'engineering' field has a point where its members develop inflated enough egos to think of themselves as the saviors of mankind, builders of the future. I'll look forward to putting his book about the coming gaming based utopia next to Walden Two.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:09 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

With the sum total of human knowledge as it is, people have to be at least somewhat specialized. And good ideas can come from just about anywhere. So so if everyone tries to change the world, regardless of profession, the stuff that actually is a good idea will stick.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:19 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

him said "I don't know what point I'm making. I'm still a bit disconcerted by the tone of the lecture – by the end, I couldn't remember if this intrusive dystopian future was being warned against or pitched."

I think it's actually a bit of both. I know deep in my soul that my stepson would be back in college if XP and achievements were given out instead of grades. :-\

I think the question of whether life would be better or worse under such a regime is a good one.

Truth is, most nations in the world, even free ones, /already/ attempt to modify our behavior. Sin taxes attempt to disincentivize alcohol and tobacco use. Tax incentives, etc.

I find it strange that people would stop themselves (even in jest) from doing an action because some theoretical points might have been awarded. I think if that's the case, the incentive system is still influencing your behavior. I fail to see how this is any better.

Of course, maybe you'll win the "reverse psychology achievement" if you behave that way.

Great post, thoughtful post. Agree or disagree, it got me thinking.
posted by artlung at 3:20 PM on February 23, 2010

My actions, thoughts, value systems, and world view are already deeply incentivized by these little token things called "money".
posted by fleacircus at 4:02 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know deep in my soul that my stepson would be back in college if XP and achievements were given out instead of grades.

One of the smartest things my department in college (UCSD Computer Science) did was use a program called GradeSource. It set up anonymized leaderboards for your classes, so you could look yourself up by your secret number (a random six-digit code handed out at the beginning of the quarter) and see how you measured up to everyone else in class on every assignment, every exam, everything. Within minutes of every set of grades being finalized, you could see where you ranked on it.

I definitely felt more engaged in classes where I could see, homework by homework, where I stood exactly in relation to my classmates. If I was near the top, I'd work harder to stay there. People near the bottom could drop knowing exactly how screwed they were, rather than engaging in elaborate, pathetic guesswork.

Getting the top score on a homework or exam did feel like I'd just gotten an achievement. And once or twice I finished at the very top, which kind of felt like I'd just pwned an insanely hard boss.

I'm frankly shocked more schools aren't doing this now. It seems like it ought to be trivial to prove that it leads to higher student engagement and ultimately better scores in departments where exact scores are computed on assignments and exams. Letter grades might be a little less fun to follow, but I think still useful. An A means a lot more when you're one of two people that get one than when you're one of a hundred.
posted by crinklebat at 5:18 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Let's just all hope the game guys don't join forces with politicians and behavioral economists.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

While I feel his description of our coming achievement overlords may have gone on too long for the actual speech, I don't feel that it is too farfetched.

I have a suspicion that the people suggesting that the u[dys]topia he's describing won't come about because people aren't willing to give up their privacy that much, aren't the people who facebook and twitter 30 things a day. I've been in multiple discussions recently that seem to suggest one of the defining characteristics between the last two generations is their concept and expectations of privacy.

I also feel that the best thing to take away from the speech his final point: because our online society is becoming more like a small village, a panopticon like this doesn't necessarily have to be only an evil commercial feedback machine, it could force societal responsibility on us if created correctly. That's why he's appealing to game designers instead of ad men.
posted by doctoryes at 6:16 PM on February 23, 2010

Critics saying designers shouldn't be trying to change the world: What the hell is, then? I mean, as human beings pretty much our defining unique feature is that we're able to create lasting systems that pass down knowledge from generation to generation, so that every subsequent iteration of our race has learned, ever so slightly, more than the last one. It's a sort of mental evolution that comes not from our being smarter, but from our having a better vantage point.

Design speeds this process up. If design is the art of determining how things work, what the mechanics are, then every D&D player ought to know just how a design can bring people together or tear them apart. Every MetaFilter member ought to know. I've been working with online communities since I was thirteen, and running them since I was fifteen; recently I've been responsible for managing communities of people in real life. Absolutely the lessons I learned, about how to manage people, how to set tones, how to bring people together, translated to real life.

