Thanks for an amazing Extra Life!

Bringing the possibilities of the Galaxy to you!

outer-spaceOuter Space is totally awesome.  It is a vast unknown made even more desirable by its unattainability.  Who hasn’t looked up at the stars and wondered at the secrets it holds: Other worlds where life may flourish? Wormholes and other crazy, cosmic anomalies? Matt Damon fist-fighting Matthew McConaughey?  I dream of a new Age of Discovery in space with rockets launching daily into the sky, en route with fresh explorers and colonists and filled with the same wonder and optimism as the European voyages of the 16th century – except without all the communicable diseases and slavery.

Unfortunately, while the United States space budget is still easily the highest in the world, it is a shadow of its former 1960s glory.  The current political climate doesn’t seem to have space exploration as a priority above petty terrestrial issues such as “stable economies” and “not killing one another.”  Even though it looks like we may be getting the hoverboards and self-lacing shoes predicted by Back to the Future II, with unfortunate setbacks like the Virgin Galactic crash and Ted Cruz basically being put in charge of NASA it seems human space exploration and colonization will have to remain a dream for now.  Even the scientists and other professionals in the space industry are forced to watch from afar while robots get to do all the real exploring.  Lucky robots.

unnamed-2Fortunately for those of us who like to lose ourselves in a little escapism, virtual space exploration is available in the form of video games.  Though gaming can be a nice distraction from reality, they can also focus and inspire scientific discovery like many science fiction television shows, films and books have in the past.  I’ve been on a bit of a space gaming kick lately so I thought I’d share some of the games that scratch that particular space itch.

Space Engine
From the creator: “(Space Engine is) a free space simulation program that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies.”  It is a very pretty, free space explorer.  Though it honestly doesn’t have what some would consider “gameplay.”  It is more of a Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” simulator, letting you explore worlds that are both real and procedurally generated.

Elite: Dangerous
The fourth game in the long-running Elite series and further into the sci-fi spectrum, this online space shooter/trader/explorer gets props for using real astronomical data combined with fast-paced flight and combat.  If you have played similar games like “Wing Commander: Privateer,” then you may have an idea of what sort of game this is.  It is especially immersive as it supports TrackIR head tracking software and HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick) setups natively.  It also boasts a map of more than 400 BILLION systems that you can visit, though not in any human lifetime.

EVE Online
Cutthroat space capitalism – the MMO.  This massive multiplayer online game takes place in a distant galaxy and focuses on player controlled factions out in deep space.  It boasted what was probably the most impressive star-map until Elite: Dangerous came along.  You can sit in the small, heavily policed “Player Versus Environment” (PvE) area if you want, but you’ll be missing out on the greater metagame taking place in the outer reaches of the galaxy.  If you have ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a tiny pawn in a great economic war machine, you can join one of the many completely player owned and operated megacorporations.

Kerbal Space Program
unnamed-3Okay, forget those other games.  This is THE space game.  Kerbal Space Program seeks to simulate all the aspects of running your own space program, from orbital physics (what the heck is an “apoapsis?”) to atmospheric drag.  The game features a career mode where you must conduct research and secure funding, and a sandbox mode where you may build rockets to your heart’s content. Never mind about exploring distant star systems, in KSP you’ll be delighted just to get your scrapped together rocket into orbit.  Experience all the elation of landing your plucky crew of Kerbals on the nearby moon and the horror when you realize you don’t have enough fuel to make it home.  The creators have even collaborated with NASA to create in-game missions such as an asteroid interception.  The game is technically still in beta, but there is plenty of content to keep you busy.

There are of course a number of other promising space-themed games out there.  Among them are the upcoming “No Man’s Sky” and “Enemy Starfighter.”

The point is while the Space Age of Discovery may still be very far in the future, we can use our existing technology and resources to bring space to us in the form of computer games and simulations, tv series and films, books and tabletop RPGs.  I remain optimistic that the seed of inspiration brought by these mediums will eventually grow into a future where we can get over our earthly selves and look towards that next, seemingly impossible frontier – and exploit the HECK out of it.

Kevin Ley
Project Manager

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4 Key Takeaways from PlayStation Experience

Metaverse Tumblr Playstation ExperienceThe phrase ‘Vegas, baby!’ has a whole new meaning for us, after an incredible weekend at PlayStation Experience.

A small contingent of Metaverse mods accompanied me to the Sony PlayStation event, where we managed to capture and share a healthy dose of photos and videos on our Tumblr account.  There were booths and playable games for as far as the eye could see, character cosplay, the bright lights of Vegas, life-sized replica content, and long, long lines of people anxiously awaiting entry to speakers, announcements, and concerts.  If you want a full view of the experience, I highly recommend you scroll through our Tumblr posts from the weekend.

Here are a few of my take-aways from the weekend:

1. When Music Meets Gaming

My favorite part of the weekend was the A Night Under No Man’s Sky concert. Hello Games, the developer of No Man’s Sky, invited the band 65 Days of Static to perform live, while synced game footage played in the background. The band has been composing the music for the game (which will be out next year). It was an amazing crossover of games and music.

2. Drawn To Death

drawntodeath1A great surprise this weekend wasn’t just the announcement of David Jaffe‘s new game, Drawn to Death, but the manner in which the development team handled their live demo.  The game was announced at the keynote, and subsequently it was available and playable on the show floor. The best part (and typically unheard of) was the fact the development team was completely available to chat after you played. We spent a good 10 minutes discussing the good and bad parts of the pre-alpha demo.  They were open to all feedback, which was very refreshing to see.

Here’s a trailer for the game (not for the squeamish):

3. More Virtual Realty

project-morpheusI’m happy to say that VR isn’t just hype. It’s real, and really amazing! We showed up early on Sunday to make sure we got to try out Project Morpheus, a PlayStation VR headset. It was incredibly immersive, and it is a peek into the future of games.

It may not be available for a while, but it’s going to shake up the industry when it does come out.

4. No Man’s Sky

Again, a big take-away from this weekend is that No Man’s Sky is the game to keep your eye on.  It will usher in a wave of procedurally generated games without a doubt.  Why is it so revolutionary? When playing, you won’t ever see the same thing twice.  This new approach to with technology, story, and gameplay ensures a true sense of discovery and a unique experience.

We cannot thank our friends at PlayStation enough for the tickets to the event. It was incredible!  If PlayStation Experience was any indication of the industry’s creativity and progression, 2015 is going to be an epic year in gaming.

Matt Hostler
Account Manager

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Vegas Bound: @PlayStation Experience 2014!

Playstation Experience 2014Sometimes we are offered amazing opportunities from our clients — and this weekend is a perfect example!  Sony’s Playstation team is holding their annual event in Las Vegas today through Sunday, and we will have a small contingent of our finest in attendance (thank you Sony!).

What is PlayStation Experience?

PlayStation Experience is a massive two-day community event dedicated to the people who bring PlayStation to life, our fans. At PlayStation Experience you will have access to over 400,000 square feet of the best PlayStation games across multiple platforms, panels and keynotes lead by the industry’s most regarded development team, contests, signings, giveaways, merchandise, memorabilia and much more.

At our heart, we are a community company.  We’re not only 100% concerned with the happiness and health of our clients’ communities, but our legion of mods often represent the participants, leaders, and the early adapters in hundreds of communities, beyond work hours.  Attending this event is an honor and very exciting for our team.

Metaverse TumblrOur super PlayStation-enthusiast, Matt Hostler, will lead the charge on behalf of our team at the event, tweeting (@Metav3rse) over the coarse of the weekend as well as posting to our Tumblr page at Metaversemodsquad.tumblr.com. We’ll also make sure to share a blog post recap of the experience next week, and post some of our favorite photos on our Instagram account (@MetaverseModSquad).

Izzy Neis
Director of Strategy and Engagement

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Play it your way, #Skyrim Edition

imagesSkyrimthe 5th game in the highly successful “The Elder Scrolls” franchise by Bethesda Softworks, was launched in 2011, and today is it’s 3rd Birthday (or Anniversary, if you rather).  Although there are other versions available, for example Elder Scrolls Online, which launched in April of this year, I’m still making my way through all of the downloadable content available for Skyrim.

I love to mod my games.  For those not familiar with “modding,” it is a term for the art of modifying program code of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version.  Mods come in a variety of options:

  • Total Conversions which may create a new game by replacing all game related assets,
  • Total Overhauls which redefine gameplay styles, yet stay within the set universe and honor the original plot lines. Overhauls replace models, textures, dialogs, the style in which you play and so on. Often content is not replaced but added, and a modular approach is offered.
  • Add-Ons are usually smaller packs that add to the original content. It can be a weapon pack, more options for your hero’s hair, extra guilds/factions, or “Winter is Coming” style cloaks. Add-ons are mods that do not change anything in the original game.
  • Unofficial Patches deserve special attention. They fix bugs as well as open up content that is hidden in the released game because it didn’t get finished or the developers had decided to not follow through with an option.
  • Art mods are rare and often border on total conversions or total overhaul.

A lot of PC games are mod-able, and many game companies support the art of modding. Skyrim is one of the games that can be modded using Bethesda Softworks’ Creation Kit. This kit permits a player to build entirely new lands, new quests, new plot lines, and complete customization of every character involved.

My Little Pony Mod for Skyrim

My Little Pony Mod for Skyrim

The sheer amount of mods available will pretty much guarantee that each player can shape the game world at his/her pleasure.  The mods I have enabled maybe use 1% of the capacity of this kit — it is breathtaking what can be done with it!  For those who think this process sounds overwhelming: you don’t have to make mods yourself.  It is fairly easy to find mod packs, modding tutorials, and tools for organizing your mods to make them play nicely with each other.

Here are a few resource sites that I have found really helpful, particularly for beginners or people who are a bit rusty with the art of modding:

  • Gopher:  Modder, gamer, and a fantastic source of tutorials and reviews.  Gopher has a very systematic approach to things, his videos aren’t rushed but thorough. Start with his Beginners Guide series. After watching it you will be ready to download and install mods the correct way.
  • Brodual:  Provides categorized mod reviews – constantly updated. Brodual packs lots of information in his videos, so he covers a lot of ground in a short time. His comparison videos are excellent, as are his “Top 10 … “ videos.
  • G.E.M.S.: A good overview over Skyrim mods, and the content is sorted into Categories. It is basically a list of all mods the G.E.M.S. team has liked, with links to their download location.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.31.55 AMI would post my own mod list, but it is 159 mods long and growing. However, if you like playing cat races (I do, always!): Khajiit Speak is a must have! So are Better Claws and Moonpath to Elsweyr. And if Kharjo isn’t enough to keep you warm at night, get Inigo.

Enjoy the Khajiit’s Meow!

Uta Coke
Mod

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Exciting Updates to our Extra Life 2014 Event!

unnamedThe past few weeks have been the coolest few weeks of my tenure at Metaverse. Recently, we announced our participation in the Extra Life 2014 event (happening this weekend, October 25 – 26), and we’re excited about some huge updates regarding the event….

But first, curious about Extra Life?  It’s a 24-hour gaming charity that allows groups of gamers (be it board, PC, or console gamers) to raise money for local hospitals within the Children’s Miracle Network.

unnamed-3Extra Life and the Children’s Miracle Network are really close to my heart.  I was born three months premature, and my family would not have been able to afford medical treatment without The Children’s Miracle Network and the Geisinger children’s hospital in Danville, PA.  Any and all donations matter greatly, and with Extra Life they go directly to the kids and the families who need help the most.

Now for the exciting update: the generous donations from all our supporters have gained us an invite to the Extra Life United 2014 Tournament and Momentum – CMN Hospitals’ Celebration 2014 November 11th-14th!  I will be attending on Metaverse Mod Squad’s behalf, and I am both excited and honored.

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The Extra Life United 2014 Tournament is an inaugural tournament where 64 competitors get to compete for the 4 top spots. Those top 4 players get to face off against 12 popular Twitch streamers. The top prize is $50,000 for the lucky winner’s local CMN hospital, and the top 6 players will get some prize winnings for their local CMN hospital as well. Unfortunately we won’t know the PS4 game until we arrive in Orlando for the event (no upper hands for anyone!). The tournament will be streamed live by Twitch, so please tune in November 11th-13th!

unnamedThe Momentum – CMN Hospitals’ Celebration 2014 is an amazing conference that allows everyone to learn more about Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, their partners, and some of the children and families we are striving to help.  Be sure to keep an eye on the Metaverse Twitter (@Metav3rse) and my Instagram or Metaverse Mod Squad’s Instagram (@metaversemodsquad) to catch a glimpse!

