Sunday, May 13, 2012

Summary of Game Motivation Survey


Once again I would like to thank all of you that participated.  If you corner me I owe you a beer or one of my specialty drinks.  Hell I might even cook for you : )

I just wanted to give you a synopsis of what I pulled from the information given.   However I think an overview of the project would help you understand my intentions more.

The final result of this is to determine what factors are necessary in the design of a game that will be used for education.   Cognitive scientists, learning theorists and educators have done a ton of research and have determined that focused intent and motivation are key to deep learning.  Duh all of us education types say.  We realize that.  The real question is how do you generate motivation.  This is where game design comes in, or at least is going to make an attempt.

Human beings are pattern associated creatures and we learn best when we are allowed to become involved with a subject in a method that allows us to determine our own pace and levels of autonomy.  A key factor to learning is the intrinsic value associated with choice.  It just makes sense that a person has dedicated interest in something that they can internalize and in some way make their own.

Due to standardization in most classroom settings a lot of this is lost. So instead of having eager willing minds creating new associations through autonomous learning situations peppered by socialization, you have automatons that sit and obediently for the most part regurgitate dictated facts, never making solid connections because they didn’t gain this information through exploration but through rote memorization.  Information that is temporarily stored and ultimately lost.

The main factor to educational game design is in essence motivation.  The issue with a lot of current educational offerings as those of you in the field know is that American students are becoming less and less motivated to participate fully in their own education. However motivation is a tricky thing because it is difficult to define and even more difficult to instill in large groups with different learning styles.  However the nature of game design is to be able to motivate people with different attributes to participate.  Games connect on different levels for different people and it is this sense of personalization that education is missing.

For the most part this was my theoretical model for the survey I put together.  I just hope that the questions reflected these thoughts.  For the most part I got the answers I thought I would.  And as always some of the individual responses were just fascinating. 

Here is a listing of how everyone defined a game.  Please keep in mind that game designers also participated in this survey.  I’m sure you’ll be able to spot them : )

An interactive medium that can convey story and/ or feelings for the benefit and entertainment of others.

A game is an activity, primarily engaged in for entertainment, in which players attempt to achieve an objective through a predetermined set of rules.

A competitive activity resulting in a winner and one or more losers when completed, but also provides learning and fun for all.

an escape, a way to interact with others directly (board games) or indirectly (MMORPG)

I play for enjoyment, also just like exercise......it soothes me. It helps my mind/skill, cause it helps me think.

Something that challenges a person to think in a variety of ways- quickly, strategically, etc.

A game is something that holds the player's attention and is fun, engaging, and makes the player think to solve puzzles or patterns at the same time. I feel as though a good game, no matter what the genre, can tap into all these core essentials.

Something interactive, usually fun.

An interactive entertainment, either enjoyed by yourself or with others. Interaction is the key.

A ludic situation with a predefined set of rules. Games require decision-making to either bring about a win-state or keep a lose-state from happening.

An structured activity with rules and goals that you engage in for fun.

A game is a (typically) friendly competition against others (human, animal or machine) or against oneself for the purpose of entertainment or other amusement.

A form of play that is competitive with set rules and decided by luck or skill

 Something that entertains you for any amount of time.


I built my survey in 2 parts.  One was a control setting, which is the one the bulk of you took.  This was to give a general impression of your idea game environment by letting you impose your game of choice over the questions offered. 

The second survey was to rate how well a particular style of game fit this model; in this situation Facebook games.  Most of you didn’t take the second one because I believe they did not necessarily apply to you.  The difference in the responses was telling.  Most people who took both said that while they felt their idea game situation was valuable to them and involved aspects of learning, Facebook games did not supply the same benefit.  They stated that they would not seek them out; they did not feel as if they learned from them and they did not hold them as a highly valuable form of entertainment. 

The major difference between these games and the control games was literally choice. Facebook games are simplistic and leading.  In a lot of ways they mimic what education is currently doing.  They tell the answer to playing the game as you are playing the game sometimes making independent thought unnecessary. 

It was a fluke that I designed it this way because I’m not a fan of Facebook games so I actually never really played any until this project was proposed.  I would open one up and instantly lose interest and not bother to play.  However for the sake of research I forced myself to do it : )  The information ended up being invaluable to me so I wanted to share it just in case any of you are ever called upon to explain the validity or lack there of for incorporating social media games in your classrooms or workplaces as a legitimate educational tool. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Human Centered Design

Currently I am pursuing my Master's of Science in Learning Technologies with Drexel University.  This is becoming a very interesting experience because I am in essence a game designer (read techie nerd) learning to use this to teach.  While most of my classmates are teachers learning to integrate technology.  The first thing I notice is the difference in perspective.  I find it very fascinating because we are all talking about the same thing we just view it differently.  And I realize the value of what I am experiencing and I find myself hoping that my classmates can feel the same way.  In my opinion the only way to create new dialogues is to start having conversations with different people.  In this I think I am gaining some success, at least for me and how I choose to confront problems and processing new information.

