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Academic Games Are No Fun

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the well-neither-are-most-games dept.

Role Playing (Games) 159

Ponca City, We Love You writes "Academics have been flocking to use virtual worlds and multiplayer games as ways to research everything from economics to epidemiology and turn these environments into educational tools. A game called Arden, the World of Shakespeare, funded with a $250,000 MacArthur Foundation grant and developed at Indiana University was supposed to test economic theories by manipulating the rules of the game. There's only one problem. "It's no fun, " says Edward Castronova, Arden's creator and an associate professor of telecommunications at the university. "You need puzzles and monsters," he says, "or people won't want to play ... Since what I really need is a world with lots of players in it for me to run experiments on, I decided I needed a completely different approach." Part of the problem is it costs a lot to build a new multiplayer game. While his grant was large for the field of humanities, it was a drop in the bucket compared with the roughly $75 million that goes into developing something on the scale of World of Warcraft. Castronova is releasing Arden to the public as is and says his experience should serve as a warning for other academics. "What we've really learned is, you've got to start with a game first," Castronova says. "You just have to." The new version is titled Arden II: London Burning."

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159 comments

Why use money? (4, Insightful)

suso (153703) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584109)

If there is one thing I've seen on The Linux Games Tome [happypenguin.org] , its that it only takes a few people to build a MMORPG. If anything, they should just use the quarter of a million to mobilize some open source programmers around a game that is open source.

Don't hurt me. (4, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584335)

but it only takes a few people to make a MMORPG only a few people will ever want to play.

Considering all the angst displayed here when World of Warcraft is mentioned there should be no shortage in OS programmers creating new and great MMORPGs to bring down the evil and all so boring and all so many people are leaving and etc etc World of Warcraft.

But there isn't.

The problem in crafting a MMORPG is that it takes a long long time. I can find any number of people "with great ideas for a MMORPG" I just cannot find anyone who is a. willing to expend the real time it will take, b. compromise with others, c. just be available for group meetings, and d. willing to code the grunt side of the setup.

Hell this guy is just making a module for NWN or such... all the ugly stuff most programmers hate is provided (art work etc)

The days of just tossing out something (laughable anyone think a MMORPG can be made quickly - even muds took time to evolve beyond copies of diku)

Re:Don't hurt me. (3, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584473)

The problem in crafting a MMORPG is that it takes a long long time.

True, but that's mainly because of one time-consuming thing you didn't list: building up the user base and getting them to stay there, so that the network effects take off. (The feeling that they're being toyed with isn't good for that.)

I was rather unsatisfied with the claims in the summary: A MMORPG needs puzzles and monsters? What about Second Life and Club Penguin? And why is it so hard to add them? $250,000 is quite a lot if you think in terms of "how much you'd have to pay five geeks to set up a vitrual world in a month".

Convincing people to come can pose other problems for the economic analysis as well. The fact that people can quit any given game but not real life, can influence results.

Re:Don't hurt me. (0, Offtopic)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584543)

The fact that people can quit any given game but not real life
I've just committed suicide, you insensitive clod!

Don't hurt me.Or my assets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21585599)

"True, but that's mainly because of one time-consuming thing you didn't list: building up the user base and getting them to stay there, so that the network effects take off. (The feeling that they're being toyed with isn't good for that.)"

You still need assets to build that base upon. I don't see anything changing that soon.

Re:Don't hurt me. (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584825)

Unfortunately, the day of the garage game developer are over. With very rare exception (and those exceptions typically being limited to your tetris-y newcomer twist on genres), games require large budgets and sizable, dedicated teams. Sure, you can use open-source or cheaply licensed tools to create a game in your spare time over five or ten years, but if you want to create something people might actually play, you're looking at a heavy investment. Perhaps tens of thousands for a high quality engine and then tens of thousands more if you want to develop for a console (just for the dev hardware).

People say "you don't need a $50million budget to make a good game" and that's true, just like you don't need $250million to make a good movie. But in an area of such large economy, a "cheap" game (like a "cheap" movie) is still beyond the reach of almost everyone. There's a reason people used to start very successful game companies in their garges on a shoestring budget, but today have little option other than a four year education followed by shopping themselves around to billion dollar grunt-works.

Re:Don't hurt me. (2, Interesting)

jackbird (721605) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585411)

Hogwash.

What are all those student games (produced in a semester or two in the extra time between bouts of drinking), IGDA festival entries, highly-polished flash games, Dwarf Fortress and other Roguelikes, IFF entries, Defcon/Darwinia/Uplink, Gish, Gate 88, and damn near everything Greg Costikian blogs about, if not things people either made in their garage for fun, or made with a small team for a low budget?

Garage Developers dead? Many people's Game of the Year, Portal, was a student project that got snapped up and polished by a major studio (sort of like the way Robert Rodriguez made his way to Hollywood with his $6000 El Mariachi, except that in this case the game got better rather than worse) Expensive dev tools? I forget which, but either Wii or 360 dev kits are 3 grand. Want a quality 3D engine? Shockwave 3D for a few hundred bucks. Or how about Torque for $100? Or make a Quake n/Half-Life n/NWN mod for free. Or use one of the ___ Game Creator packages out there, which all have had some high-quality content made with them (right now I'm enjoying Trilby:The Art of Theft immensely). And all the tools have huge amounts of free technical support available in the form of web forums.

Need a userbase? Easy to find through the web if your game's any good. If your game is good enough, you can even sell it on the web or through XBLA without publisher backing.

This is the best time EVER to be a garage game developer, whether or not you ever intend to make a profit.

