Monday, December 29, 2008

Time to Pick One

In today's ourWorld update, we added a "heart" feature. Each player gets exactly one heart that they can give to a single bestest friend.

My ourWorld Crush/Match is my real life wife. Back off girls, he's taken!

Virtual dating on ourWorld is commonplace. Everyone is looking for a bf or gf (mostly girls, as they outnumber boys) and a fair number of players, of both genders, collect virtual sweethearts much the way one collects weapons in a first person shooter. I believe "playa" is the word for their activity.

Now, it seems, each person will have to pick a favorite other person (or not), declared for all ourWorld to see. Time will tell will see how dramatically this changes the social scene.

Already I can see girls becoming each other's BFF's to avoid choosing a single guy. Not sure that will work for guys who, due to their relative scarcity and the number of available girls, are more frequent offenders.

Note: If you are an ourWorld player who just found out you weren't your sweety's favorite, that cheatin' other person didn't deserve you.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Have Talented Friends

One of my oldest buddies, Bryan Edge-Salois, is a freelance writer. Here he brings us...

8 Myths About Video Games Debunked

I believe these myths are dying of natural causes, as the general population of gamers more and more represent the general population, overall. These myths are still embraced and spread by an ever-shrinking group represented by:
  • An older non-gamer demographic.
  • The not-yet-in-the-21st century wing of the mainstream media. (Dr. Phil, for example.)
  • A minority of vocal anti-gaming zealots. These folks have an uncanny knack for getting the the ear of the previously mentioned media people.
Don't worry. As long as you ignore them and stay off their lawn, they can't hurt you nor take your XBox away.

Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Even Freedom isn't Free

One of the most common inquiries sent to ourWorld support are requests for more free stuff. Its not surprising as the ratio of free vs for-money content has shifted, gradually at first, but more so lately, towards stuff that only paying customers have access to.

We have a lot of kids playing, particularly younger teens. I understand they don't have control over whether or not they become customers as a credit card or PayPal account is required (we do accept by-mail payments, but its not a popular option.)

Just today we got a from a player who wanted us to make items cheaper because, and I quote "I honestly don't want to spend money for a online game. (No matter how cool the game is!)"

Her honesty is nice, but she is saying explicitly what the cynic in me thinks every time I read a message requesting we give more away for nothing. If she's never going to become a customer, her value to ourWorld is based on her contributions to the community and the number of paying customers she refers to the site. Statistically, that's not a huge value to us, so I have to say no. Over and over again.

We could give more away for free if:
  • Doing so will radically increase the retention of Tourists, leading more to eventually become Customers. The numbers don't currently support this.
  • We can increase the value of Tourists (through ads, promotional deals, or something else I haven't thought of.)
  • The free items lead to additional purchases by the players who do spend.
If the players' requests don't have an impact on one of those three things, the answer has to remain a polite, but firm, no.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Super Tourists

When I first wrote the series of posts covering Tourists, Customers, Fans, and Super-Fans, I wasn't in the Virtual World business. Now that I am, I want to re-explore Tourists. Not just any Tourists, Super-Tourists!

Quick recap: I call the players who are using the free version of your product Tourists. They are checking it out, and maybe they'll pony up some cash and become customers. (Note: Tourist is the literal name of non-paying players in ourWorld. I don't know if that's coincidence or not. I came up with the term Tourist long before I ever heard of ourWorld.)

If you are a player with a free membership this is what you offer:
  • You might buy something and become a Customer.
  • You contribute and enhance the community, increasing the value of the game for Customers and Fans
  • You may refer other players to the game, so even if you never become a Customer, you may be responsible for someone who eventually does.
Note: A Tourist who doesn't do any of those things may be harmful to your game. Community contribution is subjective, and freeloading troublemakers can be an issue. Tourists who constantly use up the time of your support staff can also be an issue. I hate to cut anyone loose, just in case there is potential, but sometimes you have to.

Super Tourists are players who bring a lot to the table, besides their own money. They are as involved as a Super Fan, only without the check-book. They enhance the community by having a lot of friends and being fun to play with. They refer a lot of players to the site, many of whom become customers. For games where volunteers are needed, they're front and center. It's generally accepted that volunteers don't do it for the 'stuff', but for recognition. It may be that Super Tourists require more 'free stuff' than normal customers because their lack of spending limits their experience.

As I've recently posted, ourWorld has just started an assortment of reference features (click the avatar in the sidebar!) but we haven't started ID-ing Super Tourists yet. I'm not even sure how many (if any) there are. I'm going to look into it.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Idle Mice are the Devil's Work

"im bored"

When looking through chat logs, nothing drives me crazier than seeing that phrase. It's maddening, because it seems like we could do something, but nobody really knows what. Playstation Home just launched and the most common comment I've seen about it is that it's boring. (That and it will be good when they expand it. Why does that sound familiar?)

Virtual Worlds are, for the most part, extremely fancy chat rooms. The problem is, they look like games, so there is a sense that something more ought to be going on. But what?
  • Games - I'm beginning to think that Virtual Worlds are an imperfect fit with games. Pure gamers aren't interested in the social aspects of VWs and social players aren't all that jazzed about single player or competitive gaming. A percentage of players are interested in both, but I have no idea what that percentage is.
  • Exploration - Making a VW large enough where exploration is fun for more than a few minutes is difficult and expensive. In ourWorld, most of the 'regulars' spend most of their time in the condos (private member-only locations) rather than hob-nobbing with the noobs in the public spaces.
  • In-World Activities - This shows the most promise, and what I'm working on with ourWorld right now. Something for your character to do, that isn't really competitive, and doesn't keep the player from being social. If the social players can't chat, they tend to steer clear of that activity. Pretty vague, huh. Yes, I'm still working on the specifics myself.
  • Organized chat - YoVille has a fabulous feature where players can set a topic-specific party and invite interested players to their place. The topics range from age-specific (under 15s only), X-rated (of course), and the more mundane (Jonas Brothers Fans.) I think this is a key boredom killer, as it focuses the chat and the community rather than distracts from it.
Part of the problem for both ourWorld and (I imagine) Playstation Home is the teen audience. As stated before, a notoriously hard group to please. Still, teen players are a lot of fun if you can make them happy. OurWorld is starting to get into a groove, with regular players and a constant stream of new players (click the avatar...)


Monday, December 15, 2008

Old Man Winter

One of my best friends, Mark Gardiner, is a talented photographer. I submit proof:


Thanks, Mark!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who is that handsome anime-looking dude?

OurWorld is adding a new feature, an affiliate script that grants the player ourWorld Gems (the currency that normally costs $) if people use its link to join the site.

If you were to click on that avatar image and join ourWorld (and save and gain a couple levels) I'd get +10 Gems. Nice.

Wylde (that's the ourWorld me!)

I love this kind of stuff.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Is Henry Rollins really helping?

There was a 2003 british TV show called Full Metal Challenge, which I quite enjoyed. One of the two hosts was Henry Rollins.

I was just reading a review of the show, and the reviewer really despised Henry Rollins' role as co-host of this gearhead-centric game show. While he didn't bother me, I did wonder why he was there when I watched the show. Why was he there?

Attaching a celebrity to your product provides attention. This is handy when you're product is a little outside the norm and/or in jeopardy of being overlooked. The producers of the show decided they needed somebody that would get noticed. They went with Rollins, and while the choice may have turned a few heads, that was the point.

