No Man is an Island

Looking for the dynamics between the game, the group and the player

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” John Donne (1572 – 1631)

 

Preface

This report was written in fall of 2005 as part for a project cluster in “Advanced Computer Game Analysis” at the IT-University of Copenhagen. The idea of this cluster was to look at games in an analytical and methodological perspective, and by doing so understand the elements and functions behind the game. During this report we will investigate how and why group structures within multiplayer games emerge.

As this is a new field for all of us we have consulted people who are currently working in this field. We would like to thank Miguel Sicart and Jonas Heide Smith, PhD students at the IT-University, for going beyond the call of duty and sharing thoughts and ideas on the subject.

 

Introduction

This was not how they planed it. This was going to be a walk-over. The dragons of The Blasted Lands were known throughout the entire realm of Azeroth, as being easy prey for seasoned adventurers like themselves. But something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong. Seven of the ten man strong group that had set out to bring down the dragons, were no longer among the living. Their lifeless corpses lay scattered on the hillside which had proven their final doom. One of them was still on fire, but the proud warrior that once occupied that body, had long since seized his panicking attempts to put it out. He was now walking the lonely road through the eternal fields of the afterlife. Their slogan of “you will never walk alone” suddenly had a very hollow ring to it. Every man for himself was now the order of the day. The chance of survival was close to none. Everyone was running around screaming. “I’m not even supposed to be here for crying out loud! You just be happy I’m helping you fight this dragon.” “Can’t anyone control that freaking rogue? We have rules, and a chain of command for the love of God. If nobody followed our rules it would just be total anarchy. I make the calls of when to fight and when to run!” Never before had they been in these parts of the barren wastelands. Before leaving the secure town of Ironforge behind, they had allied themselves with some highly skilled veterans to help with bringing the dragon down. Because down it had to go! The legend had it that the dragons of The Blasted Lands held guard over some of the most precious metals in the entire known world. Metals that could be used to forge mighty swords and armor. But all that seemed to matter little now…

The story above is an imaginary scene from the game World of Warcraft. Even though none of this really took place, it is included to illustrate some of the mechanics in the game. The game mechanics combined with the human factors, are some of the issues which we will try to cover in this report.

All the members of this project group have been playing games for many years and take great interest in especially multiplayer games and how relations between people emerge in such games. Anyone who has spent a few hours in a multiplayer game has probably experienced how people act and interact in different ways. We have all experienced the good and bad things about such games. How people interact with each other and the game has been our starting point. What we intend to clarify is whether or not the player is influenced by the context of a group and if there is a mutual exchange between players. In the following sections we will clarify the scope of this project and how we will approach the subject.

Problem area

Games in the genre of “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” (MMOGs) have during the last couple of years exploded in terms of player population and popularity. Why, could one ask? What do these games provide that make people, month after month, pay fairly big amounts of money to play? Is it the chance to experience grand adventures, epic battles or the opportunity to rise as a hero in a world of chaos? Or is it something completely non-game related, like chatting, forming new friendships etc.?

In the beginning it is fairly reasonable to expect that the main focus of a player in any MMOG is to explore and learn how to act within the game world, but as time passes and you get more and more familiar with your surroundings other objectives arise; at some point you know everything there is to know about the world and you are faced with a dilemma – what to do now? Either you quit the game completely or you find new objectives within the game – e.g. acquiring the best item, being the best player at a specific game mechanic or building strong social relations. These objectives then serve as a means to keep playing, even though the game itself does not instruct you to. One could say that you stop playing the designers game and instead start to play within the world.

So why is this interesting? Well, people tend to approach games in a very rational fashion; how do I optimize my chance of winning. This is due to how games are structured – a cost-benefit principle where every move should be weighed according to the overall goal of the game. This is certainly the case if we were talking about single player games, where every move only affects you. So, would it be a sensible assumption to make when we are talking multiplayer games, MMOGs in particular? During our initial studies, we saw a tendency that people seemed to deviate from this assumption. Why is that? It seems there is something else affecting the player, when he enters a social context. Why would anyone emphasise a non-game related issues, like social interaction, in a situation where winning is everything? Of course there are anomalies among players – not everyone is playing to win a game, but it is, as we see it, a minority in comparison with most players (Smith, forthcoming).

During this report we will try to clarify the key factors when people participating in certain group structures – e.g. do players always choose, as one could expect, the rational choice in a particular context? In exploring this phenomenon we are using the MMOG World of Warcraft as a case study.

This game is currently the biggest MMOG on the marked, with more than 5 million subscribing users (Blizzard.com). It’s truly a game which has managed to appeal to players in a broader perspective. People of every age, play this game. It has become a leading title within this genre and is probably shaping the next generation of MMOGs.

Problem statement

Based upon the problem area we will try to answer the following question:

  • When playing World of Warcraft, what are the key factors of the relationship between the player and the group?

To understand why players make certain choices regarding group structures, we will initially have to clarify how the game facilitates group structures and what types of players it is dealing with. We will therefore use the following questions as means to answer the before-mentioned statement.

  • How are groups structured within World of Warcraft?
  • Which type of players takes part in these structures?

Problem limitation

As part of our problem limitation we have chosen only to focus on World of Warcraft. This is done due to two factors. First of all because of the extreme focus which World of Warcraft is experiencing at this time, which has, as mentioned in the first section, managed to capture the essence for many types of players and thereby their way of playing. Secondly we wanted a problem area of manageable size.

In our analysis we will be using different theories to verify or explain certain findings. We will not at any time try to verify or substantiate the theories, but merely use them as a foundation from which we will try to explain player behaviour in a social context.

