Meaningful Play 2018: Day 3

Saturday was the final day of the best conference on meaningful gameplay.

This shorter day ends the Meaningful Play 2018 conference.  As always, I leave with inspiration and a greater sense of purpose, not to mention hope.

Saturday morning keynote

The day began with a very informative and practical talk, The Promise of Games for Personlized Learning, in which Diana Hughes of Age of Learning discussed and demonstrated practices they used in ABCmouse Mastering Math to teach and assess mathematics skills in children ages 4-8.

One fundamental takeaway from the keynote was the importance of providing proper understanding (mastery) of basic mathematical principles (of which I had not realized there were so many) before attempting to teach a skill that relies on those principles.  The software uses various (positive) “scaffolding” for supporting a learner who does not demonstrate knowledge of a topic, as measured by incorrect answers in a game.

Initial results of scientific testing show great promise, based on significant improvements with just limited classroom time spent using the game, as well as anecdotal evidence from teachers that the software is effective.  I believe that numerical understanding is as important as the ability to read for educational success, so these are hopeful results.

Breakout sessions

There were only two breakout sessions on this final day.  For the first one, I attended Game Post-Mortem Microtalks II.

The first (of 3) games featured was a VR simulation of a Brazilian chicken farm.  Pericles Gomes presented the software running on Google Cardboard, along with some detailed information about the huge quantity of meat produced and exported from Brazil, and more detailed information about the number of chickens produced from the particular farm that was captured with 360 degree cameras to make the simulation.  Even running in just Cardboard, the VR version had proven more effective than the tablet version.

The second postmortem was from Phillip Cameron about the use of games with students learning the German language.  He presented the results of a limited survey of potential students and how likely they would be to continue with advanced German studies, and then again with similar classes using games and software.  The total numbers showed a slight improvement, but upon correlating answers between the two questions, it was shown that some “likely” to continue initially actually became “unlikely” in the class with games, while other moved from “unlikely” or “unsure” to “likely”.

The third and final postmortem was by Mars Ashton, who is very active in the Michigan game development community, on his award-winning game project, Axis Descending.  He discussed the personal origin of the project about a decade ago, its creation in Flash, the marketing and reception (including awards) of the project during development, and the ultimate decision to cancel the project.  Mars was very upfront about how his focus on the game had become “unhealthy” and how that affected him and those around him.

For the second breakout session, I chose to do the Tour of MSU Libraries Rovi Game Collection.  We walked to the MSU Library and, first, visited the Video Game Lab which houses the Rovi Game Collection, a collection of approximately 18,000 PC and console games dating back to the early 1990s (including at least 7 games I worked on 😉 ).

We then walked downstairs to visit the Digital Scholarship Lab, which is an impressive collection of technology available to students, faculty, researchers, and the public at large.  It includes a 360-degree visualization room, with seamless video projected on the walls of the round room, a VR room with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive set up and ready for use, a room with scanners, including a small 3D scanner, and numerous very powerful desktop computers with just about all the creation and development software one could want.

On the way out, we also passed the MakeCentral Makerspace, which has 3D printing, structure scanning, laser cutting, and vinyl cutting available, as well as a technology lending program with a number of digital toys…  I mean, toolsVery cool.

Saturday afternoon keynote

The closing keynote was Imagineers at Play, by Bei Yang of Walt Disney Imagineering.  He discussed several aspects of “imagineering”, including the many disciplines involved, how they test and revise experiences, and the benefits of using BIM (Building Information Modeling) for design of spaces.  He then showed a number of projects, ranging from experimentation to final implementation, to illustrate the ideas.  This included the revelation that an upcoming Disney experience will allow guests to pilot the Millennium Falcon!

