Category Archives: Interactive Entertainment

Little Known Fact: game developers are actually in the entertainment industry, not the game industry. Most of our competition is indirect from non-game firms who operate outside the narrow realm of traditional game companies.

Fear and Longing in Game Marketing

I’m still digesting Game Zichermann and Joselin Linder’s book Game-Based Marketing. Not even twenty pages into the book, the unmentionable side of game marketing hits the fan:

According to Zichermann and Linder, frequent flyer programs “are particularly and extraordinarily powerful. They routinely cause players engaged in the game to make decisions that are counterintuitive to their well-being—and checkbook—in order to “level up.”

And the book then gives the ridiculously evil (but true) example of well-to-do people taking “mileage runs” (flights to destinations they do not want or need taken only to earn more points), despite the huge costs of air travel to the buyer and the environment.

Is the future of game marketing compelling people to do wasteful, absurdly unproductive things to gain points or a competitive edge in game marketing systems that basically pressgang customers into unwitting contract jobs, driving them to execute purchases, marketing, and PR tasks for relatively minor rewards?

It’s a joke that MMOG players are the only people who pay their employer (the game publisher) for the privilege of hour after hour of menial labor (referring to the grinds in most mainstream MMOs that happen once you are established and invested in the game). It seems that customers of products in many non-entertainment markets will join the grind soon enough, and maybe for far less entertainment value or personal benefit than MMOG players receive.

Games + Marketing = Persuasive Power Up

Anyone who knows the power of marketing already understands that persuasive marketing messages can change minds, spread ideas, and prompt actions.

The power of marketing can be used to promote things that are good for the audience or things that are bad for the audience but good for the person promoting the message (and every shade of mutual benefit in between those obvious extremes). Sometimes, the marketing message benefits the marketer more than the buyer or the seller of whatever is being promoted.

Although I love marketing and am deeply fascinated by it, there is a damn good reason consumers hate marketers and are suspicious of our intentions. We actively seek to manipulate their thoughts, feelings and actions by tapping their deepest desires and fears. What’s not to like, right?

So, here is the ethical dilemma with games in marketing: if television and print ads have the potential to be propaganda for war, racism, sexism, agism, sizeism, and [insert your most reviled ism here], imagine what an unscrupulous marketer can do with the power of game mechanics?

Recreational Games = Consensual Fun

Any gamer knows how a good game consumes you.

Often, this consumption is mutual: the gamer can’t get enough of the game, and the game can’t seem to get enough of the player’s time and attention (and money, in the case of games with ongoing subscription or micropayments). But because gaming is traditionally in the realm of entertainment and recreation, quitting the game is also often fairly trivial. Painful for certain people, but easily accomplished because there is no rational everyday situation that forces you to log back into World of Warcraft or start up a new D&D group. Either you want to do it, and knowingly participate in it, or you choose not to participate at this time.

The world of videogaming is optional, though powerful. You can avoid recreational gaming’s siren call, despite its impressive ability to manipulate our behavior and retain our interest at nearly irrational levels (it’s not uncommon for a gamer to grind achievements and game progress like it was their job).

Marketing Games = Pervasive, Hidden

The world of marketing is not optional; it’s pervasive and inescapable. I’m marketing to you right now. You don’t need to think about it, choose it, or even notice it. But I am marketing these ideas. We are all marketers when we communicate and present ourselves and our ideas. We all refer friends and family to products and services.

In the new world of always-on pervasive marketing games both conscious participants and oblivious participants are compelled to make “counterintuitive choices” (as Zichermann and Linder politely phrase it). Economists often talk about demand as if it is this natural force in the world, but everyone knows demand is crafted by marketers using the raw materials of people’s inner fear and longing. Human nature and survival does not demand fluff like ringtones or diamonds. Marketers ensure that people demand these things by creating markets, and so gaming too will be used to create demand for all sorts of products.

What effect do game mechanics have on the natural forces that keep market-based economies working well? Could a well-designed game encourage consumers to change markets in ways that are undesirable overall? How do we design games that contribute productively to a market, rather than distorting or detracting from natural market equilibriums?