Re:Don't hurt me. (1)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585605)

"This is the best time EVER to be a garage game developer, whether or not you ever intend to make a profit."

I think GP is refering to the fact that its pretty impossible to start a tripple A game studio from scratch today, which was'nt the case 10-15 years ago.

Re:Don't hurt me. (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587303)

What you have said is probably true if the objective is to build a cutting-edge game. But people still play cribbage, UNO, and scrabble, even with hi-res 3D MMORPGs and FPSs. The simple (and often social) games are still enticing because the wheels of evolution grind slowly and people's brains aren't really changing with the technology. I still get a pretty steady stream of geeks and freaks to play Galactic Trader [galtrader.com] , despite its decided lack of sophistication. Some of the minigames on my site are popular as well. People still like Tetris and Arkanoid/Breakout!

Re:Don't hurt me. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585773)

Considering all the angst displayed here when World of Warcraft is mentioned there should be no shortage in OS programmers creating new and great MMORPGs to bring down the evil and all so boring and all so many people are leaving and etc etc World of Warcraft.

That's assuming the angst is directed towards the specific game WOW and not just MMORPGS in general. An MMORPG can be made by a couple of people in a couple of months. A good MMORPG can't be made at all. Besides, we already have MUDs.

Re:Don't hurt me. (1)

SL Baur (19540) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587265)

That's assuming the angst is directed towards the specific game WOW and not just MMORPGS in general.
Slashdot is hardly representative of the world at large. 9 million subscribers and growing says you're wrong.

A good MMORPG can't be made at all.
Whatever. I think you're wrong and there are millions of other WoW players who surely disagree with you too.

Besides, we already have MUDs.
We already have Rogue and Nethack too. Who cares?

If you have angst towards World of Warcraft, don't play it. Just leave the rest of us alone.

Re:Why use money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584421)

First thing I said. But there's people who wouldn't use open source methods if it was the only cure to cancer and they were riddled with tumors. Brainwashed zombies.

Re:Why use money? (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584451)

First thing I said. But there's people who wouldn't use open source methods if it was the only cure to cancer and they were riddled with tumors. Brainwashed zombies.

Of course not. Everyone knows that everything open source is viral...And viral is bad, mmmkay?

Re:Why use money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21585231)

the fundamental problem simulating real world economics in virtual reality is the fact that in real life ONE NEED TO INTAKE FOOD AND ENERGY CONSTANTLY OR DIE whereas in virtual worlds one can stop playing and forget it with no emotional pain

Oregon Trail was fun! (4, Funny)

hanssprudel (323035) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584117)

I still know when you can ford a river in covered wagon and how to die of cholera.

Re:Oregon Trail was fun! (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584255)

Unless more fun games are available. I remember having Oregon Tail and it was played a lot unless there was a normal video game available. Then that was played.

Re:Oregon Trail was fun! (2)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584613)

At my elementary school, Oregon Trail faded as Bolo became more widely-known. If the developers of Oregon Trail had made a network-ready version where you could descend on other people's caravans, slaughter the inhabitants, and take their goods, sending the player back to Missouri, they would have been more successful.

Re:Oregon Trail was fun! (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584939)

I remember that game...

Honestly, I'm surprised my settlers didn't get scurvy from all the meat they were eating.

Re:Oregon Trail was fun! (1)

carleton (97218) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586873)

Maybe they were eating it mostly raw? (See comment in wikipedia on why people living way up north tend not to suffer from scurvy despite animal-product heavy diets) Of maybe that was just all the wild fruit you stopped and picked.

They'd have to be (1)

Alzheimers (467217) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587413)

Maybe they were eating it mostly raw?

They'd have to be. Who shoots an 800 pound buffalo and only takes 100 pounds of meat back with them?

Wish there was a Mormon Trail... (1)

sadler121 (735320) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585013)

I always like Organ Trail, I just wish they had a Mormon Trail version. Where you not only had to worry about surviving, but keeping your wives from killing each other.

Re:Wish there was a Mormon Trail... (2, Funny)

Whitemage12380 (979267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585323)

Organ trail? Good God, what kind of sick, gore-filled rendition of Oregon trail have you been playing? At least it teaches anatomy...

Re:Wish there was a Mormon Trail... (1)

fonik (776566) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586307)

"You have died of dysentery."

Number Munchers was Fun! (1)

weenis (656512) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585175)

I loved that game in elementary school

Everything old is new again. (4, Informative)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584119)

Didn't we just have this discussion in June? [slashdot.org]

Re:Everything old is new again. (1, Funny)

Kintar1900 (901219) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584227)

Didn't we just have this comment yesterday?

Re:Everything old is new again. (1, Funny)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584411)

Not until tomorrow.

Requires Neverwinter Nights (4, Insightful)

snarfies (115214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584151)

I see Arden is just yet another module for Neverwinter Nights. And so long as I need to have THAT installed to play Arden, why don't I just, like, put on my robe and wizard hat and play the main campaign? Of COURSE people don't want your module - you've lashed it to something that's far more compelling.

Re:Requires Neverwinter Nights (1)

panda (10044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584243)

Yep, exactly.

They were a couple years too late in doing this project if they're going to base it on NWN. From my experience playing NWN online, I'd say that the online population of players for that game hit its peak in 2005 or so.

Many players have moved on to other games, and most of those who remain are fairly dedicated players of the servers where they do play and have been playing. Most won't bother to try out a new server unless it has something more than Castronova's name going for it.

Plus, I think it is kind of a no-brainer to suggest that a game should be fun. Um, why do we play games in the first place?