I think the problem is that a lot of people (and a lot of designers) see design as just putting a pretty facade on top of things. Real design, though, controversial guttural design, is about figuring out how to rip things apart and create better, conciser ways to handle things. Good design has the same effect on you that (to use my earlier line) good poetry does. There's a satisfaction that comes deep down when something's been made the right way. It makes your day and your life better. The bigger the design, the bigger the impact.

I'm somebody who fancies himself a brilliant cutting-edge artist sort, or at least a wannabe, and games have excited me for this very reason. The best games aren't games but worlds. When you make a game you're not telling one story. You're building up every single mechanic to be unique, to give off a certain message. It's subtler than movies and novels because it exists as a part of the physical world you make. At the cutting edge of game design are people trying to figure out how these small experiences add up, and how to create games that say a lot with a very little.

The rules that game designers are learning will affect the real world, certainly. But I don't want the rules to be the rules of the miserable fuckups that dictate almost the entirety of the gaming world. Those are rules about how to keep people addicted, how to fuel the machine. I hate the fucking machine. I hate that the machine is biased to help further its own goals. That's the problem that plagues every society on the planet.

The question in game design, the huge biggie that I would love to spend time solving, is: Do games have to be designed to so selfishly force players into them? Are we so selfish that the only way to drive us forward is by offering blatant material sustenance? Or is it possible that we can be driven forward by more positive things, like the promise of a meaningful experience, or, even more, just the subtle joy that comes from having one small thing made better?

These are questions we ask about the real world, too, but changing the real world costs money and takes lots of people and it's hard to gauge how it's all interconnected. When your world's virtual, you can have many more, test more thoroughly, iterate, take drastic risks. So with gaming we've seen worlds that are drastically different from the "hit block collect coin" model that's existed since the first game ever. We have games that people play for their sheer beauty. Worlds in which people are content to exist despite not having all the achievement points that the biggest games of today have.

If we can look at those new, edgy designs, and figure out what in them drives us to keep playing, what makes us dwell when we know we're not getting anything material out of it, then we can start applying those rules to the real world, and figure out how to possibly move society to a new beta where a lot of fundamentally fucked-up shit is solved from the get-go. I'm not saying it'll magically happen, but if it does happen it'll be because a designer figured out something neat. Kind of how run-off voting fixes the major bug in American democracy. Are there similar fixes for problems like poverty and consumerism and nonselfimprovement? I'm betting there are at least cleverer solutions than the ones we see right now.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:21 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

And for the record, I love game design and frequently pitch game elements to my clients. I don't think that the ubiquity of gameplay and game interface/design elements, as described in the lecture, is feasible or desirable–if everything is a game, then nothing is a game.

However, I thought that some of his insights were really wonderful, especially the stuff about Webkinz and Mafia Wars. And I agree that people are on a quest for authenticity, and I'd go so far as to say that that quest is highly competitive–for instance, with food, organic is so last decade; it has to be fair trade or locally grown or whatever. And music–there's a long-standing tradition of hating bands when they break, and accusing them of selling out–of becoming inauthentic. And Coke, it's The Real Thing. There is definitely some sense or feeling of authenticity that is missing from people's daily lives. There is a reality gap, and many of us are attempting to fill it with the most certifiably authentic consumer stuff we can find.
posted by Mister_A at 6:24 PM on February 23, 2010

Shut it off when he said he didn't know the Wii would be popular.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:00 PM on February 23, 2010

This is the future, especially when it becomes monetized.

We all know the market does not fully cover the costs (the externalities) of many transactions, game design, once everything can become an interconnected data source, will be a principle source of inspiration.

This is a difficult idea for me to express, every attempt I've had has failed, but this conversation seems closer than others I've had before.

Take brushing your teeth. True we already pay for the water, the toothpaste, the toothbrush, but imagine if we could measure the effectiveness of the action, people could possibly be paid to brush their teeth well if it translated into less dentist upkeep, others with a more lackadaisical approach could get docked 'points' (read money) as a type of insurance fund to afford their dental care. How much junk food do you eat, when do you eat it, how often do you brush your teeth? When you're eating junk food do you throw the trash away properly, or do you litter? deduction for littering, someone, somewhere will either pick it up (an opportunity cost) or it will in some (difficult for now) way be measure as environment cost which translates into points (read money).