The downside is that one person's awesome bad-assed musician/writer is another person's loudmouth tattooed knucklehead. People who watch your show (or play your game) want it to be represented by people who they identify with. People they feel are like them or people they would like to be more like. If that connection isn't made the result is always some flavor of poor. If the connection IS made, the results can be spectacular.

A celebrity endorsement is part of the story you're telling about yourself? The attention is a given, but it'll be a waste if the story doesn't make sense in the end.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

When your worst is good enough

I just bought another pair of shoes from Zappos. My size 13's make it hard to find shoes I like in styles I like. In fact, it's nearly impossible in a brick and mortar store.

Not long after placing my order, they sent me this Email:
Dear Adam Conus,

Good news!

Although you originally ordered Standard (4 to 5 business days) shipping
and handling, we have given your order special priority processing in
our warehouse and are upgrading the shipping and delivery time frame for your
Your order will ship out Monday, October 6th 2008 and be given a special
priority shipping status so that
you can receive your order even faster than we originally promised!

Please note that this is being done at no additional cost to you. It is
simply our way of saying thank you for being our customer.

What does this say to me? Well, I know that everyone gets a message like this, so while I liked it, I know I'm not special or anything. What do I think it really means? I think it means the basic level of shipping/service they reserve for when they are slammed (Christmas, perhaps) and anytime they can provide better-than-promised service, they do.

Smart. That's why I recommend them. (That and their shoes are awesome.)

They also provide a link so I can market for them: My shoes. So thoughtful!


Saturday, October 04, 2008

It doesn't matter if the customer is right or not.

This is a quote from a post in The Escapist Magazine Forum:

The Customer is Always Wrong

I had a customer come in all angry-like. He comes up to the counter and puts a movie he had bought on the counter and said "This movie is gay!" So I take a quick look at the movie and see it is Brokeback Mountain. I had to restrain my laughs, but anyways some of the other customers started to chuckle. I told him "We can't refund movies if they are not defective." So he then says "Well it does have a small scratch on it." And I promtly told him "The movie DID work when you put it in the DVD player, or else you wouldn't know that this movie is in fact about 2 gay men."

The post is meant to provide a semi-humorous take on the idiocy of customers, in particular that one. The thing is, the repugnance of that one person aside, there are a couple of things wrong with this picture.

First, the customer's expectations were not met. They wanted a cowboy movie, and they got a gay cowboy movie. Let's be honest, there is a pretty big difference. Whose fault is it they didn't know what they were getting? Not everyone is plugged into movies the way geeks like myself and the sort that work at Blockbuster are.

Second, in this case, Blockbuster's 'no refund' policy seems to have resulted not in the savings of a couple of bucks, but instead a pissed off customer and a (possibly) vandalized DVD.

Customers are people. Flawed, irrational people. People make mistakes all the time. How those mistakes are dealt with is frequently the difference between those people staying customers and those people becoming somebody else's flawed, irrational customer.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It doesn't matter to a Kid

Its obvious to everyone in the industry that Club Penguin is doing things right. Will the same strategies work for teen and adult products? Of course they will.

Club Penguin owes popularity to Disneyland attitudes

I think I spend too much time worrying about the nuts and bolts of ourWorld, and not enough on creating the right attitude. I mean, the people I speak to directly get what I can generate personally, but I haven't managed to broadcast that ideology.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Capitalism - Not on Mythic's Watch!

WAR declares war on Gold Farmers

Here's the thing. If you know people are going to be farming and selling gold, why not just build your game in a way that takes advantage of the practice, instead of employing feeble, expensive, and (I predict) useless tactics that prevent the sellers and the buyers from playing the game they want to to play. If I were building an MMORPG, I'd build a safe system for buying and selling gold right into the game, add prestige incentives for use, and take a slice right off the top. You have to START with that in mind, because depending on your game, too much gold too quick could certainly mess things up.

I think this falls into the category of, "World of Warcraft does it this way, so this is how it must be done." Of course, WoW doesn't really stop gold farming, but smaller companies will try to 'succeed' where WoW failed. Have fun guys.

Games are about what the players want, not your 'vision' of gaming utopia. If players want to buy gold, I say sell it to them.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Break from the Virtual

Myself and the family unit took a few days and visited the real-world hotel and waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge, just south of Olympia, WA.

The hotel was of the standard of come to expect from themed destination lodgings, pretty high. The staff was extremely well trained. Eye contact with any member of the staff resulted in a friendly greeting, but it never came off as canned. If I hadn't been for three days and two nights, I may not have noticed. Towards the end of the second day, I had decided it wasn't coincidence. Needed toilet paper, got it in minutes (my son dropped our last roll in the 'drink'.) Good test, and they passed, all with a smile.

The waterpark was pretty good too. All indoors, which is nice for the dodgy northwest weather. That does limit the size, but not too much. You can go on all the slides and attractions in a couple of hours, but the slides are fun over and over, so we kept busy. Two small slides, two medium sized (utilizing inflatable tubes), and one big one. The big one was pretty sweet, I must admit. A wave pool, and 'play' pool, and plenty of water features for kids and adults alike.

One of the hotel features I did not expect, but ended up really enjoying was called MagiQuest. It's essentially an electronic scavenger hunt played throught floors 1-5 of the hotel. The players have wands that electronically keep track of the player's progress. Tons of fun for hours and hours. I saw hundreds of kids playing, all at $25+ a pop. Great idea!

The biggest knock against the park was the food. It wasn't bad, but for an "all in one" experience like Great Wolf Lodge is, there wasn't much variety.
  • A buffet open for Breakfast and Dinner. About $14 a plate for breakfast and $18 for dinner. To pricey for me. I didn't try it.
  • A bar and grill. Very small, but decent. About 20 entrees to choose from. Good number of choices on the kids menue.
  • Starbucks
  • Pizza Hut. In addition to my least favorite Pizza in the world, they also sold breakfast sandwiches. I didn't try them.
  • A donut/coffee/bakery/candy counter. Yum, but not filling.
  • In the water park, there was a burger/hotdog/sandwich stand. Nice, but very out of the way unless actually using the park.
Pepsi is everywhere in GWL, so I'm wouldn't be surprised to see a KFC, Taco Bell, or other Pepsi franchise opened in the future. Anything would help. It's very, very kid friendly, so I'm not too surprised that no 'fine dining' option was available. I would have welcomed it, though.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Teen Challenge

Most Virtual Worlds are for kids (6-8) and tweens (9-12). ourWorld is, for the most part, for teens (13+).

From a community standpoint, that provides a lot of challenges. Teens are notoriously difficult to please. The content teens want is basically juvenile adult content. They want to swear. They want to talk about sex. Some want to talk about booze and drugs and everything else any sane site admin would want to avoid entirely.

So, what do we do? We monitor. We have clear expectations. We remove the worst offenders. The most important thing I do is treat everyone with respect. I say "There are kids here, we don't know how old anyone is, and we can't have this sort of thing." Either they get it, and the problem is solved, or I shut them down, and the problem is solved. Some of the people I chat with most frequently are people I've sent Code of Conduct warnings to. Good kids (with dirty mouths, like that's something new!)

I'd say 90% of the kids on ourWorld are saying and reading things their parents wouldn't completely approve of. I'd say less than 5% are saying things that are really out of line. I review chat logs, but that doesn't give a good sense of the conversation, as it happens. I wander around the site using in an assortment of guises, making conversation or just reading. Most of the time, these teens are talking like teens, which is tough for a grown up like me (and their parents) to handle, but there is nothing wrong with it.

