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Game Developers Conference 2009 - Day Two Coverage
Posted on Tuesday, March 24 2009 @ 23:52:05 PST

Contents: Disney and Guinea Pigs, Storylines in MMOs, Court Decisions That Effect Your Gaming, Analysis of Brain Games

Tuesday, 11:00 AM

 Disney Interactive Studios @ Hotel Palomar
Spectrobes: Origins, Split Second, and G-Force

I missed the morning panels of GDC to see what Disney is cooking up nowadays. I will be writing mini-previews for Spectrobes: Origins and G-Force (probably some time next week, if I can ever sleep), while Blake will be covering Split Second… which means that I can say whatever I want about it. (Don’t worry, Blake, I won’t ruin it for ya.) To make it short, Split Second is a racing title that is a cross between Burnout Paradise, Twisted Metal, and a whole heck of a lot of destructive environments. And let’s just say that you can make a 747 land on your competitors.

Tuesday, 2:00 PM - 2:45 PM
User Generated Story: The Promise of Unsharded Worlds
Worlds in Motion Summit
Speaker: James Portnow (Divide by Zero Games)

Story in MMOs?
- Has not reached its pinnacle in the slightest. Pales in comparison to single-player games.
- No massive stories. Doesn’t take advantage of the users.
- What about player-driven and meaningful stories? (In fact, most of the time, developers make a story, then have marketing alter it.)
- MMO players usually can’t affect the world they live in
- This is partly because stories in MMO can’t go into branching trees or it will walk into OMG crash land.
- What does it mean to “unshard”? Interactors participate in a shared story space; but not necessarily a shared world space.
- An example of a world that comes close to being completed unsharded is that of Eve Online (sharing the same map, but territory is limited and useful - which make coalitions that much more important)

Player-driven Story in an Unsharded Environment
- After putting players in the same shared story space…
- Massive Choice Events = Stuff That Fundamentally Alters The World (killing a unique monster means that it is destroyed permanently and thereby changes the story)
- Example (Legend of the Five Rings card game): officials record which players win and which clans they used – and then that information is integrated into the next expansion through the story and new cards that bare the winners' names; in other words, players have "agency", the ability to effect the world they are in
- Don't just reset the story if a main NBC player dies, or it makes the event meaningless
- A Good Massive Choice: On a grand scale should impact everyone, ideally (though I think there is room for lower scale choices that build a personal connection), universal participation (ability to create their own stories with personal quests)
- How do you patch for these events and how many patches can you stretch the result over? Deliver changes to the world through time intervals via patches.
- If there is an election or governance, voting should be scaled by action, all votes are not equal, vote scales to the player's level of participation, not power (sort of the House of Representatives, not the Senate); this is, in part, so that high-level characters who haven't played for months can't just suddenly enter and start dictating

Writing Massive Choice Events
- Low entry barrier for new players to just go right in and understand the story, have players not have to wait too long to make an impact, direct players towards the best experience (but don’t force an experience upon them), learn from Augmented Reality Games, use massive events as a way to bring players into the story of the world
- Can see-saw events; that is, make the game close
- Slightly cheating when balancing the world after players have unbalanced it (I don't think this is right, by the way - if the developers cheat by see-sawing, then what's my incentive to improve? Why bother?)
- Make massive choice events as cheaply as possible to produce, reuse existing content
- Now Ignore What I Said Above: Don’t be afraid to use a sudden NPC death for big culminating events
- Make the outcome as easy to anticipate as possible (the longer you wait to patch, the better)
- Inform your players of your events before they begin! (mysterious notes in inbox, annoying criers)

Player Politics
- Example: Trader buys a billion titanium, sees stocks of titanium start to plummet, so then gets two side to start a war, stock of titanium rises, sinister objective complete (but nobody really knows about)
- Give an incentive for player politics, allow player interaction to affect the storyline and the world (make something into a historical event within the game universe)
- Force players to choose sides (Geez... what ever happened to neutrality)
- Give people something to associate with and something to root for (rooting interest)
- Make an incentive for prior enemies to band together

(Why do I feel like I’m being abused by God the designers.)

- A Good Reference (Eve Online): Socially-designed resource generation system, terrain generation system, players create cities, players drive economy and create social conflict
- Also try spawning actual scenarios (like Fallout 3) instead of just random monsters encounters

(I’ve come to realize that all designers must find that the real world to be boring. Why? Because it takes a designer to say, I hate the way the laws of the world work, so I’m going to create a world that is far more dramatic, dynamic, interesting, and fun.)