I just recently (last month) quit playing NWN because 1. my gaming computer is exhibiting signs of having a short, 2. I have other things that I should be doing instead, and 3. it just wasn't that much fun any more.

Re:Requires Neverwinter Nights (1)

amrust (686727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586733)

Exactly.

And at the least, couldn't they maybe have based it on something like Oblivion, as a mod package?

Re:Requires Neverwinter Nights (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586867)

And at the least, couldn't they maybe have based it on something like Oblivion, as a mod package?
No. Despite the fact that TES IV takes on the worst qualities of MMOs, it is not, in fact, a mulitplayer game.

Re:Requires Neverwinter Nights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21586813)

I really don't see the reasoning here. Tons of people have downloaded modules or played online because they have completed the OC and are looking for more gameplay. People look for other things to play on the NWN platform besides the OC -- this is a pretty standard expectation in the NWN community. By your reasoning, no one would ever play the community content because of the distraction of the OC -- something which is demonstrably false. http://nwvault.ign.com/index2.shtml [ign.com]

I would say the problem is not so much that the NWN platform is used; rather, that the module that's been built simply isn't fun/entertaining/good, etc. They don't need to have monsters/dungeons necessarily, but they do need something that's going to engage players -- sounds like they simply missed offering some sort of hook or gameplay mechanic to keep players busy/entertained.

Heed.

Shoulda learned from real MMORPGs (3, Insightful)

faloi (738831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584177)

World of Warcraft is the biggest name out there precisely because it is fun for a lot of people with multiple playing styles. How many games that either weren't fun at all, or only fun for a small subset of a potential player base have gone by the wayside in recent years? There's still something to be said about gabbing a niche for a player base, but the game has to be fun to attract enough people to keep it going. Once the game stops being fun, the only thing to keep it going is the sense of community with the people you're playing with. Once that's gone, people move on.

Re:Shoulda learned from real MMORPGs (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584347)

I found WoW boring, but have enjoyed DAoC and Eve in the past. Go figure.

Re:Shoulda learned from real MMORPGs (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585451)

World of Warcraft is the biggest name out there precisely because it is fun for a lot of people with multiple playing styles.
Grinding with an ax wielding warrior or grinding with a magic user?

Re:Shoulda learned from real MMORPGs (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585641)

How long did Mr. T and Captain Kirk have to grind?

Perfect Competition (2)

Skiboo (306467) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584183)

Perfect Competition [perfectcompetition.net] is a game that seems to have similar goals, but I guess it must be fun enough for at least a few people to play. It wasn't really my thing but it is a business/economics sim that is quite active. From their site: Players can establish companies, run a hedge fund, direct a company as the chairperson, recruit and dismiss staff, choose markets, set up business units (shops, factories, oil rigs, mines, livestock farms, crop farms, logging camps), deal with suppliers, decide on locations and transport, manage production, pay wages, set prices, innovate and differentiate products, carry out R&D, patent intellectual property, advertise, build brands, sell products, sell services, buy and sell land, invest in real estate, borrow and lend through company bonds, issue shares, invest in shares for dividends, speculate in shares for capital gains, acquire and merge companies, execute hostile takeovers, create horizontal and vertical business conglomerates, buy market research, analyse balance sheets and profit and loss statements, monitor cash flow, examine financial ratios, view economic statistics, and base business decisions on the economy of the game: interest rates, inflation, commodity supply shocks, and more. It is the most comprehensive, realistic and popular business simulation.

Re:Perfect Competition (1)

Kirth (183) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584953)

Well, the fun part isn't replicating the real world, but to change the rules. And I doubt you can implement a monetary system with negative inflation in that game.

Things like this were done in a live-roleplaying game: Money made out of clay (Adobe, so to say): It would crumbe with time, making for an automatic deflation. People tried to get rid of money as fast as possible...

Oh yea... Fun! (4, Interesting)

FredDC (1048502) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584231)

to test economic theories by manipulating the rules of the game

Have you thought this through? Whenever a regular MMO changes it's rules, an almost instant flamewar commences and many people leave the game.

If you want people to play your game, and keep playing your game, you will not be able to simply change the rules to test some theory of yours concerning economics... No, you'll have to be busy keeping people interested, and not randomly changing the rules is one aspect of that!

It's a great idea, I give you that, but it's simply not feasible for real...

Re:Oh yea... Fun! (1)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584413)

If you want people to play your game, and keep playing your game, you will not be able to simply change the rules to test some theory of yours concerning economics... No, you'll have to be busy keeping people interested, and not randomly changing the rules is one aspect of that!

It's a great idea, I give you that, but it's simply not feasible for real...
Don't be daft - people love economic rule changes.

By the way, I've changed the rules to add a my-reading-your-post tax, which incurs a two cent administrative fee per word. Thus you owe me $1.78, which exponentially increases if there are replies to this (and possibly other) thread(s) unless a) they are moderated Insightful b) Jupiter's third moon aligns with the rhombus of Capricorn. On a Tuesday.*

*Rules subject to change at my discretion and with no notice. It'll be more fun than crack cocaine, honest.

Re:Oh yea... Fun! (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584415)

What you miss is that the rules are already constantly changing, or in reality being discovered. When a game is released people go and play without much attention to all of the rules. At time goes on, combinations of certain abilities (rules) are found to be more powerful than others so people flock to those. When those combinations are 'balanced' people then flock to other combinations which are more powerful. What's interesting to me is how quickly a population of gamers can discover the optimal set of abilities based on the current ruleset. It's like watching the theory of capitalist economics at work on a small scale.