In the words of a generation older than even mine, The Kids are All Right.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Best of the Virtual Best

What Virtual World features have really impressed me?

ourWorld - Avatars. Anime-inspired design combined with literally hundreds of different clothing items results in a nearly infinite array of looks for the players. With so much game time spent looking at avatars, I think avatar design is critical to the success of a VW. Ourworld's diveristy is only eclipsed by sites allowing user generated content (like 2nd Life), but without the challenges that come with UGC.

Dizzywood - In game play. Most of the fun of Dizzywood happens right in the main world. Activites, both solo and group, are everywhere. Much of the action happens in plain view of everyone. If you are engaged in a game that takes place in its own window, your avatar displays an icon so the other players know you're engaged. If I was 10, Dizzywood would be my game.

Smallworlds - Missions. Until they run out, Smallworlds keeps new players busy with a large assortment of rewarded tasks. They show off the world, teach how things works, provide an income, and kill boredom. I gave up on Smallworld soon after the missions dried up.

Whirled - User generated content. I'm a sucker for UGC. Whirled does a reasonable job of sorting the stuff so the best is accessible and the worst remains obscure. While there's a community of creators, the barrier was too high for me to participate. Still, there's some really interesting stuff on Whirled that no 'pro' would ever think to make happen.

YoVille - Parties List. With a lack of real games, YoVille is essentially a big chat service. Players can always check the party list to see if there are any like-minded people hanging out. If you don't see one you like, it takes about 10 seconds to start a party of your own.

Pet Society - Avatar Games. It's simple, and there's not enough variety yet, but I love the fact that I can play ball, frisbee, and jump-rope with my Pet Society pet. The games are super simple, but it keeps track of personal bests and issues trophies and rewards for exceeding benchmarks. I think this sort of play-with-my-avatar stuff would work in a lot of other games.

YoVille, Pet Society - Facebook Apps. I can't believe how quickly games built into Facebook grow. It's nice to have them right at my fingertips as I'm always checking Facebook anyway.

Toppstown, Bella Sara - Real World Tie-In. Products bought at retail unlock Virtual World content online. I think we'll be seeing a lot of this in the future, as the potential for revenue is huge.

Most of these 'bests' are really just great ideas that other worlds haven't adopted as standard yet. Cross pollenation is inevetible, because there's no way you can ignore a great idea just because somebody else thought of it first (unless they 'own' it somehow.) Avatars, games, public and private rooms, and stores selling virtual stuff for play money WAS pretty innovative. Obviously, there's room for so much more. These worlds have already started taking those next steps. I can't wait to see what's next. Heck, perhaps I'll come up with what's next!


Monday, August 11, 2008

More Value

We bought a tube of kids shampoo that says "Limited Time Value" on it. I think the idea is that we're getting extra shampoo for free. Am I? I'm not sure I can believe that. All the tubes of that brand were the same price and had the same amount of shampoo. Is the price going up soon? In that case, I'm not getting more now, I'm just being informed of getting less in the future. What the heck does "Limited Time Value" mean? It doesn't make any sense.

When Hidden City Games launched Clout (a collectible poker chip game) a few years back, we had two products.

  1. The Starter Game - 30 chips, rules, and tape measure for $15.
  2. The Booster Pack - 2 chips for $2.50
The idea was we'd give the players a price break on the starter so it'd be easier to get into the game. The response was exactly the opposite. Everyone figured that if we could afford to sell 30 chips for $15, there's no reason at all that 2 chips should cost over a buck each. We got asked over and over again, if the chips are .50 each, why not sell 5 for $2.50.

Truth was, we couldn't sell the boosters for cheaper. The booster price is where we planned to make our money, and the starters were selling at about cost. While we could explain that to people one at a time, and they'd usually get it, the organic story that took root was that Clout was a rip-off based on the booster prices. That (along with it's crappy name, problems with distribution, rulebook issues, and million other sad mistakes) eventually sunk the game. I'm not sure if making the starters cost more would have helped, but minimizing the disparity would have solved that one problem. The value problem.

Value isn't something you label a product with it. Value is the feeling a customer gets when the experience with the product meets expectations and turns out to be worth the money that was paid. More value means the feeling is stronger. No value means the money was wasted in the mind of the customer.

Put value into your product (or game, or service, or whatever you do) rather than on the label. THAT is what makes sense.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

YoVille, a few days later

YoVille did an update yesterday changing a couple of things.
  1. Added a chat filter, replacing many swearwords with 'yadda'. This has created my favorite YoVille term, 'motheryaddaer'. While not empirical, I've noticed swearing (by dodging the filter) increase by a huge margin since the filter has been put into place, though it is likely the newness of it has spawned a lot of boundary-testing. I found the lack of a filter refreshing, but am not at all surprised it has been added. I guess teens will have to satisfy their swearing needs in real life.
  2. Added Trades. The concept of virtual world trading has a lot of pitfalls, but my naivete shielded me from a big one. "16yo for sale", meaning a bit of cybersex for some virtual coins. Virtual prostitution, it seems. Either the offers are scams, or they're not. For once, I hope there's a lot of scamming going on. When we add trading to ourWorld, I am going to be on this issue like a motheryaddaer.
Now, I'm 38. What that basically means is I have no business being on YoVille according to most of the inhabitants. The usual coversation is:

Where you from"
"How old are you?"

At that point I have to lie, be evasive, or fess up and the conversation is OVER. I've decided never to lie about my age (or anything) in a VW, so I have a lot of short conversations. Thanks to "Grown Up" parties in YoVille, I've experienced some nice chats with nice people, but outside of those chats, my presence is unwanted. I think I come off as creepy.

Truth is, working on ourWorld has got me a bit addicted to Virtual Worlds. I usually like the few kids who tolerate my presence after knowing I'm an oldster. I like gaming online. I just need to get over the fact that even though I work on a Virtual World, they aren't for me (at least not any I know of.)


Thursday, August 07, 2008


I've stepped up the chat monitoring on ourWorld this week, making sure the site's Code of Conduct is followed by our many, many members. I've sent many warnings, and deactivated a few people's chat functions. The thing is, most of them don't know what the CoC is.

The question is, how do you provide that info to players who aren't the least bit interested in it?

Here are the basic rules, in no particular order:
  • No sex talk. Nobody really knows the age or gender of any of the players. We just can't have it. This sort of talk in the public areas is a more serious offense than private chat (though as I write this, I wonder if my priorities are straight.)
  • No abusive chat. That means no racism or personal attacks (though if I eliminated everyone who used the terms Biitch, ghey, or a$$hole we wouldn't have any players left.) From a practical standpoint, I'm shooting for PG-13.
  • No sharing personal information. Asking for Emails, phone #s, names, and photos is a major no-no. Providing it is also prohibited. Requesting to meet in person gets your account deactivated immediately.
Thems the rules. I just need to communicate them somehow. Suggestions welcome.



Yoville is one of two facebook virtual worlds I've started playing this week. It stands out in a few ways, and doesn't stand out in a few others.