 

The report

In the following section there will be a brief introduction to the report and how this is structured. In order to answer or problem statement we have decide to divide the report into two sections, where each part respectively will handle “the group” and “the player”. Each chapter will be organised in the following way:

  • Theory – the theory will be used to analyse the mechanics of the game and will be introduced at the beginning of each chapter.
  • The analysis – the theory combined with the empirical material should give us some answers to our initial (sub-) problem statement.
  • Conclusion – there will be a summary of all our findings regarding the analysis.

The consequence of this structure is that we do not have a purely theoretical chapter, where all the theory is introduced at once, but rather it is split up into smaller parts and explained when needed.

 

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No Man Is An Island (PDF – 1.3 MB)

Human remote control – EyesWeb

Paper and experiment made as part of the course “Automatic Perception” on Medialogy, 4th semester (Aalborg University, Esbjerg – Copenhagen)

Date: June 4, 2003

Supervisors: Volker Krüger and Rune E. Andersen

Written by Camilla Bannebjerre Nielsen, Malene Benkjær, Maria Tønnesen, Mikkel Byrsø Dan, Morten Wang and Simon Lund Larsen


 

Abstract 

With the use of EyesWeb, we have tried to create an alternative way of controlling a movie- and sound-clip. We have succeeded in developing a system where you can play, pause and fast-forward the clip, zoom in/out and adjust the volume by using your hand and a red glove.

We have used color tracking to track the red glove and afterward performing blob tracking to output coordinates of the movements of the hand. These coordinates are used to perform decisions on which actions to do with the movie- and sound-clip.

We encountered different problems during the experimental work. Some of them were predicted already in the starting phase such as camera noise, resolution, change in illumination, incoming objects and “The Popcorn Problem”. The only problem still standing is the problem concerning incoming objects with the same color as the glove. The well-known illumination problem was partly solved by using the HSI color model instead of RGB. “The Popcorn Problem”, where the system doesn’t know if it is active or not, were solved by defining an open/close command that included clenching the fist.

All in all we have reached our goal, and we are satisfied with the outcome of the project and the final prototype of the Human Remote Control.

The report is divided into two parts. The first part summarizes all the theory used in creating the experiments and the experiments themselves are documented in part two. The theory covers areas such as convolution, digital filters, morphological operators, blob tracking, color models and other relevant subjects. The documentation of the experiments shows the step-wise development used to finalize the EyesWeb patch. The EyesWeb experiments were conducted with success, and the final version of our EyesWeb patch works accordingly to the goals we wished to accomplish.

 

Downloads

Entire paper “Human Remote Control” (PDF – 2.5MB)

Playing the game – Managing Computer Game Development

From the Introduction 

Every time a computer games is released it’s accompanied by endless reports and stories about how disorganized and chaotic the production had been. It’s a wonder to me that an industry that a yearly growth of about 15% still is plagued with bad planning. 

Even though the industry make a ton of money each year, it’s a known fact that many project end up with red numbers in the end. This is partly due to the very big economical investments that are normal in the industry. It’s common that large productions have a production budget of around 3-4 million dollars. That’s just for production. 

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius the figure out that you have to sell a lot of copies to make a return on your investment. The profit is a long way down the road when a single copy only brings in a couple of dollars in real profit.

And many games never sell over 500,000 copies worldwide in their entire lifespan.

To examine if the bad production planning really is the very root of the problem, I analyzed 43 different Postmortem articles from Gamasutra.com. The result of the analysis can be read in appendix A.

The analysis both confirmed and changed my view of the way professional game development is being carried out in the development houses around the world. Even though the analysis shows that some productions did indeed have good planning, and a solid pre-production, the majority of the projects did not. They were trouble with either bad or no planning, or bad project managers. Some even have all of the above. The articles all stated this as one of the main problems. 

One other thing that’s quite remarkable is that almost all of these games went on to receive huge critical and/or gamer acclaim. So it’s not so much a question of finding a qualified workforce. The problem lies more in the planning and management parts of the projects.

Another thing that all the productions share is that none seems willing to learn from former mistakes. The articles used in the analysis have all been printed in the period between the September 1999 and August 2002. So even though the information was there, none of the projects show any wish for change in the development form.

The lack of management, or bad management if you will, wears down all the people involved in the development and does not create the desired production level. More time than necessary is used correcting errors and not with what everyone really wants: to invent, develop and refine unique ideas for games.

Many mention the loose structure and the lack of control as a necessity for creative inspiration to thrive. In this report I will try to argument against this and many more opinions.

I will try to show that you as a game developer can save a huge amount of time in the game development process with a proper and thorough planning coupled together with a type of management that gives all the people involved time and space for creative work.

With the saved time comes saved money. Time is, as we all know, money.

Hypothesis 

Game development projects are generally badly planned and badly managed. This results in delayed productions and exceeded budgets. The process with creating computer games is not effective enough and a huge amount of time and human resources are wasted because of this. It seems that the tendency is to “re-invent the wheel” every time around. 

 

Problem 

How can the process of creating computer games be more effective without the loss of any creative force? 

This effective adaptation shall be seen through project management, planning, and organizational reflections. 

 

Audience for This Report 

The target group for this report is everyone working, or planning to start working, in the computer game development industry. That’s a rather broad statement but it’s my opinion that everyone can draw from the hopefully constructive solutions and suggestions written herein. 

Notes 

Throughout the report I use the term “computer game”, which here is meant as a technological aided game, be that either a console game, PC game, handheld game or what have you.

Secondly, all the people (gamers, programmers, producers, etc.) mention in this report are referred to by using the pronoun “he”. This is because the writer of this report is a “he” and the majority of the people working in with computer games development are male. Why that is, is a longer and much more elaborate discussion that lies beyond the aims of this report.

Some of the books referred to are only available in Danish. The ones I’ve been able to find in English have been listed in the reference list.

 

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