1325 days ago
Here’s a highly academic but interesting article on Generations of Game Analytics, Achievements and High Scores. It takes a broader view of analytics than I normally would, which is kind of interesting. Don’t expect to get anything practical out of it, but it’s a fun read if you’re a closet egghead like me.
1460 days ago
This is my transcript of the panel on surveillance in virtual worlds for State of Play 2009. The panel was pretty spotty. Two of the guys I just didn’t think were helpful or informative at all. The police officer, Charles Cohen, had some absolutely fascinating things to say, as did Bart Simon, an academic based out of Montreal. As always, any mistakes or misinterpretations here are entirely my own. My comments are in [brackets] and there are plenty this time!
Roderick Jones [with UK national security]:
I think of VWs as a tool that are becoming increasinly important to people in national security. They can do certain things for bad guys: VOIP, recruitment, moving money through these spaces. What really interests me right now is what VWs can do for good guys. The Iranian Twitter stuff reminds me of almost a text based game. [Shows a diagram, a highly connected graph.] This is a link analysis produced by MI5 of telephone conversations from 2004, a plot by Al Qaeda to use local UK operatives to plant a bomb outside a nightclub in London. Within that plot, the ringleader of the 2005 bombings in London was noted, but his surveillance was dropped. But the diagram illustrates the big problem [really? could you explain that?]. Try and make sense of this cloud, it’s huge and there’s only two nodes connected to MSK [the ringleader]. [What about centrality algorithms?] If my version of the future happens, we ask “What does information war look like in a virtual space?” If you have info zones in a virtual world, then the conflict becomes over the virtual spaces. In SL there were attempts to upstage one another by pro Israel and pro Gaza folks. Is a WoW battle the future of war in VWs? [Uhhh, no. Wow. This is pretty not helpful stuff.]
I thought I’d set the scene for the discussion. This requires some speculative imagination, so to get into this I had to do a little fiction writing. [Tells a story about operations HQ at Blizzard, it’s like a NASA operating center. Wall-sized monitors with maps of Azeroth and data overlays. Operators assume player’s point of view to shadow the avatars. Search algorithm shows that the avatar has too much gear for his level. Err, actually his spectulative fiction is just like stuff that is done on some live MMOs already, it’s just that in his fiction it’s all a smoothly integrated application.] We’re surrounded by popular representations of what we now call the surveillance society. There’s a counter-discourse: our privacy is always under threat so we must defend and resist against this. A lot of the language that we derive for this comes from the notion of Bentham’s panopticon, which then takes another form in Orwell’s 1984. But the concern of Bentham not what someone does with the information, but rather to create a light surveillance system where the surveilled have access to their own data. There is no moral valence to surveillance: parents surveil their kids. Catholic and other religious conversations about watching out for each other entail surveillance.
There’s two components: one is exerting influence (pos or neg) on someone’s life, and systematic attention, which is where the apparatus comes in. We’ve moved away from people watching people: there are now information technology intermediaries. Camera lens to software to bureaucracy, finally to someone who makes a decision. This is dataveillance. Crucial assumption: the data is about the person to which that data belongs. The surveillance is not of the person but of the data about the person. The trick is to make the connection between data and person.
Traditionally this was done through an apparatus called confession. That data you’ve collected about me connects with me and I say, “Yes, you got me, I did it.” The problem is, what happens when the person won’t do that? What happens when you occupy a society in which it becomes difficult to extract confession to connect data to a person? VWs are interesting because they are problematic for this reason. There’s a tradition for RP and VWs that comes from masquerade and carnival: being someone who you are not. So there’s a disengagement of who you are from the representation of who you are. Creates problems if you’re using the places as sites of surveillance.
Not from the point of view of finding farmers or griefers, but if you’re producing a situation where players are monitoring themselves, you have a break because true surveillance is impossible due to the lack of link between data and person.
So there are two sides: one is that hte VW is a place to go to get away from who you are and get away from society. On the other hand, VWs are an ominvous place for the manufacture of surveillance society. If you talk about the trends of individualization of avatars and online identity, and unifying their identity online, it increases the connection between data and person. People will willingly claim their database information about them, making surveillance easier.