Will the FTC respond to protect consumers from the intense draw of marketing games as gambling and affiliate marketing have both come under fire? Will there be a consumer backlash? And if so, will that backlash have a chilling effect on recreational gaming (optional games for entertainment)?

Conscious Consumer-Marketers

The conscious consumer-marketers have increasingly recognized their ability to get or retain something of perceived value for sharing stuff with others or simply doing what they’re told (for example: “login to Coke Rewards at least once every 90 days or you’ll lose your points” does nothing to provide real value to customers, it simply uses fear to coerce reward program participants to execute a desired behavior, increasing engagement with the brand (and inflating site metrics) at the expense of the customer’s time and energy).

Imagine what a drain on collective productivity it would create if even 20% of the brands we buy regularly demanded that level of participation and attention from us (on top of the energy and time to actually buy and use their product)? Would we consciously give that much of our time to rewards programs if there were many programs competing for our attention? It is possible that frequent flyer and credit card reward programs have enjoyed such great success, in part, because they are not competing with a reward program or game for every brand.

Remember the 1-to-1 marketing trend last decade and how, eventually, marketers had to admit they were maybe asking for too much from their customer relationships and coming off more like an annoying, desperate suitor who continually wants to be more-than-friends with customers? A 1-to-1 relationship between a customer and all the brands they buy is as untenable as participatory gaming between customers and all the brands they buy. Is the solution meta reward programs that simplify the customer relationship or would that divert the loyalty and business benefit to the meta reward program company rather than participating brands?

Marketers need to be careful not to start thinking of their customers (who pay the bills) as their employees who can be sent on quests to build website metrics or generate leads from friends and family for token rewards. It might work in the short-term, but once it catches on in a big way, it will become a major pain for consumers.

Oblivious Consumer-Marketers

I’ll visit the concept of the oblivious consumer-marketer in a later post, but it’s a really important, transformational trend in our culture right now. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more conspire to make us all into PR independent contractors, marketing affiliates, and brand evangelists. And the scary part is that we might not even notice.

Ethics Checklist for Game Marketers

As I’ve spent the better part of the last 8 years researching, testing, and devising ways to apply game mechanics and interactive entertainment software to marketing (particularly in the adult entertainment industry), this ethical issue is always gnawing at the back of my mind. We know what games can make people do. We know what marketing can make people do. Both tap the fear and longing that lives deep inside of us, often in ways we do not fully appreciate while it is happening.

Here’s a short list of ethical issues to address when you’re leveraging the power of games for marketing:

  • Does this game collect too much personally identifiable information about individual players? Does your game really need to know your player’s full name, e-mail address, or phone number? If no, then don’t ask for it. Save the player time and save your company the responsibility of securing excess personal data.
  • Does this game give players privacy controls? This point is especially important if the game hooks into any part of a player’s online social graph.
  • Does this game always provide a reward when the player executes a desired action, or does it maintain participation based on fear and negative feedback alone? Is the player coming back to get something or to avoid losing something? Negative feedback might get results sometimes, but it wears on people and can build deep-seated resentment. Not exactly the kind of experience you want associated with your brand.
  • Does any part of this game offer a viable solution to a problem the player cares about? A marketing game can be a viable product in its own right, such as a charity contest that motivates fundraising while engaging the players in a competitive game that also solves a real-life problem the players care about.
  • Does this game encourage grinding or mistake sisyphean ordeals for gameplay? Are players pushed into repeatable busy-work or impossible challenges because your game mechanics are poorly designed or inadequately play-tested with no regard for balance or real player feedback?
  • Did you playtest this game and balance it from a player perspective (or hire someone who knows how to accomplish this)? Marketing games are not broadcast ad channels nor are they social media channels for conversations. They are game systems, which are notoriously easy to dream up (or copy) but very challenging to balance and execute well. It’s not enough to know what game mechanics to use; you need to know how to use them in a way that doesn’t leave your players upset that they wasted time actively playing.
  • Do you really understand the total cost of providing the rewards promoted in your game and can you deliver on the rewards promised to your players? I worked with one client who literally told me that it was fine to have a broken points-redemption system because at some point in the future, they could change the value of the points. Now this was a very simple program where xyz points = x cash rebate. Can you imagine the customer backlash if people played along, did what they were told, and saved up points to acquire x cash rebate… only to find the value of their points nerfed unceremoniously in the future? Please, please, please don’t do this. Design a rewards program that you can afford at any given volume of participants.
  • Does this game respect player’s limited time and energy? We all have families, significant others, jobs, errands, hobbies, and countless entertainment options. Time is more valuable than money (thought it’s very, very easy to convince people otherwise). We do our players and customers a grave disservice when we compell them to squander their time with us, whether it’s on a laborious, crappy shopping cart system or a laborious, crappy social networking game.