Re:Oh yea... Fun! (1)

siriuskase (679431) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585529)

Rule changes bother many people, but they give fast learners an edge. Good game deveropers know that and are careful not to drive away more people than they keep. Not all changes are fun for everyone, but an unchanging game gets boring for others. But, no one likes to be jerked around with no return of entertainment value.

It might be better for the professor to use his grant money to study games that already exist and have been around for years. Most games have in game economies, but many have interactions with the real world. Is it better for the game for players to buy gold on ebay (a black market), or directly from the development company as in Puzzlepirates?

Re:Oh yea... Fun! (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585105)

not randomly changing the rules is one aspect of that!

But doesn't this effectively happen often enough in the star wars MMORPG, even WoW and EVE?

I'm not convinced that the scientists wouldn't be less than current games. After all, it'd be deliberately introduced by the scientists to test a theory and make measurements. Scientists who're probably looking for more subtle results, and not some semi-mythical 'game balance'.

It could even be things as subtle as changing the federal discount rate by a tenth of a percent. Changing a drop frequency can have drastic effects on it's average value at auction.

Re:Oh yea... Fun! (1)

ps236 (965675) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585971)

If it was done properly, I don't think it would be a problem except for the people who just want to power-play. As long as this was publicised beforehand. Eg, if one week it was announced that banks would lend you up to the value of your property at 0% interest. What's the problem with that, and it would be an interesting economics experiment. Or, if someone discovered a new gold-field, or goblins started up a new 'uber-sword' factory so the market got flooded with those or whatever.

Word blaster? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584235)

I don't know to what degree Word Blaster could be considered academic, but it was fun trying to spell out words by blasting away at the appropriate letters. (And then you had to race the timer and avoid things trying to blow you up.) However I haven't seen that one since the 2600 went in storage... Also how would something simple-stupid like that translate in comparison to modern games?

Also there's some neat game called Armadillo Run that seemed to explore some basic concepts of physics and problem solving. Haven't tried it just yet (too many other distractions eating at my time as it is), but some of the YouTube vids are entertaining enough.

Re:Word blaster? (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584653)

You obviously didn't even read the summary. They're not talking about educational games - they're talking about games created by academics in the hopes that once people start playing, they can test out theories on the people/virtual world.

Academic games ARE no fun! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584237)

I couldn't agree more with the sentiment behind this. To be honest, I think it's just what we needed. Granted, the situation could have been better [snipurl.com] applied [snipurl.com] than it was but heck it's a start at least. We should just be thankful for the grace we have been given I suppose.

Google search results here [google.com]

Re:Academic games ARE no fun! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584325)

*sigh* Parent is posting obfuscated goatse trolling links...ignore completely.

Things need correct focus (3, Interesting)

archen (447353) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584257)

Acedemic games no fun? That's because the focus is WRONG. Games are meant to be fun or entertaining: that must always come first. Same thing with Christian metal bands. If you focus on the message first and not the music, people aren't going to bother even listening because the music is sub par. There are more examples I could go on and on about, but simply put most educational games are misguided because that's the nature of acedemic games. I mean who is going to fund an educational game where only 5-10% vaguely seems educational? But that's what is required.

Actually I don't even think it's that hard to come up with educational games. For instance I can identify every kind of ship in the Star Wars universe and I don't even LIKE Star Wars. Why? Because when playing Tie Fighter it's just secondary knowledge that you picked up. I took a class in college where the class worked on an academic game, and it had potential. It took place in the old west and kids were meant to do various things. Now you aren't going to be able to quiz kids every 30 seconds, but you can easily drop in things that are somewhat educational like what people used to buy, what sort of horse does what task, etc. No one would be rabidly pleased at how educational your game is, but it's not that hard to get people to pick up small bits of real knowledge.

Re:Things need correct focus (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584419)

Now you aren't going to be able to quiz kids every 30 seconds

I think you hit the head on the nail there. Education is obsessed with testing even tough most people in education agree it is a poor way to judge learning abilities. The problem with most educational games is that it is focused on giving the players easily testable skills vs. actually bringing the student into a world where they virtually become primary sources of the topic, (where most primary sources of history will normally fail the test they sourced about)

Re:Things need correct focus (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584685)

Actually I don't even think it's that hard to come up with educational games. For instance I can identify every kind of ship in the Star Wars universe and I don't even LIKE Star Wars. Why? Because when playing Tie Fighter it's just secondary knowledge that you picked up.

The work of James Gee and Kurt Squire is all about this - the idea that all successful video games are (almost by definition) ideal learning environments. You necessarily have to learn stuff to progress in the game - if it were too easy or too hard, no one would enjoy it.

Of course, the real trick is getting people to apply what they've learned in-game to the outside world. Though that can't be impossible - I still refer to crossing any deep puddle as "fording the river."

Re:Things need correct focus (2, Insightful)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585363)

I think the guy needs to try to get professors from other colleges to encourage their students to play the game and use what they've learned from the game in their classes. Maybe if they get a grade for it, they'll be more likely to do it.

Re:Things need correct focus (1)

kc2keo (694222) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585719)

As I was growing up my parents and grandparents bought me fun games and other games that were fun and educational. Gizmos and Gadgets was the best one I had. Also played Number and Super munchers. Other than that I would never spend my money on any educational games. Thats because I don't think Education is fun to begin with for the most part...

Age of Empires, etc. (1)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586157)

Actually I don't even think it's that hard to come up with educational games

I agree, and I'll point to Age of Empires as an example.

