for science

Self-driving cars are learning to drive with Grand Theft Auto

So it turns out that people were right when they said that self-driving cars were a terrible idea. We were all in favor of them; it seemed like a nice chance to relax, stare at the scenery, and possibly game while three sheets to the wind and without asking someone to pick us up. But researchers from Intel Labs and Darmstadt University in Germany are teaching the vehicles to drive using Grand Theft Auto, which means that self-driving cars will collide with other vehicles, drive on the sidewalk, and attempt to hide from police investigations by parking in a paint shop.

Jokes aside, the system being used is pretty awesome, using the environments of the games as a way to place the vehicles in real-life situations without any risk to human life. It’s a complex process allowing the vehicles to “see” and analyze a large number of objects in quick succession, thus providing valuable data to be used in finished models. If you’ve got any interest in the technology, it’s well worth a read. And if the next time you play Grand Theft Auto Online you notice that someone in your group seems to be moving rather robotically, maybe you should cut that player some slack.

Source: MIT Technology Review; thanks to Stemline for the tip!


Comparing American and Japanese Pokemon Go culture

My previous article on the culture of Japan’s Pokemon Go scene was written before I’d experienced much of the American one to keep my explanations as unbiased as possible. Although I was born and raised in America, I’ve lived in Japan for the past four years and mostly interacted with Japanese people, which has made my own meatspace culture a bit strange at times. From afar, I thought the PokeGo scene in America would be ideal for meeting new people, but oddly enough, I’m noticing there are far more similarities between the two cultures than I anticipated.

Before I go deep into my observations, do note that I’m describing my experiences in specific areas of Japan (Kanto and Kansai regions) and around the Los Angeles County area. I spent America’s launch period champing at the bit with my Japanese students and co-workers plus three weeks of release, while my time in America has played out amidst reports of the game becoming less popular, totaling over three weeks as of this writing. I also must admit I’m going through some reverse culture shock that I’ll try to address. Your own experience may vary depending on where you play, when you play, and with whom you play.

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Superdata’s July 2016 data show Guild Wars 2 surging, Pokemon Go on top

Superdata’s July report on online gaming revenues is in, and there are some predictable bits and some surprises. On the P2P MMO front, the lineup is exactly the same as last month, with World of Warcraft coming out on top, followed by the popular-in-China Fantasy Westward Journey II, Lineage I, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and TERA’s western version.

What’s new to the lists is Guild Wars 2: It showed up this month as #4 for “top-grossing premium PC games by revenue” behind Overwatch, CS:GO, and Minecraft. Whoa. Apparently the new seasonal content was a big draw.

Pokemon Go also debuted in the mobile lists this month as literally the most successful mobile launch in history. Sorry, other mobile games. And Overwatch dropped down to fifth place on consoles, what the firm calls “an expected result of pay-to-play games’ upfront monetization strategy.”

As always, we must point out that Superdata’s categorization will likely not align with most MMO players’ definitions; for example, it considers games like SWTOR and TERA pay-to-play rather than free-to-play like League of Legends, and it lists games like LoL and World of Tanks as MMOs.

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Exploring Japan’s Pokemon Go culture

As some readers may know, I’ve spent the last few years in Japan trying to tackle the local gaming scene, online and off. While Japan may be the birthplace of gaming, it doesn’t always feel that way, especially for a western gamer. The large amount of gaming swag, existence of Akihabara as a geek Mecca, and emphasis on large, difficult multi-player experiences masks underlying cultural norms that make nearly all hobbies as an adult something of a private matter. While MassivelyOP’s coverage of Pokemon Go makes the game seem like an international socialization sensation, there are specific practices that make international scenes somewhat different from how our readers in North America and Europe may experience them in their part of the world.

Japan’s PGO culture in particular may be somewhat different than expected, so before I really experience how things are in America, I want to describe what I’ve experienced in the series’ birthplace.