Thanks to everyone who donated to our Extra Life team! Without you this amazing event invitation would not have been possible. You’ve given us the chance to help the CMN kids’ and their families even after October 25th!

Please be sure to also continue to spread the word about our Extra Life, and donate if you’re able. Your support is both awesome and so very helpful.

Jay Biros
Project Manager

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Remote Working Tip: Gamify Your Exercise!

get-fitSitting around on a Wednesday night, or between shifts on a Saturday?  None of your typical movies or games peak your interest?  Maybe squeeze in a workout?  I know, I know, exercise is tedious and exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be…  With your own exercise playing cards, every workout session is new and exciting!

My girlfriend and I both have trouble keeping to an exercise schedule.  Any trainer will tell you it is important to evolve your workout regime as you progress, but this can be a daunting and confusing task.  To avoid having to continually update our workout, we created Exercise Playing Cards.

gaming_poker_cardsTake a deck of poker cards and write exercises on each of them.  For example, one card might have “10 pushups,” or “20 lunges,” or the dreaded “10 burpees.”  Then shuffle your deck and set a goal for how many cards you want to accomplish.  Flip your chosen number of cards and voila! you have your unique exercise challenge set in front of you.

For extra fun, add values to the cards and rack them up during the week.  The person with the highest value gets a prize!

We started out attempting five cards at a time, how many will you attempt?

Rick Fillmore
Project Manager

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Metaverse Mod Squad Participates in Extra Life 24 Gaming Event

extralife2012_300x250We’re going to be streaming 24 hours of gaming NON-STOP from our Sacramento office in support of this amazing event called Extra Life — it’s going to be crazy awesome!

On October 25th to the 26th, starting at 8 am, tune in to our official Metaverse Twitch-cast as we tackle titles available on Sony Playstation 4 and PC (list of games to be shared soon).  We’ll have local staff from our call center, and we will loop in various remote staff throughout the 24 hour event.

Why?  Why 24 hours of gaming revelry and shenanigans?  Because we’re on a mission to help save children, and we need your help!

UC-Davis-Childrens-Hospital-Launches-New-Telehealth-ProgramOur local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, UC Davis Children’s Hospital, treats thousands of children each year, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.  Children’s Miracle Network is a non-profit that raises funds for 170 childrens’ hospitals, with donations that fund medical care, research, and education that save the lives of 17 million children yearly.

These children are facing health nightmares like:

  • Cancer
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Incidents from Accidents
  • Leukemia
  • Heart defects

…The list goes on.

DSC_5286-300x264At Metaverse, we are tasked with keeping children safe on the Internet every day, and we take that charge quite seriously, both online and offline!

In order for us to succeed in this venture, we need to raise donations for the cause. It’s our sincere hope that you’ll find it in your heart to support our efforts with a monthly pledge or one-time gift that will go directly to our hospital. Every single dollar counts!

By the way: we also invite you to join in the fun.  We’ll have an active chat going from our Twitch account, so you can interact and support our team.  We’ll also share account names and games as the date gets closer, so you can join us in-game as well.

Matt Hostler
Account Manager

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The Not-So-Curious Case of Notch and the Minecraft Escape

imagesI play Minecraft. Most of my personal Minecraft experience circles around building a super mansion, exploring for more crafting items, getting lost, and then essentially building afresh (I am on mansion number 45, I believe).  Otherwise, I’m watching TobyGames (aka Tobuscus or Toby Turner, my YouTuber crush) sing songs about mining diamonds (it’s an oldie, but a goodie), or Yogscast.  In 2012, due to video moderation on a kids’ site, I think I saw the Gangnam Style parody Minecraft video over 400 times (le sigh).  With the exception of that last little tidbid, I love Minecraft, and I’m not alone (in fact, Metaverse Mod Squad has a server for the team to play together – we’re that cool).

To date, Minecraft, a free-to-play sandbox experience, has been purchased by 16,727,368 people, racking in over $350,000 a day on the computer (PC/MAC) alone – again, that is not including the various gaming platforms.  According to Venture Beat in February of this year:

  • Sales had crossed 35 million (all platforms), which included:
  • 10 million copies of Minecraft: Pocket Edition for Android and iOS,
  • 10 million copies of Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, and,
  • 1 million of Minecraft: PlayStation 3 Edition (only became available in December of 2013).

All of this from an indie-development company in Sweden. Well played, Mojang – or, more notably (at least in its 2009 infancy), well played, Mojang-founders Markus “Notch” Persson and Jakob Persér.

images-1Last week the purchase of Minecraft by Microsoft hit the tech gossip blogs and gaming forums.  It was not a universally celebrated concept, to say the least.  This week the purchase (whopping $2.5 billion) was confirmed.  As articles hit the web, debating the future ramifications of this deal, a blog post popped up from Notch regarding his relationship to Minecraft, Mojang, and how this deal helps seal his departure (emphasis on HELPS).  It’s well worth the read, but this is the part I found essential:

“I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me.  I’m not an entrepreneur.  I’m not a CEO.  I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.”

Cue flashback to February 2014 and Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird take-down, due to stress over success and reactions from public. 

Microsoft-minecraftLately, reading various game news sites, I can’t help but sense a growing trend of game developers who are frustrated with the perceived expectations and responsibilities of the public upon reaching some level of success. As moderators of a great many game forums, we see the good and the bad, the celebrations, and the hateful rants. Trolls run rampant in the gaming community – the bigger the target, the more explicit the cruelty, it seems.  But I digress….

I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal, and I feel like Minecraft is right up Microsoft’s ally, and I feel like somewhere Bill Gates is giddy, like a kid at Christmas – think about it, he’s very supportive of tech education, code development, construction, and possibility.

My favorite article, in the aftermath, has been from Techgeek, which had this gem of a video:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.20.31 AMAdults may pander to the drama of tech-gossip, but kids?  Ask any 11-13 year old what they have on their cell phone, chances are you’ll here Clash of Clans, Instagram, and Pocket Minecraft.  My 13-year-old, LEGO-loving godson plays it regularly, and my 6-year-old superhero-loving godson just got it for his birthday (it was his main request).  Every child I have focus-tested in the last two years has it, has played it, or watches Minecraft videos.

As long as Minecraft can continue to allow the collaboration, continue to keep the concept simple, and continue to walk that line of entertainment and education, I’m all for the merger!  So, best to you, Notch, and BRING IT ON, MICROSOFT!

Izzy Neis
Director of Strategy & Engagement

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When Playing Online Isn’t Enough: #LAN Parties and You

It’s a tense round of Titanfall

I’m running across the rooftop of a building in the Angel City map, desperately chasing the last survivor of the rebels as he makes his way to the extraction point in this round’s epilogue. I wall-run to gain some speed, and he makes a vital mistake: he holds still to shoot one of my teammates. I drop behind him and with a snap, end his round.

unnamedIt’s a story I’ve had play out many times playing MMORPGs from my computer; but, this time it was a bit different.  Instead of chuckling over Ventrilo (or some other VOIP software), I instead stood up from my seat, looked to the other side of my table, and stared into my opponent’s eyes, smiled and winked.  Not a moment later, the rest of my team cheered around me, and that round of the tournament was over.

This event occurred last month, and I was at a LAN party called PDXLAN in Portland, Oregon. My team won the heated match against another group in the gigantic room that holds 500+ people and their computers. It was amazing!

A LAN party, or simply LAN, as it’s also known, is a group of people who bring their own PCs, jam together tightly in a room, hook the computers to a Local Area Network, and let fly with the video games. Once relegated to basements and family rooms (with only a few people playing games), today’s LAN parties have grown, ranging from smaller university events to huge mega-LANs, like the one found at Dreamhack in Jönköping, Sweden (Dreamhack set a world record in 2013 by having 17,403 connected systems!). This specific event started 2003 when Matt “Vector” Conwell decided to jam 500 people into a conference hall with computers for an epic, fun event.  As it turns out, it was well-received (if not amazing), and it blossomed into one of the largest semi-annual LAN parties on the West Coast.

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I started attending these events in 2008, and I can tell you, it’s a special experience meeting people in-person, whose voices you’ve only heard online. It’s even better when your (somewhat embarrassing to say aloud) avatar name is shouted loudly in faux anger across a room (thanks, Sergio…).

PDXLAN also included smaller events and tournaments, and a number of generous sponsors to help with costs, such as providing internet and supporting the raffle (which I’ll get to later). The sponsors gave presentations with giveaways.  And, the event raised money for various charities, ranging from food collections to cash donations.

Card_backWhen registering for PDXLAN, participants received anywhere from 1 to 3 (or more) raffle tickets.  On the last day of the event, Vector always takes the stage to begin the much-anticipated raffle.  Vector grabs a prize, grabs a ticket, and calls out the winning number. If your ticket gets pulled, you “woot for loot,” and run up and take your prize. The prizes are always awesome, from cases to power supplies to 700+ CPUs and video cards. In our event last month, we even had some mini-PCs raffled off.

After all of the raffle prizes were passed out (which easily took an hour), everyone packed up, said goodbye, and left. It’s always a bit sad leaving those friends you see often, but it’s always a blast when I get to go.

You can catch a video summary of the 22nd event here and you can read more about the event here.  Hope to see YOU there some time too!

Michael Dalipe
Mod

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How I learned to love Game Night

WRH_Game_Night_4x3_300x225

I was blessed with two very snarky, sassy kids who love board games as well as video games.  Much to my surprise, when we first started having “game night,” beyond the first night’s resistance, the games we played captured everyone’s attention enough to prevent the normal teen arguing.  We try to keep things lighthearted, so we play “board games” that don’t take terribly long and don’t get too serious.

unnamedAn older, more involved game we frequently play is Descent: Journeys in the Dark.  This requires a volunteer to be the Dungeon Master to set things up, and more planning than a quick, “Hey let’s play this real fast,” but it’s well worth it.  Players can trade items if they can’t use them and help one another build a more powerful character.  While you can no longer find the First Edition we have, the Second Edition is found online and in many game retailers.  This is the sort of game we can set up for a weekend, and have our own dungeon crawl without having to roll up characters and the like, limited only by the DM’s imagination and whatever items you acquire.

unnamedMunchkin in its base form is wonderfully irreverent, and its numerous expansions only help its case.  Not only is the goal of the game to win, but it’s to prevent everyone else at the table from winning by whatever means necessary.  Once they’re feeling confident, and in the midst of a fight, you throw down a Curse card that changes the tide of battle; many are capable of mucking up the works enough your opponent can’t beat the monster.  From there, you have a choice – you can watch them fail and enjoy whatever “Bad Stuff” happens, or you can offer your assistance (and name your price).  Half of the enjoyment from the game is watching who forges what alliance and how long it lasts before the backstabbing begins.

unnamed-1The card-type games have taken the world by storm over the last few years, and you can find one to suit nearly every taste out there, but I have my eye on one in particular: Kombat Kittens.  I have a soft spot for animals, and while the mechanics are a bit different than what I’m used to, I feel like the humor factor will compensate for the learning curve, as well as the wait.  Sadly, never having played it, I can’t offer much in the way of insights, but I know some play-testers for it, who enjoyed it a great deal.

It’s eerily quiet in my house lately, as it has been for the last month or so.  My two teens have been visiting their dad, which means any interactions we have are long distance. We’ve used things like Skype for voice chat during games of League of Legends, Smite, and so on, but it’s not the same as the fun, friendly banter we have when we’re in the same room.  I’m definitely looking forward to quality, imaginative family fun when they get home!

unnamedIf your family gets bored with the weekly Scrabble, Sorry or Stratego games, you may give a card-based game a try.  Oh, and by the way, there’s even one with Killer Bunnies!

Cheyanne Akins
Project Manager

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EARLY HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES, PART 2

Pinball Hall of Fame 17.0In my previous post (Part 1), I shared a bit of insight into the early days of “arcade gaming” with a history on bagatelle.  I also briefly touched on pachinko. Let’s delve into that fun game a bit more, shall we?

Around 1930, in Nagoya, Japan, the Corinth game evolved into pachinko and gained popularity as an adult pastime. All of the parlors in Japan were closed during World War II, but the pastime showed up again in the late 1940s and has remained strong since. The very first commercial parlor opened in Nagoya in 1948, and you can still find pachinko parlors in Japan today.

While electronic arcades with pinball machines began appearing in the late 1970’s, pachinko machines remained mechanical until the 1980’s. And yes, “Plinko” (as seen on The Price is Right) is very much a form of pachinko. No wonder it’s one of the most popular games on the show!