In junior high and the beginning of high school, I had a number of history classes focusing on the ancient world. Simply knowing the vocabulary -- having an idea what a phalanx is, or a trireme -- was useful when writing essays. Of course, Age of Empires is not a faithful simulation of ancient combat, but it gets enough right that its educational value is definitely nonzero. In fact, the manual that came with the game (do people read those? I did.) gives a nice little historical description for each of the different cultures and units.

And that was a very popular game. So much so that Microsoft bought Ensemble Studios.

I'd say you learn something about Word War II by playing many of the military games out there. People who play Counterstrike learn something about real-world guns.

Games need backstory, they need props -- they need a world. I think the trick to making a game educational is largely just to make that backstory and those props not just realistic, but to make them actually real -- that is, historically accurate. And there are plenty of good, fun game concepts for which you can naturally do that.

Re:Things need correct focus (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587121)

I can attest to this. While learning Japanese, probably the most useful asset that helped me memorize the kana was Slime Forest by Project LRNJ. The game itself was set up like an RPG (with a kind of unusual plot; fun nonetheless!), but winning any of the fights throughout the game was completely reliant on one's knowledge (and quick recollection) of the Japanese kana.

I think what made that game entertaining was that while the academic incentives were there and clearly visible, the actual "game" itself was the real forefront and made playing the game and learning the material required a fun exercise (as well as a beneficial one).

I am sure that there are other games like this (one that I can immediately think of is Dig for UNIX systems, or the Easter Egg text game for Mac OS X), but the parent makes a great point that the gaming aspect needs to be the first priority, NOT the education. Because I sure as hell wouldn't want to play a math game that put the game behind the math...

I think I learned this when I was 5 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584303)

If someone changes the rules to a game, it becomes no fun. If a game is no fun, I don't like to play it.

I sure am glad that he spent some research money on this conundrum.

Re:I think I learned this when I was 5 (1)

Kirth (183) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585049)

> If someone changes the rules to a game, it becomes no fun. If a game is no fun,
> I don't like to play it.

What about life? People are constantly changing rules there also.

Besides "changing rules" can be a game in itself; and some of that "change rules" is part of a lot of games: the "what if". You can't try out things if you don't change rules, because you'll end up trying to recreate the real world.

Huh? (2, Insightful)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584313)

I remember plenty of fun, academic games that I used to play.

Number Munchers, Super Number Munchers, Donald Duck's Playground, Oregon Trail, Oregon Trial 2, anything involving Sesame Street.

Of course, it's easier to make educational games for children. Part of the reason is that even if they don't know how to play the game as it was intended, they'll play it a different way. I suppose this is also mimicked by adults with Grand Theft Auto, but then again, adults aren't learning much other than the various ways of killing prostitutes.

Nomic (3, Informative)

Urban Garlic (447282) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584355)

The idea of a game where the main play activity is to change the rules has a fairly old pedigree -- one variant, called nomic [wikipedia.org] , was popularized (OK, in a geeky sense) by DouglasHofstadter [wikipedia.org] in the Metamagical Themas column in Scientific American way back in 1982, and the game itself is older than that.

Nomic is a little different from the emphasis of TFA, in that nomic's creators focussed on the political implications of self-referential, self-modifying rule systems, and TFA seems to be mostly about the economics of such systems.

I and a group of my friends took on nomic many years ago, and found it to be mostly theoretically interesting, and not all that fun in practice.

Re:Nomic (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584713)

Oh hey, thanks! We played this in a summer class I took in high school, and I've wondered recently if I could find the instructions online or something, but I couldn't remember the name of it.

Re:Nomic (1)

Pete (big-pete) (253496) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586283)


Interesting - I was exposed to Nomic [wikipedia.org] via Monochrome [mono.org] , it can be quite fun for a while, but then I started to get bored with it as the game progressed. It's a good intellectual challenge, with more than a fair share of game theory sprinkled in for good effect - for example if someone is close to winning, then it is in the interest of other players to change the winning condition, whilst ensuring that they maintain their own position.

I think it's a game best played online with decent records available to people to ensure that the game can be followed and tracked. I can't imagine trying to play Nomic in a real life setting!

-- Pete.


You need puzzles and monsters? (2, Insightful)

weave (48069) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584359)

"You need puzzles and monsters" eh? Explain Second Life then.

I don't "get it" (SL) and actually remarked to a co-worker after trying it for a while that it wasn't any fun because you don't kill anything, but lots of people spend a lot of time there.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584537)

"because you don't kill anything"

1) You kill time.
2) Everyone is dying in real life anyway.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584621)

It's better to think of SL as a user-editable chatroom than a game, honestly.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (2, Insightful)

urbazewski (554143) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584643)

Shakespeare's work has sprites, fairies, wizards, witches, wars, feuding street gangs, feuding royals, treachery, broken alliances, hidden identities, and yes, even a puzzle or two. There's plenty of material to create an interesting world. Then there's the amazing language games that Shakespeare plays.

This was a failure of imagination, methinks.

Second Life is not a game (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584689)

It's a "virtual world". I think they're trying to make it something similar to the web. As in, the web is not a game, but you can implement games in it. Same way, SL is not a game, but you can implement games inside.

I'd say it parallels the web quite nicely in that SL is really a medium for doing things. Some people play. Some use it as a 3D chat. Some as a base for programming/building projects. Some role play. For some it allows simulating their dreams: If you want to be an anthropomorphic cat, or to live in a steampunk styled world, there's that as well.

If you want games, they can be implemented inside SL, though of course there are limits to how well it works. Things like chess are easy enough to implement in SL, though implementing a chess AI is probably nearly impossible in LSL. FPS style deathmatch can be had very easily, though since the guns are all user made there's nobody ensuring it's balanced.