When asked by one of my current professors what were my thoughts on human centered design, this was my response:

It is very interesting that you brought this subject up because I have been slowly trying to change some of the mentality my department in particular has about technology.  Overall it is not favorable, but I believe that has more to do with the culture of the type of technology my institution uses. 

From a game design perspective human centered design should be an organic thing.  For example if you are designing a new video game every day game players take certain controller functions for granted so it is in the game designers best interest to mimic these controls whenever possible. I think some of the problems that businesses and education experience with the integration of technology is that they are so focused on an idea type of interaction that they often don't pay attention to how the community interacts with current technology and each other.

When Microsoft rolled out Office 2010 my institution immediately upgraded to it.  However my coworkers, both faculty and staff find it very hard to use.  This is in part to the assumption Microsoft has made in regards to how 'mainstream' certain functions are such as a simple copy and paste functions.  Many of my coworkers never knew the keyboard short cuts so now they view this newer version as being incomplete because they have lost functionality. And when you consider that reason, they are right.  The new system is not human centered design because it has not allowed for different levels of proficiency.  It has claimed that certain functions are 'obsolete' by making them inaccessible by traditional means. 

The key to good technology integration is user levels of comfort.  If a technology proves to be unintuitive then it is unsuccessful.  But who is to say what is and what is not intuitive.  It is an abstract concept that is inadvertently widening the gap between techies and self-proclaimed 'luddites' by turning more of those in the middle into one group or the other.

What I think is missing in most other forms of technology design that is present in game design is the use of patterns.  A lot of technology focuses on the limitations of the technology as opposed to the limitations in human ability to perceive.  So universal human patterns are lost for the sake of 'higher' machine functionality.  I maintain however that any and all technology is only as powerful as a person's ability to employ it.  Without a person who can use it, it is a meaningless tool.  Technology cannot be integrated successfully with only one type of user in mind.  It has to be adapted to fit as many user styles as possible.  Video games have maximized on this with the creation of the 'sandbox' worlds where players are given the perception of autonomy so that they can learn to play the game through their own methods of perception.  All technology development should focus on the same concept.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Game Based Learning in Action


As a thirty something year old game designer and educational game design supporter, I realize that others have what could be some over generalized and inaccurate expectations in regards to my own amount of media consumption. It is often thought that ‘gamers’ spend inordinate amounts of time embroiled and engulfed in their game worlds so the creators of these environments must commit to even more of the same (Khaled Ayad, 2010).  I have my own generalizations because my thoughts are that I am most likely not even in the same league as the generation of young adults and children that are currently experiencing K-12 education. Reports and documentaries have given some numbers that someone such as myself could never hope to keep up with.  That is until I actually took a moment to pay attention to my own habits which in many ways mimic and support the findings by researchers (Victoria Rideout, 2010).

Usage Chart
The conundrum that this facilitates is one that many educators not just of this generation but of all future generations must confront (Becker, 2007). There is a buzz surrounding game based learning and education (Gee, 2003).   This buzz is the product of a growing body of research that tells of the amount of time current populations spend attached and wired to some form of media (Victoria Rideout, 2010).  Sometimes that media consumption is of older forms such as television, music, and print media. The technological machinations birthed by the availability of the internet such as online gaming, blogging, and social networking have proven to be almost as utilized  (Victoria Rideout, 2010).  As time passes, younger generations can be found adapting more and more to technology.  This is happening almost as rapidly as technology itself is changing and developing.

Like most people in our highly media saturated lives I have found that many habits that I’ve had over time have changed and adapted to technology (Pew Reaserch Center, 2010).  First I will confront my prolific ability to drown myself in media.  In my household of two there are two computers, a desktop and a laptop.  I have a Nook reading device, a handheld ‘pocket’ HD camcorder that I carry with me at all times, and a cell phone.  There are 3 televisions in my home, 2 in bedrooms that are of normal size and a mammoth 56 inch plasma in the basement which has been lovingly attached to a PlayStation 3, a Wii, HD cable TV, and a DVR.  These stats place me in the region of technology ownership that only on average about 20-30% of 8 – 18 year olds can claim (Victoria Rideout, 2010).  Some of these are exclusive to the 15 -18 segment of this population (Victoria Rideout, 2010).