Stand out features:
  • Runs straight out of Facebook. As somebody who's on Facebook daily, that's nice.
  • No chat filter at all. You can debate the value of this, but it's nice to just say F*** every now and then.
  • Money -> Food -> Energy -> Dancing. It's all tied together in simple, fun little bow. Other things you can do with money:
    • Get drunk. It's hilarious. Drunk avatars sway from side to side. While drunk the entire screen is blurry. If you're really drunk, it's too blurry to read the chat text. The effect is quite temporary.
    • Buy coffee. You avatar moves faster. More coffee = more speed. Also temporary
    • The usual new clothes, new furniture.
  • Events. Players can label events and (I think) put restrictions on who may attend. Girls only, for example. There's always a huge list, thanks to the Facebook bump of players, I'd guess.
  • Money options
    • Job - show up once per day and get money
    • Casino - Just a slot machine for now. I've doubled my money with it, so I like it.
    • Play simple one-on-one games with other players. Tick-Tac-Toe and Rock Paper Scissors are the choices. Meh.
    • Buy fake money with real money. I'm tempted to drop $20 so I can have a tricked out place. We'll see. If I'm still playing it in a week I may take the plunge.
I am so0 wasted (13% drunk)

Less than stand out issues:
  • Not too many games to play. Tic-Tac-Toe doesn't quite cut it. If I wasn't winning with the slot machine, I'd never go back.
  • Avatars look stupid. Little body/huge head design. Combined with the fully open chat,booze, gambling, and a lot of adult themed parties, it creates a weird toddlers-cruising-for-action vibe, that I find off-putting.
  • Ho-Hum choice of features, so far. Aside from the booze, coffee, and the ability to say f***, it's very vanilla. If they expand it rapidly, I see a lot of potential, though.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I said, he said, he said, he said.

This is funny to me, as Chris Anderson wrote a post basically saying the same thing. Essentially, "This is what I meant, and Seth said it better."

What I said. What Seth said. The best part of his post was:

"Great design is intuitive. Great design eliminates confusion. But not for everyone, not all the time. The words and interactions you use often have a sophistication that will confuse some portion of your audience.

Why not consider making it easy for the confused to ask for help? And treat them with respect when they do. If you don't create a little confusion, it's unlikely you've built something remarkable.

And to go one step further: sometimes it's okay to lose the n00bs. Not in an arrogant way (except for some brands) but in a way that says, "this might just not be for you..."

What Chris said was in his book, the Long Tail. What Seth said regarding that.

Good stuff, all around.


Monday, August 04, 2008


" Wendy's®, we're unrivaled in our passion for giving people what they want — and uncompromising in giving people what they deserve."

Apparently this statement does not apply to the sour cream in their sour cream and chives potatoes. For the second trip in a row, my local Wendy's has failed to include this portion of the potato ensemble with our family meal.

When we called the restaurant , the 'manager' offered to provide the sour cream if we returned to pick it up. Wrong answer.

I wrote Wendy's to complain. The response is supposed to come in the next two days.

The correct answer is: Come back and we'll give you your meal for free, and your next meal is free.

The sour cream isn't really a big deal. Me being pissed about it IS a big deal, and I am pissed.

In case you were wondering which Wendy's is hoarding their sour cream, it's:

(425) 271-6251


Dizzywood's Arbor Day Foundation Event

Dizzywood is rapidly becoming the coolest play site for the under 12 crowd. Since it's very much a kids-only site, I'm pleased that I can talk it up so freely without worrying about undercutting our work on our teen-oriented ourWorld.

Three months ago (around arbor day, I think) one of the Forests in Dizzywood was chopped down by a villain. The event centered on an activity allowing the kids to get seeds and fertilizer and grow the trees back.

Yesterday, several months later, they just updated the Forest, fully grown back. The entire thing designed to show that the kids could help improve the world by growing trees. Awesome.

This is the message I received:

Hi Adam,

Here's the latest Dizzywood news to report to you (not exactly earth-shattering, but earth-impacting!):
As you may recall, about three months ago, we started an event in Dizzywood, where players were challenged to replant the trees of Wildwood Glen. (The area had been destroyed by Emperor Withering, Dizzywood's arch-villian, and players were asked to plant a tree to help the cause.)

Thanks to the efforts of Dizzywood citizens, we're thrilled to report that 15,000 virtual trees have been planted in Dizzywood, which will translate into 15,000 real trees to be planted in forests that needs them most through our partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation. (Press release attached, which will go out tomorrow.)

This accomplishment was celebrated with a party in Wildwood Glen today - and the unveiling of a statue to commemorate the hard work.

I've attached a "before the replanting" and "after the replanting" screen shot to give you some idea of the lush new landscape in Wildwood Glen. We hope this activity has shown the players of Dizzywood how each person can make a difference -- and that as a collective group, anything is possible.
And here are the pictures:


After (much better!)

I'm pleased that I planted and nurtured my share of trees as part of this whole thing. It really was fun, and this payoff puts it over the top. Once again, well done Dizzywood!


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Dungeons and Dragons, a humble suggestion

Only Wizards of the Coast have the resources and the customer base to support a major online initiative for an pen and paper RPG.

Make the D&D website essential, and make the books the key to unlocking it.

Players Handbook
  • A character generator that is updated with any and all errata.
  • A database of characters uploaded by users. Think Spore. Players enter the stats, skills (whatever they call them now), etc. and all characters that meet the criteria come up.
  • When errata is issued, players can opt-in to updates. All characters they've got online are automatically updated.
  • Using the massive collection of artwork already available, character portraits are available from the entire history of D&D.
Dungeons Master's Guide
  • When used in conjunctions with the PH, characters may have lists of magic items (assuming items are still in the DMG)
  • Map, scenario editor and database Similar database to character editor, allowing players to build and share rooms, lairs, or whole adventures.
  • Magic Item editor and database.
Monster Manual
  • When used in conjunction with the map, scenario editor, monster stats are included as statblocks or whole descriptions.
  • Monster editor and database.
Here's the kicker. Don't give it away. Put a code in every book that unlocks that book's content on the site. Players who don't buy Monster Manuals don't get access to the Monster Manual content. Players who don't by Player's Handbooks, don't get the character generator.

Suddenly used books are far less valuable than new books. P2P versions are also compromised.

Releasing a new Monster book? Add some featured content to wet the player's taste, but require the book's code to get all the new monsters in their database. Releasing a Forgotten Realms book with new character content? Do the same thing. Give them a little, but only customers with the codes get all that new content.

Make the D&D website essential, and make the books the key to unlocking it.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Scrabu-More!! Wordscraper

That didn't take long. Woo Hoo. Now I can uninstall that crap Scrabble plug-in (after defeating my wife, natch!)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Hasbro/EA's new Scrabble (Beta) Facebook app shuts Scrabulous down.

It happened, my favorite* Facebook app, Scrabulous, is gone. In its place is Hasbro/EA's Scrabble Beta Facebook app. I find it hilarious that the new Scrabble game is currently non-functional and there are over 400 threads (not posts, threads) full of anger and spite against the game giant and its strong-arm tactics. I'd say 1 in 50 has a nice thing to say about the new game.

No Scrabulous.
No Scrabble.

I imagine in a day or so we'll see what the real reaction to Scrabble will be. The reaction to a playable Scrabble game. I suspect the hard-core Scrabble and Scrabulous fans will play, though some reluctantly. Angry casual players (like me*) will abandon Scrabble in all its versions altogether, and new players will gravitate to it at a similar rate to the original Scrabulous.

* Yes, Scrabulous was my favorite Facebook app and still not particularly dear to me. Facebook apps don't do much for me, at least so far. The Spore app is my new favorite Facebook app.