I’m with the [couldn’t hear] State Police. My job is to get bad guys. Surveillance, whether in real world or VW, is it lawful? And is it technically possible? From my experience, what I’ve found is that over 90% of criminal investigations are done by state and local agencies, not federal agencies. Over 90% of state agencies have less than 10 officers on hand. I was doing some training recently, of 30 officers there only 5 had heard of Second Life. VWs are communities. From the standpoint of NYC with 8.7 million people and 54,000 police officers; you look at WoW with 11 million people and 0 public sector law enforcement monitoring the activity. Anecdotally, I got a phone call from a large law enf agency on the east coast, investigating the murder of an 11 year old girl. The suspect lived in the house with her and spent most of his day in an MMO. But the cops couldn’t ask his known associates because his known associates did not exist in the real world. What they were left with is they needed to find evidentiary value in the VW. They made a phone call to a self-proclaimed expert who said “The servers are offshore, they company won’t help you.” That was not true, the game company did give them data.
There’s a well-known case of a woman who put an ad on CL to prostitute herself for 5000 gold in WoW, which is about $125 about equal to about 30 minutes with a CL prostitute. But she wanted a flying mount, not money, so it was easier to take payment in WoW gold. If you look at most states, it’s the exchange of sex for an item of value that is prostitution. Blizzard claims that WoW gold has no value. So the question is, is this prostitution??? From a legal standpoint, could I arrest her for prostitution knowing that Blizzard will always say that WoW gold has no value? There’s reasonable doubt there.
Going on to other examples, I spend my time investigating the distribution production of child pornography. The photorealism of many MMOs leads to a problem: I have to prove whether an image is an image of a real child. There’s a plausible defense: “This movie was taken with an adult actor and in post production made it look like a child.” Within the next 18 months, that is likely to become a very solid defense. “I didn’t know that this image was of a real child, I was told that it was a photoshopped image.”
Surveillance has been going on in law enforcement for years. In the wild west, when officers would ride up and down the street and jiggle the door handles of business, that’s surveillance. Door knobs, questioning, or building up mutual trust in a community, is hard to do when skilled investigators don’t know anything about Second Life or WoW. [What about recruiting inside a virtual world for law enforcement?]
VWs are more of a challenge than an opportunity for us at this point. Often, even when there’s clearly evidence in a VW, it’s not recovered. Sometimes the servers are in areas that are not compliant with U.S. laws.
Human beings are hardwired to find patterns in noise. We bring biases, even into VWs. There are dichomoties between physical and virtual, trust and verification, whether something is real or simulated.
If you’re in law enforcement, you’re trying to flush out the difference between the signal and the noise. You have things called honeypots, you set something up, some people think it’s entrapment though it’s really the opposite. How do you design a honeypot in a virtual world?
I believe that we always screw ourselves when we draw false lines. The interesitng thing is not what goes on in VWs, it’s how the VWs interact with real world. I think it’s clear, no matter what happens with VWs, you’re going to see the rise of malevolent mashups. Your iPhone is going to become a window into a virtual world, call it the devicification of VWs, means there are all kinds of ways that our [err. Okay. This guy is talking off the top of his head, jumping all over the place conceptually. I can’t understand what he’s saying enough to even transcribe it in a way that makes sense. Sorry.]
I used to be with the National Reconnaissance Office, but I do not speak for them nor do I speak on behalf of the government. The first thing I had to realize is that the world has changed fundamentally in the way espionage can be done. All important secrets that people own are in a computer some place, but we don’t really understand how people use those computers. 3 things to protect from cyberthreat: a judge of trustworthiness of the person on the other end, I have to get my permissions straight, and I have to have an effective monitoring capability. I’m looking at monitoring as an entire enterprise thought process. Surveillance is about an individual or small group, but monitoring is enterprise-wide discipline.
Less than 1 in 10 teenagers see no moral problem with illegallly swapping music. Is there a correlation between swapping music and stealing secrets? I don’t know. As an investigator, I want to develop sources and investigation methods where I don’t have to physically be in the real world. We want to be in the same room normally to look at body language. I should be able to do that in cyberspace, but I don’t know how to do that. If we could, I could be much more efficient. But it’s pretty easy to hide in the cloud right now.