Global Consumption
Like most 8 – 18 year olds I in all spend about 1 to 2 hours a day checking online media such as Facebook, Twitter, various email accounts, news links and headlines, or whatever subject has fascinated me at that time (Victoria Rideout, 2010).  Despite the ability to have media be used mostly for play, my media consumption has a very distinct delineation between recreational use and professional use. Having a job that requires me to remain on a computer constantly gives me a great desire to ‘unplug’ when I get home.  This is an especially strong urge over long holiday weekends when friends on Facebook will not hear from me for several days.

I use computers mostly for homework, social networking, blogging, and other career endeavors such as writing, film editing, audio creation, and graphic design. The main use for my cell phone is calling and texting.  My camcorder is used to capture personal moments I would like to then upload to Facebook for friends and family to enjoy.  My Nook has become a cross-platform tool for leisure reading and an affordable means to purchase textbooks for my continuing education.  My attitude in regards to computer use specifically is very business related so I very rarely play games on the computers in my household.

Gaming Systems
My game playing consists mostly of console play on the PlayStation 3.  On average I will spend about 10 to 15 hours a week playing video games on this system.  For about a week I have experimented with playing games not for leisure, but for the sake of learning in this time interval normally used for playing console games.  I found that my behavior mimicked the 29% of 8-18 year olds that the Generation M report studied who only played video games and did not multitask with other forms of media (Victoria Rideout, 2010).  Video games have the highest percentage of users that does not multitask with this medium as computers, television, and music have much higher rates of this age group that always multitask with this medium.

This made me compare my habits when video games where played at leisure, and I found that I normally do not multitask playing video games with other mediums.  This is an oddity because I will multitask with all other forms of media consumption.  I will have television or music on in the background as I read and I have often been found surfing the internet with the television on.  As a graphic designer it became a habit to design while listening to music. It was this sense of multitasking that brought a sense of ‘having fun’ while getting the job done.  In this way when working I see a lot of my own characteristics in the students profiled in The Digital Nation documentary by Frontline (Dretzin, 2010).  However I noticed that if I truly wanted to excel at something I would have to give it single minded focus and save the ‘fun’ for later.  This is an idea that educators posed as a deterrent against prolonged technological use (Dretzin, 2010).

Education Game
Out of all media options I find learning a much more challenging and adventurous endeavor when placed into a game setting for a number of reasons.  The reason most compelling for me is the self-identification process that James Paul Gee speaks of (Gee, 2003).  It is this sense of taking responsibility for the outcomes of the game and those who are affected by that outcome. So the player sees themselves in this virtual world and takes responsibility for their characteristics and traits. I believe this level of engagement shows itself in the M2 report which indicates a higher likelihood that video games will get exclusive attention as opposed to other forms of media (Victoria Rideout, 2010).

From my educational game playing of the past few days I can clearly recall several things that was taught by Food Force (Playerthree and Deepend, 2005).  Although it can be argued that Food Force is a simulation it responds more like a game due to the established point system, evolved storyline, and polished graphical interface. Through this game I understand the method for developing an appropriate dietary mix for a starving population that remains 30 cents a serving. I have internalized the best way to respond to potential hazards on the road. Also I’ve gained an understanding of the factors that have to be considered when managing food drops to fall in the right spot.  I played this game exclusively and did not deviate to play other games or engage in other media as I played.

Military Simulation
There is a notable difference between games and simulations. Simulations are very useful for direct applied knowledge and training which is why industries like military and health care are supportive of their production and use (Macedonia, 2001).  I have never been fond of war simulation games and avoid them for fantasy action adventure genre games because I find the later more engaging for the sake of developing true critical thinking which is a necessary component to education (Woolfolk, 2010).

In this idea is the crux of how I feel games should be incorporated into education.  For most educational ventures more abstract forms of game play should be incorporated for the sake of capturing attention through imagination, imagery, and story.  It is this stimulation aspect that simulations sometimes lack (Dekkers, 1981).  This is why simulations can become good training tools because they cause the mind to eventually fade allowing the player to respond by instinct without having to think about what comes next (Macedonia, 2001) . 

In many ways the students documented in the Digital Nation piece, and in the M2 study have been socialized into a way of thinking in regards to technology and how it should be used that mimics this approach  (Dretzin, 2010).  They seem to switch between learning media consumption and social media consumption without really thinking about the outcome of their actions. Media consumption has become a simulation of life much like the way Second Life Founder Philip Rosedale has described his perception of what life will be in the near future; lived in a virtual world as virtual reality can substitute actual memories for small children and there are abandoned office buildings cropping up across the nation (Dretzin, 2010).

