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News from the real money for virtual goods front

There has been an interesting public discussion during a recent computer security conference on the real economic value of virtual goods, specifically objects from MMOGs. Here is Game Girl Advance's entry on it.

Reading about this led me to the website of Edward Castronova, probably the best known academic working in this area, and the website of Julian Dibbell, who, after writing an article for Wired on the subject, decided to enter into the business himself, and write about his adventures.

The most significant and groundbreaking aspect of the computer is simulation: the ability that allows one to represent abstract ideas from a process perspective - something which is so hard in other mediums of representation that it has never taken off. In, say, a book, you can either show the output of a process, and even that is quite limited, or a non-functioning description, such as mathematical formulae. Computers allow you to represent abstract ideas as functioning processes, or as a part of functioning processes. Money, which is an abstract idea in an abstract process, is almost entirely represented by computers now. Many more concepts which we have taken to be concrete because of their historical link with concrete things are now moving to representation by computers. And in the process, the historical link with concrete things is broken. As is happening with money, and, in this case, with property.

I'm still too tired to try and make that make sense.

Indie games

MSNBC has a nice little article about independent game development. It contains some interesting data and input from a wide range of independent developers and publishers, including Geoff Howland, who is a genuine nice guy.

I agree that indie game development, as far as I can tell, is like game development in the late 80s and early 90s. There has recently been some discussion on a mailing list about the three first games I worked on, from 1991 to 1996. They were made by very small teams, and that was a very satisfying experience. Not that working on big budget AAA titles does not have its own rewards, but still, I can definitely see the appeal.

Sony comments on mature console game market, challenges for PS

"The number of total shipment of Playstation (PS) and Playstation 2 (PS2) is 97.24M. The market penetration rate is 80% on a stationary game console market. On the other hand the number of software for PS series is 190M.

The decrease of million selling titles, unique game titles which is available only for PS and categories is challenge for PS series."

Read it here. (Not that there is much more.)

New information on Sony's PSP

Normally I try to space out my blog entries, but I just noticed this and couldn't resist...

From KoKoRo: Ken Kutaragi reveals PSP specs.

The salient bits: two (?) 32 bit CPUs, 8MB memory, 3D sound, Wireless LAN(802.11), IrDA and USB2.0. Prototype at E3 2004.

Some more slides from the PlayStation Meeting 2003, including info on programming the PSP and a schematic of the CPU, can be seen here.

Amberstar and Ambermoon to be remade as mods

There are only very few people who will be interested in this, or even know what it's about, but as it happens I am one of those people. A group of people in Germany is trying to remake Amberstar and Ambermoon, the role-playing games for Atari ST and Commodore Amiga that I worked on in the early 90s.

Sadly, all original assets have been lost since then. On the other hand, that hasn't stopped Alex Holland, a very dedicated Thalion fan, from debugging and releasing the English language version of Ambermoon, which was never officially published. So who knows? I wish them good luck.

You can read a little about it here (in German).

Voice in MMOG

Game Girl Advance has an article by Richard A. Bartle on why it is too soon to add real-time voice communication to massive multi-player online games. I'm not incredibly interested in MMOGs or real-time voice, but the article contains a pretty accurate taxonomy of game designers, some good points on immersion, suspension of disbelief, adding features for marketing purposes and how that affects your effective audience, and a nice summary of what MMOGs are all about: not being yourself. (If you like the bits on immersion, make sure you've read Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" for a practical theory on the downside of realism.)

A few numbers on the Japanese game market

"Comupter entertainment supplyer's association published the overview of internal game market. Software market is 336.7 billion yen, -8.6% y/y (=$2.81B) and hardware market is 144.6 billion yen, -32.8% y/y (=$1.21B).

Furthermore the population of game player is decreased to 23.6 million (-8.3% y/y). It conludes2.6 million network game users and 6 million keitai game players."

('Keitai' refers to mobile phones.) So the Japanese game market is shrinking. I've read predictions that 2002 was going to be the industry's biggest year until 2007 (the peak of the next-next gen cycle). But it seems a bit surprising to me that the software market is decreasing as well - OK, people have the machine, but shouldn't they still be buying games? Was it just the initial excitement that made them buy software? Perhaps it isn't the platform cycle, but is it more than the general state of the Japanese economy?

(From KoKoRo, where you can find the link to the whole article on these numbers in Japanese.)