Star Citizen just wouldn’t be Star Citizen without its obsession with meticulously crafted starships, and they’re exactly the focus of the Ship Shape segment in this week’s Around the Verse. After an interminably long round of introductions, Chris Roberts and company discuss how ships are born.
“It’s a long process,” Roberts quips. “It involves approximately 49 years of obsessively watching science fiction films and TV shows and reading a lot of science fiction novels, plus being a bit of a World War I and World War II enthusiast, and taking all of that and then coming up with various ideas for ships that have sort of been inspired by things that you’ve seen, things that you’ve read, things you know in the real world that fill in the various roles that we have in the game.”
Things like, you know, Serenity or the Millennium Falcon, to which you surely have an “emotional attachment,” he posits. “So we balance the combination of the practical needs that we want to fill in from the game requirements with the sense of an emotional attachment, so it’s not just a purely kind of cold pragmatic science.”
So you probably expected a bunch of battle royale games to pop up on Steam this year, given the remarkably popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds around the globe, and here’s another one: It’s called Darwin Project, and it’s probably going to remind you of S.O.S. because it plays like a gameshow. In the future, all games will be Running Man, apparently.
“Darwin Project takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic landscape in the Northern Canadian Rockies. As preparation for an impending Ice Age, a new project, half science experiment half live-entertainment, is launched. […] It challenges 10 participants to survive the cold and fight to the death in a treacherous arena.”
The idea is that one person is the “show director” who messes with the contestants with “nuclear bombs, zone closures, gravity storms, and the power of their voice.” Viewers can apparently place bets on the winner and encourage hassling specific players. Finally, a video game tailored for griefers, right?
If you have an exceptional memory, you might recall that a couple of months ago, Crowfall and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster wrote up a blog post on the cost of making games. The MMO expert followed that up this week with a much, much more detailed presentation that attempts to show hard data to back up his claims.
Koster said that he used industry contacts and other research to assemble data from over 250 games made from 1985 to today that shows the development cost minus the money spent on marketing. He even goes so far as to break down the cost of dollars per developed byte of information, which is where he sees costs for game falling. He said that when you look at it this way, players are getting a “deal” for games these days.
“Lots of people have made the observation that in terms of raw purchasing power, players pay around half of what they used to in the ’80s,” he notes.
“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.
Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.
At the tail end of last year, we caught wind that the World Health Organization is planning on classifying gaming addiction as a “gaming disorder” its update of the International Classification of Diseases, which caused multiple academics, self-regulatory bodies, and education advocates to preemptively reject the plan, pointing out both the lack of research to justify the classification as well as the potential for harm.
“We do not support WHO in this classification scheme in the strongest possible terms,” the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) wrote earlier this week, arguing the WHO is “jumping to premature conclusions” that will scapegoat and stigmatize gaming. The ESA flat-out called it reckless. An academic in games research whom we’ve consulted with in the past suggested to us that the news came off as “moral panic-y.”
But WHO appears to be sticking to its guns. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to a representative for WHO, who reportedly claimed to the publication that “there is increasing and well-documented evidence of clinical relevance of these conditions and increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world.”
What do you say that we all go and enroll at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics?
Hear me out here: It’s at this school that Dr. Helana E. Brigman, an English instructor, is using Lord of the Rings Online to help teach Tolkien to her class. She intends to take players on a two-week intensive journey into the game: “Each morning we will create our own fellowship and work our way through the game’s epic book quests on low-level starting characters (all Hobbits). In the afternoon, we will roam Middle-earth on our choice of characters, and I will introduce you to deeds, crafting, and hobbies.”
Best class ever? We think so!
And while we’re on the subject of this gaming community, Winterstock V is happening this weekend and will be broadcast over LOTRO’s official Twitch stream. The four-day player event involves a schedule of dozens of bands performing concerts on the Landroval server.
Is gaming addiction a thing worthy of its own classification? The World Health Organization is thinking about saying yes in its update of the International Classification of Diseases. The Electronic Software Association, predictably, says heck no. Now, the Higher Education Video Game Alliance has weighed in with a big no too, expressing “dismay” at the WHO’s stated intentions and suggesting that the classification won’t actually “combat cases of abuse rooted in individual behavior” but will “stigmatize a pastime that billions of players enjoy without issue around the world” and “warp continued research.”