With this in mind educators will have the task of training students how to use technology responsibly.  They will have to take an unfiltered avenue of life and supply rules of engagement similarly to how they had to help students develop a method of research when the printing press revised how the written word was viewed (Jame Johsnon, 2011).  Katie Salen theorized that the most important aspect that games can train is not in content but in being able to establish and display connections in interrelated systems; a key factor in developing functional critical thinking  (Salen, 2008). Teachers should seek to develop in class and online educational games with students as the story tellers. Teachers should train themselves to understand technology and understand the design of learning systems which games are, and be a content expert when it comes time for students to design their learning experiences (Becker, 2007).  Through this method the best of social networking, computer usage, and game design can come together to form a cohesive educational unit as opposed to being an educational distraction.



References

Becker, K. (2007, May). Digital Game Based Learning Once removed: Teaching Teachers. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from ERIC - Education Resources Information Center: http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ760337&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ760337

Cheryl Johnson, R. M. (2010, April 14). ScienceDirect - Computers in Human Behavior: Applying the self-explanation principle to multimedia learning in a computer-based game-like environment. Retrieved November 1, 2010, from Science Direct: 2010

Dekkers, J. a. (1981, Nov). The Integration of Research Studies on the Use of Simulation as an Instructional Strategy. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from Research Port: http://langsdale.ubalt.edu/

Dretzin, R. (Director). (2010). digital_nation [Motion Picture].

Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jame Johsnon, D. M. (2011). Foundations of American Education 15th edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.

Khaled Ayad, D. R. (2010). Comparing virtual classroom, game-based learning and storytelling teachings in e-learning. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from International Journal of Education and Information Technologies: http://www.naun.org/journals/educationinformation/19-262.pdf

Macedonia, Michael. "Games, Simulation, and the Military Education Dilemma." 2001. Educause.org. 30 September 2011 <http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ffpiu018.pdf>.

Miller, B. (2010, May). The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from Education Sector: http://www.educationsector.org/sites/default/files/publications/NCAT-Report_RELEASE.pdf

Pew Reaserch Center. (2010, February). Millennials A Portrait of Generation Next. Retrieved December 3, 2010, from Pew Social & Demographic Trends - Public Opinion Polling, Survey Research, & Demographic Data Analysis: http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf

Salen, K. (2008). The Ecology of Games. Cambridge, MA, USA.

Victoria Rideout, U. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18- Year olds. Menlo Park: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Woolfolk, A. (2010). Educational Psychology 11th edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.

Playerthree and Deepend. (2005). Food Force. [Flash Developed Game]. Rome, Italy: Deepend.
Retrieved 27 September 2011 http://www.wfp.org/how-to-help/individuals/food-force


Internet Usage Courtesy of http://www.penn-olson.com/2010/08/17/social-media-usage-takes-up-14-of-time-spent-online/

Global Consumption Courtesy of http://www.marketingcharts.com/print/newspapers-mull-future-amid-digital-media-boom-4820/wan-global-media-consumption-per-week-by-mediumjpg/

Military Simulation Courtesy of http://www.hardwaresphere.com/2009/06/13/military-hardware-flight-simulator-that-runs-on-120-graphic-cards/

Gaming Systems Courtesy of http://hotsauceaddict.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/video-game.gif

Education Game Courtesy of http://www.kxpc.com/technology/how-to-understand-education-and-game-development.html

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to Mature Within the Gaming Industry

SYMPTOMS

The industry of video game design has a very low retention rate of very experienced and well rounded workers within company settings. The general feeling is that this will result in a decline in overall game design quality, and is detrimental to the industry. Organizations that have recently formed such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), have conducted industry studies to try and determine the cause of this. The main symptoms are long hours, lack of schedule flexibility, and inadequate compensation.

During development ‘crunch times’, employees will work 6 to 7 day weeks for months at a time. Usually days during these crucial periods last over 10 hours. It is also customary during these times that workers put in up to 85 hour weeks (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). The assumption is that these employees should work these hours because they are aware of what the deadline for the product to be released is. As companies are dependent on meeting release dates to receive payment, for company welfare, they are expected to grit through this time. Through a culture of managerial and peer pressure to meet deadlines, game company workers allow their labor rights to be compromised.

There is also a threat to job security if they are unwilling to subject themselves to these conditions. Cases have been cited where employees have been reprimanded and threatened for requesting time off during these periods of development regardless of the nature of the reason that time off was requested (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). The common thought process of management has been a, ‘well if you don’t like it, work somewhere else’, stance that refuses to negotiate the terms of employment (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). Workers have been given the impression that management does not consider these actions to be illegal.