What ethical issues do you think game marketers should consider? Add a Comment

Fun Is Not the Holy Grail of Engagement

This week, I had the pleasure of reading Gabe Zichermann’s article Top 5 Ways to Make Your Site More Fun. Hallelujah! I am very excited to see more people finally connecting the dots between successful interactive entertainment software (video game) design and effective engagement design in software and websites for business. This is the kind of stuff I preach to clients, colleagues, and my (polite but bored) boyfriend on a regular basis.

Game Design for Business Apps

Game-inspired engagement and motivation techniques that seemed obvious to me 10+ years ago are now being recognized as useful tools for user experience design in all kinds of business applications. I’m sure many game designers feel some sense of “duh, we knew this already” but that’s why the development of business-friendly encapsulations of staple game design techniques ( like Zichermann’s Funware concept) are exciting.

Zichermann is doing a great service by framing discussions of rewards programs and social network sites in terms of how they use game mechanics effectively. He is distilling a lot of tremendously valuable information about what works in interactive software design to non-gamers and people outside of the somewhat myopic games industry.

People who design websites, business apps, marketing campaigns, and fundraising events can now learn why game mechanics get results.

But Is Fun the Point?

However, I do have a minor quibble with the focus on “fun” as a main reason to use game mechanics in your website or application. My objection here is pretty much an extension of one I have with game designers in general: the obsession with entertainment that only culminates in a warm, fuzzy feeling of achievement or at least a satisfying resolution (winning, saving the day, completing the so-called Hero’s Journey, finally saving up enough points to buy a virtual item you covet, etc.). The focus on fun alone is also why game design, as an artistic medium, has not yet produced a Schindler’s List (or even a Life Is Beautiful), though at least we got Train.In game design, it’s largely presumed that fun is a positive experience with nothing but good, productive stress, and many an overly-serious Game Design book has been written trying to explain how FUN is crafted. People think of games as the candy in our media diets, not the whole grains or the steak.

The problem with fun, is that successful, effective entertainment does not need to be fun. People can be deeply engaged, motivated and, ultimately, entertained by experiences and media that is down-right disturbing, sad, and leaves us with more questions than answers, more tension than resolution. Moreover, people can be entertained by games, media, and experiences that are patently dull, repetitive, and frustrating as hell (for example, the grind to get xp in your favorite MMOG… sure it has a pay-off at the end, but it isn’t always fun while you’re doing it).

Interesting to me is that even when people seem to understand the trend of pervasive gaming, gameification of everyday life, they still focus on the element of fun. As if life, work, and everything important in the world can or should be primarily fun. I suppose with rose-colored glasses on, everything might have fun potential, but realistically, I don’t think every experience does have the potential to be fun. The feeling goes double for a lot of the mundane transactional chores we do in marketplaces for goods and services.

Rather, I think the savvy marketer will employ game mechanics to promote engagement and motivate key behaviors, with fun regarded only in proportion to how the consumer feels about the product and exchange of value. Big-ticket purchases like airfare and hotel rooms are considered both expensive and interesting choices by consumers. Household staples like toothpaste and toilet paper… not so much. The gratification your market will get from the game marketing you employ will most likely be a function of how much interest or expense the customers already associated with your product (before they even play your advergame or participate in your rewards program).