Of course not everybody gets SL, just not like everybody gets the web. If you asked my parents they wouldn't have a clue why there are so many people posting here, for them it's not "real" and completely pointless.

Re:Second Life is not a game (1)

weave (48069) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584789)

Of course not everybody gets SL, just not like everybody gets the web. If you asked my parents they wouldn't have a clue why there are so many people posting here, for them it's not "real" and completely pointless.

A pretty good summary. I've wonder that as well. I see a lot of parallels in SL compared to the web back around 1994. Some companies tested the waters a bit, a lot of ugly web sites were up, most of it was a novelty. Like I went into the Sears and Circuit City "stores" in the IBM island and they were deserted, not very useful, and lacking in content, but it made me wonder if I was looking at an early Web 3D basically.

What will limit it is that it's privately run and competing services will pop up dividing the population. Until there is some way to have the SL grid interact with the other virtual words, like the upcoming one from Sony for their PS3 for example, I can't see it going anywhere fast. Most companies will not create virtual presences in every virtual world out there, and I doubt there will be RL advertisements listing grid locations in numerous virtual worlds.

Re:Second Life is not a game (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585027)

Like I went into the Sears and Circuit City "stores" in the IBM island and they were deserted, not very useful, and lacking in content, but it made me wonder if I was looking at an early Web 3D basically.

I hear IBM is quite happy actually, it seems they own quite large amounts of land there and use it for meetings or something like that. Personally I almost never visit corporate areas, so I don't really know.

One thing though: It's normal for a shop in SL to be deserted. That doesn't mean it's failing. SL is real-world-like, but free from many of its constraints. You don't need to wander around a shop for a long time like a supermarket. There are search facilities available, and unlike RL shops everything is always in stock. You can teleport in, find the thing you want, buy it, and vanish in 2 minutes.

The thing about SL, is that you really have to get it. Some companies really don't. For instance, some months ago I heard AMD was giving a talk about some multi-threading tech. So I showed up. The AMD place was pretty, well built. There were a few people in the area, and the AMD guy. Then the surprise: There's absolutely nothing going on in SL, the actual talk is done with *Skype*. Which I didn't have installed.

The SL part was completely silent. There were no pictures, no graphs, no material besides AMD logos, and nobody was doing anything in SL at all. It was a very odd thing, several people are there just sitting in SL, which is not bringing any benefit at all because it's not being used.

Intel did it right some time later. The actual talk was in SL, graphs, answering questions from the SL audience in SL, etc. I hope AMD took a hint from that.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (3, Insightful)

vorpal22 (114901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584875)

Agreed. Anyone remember M.U.L.E. [wikipedia.org] , which was essentially a simulation of economics? It was, IMO, quite possibly the best game of all time, and the one that my friends and I played the most when we were kids. I bought a C64 emulator just to relive the memories.

Not a single puzzle or monster in it (well, the wampus, but chasing a black dot through mountains hardly qualifies as a real monster :D).

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (1)

Faylone (880739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585135)

First off, Second life is more of a platform than a game itself. You can indeed kill others in second life, where it's allowed, though because it's so easy to make an instant kill weapon, there are even several combat systems that are designed to make fighting fair. Probably one of the best is the one for I Am Legend: Survival, which was made by Warner Bros.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585479)

"You need puzzles and monsters" eh? Explain Second Life then.

Easy. Second Life sucks.

Or, how's this? It's a puzzle how to build anything moderately interesting! And it's filled with monsters who are just there to indulge their deviant fantasies!

Or, another simple one. "Hype hype hype."

I could go on for hours^Wminutes!

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587181)

Isn't Second Life supposed to be a virtual reality environment and NOT a game? If it's a game, where does winning come in and what are the benefits of doing so?

In my opinion, I'd be hard-pressed to compare this with something ilke World of Warcraft. Then again, I'm not a gamer by any means, so I could be very wrong about this.

Re:You need puzzles and monsters? (1)

MORB (793798) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586005)

Does anyone have any reliable number on second life anyway?

The official ones are grossly inflated because they count free trial accounts that were only ever used once.

I strngly suspect that despite the hype there are really not many people playing it.

You need monsters? Second Life proves otherwise (1)

lawhack (637114) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586777)

What you need is people. WoW has that; so does SL. Weave's right, the sheer number of concurrents and accounts on SL proves no "quest" is required. Note that WoW and SL both took *years* to get up to impressive critical mass. The "Arden" guys are complaining that they can't replicate that in... what? Weeks? Sigh. An attention span > gnat, maybe even > VC, is required to succeed in an virtual online space.

Nooooo not fun ... (1)

YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584365)

It needs to be addictively competive! You know, with a scoring system, frags maybe, level-up stuff ...

If you want to test a real economic system (1)

kinsoa (550794) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584371)

Play EVE Online.

Really.

Re:If you want to test a real economic system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21584435)

Players would revolt if tomorrow a new currency system was released at 1 bloople:100000000000 isk, and the cheapest thing is 500 bloople.

They need a game where the game itself is interesting beyond more than just hoarding money, otherwise, any game they have would implode when they changed the economics rules. Thus, puzzles and monsters. Perhaps a game with some kind of interesting combat, where there are no level caps at all, and instances populate with monsters and traps relative to the level of the players. PVP could be a problem in such a game with level 9000 griefers camping the newbie spawn point and doing millions of points of damage to them every time they resurrect, but they could probably find enough people willing to grind to level 9001 to overlook the rules of wealth changing every few months.