Employee classifications are altered so that they have become exempt for overtime resulting in these workers not being compensated for these additional hours worked (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). Law suits have been filed in response to some of these altered job classifications, and have usually been won by the employee (Frauenheim, 2004). The legal rulings have indicated that the job classifications have been altered for the sole purpose of denying overtime when overtime is worked (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). It was found to be a dishonest practice as the details of the work being done did not match the classification given.

PROBLEM

One of the main problems is the concept of ‘crunch time’. This is a process of last minute game preparation that can last for months. It was a staple in previous video game creation companies and climates as ‘that last minute push’ to get a project done. During these times employees were expected to ‘live’ at the production studios to finish a game. This was something that was initially a temporary state, lasting maybe a week to a month at most. Then a regular work schedule is resumed. However some of the larger production companies have made ‘crunch time’ a permanent state for employees. Now management expects game developers to work a ‘crunch time’ schedule for years instead of for small bursts of time.

Another problem that reinforces these symptoms is the age range of game developers and a lack of professional knowledge. Most game developers come out of college and have never experienced a full time job. They begin working in a game studio as soon as a job is offered. Within the technology industry there are very few organizations that can be contacted for information about technology career concerns (Frauenheim, 2004). As this is such a rapidly developing field, litigation for technology concerns and careers are still being explored. So these inexperienced workers are not always aware of their working rights and some managers take advantage of this. For the most part, management feels like this type of working staff is preferred and easily replaced because of their youth and inexperience.

PROBLEM ANALYSIS

The jobs within game design themselves indicate that quality of life should be very high. The industry itself is seen as innovative, popular, and fun. Game designers have a mystic attached to them because of the sense of this rebellious nature; an anti-establishment, anti-corporation lifestyle. Companies have employee features like free meals, gyms on site, and sleeping accommodations. But it’s just these perks that enable managers to make unhealthy work demands on staff.

Further research by other gaming entities and scholars have suggested that this is just one of the sides of the “garage invention” model that game design has always followed (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). There is an entire culture of rules and regulations within the gaming industry that enable poor quality of life for employees. A game company operates in a form of ‘working anarchy’ where there are people doing separate game functions at the same time to hopefully pull them all together as a cohesive whole (Dyer-Witheford, 2006). The industry is very competitive so management has to find ways to keep talented, creative staff members on board with their company so manipulation is also usually an issue.

The truth was revealed in 2004 by an anonymous post to live journal titled “EA: The Human Story” by EA Spouse; a frustrated wife of an employee of the game developing giant Electronic Arts. This posting told of the type of lifestyle game designers are expected to live if they would like to remain employed (Spouse, 2004). While this could be discounted as rumor, there were enough collaborative stories and accompanying lawsuit claims to support the content of the post. Recently, another contingent of women known as “Rockstar Wives” have stated clearly that these practices are still in play for some gaming companies, and they will pursue legal action if these practices do not cease (Huntemann, 2010).

Because of public scrutiny, many employees for video game companies have raised concerns over ‘crunch time’ work conditions and employer expectations when these situations occur. Crunch time is a working environment where employees work additional hours to ensure that project deadlines are met. In the past, this was seen as an expected consequence of this career choice (Huntemann, 2010). However recently, the employees of these environments feel over-worked, under-appreciated, and ultimately taken advantage of (Dyer-Witheford, 2006).

Overall, these conditions produce depression, stress-related health complications, and a drastic loss of quality of life (Huntemann, 2010). The overall health and welfare of employees directly affects the quality of work produced. The field in general has a very high turnover rate as younger employees ‘grow-up’, and realize that they would like to live differently. Many of these older employees with a high degree of experience either join other companies with more flexible scheduling or become competition by creating their own companies. The age of the employees seems to be less of a cause of these symptoms. The continuous ‘crunch time’ working expectations seem to be the main cause for this industry to not have more experienced workers.

ALTERNATIVES

While it would be impossible to remove ‘crunch time’ completely, there are ways to lessen the impact it has on the daily lives of game company workers, and to spread the work around more equitably. In any business environment cost and finance are the most important concerns. Game companies have taken the steps to try and make production as inexpensive as possible which is why employees have been reclassified and denied overtime (Frauenheim, 2004). The issue is that this is being ruled as an unlawful option if the job classification is actually inaccurate. With finance as a key concern the most viable alternatives would involve employee re-classification, management and planning, outsourcing, and internships.

EVALUATION OF ALTERNATIVES

The first solution is to do a job classification restructuring that would separate more of the work for game development. Programming jobs and assignments can be broken down into smaller snippets of code that can be handled more efficiently by a team of programmers. The same can be said with all other game design functions. Art, music, writing, and heuristics can be broken down into more manageable chunks, and assigned to part time employees while letting full time employees compile the parts for further development. The issue with this is that some works may lose continuity due to so many people being involved, so some changes in project management would be necessary also. In examining job reclassification as a possible alternative it seems to be a good start but will have to be accompanied by other changes to make it part of an overall solution.