The key takeaways were that the design loop (ideate, prototype, test) is essentially the scientific method (hypothesis, experiment, conclusion) in practice, and the following observations on technology:

  1. Everything is design
  2. Technology is making design loops faster
  3. Technology is changing what we can do in those designs

Coincidentally, I ended up asking the last public question of the conference, which was (from memory): For new experiences, does the storytelling drive the technology, or does the technology drive the storytelling?  The short answer was, “Both.”  The longer answer was that sometimes there is a story to tell and they seek out the best technology to do that, which sometime results in ideas being shelved, and other times advances in technology make it possible to tell a story that had been ruled out in the past.

Conclusion

I leave this awesome conference full of new ideas, as well as with a couple new goals to be completed before Meaningful Play 2020.

 

Meaningful Play 2018: Day 2

The second (and last) full day of this conference is a go.

This is the last full day of the Meaningful Play 2018 conference on serious games, games with a meaningful purpose.  The conference has been quite inspiring so far.

Friday morning keynote

The day got off to a great start with Six Observations on Failure that May or May Not Relate to Games by John Sharp from the Parsons School of Design at The New School.  In this talk, he discussed the benefits of failure, repeatedly invoking the phrase “fail better”, which is part of a quote he (reportedly) has tattooed on himself, while also acknowledging that not everybody has the ability to fail in all circumstances.

The presentation surveyed a number of different ways to see failure as a springboard for better results in the future, including advice from books going back to the mid-1800s, but noted how current American society (especially sports) paint failure as a bad thing.

The key takeaway was the simple process presented for better failure:

  1. Detect
  2. Acknowledge (the hardest part)
  3. Analyze
  4. Attribute responsibility (n.b., not blame)

He encouraged everybody who is in a position to afford it to fail often and fail better.

My personal observations, complementing not contradicting his, are that failure leads to better retention of correct results (i.e., learning) and that the fear of failure results in not trying things, for one, but also in striving for perfection, which in turn results in analysis paralysis and perfectionism.  A quote from a friend that hangs on my office wall reads, “Done is better than perfect.”  (I write this to remind myself again. 🙂 )

Breakout sessions

Instead of a midday keynote, Friday has three breakout sessions of six options each.  For the first one, I instead attended the Tower Room (or, more accurately, the hallway outside) to work on these blog updates (and also charge the tablet) before lunch.

For the second breakout session, I attended The Original Mobile Games: Recreating Historic Dexterity Puzzle Games for Digital Mobile Platforms, a talk by Stephen Jacobs from The Strong National Museum of Play as well as RIT, both of which organizations collaborated on the development of the digital game at the heart of this presentation.

Although this may just be my particular proclivity, but this talk was the one that I found to be the most exciting of the conference (to this point).  This is probably because of my strong interest in the history of traditional games and the fact that my primary development focus is casual games; I even have a game with related mechanics in the project queue.  The turnout was a little disappointing, but seeing both Noah Falstein and John Sharp (and, of course, Stephen Jacobs) there provides support for my choice. 😉

The discussion was about the history of “dexterity puzzle games” (i.e., the original mobile games) such as Pigs in Clover (as seen in the image), in which the aim is to use physics to maneuver objects, usually balls, into indentations or positions as prescribed by the rules.  These have been popular for 129 years, and the Strong Museum has around one hundred examples of the game type.  This product attempts to replicate the physics behavior of some of these games, as well as preserving the history, appearance, and even sounds of these early amusements, making it all accessible on mobile devices.

I am excited just to see this project, even if I do not end up playing it much.  You can get it now for Android on Google Play or for iOS on the App Store, and you can check The Original Mobile Games website for to check for other platforms in the future.

For the third breakout session, I attended Game Post-Mortem Microtalks I.

The first (of two) games featured was Plunder Panic, a game created by Brian Winn, William Jeffery, and 12 (paid) student developers from MSU.  This is an award-winning game with simultaneous play for up to 12 players, and one of the first university games to seek a retail audience, which provides extra challenges beyond merely development.  The primarily development challenge was productivity from college students during the school year, but the game presses forward, scheduled to be released commercially in 2019.