Re:If you want to test a real economic system (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585033)

With some of the current artificial caps in place, especially on minerals, it's still quite flawed though.

Still, some mini-markets, like for example the salvage -> rig market, where there is no external influence on pricing aside from the relative availability of the resources and the desirability of the finished products(which leaves a little to be desired imo) are quite interesting to watch.

So, anyone want to buy a batch of nanobot accelerators? ;-)

Re:If you want to test a real economic system (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585573)

Becasue in real life some being from outside your reality controls who gets what valuable stuff.

Please, Eve is just as flawed as every other economic system in MMORPGs.

For $250K... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584495)

Wouldn't setting up a M.U.D. [wikipedia.org] be a lot more affordable? Granted it's so 1970-ish and not as sexy as "Second Life".

Playstation 2 is fun (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584575)

games that are no fun lose interest and the user gives up in frustration, intrigue and challenge the user and you will build LOTS of userbase...

even though the PS2 is obsoleted by the PS3 i still have a blast on that machine, i love first person shooters like Medal of Honor Vanguard, Call of Durty 3 (both of which i rolled the credits on, Grand Theft Auto (Vice City is my favorite) which is kind of a tough game to complete but regarless is lots of fun, on GTA VC go to Hyman Stadium when the clock shows 20:00 the door opens and you can go in and do either a crash derby or stock car racing or dirt bike obstacle course, and at Sunshine Autos go to the lower level to the right there is that one garage door that does not open - next to that garage door is a list of cars wanted, steal those cars and when you compete the list you get a bonus and a new list gets posted...

Game vs Virtual World (1)

Lodragandraoidh (639696) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584585)

Ostensibly the idea is to study human populations. The nature of RPG games (or FPSs or Combat Flight Sims etc) is not conducive to that goal. Of course, I could have told them that for considerably less than the $$$ they spent.

I would have chosen a model like Second Life - set up the conditions/environment/physics, and let the users/test subjects run with it.

Re:Game vs Virtual World (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584879)

If it's fun, it's a game.
Otherwise, it's a simulation.

Both serve their purposes and I don't much see the point of merging the two, unless you are looking to use a massive population of real time "players" (which you would entice to participate in a FUN GAME) so that you can gather data and interact with an overall larger-scoped SIMULATION.

Now, if they somehow tied everything to a breast-based set of incentives, they would probably increase the acceptance factor and have a large enough population for their system. There's a reason Night Elfs look like a branchless douglass fir with a pair of enormous christmas ornaments at the top.

It has to be a game first and foremost (4, Insightful)

cliffski (65094) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584607)

I make games, and 95% of my focus with a game is to make it fun, and entertaining, and popular. that used to be 100% of the focus until I made this [democracygame.com] which started getting enquiries from university teachers and students who wanted to integrate it into lessons. That game now has a number of site licenses for schools, and apparently goes down very well. The reason I think it works, is that ultimately, it's just a fun game. The game may make you think about the subject matter (politics) but it doesn't ram it down your throat. It's also not vaguely preachy, and basically tries to be neutral on all issues, which avoid antagonizing or irritating any of the players.

Democracy is popular enough for me to do a sequel (nearly done!), and this time round it does contain a whole bunch of real world statistics and background data (in wiki-style form) which is presented as additional (and optional) to the game itself. This is just like those historical RTS games which have a built in encyclopaedia. You can play Age Of Empires just for fun, but it you really want to find out a bit more about trebuchets, the game is happy to help.
that is as it should be. Games on interesting and intelligent topics that encourage the curious player to learn more. You should never ram the educational bit down the players throats. People play games for fun. If they want to do hardcore learning, they break out a textbook.

Reinventing the wheel (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584683)

It seems pointless to build an economic game that nobody will play, or that (in the best possible world) will:
- be played by a bunch of self-selected participants who are conscious of the testing and metrics, and thus will actively seek to 'game' them if possible.
- be played by too small a group to draw reasonable statistical inferences (seriously, in their wildest dreams, do they expect more than 25,000 players?)

I would argue that it would make much more sense to approach Blizzard, sign NDA's out the wazoo, and get their buy-in to do economic research with their data. Granted, you don't have a complete tabula rasa, but the value of hundreds of millions of transactions should be enough to outweigh the capability to 'set up' experiments as in a lab.* I think that with this many actions going on, you could really draw some subtle data out of the world based on very small changes to how certain things are priced.
IIRC Eve's doing this with an economics professor already.

* besides, as a WoW player, I'd love to have an economist speak to them at length about how some of their decisions occasionally really fark up their economics.

Re:Reinventing the wheel (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585357)

- be played by a bunch of self-selected participants who are conscious of the testing and metrics, and thus will actively seek to 'game' them if possible.

Any more than people try to 'game' stuff in things like WoW? Make it fun and people will probably forget that the 'game' is actually a research device.

Otherwise, well, people gaming the system would kinda be the whole point of the system - figuring out secendary effects of rule/market changes.

besides, as a WoW player, I'd love to have an economist speak to them at length about how some of their decisions occasionally really fark up their economics.

Good point, and they might actually be able to suggest a method to puld gold farmers out of business without rewriting the game.

Re:Reinventing the wheel (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585919)

25,000 is more than sufficient. Do you have any idea of the sample sizes used in polls gauging public opinion in a
nation of 300million? 1,000. You don't need unfathomably large data sets for them to be statistically meaningful,
just well selected and more than you can count on you and your housemates' digits...

Re:Reinventing the wheel (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586189)

I don't think you can have more than 64 concurrent players on NWN.

