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December 17, 2004
Accelerating Change 2004: A Look Back To What’s Ahead
 

Written by Paul Philleo

Think fast, what is Accelerating Change? Uh-uh, it isn't part of an obscure question you'd see on a driver's test or what happens to you when you hit puberty, it's about something a little bit cooler than that. Accelerating Change was and is about looking ahead, speculating what is on the radar screen for our lives. This focus of this year's event, which took place on November 5-7th at Stanford University, was on "Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface". The event was focused on the panels and keynotes in the main room, sometimes two going on at once. Notables from Google, Sony, Amazon.com and others were in attendance to either make their voices heard or to listen to the thoughts and ideas put on the table for the attendees. The event had a casual and relaxed feel to it, in spite of the suit and tie seriousness of the topics on the table. Very heady stuff, but few people are as forward-looking as gamers are. Since games are what MPOGD does, we're taking a closer inspection of what may be through the looking glass for gamers.

Through the Looking Glass We Go

Linden Lab's Second Life, which is an MMOG but more of a free-form sandbox in many respects, was well-represented at the event. Cory Ondrejka, Vice President of Product Development for Linden Lab, was the keynote speaker for Virtual Space (read: online games). The concept of intellectual property and economy through the creativity and enterprise of gamers was the topic of the day, with Second Life as the example. Players have created virtual weaponry with rules of physics applied, parachuting jumps, clubs complete with DJs, and even entire theme parks. Second Life, curiously enough, isn't entirely a capitalistic vacuum untouched by real-world events. Users also created an in-game memorial to 9/11 victims and a score board for tracking this year's presidential election. Second Life has even recently been a laboratory for interaction between online and offline content, such as a virtual gallery for artwork or trying out fashion design concepts on in-game models.

Second Life is a unique environment for how intellectual property is developed, promoted and sold, online and offline. In gee whiz factual terms, users spend over 15,000 hours a day in Second Life, of which almost a third of the time is spent creating. As time goes on, it will be interesting to see if Second Life can truly marry the online and offline world, in creativity and intellectual property. But, what Second Life has accomplished so far, is a big step toward that direction.

Later in the first day, Keith Halper, Kuma Reality Games , developer of Kuma\War, added his own twist on blurring the lines between fantasy and fiction, the online and the offline worlds - in Halper's words, "using virtual spaces to tell real-world stories." In the guise of a multiplayer first-person shooter, Kuma\War recreates real-world events within the game space for players to re-enact, such as the Iraqi theatre, obviously, as well as historical campaigns. Considered controversial to some within traditional news circles, Kuma\War's mission includes real world news with an anchor-style delivery, satellite photos and expert analysis, which accompanies the game play. Halper considers episodic game play less risky than the way games and expansions are usually handled, because they offer TV-like content, can be timely and flexible in delivery, high consumer value and buzz-driven.

Kuma\War certainly had a decent game engine backing it, from my perspective, top of the line graphics for a couple years ago. Ironically, even though the game play is taken from news content, the Kuma\War concept seems highly original and loaded with potential if it breaks away from war scenarios alone.

The second day of the event began with a bang, starting off with a Virtual Space keynote by Will Wright, architect behind the juggernaut that is the Sims franchise. Wright approached the concepts of game development from a highly intellectual, theoretical way. Believe me, though, seeing Wright's PowerPoint would make all the difference in being able to detail the concepts he described, since it was a fast-paced keynote and highly visual.

Of major interest to many online gamers was the following panel, "Real Money in Virtual Economies: The Future of User-Created Content". Gracing the panel was Steve Salyer, IGE, which is a controversial MMOG trading and auction service, Jamie Hale, from Gaming Open Market, a competitor to IGE, Brian Green, Near Death Studios, the developer behind the resurrection of the legendary Meridian 59, and Daniel James, Three Rings, the developer who created the popular Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates. This particular debate swirled around who owns the right to in-game intellectual property, and whether it adds or removes value from online games that are affected by it. On the pro-free intellectual property debate, Salyer and Hale defend their cottage industry, stating the secondary market is necessary and saves gamers from investing time they don't have, to get rare and image-enhancing items that don't necessarily skew game play away in their favor. On the flipside, the developers, James and Green, argued secondary markets don't have the right to strip away control of intellectual property from game developers, and that it imbalances the game and upsets the community. For those who have time to burn and interest to spare, I recommend reading this, which details the discussion at considerable length.

Summary

Frankly, this event deserves more coverage than it's received in the mainstream gaming press. Gamers are by nature futurists, imagining "what if" scenarios every time they load up a game. No, it's not just about what's the latest graphics chipset craze, the biggest and latest speaker set-up, it's about the concepts that define games as we know them. Accelerating Change 2004 posed the question to the gaming market, "What might games be like in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?" and "How might gamers relate differently to games, and how might games ask more and different things of us as players?"

You never know how the ideas for games that are brought up today will become the next big thing tomorrow. Imagine a persistent online game tied into the news and real-world activities and events, with an integrated economy and intellectual property people can develop or sell inside and outside the game, while you as the player utilize a webcam to control your avatar within the game. Not sure that could happen? The idea is, imagine the possibilities. I know I am.


Watch out for that tree!

Cory Ondrejka explaining the ins and outs of Second Life

Even intellectuals must take a break to eat

Cory Ondrejka detailing Second Life to a bigger audience

Panel about the art of handling online gamers (that means us)

It's amazing how much space people give you when you're riding a Segway

Will Wright breaks down Game Theory 101

Discussing intellectual property (without using the ninja moves)
 
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