Friday, December 09, 2005

Outsourcing Game Playing

In New York Times today there is an interesting article on the new industry growing in China -- the game playing industry. It is not about businesses that designs and builds games, it is people playing games for richer people that don't have the time or energy to do it themselves. So, you pay someone to play the boring parts of the game, or the difficult parts to get some rare treasure. This is a consequence of the growing new economy in virtual worlds. In some games you can use tools and powers that you can buy from someone else. This has created a whole new economy. Some weapons are very expensive. You buy or sell them at places like eBay.

Anyhow, this is not new (except for the outsourcing of playing, at least for me that was new), but it is one more evidence that the two worlds are getting more and more involved in each other. The virtual is not "only" virtual anymore, and the physical is not the only "real" world. It is a consequence of the digital transformation, the transformation of our traditional world into digital material. It is a fundamental change of world matter -- a new material.

Even though we know about the digital transformation and understand its mechanisms it is still difficult to envision where it will take us. I actually see it that way, we are "taken", we are not moving intentionally in a direction that is driven by our desires. So, what kind of ideas and theories do we need to better understand the transformation, better understand where we are going, better understand our own role, and maybe even to better understand what we really want to do with this technology.....?


Nathan Rahn said...

As I have played a few of the games where people do the stuff you are mentioning, I will note that many of the game companies view this activity as illegal. It happens quite often, actually, where people that have little to do with their lives, or who are good enough to make a living off of it, buy an account on a game, play the character through all the hard or boring stuff, and then sell the very powerful character on eBay or elsewhere. I have seen it on Asheron's Call years ago, and more recently on Star Wars Galaxies, though I do not play either game anymore. I do play Guild Wars now, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see people doing it here. But like I said, many game companies see it as a breach of policy, and you can get banned for it.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Nathan

Yes, you are correct. Some companies also try to close down this activity. Time will tell where this will end up.


lance miller said...

Your posting connects with a thesis project I am trying to compose in the Whole Systems Design Program at Anticoh. I will just past it in here and see what you think:

I am not interested in the Turing Test as a central focus of my investigation. My central focus will be on an undebatable increase of computer and internet use by humans.
This increase in computer use is but the latest in a long line of extragenetic adaptation that has included the use of fire, the wheel, and cities. Extragenetic adaptations are often the essential things which make humans distinctive from other live forms.

I am interested in investigating the new and heightened use of computers (henceforth implying both computers and the internet) as a symbiotic relationship. I am especially interested in what computers and humans are doing in tandem which they could not do without the other.

In the realm of human cognition, communication, and community; computer use has created new norms. e.g. Information can now be stored on a computer rather than committed to memory (and the successful use of this dynamic relies on organizational proficiency), email, http, et cetera.

I would like to look at the activities afforded by human-machine symbiosis from a fresh perspective. Is there a new epoch beginning which is as fundamental a shift as the agricultural revolution? Even if the answer to that question is a "yes", the next question is more provocative to me -Is the degree of communion on areas such as cognition and communication making this extragenetic adaptation distinctive from other inventions such as bricks and mortar, possibly making this new human behavior a shift analogous with the domestication of animals?

The exploration of computers as just another invented object set, such as cities, limits the exploration to the lived-environment level of investigation(investigations such as often occurs in urban design classes or architecture, where the effects of a sidewalk or buildings are examined to decide on better or worse effect on human behavior). The communication and cognition interfacing extends the exploration to something more internalized on the human side of the symbiosis, or relational like between humans and pets.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Lance

I don't know if you know that I had a close relation with Antioch and Whole Systems Design, through my dear friend Harold Nelson, who developed the program.

Anyhow, your thesis idea is basically sound and well worth investigating, however you are approaching it in such a broad manner that I could forsee some problems with coming to interesting conclusions. I do think though that it is has the qualities that will make it into a great learning experience!

Good Luck!


Tyler Pace said...

After years of illegal farming and game exploits, SOE adopted the policy of "exchange" servers where the buying and selling of in game goods is supported and the company takes a cut of each transaction. Some producers feel this is a safe way to control the inevitable, game threatening inflation of economies that occur over the long term as "gold farmers" generate excessive amounts of in game resources.

Terra Nova has a great article on gold farming from the perspective of a retiring EQ1 farmer.

Other producers are trying to limit "gold farming" through the use of extremely resource intensive in game events. The AQ War Effort in WoW is a prime example of a developer crafted event that absorbs massive amounts of in game items. Farmers are being "out farmed" by normal players who need the items for the war effort or wish to sell the items for their own profit. Either way, the bottom line of actual farming companies has dropped.

I wonder how the next generation of "one world" mmos (ala, Dark and Light) will deal with farming? If players are tempted to buy gold on small scale server/realm economies with tens of thousands of players, what will happen in a world where millions of players simultaneously exist?