I'm moving into digressions, but I want the scope of this idea to be clear.

This thread could very well be dead, but I'm going to try to gather my thoughts once more.

p.s. been lurking for years and finally broke down
posted by Shit Parade at 8:02 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

He seemed to move from children's demand games ("Can I have six dollars to play this game?") to teen demand games (Well, it must be worth $20 because I've been doing it so much," to "incentivizing" good behavior (tooth brushing) which doesn't cost more than a brush & toothpaste, (and you can do without the toothpaste by using soda). And underlying it all was the idea of "competition" and it's "rewards".

I think he's headed for a brick wall. To get to the behavior mod stage, people need the disposable income to invest in the first few levels of "reward", (like Joe Beese said. Recall that Scientology broke out during the '60s, when there was plenty of loose money around.)

Basing everything on a presumed human bent for "competition" is another mistake.

There are, IMNSHO, some extremely hard times coming. Disposable income is going to go far away in broad swaths of the populations of those countries that enjoy it now, (and the counterpart in poor countries will be worse). We will look to cooperation for reward, and "competition" will fade back into the game it actually is.

Or not.
posted by carping demon at 10:19 PM on February 23, 2010

I'm amazed how impartial he is towards the current crop of games in the first portion of the talk; moral relativism notwithstanding, I feel like the creators of the pleasure center-shortcircuiting franchies like farmville, club pengiun and so on are amongst the worst scum operating on the internet, right along with the various varieties of spammer.

Certainly there's a well established culture of appealing directly to those with less developed critical faculties (hyperactive advertising targeted at kids), creating routines through repetitive rote tasks and gradual rewards (MMORPGs), and so on, but these games completely abandon even the pretense of being anything other than profit-optimization machines.

It's really interesting to me that these exploitative, utterly content-free productions targeting the lizard brain are coexisting with a renaissance of utterly brilliant games that push the boundaries of storytelling, machanics, form and genere into thoroughly inspiring new territories -- I quit playing big-name games a few years ago, but had to come back for Portal and one indie release after another. This gives me some hope that genuine innovation (don't get me wrong, many of the games explicitly designed to mine funds from the players are innovative in the kind of tricks that they use, but I can't bear to use the word genuine to describe them), real stories and direct manifestations of creative spirit will triumph, or at least survive -- World of Goo has done very well, for example. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that optimization-oriented projects will ultimately win out, just because they can allocate every possible resource to getting eyeballs instead of delivering something worthwhile.

Of course, maybe I'm being needlessly skeptical; maybe the two approaches will merge and we will see games that carry a vision (one that doesn't involve dollar signs in the eyes) that are also hopelessly addictive by design as the norm. I'm not sure I would mind that much.

As for the overall projection of RPG mechanisms back onto the real world, I don't know. I feel like it's sort of a stretch, twisting the metaphor back onto itself. There's a lot of existing examples, like the Fitbit and the car he mentioned in the talk, which do share some game vocabulary but it's plain that the motivation is not derived from gaming as such. It's very likely that some lessons can be derived from the industry and applied in broader fields, but it's silly to think that the desires to quantify and compete derive from games and not the other way around.
posted by parkan at 10:55 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

MULTI-WARRIOR CO-OP! Oh, such fun... GLEE!

They made a movie about that: Gamer
posted by P.o.B. at 11:22 PM on February 23, 2010


you're missing the big point. What if everything you do is monetized in comparison with everyone else, everything adjusted to some sustainable/profitable threshold? This isn't far-fetch, how many transactions do you do daily, needfully, with a credit card?

What if at birth everyone had a 'credit card' and their activities were charged in a game-like atmosphere? A child's grades, their water use, their toiletry, first words, piano competitions? etc? Many libertarians (harhar) would strongly advocate a market solution to every human action.

This isn't about an opt-in-game, it is about restructuring human activity in concordance to some as yet to be defined end. Has anyone considered Jesse Schell's ending question?

"who in this room is going to lead us to get there"?

When every human behavior is given a score, who/what decides the cost/debit of their action?