Edit: Scrabble Beta is up and running now. My first word...tong.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WoW spelled backwards is...oh, never mind

Warhammer Online Creative Director says World of Warcraft "has had a corrupting effect" on game development.

I couldn't agree more. I saw it at Wizards of the Coast, I saw it at Hidden City Games. I haven't seen too much of it at my current gig, as not too many of my current com padres play.

Wizards appears to have drunk the cool-aid with their newest edition of D&D. 4th edition of D&D is designed to play more like an MMO. Maybe in the table top format, that's an improvement, but it sounds more like marketing/executive creative thinking than game designer creative thinking. I can't say for sure, as I haven't played 4th edition D&D.

All the developers and designers at Hidden City Games were neck-deep in WoW, and it seemed to me, who doesn't play, every single design choice for the Bella Sara website (yes, horses for girls was influenced by WoW) was compared to how it was done in either WOW or XBox Live. I don't mind telling you it became tiresome.

To quote Paul Barnett from the article a started this post with:

"You can't be the Beatles. If you try and be the Beatles, you'll end up as the Monkees,"


Virtual World vs MMO = Casual vs Hard Core?

It may be that the real difference between what we consider a Virtual World and what we consider a Massively Multiplayer Game is the sort of players that play the games, and how those players are catered to by the publishers.

I recently read an article (sorry, I no longer have the link) that made the assertion that so-called hardcore gamers are far more apt to purchase subscriptions than so-called casual gamers. Casual gamers, it said, preferred to pay using the micro-transaction type models.

While there are certainly examples of hard-core games offering micro-transaction content as well as casual games offering subscriptions, from a demographic standpoint, the division is obvious. Most Virtual Worlds are moving, at least in part, to the micro-transaction model. In just the last year, it's becoming generally accepted, despite the drawbacks, that the micro-transaction model is the strongest choice for a successful Virtual Worlds. World of Warcraft, and most hard-core MMO-type games, have settled on the subscription system as the way to go.

Hard-Core -> MMO -> Subscription Payments
Casual -> Virtual World -> Micro-transactions

No so much a rule, but a guideline.


Monday, July 28, 2008

All too Real for Faketown

Faketown files for bankruptcy

A shame really, as I have a fondness for sites that feature a lot of user generated content. Faketown was like a 2d Habbo Hotel with a lot of options for customization. I can't say I'm surprised, as I expect a bit of a virtual world shake-up in the next 12 months or so. Barring some unexpected uptick in the market (people staying home rather than driving around, for example) there won't be room for all of these worlds, even on a medium as infinite as the internet. It's still a zero-sum competition for people willing to provide those magical credit card digits. Let the best worlds win.

Faketown's 2d World

Worlds that feature user generated content must find ways to put the best stuff front and center. It must also have ample designed content to get people into the swing of things before they're ready to take off on their own. I'm not sure Faketown ever managed that, but I didn't spend enough time on the site to judge fairly. I did think it was neat, but, like many players, I prefer the more advanced 3d experiences available elsewhere.



The Scrabulous/Scrabble thing really got me thinking about platforms and how they relate to intellectual property (IP). Scrabulous did Scrabble a huge service by providing the game on a new platform. It's unclear whether or not there would be a Scrabble on Facebook unless Scrabulous proved there is a demand for it.

This puts fan-developers in a tight spot. If they want to introduce a beloved game to a new platform, they have to deal with the corporate command-and-control legal machines that still dominate our info-wants-to-be-free world. Hasbro has made their position clear. They don't want anyone having fun with their property unless they are directly involved. At least that's a position. In most other cases you just have to guess whether the 'rightful owner' cares whether or not you release a game on a new platform, be it Facebook, the I Phone, or whatever cutting edge thing is coming down the virtual pike. If you're lucky, unhappy IP owners will just tell you to stop. If you're unlucky, they might sue.

The creation of great ideas has never been the hard part. See: inspiration vs perspiration. The hard part is turning those ideas into something of value to the world. The law should go further to protect people (and companies) who create that value, rather than protecting those who have great ideas but are unable or unwilling to share them in ways that provide the most value to the public.

There are a lot of pitfalls in my suggestion, but nothing we couldn't sort out with some work. Just an idea that alone will bring little value to the world.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Who plays What and When?

A report from Casual Connect, regarding the demographics of gamers.

It's far more complex than even I suspected, and I suspected it was pretty complex!


SUE is only worth 3 points

It looks like it has finally happened, Hasbro is suing the facebook app, Scrabulous.

Last year they 'requested' scrabulous be taken down, it wasn't, and now Hasbro and EA have released an 'official' Scrabble facebook app. I haven't had a chance to play the new app but it's off to a rough start.

Scrabulous gets a 4.2 out of 5 star rating. EA/Hasbro's Scrabble Beta gets 1.7 out of 5. This isn't about what's best for Scrabble players. This is about Hasbro maintaining complete control of a decades old game.

Scrabulous (I'm losing)

Scrabble Beta (Can't get anyone to play)

While I will remain critical of Hasbro's "sue anyone who makes something cool with thier games" strategy, I do realize they are acting within their rights. I just think it's a mistake that hurts them, their fans, and the properties they claim to be protecting.

If you're interested in what I had to say about this back in January, it's right here.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ich bin ein Habbo-ite!

I was asked today to check out Habbo's economy, how they charge, and what they charge for. I see no reason not to share my findings with all (both?) of you! I just signed up today, so this is very much a first impression of Habbo's economy. I know there's more to it than this, but this is what I could dig up in a couple of hours.

SnowStorm, one of several games I can't try out in Habbo

Habbo is a stingy virtual world. Pretty much everything costs coins (also called credits), and coins aren't cheap!

Follow this link to see all the ways Habbo will take your money. It's pretty impressive, actually. Coin Purchase Page:

Items range in cost from 1 (for a rubber duck) to things in the 20's.

Collectibles - Habbo releases (weekly, I think) an item that will only be available that week. The current item is a gondola (Italian canal boat) for 25 coins. They claim the original collectible, released back in 2005, was sold for 4950coins (About $800), though I'm not sure how they came to that number. In any case, collectibles seem to be a 'stock market' sort of thing in Habbo (plus they're pretty neat!)

Trophies - Trophies are an interesting item in that you can write something permanent on them when they are purchased. The idea is you reward yourself or other players with them.

Pets - At 20c pets are a little pricey, and they come in three flavors: cats, dogs, lizards

Games - You need tickets to play all but the lamest of the Habbo multiplayer games. Tickets are 2 for 1 coin, or 20 for 6 coins. When entering the game room, there was an ad for The Dark Knight (I've seen it, lay off!) I don't know what you get if you win the games, but I expect there's prizes.

Habbo Club - It's hard to tell, but it looks like it's 20 coins per month. You get:
  • Access to special items - there's a Habbo Club tab in the store.
  • Free furniture item each month
  • Special room layouts (non club members get boxes only)
  • Jump to the front of queue lines when waiting for rooms to load.
Oddly enough, I couldn't find were to join the club, but it seems like a big deal.

They have a 'coin subscription' listed on their payment page, but they are no longer offering it. I'm curious as to why they stopped. Another interesting thing about their payment structure, they only allow three 'purchase attempts' per eight day period, at least with normal credit cards.


