Social games are “in”

Last Friday, we went to see Zynga, the company that made Mafia Wars and Vampire Wars for Facebook. This reminded me the “bites” from some friends that I “ignored” some time ago. By making extremely simple games on facebook, they managed to obtain millions of customers and hire a hundred people in 1.5 years. The philosophy is based on “poking”, the simplest social applicaton ever. If your game lives in the cracks of a social network, there is no need for substantial game content -just a few signs and symbols to trigger a theme, and an initial momentum.

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And the award goes to…

Tonight was the Game Developer Choice Awards and the Independent Games Festival. The ceremony is like oscars of video games. There are several awards like audio, writing, innovation, etc. We were in this huge conference room, with fancy lights and screens on the stage like a TV studio. They selected several games and gave their awards for nearly two hours. Some were art games like “In Between”, some were indie games like “World of Goo” or “Braid”, and some were AAA games like Fallout 3 and Prince of Persia. For every winning game, a few guys from the development team was called on stage to make a speech and thank people. I mean, guys. The thing is, the developers that appeared on stage were 100 percent male, and the people they thanked were 40% their fiancee, and 40% their parents (especially their mother) usually for “putting up” with them. This was because most of these guys dedicated themselves excessively to game making, while their fiancees or mothers apparently continued to love and care.

The game of networking

One of the purposes of GDC is the so-called “networking” which is apparently a huge game of card and keyword swapping. It is like a ritual, actually there are written rules to it. Basically, you approach a circle of people, listen to them a bit, make intelligent comments, describe your purpose and method of achieving, then swap cards with whom you talked to. Most of the time, you (are supposed to) approach “complete strangers” based on the assumption that they are worth talking to because you both got through that door. Linkedin is the industry standard for business connections (next to the card of course). It is also recommended to maintain a private database of personal acquintances, so that you can remember people when you see them.

The bottom-line is, to play this game of networking, you have to setup a “profile”. However, you just have a few “info” lines to fill until the person ticks you out and turns to someone else.
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It was also interesting to run into Armagan Yavuz, the lead developer of Mount & Blade, while walking on the streets of San Fransisco.

Game Developers Conference

Next week, game developers of the world are uniting once again in GDC 09 at San Fransisco to develop new ways to create worlds by developing games. Also, International Game Developers Association is bringing 25 students from around the world to this conference, including me.

The conference includes several lectures and roundtables about many issues regarding game programming, design, art etc. and also social aspects. Being emerged as a social gaming culture, MMORPG’s are a very hot topic. There is a wide spectrum, including browser based MMO’s in one side and 3D games like WoW on the other. Every game has a semantic definition of a game world, including races, weapons, items. However, most MMO’s rely on new patterns of communication and economics that emerge on top of these basic definitions. These patterns do not directly correspond to real world entities, -thus a game- but their power inside the game-world extends through the gamers themselves outwards to the culture and economy of the real world. Chinese Gold Farmers is a excellent example of this phenomenon.

As a blog devoted to social aspects of gaming and ludic aspects of social networking, The Netplay will be reporting from the very scene after the conference takes place in March 23-27.

Violence in games

Before and besides stating that the “videogames encourage violence”, one can ask: “why do people prefer violence in videogames?”. A gamer could say: “Because the violence in games is not real violence, it is just the reflection of the competition in the essence of the game.”

As a matter of fact, game theory tells us that there are different kinds of games, and small differences in game rules may encourage players to compete or cooperate, or even both by different aspects. For example, Counter-Strike, one of most debated games, includes intra-team cooperation and inter-team competition. Latter war games like Call of Duty 4 improved on the intra-team cooperation, thereby escalating the competition between teams.

One can still insist on asking “why war instead of any other human activity?”: Why don’t eliminated avatars and enemies walk outside a chalk-drawn border and wait until the game ends, but they drop dead with blood everywhere? It’s simple: Because avatars and game characters don’t have a privilege to exit the game and continue existing. Eventually, like other digital data, they have to be destroyed, deleted from the memory when they are done. They’ll either dissolve into thin air, or they shall return back to the game every time they die, like in MMORPG’s.

Long rant on a small game

In Itchy, the player controls a bug that walks on the skin of a giant monster and makes it itchy. The bug tries to eat the food while fleeing from the scratching hand of the monster.

Game map is automatically generated as a Voronoi diagram. In some games, Voronoi diagrams are used to generate natural looking texture and terrain. The diagram visually resembles a reptile skin, but it also forms a complex cellular structure that can be used as a movement constraint. In chess or hex, where square or hexagonal tiling is used, every cell looks alike. But, in a Voronoi diagram, every cell has a different shape and varying number of neighbors. I used the Voronoi cells as the valid positions for the bug.

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Facebook Town Hall founded

A few weeks ago, facebook changed its Terms of Use silently to claim rights on user content even after users left the group. Then, some users realized this change and formed an opposition group that quickly growed in tens of thousands. After this reaction, Facebook reverted to the original ToS.

And finally, they formed an official Facebook Town Hall to enable users discuss and vote for new governing documents:

1. Facebook Principles

2. Statement of Rights & Responsibilities

A very good example of energy conversion.