Bad use of "game" (1)

jbarr (2233) | more than 6 years ago | (#21584733)

I think the use of the term "game" may be misleading here. If the goal of the project was to provide fun and entertainment, then in this case, it appears to fail. But if the goal was to provide new tools and new ways of looking at data and systems, then maybe this shines? Just because something isn't fun doesn't mean it isn't useful.

Re:Bad use of "game" (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585545)

Yes, but in this case they needs a lot fun people to play. If it's not fun your not going to get a lot of people to play.

Wait, what does this have to do (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585099)

with the Academic Games [wikipedia.org] ?

Aim lower (1)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585483)

Why aim for Warcraft? Unless the aim is to limit research to owners of high-end computers who rank graphics at least as high as gameplay and have large amounts of spare time and will put up with grinding, then it's the wrong model to compare such a project to.

Planetarion [planetarion.com] peaked at over 100,000 players (before it went pay-to-play) and all you need to play it is a browser. It's a simple game to code, as evidenced by the countless clones that were quickly written when the owners started charging. Gameplay there happens in 3-month (or so) rounds, with rule changes each round, so it's the perfect model for the research described.

Cutting things down further, the browser-based NationStates [nationstates.net] is so trivial it's barely even a game, and there's practically no in-game interaction between players, but 1.9 million nations have been created. It works because it's a nice idea, and it has forums where people roleplay all the things the game ought to include but doesn't.

If you want a game where economics play a big part, aim it at web users. There's a huge and nearly empty market for an blackberry/iPhone MMPORG. Make it turn-based so you can play it to a decent standard even if you only log in once a day, and hard-core players don't need to check in more than once an hour. Political Asylum [alteringtime.com] provides an excellent model of how this can work.

Re:Aim lower (1)

Unicorn Giggles (981101) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587195)

WoW graphics are horseshit and do not need a high end computer to run, although i agree with you on the gameplay, absolutely terrible repetitive and not even fun the first time.

Even Better (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585525)

Use the funds and partner with other mmorpg to capture a periods worth of data?
So capture everything that happens in several different mmorpgs servers(1 per mmorpg) for a year, and put it into a simulation and change the events.

HeroEngine? (1)

Symbolis (1157151) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585581)

He might want to consider talking to Simutronics about using their HeroEngine http://www.heroengine.com/ [heroengine.com] (I"ll get the hang on /. linking someday!) They might hook him up cheap.(Pricing varies, it seems. Educational+Good Publicity=Cheap(??).

Really depends on where he's having "issues", though.

My personal choice is City of Heroes/City of Villains, though. Sadly, I have to do without until my fiancee gets back from her business trip(s)...sometime early next year. O, woe is me!(She has the laptop I use to play and I don't have quite enough for a system to run it. If I can scrape up the cash, I might go with a low end System76 machine)

He's actually spot-on... (1)

Gothic_Walrus (692125) | more than 6 years ago | (#21585789)

"You need puzzles and monsters," he says, "or people won't want to play ... What we've really learned is, you've got to start with a game first," Castronova says. "You just have to."
That formula worked wonderfully for Typing of the Dead [wikipedia.org] . It may not be quite the kind of "academic game" they're talking about, but I'd argue it is because typing is a crucial skill. In any case, it's the only typing tutor I've actually enjoyed playing, which lends credence to his statement.

educational computer games (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21586061)

We have been working on developing computer games for K-12 students to learn chemistry-related concepts here at the University of Alabama, and at least our test subjects seem to find them fun and helpful.

http://www.mint.ua.edu/games/ [ua.edu]

I'm not directly involved with assessment of what the kids thought though, so I don't have the hard data at hand, and I can only say that I found them neat. More and more, academics are being pressured to perform this kind of outreach ... which I don't disagree with. By the time I see college freshman, it is sometimes very hard to undo the damage of years of neglect in public schools.

posted AC for obvious reasons. and yes, we have computers *and* programmers in Alabama (cf discussion yesterday ...)

Academic X are no fun (1)

johnwbyrd (251699) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586225)

Replace X with any form of mass media and the statement is still true. Discuss. Next up on Slashdot: hard drive failures and root canals are no fun.

Game Concept (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 6 years ago | (#21586749)

My girlfriend is in her Masters in Ecological Education; one of her professors wants me to demo WoW for him because he's considering a project for an academic MMO based on playing a part of an ecosystem.

No, you wouldn't be a plant looking for the bursting seed pod powerup. You would be a lion hunting gazelles, or a gazelle dodging lions, and dealing with the normal cyclical changes environmental changes, or manmade ones. The idea would be to view an ecosystem from within it, but (hopefully) with enough of a "nature red in tooth and claw" angle to make it actually interesting as a playable environment.

It's a long shot concept that risks exactly what Arden failed at, but properly done it could be another Tale in the Desert.

I think there's a real fallacy here (1)

leshert (40509) | more than 6 years ago | (#21587145)

The article is far too eager to make the leap from "this academic game failed" to "academic games fail". Apply the same logic to commercial games, and Daikatana should have proved that FPSs are no longer popular.

Arden failed. Is it because:

A. it was an attempt to make an academic game, or
B. it was an addon module for a commercial game that might not appeal to Arden's target audience, or
C. its subject matter just wasn't interesting to its target audience, or
D. the game design was poor, or
E. the game execution was poor, or
F. it was poorly promoted, or...

You get the picture. Arden was different from most games in that it had an academic goal. Its failure doesn't imply that its difference from most games is to blame--in fact, its failure probably makes it more similar to the average commercial game...
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