Imagine not just when you purchase something, but every waking and sleeping moment you, as individual, are given(or taken) money depending on the benefit or cost of what you are doing? You already have electricity bills, water bills, weekly work debits, but what if you have bills/debits for toothbrushing?
posted by Shit Parade at 11:22 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Only just begun watching, but at 4:00, when he's talking about the Farmville slot machine, his voice and cadence sounds like he's channeling Mitch Hepburn. I was instantly reminded of "Man, where'd you get that banana?!" and now wondering if re-listening to that album might be a better use of this time.
posted by barnacles at 11:23 PM on February 23, 2010

I ended up listening to it all. Sorry, Mitch, another time. Overall, unimpressive, and certainly not mind-blowing. I'll throw out a few disconnected comments.
  • It seemed pretty clear before I did this, but I had to go and check the academic offerings at CMU. And as I thought, neither sociology nor anthropology were listed. He's talking about things that I promise have been theorized and described elsewhere, for decades, and I think he ought to branch out a bit and talk with other researchers and thinkers.
  • His talk depends too much on assuming that everyone plays games for achievements and awards and etc. Did anyone else see Iridic's comment in the Video Games for Medievalists thread? Awesome stuff, and in that is mentioned both differing gamestyles and links to more explorations about theory of games (and people) from 60 years ago. Schell should go read that. (and the mods should totally sidebar that link)
  • Oh, why I mentioned that is that I think Schell's talk might appeal to a number of my friends. They tend to be software developers, and they express a fair bit of OCD in terms of making sure they earn all the achievements for their XBox games. That's great, that focuses their play style for them. I'm 180º from them. Finish? Don't finish? Get all achievements? Don't get any? I simply don't give a shit. Schell doesn't seem to have taken gamers like me into consideration. This surprises me because – again! – there is a tremendous amount of research into game play styles and motivation specifically focusing on what drives people to do certain games. This is not new information, and I seem to recall data (can look up later for cites) demonstrating that teenage boys were over-represented in achievement-directed gameplay styles, for instance.
  • The class he mentioned in which XP were given out instead of grades and people levelled up? That's an approach that would work well for certain types of people (e.g., my friends, above) but moreover it's an approach that simply wouldn't work well for non-objective classes (e.g., non-math, non-CS).
  • It's rather snarky, but anyone who claims to have not imagined that the Wii would be successfuly and yet claims that he knows how the future of gaming will go doesn't seem like someone who necessarily knows what he's talking about.
  • Less snarkily, I wonder if my previous three points all combine to reveal something about Schell and his game design ethos – A)his ideas of what games, at their core are B)his target audience and C)those he surrounds himself with. I'm talking out my ass here, but I am starting to wonder about just how much he knows about non-14-25-year-old-male game play demographics: casual gamers, women gamers, older gamers, etc. Failing to take into account differing gameplay styles, failing to understand the Wii's appeal, being surprised by Farmville records, and his unilateral vision for what makes a game ... I dunno. Maybe CMU can trade him to an English department at a SLAC for a while to show him how the other half lives.
  • Christ, I spent too much time rambling on this. Overthinking a plate of beans, but as usual, gaming is a plate of beans I tend to enjoy overthinking.
posted by barnacles at 12:03 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

@Shit Parade

Well, the key assumption, when viewing the scenario you've described as a positive thing, is that there is a meaningful way to assign real, concrete, measurable and universal value to actions and choices in accordance with some notion of good.

A system that rewards you for exercising, eating healthy and so on is hard to label dystopian, right? Of course, even with this basic premise there's any number of problems (there's no single representative metric for how "healthy" a food item is: the consensus views in nutritional science change every couple of years, calorie counts are meaningless without the context of daily activity, individual proteomes and metabolisms vary considerably, and so on). None are insurmountable as technical challenges, but they do give you an idea of how much complexity is instantly invoked when you try to objectively quantify the world in a serious way.

The very idea that we're going to see something so utopian-minded doesn't hold up in the first place, though. Schell speaks pretty candidly about this; advertising (both the simpler get-paid-to-look kind and the more deliberate behavior modification we're seeing the basics of with these games) and the profit motive will be the primary drive behind all development. It's no secret that large retailers are pretty seriously interested in research (both academic and on-site), though frankly I'm not very sure it's been particularly effective in practice. This is partially because marketing has been an idea-driven rather than-data driven field; now that seems to be changing very, very fast. And when you view your customers as a pure optimization problem and you can train them with a sophisticated skinner box with no repercussions whatsoever, there is absolutely no reason not to strive to make them act against their interests every single time.