Tee Em Eye

Too Much Information

It's a constant battle communicating with online players. There's information they need, information they want, information they don't know they need, and information they think they don't want. Simple!

Most Virtual Worlds are complicated. The more things there are to do, the more features you offer, the more places there are for players to get tripped up. No matter how simple you make each thing, a whole lot of things results in a complex system.

Most people want to figure things out for themselves. If they need help, they'll ask for it when they need it. This has a few repercussions:
  • Features that players can't figure out for themselves are inherently problematic. It's tempting to only release simplistic features.
  • People need the right help at the right time. They're not paying attention before they try to play. They've forgotten after they've given up. That's a narrow window.
  • Engineers, designers, and programmers like to suggest demos, tutorials, and FAQs (oh, they love those FAQs). While not terrible solutions, they aren't particularly effective, either.
What a player sees when he or she skims an FAQ

For complex features, you need the thing to either ramp up complexity gradually, have a robust help system, give live tours/demos, or accept that not everyone's going to be interested enough to survive the learning curve. Is it worth it?

Yes. In fact, hell yes!

Once a player has mastered any sort of learning curve, they are more than just casually engaged. They become special. They become elite. Time is an investment, and when that investment pays off to a player, everybody wins. That's a big deal, and worth working for.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Grrrrrl Power!

This isn't a surprise to anyone who's close to internet gaming, but just in case you're late to the party...

More Girls Get Into Gaming

Spend 10 minutes in ourWorld and you'll notice many, many, many girls. Whether they're gaming or socializing, that's hard to say, but they're online and MIGHTY! Go Girls!

Edit: A pretty common girl/boy ratio in ourWorld's Cake Mania Room (note: the guy is me)


What's the diff?

What is the difference between MMO's (Massively Multiplayer Online games) and Virtual Worlds?

Generally speaking, MMO's use client side software more extensively, but many, many VW's do as well, including Second Life, the granddaddy VW.

MMO's usually have a single, overriding game element. Virtual Worlds usually revolve around a number of smaller scale flash-type games. Is that really a difference? I'm not even sure that's a valid characterization of the MMOs vs. VWs.

I really think the primary difference is one of focus. MMO's are primarily about the game, with the social aspects an important, but secondary aspect. VW's are meant to emulate the social aspects of the real work in a convenient virtual setting as their primary function. They include a game or games to facilitate the social aspects and provide something for less social players to do.

That's pretty slim. Perhaps the real answer is there is no big difference, other than that which the publishers choose to market and the fans choose to perceive. World of Warcraft is a Virtual World, but more than that it's also a MMORPG. There are RPG games in 2nd Life, but more than that, it's a Virtual World.

What do you think?


Friday, July 18, 2008

Kids Want Wine Coolers, Too!

The problem with the 'mainstream' media's coverage of video games is that they don't understand them. Never did. Possibly never will.

I love this quote from Take Two CEO Ben Feder in a recent interview discussing the gaming press' coverage of GTAIV:

"I think we've moved the debate from 'Okay, it's not a game, it's interactive entertainment,' and it's not for kids. It's not for kids.

Okay. The CEO of the company has made it clear it's not for kids. The gaming media's figured it out. Now, when will joe-sixpack-media outlet catch on? The game=kids product model has been broken. Shattered. It's long dead. Just because kids WANT something, doesn't mean it's made for them.

Note: Have you tried Smirnoff Ice Grape? Oh my sweet heavens, that is some yummy boozy stuff! I'm sure the average 12 year old would love it as much or more than God of War 2. It must be for kids! (No, no, it is not.)


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Parents and Gaming

I just read a rather hum-drum article about how parents can keep up with the video games their kids play. The article starts like this:
Call it a generation gap or a digital divide, if you're a parent who is a little clueless about what video games are appropriate for your child, you are not alone.
Who are these parents who don't understand video games? I know I'm an unusual case, but seriously. EVERY SINGLE PARENT I KNOW PLAYS VIDEO GAMES, at least a little. Now, if you're a grandparent, you *might* be off the hook, though at 38 I'm technically old enough to be one of those myself (my kid is 7, so no worries.)

Video games turned to computer games in the 90's. Console games have remained essentially the same for the last decade. Mortal Kombat showed how violent games could be 18 years ago. Doom, the first modern 1st person shooter, appeared 15 years ago. Grand Theft Auto 2 is over 10 years old.

This isn't new people. The graphics are better, the stories are better, and the content is more complex. Not different, just evolved. Some really kick ass. Other suck. Some are appropriate for kids, some not so much. It's been this way for decades now.

How old are these kids we're worrying about? How old are their parents?

What's more likely is people writing articles about the "mysteries of gaming culture" don't get it. Media types understand the media, and little else (I understand gaming, and little else, I admit it.)

Just like the article says "Gaming is now an $18.8 billion part of the entertainment industry. You have to dig your head in the sand pretty deep to be ignorant of an industry as huge as gaming.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Little Brother, a novel

Buy it, or read it. I started it this morning and I finished it just now. Damn. Good. Book.

Edit (found this on Facebook)

Company Overview:
Book Description: Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.


Friday, June 27, 2008

I'd Buy That for a Dollar!

Based on what I've read, micropayments are beating out time-based subscriptions when it comes to effectively separating virtual world patrons from their money.

Is this because people prefer to pay via micropayments, even though a site that features them typically costs the user more, overall?

I believe the biggest hurdle in getting a person to pay real money for any sort of online service is that first payment. The smaller the request, the more likely somebody will bite, and once that credit card is on file (and the first transaction proved worthwhile) subsequent transactions come much more easily, with less concern on the part of the customer.

Is the subscription model less effective than micropayments...probably. Why? Because the initial cost for even a month (ourWorld's premium membership costs $6.99/month) is more than the minimum cost for many micropayment sites. What if there was a trial that players could purchase for $1? What if a promise of no additional charges was made, and kept?

Would it be worth the transaction costs of the 'trial' to get that customer's credit card on file? How much more likely would a customer be to subscribe after a successful and valuable $1 transaction? (Hint: A lot.)

Edit: In order for the $1 option to work, upgrading to a full subscription must be hyper-easy. Single click easy. Otherwise, much of the hurdle for subscription remains.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hooking Up

Put teen girls and teen boys together in a virtual world setting and the first thing that happens is they start hooking up. I freely admit I was taken by surprise by the pervasiveness of this culture of virtual boyfriend/girlfriends. In ourWorld, you can enter any room at any time and there will probably be at least one person puttin' the virtual moves on another person (or more.) Some people seem to take this 'dating simulation' very seriously, while others quickly dismiss the 'dating' as nothing more than play-acting.

I'll tell you this much, the fighting over spurned virtual love seems sincere enough.

To what extent should this sort of thing be discouraged, tolerated, or promoted?

The only wrong answer is to merely tolerate the practice (the default response.)

If it's discouraged, you simply say "no dating" and be done with it. At first we were amused when we noticed had "no dating" in it's code of conduct. A few weeks later, I see exactly why it's there. I'm sure they're serious about enforcing the rule, too. This is ideal for sites aimed at younger kids. For the most part they aren't interested in dating, and the rule clarifies not only what is allowed, but makes it clear WHO is supposed to be on the site.

What about promoting dating? My concern (and parents, I'm sure) is that the dating sometimes turns into cyber-sex. I think providing dating 'tools' that are in-bounds taste and age-appropriate-wise, you'll minimize your users' desire to go beyond those bounds. If your users are interested in dating, let them date. Let the date system be fun, engaging, one-on-one, and end with a virtual kiss at the door (rather than a chat log that makes me want to wash off the ick with brillo pad.)