The key to the success of any project is the planning and management. “Crunch times’ are necessary due to project mismanagement. Game company project managers should be trained by project managers in adjacent fields such as information technology, music production, graphic design, marketing, and advertising. These fields are established enough that the managers have isolated a specific set of rules that get the required results, and can be easily applied to game development due to the similarity of concepts. This would be an investment so the main deterrent to this plan of action is cost, but the money that would be saved in the long run would outweigh it.

Large game companies that do not suffer the pangs of what has been mentioned here do so through outsourcing to smaller game companies. The idea is to take certain parts of the game that are being developed that would overwork your employees who have to build the entire game as well, and give it to another production team within another company. Some game design concepts require more time than others in art, music, programming and design. To insure that a very complicated problem is worked out in a timely fashion it should be handed over to a company that can focus on it exclusively. The main issue with this is project control. With outsourcing there is the chance that the quality of the end product is not the quality that the original team could have produced. This would bring the value of the whole down, which in the long run would not make the money saved in production worth the effort.

University level education in game design is a growing field as more college systems are realizing the potential of the market. Within the senior year of most programs, there is a need for ‘hands-on’ experience. In order to graduate students need to do work in the field to prove that they are ready to be a professional game designer. Companies can negotiate with local universities with game design programs to offer internships to their students which would supplement some of the auxiliary jobs that need to be handled in game development. There is always a risk when an ‘inexperienced’ employee is involved. With payment in educational credit and not through monetary means dependability may be an issue. However, this option also allows the company to see potential talent before they are even in the job market. This creates a potential network that can be geared to educate to your companies’ specific needs, creating workers with your organizational structure in mind.


RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION


The solution that would best suit this situation is a combination of the alternatives provided. For a long reaching resolution the company must train project managers and section managers to plan, and implement with the help of peers in adjacent fields. The company should re-evaluate their job classifications, and begin a strategy to restructure the current hierarchy. The nearest university or college offering game design courses and training should be contacted so that an internship program can be established.

IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

A plan like this takes years to implement. A consulting firm should be hired to oversee this change so that it does not interfere with the current workload of the staff. Roughly the time frame should be within the 2 to 3 year mark. It would be advised to begin with training all management with project managers from the fields that they are the closest related to. Programming team leads should train with IT professionals. Art leads should train with graphic design professionals. Audio engineer leads should train with music production professionals, and all other leads should train with marketing and advertising professionals. This first tier should take 8 to 12 months to complete for a large gaming company. Management should be required to take brush up courses and attend game design conferences every two years.

Once management is trained they can assist with the next task which would be job classification restructuring. The idea would be to restructure the way jobs are handled, and then match them to a position that would suit this task or create it. Currently in the gaming industry, the jobs are very ambiguous. The main positions are programmers, level designers, audio engineers, game designers (writers) and art leads. Within the company sometimes levels of proficiency are given, but the jobs themselves are not given boundaries within their discipline. Critical dissection of each part of game development needs to be done at this stage with the idea that positions will be created for student internships and outsourcing that will not compromise the value of the finished product. The idea is to redistribute current resources to be used more efficiently while using student internships first and outsourcing second as contingency plans. The restructuring is a longer process than the training and depending on and will take anywhere from 18 months to 24.

Works Cited

Dyer-Witheford, N. (2006). "EA Spouse" and the Crisis of Video Game Labour: Enjoyment, Exclusion, Exploitation, Exodus | Dyer-Witherford | Canadian Journal of Communication. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from Canadian Journal of Communication: http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/viewArticle/1771/1893

Frauenheim, E. (2004, December 6). EA execs respond to criticism over working hours | Systems Management | ZD Net UK. Retrieved October 2010, from ZD Net UK: http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/systems-management/2004/12/06/ea-execs-respond-to-criticism-over-working-hours-39179049/

Spouse, E. (2004, November 10). ea_spouse:The Human Story. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from Live Journal: http://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html

Huntemann, N. (2010, January 22). Irreconcilable Differences: Gender and Labor in the Video Game Workplace. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from Flowtv.org: http://flowtv.org/2010/01/irreconcilable-differences-gender-and-labor-in-the-video-game-workplace-nina-b-huntemann-suffolk-university/

Monday, April 5, 2010

Interface or Game: Video games that make the interface a part of the game

Batman: Arkham Asylum, developed by Rocksteady Studios, Ltd and published under Eidos Interactive and God of War III, developed by Sony Santa Monica, published by Sony Computer Entertainment, are considered action adventure games. The player has to be the lead character in a sequence of events to get to the fruition of a story or tale. These games are set in different times with different story arks and trees. Both have a basis in a mythology of their own right. One of the key components that make these games interesting, cutting edge and garnering of critical acclaim is the way the interfaces are melded into actual game play in an almost seamless fashion.

