If you care at all about space (and you should, because we’re all in it), you probably heard about NASA’s discovery of the Trappist-1 system with seven rocky exoplanets at the right range for water and life. It’s incredibly cool news, and it’s made even cooler by the fact that Elite: Dangerous is adding in the data for a system at the right location and distance to ensure that you can fly out there and explore it for yourself.
Of course, that’s less of an accomplishment than it might seem, because it turns out the star and the planets were already there.
All right, that’s not exactly true, but Elite: Dangerous did have a star system in just about the same place, with almost the same star and close to the right number of planets. It’s all based on the game’s predictive system, which tries to guess at what’s out there in the void even when we don’t know about it. The location will be brought in line with what we now know to be true in the next patch, but still, how nifty is it that the two line up so well?
Those of you who’ve known me a while probably know that my husband is an astrophysicist, which means that astronomy is a passion in my house, and I’m thrilled when his field overlaps with mine as it does today: CCP Games has announced a new “citizen science” project, whereby it will work with multiple universities and the Massively Multiplayer Online Science group to put players to “work” hunting for exoplanets — not in New Eden, but in our real universe.
“Within EVE’s virtual universe, players will interact with real-world astronomical data provided by the University of Geneva through a fully integrated part of the EVE Online game experience called Project Discovery. Once enough players reach comparative consensus on classification of the data, it will be sent back to the University of Geneva for use in refining the search for exoplanets.”
You doubtlessly have a pretty clear idea of what goes on in EVE Online
at this point. Players mine resources, build ships, screw one another out of money and resources, and complete scientific research projects as a group. If you didn’t know about that last one, though, perhaps you’d like to take a look at how the game integrated research work for the Human Protein Atlas into the game’s ongoing stories
and got players to do a huge amount of scientific work while
playing the game.
The short version, of course, is that this is exactly the way that crowd-sourced science can work, allowing lots of people to do the hard number crunching and producing results without taking up high-end research time. The article recounts previous attempts at crowdsourcing scientific work such as Folding@home, with CCP Games aiming to make the experience feel like satisfying gameplay without removing the scientific component. So it turns out that you weren’t just killing miners for their resources, you were doing so for science.
Or at least you would have been doing it for science if that had been part of the project. But the thought is still there.
The analysts at SuperData have released to the public part of a report on December 2016’s gaming industry today, calling December a “weak month for retail software sales in the United States” following its “worst December in two decades,” though console revenue was booming with a “record sales quarter.”
Over on the PC side, the top-grossing games list hasn’t changed much since November. League of Legends, Crossfire, Dungeon Fighter Online, and World of Warcraft still sit in the top four slots; while the bottom has reshuffled, with CS:GO and Overwatch bumping up a bit, it’s still the same ol’ games.
On the mobile list, however, Pokemon Go has fallen from the top slot to #4 (it’s cold out there!). Collectible card games are continuing to make piles of money off us, too.
Just in time for your New Year’s resolution, we reported on how Pokemon Go was featured in a peer-reviewed study on getting people to move more. But truthfully, Pokemon and Nintendo have built exercise games several times in the past, and Niantic never advertises PoGO as an exercise game. It’s an ARG. In fact, the official site never mentions exercise, just exploring. That being said, we don’t really think of adventurers or explorers as being slugabeds. So what is PoGO doing with exploration that gets people to exercise, and is it really that effective?
Quantic Foundry, the gaming analytics consulting firm we’ve been following since late 2015 thanks to its Gamer Motivation Model, has a new blog post out this week that purports to break down participation rate in various gaming genres, including MMOs, by gender.
Parsed from 270,000 self-submitted surveys gamers have submitted to date — 18.5% of which are from women — Quantic’s data appear to reinforce some of the basic stereotypes in gaming: two-thirds of match 3 gamers are women, almost all tactical shooter fans are dudebros, women play more high-fantasy MMOs than sci-fi MMOs, that sort of thing. But there are some interesting surprises. For example, a smaller percentage of World of Warcraft players are women than the genre numbers on the whole.
“23% of World of Warcraft gamers are women. This is substantially lower than the group average (36%). A lot of game researchers (Nic and I included) focused on studying WoW as an exemplar of online gaming, but it looks like WoW was not only an outlier in terms of market success, but also in terms of its demographics relative to other games in the genre.”
Lockboxes have become a hot topic over the last couple of years. Last month, both our writers and readers crowned SWTOR worst business model of the year in part over its lockbox shenanigans. And several business model and lockbox-related articles made it into our list of most-commented-on articles of the year, including the Daily Grind on lockboxes and gambling.