Pinball machines also stemmed from bagatelle. Between 1750 and 1770, a variant was introduced called “Billard japonais” (or “Japanese billiards”) which utilized thin metal pins and a coiled spring and plunger (sound familiar?). Approximately 100 years after this invention, Montague Redgrave (a British inventor) filed a patent called “Improvements in Bagatelle” (US Patent #115,357) which added the spring launcher. At the same time, the size of the table shrank to fit on a counter top.

Early_PinballIn the late 1920s and early-30’s, a few manufacturing companies began to produce coin-operated versions of bagatelle, which became known as “marble games” or “pin games” (having replaced the ball with a marble and the wickets with pins). The first of these was by Gottlieb. In 1931, ‘Baffle Ball‘ was released (click here for more). This machine sold for $17.50 and dispensed 5-7 balls for a penny. It did so well during the Great Depression (when people were seeking cheap entertainment) that it was in stores and pubs across the United States, with most locations rapidly recovering the cost of the machine.

One distributor, Ray Moloney, was having issues obtaining units of ‘Baffle Ball’ to sell and thus founded his own company: Lion Manufacturing. This is how ‘Ballyhoo‘ came to be. A game named after a popular magazine of the day. It had a larger field and more pockets- making it more challenging and thus more popular. He changed the name of his company to Bally to honor the success of his first game.

Through the 1930’s, electricity made these games more popular and more companies started up to manufacturer them (most of which were within Chicago- which has remained the pinball capitol since). During World War 2, all of the major manufacturers began working on equipment for the war effort. After the war, the need for entertainment drove a new era of pinball machines.

Gottlieb introduced ‘Humpty Dumpty‘ in 1947: the first game to add flippers to the game. It had three pairs of outward-facing flippers. The first machine to bear the pair of inward-facing flippers we know now was ‘Spot Bowler,’ which Gottlieb released in 1950. While many pinball companies existed then and now, Gottlieb dominated the post-war landscape and to this day, is considered to have some of the most collectible machines.

If one considers apes to be our distant ancestors, pinball machines and bagatelle can be thought of as the ancestors of modern-day video games.

While I’ve gone rather in depth as to the history of the mechanized gaming machines that came before modern day gaming, here’s a video with a brief history of pinball (including its time as an illegal activity!):

What is your earliest memory of pinball games? Did you visit arcades as a child?  Share stories in the comments!  We’d love to read and hear about your experiences.

Leigh Green
Mod

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Early History of Video Games, part 1

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Video games (as we know them today) have a twisted, confusing family tree that makes it almost impossible to be an expert across the board. Apogee? Sierra? Atari? Some of these names may be familiar and others might only barely tickle the edges of memory.

220px-Musée_Mécanique_013We can, however, easily look back to the beginning of electronic gaming. Somewhere between 1905 and 1910, the term ‘penny arcade‘ (no, not the comic, but obviously where the site got its name) was coined (pun not intended) because the machines primarily used pennies. Early versions of these “arcades” include slot machines, peep shows (no, not pornographic, but a broader collection showing entertaining objects or pictures), fortune-telling content, and love testers. Yes, love tester machines are over 100 years old!

Pachinko is a great example of a penny arcade, especially as they still exist now. Pachinko was an arcade of machines resembling a pinball game, but without the flappers. The origin of pachinko was around 1920 in Japan, and was referred to as a series of ‘Corinth games,’ from the ‘Corinthian bagatelle.’ Long before the Pachinko, the game of Bagatelle originated with the French and was brought to the United States by the French soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

BagatelleAccording to Wikipedia, Bagatelle was first revealed during a party in honor of King Louis XVI and the queen in 1777, by the king’s brother, the Count of Artois at the Château de Bagatelle. It rapidly gained popularity throughout France, leading to it being brought (and subsequently gaining wide popularity) to America, and ultimately Japan.

273In fact, it was so popular, that an early political cartoon from 1864 depicts candidates Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan playing it, depicting the race as a game of bagatelle.

Ultimately, the bagatelle penny arcade table lead to the creation of pachinko, thus organizing and presenting the early adaptation of how we see game arcades today. Perhaps we’d never have gaming as we do today had the French not brought it to America?

Coming up later this week, Early History of Video Games, part 2: The Game Machine.

Leigh Green
Mod

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An Open Love Letter to @TeamFortress 2

Team_Fortress_2_Logo_by_Flamma_ManThere is a video game I’ve played (in one form or another) since I was a young man. I believe it started in the Quake days (in fact, it was based on Quake), was a part of a Half-life developer kit (late 90’s), and finally became its own game in 1999, before scoring a sequel in 2007.  That game, my friends, is Team Fortress 2 by Valve.

There’s so much more to Team Fortress than being “just another shooter” game. It is one of the most balanced, innovative, and downright fun games to be released in the past seven years.

Originally, Team Fortress 2 was released within the Orange Box bundle on October 10th, 2007, and then subsequently released as a standalone game in 2008.  In 2011, the game was modified to become to a free-to-play game.  This game has seen its fair share of iterations, but the changes have only made the game better!

Team Fortress 2 introduced an expansive list of weapons, tools, hats, emotes, and maps, collectable by just playing the game. The game also presents another gameplay style option, “Mann vs Machine.”  Instead of shooting at the other team, you can play cooperatively against AI “robots,” pick up some great loot, and have access to some hilarious short videos developed in their source filmmaker (which the public can access as well, allowing the community to build short videos together).

Their latest short is called “Expiration Date”, and is a hilarious watch:

unnamed-1I could ramble all day about this game, but for now I will focus on some of the basics; particularly I will cover the player vs. player mode (PVP) on the map called 2fort (a classic).  Players can choose a side: the Reliable Excavation Demolition (Red) or the Builders League United (Blue). Once you’ve joined a team you get to pick your class:

  • Scout: Quick and agile, the fastest of all of the classes, the Scout is known for his hit-and-run tactics with the Scattergun (a quick firing shotgun), his pistol, and his iconic bat.
  • Soldier: A great starter class for anyone new to TF2, the Soldier is equipped with a Rocket launcher, a heavy shotgun, and a shovel.  This guy can play both offense and defense play styles with ease.
  • Pyro: A maniac with a flame thrower, shotgun, and fire-axe, the Pyro is great for offense, particularly when mopping up behind soldiers. The Pyro is also amazing when spy checking on defense.  The Pyro is super annoying for snipers.
  • Demoman: This is the guy with the explosives.  Demoman is armed with two types of grenade launchers and a melee bottle o’ alcohol.  Demoman is great at both offense (he has grenades that detonate on a timer or when directly hitting someone) or defense (he has sticky bombs that you can lay in an area and detonate at will). This class is a little harder to play, but with practice and skill, the Demoman is incredible.
  • Heavy Weapons Guy: This is a big guy with a big gun and lots of ammo. Couple this Gatling gun toting monster with a medic, and you’re nearly invincible.
  • Medic: Every team needs a medic, and finding a good one is rare. The medic has a healing gun, a needle gun, and a bone saw. The healing gun is a huge asset to your teammates, as you can shoot-heal someone at a distance.
  • Engineer: The Engineer is the cornerstone to any defense.  The Engineer has the ability to build lifesaving buildings like a dispensary that heals while in its proximity, or an armory that increases ammo, or a very-handy teleporter! This guy is super fun to play if you enjoy a defensive style of play!
  • Sniper: This is the class I play and by far my favorite. The Sniper can easily be the most annoying of any class (to other players) due to his ridiculously powered, long-range sniper rifle. Used primarily in defense, it is ideal to have one or two of these guys on your team (it can easily turn the tide of the game).
  • Spy: Ugh, this guy. I hate this guy. The Spy is the bane of all snipers.  He can make himself disappear, he can disguise himself as a part of your team (takes the form of other classes), and he stealthily stab you in the back.  An offense player, the Spy can be tricky to play, but with practice you’d be a god amongst your team.

unnamed-1You’ve picked your team, you’ve picked your class, and now it’s time to explore. On the map (2fort), there are two forts, a bridge in between, and a waterway with tunnels that have access points to both team’s bases.

The point of this game is to:

  • Infiltrate the other team’s base,
  • Make it to the basement to grab the enemy intelligence (a briefcase stuffed full of papers), and,
  • Make it back to yours without dying.

Essentially, it’s a big game of capture the flag, with an immense amount of teamwork and character-strategy needed.

And that’s the basics of the game! There’s still more to cover (crafting, powerful weapons, other maps, different types of game play, etc.) but this is enough to get new players started.  It is a ridiculous amount of fun, and I implore you to give it a try (check out Steam).  Besides: it’s free to play, so why not?  And if you do – come and find me — I’ll be sure to save a sniper round for ya.

Brian Fuhrman
Project Manager

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@PlayHearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

unnamedI doubt there’s many gamers who haven’t heard of Hearthstone. With the announcement in early April that Hearthstone hit 10 million players, I felt this would be the perfect time to introduce any non-gamers (or those who haven’t had a chance to check it out) to this growing card game by Blizzard!

Hearthstone is a CCG (Collectible Card Game) based on the existing characters and lore from the World of Warcraft seriesHearthstone differs from games like Might & Magic Duel of Champions and Magic: The Gathering, which are very successful TCGs (Trading Card Games). Instead of being able to obtain cards through trading and purchasing from other players (typical TCG play), you may only gain them through completing quests in the game, or purchasing packs (with in-game currency or real world money). This slight difference is where Hearthstone excels, as it makes entry into the card game world easier for new users.  Here’s some additional support for that theory:

  • unnamed-1A free-to-play model allows users to obtain all cards without investing a cent into the game.
  • The ability to compete at high levels without the need for extremely rare cards.  The game puts an emphasis on game theory and strategy, over instant strength.
  • The absence of trading evens out the playing field.  All players, regardless of financial means, have a chance to be successful!

unnamed-2The ease of entry, and casual approach to game has helped to make this game so popular.  With the maturation and growth, it has spawned a competitive following with even professional and ex-professional Warcraft and Starcraft players.  OnGameNet helped to launch Hearthstone as an official e-sport by hosting the first tournament in the spring of 2014.  OnGameNet is famous for hosting the largest League of Legends professional league in Korea, and boasts (quite possibly) the most competitive e-sports scene in the world.

Aside from know e-sport professionals, here are great examples of top Hearthstone players to follow on Twitch.tv and Youtube (very helpful for strategy and tips):

  • Day[9]: Host of the Day9 Dailies brings you a wonderful series, ‘Hearthstone Decktacular‘ where he tries experimental decks.  Day[9] is especially helpful for new players looking to get into higher level play.
  • Crendor: Known for his origins in World of Warcraft, Crendor brings his own comedic skill to Hearthstone with his newest series on Youtube.

When I’m looking to play cards with friends, or go up against people from around the world, Hearthstone is my go-to game!  If you’re looking to join me sometime you can find me on Battle.net as TheLewdz#1402.  You can also find me streaming Hearthstone on Twitch.tv.

Brandon Stroede
Assistant Project Manager

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Great New Translation Tools with @Skype

urlOne of the most interesting additions to Microsoft software that I’ve seen in a while was demoed a few weeks ago at Re/code’s Code Conference.  Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft VP, and Diana Heinrichs, Microsoft employee, demoed a pre-beta version of their new translation feature, Skype Translator.

Until now, smaller app features from companies like Microsoft and Google have allowed for speech-based translations in multiple languages, but these apps did not cater as strongly to whole conversations.  Instead, they more or less divided up conversations into parts — smaller sized portions to translate.

Skype-Translator1-520x245With the exception of watching Xbox Live for the first time, I can’t remember when Microsoft impressed me so!  As you witnessed in the demo video, Skype Translate translated the live conversation between Singh Pall (speaking English) and Heinrichs (speaking German) in real time, with only a short delay after every few sentences.  This translation feature is, by far, the fastest voice-translation app I’ve seen on the market.

modsnotcubesThere is a huge impact this feature could have on the support industry.  Metaverse Mod Squad has a pool of 5000 or so mods from all over the world.  A large portion of the team is bilingual, or remote in another country where English is a secondary (or tertiary) language.  As a project manager, I often have to jump into situations with my global staff and participate in non-English conversations.  Since we’re a large company, with a lot of talent in our midst, we often leverage our bilingual teammates, and quickly conquer any language barrier to provide the best support for our client.  Not all companies are as lucky as we are!  There are a lot of companies who do not have a diverse, multi-lingual staff to support global customers.  I’ve worked on plenty of moderation or customer support projects where, even though the company’s primary language is English, we will still come across customers or community members who are not fluent.  As mods, we are geared to provide the best support to everyone, and must access additional translation support tools if bilingual support is not readily available.