The second featured game was Thunderbird Strike, a game from Elizabeth LaPensée, who did the design and hand-drawn artwork.  The postmortem did not discuss much about the development, per se, except that the animations had to be reduced because of the time required to do animations by hand, one frame at a time.  The bulk of the discussion was about how this small indie art game, made by indigenous people, for the purpose of reflecting some indigenous culture and values (for a small audience), became the focus of a political firestorm, which thrust the game into the public eye to a much wider audience, but also brought about unfair and inaccurate criticism of the game and personal attacks directed towards its designer, whose life was altered by the controversy.

Friday afternoon keynote

The afternoon keynote was Playful Social Engineering by Katherine Isbister of University of California, Santa Cruz.  The talk began with discussion about the way technology tends to separate us “cyborgs”, such as when people are so engaged in their phones that they eschew normal social interaction.  The presenter then discussed issues of and opportunities for using technology to encourage, rather than interfere with, social interconnection, then showed a couple of case studies with LARPs (Live-Action Role Playing games).  More research and work needs to be done in this area.

Game exhibitions

Thursday night had the Conference Reception, Game Exhibition, and Poster Session, which included (among other things) demonstrations of serious games.  Friday night featured the Pure Michigan Game Exhibition and Celebration, which showcased many games made in Michigan.

[I will discuss these events in a separate post later.]

Meaningful Play 2018: Day 1

The first full day of the conference is a rollicking start.

Meaningful Play 2018 is properly and officially underway with the opening remarks (following Meaningful Play 2018: Day 0) by conference chair Brian Winn, who has organized the biennial event since the first in 2008.  The theme this year is wizards (after ninjas, monsters, and robots) and the slogan is, “Exploring the Magic of Games.

The purpose of the conference is to bring together game developers and academics to discuss the research and practice of designing serious games, which are (to give a simpler definition than yesterday) games with meaning.  This thread of exploring not only the magic but the purposeful impact of games runs through the proceedings.

Thursday morning keynote

The morning keynote was Three Miles An Hour: Designing Games for the Speed of Thought, by Tracy Fullerton, game designer and Director of the Games Program at USC.  The “three miles an hour” from the title refers to average walking speed, which has been suggested as a pace at which thinking can occur more readily, and Tracy explores this concept in “walking simulator” games such as her own Walden, a Game.  She discusses the idea that games can (should?) have “reflective play”, where scenes with no urgent interactivity can be used to give the player a chance to reflect on the experience.

One takeaway was the proposed reshaping of Sid Meier‘s definition of a game as “a series of interesting choices” into “a series of meaningful situations“.  It is an interesting reframing, but I feel that the two are fully compatible; what makes a decision interesting is anticipation of a meaningful situation to which it leads.  It is analogous to traditional games: some games play on the points on the board, while others play on the polygons they form.

The important thing here, I think, is the word, “meaningful“.

Morning session

The morning breakout session provided six options for talks, papers, panels, and workshops, but since I can only be in one place at a time, I choice to attend Physics is (still) Your Friend: The World of Goo @ 10 by Drew Davidson.  In this talk, he revisited the talk he gave at Meaningful Play 2008, looking at how The World of Goo stands up after 10 years on the market (answer: quite well) and even revealed a few spoilers for those of us who never got very far in the game.

Key takeaways were that the game was, in a way, a metaphor for the indie game development process (full analysis would be too deep for this post), that early figures showed that 90% of players of the game were pirating it but they were successful despite that by focusing on the game, and that they produced the game for many platforms and continue to upgrade them to remain playable through the years.

Midday keynote

Full disclosure: Living near to the conference venue has a few drawbacks such as, perhaps, getting pulled away from the event for family matters, so I missed the first 15 minutes of this keynote, Games Are Not Good for You, by Eric Zimmerman.  This means that I missed the audience playing “Five Fingers” and, apparently, a swipe at Luminosity.

Nevertheless, even sans introduction (and title slide picture), this talk was enlightening about the practice of informed game design.  The most fascinating part of the talk, to me, was a discussion of his game, Waiting Rooms, which was a building-sized installation wherein players would walk around collecting and paying pennies and tickets according the rules of various rooms.  They set up systems without a defined goal and observed what was essentially (although I did not hear him call it this) emergent behavior, but driven by human desires and values rather than programmed operators.  (Here is the first article about the game that came up from a Google search.)

Afternoon session

For the afternoon sessions, I chose (from six options again) to attend a talk, An Innovative Approach to Collaborative Game Design, given by Carrie Cole and Sarah Buchan of Age of Learning.  This was the most informative session yet, with practical information and clear illustration of how the learning process was advanced and how curriculum and game design are balanced to achieve those goals.  It was very worthwhile.

In a weird twist, I discovered that Carrie, who I met here in East Lansing when she was at MSU, ended up moving out to the Los Angeles area just a few months after I did, and without realizing the connection at the time, I found out about Age of Learning when we interviewed and ultimately hired one of their developers for my team at Daqri.

Afternoon keynote

The afternoon keynote was Moments (formerly, Nuance) in the Woods: Exploring Meaning in Games by Alec Holowka, one of the developers of Night in the Woods.  The game uses the tag line, “At the end of everything, hold on to anything.”  This line hints at the meaning that the game could and, as we heard, does have.

This talk turned out to be (perhaps unexpectedly) the highlight of the conference so far. After some introduction to the game, which appears to be very engaging, including the incorporation of reflective play opportunities, with a character-driven story.  There was also discussion about some of the development process, the successful KickStarter campaign, and various mistakes made along the way.

The presentation was interesting to that point, but then the speaker took a turn into his own personal struggles while creating the product, concluding that portion with a realization that not everybody has the same access to health care and support services, and how their game could been meaningful to people (especially young people) facing similar struggles.  Then, he read some quick highlights of testimonials from affected players and showed lots of fan art demonstrating the degree to which the game made the desired connection with players.  It was moving and enlightening.

One key moment was the showing of this animated tribute video [2:06] created over the course of a year by a 16-year-old girl, Sarah Y., who ends the video with the message “thank you for inspiring me and many others”.  It was amazing.

 

Meaningful Play 2018: Day 0

This conference on serious games got underway Wednesday.

Meaningful Play 2018 started here in East Lansing, on the campus of Michigan State University, with a special talk given by game design luminary, Noah Falstein.

The Surprising Synergy of Medicine, Games, and VR was actually a crossover talk, serving as the last presentation of the single day AR/VR Symposium at MSU and launching Meaningful Play 2018, a leading conference on serious games, which are games that explicitly provide an additional benefit beyond entertainment, such as education, training, advocacy, or (as in this case) health care.

In this talk, Noah spoke about the potential for VR (virtual reality) to make a strong emotional connection, and the challenges presented using VR for medical games, specifically the issues (good and bad) with advancing technology.  He transitioned to health care by discussing a pain control study where a child was distracted from a painful medical procedure (changing burn dressings) through a VR game, reducing anxiety and the need for sedatives.

His three top arguments for considering games for medical purposes:

  1. Helping people
  2. Challenging, exciting, and diverse development
  3. Big market (especially with FDA clearance)

In support of the latter argument (as the first two are fairly self-explanatory), he mentioned that the pharmaceutical industry, just in the United States, has an annual turnover of 300 to 400 billion dollars.  If therapeutic games could capture just 5% of that market, it would be close to the total value of the (entertainment) video game market.  Food for thought.

Finally, Noah presented some quick case studies of companies/products that were having success in this field, including Akili Interactive, MindMaze/MindMotion, and Muse.  It looks like a very interesting field, with funding available for successful ventures (albeit likely outside the reach of my micro-ISV).

Warm Up

This is my first proper conference in 4 years (since the 2014 edition of this same conference) and it is really convenient that it is held right here in my hometown.  It is quite nice not having to worry about the expense and logistics of lodging.  It has always been good to be able to actually walk to the venue in the past, too, but this time it started raining right as I left home, so I was damp when I arrived for the talk.  Worse, the rain picked up on the way back, so I was totally drenched by the time I got back.

Being that I have been slightly out of the loop for a while, it was really comforting to have the elevator doors open to reveal just two people already in there, the aforementioned  Noah Falstein, who I knew back in the day (but have not seen in person in 15-20 years), and Patrick Shaw of Stardock, who I know better and have seen much more recently.

This was a great way to ease into the conference.

Meaningful Play 2014, Day 1

This academic conference on games gets underway in earnest.

The first day of Meaningful Play 2014Meaningful Play 2014 started this morning with a keynote, continued with 3 conference sessions (6 choices each) followed by another keynote, and concluded with a special event where lots of games and research were presented in a social environment of happy, controlled chaos.

(There was actually “continental breakfast” available first thing, for those into waking up that early, but my schedule was not conducive to that.)

The proceedings were (briefly) opened by Johannes Bauer (Michigan State University), who chairs the Department of Media and Information at MSU, which department presented the conference.  (Interestingly, I have known Johannes for about 20 years in a completely non-game context.)  He introduced conference organizers, Brian Winn (Michigan State University), who I have known since before he started the first Meaningful Play, and Casey O’Donnell (Michigan State University).  Casey spoke about the monsters theme as a metaphor for games and game studies, saying, “Monsters aren’t bad, only complicated.”  Brian provided the selected hashtag, #MPlay and some (more grounded) conference numbers: 300 attendees from 17 countries and 23 US states.

The opening keynote was “Computer Game Studies: Moving Forward (?)“, presented by Mia Consalvo (Concordia University), who also had been one of the respondents last night.  She structured her entire talk as a “Dear Espen” (a play on Dear Esther) letter replying to a 2001 commentary by Espen Aarseth.  It helped set up the discussion on game studies, the primary focus of the conference, as well as subtly playing on the theme of diversity in games, which cannot help being an undertone of the discussion, given recent events.  The talk was interesting and engaging but, if I am honest, not terribly enlightening, especially given that I have been a part of the game industry through the entirety of the history she covered and that the talk was targeted at researchers; the only time developers were really addressed was when she entreated us to all work together (i.e., for game developers to listen to scholars).  My (retrospective) takeaway is that the area of “game studies” has to struggle for relevance within the larger industry.

For the first set of sessions, I attended a panel, “The Meaning of Casual: Serious Dialogues about Casual Games“, with presentations by Shira Chess (University of Georgia), Adrienne Shaw (Temple University), and Lauren Cruikshank (University of New Brunswick), with a remote from Maria Cipollone (UX researcher at Zynga).  The panel was (ostensibly) about taking casual games seriously, which I found really intriguing, but there was a large overlap in the genres discussed, completely excluding the types of casual games that my company builds.  Specific points made about nurturing games targeted at young girls do not translate to casual games in general, and where puzzle games or solitaire were mentioned, there seemed (to me) to be a bit of the same air of derision that the panelists were supposedly denouncing.  (I was astounded, too, that discussion of nurturing games never once mentioned the word, “tomagotchi”.)  The remote presentation was the most interesting, but the conclusion was one that we already know well, specifically, that “casual gamers” can be anything but casual about playing.

That panel provided a basis for some interesting observations, however.  The first two presenters (at least) have been called out by name in the #GamerGate controversy, which I suspect is the reason that the group seemed to be a little bit insular.  Whenever I saw one of them throughout the day, the others were always there.  (This is in contrast to my own conference behavior, where I often eschew friends in order to make new acquaintances by talking to other people.)  On that (parenthetical) note, one of my new conference friends went to the workshop, “Make the Course You Want to Take: MSU’s Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse” and she (an educator) raved about how good that session was.

Then, there were two more sessions in the afternoon.  [OK, I admit it: I went home for a few hours, as I was not fully prepared to exhibit tomorrow, and I was also yawning due to “jet lag”, my normal schedule being closer to Pacific Time. 🙂 ]

The afternoon keynote was “Meaningful Leverage: Breaking the System of Ignorance“, presented by Erin Hoffman (Game Design Lead at GlassLab), who is probably best known as being “ea_spouse“, from the exposé on labor practices at Electronic Arts.  This keynote was quite enlightening, and well-presented.  Hoffman began by discussing the concept of systems as known to game developers, with references to game balancing, noting how easy it is (or can be) to “break” a system, which in the context of game design is a Bad Thing.  She then turned the topic on its head, looking at the larger world, making the case that ignorance itself is a system that feeds upon itself, and asking how we could work to break that system (improving education and fighting poverty being two obvious approaches), which would be a Good Thing.  This a fascinating concept, provoking thought and discussion, and seemed to be very well-received among attendees.

One point I found interesting, albeit mostly unrelated to the keynote itself, was when Hoffman dismissed casual games as “meaningless”.  I happened to be directly behind the table occupied by the presenters from the earlier panel on casual games, in a line of sight to the speaker, and it seemed that the whole table had a visceral reaction of discomfort at the statement.  The sentiment (or flinching) must have been somewhat broader, because the speaker immediately attempted to clarify her intent.  However, I do not think that she helped her case any by stating that did not mean they were unimportant, because they must provide something that is otherwise missing in the lives of casual game players.  Wisely, she quickly moved on before digging that hole any deeper; so shall I. 🙂

After a dinner break, there was the Special Event: Conference Reception, Game Exhibition, and Poster Session.  The main event was held in the ballroom, with the posters (and open bar) just outside.  Alas, some of the scheduled posters were not there (and few of the authors), but fortunately, Allen Trammell was there to discuss his most interesting one, Vertiginous Play: Debating “Fun” with the Diplomacy Wives Club, in which he looked into archives of the fan community of Diplomacy (a board game) from the 1960s and found parallels to current debates within the video game community.  After a healthy discussion there, I attempted to introduce myself to the aforementioned casual games micro-group to share my thoughts, was rudely rebuffed (an action rife with opportunities for speculation), and then bumped into Brian Winn, for the first time since his conference started, and had a (no doubt) much more fulfilling conversation with him.

Inside the ballroom, there was all manner of activity, with lots of games, both digital and “analog”, being discussed, demonstrated, and played.  There was bustle everywhere, and the event seemed to be really successful.  Some of the digital games that I saw were Fat Chicken, though Josh Mills was struggling with the seemingly inevitable technical issues when I visited, After the Storm, an interesting educational game for reading and writing in the context of journalism, and Guided Meditation, which was my first direct experience with the Oculus Rift headset (and my first VR headset experience in probably 10 years).  On the board and card game side, after meeting Clay Ewing, I made a point of checking out both Humans vs. Mosquitos and Vanity, the former (in particular) being impressive in its ability to convey a message in the context of an elegant card game that would be welcome at one of our regular game nights.

I also came across the game, The Bone Wars, a game about paleontology in a (narrow) historical context that taught me something with just the description.  What made this most interesting for me, though, was that I got involved in a discussion with the project advisor, Paul Gestwicki (Ball State University), in which we were able to discuss technical aspects of game development in depth.  We talked about tools, and game engines, and the difficulties inherent in creating general Solitaire deal solvers, and all manner of other topics of interest to programmers.  The conversation lasted until the event had technically ended and the ballroom was starting to empty.