Tuesday, 3:15 PM - 4:00 PM
How to Avoid New Legal Pitfalls in Virtual World Design and Policy
Worlds in Motion Summit
Speaker: Mark Methenitis (The Vernon Law Group, PLLC)

(The best lecture I've been to this year so far.)

Background of Mark Methenitis: Attorney with The Vernon Law Group, Legal Columnist for Joystiq

Applications of laws to virtual worlds is the next major legal frontier
- MMO + Virtual games naturally intersect the issues of contract rights and intellectual property rights
- Planning and the Law: Plan based on recent decisions and actions, and reasonable expectations for future legal developments
- Laws change constantly, and developers need to continue to adapt to them

The Glider Case
- World of Warcraft. Blizzard vs. MDY Industries
- Key Ruling, Case Background: MDY makes ‘Glider’ program, automation software (argument made by Blizzard: Glider interferes with the game and thereby costs Blizzard money)
- Decision: 'Glider' did encourage WoW players to violate the TOU, includes using the Glider ‘launch pad’ to load WoW into RAM. If you induce player to violate the TOS, you are held liable.
- 2nd Decision: Glider violates DMCA with respect to "dynamic, non-literal" elements of the game experience as a circumvention measure of the game
- This grants a lot of power to software developers: EULA violations can be considered  as copyright infringement
- A note: There's a clear difference between Glider and a user creating a character in violation of naming policy (damages, profits by the infringer, etc.)
- Seems unlikely courts will impose full penalties in all cases
- Lessons to developers: Specify everything in the EULA/TOS, don’t be afraid to sue in big cases (Glider was making millions of dollars), but exercise some restraint on small infringements (or it will become the latest thing for bloggers to hate on.... he's not talking about little ol' GR, right?)

Hernandez vs. IGE
- Class action by WoW players against gold farmers
- Alleged gold farming (in-game advertising via chat) diminished the value of the player’s experience
- Conclusion: Settled out of court (IGE supposedly not going to sell gold/property in WoW for 5 years as a result)
- No precedent set, but novel theory: that players should be able to sue other players for interfering in the game
- Sale of gold violated TOS, slightly clearer (and maybe, surprising) that players are attempting to enforce Blizzard’s policy
- What about when there’s no TOS violation, but player wants to sue other player? Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s possible... vs. NCSoft
- Patent case (currently pending): holds a patent to “System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space”.... so that pretty much means all freakin' virtual worlds ever made. alleges this patent relates to a 1995 filing.
- A number of possibilities:
1. Patent is valid; NCSoft is infringing (likely everyone is infringing who doesn’t have license, expect many, many settlements)
2. Patent Is valid; NCSoft not infringing (NCSoft will be replaced with a new target)
3. (Most likely) Patent is invalid; Two MMOs Meridian 59 and AlphaWorld are dated before 1995, before the patent was filed, so that means no license fees are due to
- In either case, it’s likely will also move ahead with enforcement based on another patent like “Scalable virtual world chat client-server system”

User Content
- Marvel vs. NCSoft: Likely the first of many cases surrounding likenesses
- City of Heroes users create likenesses of Marvel characters in game
- Case settled: Joint agreement that no changes would be made to CoH character creation engine
- This was a trademark and copyright, though, that we're dealing with (it can be defined as a derivative work; that is, things like a sequels, prequels, movie based on book)
- Examples of derivative works in gaming (mods, private servers, machinima, fan tributes, Final Fantasy VII in Second Life, level remakes, song adaptations in rhythm games)
- Thus, there are many potential places for lawsuits
- For developers: Plan your EULA/TOS accordingly: clearly state who owns which rights and state how and if the user is violating another user's rights

Government Regulations
- Likely to have steep fines (DRM, EULA, Transactions for virtual goods, gambling)
- Secret Government Business Model: Make rules, do something like "enforcement", and then profit!
- Tech companies are a favorite target of this model
- Government wants your money, and now they want it from Virtual Worlds
- Many thought taxation would be the vehicle, but when this is fleshed out, it seems impractical and counter-intuitive on many levels
- People who earn money through these virtual worlds should be reporting profits as income tax anyway (no reason to do double taxation)

Consumer Protection
- Commission is meeting tomorrow, a DRM Town Hall Meeting. Treatment of DRM will likely be a benchmark for what may happen to the EULA/TOS.
- Potentially… all software developers will need to use standard labeling and standard terms, like the Energyguide sticker on refrigerators; likely to be geared to be easily understood by consumers; almost certainly matched with stiff fines and penalties for non-compliance and/or inaccurate representations (developers not putting sticker right or in correct form)