However, that’s not the same as anonymity. I can find you in WoW, talk about weather, and now i know the weather where you live. Couple of weeks go by, I might complain about I-95, and get them to name a road. You can build this over a period of time, and very quickly get to where they live and what they do and whether they have something of value to you. I need to take that model and break it down so it’s faster and can be done in an interview. In telephone conversations we’ll ask certain questions and build background to listen to a person’s meter and tone, their word selection, etc. A calibration. Then when I ask the hard questions I can compare and infer. I’d like to be able to do this in a VW.
How can I figure out when a person is the same person but in a bunch of different worlds trying to pretend to be different people. Is there a digital footprint regardless of their presense on a VW? You can see it in message boards where untrained people can figure out that a person has a sock puppet on the board.
I need the monitoring to prove that a trustworthiness judgment is correct and that my permissions are the right levels. So all three of those things have to work well.
Q: For Officer Cohen, are MMOs a medium for money laundering?
A: Yes. Make an avatar in SL, make an item. Create an alt, put in $10k in money, buy the item for the equivalent in linden dollars, cash out with the other avatar.
Q: Considering cyberwarfare, cyberterrorism. What about torture? Is there cybertorture?
A: Michael Schrage: with the rise of haptic interfaces, yes. [Really? Can’t you just unplug a haptic device?]
Simon: the notion of a self or identity is fragmented right now, but they’re coming together slowly. As that connection closes, it’s like voodoo: you can start doing things to that double that will have real impacts on the real person. [I mean, sure, cyberbullying. Deface a kid’s myspace, his social life is affected.]
Theis: as a skilled and experienced interrogator, I do not believe that torture is effective at all. But I do believe in interrogation. There are a lot of things you can do in cyberspace, but you have to understand what’s important to people.
Cohen: I’m more concerned with cyberbullying, which is often torturous [yes!]. As people become more tied to their avatar, that kind of thing can be torturous, setting up duplicates of people’s avatars or blogs, etc.
Q: When law enforcement wants to investigate a player or user in a virtual world, does the user have an expectation of privacy within the dwelling of the virtual world? Do you need a warrant to go into somebody’s virtual home?
Cohen: We don’t know. Law doesn’t keep up. Is it analogous with an intercept or a search warrant?
Schrage: The document that law enforcement looks at is the user agreement with the vendor. There may be a waiver of rights. EULAs are now drawn up with the expectation of law enforcement showing up. Also, the Chinese or the Iranians have different notions of what’s acceptable in a VW. If the Iranian gov’t says that people are acting against Iranian law, does the US compel Twitter to turn over data to Iran? VWs are global, and with all due respect to the Constitution, it doesn’t apply globally.
Q: Teen and tween worlds are a big draw for pedophiles. I was talking to someone from Habbo Hotel who said that 1 in 5 chlidren are solicited for sex [really?]. Are you able to investigate within tween worlds with the tacit understanding that investigations are to remain confidential to protect the reputation of the company?
Cohen: I think the 20% number is low. Create a child avatar and you will likely be solicited in some way. We do not honeypot for the part, but we do not do undercover operations. Some VWs ban law enforcement from their games.
Q: Do you think we are more or less vulnerable in a VW?
Theis: I think it’s easier to recruit people online than in the real world. A real person offering you a Nigerian scam you would not believe, but in VWs it works sometimes. But then there are systems administrators and cyber security folks who are stronger in the VW, but are maybe more naive in the real world. [Ehh, most security nuts are pretty paranoid all over!]
Simon: I think that until populations inside virtual worlds voluntarily submit themselves to certain forms of surveillance, surveillance is going to be impossible in a VW.
1460 days ago
These are my notes for the Economics and Economies panel at State of Play 2009. The panelists are Julian Dibbell, Stephanie Rothenberg, Margaret Wallace, Andrew Schneider, and Ted Castronova. Any mistakes or misinterpretations are my own. Anything in [brackets] is a comment from me. I lost battery power to my laptop during Ted’s talk, so I only have partial notes for that!
Talking about IGE. Making millions of dollars selling EQ platinum. The founder of the company was 21 yrs old at the time, and the striking notion was that there was an amazing amount of money on the table. What’s interesting is the parallel between what IGE was doing and what it represented to us, and what Second Life was doing and what it represented to us, was that the virtual money was becoming real money and breaking out of the magic circle. Thinking through the economic implications of this was a way of thinking through what was going on in these worlds.