Motivation for the Win

The holy grail of engagement design, game design included, is not fun. The holy grail is motivation. How do you make someone WANT to keep doing something? There are many ways, and game mechanics are some of the most tried-and-true techniques software designers have to keep end-users doing whatever it is you want them to do.

If you’re making a mainstream video game, then fun is important. If you’re designing a rewards program for the loyal users of Charmin toilet paper (in order to sell more TP), then what you really want from game mechanics is motivation that drives your measurable, performance marketing campaign. Fun and whimsy doesn’t come into it as much as you might think.

Besides, what do you think will happen to the “fun factor” when every damn thing you buy or use wants to make that experience into a game? Do I want points and levels every time I buy more toilet paper, or is that just adding another distracting layer of complication to my already complicated life? Think in terms of motivation and choose your game mechanics accordingly, rather than trying to “gamewash” everything in sight.

Gamewashing = More Work Than Fun

Apparently, I just coined the term gamewashing. And by gamewashing, I mean applying game mechanics to shoehorn gratuitous fun into utilitarian experiences nobody cares to enjoy. The net result is often that the game and meta-gaming adds more busy-work in its misguided quest to make something more fun.

Case in point: Chore Wars. I mean aren’t chores time consuming enough without adding a meta-game process that requires me to keep a log whenever I scrub the toilet or fold the laundry? I’m a hardcore achiever in games and getting XP for life work does sound tempting… but not if tracking and awarding the XP actually creates MORE work (though I am perverse enough to want to write a strategy guide for Chore Wars, you know… for people who want to put in the extra time to meta-game their Chore Wars group in order to get maximum XP for minimum actual work). The longer I dwell on it, the more I think Chore Wars is just a brilliant way for one person (perhaps the neatnik or parental type who fusses the most over chores) to motivate others to do more than they were doing previously. In which case, it’s more of a social exploit, or a persuasive marketing game that people can use to influence their family, roommates, or co-workers. Chore Wars is certainly not a game one plays for the personal satisfaction of playing, though it has loads of entertainment value as comedy fodder.

Challenge = Motivational, Not Fun

Ever played a game well past the point where it was actually still fun? You kept playing because fun is just a positive side effect of the deep engagement—the motivation—created by any game, or any experience (since this whole concept of engagement goes far beyond games). We keep doing stuff, even when it is not fun, because something motivates us. Sometimes the challenge of the game experience feels quite frustrating, but we persist because we are effectively motivated to beat the challenge. Thus, experiences of frustration rather than fun, can sometimes be a big part of why a game is effective at engagement and motivation. This reality runs counter to what you might expect (especially if you think successful games are 100% focused on fun).

Nobody will argue that Tetris is not a successful, effective game. But unless you’re a real glutton for punishment (or expert player), Tetris is simply not fun at the higher, fast-paced levels. It pisses me off. But it also makes me want to become a better Tetris player, so I keep trying. One can argue that a frustrating challenge is a type of fun, but when I’m tense and exhausted from getting soooo close to beating my high-score, only to fail yet again… fun is not the first “f” word that comes to mind. Sometimes good games are not fun 100% of the time. Sometimes good movies, books, and life itself are not fun 100% of the time. But they can still be engaging and entertaining despite the lack of wall-to-wall fun (especially in retrospect, where the real “assessment” of value is made by the participant).

So remember the most addictive (yet frustrating) game you’ve ever played again and again. Or, if you are not a gamer, remember the most challenging romantic relationship you’ve ever had (more than likely, there were plenty of times it was more “engaging” for you than “fun”). Sometimes we need to build engagement without cultivating fun (for example, if your website and community is about bereavement or bankruptcy… maybe fun is not quite the right experience to shoot for).

Game Mechanics Don’t Enhance Everything

And it’s also fair to note that the mere presence of game mechanics alone does not create fun.

Coke Rewards is a successful rewards program that offers enough value that I don’t mind saving the codes and asking my kids to enter them (they also get to claim the points). However, I would not describe the experience of participating in Coke Rewards as fun. Entering the codes is a chore. It’s a chore I am happy to delegate to kids who are still young enough to thrill at a free pop redemption, but it’s not a chore I would spend my own time on, regardless of the points system, sweepstakes, and many well-designed features. There is moderate motivation in the program (stronger if you are broke or a freebie/coupon hobbyist) but generally, it’s more work than reward. Coke sure gets a lot out of it though, in site engagement, page views (ad views), and collection of some market research data. It’s gameified, and effective, but I do not think most participants are having fun the majority of the time they are participating in the Coke Rewards program.