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Study says that online games might help academics

“Put down that video game controller before your brain turns to mush!”

If you’ve ever heard a variation of this phrase tossed your way as a youth, you might have some new ammunition with which to fire back. According to a new study of a group of Australian students, those that played online games showed a stronger aptitude in school than those that didn’t.

The article was careful to note that the findings showed correlation, not causation: “The study found that students who played online games almost every day scored 15 points above average in maths and reading tests and 17 points above average in science. However, the study’s methodology cannot prove that playing video games were the cause of the improvement.”

The study’s publisher noted that online gamers tended to use puzzle solving, match, science, and reading in their hobby.

Source: The Guardian


E3 2016: Chatting E3 demos and MMO research with Red Fox Insights’ Jake Parmley

I’m wrapping up my on-site E3 coverage this year with a meeting more about the industry meta than about any one game. The interviewee? Jake Parmley of Red Fox Insights. We’ve covered the firm before; its a video game market research company that claims to tap into about 70 million players world wide thanks to surveys built into partner sites reaching general gamers and niche gamers alike. That means surveys about FPS games will be found on, say, a review page for PlanetSide 2 rather than a guide for World of Warcraft.

My meeting was something that most general games may ignore, but those of us deeply invested in it are at least curious about it. Be warned: This is going to be one of those “sausage factory” type articles that will expose you to the inside of the industry!

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Superdata: WoW, Lineage, SWTOR, TERA, and Blade & Soul top April P2P online games revenues

Superdata has a new seasonal report out on the state of the digital games market. The research firm’s April figures show that World of Warcraft once again dominates the pay-to-play online games market, followed by classic Lineage, Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA, and Blade & Soul — the last of which might surprise you. Dungeon Fighter Online also makes the list as third-highest-grossing free-to-play MMO, though as usual we point out that games like World of Tanks and League of Legends are also considered for this category.

Overwatch is missing from the data thanks to its recent release, but expect it next round. “Activision Blizzard also released Overwatch this week, a multi-player shooter title deliberately designed for competitive gaming,” wrote the firm in May. “During the first 48 hours of its release, Overwatch totaled 5.4 million viewed hours on Twitch, thanks in part to a pervasive marketing campaign on the platform. It outperformed recent hit game Fallout 4, which saw 4.2 million viewed hours during the first two days of its launch.”

The top-five lists are below.

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Analyst argues game devs are abandoning free-to-play in some genres

Red Fox Insights analyst Jake Parmley has another piece on Gamasutra this week, this one arguing that video game developers are “backing away from free-to-play” — and why.

Parmley suggests that the vast majority of consumers (over 80% in the US and UK groups surveyed) prefer games with one-time fees in spite of the success of F2P games like League of Legends and Hearthstone, which is having an effect elsewhere in the video game market. FPS titles, he argues, are leaning away from F2P, and he cites three examples in our wheelhouse:

  • OverwatchBlizzard launched Overwatch as a B2P title and has said it will consider the data post-launch.
  • LawBreakers – CliffyB announced a move from free-to-play to buy-to-play back at GDC because “a lot of core gamers have a negative reaction when they hear free-to-play because they think they’ll get ripped off.”
  • Atlas ReactorTrion likewise moved from a planned F2P to B2P model, saying its players “really just wanted to be able to just pick up the game and have all the options open to them.”

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Black Desert: Business model research, Daum addresses hacking complaints

Red Fox Insights analyst Jake Parmley has a piece on Gamasutra today about Black Desert’s business model that confirms what you might already suspect: People invested enough in the game to buy Daum Cash also recommend the game to their friends, at least according to the results of 230 self-reported surveys of a relatively young and almost entirely male gamer population.

“Just under 20% of our surveyed gamers have purchased Daum Cash. However, this group has proven a powerful promotional tool. Of players that purchase optional vanity and convenience (booster) items in game on top of their entry package, 50% are very likely to recommend BDO to a friend, compared to 38.61% of the sample population. The Red Fox Insights research reveals players purchasing Daum Cash on top of starter packs are very likely to champion Black Desert. These ‘champions’ – or players who promote and actively support the game – have remarkable effects on community growth and involvement.”