So where do we draw the line between gambling and hobby gaming? Why are lockboxes acceptable? Are they really something MMO developers should continue to use in order to monetize their games?
I’ve done some research and even gotten some expert legal opinions about this based on American law (and some international), and I can’t say I’m entirely happy about my results.
Is Pokemon Go making you healthier? Maybe not yet, but researchers from a Stanford/Microsoft team have determined that Pokemon Go play correlates with increased physical activity and exercise. They tracked data from 32,000 Microsoft Band users for three months to determine that “engaged users” increased their activity on average nearly 1500 per day, allowing them to suggest that the MMOARG “added a total of 144 billion steps to US physical activity,” in contrast to other “health” apps.
The paper is published in the high-impact open-access Journal of Medical Internet Research for those who want to read it in full without paywall. The authors do note that their sample is not random, as the Band is an expensive device, and most users were male. They also note that the study cannot comment on the long-term effects of physical activity.
Ever wanted someone knowledgeable about Lord of the Rings to explain the books and give you a hands-on tour of Middle-earth? Then you’re in luck, for the Tolkien Professor, Corey Olsen, is kicking off a free course today called “Explore the Lord of the Rings — on location
In the weekly series, Olsen will be guiding fans and players through the books, chapter by chapter, at a special lecture hall that Standing Stone Games created for the occasion in Bree. After each week’s seminar, the class will then go out into LOTRO’s game world to explore locations related to each chapter.
The first seminar will take place on Landroval at 9:30 p.m. EST (the series will rotate through the servers to give all players a chance to show up in person). There’s also the option to attend the free lectures via Twitch.
You guys may not have consciously noticed it, but we’ve been working harder and harder on our science-related articles in the past couple of years — even more than in 2015. This past year, we even hired on a staff writer specifically to cover gaming science, especially as it relates to MMORPGs, and we’ve been collecting all of his work along with our other science posts in their very own category.
Read on for a recap of our best science-related MMO articles from 2016, from virtual reality tech and the Gamer Motivation Model to EVE Online’s Project Discovery and the psychology of Pokemon Go. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz at the end!
Every week for the last few years, we’ve expanded on our “Daily Grind” theme with a Leaderboard poll. I’ve had a blast taking over Leaderboard; Daily Grinds always get lovely qualitative answers, but numbers! tallies! bar graphs! Polls are a quantitative sort of magic that we don’t often get from our other articles — at least when they aren’t being brigaded.
Let’s take a look back at our best MMO polls of 2016!
A new research study conducted by University of Minnesota researchers Justin Munafo, Meg Diedrick, and Thomas A. Stoffregen says that head-mounted virtual reality is unintentionally sexist toward female users. At least, the paper, titled “The virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift induces motion sickness and is sexist in its effects,” says “unintentionally”; the title and abstract alone don’t quite make that clear. Having procured a copy of the actual paper (unfortunately paywalled), we decided to explore the researchers’ assertion and break it down to understand just what’s at play here because my gut reaction was to be suspicious, likely the same as you.
See, I’ve been to a lot of VR demos, and I rarely saw people get sick from demos outside of the rare indie. In fact, I actually just had my sister try VR for about 20 minutes, and like me, she used to get sick from that stupid Kirby’s Air-Ride game — we both suffer from motion sickness. That made me wonder whether the results were more about VR’s first-person perspective, as I know more women than men who have their motion sickness triggered by the perspective, in which case, it’s not VR but the POV.
But now that I’ve read the paper, I have eaten my proverbial hat.
Remember The Video Game Debate? The game research book edited by Thorsten Quandt and Rachel Kowert, the latter of whom we’ve been covering here since Massively-that-was? Good. Dr. Kowert’s got a new book out called A Parent’s Guide to Video Games. I was sent an early draft of the new title for review purposes, along with some of the additions going in prior to printing. I originally thought it would be just an updated reworking of The Video Game Debate, but I was very wrong. Dr. Kowert’s new book is much shorter and easier to access for the non-academic than the last one, which might make it even more useful for gamers who aren’t in research fields.
As some readers may know, I spent the past several years in Japan, and while I was there, the only books I read were textbooks, research journals, and manga (language textbooks don’t teach often teach you the slang you need to know to understand high school kids!). For me, The Video Game Debate was typical reading. And when the book came out, I recommended it friends and colleagues, but the journal format was a turn-off for way too many of them. That’s what sparked the idea for me to dissect the findings over my series of articles here on MOP and apply them to topics MMO gamers (hopefully!) care about.
The same won’t need to be done for Dr. Kowert’s A Parent’s Guide to Video Games.