There are also many applications and experiences where you just can’t shoehorn a genuinely fun experience into them because the engagement and motivation is too directly task or outcome based for the user. In these cases, any active game mechanics are only getting in the user’s way. Passive game mechanics might be useful, but there is no such thing as an entirely passive game system (at some point, to even be experienced, the game system needs some amount of attention from the user, else it is invisible and not really experienced at all).

As Zichermann says in his article, Quicken doesn’t leave you feeling elated and I suspect it’s because most people would be pretty depressed if they realized using Quicken was a highlight in their day. Remember that little bastard Clippy who tried to add some fun and personality to MS Office apps? I know he was part of an elaborate help feature that was supposed to assist you with MS Office tasks, but most people just found him (and his other fun, cute cartoon friends) an annoying interruption that actually created more work (you had to click to make him go away).

Don’t add so much “fun” to your application that you get in the way of people trying to USE your website or application. Again, it’s really the motivation and engagement that you want, not necessarily the fun.

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Fan Service – Feeding the Superfans

World of Warcraft Magazine Logo
World of Warcraft Magazine is for Superfans

An old marketing adage that remains true in most cases is that it costs much more (sometimes many times more) to acquire a new customer than the costs to sell additional products or services to existing customers. At a time when World of Warcraft has an amazing 11.5 million players (market saturation yet?), it’s safe to say that the costs of acquiring new, virginal WoW players is likely to be significantly higher than simply creating new things to sell existing fans, particularly the superfans.

In geek and mainstream culture, the superfans are the ones who stand in lines to get new releases, tickets, and merch, and they are the people who create and consume fan art and fan fic, immersing themselves in the likable bits of their chosen fandom. Nearly everyone goes through some phase of fandom in our lives, whether it’s a particular kids’ show that we had all the toys for and made a point to be in front of the television at a certain time each day like it was our job, or whether it was a particular brand of shoes or computer that made us feel kinda cool just for owning them. Apple and fashion brands make a killing from superfans. Niche media like comic books practically live or die by catering to (or alienating) their superfans.

And the great thing about superfans is that they genuinely want to buy more of whatever it is you’re selling, so long as you are respectful of the things they truly love about your offering (in other words, you don’t fuck with their emotional attachments and badges of social status). Sure, if you mess up, a superfan can go incredibly sour on your company (think Kathy Bates’ character in Misery when she discovers her favorite fictional series is ending in the next book). But that’s a small risk when all you need to do is find out what your fans love, and build off of that.

This is why the Blizzard magazine makes sense. Maybe not for the long haul, but for right now while the superfans are hungry for more. This new magazine has nothing to do with the overall prospects for the mainstream sorts of magazines you see (but probably never buy) at the grocery store. The WoW magazine is actually an extension of some of the community features Blizzard has already identified, via their web site and popular 3rd party sites, as endless oceans of superfan joy. Fan art, especially beautiful painterly and comic style art, has been prominently showcased on the WoW community site for several years because the fans can’t get enough of the stuff. Ditto for WoW humor (how many dwarf beard jokes do we really need? “A plethora, El Guapo,” says the superfan). In addition to the t-shirts, action figures, and multitudes of other swag offered to superfans over the years, a magazine is just a natural extension of the art, fan fic, comics, strategy guides, developer interviews, and other popular fare that superfans already consume for free. Except now, Blizzard wagers the superfans are going to pay for it, at least for a while, because it will be in print.