Batman Arkham Asylum was listed as one of the best games of the year when it came out in late August of 2009 (Eidos Interactive Ltd, 2009). One of the reasons for this was the innovation of the interface itself that makes it seemingly a part of the game. The game starts and the initial interface asks basic questions, it’s streamlined and to the point and is only a shell for what the real interface is about. The opening is cinematic and prepares the player to be dropped into this new world.

With the game being built around this mythical character and his iconic mythos, the interface designers were given a slew of directives they could pull from to realize this vision of turning the player into this comic book superhero. This has been an idea that had been unrealized in past incarnations of this specific comic book character in game play. Through understanding the basic plotting of the long standing icon Batman, the interface is presented as the tools and gadgets the character has been historically known for using.

The true genius of this interface is how the advanced technology of the character is manipulated to become an actual game play feature instead of a separate game necessity. The interface design is labeled ‘Detective’ mode. This mode acts as ex ray vision and is used to determine the location of adversaries, items of interest and other clues and hints that enable successful and none frustrating game play. This mode changes the visual appearance of the game, it uses simple lines and monochromatic colors to give it a technological look and feel.

It is obvious when you are in this mode and the player cannot visually become confused as to what level of play they are in. This way the interface is a part of the game play itself and becomes as natural to use as the much celebrated ‘free flow’ combat style. This mode is enacted by the player at any given time they deem it necessary, yet it is a mode that the player absolutely needs to successfully play the game. This interface is not just used to navigate the game and make characteristics available that wouldn’t normally be there, it becomes a ‘smart’ gamer’s mode of play to use the provided tools to adapt to learning how to play the game as needed.

By following brief visual directives and sometimes voiceover directives the player understands the necessity of this interface as it provides locators, maps and guides as the interface becomes a game within itself. And like the game, this interface evolves and develops to meet the needs of the player as they learn how to use the interface within the context of playing the game. This creates an environment of trust between the player and the game designers as the interface becomes what it is meant to be, a tool to aid successful game play.

While God of War III attacks a very different mythos it too has incorporated the interface into game play. This is not a new feature for this vehicle, the original and following titles have followed this trend. The complaint stemmed from the intrusive nature of the ‘in your face’ interface. This incarnation of this familiar story ark for the would be Greek God Kratos has refined what was present in the first two versions of this game to be less intrusive.

The opening is epic and starts like a movie recanting in the traditional Greek artistic styles the story of Kratos up to this point. It invites the user to view and remember what came before. Much like Batman Arkham Asylum the introductory interface is brief and to the point giving few options other than start a new game, load a new game, controller and sound options as well as a downloadable content selection.

The nature of this game is not to truly be inventive or clever so the interface design is not nearly as involved. Instead it tells the player almost in what can be perceived as a visual whisper what should be done next. A brief flash of a stylized picture of the actual button on the controller that should be pressed is shown. After a few battles in this style the user understands that once again, this is an interface that is here to help and not to hamper or interfere. Trust is developed and in some ways dependence.

The interface comes into play when it is time to deliver the ‘death’ blow to a main character and then it is not necessary unless the player is powering up their weapon. This interface function is actually automatic for the opening entries, but the user has to access the interface to acknowledge it. This is the way the game will set up future decisions that must be made by the player.

The entire look of God of War III is bloody and grainy, the separate game interfaces are no different. The only true issue is that with the time period it is hard to portray the interface in a suitable fashion that doesn’t seem contrite or is difficult to understand. So for a few moments the dichotomy of the game is compromised by ‘contemporary’ ideas using metallic and industrial tones.

These games have reached a new level of interface design that does not take away from the game play and has found a way to actually enhance it making its presence an enjoyable necessity to game function instead of a possible liability to game enjoyment. Overall both games should be commended for the adaptability and ease of use present in their interface designs. They seem intuitive and aware of the concerns the player would have while navigating this system. This has created a culture of interface innovations that the future of games will have to pay attention to. The only true issue is that in creating this intuitive system neither game has presented an area where users may need to actually read instructions and understand the nature of the interface design. However I believe that these designers have done this for a reason, if the interface design is successful then it isn’t necessary to explain, and the ratings these games have received would agree.

Bibliography

Eidos Interactive Ltd. (2009). Batman Arkham Asylum. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from Batman Arkham Asylum Video Game: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/start

Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. (2010). God of War 3. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from God of War: http://www.godofwar.com/Index/

Monday, March 8, 2010

ACHOO!!