Granted, I can actually see pervasive measurement capacity being really great if the implementation went something like this: there's a number of independent, competing, heavily regulated "achievements providers" that can be subscribed to by consumers, either for purely personal discipline reasons (like the current quantified-self services FitBit, Nike+, Zumelife, etc) or as an optional data escrow service giving limited information to a third party for some benefit (for instance, the tracking toothbrush from the video can you a discount on your dental insurance for regular use). There is heavy privacy-protecting legislation, as well -- the toothbrush isn't allowed to reveal to your provider that you seem to be brushing your teeth at an odd hour.
Unfortunately, we all know how well regulation (particularly regulation of new and poorly understood fields) works; the more likely scenario is that the insurance company forces you to wear a low-cost blood glucose meter around the clock and jacks up your rates as soon as there's a suspicion you might be diabetic.

Now, I'm obviously taking this idea to an extreme (or at least to realization). I'm pretty sure the basic premise will gradually be realized in limited fields: fitness, health (hopefully prevented from compulsory use for insurance by something similar to the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act), possibly energy (obviously the mpg meters in priuses and growing trees and so on are entirely feel-good devices with no meaningful global impact right now, but visible energy metering does show promise for homes on a large scale). On the other hand, it's really hard to say whether something like foursquare will reach the critical mass to become "serious" and pervasive (but I have no doubts that some edgy dev studios will get their employees to checkin at meetings).

@barnacles I'm not particularly familiar with the academic work on this, though I'd love to read some key papers if you've got any references handy. I agree that Schell's admission of being surprised by the various successes kind of shook his credibility (the Wii? really?), though I suspect that may have been a rhetorical device. I think you're not quite on the mark with excluding the casual/female/older demographics from being open to manipulation: FarmVille certainly isn't populated primarily by hardcore FPS nerds, WoW reached a huge number of users that never played more than an occasional game of Bejeweled before, and so on. I will concede that some people are less susceptible than others, though.

Wow, this got absurdly long! Apparently the talk, while not mind-blowing, has been pretty stimulating.
posted by parkan at 2:26 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Shut it off when he said he didn't know the Wii would be popular."

"It's rather snarky, but anyone who claims to have not imagined that the Wii would be successfuly (sic) and yet claims that he knows how the future of gaming will go doesn't seem like someone who necessarily knows what he's talking about."

He's not saying he did not know it would be popular, not that it would not be successful, but that it would be the WINNING CONSOLE. He said: "We've had a lot of unexpected things in the game industry in the past few years... The Wii. I don't know Raise your hand if you thought that would be the winning console."

The Wii did not compare well to things like the PS3 in hardware and development effort, this in a time when the XBox has a great deal of popularity and was also making inroads in downloadable games and other social games. It was an untried platform targeted an untried market. That's what makes the Wii being the winning console a surprise. The Wii is not just a winner, it's a *huge* winner: check the worldwide sales figures from console wars [wikipedia]:

Wii – 67.45 million, as of 31 December 2009
Xbox 360 – 34 million,as of 2 October 2009
PlayStation 3 – 33.5 million, as of 31 December 2009

The Xbox 360 and PS3 are impressive feats of engineering, the PS3 has so much computing power they use it to crack encryption! The XBox 360 had downloadable content first. And yet, still the Wii is doing better.

For those of you saying his talk was shallow or can be easily dismissed or he's only talking about obvious stuff, well, who is doing a better job of this? I'd love to hear sources of discussion and writing about these issues with better quality, please share! Thanks.
posted by artlung at 7:40 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For some reason, when I watched it last night I had to suffer through half an hour of horribly unsynced video. I mean we're talking about a minute or 2 of disconnect between vid and audio, and every time a slide in his talk popped up it would rewind and chop. Working well now, but don't feel like rewatching.

Dunno if it was the "dis-sync" which didn't allow me to see the appropriate slides at the right time, but this talk didn't really do it for me.

I wonder, are all these trends particular to North America, or are other cultures equally motivated to earn points n stuff?
posted by spacediver at 8:19 AM on February 24, 2010

The world he describes is one I'd run a hundred miles from. IMHO.