In the context of a global community, Skype Translate has the potential to better facilitate the building of relationships between diverse people and cultures. For example, I am a competitive multiplayer gamer and within the gaming platforms I have the opportunity to engage with really great players from around the globe, who may not speak the same language.  Regardless of the barrier, we still team up and play with simple call outs and short sentences, or without speaking at all, thus relying on skill to carry our team through. I can see Skype Translate bridging that language barrier, if paired with Microsoft’s Xbox One, or via the Skype interface paired with online gaming.

The potential to build new connections and friendships and partnerships is refreshing, and exciting.  Keep an eye out for the feature when it goes live!  And if you need more help on localizations, translations, or building global staff — please do not hesitate to reach out to us!  That’s what we’re here for….

Jay Biros
Project Manager

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Come say Hi to Us At #E3, #CallCenterWeek, and #IRCE

It’s a wonderful time to travel, and this fine week we have several team members attending various fun events across the western portion of the United States.  If you happen to be at one of the events mentioned below, please look for us!

E3 Expo
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Gamers rejoice! It’s a week of title and console launches, announcements, and celebrating game-geekery. Whether you’re a console gamer, or a computer gamer, E3 is the place to be!  And if you cannot be there?  Never fear, Metaverse Mod Squad to the rescue!  We currently have two gents on the ground, roaming the floor, and meeting as many people as they possibly can (in a relatively small industry like ours, it isn’t just networking, it’s building friendships). Also, we’re LIVE-COVERING the event on our super stealth Tumblr page.  Should you happen to see Matt Hostler or Scott Rusnak during your E3 adventures, make sure to say hi!  And, if you mention reading this post to Scott, you may request a solo dance from him (the Irish Jig is particularly fun).  Oh, and tell him Izzy said you’d do it. 🙂

Call Center Week
GDC Booth 2010It’s Call Center Week in Las Vegas, NV!  This is the #1 event for customer support call centers, with 4 days of panels, roundtables, case studies, and a vibrant expo floor.  It’s a very popular event, with over 1,500 people estimated for attendance this week, and over 350 companies represented.  This is a great chance for us to talk about the benefits of our services, particularly the value of true human to human communication, and the value of context and understanding in customer support.  We’ll be in there force with Mike Pinkerton, Joi Podgorny, Scott Rusnak (once he finishes up with E3… busy guy), and Ryan Cundiff.  Just look for us at Booth #2, say hi, make some new connections, and play with one of our cool old school View Finder toys (who doesn’t love a little does of nostalgia?).  If you mention this blog post, you might even get to take one home (your kids will love the swag).

IRCE
south-north-cityFinishing off the week, you can find us roaming the amazing conference floor at 2014’s Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in good ole Chicago, Il.  Our VP of Business Development, Mary Lex, will be available for connections, networking, and helping to spread the good word about Metaverse Mod Squad services (and how we can help YOU find success is your customer-facing outlets).

If you’re interested in learning more about Metaverse Mod Squad, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.  Also, we’ll be sharing our insights, activities, and experiences via our Twitter account (@Metav3rse) for all three events.  Follow and tweet to us!  We’d love to get to know you.

Izzy Neis
Director of Engagement & Strategy

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The Rise of Streaming and eSports

I feel like we’re living during a super interesting period of time. Due to innovations in technology and services like Twitch.tv and YouTube, there are very few barriers to entry for creative individuals that want to share videos or streams for the games that they love. When someone creates their own User Generated Content (UGC) pretty much anyone in the world can find it, watch it, and enjoy it. In addition, a content creator can engage directly with his or her fans through social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. This direct access to the fans of a product is much different from how things were a few years ago.

For decades, the holy grail for people that wanted to promote live gaming was to get on broadcast television. For example, the guys working to advertise Magic the Gathering to a larger audience worked with ESPN and MTV to broadcast matches, raise awareness, and make Magic the Gathering look “totally awesome.” For reference, check out this ad for one of their campaigns in the 1990’s.

unnamedI’m not saying that Magic the Gathering hasn’t experienced success. They’ve done incredibly well over the past few years. Our culture has changed though, and customers are less receptive to a company broadcasting at them about whatever the hottest new thing is. The rise of streaming does a few things very well. It shows that actual people are playing these games, and it makes it easy for someone who is interested in learning more about a gaming product to immediately talk to people that are knowledgeable about it.

The rise of eSports is interesting to me also. League of Legends is one game where the tournament matches have become destinations for viewers. They do this in more ways than just streaming online.  They organize events at studios where tournament matches are being played and broadcast from. I had the pleasure of attending an event like at a television studio in Manhattan Beach recently. The energy of the crowd at these eSports events is surreal and the production quality of these events is incredibly high.

unnamed-1It’s becoming apparent that the end goal of spectator gaming doesn’t need to be a television broadcast to be considered a success. It just needs to justify the spending from the company and other sponsors.  Groups like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix are diligently searching for the next big thing in regards to original programing. As eSports continues to prosper, will streaming services like these become a home for live gaming events or Let’s Play videos? Compare the last League of Legends World Championship in October 2013 that was watched by approximately 32 million people to the last Super Bowl in February 2014 was watched by approximately 111 million people. The viewership is definitely there for live gaming events. Since the viewership is practically at a critical mass, what is going to happen next?

I can’t properly express how excited I am to see the developments over the next few years in regards to how games are streamed. Unlike previous generations, the independent gamer and UGC creator has few barriers to entry and can easily share what he or she creates with the world. There are more ways than ever to help UGC creators turn their hobbies into careers. In addition, the companies that support gaming brands will be rewarded if they seize these opportunities to reach fans in new and innovative ways.  Gamers and industry professionals that support the gaming industry are living through historic events.

I’m stoked to see what happens next!

Ry Schueller
Community Manager

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Two-Zero-Four-Eight! Who Do We Appreciate!? @2048_game!

unnamedHave you been a victim of the latest gaming craze? After Flappy Bird flew off the map in March, the gaming community was in need of another easy-to-play addiction to take its place. Never fear, folks! 2048 is here.

2048 is a single-player online and mobile game created during the same month Flappy Bird met its abrupt demise. The object of the game is to simply slide tiles on a grid to combine them to create larger numbers. The ultimate goal is to create a tile with the number 2048 (which might also represent the year in which I will fully understand a working strategy).

Wow. Much numbers! Many confuse.

Wow. Much numbers! Many confuse.

Due to the game’s sudden popularity, an open-source tool was created for users to design their own versions of the game. Popular varieties include Sherlock, Doctor Who, Joey Graceffa, and the infamous Doge.

I believe one of the reasons this game has become so popular is because it can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. People who play it feel a sense of accomplishment seeing the smaller numbers match and think, ‘Hey, I can do this too!”

unnamed-1So, whether you are someone looking to pass the time or a person more advanced with your number skills, you will most likely enjoy it.

Have you played 2048? If so, feel free to leave any tips and suggestions in the comments for the digitally challenged, like myself.

Rebekah Good
Social Media Manager

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Guild Wars 2: An MMORPG with Style, Flexibility – and Fun!

images-1Every now and then I discover a new online thrill that completely captures my imagination (and incidentally large hunks of my spare time). My latest obsession is the critically acclaimed MMORPG Guild Wars 2.

Prior to this, I had not been much for MMO type games, to the frustration of many of my game-playing buddies. The concept of total immersion in a fantasy world certainly had appeal for me, but the heavy emphasis on lengthy elaborately-structured warfare situations, not so much. However, the designers of Guild Wars 2 built the game with the goal of providing a satisfying experience for a wide variety of playing styles, from casual PvE adventurers to hard-core PvP warriors. I quickly found I could get plenty of enjoyment from just touring around the world exploring at my own preferred pace.

And there is a huge amount to explore. Guild Wars 2 picks up the fantasy world of Tyria about 250 years after the events of the original Guild Wars. It is a rich and complex world, interweaving traditional sword-and-sorcery mythmaking, newfangled steampunk/alchemical technology, complex political intrigues, and even bits of philosophy and spirituality, to rival many classic fantasy fiction novels with which I’m familiar. All of this is rendered in breathtakingly beautiful art and state-of-the-art animation, so that one feels at times like one is wandering around the latest Peter Jackson production — or perhaps a Maxfield Parrish painting.

My main player character, a Sylvari ranger, in The Grove, the Sylvari home city.

My main player character, a Sylvari ranger, in The Grove, the Sylvari home city.

The creativity extends to the variety of character types you can choose to play. The five playable races include humans (both nobles and commoners); Norn, a race of Viking-esque giants; Asura, a Ferengi-like diminutive race of technological geniuses; Charr, a fierce feline warrior race who, to steal another Star Trek metaphor, remind me mightily of Klingons; and my personal favorites, the Sylvari. These elven-like tree people are born, fully adult and sentient, from a huge goddess-like tree, with whom they are all interlinked by a cosmic collective consciousness known as the Dream of Dreams.

In addition to more traditional profession choices like warriors, guardians, rangers, the rogue-like thieves, and three types of spellcasters (elementalists, mesmers, and necromancers), GW2 introduces a new class, the engineers, who excel in bombs, gizmos, elixirs, turrets, and other technologies that go splodey. But what is interestingly absent is a separate healer class. Everyone has some healing ability for themselves and their fellow players; in fact, all these professions are extremely flexible, and can to a certain extent even cover each other’s roles when playing together in guilds and raiding parties.

But perhaps the biggest innovations in Guild Wars 2 are in the area of events and new content. There are a number of more traditional-style dungeons, plus the previously-mentioned areas for individual and team PvP; but the majority of events happen out in the public PvE environment where anyone passing by can participate, and earn loot proportional to the extent they help – in other words, “stealing kills” is a non-issue in this game. And instead of expansions, the developers of Guild Wars 2 release new content every few weeks, arranged in “Living Story” arcs that result in permanent changes to the game’s world.

Oh, and one other thing: Guild Wars 2 requires no subscription. You pay once to acquire the software client, and that’s it. There is of course a shop where you can buy fun cosmetic pretties for your avatar and such, but these are totally not required in order to play and enjoy the game.

There is so much more that I could burble on about with regards to Guild Wars 2, but for now I will leave you with this video trailer featuring some of game’s great voice acting talent – featuring Steve Blum, well-known in anime circles as the US voice of Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel among many others, and Felicia Day, uber-geek-girl mastermind of the hit web TV show The Guild.

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Project Manager

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Morality, Rewards, and Repercussions in Video Games

Most arguments regarding the strengths of video games come down to motor skills, creative thinking, and logic solving. I’ve made some of these arguments myself in my day as a gamer, but as we move forward into these faux worlds that are becoming more and more immersive, I wonder: what more can we take away from it and how deep does it go?

Morality is one of the topics often contended with in the video game community. “It’s pretend.” “I’m only playing a character.” And that’s absolutely true, but what about the choices you have to make as that character? How can that impact your perception of the everyday “in real life” world?

In the Mass Effect trilogy from BioWare, you play a character that is faced with tough choices impacting your morality and as a result, the individuals around you. This same approach was reflected in their preceding titles, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and similarly in Lionhead Studios’ Fable series and more emotionally, within the award-winning The Walking Dead series from Telltale. While these worlds are vastly different, with different rewards and different consequences, one thing remains constant.

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“Fable: The Lost Chapters” by Lionhead Studios

In each of these titles, the “evil” actions you take often have some immediate rewards but long-term repercussions while the “good” paths take you along a much more difficult route without the same grandiose rewards.

Some argue that the Fable series is notorious for teaching the appeal for being evil, as being a hero often doesn’t have rewards and still makes the heroic ending underwhelming. In Star Wars: KOTOR, you were often showered with credits by your negative attitude and on the Light side, you were showered with …good feeling? However, options to redeem the character also become more limited as the game progresses. In the massive-multiplayer roleplaying game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, other players can have an influence and force difficult decisions on your character that you may have not wanted to make raising awareness about the company you keep.

unnamed-1

“Mass Effect” from Bioware Studio

However, within the Mass Effect universe, you were rewarded by your heroics by companionship, with friends and loyalty that were required to successfully save the universe. It has the power to teach the true value of alliances and reputation extending outside of personal morality and into the realm of general ethics. Sometimes the reward is maintaining status quo, but is that enough to inspire heroes in our world? These titles and the choices they allow the player to make have the availability to teach us about sacrifice, selfishness, and how our choices impact those around us.

So, which side do you fall on?

Scarlett Dowdy
Community Manager

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Twitch Plays Pokémon

In case you haven’t been keeping up with what the kids are doing, the new phenom that’s hit the block these days is a little something called TwitchPlaysPokemon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.31.32 AMTwitch is a live-streaming video platform that allows gamers to broadcast themselves while viewers across the globe watch them play a variety of games, ranging from Battlefield, Rift, Defiance, Just Dance, to, you guessed it, Pokémon, amongst others (more about Twitch as a platform, click here).  But what’s in it for the players, you may wonder?