They both suggested a kind of emerging, true autonomy to virtual economies. Up until that moment there had been these virtual worlds where there was a traffic between virtual and “real” value, but it was tightly controlled and usually banned. They were trying to keep that magic circle closed, but here were two ways to break it. Linden saying, “These goods are part of the real world,” IGE saying, “No, you can’t stop us!” IGE showed up at the first State of Play to show the big players that they had a lot of money, a huge legal team, and were willing to fight for their autonomy.
So you had these struggles for virtual economies to break free and merge with real economies, and that was why VWs mattered in some way. It’s interesting to see what’s happened since then.
It’s been a long strange trip. What’s happened on the SL front is we’ve learned that opening up the IP wasn’t as momentous as we thought it was. The virtual items, which are separate from the copyright people have in them, is what people really cared about, and Linden did not expect people to want it and in fact wanted control over it. There’s been a settling of the SL economy into somehting other than what we thought was emerging.
For IGE, we thought they’d win their autonomy and RMT would become a 3rd party industry separate from the game business, but that didn’t happen. IGE has accepted their black market status entirely, and RMT in games like WoW is utterly a black market thing with some emerging exceptions, which is what people are talking about on this panel. I’ve brought you to a plateau where this autonomy that we thought was a signifier of how much VWs mattered, turns out to not have been inevitable, and maybe not as interesting as we thought. The game-oriented VW companies are starting to realize that there’s a place for this breaking of the magic circle, but they’re going to manage it tightly. Similarly, with SL, there’s a stepping back from that “you own everything” moment.
So we’re coming now to a less radically autonomous virtual economy, but as you’ll see from these presentations, it’s a rich, complex economy in which the magic circle has been held onto and mixed into the picture in ways that are pretty interesting. It’s not an anticlimactic plateau, it’s a rich one.
I’m going to start by talking about a project I cocreated with Jeff Krauss [sp?]. We got interested in a mixed reality project, inspired by the work of Julian Dibbell and Ted Castronova, looking at the intersection of gold farming and virtual sweatshops with the spectacle that SL had become. We wanted to do a mixed reality piece that looked at the concept of virtualized labor. The project is called Invisible Threads, the creation of a “mixed reality virtual sweatshop” in Second Life. I got into this because I am an interactive artist, I do street performances, and am interested in audience participation. I researched the game industry, and was always interested in labor and the politics of labor, as well as the use of play in corporate culture, advertising, and education. Tried to create a project that would address these issues and not just affect the niche of the gaming world.
This piece we did at the Sundance Film Festival. What we did was created a business model to set up our virtual enterprise. Hired a builder to create a factory (Double Happiness Manufacturing) in Second Life. Our landlord became a slumlord, so we ended up getting our own island in SL. We didn’t have to worry about environmental concerns, because it’s not a problem in SL. So we manufactured designer jeans. The inside of the factory replicates a textile assembly line, and the jeans that we manufactured, called Double Happiness Jeans. We wanted to play with the idea of customization, so when you order the jeans your image and voice are projected into the factory so the workers can hear what you’re ordering. The in-SL workers would make your jeans, they’d get printed out on a large format printer.
In terms of the business model, we placed ads in SL to hire workers. We interviewed workers to ask about previous work experience, and it turns out that a lot of them used to work in real factories. We created an indentured servant model and gave our workers a 500 m plot of land for the duration of their employment to live with other workers.
We ran the factory for about 10 days at the festival, we’re going to do it again in October for a 4 month run. The sociological aspects were interesting — in SL, people usually have solo jobs. What appealed to the workers was the chance to work in a space with others and have camaraderie. A lot of them had previous factory experience, one woman had worked in a pie factory. It was interesting to look at the skills and values translated from her real life position into this virtual position.
[Julian interrupts to explain the mechanics of it: you go to a real kiosk, talk to people in SL, the workers in SL do stuff at their stations along the assembly line. If they mess up alarms go off and they have to start over as a team. Then the printer prints out patterns on cloth that real life workers at the kiosk sew together for you into jeans.]