Parmley questions criticism over the price of items in the cash shop, wondering whether buyables are appropriately priced to target whales — he’s calling them “committed players comfortable with making purchases” — or should be lowered to incentivize more people to buy in and therefore increase the pool of “champions” and activists for the game. It is not clear whether shoppers become influencers (and why) or influencers become shoppers, but either way, Daum gets paid.

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Massively OP’s guide to understanding video game research

I noticed two strange things in the comments section of our lengthy Exploring the Video Game Debate series: People were angry at research that supported what they were trying to argue but hadn’t read well enough to see it, and people discredited the research because their personal social circles had vastly differently experiences (but also, often, didn’t read the research).

And you know what? That’s normal. While game research isn’t nearly as important as biology, a recent BBC article reminded me the internet has made it quite easy for people to plug into communities that reflect and validate their common opinion, sharing and replicating (mis)information again and again. While most of the core MOP community is between 25-44 and revolves around a shared fandom, it’s still possible to be affected by poor-quality input, as seen with Microsoft’s recent teen AI, Tay, and her venture into Twitter.

However, using some semi-recent research about a 14-year-old learning English through World of Warcraft, we can see how to approach research without being affected by bad data (or needing a research degree!).
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EVE Online’s Project Discovery gets an update to combat abuse

It’s been a while since EVE Online released its Project Discovery minigame that rewards players for participating in real-world scientific research into cell biology. The project organisers at the Human Protein Atlas have been taking player feedback on board and have released an update designed to combat abuse of the system. The update is a response to the discovery that players could advance in rank and farm rewards from the project by rapidly selecting responses even if they weren’t correct.

To reduce the exploitability of the mini-game, developers have increased the number of training images with known results that are displayed to users and will calculate the player’s accuracy rating on only these images. Players have pointed out that these changes may not be enough to prevent the system from being exploited, as the training images are usually very obvious and can be predicted from the sample’s ID. Developers promise that the sample ID will be hidden from users in a future update, and further changes may be made based on feedback.

Source: EVE Forum


EVE Evolved: Why you should participate in EVE’s Project Discovery

Back at EVE Vegas 2015, CCP Games unveiled an ambitious project that aimed to involve EVE Online players in some really exciting scientific research that could make a big difference in the real world. CCP has been working with researchers from the Human Protein Atlas project on a way to gamify their research and integrate it directly into EVE in a way that respects the game lore. The Project Discovery minigame went live this week, and it’s been a big hit with the playerbase so far, with almost half a million submissions from over 23,000 players in the first day alone.

The minigame tasks players with identifying highlighted cell structures from fluorescent images in exchange for ISK and Analysis Kredits that can be used to buy some shiny new Sisters of EVE items. Project Discovery can be opened from the side bar whether you’re docked or in space, making it a good way to kill some time while you’re waiting for something to happen. The task can be a bit tricky at first, but some players have already become expert classifiers with hundreds of submissions and accuracy ratings of over 90%.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into Project Discovery, link a few great community guides, and highlight some serious problems with it that have unfortunately appeared.

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Exploring ‘The Video Game Debate’: Are MMO communities real or fake?

We’ve come a long way in our discussion of Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt’s book The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Video Games, and while this article title might seem a contentious one to wrap up the series, I think it presents a topic and chapter worth debating.

In the book, Frans Mäyrä’s chapter on online communities initially offended me more than any other, but by the end of his thesis, he’d made some persuasive points that we, the MMO community, must consider. While Mäyrä does use a narrow definition of community, it’s to prove a point. It’s not that MMOs don’t contain communities; it’s a question of the circumstances, values, and outcomes related to their rise, fall, and the perception of the outside world.

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