Either prevent it or shape it. Half-hearted strategies will provide a sub-optimal result.

Oh, and kids, don't type anything you don't want a fat 38 year old gamer nerd reading. (I wish I could get that message to every teenager in the world.)


Friday, June 20, 2008

Belgian Scientists w/ too much time on their hands.

I mean, seriously.


A Million Dollar Idea

What if:

A game site sold game downloads for $1 each.

The site also offered game developers a one million dollar prize for the first game that reached one million downloads (in addition to standard compensation, whatever that is.) If a developer can make something that one million people will pay a buck for, they get the money. Of course, the site's still making money off the other games, plus the money after the prize is awarded.

The real issue is figuring out what people will pay, and how much more you can sell with a really low price. It costs nearly the same to ship 1,000,000 copies of an online game as it does 50,000,000. Would 20x more people buy a $1 game as a $20? Popcap thinks the answer is no, but their dev costs are way higher than average.

What about flash/java games? There are plenty that are worth a buck, though perhaps not with all the free stuff out there. There's also a concern that something that costs $1 isn't worth as much as something that costs $20, even if a publisher can make the same amount with both pricing options.

Seth Godin recently touched on a similar issue regarding Ebooks, and I think the same model applies to online gaming.


Spore: You Rate Me and I'll Rate You Right Back!

Logged in Spore users are allowed to rate each other's creations, helping to ensure the cooler ones make their way to the top of the popularity mountain. With 600,000 creatures already uploaded in the last two days, I'm not concerned with mine getting noticed. What I am concerned about is the BAD rating one of my favorite creatures received! Any Spore fans reading this, please take a look at my creatures and give them a thumbs up if you like them.
Who would give this little cutie a thumbs down?

If you have creatures you'd like me to check out, just let me know. I promise no thumbs down if you do too!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

S'more S'pore

Is it the best $10 I've ever spent? Not sure. It's far from the worst. I've got the full Creature Creator now, and it's easily $10 more fun than the trial version. You can see my creatures on my Spore Site. For some reason, only my Basilisk shows up on the Spore site of 400,000+creatures (in two days) and while I'm proud of Basi, my Rust Monster is probably a little cooler.

This little guy is doing his dance...



Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I've been waiting for this for quite a while. I'm extremely excited about Spore, and the Creature Creator Trial is a great taste of what's to come. I made this creature in about ten minutes. I've made four since downloading the demo a couple of hours ago. It's a lot of fun.

The Creature Creator made it simple to upload videos like to my YouTube account. As you might imagine, there's quite a few there already.

Update: I've added the Spore App in Facebook. I'm looking forward to it working (it really doesn't, yet.)


Who Are You?

When internet chat began, the only ID you had was your conversation partners' names. Nowadays, customizing avatars has gotten to the point where you can recognize other users' avatars based on their appearance, in addition to their always visible name.

What if a virtual world abandoned the default practice of automatically displaying a pre-defined name (made up, anyway), with the option of getting to know a person's name more like in the real world - Introductions and communication (asking!)?

What if YOU chose the names of the virtual people you interact with? What would be the difference? What if you could see the names other people chose for you...?

From a practical standpoint, the current system is probably the most efficient. People with nametags are generally more approachable than people without (Hi, my name is Scott!) but put in the context of a VW game where anonymity is desirable or part of the obstacles that must be overcome, it would be a cool way to set a site apart from everything else.


Putting the amp in Champions

Cryptic, the fine folks who brought us City of Heroes/Villains, is working on the Champions MMORPG. As I've posted before, I can't wait.

Here's an Escapist Magazine interview with long-time Champs creator Mike Long. He seems really optimistic about the project, as am I!

Somebody needs to cut down on the spicy food


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wow! Gifts!

Last night, tongue firmly in cheek, I requested additional furniture for my SmallWorlds house, dedicated to The Big Lebowski. I was pleasantly surprised to get an Email today notifying me that I was given two virtual couches and a candle! Yeah!

The Dude is enjoying his new couches and candle

Thanks Joe Ninetytwo, I'll just slip the rent money under the door!


World of World of Warcraft

From The Onion, America's Finest News Source!

'Warcraft' Sequel Lets Gamers Play A Character Playing 'Warcraft'

I want World of Blogging, where I can play a blogger, but one that gets hits and comments!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rate Classic Games!

And why not? Choose from my list or add your own. Rate from best to least best (they're all great!)

Where does Donkey Kong rate?

If anyone votes, I'll post the results here, in a while.


It's the Economy, Stupid!

Economies of some sort or other have become a cornerstone of virtual worlds. It would not be out of place to define vw's by the inclusion of an economy activity of some sort, they are so pervasive.

Are they necessary? Maybe, maybe not. If I were a VC, I'd hesitate to invest in a vw that didn't feature one. A vw's economy usually dovetails nicely into profitability for the site, whether through subscriptions, micro-payments, or retail-tie ins (like Bella Sara and ToppsTown.) The earn-reward effect of money is too powerful, or too obvious, for most vw's to ignore.

A money free economy would be cool. Barter as the only form of transaction would be very entertaining within the correct setting (think desert island or caveman) You want that coconut, well, you better find out what Richard342 wants for it. The lighter? Is he insane?

Rather than the traditional capitalist model, I wonder if a communist model might work. What if everyone got an equal income based on contributions of the site's entire population. Would people contribute? I think they would in the context of an engaging game or game-world tailored to that model. How would people act in such a world?

The Dude's got no money in the Small Worlds beta.
It could be that I just ran out of money building my ourWorld shrine to the Big Lebowski and as it's a beta, there isn't an adequate way to earn more, yet. If anyone with a SmallWorlds account sees this, The Dude's Room could use a couch and some candles. Donations accepted!

It's the know.


Thursday, June 05, 2008


Virtual Worlds will reach one billion users in 10 years.

OK, I'll buy that, but why?

In most measurable ways, virtual worlds are simply a new wrapper for chat and game rooms that have existed on the web for years? Sure, the new 3d interfaces look more like traditional video games (Sims, World of Warcraft, etc.) but those games aren't anything new, either. What's so new and interesting that somebody would predict a billion people will check them out?

Marketing - Virtual Worlds provide unique marketing opportunities. Smaller (or less aggressive) firms can buy sections or ads in existing independent worlds. They can sponsor games and memberships so users feel like the company is giving them something. More ambitious firms can build their own Virtual Worlds, and aggressively promote them. If going to means going to, that's a lot of people right there. Imagine Budweiser World...

Transformation of the Internet - There's a lot of talk regarding standards for virtual worlds so users can bounce from one to the other much like they bounce from one website to another now. If that happens, VW's will start to take over the role traditional websites have now, and that really would be a virtual world.

Getting It Right - There's a lot of VW's on the right track already. Once best practices are sorted out, the door will be wide open for anyone with a great idea to build a VW based on those practices plus established technology. I expect there to be at least some sort of standardized virtual world design tools before too long. It'll never be easy to build a VW, but if a designer doesn't have to reinvent the many wheels that make up a VW, what's left is manageable.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Virtual World Retail - Toppstown

I don't mean virtual retail. I mean heading down to your local store retail. Retail, retail.