I’m the CEO of RebelMonkey, which has been around for a little over two years. Couple of years ago we raised money to build some great stuff. The two primary properties that we’re responsible for. One is the Monkey Wrench Game Services Platform for making virtual worlds, and our premiere VW, CampFu. It’s a labor of love, a casual gaming world focused on the teen demographic, offering realtime cooperative games for casual players. In CampFu, instead of people playing head-to-head competitive, everyone plays a certain role and work together to achieve a common gold. We were able to get funded to build the experience, and an essential part of the game is our microtransaction (uT) economy. We approached our economy, which we invented from scratch, on the premise that people play in realtime and form teams, and the teams often carry over into the social aspects of the world (the campground). That drives engagement and excitement and community.
If you look at this path, it translates into: in-game items (co-op games), gifting and shared spaces (team play), and status items and collectibles (social). Once you create your avatar, you are dropped into making two choices: play a game or go shopping. The kinds of goods we offer include in-game items that give you special powers in a game, shared spaces that you can decorate and invited friends to hang out at, and status and peacocking items to show off in front of friends. In the campground is where most of the action takes place. Every time I’ve gone into the campground to try on a new item, immediately the players say “What are you wearing? I love it!”
Lots of VWs operate along a dual currency system. Why two currencies? Fu Cash is the hard, real money currency; and tickets which you get by playing games on the site. Tickets are an engagement booster, every time you play a game with friends or by yourself, the tickets encourage players to spend more time doing activities you want them to do on your site. Tickets are mostly for consumable items. We’d rather link expiring items to stuff that time-rich players can afford, rather than charging money for something that goes away. Tickets introduce players to virtual goods and spending, and hopefully moves them to real money transactions.
We’ve only been out since February, we look at the tickets and FuCash to get metrics on engagement. Once we launched the world, we had engagement go up from just 21 minutes to over an hour avg time in game.
I’m the cofounder of Live Gamer. I spent a long time in digital entertainment, and this is my first startup. We saw what was going on in the secondary black market for gold farming, and saw that it was not a new phenomenon, but one that dates back to prior to the first MMOs. Virtual items for real money have been around for quite some time now, but gained popularity in 1998 with EQ and UO. People were selling characters for thousands of dollars on eBay. Same thing happened in Korea with Lineage. All sort of a cottage industry until IGE got into the mix, and in Korea there’s ItemBay and ItemMania. Lots of players got ripped off, credit cards got stolen, game accounts got hacked, and IP owners had no control over this at all, and lost money via customer support costs! It was a bad experience for the ecosystem and the developers/publishers.
That’s why we created Live Gamer, we thought that it could be more inclusive of the publisher, better experience for players, reduce fraud and handle compliancy issues to deal with money IN as well as money OUT. But the thing that was constnat through growth of RMT was consumer demand, so we wanted to make a legitimate outlet for that demand. We’ve been very fortunate, approached the market much differently than IGE. We have licenses from game publishers, and develop strategies to let players in SOE, FunCom, and others’ games to trade items with one another for real money. For example, characters go to mailbox, drag an item into it, the item gets escrowed into Live Gamer Exchange. Then the player logs on and lists the item on the exchange. One of the big problems in black market trading was misrepresentation of what was being sold, but in our system the buyer can rely on the fact that the item they’re buying is the item they’re going to get. We allow players to sell characters, coins, and items. What we sell the most of are characters, which can range in price greatly, up to $1000 for a very high level character. Sellers can pay extra for highlighted listings. Most of our sales are on Fridays, people go in and buy a character then play with it for a weekend. Commonplace items aren’t sold a whole bunch.
We power a secondary market for GoPets, as well, not just relegated to hardcore games. The game publisher gets a cut of the revenue, we get a fee, but the player takes home the lions’ share of the revenue. We enable a virtual economy with in the EULA and ToS of the game publisher, and often we’ll engage at the design level to create a secondary market that makes sense for the games. We handle customer support, item validation, delivery validation, fraud, etc.
[The gist of it is, he spoke about how dictatorships in virtual worlds are not the way to go, you need to let the players form “covenants” to come up with their own local governances. Really interesting idea, I wish I had been able to transcribe it.]
1461 days ago
Here are my notes on Sean Kane’s 15-minute discussion of EULAs at State of Play 2009. Comments in [brackets] are mine, and any misinterpretations are my fault alone!
I’m talking about the idea of a EULA. Top 10 commandments to minimize EULA risk. [Not sure that there were 10.]
The takeaway should be: balance is the key. We need to balance the player interest and the developer interest.