At 50 points per mile you'd have like so many points!
posted by Locobot at 10:48 AM on February 24, 2010

I love all the people on here claiming that they knew the Wii was going to be a smash hit way before it came out. There was some fanboy optimism, but the overwhelming sentiment about the Nintendo "Revolution" mockups was that it was going to be totally underpowered and a complete failure. Honestly the thing reminded me of the powerglove which was a total piece of shit. Please show us, oh brainiacs, proof of your clairvoyance in the form of a written prediction dated 2005 or earlier that presaged your grandma using a game console for her everyday entertainment. And while you're at it let us know what is going to be the hot shit five years from now.
posted by Locobot at 11:09 AM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

When every human behavior is given a score, who/what decides the cost/debit of their action?

Basically, he's talking about developing a powerful behavioral tool for controlling people. What could possibly go wrong?
posted by straight at 11:44 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

spacediver: I had the exact same issue when I was trying to watch it. I ended up just listening to it.

parkan: good point about how susceptible other gamers may be to such manipulation. I still feel that it's not quite as ominpresent as he seems to present it. As for articles on game style and gamer motivation, let me dig up those citations again. I started into that sort of research during a bit email debate with friends a few months back, and the cites ought to be around here somewhere ...

Locobot: I searched my email archives and this is as close as I could get of my hopes for the Wii (called it the Wiivolution [Wii + Revolution] in this), in an email dated May 9, 2006:
Well then, sweet.  I'm all for Nintendo not being a niche product!  
It genuinely seems to me that it could well be something that 
Everyone Must  Have.  Just like Nintendogs put a DS into the hands 
of millions of people who otherwise would never have picked one up, 
I'd love to see the Wiivolution something that brings a lot of other
people into the Nintendo fold.
Does that count?
posted by barnacles at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2010

Wow, this got absurdly long! Apparently the talk, while not mind-blowing, has been pretty stimulating

Indeed! This has been a great discussion! Now, some citations for you.

Most of the work I found relating specifically to video games (mostly MMORPGS, it seems) and player motivation is done by Dr. Nick Yee, who is at PARC. What's really great is that he's kind enough to provide links to nearly all his papers directly from his CV.

To start out with, most articles which discuss online player motivation begin by citing Richard Bartle's Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs. Bartle described four basic approaches to how players tackle MUDs, based on his experience in running and building these game systems. Specifically, his interest was in how to build games that would have some manner of balance between the player types. In a nutshell, he said that there were four main motivations for play (this was within a MUD context):
  • Achievement within the game context
  • Exploration
  • Socializing
  • Griefing
This basic typology of online gamers is expanded upon and critiqued by later work, but Bartle really set the stage.

Now, onto Yee's research. I'm going to present it in chronological order, ascending, so that if you decide to read it you can see his work develop over the years. He started out with some pretty general conclusions but he's been doing some terribly interesting refinement of them. Skip to the end if you want the gist, I suppose. Also, I have tried to link to publicly-available versions of all PDFs, but if folks cannot access some of them and really want to, MeFi mail me and we can see about working something out.

In 2006, Yee published a short article Motivations for Play in Online Games which built upon and modified Bartle's typology into a total of 10 motivation subcomponents in 3 categories, any combination of which could make up the primary play style of a particular gamer. These are:
  1. Achievement
    • Advancement
    • Mastery of underlying mechanics
    • Competition

  2. Social
    • Socializing
    • Teamwork

  3. Immersion
    • Discovery
    • Role-playing
    • Customization
    • Escapism
In an article from 2006, The Psychology of MMORPGS: Emotional Investment, Motivations, Relationship Formation and Problematic Usage, he goes further into different motivations and how they match up with the different demographics of players. Here is an interesting passage from that (page 14) which goes into the ways in which motivations have slight differences expressed along M/F lines and also shifting with age:
It was found that male users score higher than female users on Achievement and Manipulation, whereas female users scored significantly higher on the Relationship, Immersion and Escapism factors. In other words, male users are more likely to engage in these environments to achieve objective goals, whereas female users are more likely to engage in MMORPGs to form relationships and become immersed in a fantasy environment. These gender differences resonate with findings by Cassell and Jenkins [33] and suggest that MMORPGs do not have one set of factors that appeals to everyone equally well, but instead, have a host of appealing factors each of which draws in users with different motivations. With regard to how these motivations related to usage patterns, among male users, age was inversely correlated with the Manipulation (r = -.33, p )
Another article from 2006, The Demographics, Motivations, and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively Multi-user Online Graphical Environments has much more data along the same lines, and includes more about the methodology used in his research.