Toppstown is the latest VW in my bookmark list. Like Bella Sara, it's centered around trading cards. Despite my history with trading card games, I'm quite ignorant of sports trading cards. I may be learning about them soon. Now, new Topps trading cards come with codes that unlock virtual trading cards in Toppstown.

Not micro payments.
Not subscriptions.

No, purchase items at retail that increase functionality on the site. Conversely, the site directly adds value to the items purchased at retail. In Topps' case, items that they were ALREADY SELLING. Honestly, I think it's friggin' brilliant and I expect we'll be seeing a lot more VW's with revenue streams based on real world products. I mean, if you're going to be selling the product anyway, and you're going to have a website anyway, you might as well have the two working together. This is particularly true of collectible and entertainment products.

My clubhouse is pretty sad. I can play games to buy cooler stuff.

Codes come with packs of regular Topps baseball cards. These codes unlock packs of virtual baseball cards that can be played with and traded on the site. You get a free code when you sign up, so everyone has a few cards. Also, the cards provide updated stats for the players featured on them. How cool is that?

Toppstown looks to be a pretty modest site. Good for them. Keep costs down, make the thing do what it needs to do, and don't sabotage a good thing by breaking the bank. It's got some modest games, a super simple customizable avatar, a simple clubhouse (room decorating activity), and what appears to be a very robust virtual card trading tool. Assuming it works as intended, the trading tool is what makes the site shine for me.

You can always see your avatar, the code entry box, and the big button for the Virtual Binder. The designers made clear choices about what was really important and focused on those things.

I'm lukewarm about baseball, but Toppstown Football launches in July. That's what *I'm* talkin' about!


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Home-made Arcade Controls

My current hobby project is almost done. I'm sad that I screwed up the finish, which is why there are all those light blotches all over it. Even so, as my first woodworking project pretty much ever, it's totally satisfactory. My next one (and there will be a next one) will be much slicker.

The ultimate goal is to build my own arcade cabinet. I've got handy friends, so I'm sure I can do it, even with my feeble skills.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Comment on Games

Almost all virtual worlds include games. Typically, playing the games is the avatar's 'job' and by doing so players can upgrade their visual representation with fancier looking avatars and fancier looking virtual living spaces. In essence, the players are buying status.

If this mechanic is the centerpiece of your VW's economy, for the love of pete, please make sure the games are fun.

Is it better to have games that use the player's personal avatar and are fully integrated into the world itself if they aren't fun? No.

Best: Fun games, fully integrated in the world.
Okay: Fun games that aren't directly connected to the virtual world.
Disaster: Un-Fun games, integrated or not.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Penny Arcade + Bella Sara = $#&*@ Yeah!

Warning - Like most Penny Arcade strips, there's a bad word! (oooh!)

I...I...don't want to.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Dramatic Features

As the virtual world landscape goes from Blue Ocean to rough seas, that which differentiates one world from another will become essential. The worlds that will fail will blend in and be lost. Those that flourish will:

Be first to bring a solid next generation virtual world experience to users.
Offer a unique experience, dramatically different from the majority of VWs.

While being first is great (Google, Amazon, etc.) there's only room for one at the top of that mountain. Being unique is the key if you don't want to take the longshot bet of being the top dog. To know what's unique, I want to list what (currently) makes most virtual worlds the same.

  • Avatars - 3d or 2d
  • Focuses on Kids (13 and unders) or Teens (everybody else.)
  • Game-like navigation. Sites that call themselves virtual worlds but don't allow avatars to move around in some semi natural manner are (to me) fancy chat/game rooms.
  • Chat
  • Currency (in some form)
  • Customizable Living Spaces
  • Stores - Outfitting avatars and/or living spaces
  • Gaming
    • In-World - Using Avatars in the VW setting.
    • Out-World - Game launches outside of the VW setting and may not even be related to the VW.
Many virtual worlds will have a feature or two in addition to this list, and few don't include all of these features. While the current generation of VWs seem to be sticking pretty close to this list, I think the next generation of VWs will require something that adds something unique and dramatic in order to succeed.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Forget 90% Failure - How about we ALL succeed?

Not everyone has a vision of doom and gloom. Ralph Koster of Ralph Koster's Website seems to think there's room for everyone, though his premise seems to require traditional gaming platforms being pushed into the background.

I think there will be a ton of attrition, but those that survive will establish a template for success that will last until the next generation of online gaming replaces Virtual Worlds as we now know them. I estimate that'll be about two years from now.


What Virtual World do you Live In?

I know it's way to early in this process to ask, and I doubt enough people are reading for a decent response (or any at all) but if you have an opinion, I'm crazy interested.

I'd like as many of these questions answered as possible:

What Virtual World/s you are a fan of.
How much time have you spent in it, how recently?
Why do you like it/them?
Are you a paid subscriber? Why or why not.
What you'd like to see from a Virtual World that you haven't seen yet.

Just post your reply right here. Thanks!


Virtual Economies - Big Risks, Bigger Rewards

While brainstorming today, we started talking about things ourWorld members perhaps could trade. Also, independent of this conversation one our members asked if they could gift their extra items to a friend (sadly, no, not yet.) The nail in the blog post coffin came with this article stating that Webkinz now allows a form of trading.

It seems so obvious, yet there are many, many pitfalls. "Gold Farmers", scammers, phishing, and general working of the system, are all valid concerns and the reason most young virtual worlds don't allow any sort of trading.

As far as I'm concerned, the community aspect of a virtual world is the interaction between it's inhabitants. For worlds where the inhabitants are primarily earners and consumers (i.e. almost all of them) the ability to treat belongings as real belongings and trade will be essential to success. For everyone else, there's always the 90% prediction.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Virtual World Categories (least sexy title to date!)

The term "Virtual World" is already too broad a category to handle. Second Life, Club Penguin, World of Warcraft, and MUDs all fit the category, but are very different from one another. How are they different?

Age - Kids, Teens, Adults. That's a pretty easy distinction to make. Due to the concerns about safety for kids online, the distinction between what's for adults vs kids (defined by US COPPA regs as 13 and under) is vivid. Sites either cater to this demographic or they do not. Many sites like Zwinky and Maplestory simply don't allow kids at all. Others, like Club Penquin, assume all users are under 13 and conduct themselves appropriately (a genius move, IMHO.) The line between whats for teens and adults is still very blurry, and may never be clear, not counting that which is strictly for adults.

Web vs Download - Do you have to download something special to play the game, or will it run in your browser? Browser games tend to be free and designed for quick and easy play. Games requiring a download are risking being ignored, as users are dubious of downloads and they require an extra level of patience. Available technology tends to define this category, but user expectation is a critical component in deciding what will work for which option.

Game vs Social Network - Most Virtual Worlds are both, so it's a question of emphasis. How fulfilling is the solo experience? How do users spend their time? WoW is a game. Facebook is a social network (though not really a VW.)

Navigation - How players move around in a virtual world in many ways defines the world. Club Penquin, ourWorld, and Dizzywood feature worlds created by the publisher that function as an online version of the real world. Avatars moving around is a focus of the experience. Some sites, like Faketown, feature avatars but the navigation is more like standard web navigation though the avatars can move around in some portions of the site. The fundamental experience of a virtual world is determined by the navigation choices made by the developers. If it doesn't feel like a world, it's not a virtual world, it's just a website (or game.)

There's more, but that's enough for now. If I don't understand this stuff, I can't succeed at it.