One of the issues with the Bragg case was that there was not balance. One arbitration position in the Second Life EULA was imbalanced, inconscienable. To the extent that we can give players some rights, that’s what I think will go a long way to later on when those EULAs are tested. And I don’t think there’s a successful game out there that won’t have its EULA tested. Some judges are smart and understand what a VW is, and some judges like the one in the Bragg case shock everyone and write a 50-page decision with personal politics coming in to play.
Drafting: make things as clear and simple as you can make them. That’s an issue that comes up with judges reading contracts of any sort: if a person can’t understand it as written, and if a LAWYER can’t, that’s a black mark against the contract. Use simple declarative sentences, avoid compound sentences, use unadorned words and customary words (within the context of a language, an industry, or legal). Have a lawyer write these things that understands what you do. Don’t hide things. Lawyers are taken to task by judges because they’re trying to argue that X sentence in Y provision means “I win.” Judges ask where that provision is and if it’s buried in 15 sentences of misc crap, judges look poorly on that. If you want to be able to say you can change a EULA, make sure you say that at the top of your EULA, bold it, and say it plainly. It’s hard to argue that they missed that. In a EULA you should be careful to reference outside documents.
Give access to the EULA. Don’t just make them click on it, generate an email with it and send it to your client. Display it pre-purchase, post-purchase. Make sure that people can get to it if they need to. Make links all over your website to it. Who accepts the EULA? Child? Parent? How can you tell (credit card)?
Virtual Property. Source of rights: external legislation, some countries have case law dealing with VP. EULA can define whether you have virtual property. Most EULAs say “you don’t own any property, you get a limited license to access an aspect of this game, license is revokeable.” How about dispute resolution? There are lawyers in the sports area who put up a dispute resolution system for fantasy football, the companies sign up for it and if there’s a dispute those lawyers arbitrate. What happens if the game goes down? You want to include these sorts of points in your EULA to disclaim liability. The IP ownership is one of the biggest things. Some games say “we own everything,” others state “within the context of this game you have certain ownership rights.”
Q from audience: there’s someone out there that has a two column EULA. On the left hand is the dense stuff. On the right hand side is three or four simple words describing the gist of that paragraph. What do you think about that idea?
I’ll tell you about a conversation I had with Erik Bethke. He came to me and said there’s research that people can only keep about 7 things in their minds at once. I want a EULA with seven sentences to cover everything. He told his seven, and I said off the top of my head a bunch more things. He said, “Oh, we have to include that.” I think simple version is fine as long as it’s clear to the parties that you’re agreeing to the legalese, not the simple points. That’s okay as long as you’re not burying things later on.
Arbitration. You don’t want to be in court on these things, arbitration much less expensive than court. You want to be clear and conspicuous about your arbitration clause. You can include specific detail about how arbitration works beyond “there’s going to be arbitration in city X.”
Choose your forum and law. Different states have different laws on the books.
Class waiver. There aren’t that many EULAs that have class waivers in them. Having the ability to bring a class in a lawsuit, that can put a lot of force behind a lawsuit. Having a provision against class actions may be a good tihng, but you could get a negative community reaction, and there may be enforcability questions. You need to understand your users enough to know where there’s going to be backlash.
If you give away a little, you might get back a lot!!
1464 days ago
Looks like the developers at Crystal Dynamics have learned to embrace metrics for game development. From the Tomb Raider: Underworld post mortem in the June/July 2009 issue of Game Developer Magazine:
[What went right:] Metrics. In a game like Tomb Raider: Underworld, where the player can interact with so many different elements of the environment in so many ways, metrics are hugely important. They form the basis of getting Lara Croft off the grid and eliminating the tractor controls that kept her from evolving into the fluidly moving character we have today. Tomb Raider: Legend suffered from changes in jump distances, ledge parameters, and other metrics until late in development, resulting in countless hours of rework for both designers and artists (it was the most painful for the latter), and we were determined to avoid this issue in the sequel. Our lead level and systems designers collaborated to establish metrics for every aspect of player interaction until a full set was defined early in development. Some changes where made later, and holes were discovered and needed to be filled, but on the whole the degree to which we maintained and enforced metrics without major changes was a huge improvement over past efforts. If not for this success, the amount of game real estate we included in the game would have been significantly reduced.