Achoo is a one to four player game that teaches the player the basics of how to treat specific viral or bacterial infections. The process of this game begins with a player hitting start and selecting how many players there will be. After a brief instruction screen the player or players receive a patient. A random generator assigns a medical ailment based on how many players there are and gives the patient a gender and a name. The introductory screen from this point looks and reads like a medical chart and lists the symptoms that the patient is feeling to get the player accustomed to seeing conditions mapped out this way.

After the symptoms are received the player is then guided to diagnose the ailment. At this point the game becomes a puzzle based matching game as the player has to go through a series of terms and ailments to match the best ailment to the symptoms. During this sequence the player is given needful information about the factors that determine a specific medical condition. Through trial and error the player makes a diagnosis and is prompted to start a treatment for it.

Now the game moves like a Role Playing Game. The concept is that there is a new form of medical treatment that allows medical practitioners to use a virtual reality technique and actually enter the patient’s body to verify and then treat the diagnosed condition. This innovation is A.C.H.O.O., Advanced Cybernetic Human Observation and Operation unit. The player or players start by outfitting their robot avatar with the equipment they will need to treat the condition such as surgical tools and specific medicines. They then enter the body at the spot the infection is being generated from to treat the ailment.

To win the game the player must treat the ailment by either ridding the patient of the infection all together or sending the illness into remission. To lose the game the player must treat the ailment so poorly that the patient dies.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

COSC 460: Gender Issues Re-Cap

So I did my gender issues in gaming presentation last night. I was pissed at the overall male gamer viewpoint of the female gamer so I opened with the standard stereotypes in a prime little 'girly' PowerPoint.

The top three are: Female Gamers don't exist, They aren't skilled gamers and they aren't dedicated gamers. With this set up the guys followed suit, did I mention I was the only female in my class besides the professor?

Anyway they did not disappoint. They talked about how female gamers only played games that worried about cooking, fashion and other 'female' topics. They regaled me with tales of females not being interested in games that were FPS (first person shooters) or the MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing games). They said that they didn't think women played these games. They thought that men played more and that women only played casual games. So after the hole was good and deep I sprung the facts on them.

Stated Opinion: Women don't play MMORPG's

Fact: 40% of MMORPG players are female

Why the perception: 70% of female gamers play as males; 54% of male gamers have and/or play as females

Explanation: In the online gaming community the Mirl (men in real life) is a constant complaint. Why would men and women switch gender roles online? Men say it's because being a girl sometimes gets you free stuff in online communities, provides nice scenery while playing for hours on end. Some guys like the theatrics of watching a character that is nothing like themselves. Women have some of the same reasons about scenery and theater. Where they differ is that a lot just want to play the game and not be harassed by boys that want to know 'if they're hot' and 'if they can get a pic'. Societally female gamers are viewed as being less feminine, only in it to please a boyfriend or male, or physically repugnant to men so they have no choice but to play video games. These thoughts and ideas carry over heavily into online play and communities.

Stated Opinion: Only women play casual games

Fact: 42% of all casual gamers are Male

Why the perception: The stat most often seen is that 74% of paying casual gamers are female

Explanation: I believe that the reason female gamers are believed to be inadequate gamers is because of the stigma of being considered a 'casual gamer' first because the stats say that this is what the gender prefers. On online boards and communities this is akin to being a leper. With this in mind the assumption is that male causal gamers are closed mouth about their causal gaming habits for gaming societal rules.

Stated Opinion: Women don't play as much as men

Fact: Female hardcore gamers play about 57 hours per week to the male 51 hours per week, on average women played 29 hours a week compared to men who played 25

Why the perception: The customarily thought of stereotype of an avid gamer is to blame here

Explanation: Female carelessness. It appears that unlike their male counterparts female gamers just keep poor track of how much time they spend playing a game. I do this all of the time. So while a male player knows he's just played WOW (world of warcraft) for 6 hours a woman may not notice she's played EverQuest for 8.

I have to give the males in my class credit. After I sited these facts and with only a brief argument about where I got my information, they themselves began to site instances that they’ve noticed in gaming that confirms the data I presented to them. Everything from discovering that the males they thought they were playing with were female to women they knew being very dedicated to playing one game to the point of seeing and doing nothing else for hours. There are always hold outs like the one guy that insisted that women only played those games because they gave them outfits to choose from. Still not understanding that this is a perk, not the reason why she's there. Well I'll take some out of none anyday.

For any other gender based gaming questions and wonderings: http://www.personalizemedia.com/15-great-myth-busting-women-vs-men-stat-articles-about-games/