A 2008 article, Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile goes into depth about the sorts of people actually playing online games and how they don't fit the stereotypical teenage male profile, not just in gender and age, but also in primary motivation for play (e.g., achievement, killing, etc.) and how there isn't a good theoretical background for discussing games and gamer play styles that focus more on other motivations.

In a 2009 article, Looking for Gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers the research into motivation continued, and data showed that males (of course, take this as saying that these behaviors are culturally-conditioned, not biological, more in the next paragraph!) placed much higher emphasis on achievement as the primary motivation for game play.

Getting to biological versus cultural, he has a 2008 book chapter (Maps of Digital Desires: Exploring the Topography of Gender and Play in Online Games) that specifically refutes the idea that differences in male versus female game play have anything to do with biology. It includes the fascinating bit that Chris Crawford believes Evo Psych underlies differences in male/female game play. Tsk tsk, oh Chris .... Anyways, in that chapter he further refines his previous research on differences in motivation and finds that those differences that he had chalked up to gender are actually far better correlated with age. That is, younger players are more competitive and driven for power and the fame of achievement. When they mellow out with age, they don't care as much about such things and move on to emphasising other play styles (styles of play, I point out, that wouldn't be so well rewarded by Schell's system of experience points and level ups!).

Those are the main Yee articles that I would direct you to. Check his CV, though, he's been very prolific and you might find more of interest.

A couple other articles that I had sitting on my hard drive that might also be of interest along this line are the following.

The "What" and "Why" of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior by Deci and Ryan, 2000, is an article I found quite interesting because it gets into the psychological underpinnings of motivation, and whether that motivation comes from sources intrinsic to a person or extrinsic, and the ways by which extrinsic motivation can become internalized. I've only skimmed it, I admit, but it has links to a lot more motivation theory (stuff which I would love to find time to read).

In googling to find a link for you for the last one, I found another article that ties that one together with Yee's stuff, The motivation pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach. It uses the theoretical underpinnings from the previous article and looks like it compares some of their results with the motivations described by Yee. Skimming quickly, looks like they also found a high effect of age on achievement motivation. There are lots more conclusions and stuff in there, I should read it.

I have officially spent more time than I ought to have on this. I regret nothing!
posted by barnacles at 4:18 PM on February 24, 2010 [13 favorites]

Barnacles, that also reminds me of Joel on Software's articles on the utter failure of extrinsic motivations (trying to get people to do things for a reward like money, recognition, or a "score") and evaluating work using scorekeeping metrics in the business world.

Incentive Pay Considered Harmful: at least two dozen studies over the last three decades have conclusively shown that people who expect to receive a reward for completing a task or for doing that task successfully simply do not perform as well as those who expect no reward at all.

The Econ 101 Management Method: But when you offer people money to do things that they wanted to do, anyway, they suffer from something called the Overjustification Effect. “I must be writing bug-free code because I like the money I get for it,” they think, and the extrinsic motivation displaces the intrinsic motivation. Since extrinsic motivation is a much weaker effect, the net result is that you’ve actually reduced their desire to do a good job.

Sins of Commissions: His point is that incentive plans based on measuring performance always backfire. Not sometimes. Always. What you measure is inevitably a proxy for the outcome you want, and even though you may think that all you have to do is tweak the incentives to boost sales, you can't. It's not going to work.
posted by straight at 12:27 PM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I finally watched that all the way through and the more I watched more odious that talk got. I mean he was shoveling some serious garbage there at the end. The funny thing about it is that I do behavior mod work with kids on a daily basis, and it is absolutely used to make them into "better" people, but that talk had some vile things included.
Then he got to the end and asks "who in this room is going to lead us to get there?" and I just kept thinking "man, who's going to open up all the deprogramming centers because those people are going to be making boatloads of cash?"
posted by P.o.B. at 1:08 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Welcome to Federal Court   |   Beer beer-ah, luht-fen! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments