CHI 2006: Games & Performance session
Alone Together? Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games is the title of a very interesting study of World of Warcraft (WoW) social dynamics by Nicolas Ducheneaut and collaborators. The talk was given in an overcrowded room. I was standing and couldn't take notes.
Basically they used WoW's open API to scrape data about hundreds of thousands of players on five servers, registering who was present where and when and what character they were playing. The paper is surely worth a look if you're interested in online social interaction patterns from data. If you dislike PDFs, a few of the findings seem to be in this blog post. Big kudos to the team for doing their research openly on the playon blog!
Next I listened to a talk about Interweaving Mobile Games With Everyday Life, which dealt with an urban multiplayer PocketPC game called Feed the Yoshi. It gave me some game ideas for the Ile Sans Fil community wireless project. Something to discuss with Michael... Transcript follows.
Presenter: We had two foci in this work:
- Weaving ubiquitous computing into 'the fabric of everyday life". What happens if you use a system over a long time?
- Seams and seamful design. Seams are gaps and 'losses in translation' in digital media. We actually argue for seamful design.
WiFi varies in position, range and access controls. There are gaps, overlaps, passwords, fees for commercial hotspots, legal constraints. Those are Seams.
We made a game that exploits seamful design. It's implemented on PDAs (HP iPAQs) so you can play everywhere. The game is called Feeding Yoshi. A Yoshi is a critter that eats fruit. Players feed them for points. You can also sow seeds at empty plantations. Fruits grow in them, and you can pick them up and put them on your basket. Yoshis and plantations are scattered across the city. Players carry fruit to the Yoshis. Yoshis and plantations are 802.11 access points. Yoshis are actually locatedat secure access points and plantations are at open points.
Here's a map of Glasgow, we did some wardriving and found 483 points. You get more points for feeding Yoshis multiple fruits. You can swap fruits with other players.
Points are submitted to the game web site via 'codes'. The site shows a leaderboard. The game uses p2p ad-hoc networks.
To study Yoshi, we had 4 teams of 4 in Derby, Nottingham and Glasgowplay it over 7 days. Players had various backgrounds. Our data comes fromdiaries, interviews, logs.
(Shows a video diary of a player beginning his day, leaving for work, finding a strawberry tree.)
Overall the players found the game fun to play, engaging, worth taking time out for.
Patterns of play reflected life/work styles. There was a large spread in the length of play sessions. Journeys were often good for play. Players built an understanding of where the Yoshis and plantations were on their routes to work. One player came up with the concept of the 'Drive-by Yoshi', wherein a friend would drive himaround and he could rack up points efficiently.
Work was actually both a resource and a constraint. You could use work's WiFi. People's jobs sometimes allowed them to take breaks, be late, slip out. Work habits were not a predictor of success.
The coupling with location led to awareness of urban character and conversation with other players. On crowded streets players would "run into folks". There were distinctive patterns of movement - shuttling back and forth, etc. People felt uneasy just hanging around suburban homes, and uncomfortable in industrial and business districts. Some areas were felt "too dangerous to play in".
The social setting affects coordination and collaboration, both with other players and with non-players. One player's movement patterns annoyed his girfriend greatly. Play eventually bridged teams, even though members of the different teams didn't know one another.
Reflections. Should players be forced to move out of rich areas? It might encourage mobility. Were some locations 'too good'? Should we support play 'at speed'?
Future work involves seams in software and eHealth.
This was the first study of a long-term mobile game. The quality of play was flexible with everyday life. Players augmented existing routines and established new ones.
If you have any questions I'm sure my coauthors will be really happy to answer them. :)
Q. You didn't actually require transmission over the hotspots? So you could have tied this to arbitrary locations.
A. We wanted people to actually learn something about wireless networks.
Q. This work is a great opportunity for exploration. Glasgow gets a lot of rain. Have you thought about extra rewards for people who go out and feed the Yoshis in the pouring rain? Have you thought about introducing a predator?
A. They're cool ideas. The first I'm sure we could implement using weather reports. If the game had more characters, some of which are unveiled over time, it might make the game more interesting.
Q. Tell us about how much people modified their normal routine?
A. At the end most people told us they actually altered their routine.
Q. How long does it take for plantations to grow?
A. It's immediate.
Q. Have you considered making them more tamagochi-like, where you can have your yoshis grow and evolve
A. We did. (Said some more things.)
Q. What are the system requirements?
A. You can download the game for any PocketPC from the website. We'vegot thousands of downloads, it's getting quite popular.
Q. (Google guy). This looks like a great way of providing incentives for people to go to certain locations, open their wifi networks, etc.
A. Well, there's probably a business in there. Thank you!