And I believe it would not be a viable offering if the magazine were digital. Why? Because the lure here is to get all that free stuff superfans love in tangible, glossy dead tree format. The superfan collector will slide her issues into plastic covers to save them for some future auction or convention. The superfan art patron will have particularly beautiful color pieces from the magazine hung on the wall (matted and framed if she’s artsy herself). And all of the superfans who snap these precious (and probably short lived) rags up will have a touristy souvenir of Azeroth in their hot little hands. Like when that girl in the first Freddy movie pulls his hat out of a dream and into her world, except, uh, in a fun way. The magazine, like the action figures, is a means for superfans to get hold of a little bit of the dreamscape, the virtual place that they have lived so many hours of their life in. It really makes sense as fan service, and as a potentially high-margin new product aimed squarely at existing customers (a coffee table book is nice too, but a periodical feeds the superfans ongoing cravings for fresh, timely, I-just-saw-this-exclusive-shit-before-you-did content).

All that remains to be seen is 1) whether the editorial and graphic design staff do a good job of catering to the superfans above and beyond what is available on the many excellent 3rd party WoW sites, and 2) how long Blizzard can milk the epic cash cow that is WoW.

What I would love to see is a Second Life subscription-free digital publication (with optional pay-per-issue print-on-demand issues) highlighting all of the excellent Second Life user-created content. Partly because things don’t live long on the grid, and partly because SL graphics don’t look so hot in the viewer but can look stunning after light post work in a graphics program. It would be a small revenue stream (and additional advertising vehicle to augment the janky SL in-world classifieds) as well as a nice (and MUCH needed) way to show appreciation for all of the content creators who take a loss to build the experiences that make SL relevant. What SL superfan wouldn’t buy a print issue if their build, art, or avatar was featured in the magazine?

News via Mashable

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EA Human Resources Fail: Dante’s Inferno Marketing Team

EA is a monolithic corporation. They have more than enough HR people to screen out unqualified goons, like the geniuses who ran the spectacularly lame Dante’s Inferno “acts of lust” promotion at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con.

If there is one question you NEED to ask marketers before they take a job in your company, that question is “do you understand who buys our shit?” For marketing minions, that is the crucial dealbreaker, above all other criteria. These people are supposedly marketers, and yet they crafted a promotion that doesn’t work on any possible level. Allow me to break down this massive fail into smaller, more digestible (yet still totally incomprehensible) component fails:

  1. The contest asked con folks to “commit acts of lust” with booth babes. This was presumably aimed at the kinds of people who would feel comfortable bothering the good people of boothcake for some kind of posed photo to win a contest. Right there, you have eliminated a ton of people who don’t have the heart to subject the boothcake to further annoyance; and you have mainly attracted the attention of the kinds of people who genuinely DO want to commit acts of lust with the boothcake. However, the contest also warns not to “get crazy” or do anything “depicting or mentioning sex, violence, drugs, alcohol and/or inappropriate language.” So… you get the attention of obnoxious perverts and then you tell us we can’t even mention sex? Just who is this contest targeting?
  2. Ok, the contest is for people who want to win “dinner” (hey, that’s ME!)… and “a sinful night out with two hot girls” (wait… what the hell am I going to do with two hot girls?), and furthermore, “limo service, paparazzi and a chest full of booty” (paparazzi is something people WANT now? really?). Obviously, they think this game will only appeal to an elusive limo-and-hot-girl craving segment of the overall gamer population. Why not give out prizes that, oh, I dunno, a GAMER would want? Like cash, games, consoles, VIP tours of game studios and dinner with the lead design team? Don’t misunderstand: I love boothcake, but are these the kinds of people you really want to win a chaperoned, “just friends” dinner date with? What do you talk about? “Hey, I liked how you managed to smile through most of your shift and you didn’t freak out when that Sailor Moon guy hugged you for way too long.” Granted, I’m a hot girl, so maybe I’m undervaluing the joy of dinner with “two hot girls.”
  3. So therein lies the biggest pile of fail: even though the entire contest concept and execution was completely misguidedly weak, they still had to add insult to injury by assuming the players are all straight, single men desperate for the slightest whiff of tits. Guess what? Not all gamer guys are hard up for opportunities to eat a free meal with a hot girl or two. Not all gamer guys even like-like hot girls. And, though it really truly hurts to have to say this again and again and again: not all gamers are guys. All these pitiful excuses for marketeers had to do was change the word “girls” in the contest promotional copy to “hotties” and then, depending who won, they could have had either the female or the male boothcake (er, “reps” as I guess some people call them) attend the prize dinner.*
  4. The final ounce of fail was their halfass response to the uproar. When all the world is going to forget about this dumb promotion soon anyway, what harm is there in simply saying “Sorry, that was a lame contest!” and moving on with a better, more targeted promotion? Offer prizes that don’t insult your customers and create a contest built around a fun aspect of the brand/game. Don’t tweet ridiculous defensive clarifications, like you’ve just told an off-color joke at a party but think that explaining it in painful, obvious detail will somehow make it less offensive. Apologize, win people back, spin the flood of attention and free publicity back toward positive aspects of the product. These goons couldn’t handle the fallout from their PG-rated “edgy” contest idea, so ultimately I think the root of the fail was HR. Seriously, who hired these goons?