Twitch pays partners and streamers for ad revenue and subscriptions, so incentive is high.  Viewers are also encouraged to donate to broadcasters they watch frequently, so there is a sense of community that lets players continue doing what they love, while letting others in on the action too.  What used to be a private form of entertainment reserved for the typically antisocial basement dweller has transformed into a community that allows players to watch, learn, converse, converge, and monetize.  Players interact with viewers, and personal input is encouraged.  Think of it as interacting with a Youtube video in real-time.

tppRecently, the Twitch community expanded its video stream with the introduction of TwitchPlaysPokemon.  This stream is characterized by the ability of the Twitch community to enter commands in a chat box ranging from left, right, up, down, A, or B (basically, the commands from Gameboy, circa 1998).  These commands direct the onscreen character and his Pokémon, whose hilarious names include “JLVWNOOOO” (referred to by the community as Jay Leno), and ABBBBBBK (Abby).   TwitchPlaysPokemon is a self-described “social experiment” wherein the Twitch community has been challenged to play through the Gameboy version of Pokémon Red running via emulator.

It’s drawn a total of over 32 million views, with peak action hitting over 120,000 viewers.  The challenge of the game is no longer to become the ultimate Pokémon Trainer alone, but to do so while being commandeered by hundreds of thousands of strangers.  It’s like having 50,000 thumbs mashing all the keys on a Gameboy at once.  A win for one is a win for all!

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.32.41 AMThe stream was launched on February 12, 2014, and the community has, surprisingly, acquired 7 of the 16 gym badges in-game, a feat that players of the game (in its original incarnation) may not have even achieved.  Despite its progress, the creator of TwitchPlaysPokemon has stated that he has little hope of seeing the game completed, despite its running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Even still, the game has launched the creation of numerous memes, legends, and a reddit community.  It even has its own religion.

The process seems entirely post-modern: the recycling of a beloved 90’s game in an effort to allow users from all over the globe to reminisce and re-embrace the IP in its original venue.  From a viral marketing perspective, it’s genius.  The difference now, of course, is that it’s no longer a single-player experience.  When you think about it, the whole adventure seems a bit ludicrous in its imagination and execution (again, insert imagery of thousands of thumbs button-mashing simultaneously – chaos!), and yet fans all over the world are still captivated to see this experiment to completion.

It’s exciting to see if the Twitch community will be able to beat the game, which you can catch (and participate) live here: http://www.twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon.

Felicia Ho
Project Manager

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Glitch Commits One Final Act of Random Kindness and Senseless Beauty

Glitch-Game-LogoIn a world where entertainment businesses defend to the death even the tiniest shred of intellectual property, the idea of an online game-maker putting the entirety of a game’s assets in the public domain seems like something out of a utopian fantasy. But that’s exactly what the creators of the late, lamented browser-based MMO known as Glitch did in late November of last year – an act of generosity that surprised its adoring fans not one bit.

You see, Glitch had always been a maverick among MMOs. The brainchild of Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield, Glitch had nearly no warfare or competition component of any sort, and zilch reference to any of the common MMO genre tropes. Instead it offered a virtual world that looked and behaved like a Dr. Seuss book as re-imagined by Cheech and Chong, in which players helped the eleven sleeping giants in whose dream this world existed by carrying out acts of creativity and cooperation.

Unfortunately, while Glitch developed a devoted and fanatical following, it never grew big enough to put the game into the black, financially. One can’t help thinking it was because Glitch was just too darned different – that the majority of adult gamers preferred more conventional MMOs with battles, bosses, and kabooms.

unnamedI had been playing Glitch for only a few months when Stoot (as Butterfield was known within the game) sadly announced his decision to call a halt to the dream. While I was surprised at how deeply this saddened me, I was even more surprised – and moved – by how both players and devs (short for developers) rose to the occasion. The forums were filled with huge outpourings of gratitude to the game-makers, plus genuine grief over losing something so rare in the world of gaming. The devs, meanwhile, feverishly rolled out tons of content they had been working on so that we could all enjoy it before the shutdown, plus additional “end-of-the-world” content that gave a real sense of closure.

unnamed-1Myself, I spent the last few weeks of Glitch roaming the far corners of its world, grieving all the wild and wacky beauty that was about to go pffffft in a cloud of pixels. So you can just imagine my joy over this decision to put all that beauty in the public domain, for us Glitch fans to use as we see fit. There had already been an active cottage industry of fan-created arts and crafts based on the game, the more so since its closure – but now, with the original art and even the Flash code available to all, the possibilities are endless.

unnamed-2All I can say is: Stoot, you’re a class act, and I hope your generosity and vision serves as an inspiration to the industry.

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Manager

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Hunters & Gatherers in the Age of Gaming

WALLY-3Everyone knows the Where’s Wally? books (Where’s Waldo in the US & Canada). It drove some of us crazy constantly searching for globetrotter Wally with his trademark nerd glasses, red-and-white striped pullover and woolly bobble hat, and his uncanny ability to be expertly hiding where no one thought he would be; while other people were able to devote themselves happily to the task for hours on end, enjoying the discovery of thousands of other silly images while on the search.

These days, the main objective with our favourite games remains the same- to master the game until we’ve completed it by defeating the final boss. The end credits appear on the screen and you lean back feeling satisfied. But was that really it? Aren’t there any other story-lines, treasure chests, Easter eggs to be discovered, or other achievements to be made? If you take a look at the game statistics, you can see if you have missed something fun, like a side challenge or alternative game opportunities, which makes some people start the game all over again.

I like to refer to these two groups of players as “hunters” and “gatherers.” I belong to the former category, the hunters – those who rush through the game as fast as they possibly can. Upgrade weapons? Higher level character?  Who cares if the battle against the big boss takes half an hour instead of ten minutes?  The main thing is: I’ve done it! When my husband watches me gaming, he often throws his hands in the air in horror. I hear remarks like “You didn’t search that cave,” or “There’s probably hidden treasure over there” at regular intervals, followed by sighs of resignation.

The situation isn’t any better the other way round. When I watch him play, I can happily take a nap for a few hours with the knowledge that when I wake up, he will hardly have moved from the spot. He explores every corner of the map, searches every trash can, talks to every NPC, and accepts/completes every side quest. Pure torture.

As representatives of both “hunters” and “gatherers,” we can admit that there are advantages to both sides. My husband and I are unbeatable in co-op mode, just like hunters and gatherers were a perfect combination many thousands of years ago. While I’m jumping about chopping up one opponent after another, he uses the time to search for hidden objects or coins.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. There are people who started their gaming career as hunters but then developed into gatherers so they could enjoy experiencing every last detail of their games. Or gatherers who get sick of poking around looking for an ordinary torch in the darkest corners of the scariest horror games.

lfmc070923_hunters-gatherers_2007.09.23It’s definitely a good idea to think outside the box. How about a compromise? “Gatherers” could leave lost swords lying there where they found them more often, and to even things out a little, “hunters” could occasionally ask themselves whether they were missing out on part of the great gaming experience.

I’d just like to close with a question: are you hunters or gatherers?

Yvonne Z.
Moderator

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The Original Multiplayer Mode

As we prepare for the rollout of Generation 8 gaming consoles, let’s detour for a moment in the Wayback Machine, and see how the world’s first MMORPG, Dungeons and Dragons, worked…and what game designers and players can learn from it today.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.41.06 AMStrictly speaking, D&D wasn’t the first multiplayer game with an interactive, malleable “world” affected by the players.  You could argue that distinction goes to board games like Monopoly…or even chess, if you want to stretch the definition of a shared “world” to a 64-square board that never changes.  But Dungeons and Dragons took the concept to a level orders of magnitude more complex than anything that came before…and introduced the concept of a shared narrative that transcended any board or map.  Neither the cute little shoe-token nor the rook or knight have a story behind them; at the end of the game they go back into the box, with no memory of the game of which they just partook.  Not so with a D&D character!

Advanced information technology and whiz-bang graphics are not necessary to have an immersive gaming experience.  D&D could be, and usually was, played with no electronic aids at all.  You could, of course, use a computer and dot-matrix printer to write supplementary materials like custom character sheets or house rules.  I did. But for the game itself, you did not need anything electronic (I once spotted a slide rule in use at a tournament circa 1981, but I think it was more geeking out than necessity).  The Internet didn’t exist—at least, not in anything like its current form.  I think what would shock the modern gamer the most about viewing an early 1980s D&D game in action would be the utter lack of technology at the gaming table itself.  Even the plastic molds and sprawling tactical maps of  today’s tabletop games were seen only at big tournaments, if at all.  Where maps were used, they usually consisted of pieces of flat cardboard with quadrille or hex paper laminated onto them. Features like walls, trees, bridges, bodies of water and dead bodies of monsters were drawn in with Vis-à-vis overhead projector pens.  Usually there were lead figures to represent characters, but at times they were just penned in too.  Note that painting of lead figures was uncommon, regarded as both art and luxury.  Us vintage D&Derswere downright Luddites in comparison to a modern gamer tricked out with two 1080p monitors, 16 gigs of RAM and the latest Nvidia card.

In modern computer games, you generally hit Control or Alt-something-or-the-other to open up a chat window to communicate with other players.  Indeed, the opportunity to interact with your fellow players—for such interaction, in fact, to create its own “meta-game” experience—is highly valued.  This often takes the form of guilds or alliances.  Old-school D&D had that too: you opened your mouth and spoke, as your fellow players were, like, right there in front of you.  And as with modern online RPGs, you had friendships and romances…and fallings-out too, both in and out of character.  You even had the occasional griefer; to this day, pencil-and-paper gaming organizations have lists of banned players just like online services.

In D&D, players left permanent marks on the game world itself.  The Dungeon Master saw to it that there were reactions for character actions.  This could take the form of anything from a character becoming persona non grata at a tavern for trying to pick one pocket too many, to a higher-level character founding a keep or town that permanently altered the landscape and got his name on the map.  This is a concept most digital age massively-multiplayer worlds really haven’t grasped.  In Dungeons and Dragons, when a dragon is slain and his treasure seized, it permanently alters the world.  In online games, a new dragon with a new insta-hoard will spawn in an hour or thereabouts.  There’ll be no trace of the battle, no heroes forged, no songs sung in local taverns.  I think this is a major missing piece of most modern multiplayer gaming experiences…and why the few massively multiplayer games that offer at least some smidgeon of this (like Evony and Kingdoms of Camelot, where players can found towns on common maps visible to all) do better than one might expect.

There’s quite a bit of talk about obsessive behavior amongst today’s online gamers, so much so that it’s even getting attention in peer-reviewed journals.  So could a gaming experience without graphics, without sound effects, without any electronics, make people forget about life and immerse themselves wholly in the game for a (perhaps arguably unhealthy) long period of time?  I can tell you that some old-school D&Ders got pretty heavily into their game.  At the university I attended, it was not uncommon for players to dress in period garb (much like fandoms do at conventions in contemporary times), and play in games that would begin late Friday afternoon and proceed nonstop until sometime Sunday…fueled by epic binges of pizza, Mountain Dew, and Jolt Cola.  Indeed, some of the same types of controversy modern video games experience, were experienced by Dungeons and Dragons players back in the 1980s.  “The more things change…”

So what can modern game designers take away from the vintage Dungeons and Dragons experience?

The concept of adventuring through a shared universe has staying power.  The exact expression of this has changed over the decades, but the concept of “being” someone else and kicking butts and leaving a mark on a virtual world is still as popular in 2013 as it was in 1983, if not even more so.

The technology per se doesn’t drive this.  Technology plays an important role in making the experience flashy and accessible, true enough, but at the end of the day it’s an auxiliary role.  Frames per second and pixels and vertex shading do not, in and of themselves, a game make.  You can handle the math with a slipstick, or cocktail-napkin calculations.

What does make a great game?  The opportunity for players to become part of—indeed, to help create and drive—the story.  Avenues (like chat windows and well-moderated forums) for players to interact out of game and enjoy meta-game experiences like fan fiction and after-action reports.  A sense that what players do actually matters in game and even alters the game.  The game evolving in difficulty as the player progresses through it.  Players having a voice in how the game progresses, including the ability to set their own goals rather than being constrained to a linear path.  This formula is what drove Dungeons and Dragons to become a gaming legend. Grognardian preferences for the pencil-and-paper experience aside, this winning formula is just as accessible to computer game designers today.  Now if only we saw it more often…

Benjamin Stockton
Project Manager

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Get Involved: Family Online Safety & Awareness

imgres-1Next week, FOSI (short for Family Online Safety Institute) will be hosting it’s annual conference.  This conference provides one of the most important platforms for real discussion regarding youth activity (and safety) in the digital space, and it brings together voices from every involved party – lobbyists, operators, journalists, parents, teachers, etc.  As described on FOSI’s 2013 Annual Conference website:

The Family Online Safety Institute’s 2013 Annual Conference will be taking place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, in Washington DC. This year’s conference, being held on November 6th and 7th, will bring together the top thinkers in online safety: academics, educators, law enforcement, industry, policy makers, and non-profits.

Don’t miss the chance to be part of this vital two day event where we will be discussing a variety of issues related to online safety including privacy, technologies of the future, online reputation, identity theft, and international trends.

The Metaverse Mod Squad crew will be there in full force to lend our support and knowledge. Our very own Izzy Neis will be participating in the panel, “Creating Trust in Social Networks and Virtual Worlds,” moderated by Larry Magid of ConnectSafely.org.  This panel will take place November 7th, 2:30 pm, during the Breakout Sessions, and also include Jordan Barnes, of Skout, Nicky Jackson Colaco, from Facebook, Holly Hawkins, of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Rebecca Newton, from Moshi Monsters.

If you work in digital media for children, teens, or families, this is an important event.  If you feel strongly about the safety, privacy, and the digital interactivity of our youth, and you cannot be in physical attendance — join in the discussion digitally!  Follow @FOSI, track the #FOSI2013, or like FOSI on Facebook.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and engage in conversation with your fellow virtual participants.  Again, your involvement and awareness is key to progression and education across the board!

If you DO happen to find yourself in attendance – look for us!  Come say “hi!”  We’re still as fresh-faced and child-like as the photographs on our website, we’re also a quite entertaining crew.

For more information, visit the Fosi.org website, or click here to register for this event.  We hope to see you in there (or, engaged in discussion online)!

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Is it weird that I Twitch?

I am a man whose job revolves around digital media and gaming, and as a result, I find myself Twitching often. Sometimes an early morning Twitch with my coffee and a bagel fills the need, while other times I’ll Twitch for an hour or so after a long day of crunching numbers. I Twitch with friends, and sometimes share my Twitching experiences publicly. And I’m here to ask you one thing: is it weird that I Twitch? Before you answer, let me explain….

twitch1Twitch is a term growing in the digital media world, and for good reason. So let’s start with the roots: what is it? In essence, it is the world’s largest video platform and community for gamers. Over twenty million people gather each month to either broadcast, watch, or chat about a given live or recorded stream.

Accessible

“How has Twitch become so popular?” I heard someone ask. The answer to this query is complex, but I’ll share a few highlights that have certainly helped give Twitch the “oomph” it needed to sweep the industry. First, the platform is easily accessible from any gamer’s perspective. Whether you are casual, pro, part of a league, a developer, or even part of a media organization (ahem, MMS), Twitch offers such a diverse world that anyone can benefit. Gamers love gameplay, developers love research, and media organizations love optimizing on powerhouses in the digital realm.

Easy to use

The second highlight is Twitch’s ease of use. Twitch offers streamers a cost-free startup, and with the right specs they’ll have the ability to showcase their gaming pleasures with the world. One can modify the resolution of their stream, establish rules for their personal chat room, and eventually if their viewers can earn the right to become moderators and keep their favorite stream(s) “clean.”  The only minor upset here is that viewers must watch a number of advertisements (it’s not overwhelming) each hour in order for the streamer to continue using Twitch’s bandwidth. Want to avoid the ads? Subscribe! Contributing a minor fund towards a given stream will eliminate that viewer’s requirement to watch ads each hour. They think of everything!

Diversity of content

The third highlight is the variety and diversity of Twitch content. You can find everything on Twitch, ranging from classic NES titles, to handheld gaming, to current-gen PC games with maximum settings. Titles are sorted autonomously by the number of viewers at that time (League of Legends and DotA are widely popular). Some days I’ll just scroll through the list to appreciate the unique streaming community.

twitch_xboxoneBefore you dash off to Twitch’s website to hunt for a speed run of Super Mario 64 (yes, it’s a real thing), I’d like to share some final thoughts on the future of Twitch. Personally, I believe this is the next big thing in gaming (if it hasn’t already been deemed that). Both of the next-gen consoles – being the XBOX One and PS4 – will have built-in capabilities for Twitch streaming on the console. That expands the market to console gamers, and mark my words: the Twitch community will increase by at least one-third after their respective launch windows. With PC gaming becoming more accessible and affordable, as well as competitive event-gaming inspiring developers, producers, and the media all around, it is merely a matter of time before we all Twitch. The next thing you know, you’ll be asking your friends, “Is it weird that I Twitch?”

Ryan Cundiff
Project Manager

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Keeping Kids Safe In the Online World of Gaming

Single-Parents-Use-Smart-Home-Technology-for-Increased-SafetyHow kids interact and socialize today has changed vastly from even a decade ago. Not only social networking, but the online gaming world has started to have a role in social development and social dynamics from a young age.

Online gaming has also seen a huge jump in activity in the last ten years from World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Final Fantasy XIV, Diablo III and Ultimata Online, which cater to an older audience; to games aimed now at children such as National Geography’s Animal Jam, Disney’s Club Penguin, Roblox, and more.

Inherently, this also opens up concerns about safety from parents, teachers and good citizens who wonder if their kids should be online at all. But in a world where the internet is available in virtually every household, it is not something they can be sheltered from for long.

So how can we let our kids enjoy online gaming without being afraid a predator is going to snatch them up? Here are some helpful tips:

Read The Rules: Children’s games that involve any social interaction should always have a moderation department as well as information on what they do to help keep your child safe. For instance, are they moderated for using poor language, being a bully or inappropriate behavior? Are they told to not give out personal information? How involved is the game in to safety?

imgresParent Control Features: Does the game help put control into the hand of the parents? For instance, Animal Jam has what’s called a Parent Dashboard. This allows the parent to take control of chat settings, password resets, and even disabling the account if they don’t want their child to play. Club Penguin has something similar called Parent Tools which also allows for these safety features to be implemented.

Help Them Sign Up: When signing up your child for any online games, make sure to ALWAYS be there to assist them. Yes, this will take a few extra minutes BUT it will also make sure they are putting in your email correctly if needed (for features such as the Parent Dashboard/Tools stated above) and you can also note their username and password to make sure that it is hard to guess. Most accounts get compromised due to easy or predictable passwords!

Stay Involved: Most problems come from parents who are not involved with what their child is doing online. Creating an account alongside your child will give you the player’s eye view on what your child will see, do and who they will interact with.

By staying involved you can see what safety features would be best for your child as well as if the game is right for them or if they may need to wait a few years. Additionally, it’s a great way for you to interact and spend time with your child in a fun environment!

Talk To Your Child:  This is the most important. While we can do everything we can as a parent to ensure that they are protected, they also have to make decisions. Games such as Animal Jam  and Club Penguin offer in-game tools to report a player to the moderation team and block them from having any interaction. These features help empower your child to take charge in a situation versus feeling powerless. It’s additionally a great talking point to have with your child about what to do when they feel someone is being mean to them or they see someone breaking the rules.

Talk to them about privacy with personal information such as not giving out your password even the person is a “really good buddy” and especially not giving out any information that could lead back to them personally.

While these connections seem superficial, they won’t seem that way to your child. Their “buddy” on the game can quickly seem and feel as close as a friend that they go to school with.

Overall, we have a lot of power to protect our children while still allowing them to learn how to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the internet and the ever-growing world of online gaming.

Kelly Goelz
Project Manager

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Honoring Real-Life Mourning in Online Communities

130818_mms_blog_memorial-1One of the things I most treasure about online communities is that the word “community” in their name is not just a figure of speech. Given enough time, positive intention, and freedom to interact, people in online venues will start to share their lives with each other in amazingly deep and heartfelt ways. I think it’s simply human nature. We’re social creatures, so given any sort of regular gathering place – be it a real-life “Cheers” type bar or an MMORPG chat channel – people will start getting social. They will celebrate each others’ joys: birthdays, promotions, the births of grandchildren. They will commiserate with each others’ woes: lost jobs, health issues, failed relationships.

And when a longtime member of an online community dies – I’m not talking an avatar getting slain by a dungeon boss here, I mean that real-deal rendezvous with mortality which comes to all of us sooner or later – online communities will want to share their equally real grief (and I’m not talking “griefing” here, either – but I do think you all get where I’m going with this post).

One of the Second Life communities I belong to has recently experienced just such a death of a longtime member. As this particular community has been in existence for several years, this is far from the first death it has weathered, so while confronting death is never easy, this group had the experience to respond with grace and strength. An in-world service of remembrance was held; people gathered in chat to share their memories of the departed; virtual flowers and candles were placed in front of the deceased person’s virtual shop; and that shop was designated a permanent memorial to be kept in place as long as the community is in existence. The community leaders even arranged to lower the region’s virtual flags to half-mast for a week.

Not every online group has that wealth of experience to draw on when one of their members dies – let alone the kind of flexibility that Second Life provides. If you happen to be a community manager for such a group when one of their number passes on, you can do your people a world of good by providing sensitive help and guidance in their time of need. You can be the listening ear and gently moderating hand for the community as it grapples with the news and works toward an appropriate response. And in your role as liaison between the community and the client company, you can investigate policies and explore options for making such a response happen.

Honoring the deceased does not necessarily have to be elaborate or technically challenging. It can be something as simple as setting up a special forum topic regarding the deceased, to stay open for a designated period of time; keeping a watchful moderator’s eye on the topic while members post stories, photos, graphics, and other memorial content; and then archiving the topic in a permanent location after it’s officially closed. Depending on client-company policies, honoring the deceased could also include reaching out to his or her real-life family (if such contact is known or welcomed) to share with them the contents of that memorial topic, or listing favorite charities of the deceased so that people can make donations in the person’s name. The important point here is that your people are provided with a way to do something, however symbolic, to channel their feelings and show that they care. And after all, isn’t that what memorials – and community – are all about?

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Specialist

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Guest Blog Post: Striking the Fine Line Between Appealing to Both Kids and Adult Gamers

guyoncouchVideo games are a mainstream form of entertainment, and more people are playing games than ever before. Currently, 67% of all American households contain gamers, and the average age of the game consumer is 34, with the 18-49 year-old demographic making up one half of the gaming demographic. As a result, producers pour an incredible sum of money marketing their titles toward the more mature gamer.

That said, 25% of the gamer community is under 18, and many adult gamers get into it as a way to keep an eye on their young gamers. Indeed, some research suggests that up to 97% of all kids play video games at least some of the time, many an hour or more per day.

Playing games together is a time-honored tradition in many families, and it’s the natural extension of family board game nights in techno-savvy households. The challenge for developers, then, is balancing the needs of both kids and adult gamers to create a game that will appeal to a wide target audience.

Key Considerations

At their core, gamers of all ages want just one thing: a good game. Within that, though, certain things will appeal better to some players than others. Here are some tips for designing a game that will appeal to players of all ages:

  • Use humor.

Kids love humor, and adults will appreciate a few high-brow jokes hidden in innocuous places. One game that succeeds wonderfully at this is Viva Pinata, where a decidedly adult subtext sails right over the heads of young players while providing amusement to their parents.

  • Consider creating a sandbox-style game.

incredibles

[Image: Disney Infinity, rumored to be a full sandbox game]

Although it’s not the only model that can be successful, sandbox games give you an automatic advantage when designing a game for a wide audience. Since players can create their own goals, the game can be engaging for people of multiple skill levels.

  • Make sure the controls are simple.

The more buttons involved in game play, the harder the learning curve and the more likely that young players will get frustrated. There’s a reason why the Wii dominates among families: Simple, intuitive controls make for a more enjoyable immersive gaming experience.

  • Make the art style interesting.

biggreentreeWhile photorealism is a popular choice among adult-oriented games, it’s not as captivating for kids (and admittedly a few older gamers) who are more accustomed to cartoons and brightly-clad superheroes. You don’t have to go for a cartoony look, but a unique visual style will signal that this is a game that kids would like.

  • Make it easy to put down.

While adults are often very happy to sit down for a weekend-long game session, kids are usually playing in short bursts between school and homework. Design your game in such a way that real achievements or progress can be made in 30 minutes of game time, and the game can be saved at any point. This will also make it easier for a busy parent to sit down and play along.

Striking The Balance

There are many enjoyable all-ages video game franchises on the market, including Epic Mickey, Little Big Planet and Viva Pinata. These games are all very different, but they have one thing in common…

… They’re all well-made, excellent games.

Whether you’re creating a sandbox-style game or a puzzle-based platformer, paying attention to quality is what will make your game stand out from the crowd. Formal education through game design programs offered at places like the New York Film Academy can help you hone your natural ability to craft this, but ultimately it’s through practice that you’ll hone your eye for a balanced experience.

marioKids might be forgiving about thin story or repetitive game play, but adults require more intellectual stimulation. At the same time, adults have more patience for slow-moving games, but kids demand to be entertained without being bored. Learning to balance your pacing, difficulty level and content quality won’t just help you make a better family game; it’ll also make you a better game designer in general.

New York Film Academy
Guest Blogger

NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY – NEW YORK CITY
Acting & Film School
The Most Hands-On Intensive Program in the World.

The New York Film Academy is licensed by the New York State Education Department. The New York Film Academy is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). NASAD is the only accrediting body for visual art programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. A list of programs reviewed and approved by NASAD can be found here.

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Ingress Round 2: An online game requiring real-life teamwork

I had just put the final touches on a portal I had claimed for The Resistance, when my phone buzzed and beeped. “Hey, just saw you claim B____ Park,” the incoming message said – I recognized the handle as that of one of the most active high-level local agents in my faction. “We’re at the Safeway – want to meet up?” “Sure!” I typed back, put the phone back in its hands-free holder, and put the car in gear. I was intrigued, and maybe the slightest bit nervous. I had seen this agent’s name on many a portal won for the Resistance, as well as many posts in our secure online group chat, so he wasn’t an unknown quantity. But now, I was going to have my first real-life meeting with a fellow Ingress player.

130626_MMS_blog_Ingress2A lot has happened since my previous blog post about my experiences with Ingress, Google’s new augmented-reality MMORPG. At that time, a little over a month ago, I had just leveled up to Level 2 of 8; now I’m just shy of Level 5. Throughout this time, Niantic Labs, the Google in-house think tank behind the game, had issued a number of tweaks to the still-closed beta, some of which made it a whole lot harder to capture a virtual portal from the opposing faction, others of which allowed you to “flip” a portal from one faction to the other in the blink of an eye – IF your level and action points were high enough to fire this extremely rare weapon.

In this same period I had seen portals in my area change hands time and time again, whole neighborhoods on my online maps switching from the blue of the Resistance faction to the green of the so-called Enlightened and back again seemingly overnight. Obviously, building permanent encampments of one faction or the other could not be the goal of this game, because there was no such thing as permanence. I found myself thinking, “If all there there’s going to be to this game is simply fighting back and forth ad nauseam for the same darned portals, I’m not sure it’s going to keep my interest for too much longer, no matter how pretty the app graphics are.”

But especially for people like me, who really enjoy having real-life meetups with the people I meet in online communities, there is in fact a whole other dimension to Ingress: that of real-life, real-time, teamwork.

Like a number of other MMORPGs I can think of – World of Warcraft immediately springs to mind – there are some in-game tasks and strategies you can only accomplish if you collaborate with other people. A prime example: portals, the virtual markers tied to real-life landmarks all over the landscape, can be built up in strength levels from 1 to 8, just like players – and the only way to build a Level 8 portal is to have eight Level 8 players of the same faction working together, preferably simultaneously. And if you don’t happen to have eight Level 8 players of your faction in your area – as we lack here in my town – you have to make arrangements for some out-of-town folks to come visit.

Which in fact my local faction did just the other weekend. The same Level 8 player I met that night at the Safeway decided he wanted to get at least eight Level 8 Resistance agents together to make a massive number of Level 8 Resistance portals in a local park. A Google+ invite was posted, messages flew back and forth across the Internet, carpools and potluck dishes were arranged. On the appointed day a gang of eight players methodically did the big walkabout and made an impressive number of well-defended Resistance-blue portals. A number of lower-level players also showed up to farm the newly-claimed portals for in-game goodies, chow down on barbecue, and meet a bunch of folks as crazed about this game as they were.

All over the world (literally) similar meetups are happening, including cross-faction collaborations. In this way, Ingress is already making great strides towards embodying Niantic Labs founder John Hanke’s vision: mobile apps that don’t draw us away from reality, but instead creatively connect us to it. And I for one am all for it.

And remember, the game isn’t even out of closed beta yet. I can’t wait to see what direction it takes next.

Ellen Brenner
Social Media Manager

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The Metaverse Mod Squad Guide to E3

SDC10014This is a very big year for the game industry and E3 is the biggest conference. All the major players will be showing off what they’ve been working on. Expect to see new consoles and games, as well as more than a few surprises. Make sure to catch the press conferences, starting tomorrow (Monday, June 9th), and follow news throughout the week on your favorite gaming news sites.

SDC10031The biggest news this year are next-gen consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Both companies have officially announced their hardware, but there’s plenty left to show off. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve found out so far and what may be at E3 next week.

Make sure to follow our Tumblr throughout the week for impressions and pictures from the show floor (http://metaversemodsquad.tumblr.com/).

Sony
PlayStation 4
Info: http://www.playstation.com/ps4/
Announcement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiNGZMx2vhY

By almost all accounts, the PlayStation 4 announcement was a huge success. Even Xbox fanatics had to stand up and take notice. Sony has made it no secret; they are focusing on games and gamers.

What we know:

  • Many games and tech demos have been shown;
  • Remote play of PS4 games on Vita;
  • Stream games from the cloud;
  • Stream video to The Internet;
  • Ability to post screenshots and videos via Share button;
  • Updated Dualshock 4 controller; and,
  • Stereoscopic PlayStation Move camera.

What we will likely see:

  • Price and release date;
  • The console;
  • More games
  • Showcasing of streaming technology; and,
  • Details on updated PlayStation Move and games.

Possible surprises:

  • Vita hardware update and/or attachment with triggers: and,
  • PlayTV update and integration with PS4.

Microsoft
Xbox One
Info: http://www.xbox.com/xboxone
Announcement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP4E3xNU9pU

Many agree that Microsoft had a lackluster announcement event, but they have promised to “…kill Sony at E3” and focus on games. We’ll see if they can deliver!

What we know:

  • The console is, unsurprisingly, a black box;
  • Ability to share video clips to The Internet;
  • Updated controller with rumble triggers;
  • Live TV through HDMI-in port;
  • Kinect 2 with enhanced motion detection;
  • Skype and other apps through ‘Snap Mode’; and,
  • 15 exclusive games coming in the first year.

What we will likely see:

  • Price and release date;
  • Games!
  • Specifics on the 15 exclusive games (likely Quantum Break, Fable, Halo, Gears of War, and some new IPs).

Possible surprises:

  • Streaming game tech;
  • Free online play; and,
  • Exclusive contracts with big developers.

SDC10142Nintendo
Wii U
Info: http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu/

Nintendo announced the Wii U two years ago and launched it last year. While it’s unlikely they’ll be announcing any new hardware, we should see plenty of amazing games at E3. Expect all the fan favorites, including Mario and Zelda titles.

What we know:

  • The Wii U needs to shine this year and will likely be the focus;
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD remake coming to Wii U;
  • A near-final version of Pikmin 3 should be playable; and,
  • A Link to the Past sequel.

What we will likely see:

  • Mario Kart U;
  • Bayonetta 2;
  • Super Smash Bros (Wii U and/or 3DS);
  • New Zelda game for Wii U; and,
  • New Mario Bros. game for Wii U.

Possible surprises:

  • DS/3DS player for Wii U;
  • Higher storage capacity Wii U model; and,
  • Wii U price drop.

This is just a small taste of what’s to come. Make sure to catch the press conferences below and follow our Tumblr account for more news next week.

Press Conferences

Matt Hostler
Account Manager

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Retention: Choose badges over leaderboards

In the first post of Sanya Weathers’ weekly “Retention” series, she discussed the importance of comparative ranking systems – rank everyone and everything.  Achievement, respect and a sense that time spent on your product is not wasted can be checked off with leaderboards, but a rapidly evolving media space requires fresh games to kick it new school.

And in the new school, it’s all about the achievements. Achievements, or badges, reward individual steps along the way to gamer domination. Did a user defeat a particularly nasty dragon in under five minutes? Give them a badge. Has one of your users spent over 50 hours logged in to your game? Give them a badge. Heck, has a user been brave enough to venture beyond the starting area? For god’s sake, get that user a badge!

Like rankings, badges are meant to be displayed as a sign of status and satisfy player’s desire for comparison. Beyond that, they can be utilized to satisfy other areas of a game that rankings cannot.

Constant Engagement

So your product starts out small and your active community is around 2,500. Leaderboards work OK because you can compete well, relative to the number of actives. But, your product is going to attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users to the experience. On their path to greatness, new users are going to be daunted by the giant ladder they’ll have to climb to the top. A badge system, however, rewards players from their baby steps to dragon-slaying awesomeness – keeping a constant stream of engagement and reward.

Objectives

Let your players see most, if not all, of the badges available and tell them what they need to do in order to unlock them. You can be as straightforward or cryptic as you want, but give them a goal to shoot for. Badges give your users clear objectives for mastering their online experience. Also, throwing in a few hidden achievements can  make for a pleasant surprise!

Value

Rankings can feel too arbitrary for users. Aside from the select few who make it to the top, what is the difference between 4,125th place and being 4,968th? Each individual achievement creates lasting value to the experience. Grinding through a difficult dungeon won’t satisfy a player if they only gained a few notches in the rankings, but a trophy to put on the metaphorical mantle will.

Each badge earned represents a specific accomplishment by the player in contrast to an arbitrary ranking number. Ultimately, it gives value to a player’s accomplishments whether large or small. Rather than discouraging a player who is still in 4000th place, you reward them with a show of accomplishment. Since the end goal is to make sure your users are happy, this system creates more value over what a player has done as opposed to what they haven’t done.

Don’t let it distract

One challenge that faces developers who use these systems is making sure that badge achievement does not interfere with the natural flow of a game. Stopping gameplay to award a badge can end up taking the user out of the experience. When designing these systems, take this into consideration – you want it to enhance, not detract.

-Chase

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Virtual Worlds & MMOs – Better for the Environment; Easier on the Wallet

Two of the biggest goals for people over the past couple years involve saving money and saving the planet. Both are obviously worthy goals, and fairly complex issues. But when it comes to entertainment, choosing Massively Multi-Player Online games (MMO) and virtual worlds over traditional video games can actually accomplish both.

Consider the sheer amount of stuff used to produce video games. There are the consoles (plastic, circuitry, wires, etc.), as well as the games themselves, and their packaging (plastic, metal, more plastic). All of which end up in landfills after just a few years of use. Now think about MMOs and Virtual Worlds. No packaging, no DVD, no console. Nothing that can get broken or lost and has to be replaced. True, one needs a computer, or at least access to a computer. But most of us have a computer that we use for many other tasks.

Now on to money. A traditional video game console costs upwards of $200. Video games themselves cost anywhere from $25-$60 a pop, on average. When someone grow tired of a game, they might get a few bucks back by selling it at a yard sale or on EBay, but chances are, it won’t fetch much, if anything. Think especially of kids – $45 per game, and they may grow bored of it in just a month or two. In addition, once the game has been conquered, when all the levels have been completed, that’s about it. Sure, you can play it again, but it’s just not quite the same. Virtual worlds and MMOs, on the other hand, change constantly; they expand and morph over time. Virtual worlds also tend to have more economical and flexible pricing – a whole year of many MMOs and virtual worlds costs about the same as one video game. Not sure if you’ll like it or not, or whether your child is likely to stick with it? One-month and/or six-month membership options – about the price of lunch at a fast food restaurant – are generally available.

The intangibility of virtual worlds and MMOs seems to make some people a little uneasy, as if they should not spend money on something that cannot be physically held. And yet that is precisely what makes them both environmentally responsible and a great value.

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Avatar – Part 2: Origins of the word

Excitement continues to build for the theater release of James Cameron’s upcoming epic, “Avatar,” on December 18th. The film is a 3D science-fiction action movie starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who becomes reborn as an alien species – his “Avatar.”

While it’s uncertain exactly how the movie intends to use it, Cameron’s use of the word “avatar” is probably different than the one we encounter in our industry and the hype surrounding the film inspired us to delve into the word itself. This three part blog series will explore the use of the word avatar as we know it, the origins of the word and the varying cases in which the word “avatar” has been applied.

In the first part of this series we discussed the word avatar and gave the modern definition as a graphical representation of one’s self, personality or alter-ego while engaging in online communication. Avatars take on many forms in the computing world, but the word itself dates back thousands of years.