Returning to my office at the end of a long day, I am looking forward to more to come.  (I also realize that I parked downtown three different times, in three different cars…)

Meaningful Play 2014, Day 0

A special talk prepares attendees for the conference itself.

Meaningful Play 2014Tonight, prior to the official Meaningful Play 2014 opening, there was a pre-conference Quello Center Lecture Series talk entitled, Racism, Sexism, and Video Games: Social Justice Campaigns and the Struggle for Gamer Identity.

The main presentation was given by Lisa Nakamura (University of Michigan), with respondents Rabidra Ratan (Michigan State University) and Mia Consalvo (Concordia University).

I found the talk quite interesting and informative, and incredibly timely, though there was not much that was actionable  The respondents generally agreed with the premise, merely stating a different perspective.  All of the speakers referred to “stereotype threat“, which (oversimplified) is the tendency for individuals to exhibit negative traits ascribed to groups to which they belong when confronted (subconsciously) with the stereotypes.  One example given was that a purple alien in the midst of many green aliens would tend to behave in a manner attributed to purple aliens generally.  Answering a question, Ratan extended the idea to suggest that this manifests not only within an individual online game, but also in the selection of games played, which provoked a response from an audience member that is probably best described as “vehement (eventual) agreement”. 🙂

At a result of this exchange, I found myself considering the programming team that I (originally) led at Spectrum HoloByte.  I was hired as Senior Software Engineer, and Lead Programmer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, “A Final Unity”, which was developed by an internal division called the “PC Group”.  The other big group was the “Sim Group”, which programmed military simulations, namely the Falcon aircraft simulators.  Our PC Group had been responsible for the line of Tetris games for MS-DOS, while the Sim Group had just finished shipping Falcon 3.0, which by internal accounts (verified by documentation) had been one of the worst death march situations in the industry.

My initial team was five programmers, including myself, but what makes it interesting is that the team was 60% female (back in 1993).  I was, of course, one of the two male programmers, and I had been considered for 3 positions, but in the interview process I made it clear that I was not interested in flight simulators and did not wish to be considered for the Sim Group opening (though the producer insisted that we talk anyway).  The other male programmer had been integral in the Sim Group for the previous product but, for his own reasons (n.b., “death march”), had chosen to switch groups.  On the other side of the building, the Sim Group had exactly zero female programmers.

I have always thought that this arrangement was interesting, but in the context of the talk, it provides some anecdotal evidence that not only is there some gender bias in games played but, to the degree allowed by business, this is also true of games being developed.  In other words, three female programmers gravitated to the group creating puzzle, board, and arcade games, while two male programmers moved away from the war games.  For the record, this was one of the best teams, in terms of atmosphere, I have experienced (until “circumstances” intervened, as they eventually must).

A Note about #GamerGate

This talk took place just one day after the story broke about Anita Sarkeesian receiving terrorist death threats and having to cancel her talk at Utah State University, so despite having been scheduled for months, the topic was almost disturbingly topical.  Aside from an offhand joke on Twitter (below), I had not been following or involved in the #GamerGate controversy, so I was interested to learn that several of the players in the “social justice warrior” (not a pejorative) space were to be speaking at Meaningful Play 2014 (again, having been scheduled many months before the storm even began).  This really sets an underlying theme for the rest of the conference.

My personal take on the controversy is that it is disappointing that there are “sides” and each faction is trying to somehow “win”, despite there being no achievable victory conditions.  At an academic conference, and especially within the audience for this talk, there is unlikely to be any sympathy with those who make threats, but it is not merely the ignorant who are stirring the pot.  As somebody who is not innately a member of any disadvantaged minority group (except “genius” 🙂 ), I still appreciate (and actively support) the push for diversity in the game industry, but cannot support rhetoric which serves to divide and/or supports deliberate disruption of the field in which I have made my career.