*Yeah, I live in a fantasy world where every game booth has both male and female boothcake on staff. It’s the same world where people get hired to do promotional work because they have some basic understanding of the desires and demographics of their target market. Go figure.

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TweetCraft: the Twitter client for World of Warcraft

Why doesn’t Blizzard already have social media integrated? Why can’t you update your Facebook status while you’re waiting for a raid group to arrive? Why not play youtube videos in a little ornate metal-framed window above the skill buttons?

I’d volunteer it’s because we already have a client platform where you can play games and engage with social media (a web browser). But am I looking at this from the key perspective? No, because I’m not a social gamer. I’m an achiever/explorer type. I hardly need my in-game public chat channels much less a way to gab with people outside of the game.

When I’m playing a good game, I don’t want to multitask with real world bullshit. I’m in my magic circle. Let the calls go to voice mail, let the email go unread, and for the love of Will Wright, let the tweets STFU until I’ve logged out of the game world. A social media feed in my MMOs would be a very unwelcome intrusion, but that’s why it is so crucial for entertainment designers to design for the players rather than themselves.

TweetCraft highlights the fact that most online games still aren’t catering to the entertainment needs of social gamers. It’s not enough to be connected to friends in-world. For some, there needs to be omnipresent connectivity across online social services, across worlds.

Social media feeds in (and from) MMOGs are an interesting design consideration. I’m eager to see what the adoption rate is for TweetCraft and whether the underlying concept of external social media integration catches on in online games. It will be interesting to see whether Blizzard interprets this as a violation and bans the app or whether they start supporting social media integration in the core game client.

TweetCraft news via Mashable

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Broken Context

I stopped blogging a couple years ago, but kept my old blogging domain name. I recently set up a tumblr scrapblog on that domain, kellyrued.net. So today, in Google Analytics, I was surprised to see some traffic still trickling from an old Broken Toys post mocking me for having a sense of compassion regarding a 2006 Ansche Chung griefing incident in Second Life. A quick recap of the incident: a real life female entrepreneur was ambushed with several minutes of disruptive prim spam shaped somewhat like pink dicks during an in-SL live event with CNET reporter Greeterdan Godel (Daniel Terdiman). Griefing and poorly designed prim penises are nothing remarkable in SL. However, what struck me then about the story was how this female business woman and her family felt about the incident.

She and her family were not just offended or hurt by the disrespectful joke, they also felt violated because of the sexual theme of the attack (no matter how silly, a dick is a dick; her attackers could have used any 3D shape to pummel her event but they chose to use cocks). Ansche expressed strong emotions using controversial language, basically claiming the in-SL attack felt something like a rape. Since virtual rape is an impossibility (anyone can exit a game or turn off their computer), I realized that sexual themed griefing is really the internet’s equivalent of sexual harassment and, yes, sexual violence. A lot of people took offense to the idea that Ansche felt raped. Please note that at no point did Ansche publicly say she was raped or that what happened to her in SL was the literal equivalent of an offline physical sexual assault. Her husband simply stated that she felt raped; in other words, that the incident made her feel violated in a sexual way. Sexual abuse is a spectrum that runs from the highly debatable, minor transgressions to the undeniable extremes of physical sexual assault; the only commonality between incidents of sexual abuse is that the victim felt violated in a sexualized context. People who think sexual harassment and violence are just physical acts might consider reading up on sexual abuse just to get a few more perspectives on the issue (or at least skimming their employer’s sexual harassment policy for some insight).

I empathized because I could not imagine a business woman NOT feeling sexually harassed if someone she didn’t know came into a live event where she was speaking and started throwing pink dildoes at her on stage (so many dildoes that the event had to be stopped and moved to a new location). Regardless of whether the joke was funny or not, it obviously had sexual themes. That some people are sensitive to sexual harassment shouldn’t surprise anyone. From bullying, bra-snapping boys in junior high through obnoxious ogling male coworkers who strain professional relationships by asking for (very unwanted) dates, almost every woman has had experiences that were in no way equivalent to the crime of rape, yet were more emotionally unnerving than they should be due to the unwanted sexual tone in the incident. Would sexual harassment policies even exist if people didn’t admit that when interactions include unwanted sexual themes, however subtle, they sometimes have a different and altogether more stressful effect on the victim? If a coworker compliments your neat handwriting at work, that alone is not likely to creep anyone out. If they compliment your perky tits, that can be really uncomfortable. It’s a fact of life that sexually themed language, media, interaction, and, yes, SL griefing will have different effects on people depending on the experiences and emotions of everyone involved. For Ansche, clearly the dick deluge left her feeling violated.

So, I wrote a blog post defending her FEELINGS. Three different ladies in the games industry wrote to me privately to tell me they appreciated my post. It was thoughtful in tone and did not trivialize the serious crime of rape, however several guys in the games industry (who are not known for their emotional IQs) criticized my post at the time and accused me of conflating rape with what happened to Ansche . None of the people who agreed with me that they felt bad for Ansche (because of how she felt) would say that publicly though because of the backlash from all the people who were rolling their eyes and feeling superior to Ansche because they could see the humor in her humiliation, the everyday griefing in what she experienced as sexual harassment while she was just trying to do her job (her SL business was actually supporting her in real life). People who knew me, understood why I thought the incident was worth remarking on publicly. Someone had to question the “griefers will be griefers” free pass that everyone was giving this incident. And I felt that someone who did understand Ansche’s emotional reaction should say so out loud rather than quietly thinking “hm, that would suck if it happened during my interview” like so many women did. I study sex in games, and my primary research focus for a little over a year in 2004 was researching emergent gameplay in online multiplayer games (including griefing, which is just another form of emergent play which for better or worse provides entertainment and retention for the griefers and their audience).

Sexual griefing is something I understand and have few problems within the context of a social, recreational game where the griefing target has plenty of choices (you can report people, you can block people, you can teleport away, you can log off, you can switch servers, you can switch games). But Ansche was at work. She couldn’t just leave her own speaking event. She didn’t have access to controls on the land where she was being interviewed and there wasn’t any feature she could use in-game to block the type of harassment during the event. The only power she had was to end her event, relocate it, or laugh it off and try to continue her event with the ridiculous griefing underway (this would have been my reaction, but that does NOT mean her reaction was any less valid).

Anyway, for anyone who comes across the Broken Toys post with the out-of-context quote pulled from my old 2006 blog: I was being compassionate and discussing an issue without mocking anyone else’s view point. I never said in-game griefing could be the equivalent of the crime of rape. I acknowledged that a victim of sexual themed griefing in a virtual world could feel violated the way Ansche did. Even today, I encourage people to think about the offline parallels (sexual harassment), especially when you consider that the woman was at work when this happened, not playing some frivolous recreational game that she could abandon for a round of Tetris once the dick storm started. Anyone who reads Broken Toys knows this guy knows a lot about games but you can’t view everything that happens in virtual worlds only through the “game designer” lens. Virtual worlds are conduits for real life, not just fun and games; there be ethical issues here too, not just dragons and gamer bullshit.

Hit a girl with dicks while she’s playing an online game, that’s griefing. Hit a business woman with dicks while she’s working an event in a virtual world… there are other words for that, perhaps depending on who you ask.

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