The word “avatar” comes from the Sanskrit word अवतार (avata-ra) which means “descent” or “coming down from far away.” The idea comes from the Hindu religion, where it implies a descent from a higher realm of spiritual being into lower forms of existence. Many of these ancient avatars were said to have had special powers and were used for certain purposes on Earth. This concept dates back to 500 BC and earlier, used for years in oral traditions before being recorded in an ancient Hindu text known as the Garuda Purana.

The Gurada Purana tells of the ten avatars used by the god Vishnu to perform special tasks in the human realm. Vishnu’s avatars, known as Daśāvatāra, took many forms such as a tortoise, boar and even the Buddha himself.

It wasn’t until thousands of years later that the term avatar as we know it made an appearance in the realm of the metaverse. Arguably the first use of “avatar” in computing games comes from Ultima IV, an RPG released in 1985. The player is tasked by the character Lord British to become the Avatar, a shining example of spiritual enlightenment to ensure peace.

It is interesting to note the theme of limitation used to describe the Hindu avatars. Avatars were a “lower form” of being, limited in what they could do in comparison with their godly nature. In many ways our avatars are limited versions of ourselves. Even though they escape aesthetic barriers, they are not granted the level of function that we have as physical human beings.

Read More: Avatar – Part 1: Defining the Modern Avatar and Avatar – Part 3: Future of the avatar

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Avatar – Part 1: Defining the modern avatar

Excitement continues to build for the theater release of James Cameron’s upcoming epic, “Avatar,” on December 18th. The film is a 3D science-fiction action movie starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who becomes reborn as an alien species – his “Avatar.”

While it’s uncertain exactly how the movie intends to use it, Cameron’s use of the word “avatar” is probably different than the one we encounter in our industry and the hype surrounding the film inspired us to delve into the word itself. This three part blog series will explore the use of the word avatar as we know it, the origins of the word and the varying cases in which the word “avatar” has been applied.


Part 1 – Defining the modern avatar

While many folks are still confused by the term “avatar,” its use is becoming more widespread as culture and communication continue to move online. We will explore the various forms and applications of the avatar, but for this part of the series we will need to place a definition to begin our journey.

An avatar is a graphical representation of one’s self, personality or alter-ego while engaging in online communication.  Avatars can range from simple, static 2D graphics to complex, animated 3D forms controlled by the user.

We see avatars in many forms of online communication. AOL instant messengers are using avatars when they place a “buddy icon” next to their name. Forum users will often use a picture under their names to represent themselves on their posts. Even a social network user who opts for a cartoon or other image that is not their photograph is using an avatar. It can even be argued that an altered personal photograph is in fact an avatar since it is not an “actual” representation of the person.

These are the simpler uses of an avatar but a person’s self representation online can be manifested in more complicated forms in virtual world spaces. Perhaps the most enabling of area of avatar creation is Second Life, a 3-dimensional world created entirely by its users. There are almost no bounds to what a person can be in this world. A person can run around as a tiny rabbit, a giant robot or even just themselves. Areas like Second Life give online communicators an incredible reach of self-representation.

Avatars allow people to connect what they are reading (or hearing, as the case may be) with the person generating it. They allow faces and visuals to enter in to the conversation on a platform that is often nameless or faceless. Whether an avatar enhances or detracts from the communication, they certainly provide more dimensions for absorbing it.

Read more:
Avatar – Part 2: Origins of the word and Avatar – Part 3: Future of the Avatar

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Loudcrowd – Combining Music, Video Games and Social Networking (Some Thoughts)

When I started this blog, one of the first things I mentioned was how amazing music has become in the way that we share it, listen to it and play with it. The internet has revolutionized the music industry, propelling the role of music in our lives to incredible heights. Ben Parr, a writer for Mashable, recently posted an article about the internet and its role in the rise of social music. He writes about its humble beginnings, the growth of MP3’s, illegal sharing, legitimized applications like iTunes, and the use of music social networks like Last.fm.

The last few years has also seen innovations in music-themed entertainment, namely the popularization of games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. The idea has been around since about 1996 when PaRappa the Rapper was one of the first rhythm based video games of its time, but has since become a major force in the video game industry.

So what happens when you introduce a social aspect into the world of music based video gaming? You get Loudcrowd, a “music community for people who want to do more than just listen.” Loudcrowd is a DDR type gaming site where users complete dances and challenges to unlock clothes, music tracks (that come with additional challenges) and more.

Players have two options for building up their battery meter to unlock items, either sending dances to other users or completing solo challenges. It can be pretty addicting, and I’m not the only one who has spent quite some time playing around with the dance challenges. Loudcrowd has made a good attempt and mixing social networking, video gaming and music discovery. Although I’m a fan of what the site is trying to do I’d like to offer my observations and a few suggestions as to how the site can improve and fulfill its objective.

Social Networking

Loudcrowd has taken rhythm based video gaming and infused a social aspect to it. Players hang out in a lobby together where they perform dances for one another and complete challenges. Dances can be sent to other user along with a short message after the DDR-type minigame is completed.

For some reason there is no local chat feature, communication is limited to one on one conversations with other players. In order for there to be a healthy music community, there has to be an open discourse where users can share information with each other and contribute to the dialogue as a whole. Even if they didn’t want to have open chat, at least make forums available. Especially since the site is in beta, users should be able to look at each other’s ideas and be able to expound off of them.

It’s also slightly frustrating that the messages are limited to 60 characters (And you thought Twitter forced you to be concise!). I think it’s a brilliant idea that users can keep up a conversation by means of sending dances to each other, but it’s difficult to have any kind of meaningful discussion other than flat “Hey, what’s up – Not a whole lot, you?” kind of talking. Users can take the discussion to straight up instant messaging, but you have to choose between the two as the game can move pretty fast. Loudcrowd should up the character limit to dance messages, letting users engage in complex discussions without sacrificing the fun of doing it through video gaming.

I had asked a few regulars (all of whom had reached the level limit on the site) how many friends they had made in Loudcrowd and only one or two responded with a number more than 3. In a site that is trying to promote a community, users should be able to develop a bigger network.

Video Gaming

Player's complete challenges to send dances to other users

Player’s complete challenges to send dances to other users

It appears that the primary function of Loudcrowd’s site is video gaming, and for something that’s offered for free on the internet, its a lot of fun. Players can select up to four difficulty levels on different challenges in the game. There’s the rhythm based dancing mini game, a fill-in-the-blank survival minigame and a turntable mini game. The three different challenges help mix it up and give users options on what they want to participate in, but they can get stale after a while. Anyone I talked to on the site thats been there more than a week has said they’ve gotten bored with the gameplay.

This is fine if they’re trying to offer a casual gaming site for people to spend a few minutes on every day to kill some time, but fails if they are attempting to create a solid destination for players to immerse themselves in. The revenue model is based around buying upgrades for storage space on the items you can unlock, but when the site isn’t offering a continuously entertaining video game challenge, or items that affect and improve the experience, then it’s hard to see how people are going to stay on the site. Loudcrowd says they are introducing new games every two months, and I wonder if that’s too long a time span to keep players constantly engaged. It’s a great idea to keep expanding its gaming options, but it’s also important to build upon the mini games already in place.

Players can level up through accumulating points and ideally it’s supposed to unlock better items through the challenges, but players level out at 50 and most level 50 players I met said they did it in less than a week. I’m at level 10 after an estimated total of 5 hours on the site, and haven’t noticed any increase in the variety of options. The reason why a game like World of Warcraft is successful is because there is something to continoulsy strive for, the experience expands and improves with every challenge completed. Even though Loudcrowd is operating on a much smaller scale than WOW, it has to give players an incentive to keep playing. Expand the clothing options, offer items that actually affect the game play like power ups that can be used in challenges, and either up the level max or make it harder to level out. No game should be TOO easy.

Lastly, I’d like to see a larger focus on competition. With a DDR model in the dances, players need to be able to compete against one another and not just themselves. Some of the mini games and track challenges offer score charts where you can compete on the scoreboard, but players want to be able to compete directly against each other. The whole winner/loser dynamic may not be the biggest self esteem booster, but it’s usually why people play engage in multiplayer games in the first place.

Music Discovery

To start off, I have to say that the music on the site is great. It’s all mostly independent electro (a scene that has been really taking off the last couple years in the music community) bands from partnerships they’ve secured with record labels like Beggars Group, DFA, Domino, Downtown Records, and Modular. This makes sense with the type of gaming that’s offered, but it’s not the only genre of music that has a beat that works in the system. From the feedback I’ve gotten it seems that most of the users aren’t necessarily electro heads, and some have said they just turn off the music after a while. Targeting a specific genre is all well and good when you are appealing to one area of the music community, but when your audience has varied musical tastes I think it’s important to cater to that.

I would also like to see a larger selection of music offered, even if they stick with a pure electro theme. The playlist changes every week but the songs come from a selection of about 4 or 5 artists, and I’ve heard repeat songs during 30 minute gaming sessions. It would be cool to see a comprehensive playlist, one that emphasizes the new tracks that are debuting that week but still give attention to ones in the past. Over time, the site can offer a large music library that still introduces good music to those who may not have been lucky enough to be signed in when the track first came to the site.

Good start with a lot of potential

Despite some of my observations, Loudcrowd really is an innovative, refreshingly fun site and you can count me as a fan. The artistic side is very well done and very stylish. The site is a great example of taking a browser-based system and making the most out of it with the aesthetic quality. The art and music fit seamlessly together, complimenting each other and creating a solid, congruent environment.

One of the cool feature in Loudcrowd's player profiles

One of the cool features in Loudcrowd’s player profiles (Not my profile)

I’m also a big fan of the user profiles, they’re unique to the site in a way I haven’t seen in other virtual worlds or social networking sites. Not only can they list their favorite bands, but there is a space for favorite lyrics, most influential band and things of that nature. There is also a bar graph on each user’s page detailing the times the user is usually on the site. I haven’t even been able to hit all of the features associated with player profiles and I think that speaks to the potential in depth of experience.

As a music lover, I’m very excited to see what else the creators have in store for Loudcrowd. The way the site blends music and video gaming only enhances each of those aspects. I spend a lot of time on the internet searching for new music, scouring sites like Hype Machine for new tunes. When you’re on the computer though, music usually serves as the background function. While I listen to new tracks on Hype Machine, I’m usually doing something else that takes away being able to fully appreciate and be a part of the music that’s playing. Loudcrowd offers a way to stay entertained and engaged with music, interacting with the beat while you discover new music.

I wouldn’t normally take the time to sit down and analyze the bits and pieces but the site really speaks to me, and I’d like to see them improve on the great features they already have in place. If Loudcrowd succeeds, we can be sure to see more innovations like this in the future.

Chase Straight, Music Community Manager

The Electric Panda Blog

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New developments in iPhone apps play to the importance of human interaction in virtual landscapes

So I’m reading this article in Business Week about the future of gaming on Apple consoles, and by consoles I mean the iPhone. Apple has long neglected the poor Mac, leaving me playing Roller Coaster Tycoon to satisfy my computer gaming needs (Purposely leaving WOW on the shelf for fear of giving my soul away to Blizzard). Well, it looks like they have some pretty cool things in store for gaming applications on the Iphone.

The most exciting part of this news is the inclusion of multiplayer capabilities on the iPhone as a handheld gaming device. This idea has been attempted with the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP but it was too difficult to connect to other players in any sort of fun gaming environment. You basically have to know who you want to play with in order to set anything up. Hopefully the iPhone applications will have some sort of lobby function, or even an auto connect with other random players trying to set up games.

In a world where connectivity is expanding at a lightning speed rate, gamers want to pit their skills against other live human beings. Artificial intelligence, for the time being, pales in comparison to what the human brain offers. Instead of giving a single player a world to operate in, pitting themselves against scripts and AI, multiplayer offers an environment in which multiple brains can interact, create and compete.

Working together towards a common cause

Working together toward a common cause

People want to share their experiences with others. Ever since one of the first video games, Pong, it has always been more fun to play with another person than it was to play against the computer. Even when the game was strictly one player, like the original Mario, sharing the experience with another person, trading controllers, was ultimately more fulfilling than playing by yourself.

The fact that these features are just starting to come to iPhone applications is a little surprising. I guess it can be chalked up to limitations of a developing technology because I doubt application designers have failed to see the promise of multiplayer capabilities. However, the brilliant minds at Apple have shown questionable logic with their direction of iPhone utilities in the past. Regardless, multiplayer is coming to the iPhone and it is going to make its use as a gaming device compete on a very high level. The iPhone will succeed on this level for the same reason that social media has become such a hit and why other developers will continue to use human connectivity in their pursuits: human beings want to interact with other human beings.

Chase Straight, Music Community Manager

The Electric Panda Blog

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