So…  New Cooperative Game Rules:

  1. Live and let live.
  2. Stop talking; start doing.
  3. If you say “them”, you lose.
  4. You do not win when others lose.
  5. Objectives:
    1. more games
    2. more diversity
    3. more choices
    4. more prosperity

I am happy with a collaborative effort, so please feel to contribute rule suggestions.

Meaningful Play 2014

This is the International Academic Conference on Meaningful Play.

Meaningful Play 2014 This week, Michigan State University hosts Meaningful Play 2014, the fourth edition of this bi-annual academic conference discussing “games that matter“.

Meaningful Play 2014, running October 16-18, 2014 in East Lansing, Michigan, includes numerous keynotes, speakers, panels, roundtables, workshops, papers, and special events, all examining and promoting the idea that games can (and should) have a positive impact.

This year, SophSoft, Incorporated is not only attending the conference but, for the first time, we are sponsoring Meaningful Play.  In addition to sponsoring, we will be exhibiting our games (as Digital Gamecraft) in the Pure Michigan Game Exhibition and Celebration, giving away free copies of Demolish! Pairs, and I will be participating in a panel, Growing the Game Industry in Michigan: 2014 Update.

I have attended Meaningful Play two (of three) previous times, in 2008 and 2010 (missing 2012 only due a scheduling conflict), and I found them to be quite refreshing.  Like other conferences I have attended, I leave filled with inspiration, but as an academic conference, this one also challenges me with many new ideas about games, with scientific studies, unique approaches, and non-commercial products not seen at major industry events.

Over the new few days, I intend to document my experiences and takeaways from Meaningful Play 2014, for which I will link below as articles are published:

 

Summer Slump

Mobile games may not play by the same rules.

We have now entered summer (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), which is traditionally a slow time for sales in the game industry.  The explanation over the years has generally been that this is a time during which people take vacations and spend more time outside, so they spend less time at the computer or game system and play fewer games.  This certainly makes sense for desktop and console games, but in this day of increased use of mobile devices and handhelds, the traditional explanation may not hold (as much) water.  When one of your game systems (i.e., phone) travels with you everywhere, it makes sense that it would get used as much as usual; in fact, it is likely used more in places like airports, the back seat of a car during a long drive, and the hotel room after the swimming pool has closed for the evening.

Of course, if summer shifts play to mobile games, where the (dubious) profits are marginal, at best, this is still likely to result in an overall slump for companies who support more than one type of platform.  Nevertheless, I expect that consumer behavior changes differently in the summer with respect to mobile games.  I would hope for extra game purchases in preparation for a vacation or while waiting during travel.

Interestingly, our limited data (with a little squinting 🙂 ) can fit that scenario.  Since the holiday weekend at the end of May (Memorial Day in the United States, Late Spring Bank Holiday in the UK), downloads have changed.  At the start of that weekend, we saw a spike in downloads which mostly persisted through the (holiday) Monday, after which they essentially flatlined for a few days.  Then, last weekend, we had another (smaller) spike on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then (now) back to zip.  Alas, our total download counts are too small to draw definitive conclusions (or even be statistically significant 🙁 ), and it has only been a couple of weekends.  (Our sales do not definitively correlate with downloads.)  Also, many schools around here are still in session, so we are not really into the heart of summer vacation season either, though the weather is definitely much improved.

Demolish! Pairs 1.11Operating more on the assumption that mobile sales may persist through the summer, and the knowledge that sales really need to improve, than on the need for experimental data, we have decided to put Demolish! Pairs on sale for 50% off throughout the month of June, and we have likewise discounted all IAP products in Demolish! Pairs FTP similarly.  Sure, it may skew the data, but in a good way. 🙂

As a reward for reading this blog post (assuming that you have done so in a timely manner), I will tell you that we are approaching the 1 year anniversary of the Demolish! Pairs release, and to celebrate, we plan to make the game absolutely free for one day only, on June 18, 2014.  You can download the game on that day (two weeks from today) and keep it forever.

“There’s a hole in the cat bag!”