SimCity: The conflict between Designers and Gamers

Disaster Alert!

The latest launch in the SimCity franchise has met with some rather public failures. Server issues preventing customers from playing the game, saved cities becoming corrupted, immersion breaking AI quirks. Probably the most contentious issue in this whole mess, has been the requirement that players always be online in order to play, even if they only want to play the game single player. This has caused repeated clashes between the long time fans of the series, and the game's developers

A lot of people seem to believe that the only reason for the 'always online' policy is to enforce DRM, preventing piracy at the cost of a worse experience for legitimate customers. SimCity developers countered that the reason for this requirement was that, with the way the game simulation works they needed to do a significant number of the calculations on their own servers; and that it would take a tremendous amount of effort to allow the game to run offline on people's home computers.

This statement turned out to be not at all accurate, as it was found the game can run perfectly fine on home computers without an internet connection.

[Edit - Revisiting this a year later in 2014, the Sim City blog recently released an article about their efforts to code a single player version of the game. It seems that the online calculations they refereed to were specifically about the cross region communication between cities; not the currently active game play of the cities themselves (Other than the effects other cities might have on you). So while you could play offline, you wouldn't be able to save or interact with other city regions.

It is an interesting read, and shows there is more complexities going on in the coding and design choices then are always made aware to the public. On one hand, it still shows that the original design choices they made was to push a series that had been predominantly single player content to a multi-player online only format. But they have gone to lengths to add that single player content back into the game well after the games release.]

Since then the company has responded by saying while they could have developed an offline mode, they rejected that idea because it did not match their vision of creating a game that moves from single isolated cities to interconnected dependent cities.

While this does not address why they made the original claims about the work their hosted servers were doing, it does raise an interesting question about the artistic vision developers have for a game. Say we discard the anti-piracy theory, and take their new claim about why there is no offline mode at face value...


Showcasing Transparent Design, Doulbe Fine, and Amnesia Fortnight!

2 Player Production has made a name for themselves by making high quality documentary videos about the behind the scenes development in game studios. The result has been unique footage capturing an unprecedented level of detail and transparency into the design processes from a very demanding field. Once again we visit Double Fine Studios to see the results of their efforts.

Steam launches Greenlight: Crowd sourcing the gaming catalog

Valve has recently released Greenlight for the steam community, which allows home brew game developers a way to submit their games to be sold on the Steam platform. But rather then Valve deciding which games are made available, they leave it up to the community to vote for the games they want to see.

"Kickstarter Funded!" Now where does the money go?


Kickstarter has taken off in the last year, with the success of some big name projects. The crowd sourced funding model has allowed people with great ideas a chance to succseed even without the blessing of traditional big publishing venues. I've chipped in on a few projects myself, include the hyper successful Double Fine Adventure project which raised over 800% of its initial goal and was the second kick starter project to break a million dollars.

One of the reasons that the Double Fine project itself is exciting, is because part of their project goals is to make the entire development process transparent to the backers. Since they got their funding in March, their private backers forum has had 37 post; 11 major updates from artist, programers, and writers giving a surprisingly in depth work at their work process; and 5 videos posted from the behind the scenes documentary.

In the spirit of backer exclusivity, I don't want to reveal any of the information they have given on the development of the actual game. But there was one update shortly after their project funded, where they laid out just what happens to all that money the Kickstarter raised. This will give us an interesting look at what happens to Kickstarter projects after the countdown has reached zero, and the real work actually begins.


Internet Piracy Protection Acts

SOPA and PIPA are just one part of a decades old trend of copy protection legislation

Of all the SOPA and PIPA explanations I've heard, probably one of the most concise and well delivered was given by Clay Shirky as posted on TED (It's worth a watch and just under 14 minutes). In addition to being a lot more informative then some of the knee jerk commentary on the issue, he gets around to the bigger issue at hand. That these two bills are merely just one more step in a process that has been going on for decades, and that will continue to go on for years still as companies keep trying to pass this sort of legislation. Even with those two bills currently shelved, we now have ACTA being designed behind closed doors over in Europe. There are also fears that in the future, parts of these policies will be pushed through attached to other bills or enacted through foreign policy, where public awareness and legislative accountability will be side stepped completely.


What problem is Gamification addressing?

Gamification is more then a high score

We've taken a brief look on what the word gamification means, which is to use design techniques usually associated with games and apply them to motivate and engage a specific audience. There was a blog not to recently however, that claimed that Gamification is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist; that we already have a universal point system, and it is called 'money'.

There are at least two problems with this. First off, money is not an effective point gauge system for measuring incentive or value. As a means of incentive it turns out that after a certain threshold (estimated at around $75,000 a year in the US), more money does not actually make you happier. There is even research which says that money incentives can have a negative impact on work output, specifically for any task that requires cognitive thinking or problem solving in a given time frame. And as a measurement of value, what is most often the case is that you do not make what you earn, you make what you can negotiate. There are plenty of low paying high impact jobs (ex. teaching, fire fighting, law enforcement) which stand converse to the high paying non-critical careers (ex. professional sports, theoretical finance, patent lawyers).

Secondly, there are a lot of problems in the world that could benefit from Gamification. Trying to simplify the process of Gamification as slapping a point system on everything, misses a lot of the design space and potential of applying it to real world situations. Part of the Gamification tool box includes being able to balance short term and long term goals, producing better feed back mechanics, creating socially collaborative and supportive structures, and creating unexpected rewards and challenges to keep people engaged.

There are many places in the world that could benefit from employing some of these measures. So in order to show that there is a place for gamification in our lives, I wanted to point out some of the specific examples in both education and business where there are problems that need to be solved.