“We do not support WHO in this classification scheme in the strongest possible terms,” the group’s press release says, suggesting classifications amount to “jumping to premature conclusions” and willful “scapegoating.”
“We’ve watched as games are repeatedly blamed in today’s world for violence, childhood obesity, failures in educational policy, and a host of other contemporary issues, despite both a lack of evidence and careful consideration of other, often far more powerful, systemic forces that contribute to societal behavior. Games are commonly referred to as ‘addictive’ despite numerous conflicting studies and a clear lack of consensus from the scientific and medical communities.”
Most MMORPGs have the core sandbox problem: Whoever gets there first, controls all the toys and has the power to drive everyone else away. Even in a themepark, the “richest” players, whether they control the gold or the dungeons or the gear or the PvP, eventually help kill the game.
That’s the subject of a Raph Koster blog that recently popped back up on my radar. Koster, known for ecosystem-oriented virtual world MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is subtly making the case for MMOs that end, even if that end starts a new beginning. It’ll sound familiar to A Tale In The Desert players, surely, or anybody watching Koster’s latest MMO, Crowfall.
In the service of his argument, he references a blog post about the age of the world’s best tennis players, which just keeps rising. Is it because the olds are innately better at tennis? Nope. It’s because the “winners” are entrenched in a rich-get-richer situation that ensures “the typical person in the system ends up below average.” The more the winners win, the more money they have to ensure they win more, whether that’s with better coaches, better equipment, better medical treatment, or just plain more time to train, which makes it progressively more expensive (on all fronts) for newcomers to compete… until the newbies stop trying and the olds start retiring.
And then? The whole system collapses.
We here at Massively OP can’t get rid of lockboxes, but by gum, we’re not going to roll over and give up on fighting them. At the very least, we can help to educate the gaming public about the insidious nature of these gambleboxes.
In that spirit, we want to share this post on the psychology of lockboxes and gambling and how both casinos and video game studios use the same techniques to manipulate players into spending far more than they ever should. There are five tricks listed: the gambler’s falacy, the sunk costs effect, the availability heuristic, the illusion of control, and the near-miss illusion.
“Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially ‘nudge’ a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more,” author Jamie Madigan notes. “Even when the odds of winning are held constant. You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents.”
As our review of the past year of Choose My Adventure rolls onward (a bit longer than originally planned), we enter what I think of as the trifecta of disappointment. Why? Well, the word “trifecta” is fun to say. Try it a few times. Also, because the were three titles among the back end that were pretty notably disappointing.
There are always going to be titles with Choose My Adventure that don’t connect as much with me; after all, the games that I play on a regular basis are not chosen based on a random number generator. But these titles in particular are disappointments, each for their own reasons. And then, in the middle, there’s a game that is far closer to “not mine, but not bad,” which is a different matter altogether. Life, in short, is a rich tapestry.
Last year, my husband deployed the requisite accessibility tools to the college science lab he runs to accommodate a bright student who happened to be blind, which opened a window for us into how people who are blind navigate tech. It’s flipping amazing what’s available in terms of searching and communication, and I don’t just mean phones!
So you might be wondering how video games have skirted regulation when it comes to accessibility; after all, the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 should apply to our industry too, right, particularly online games with chat tools? Turns out it’s because the Federal Communications Commission has been granting waivers for years at the request of the Electronic Software Association, and in fact, it’s just granted another.
As Gamasutra explains, the FCC has now extended the existing waiver again, exempting games released before 2019 from the CVAA requirement that “any communication functionality like in-game chat and any UI used to navigate and operate communications functionality must be accessible to people of varying sight, motor, speech, cognitive, and hearing ability.”
In case you missed it over the holiday break, but the World Health Organization announced it would be adding “gamer disorder” and “hazardous gaming” to the latest edition of its International Compendium of Diseases, a move many academics treated with skepticism. According to WHO, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The industry isn’t taking this classification lightly, with the Electronic Software Association predictably pushing back against the move and saying that it misrepresents a hobby billions enjoy.
“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive,” the ESA said in a statement. “And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the WHO to reverse direction on its proposed action.”
Over the last couple of years, we’ve redoubled our efforts on our science-related articles, as you may have noticed from our roundups in 2016 and 2015. Last 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 2017, from EVE Online’s real-life hunt for exoplanets and the economics of MMO monetization to how lockboxes use psychology to manipulate us and the math behind the gamblebox phenom. Dr Richard Bartle even announced a new gamer matrix this year. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz at the end!