MMO Gambling
- One of the newest and most potentially complex legal issue
- Currently illegal in the US based on the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
- Currently varies in legality globally; can be legal in parts of Europe and Asia
- Problem area is worlds with indirect monetary transactions: gold re-sale and item-resale, completely unclear if these items have ‘value’ such that gambling with them might actually be considered online gambling
- Complete gray area; no real legal answer
- Solutions for developers: Divorce yourself from real currency; if you want real currency, avoid gambling in your game; if you want to be the test case for a legal battle, get into the grayest part of the gray area… and give him a call about what happens

- What can I do about patents I’ve never heard of but now then are being reinforced (and those that I have heard about)? Nothing, unfortunately. Can’t really plan ahead for patents. Out of blue, you might get a patent lawsuit. Perhaps licensing fees is a good idea, but it’s vulnerable. No way to go through each patent and see which ones might effect you. And yes, it sucks.
- Will reinforcement leak out to other countries? Software designers are safer than hardware companies. Companies might want to go elsewhere for entertainment products, but most still want to sell in the US.
- What if it’s all online? How do they enforce DLC and DRM across international borders?
- Moderation of user-generated content? YouTube? Lawsuit? Such a broad area. YouTube is about making full video of something. So the best answer they have come up with is "If someone infringes this, it’s their responsibility and we’ll do our best to reinforce it" and “If you think your copyright has been infringed upon, please contact so-and-so. We have the right to remove anything we think that you’re infringing on” No cases yet that have stated that this isn’t enough to reinforce copyrights.
- Cases on fan-fiction, fan-generated works? Not really. But if some company hates fan-fiction or something like that, then they could take it down. But most of it comes down to whether the copyright holder finds the content of that fansite undesirable.
- Final note: an oddity about likenesses... can’t name this character “Spiderman”, but I can’t name my dog “Spiderman”.  Shouldn't be a problem. But again, Vanna White sued some person who made a robot that had its hands raised in front of a board of letters…

Tuesday, 4:40 PM - 5:10 PM
Making Sense of Brain Games: A Scientific Analysis of Game Design in the Brain Fitness Market
Serious Games Summit
Speakers: Carrie Heeter (Michigan State University), Apar Mania (Michigan State University), Brian Winn (Michigan State University)

(Majority of people at the Serious Games Summit are in their 30s it seems. Didn’t see many young faces around. Kind of a mature field. I like that, too.

Unfortunately, this was by far one of the most boring and unnecessary lectures. I thought they would tell us whether brain games were doing what they were suggesting they do - increase brain health. But this was all about whether brain games are good? Instead of looking at reviews or seeing whether users found it fun, they split up fun into several categories, did not mumbo-jumbo on the figures, and then concluded something obvious. Still, I'll give out  information from the lecture - and make snarky comment where necessary.)

Background of speakers: Brian Winn and Carrie Heeter (Professors f serious game design MA program, developed “Brain Powered Games”), Apar (Game designer, MA student in their SGD program)

- Brain games span platforms (mostly DS), some are free, some are integrated with other games
- Do brain games have positive impacts on brain health? Increasing support from research that says yes.
- But this "study" asks a different questions: How good are brain games, as games?
- Method: Four specialized brain domains (memory, visual spatial, attention, language)
- Examples of Brain Games: Fit Brains, Happy Neuron, Lumonisity, Brain Challenge, Brainiversity, Big Fish Brain Teasers
- Brain games are short! 1 minutes or less – 48%, 2 to 4 minutes – 48%, 5 to 10 minutes – 3%, >10 minutes - none (duh!)
- Story in brain games: 1 of 29 brain games had a backstory; almost none had NPCs, player avatars (duh!)
- Soundscape: all have sound feedback for right or wrong, sometimes pleasing for right or plain for wrong (duh!)
- Visual style: 2D art, rarely realistic, no selectable players (why are the speakers telling me this?)
- Challenge increases and/or selectable difficulty (yes, this is obvious)
- Hints? Most casual games have them. Most serious games do not. (again, duh...)
- Forms of fun (>40%) out of 17 forms of fun: Mental ability, advancement & completion, competition, visual beauty, sense of place (sectors of fun?)
- 4 casual games had about 8 forms of fun. (yay?)
- Various forms of right/wrong feedback: color change, sound effect, sometimes checkmarks, or scenery changes (I happen to like shiny medals)
- Scoring: How many you got right. How many wrong. Percentage. Score. A grade. Comparison to prior attempts. (Wikipedia article on brain games... complete!)
- Genre is young, casual brain games are more fun but not necessarily are better for you (but if no one plays it, then it doesn't matter, right?), more game-like attributes could be easily added

(Why is there no mention of Professon Layton? What was there next to no point to the data? Why am I here? *end rant*)
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