There are people who make money by selling things that don’t exist—even when the buyer knows the thing doesn’t exist. Out of curiosity about how this works, I picked up Julian Dibbell’s Play Money, which is a personal account of his experiences working the Ultima Online gold farming scene back in 2004. I use the term grey market throughout this post because selling in game goods is not exactly illegal, just a violation of the EULA with a company. You risk getting banned and losing your accounts, which can be expensive but not dangerous in the traditional sense. In economic terms, each MMO is probably best viewed as its own independent economy. No two are precisely alike in terms of how you get rich off them. Yet there are still a couple of basic principles that are universal, and I’ve tried to extract those from the book for this post.
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First things first, a number of readers have been requesting that the Moving Pixels podcast be made available via iTunes. Your wish has been granted, and you can now access the podcast through Apple’s site. Please check us out there and any previous episodes that you may have missed.
This week we are changing gears. Following our six-part series on storytelling, we have decided to shift our focus to game worlds and how they contribute to our experience in gaming.
Survival-horror games have had trouble finding their place on this generation of consoles. Essentially, they have no place. This is a generation that embraces action, a generation defined by the bombastic chaos of Modern Warfare 2. Resident Evil was the first survival-horror franchise to make the transition with Resident Evil 4, and the game was lauded for the change. Silent Hill followed with Homecoming, and games like Dead Space and Left 4 Dead further solidified the action-horror genre’s place over the dated survival-horror.
Enter Demon’s Souls, a game that claims to be a role-playing game but that’s missing many key traits of that genre. There’s almost no story to speak of, and the mere act of character progression has become so common that it’s no longer identified as an “RPG element.” There’s very little strategy involved in combat (it’s more about timing and pattern recognition), making patience a tactic that works every time. As I play through Demon’s Souls, RPG is that last genre that comes to mind.
This week saw two different Xbox games launch fully scripted and professionally acted videos as promotion for upcoming games, each of which takes a different approach but both of which share a common element that I didn’t expect. They’re both quite subtle.
Halo‘s gone down this path before with their ODST video series, and the new “Birth of a Spartan” video that went up this week follows a similar trend. With basically no dialogue and just a sequence of moments from basic training up to that last second before our newbie Spartan dons the iconic armor, this is a mood piece. The music is dramatic but dour, brimming with a tragic energy. There are no surprises here but rather a building sense of self-sacrifice and tension, all portrayed amongst the soberest of lighting packages and facial expressions. None of that sounds very subtle, I know, and as a piece of film on its own merits, it’s not. Compared to the technicolor, jumping up and down, gunfire-filled romp of your average Halo multi-player match though, it’s subtlety personified.
I’m with Tim Gunn on this one (and really in a sense anthropologists and sociologists before him, like Erving Goffman), fashion is a form of rhetoric. What you put on tends to communicate, be your desire to align yourself with your favorite sports team or with a musical subculture, advertise your competence for a job or political office, or make clear that you are available to the opposite sex (or maybe just for sex). What we put on is emblematic. Even the slob who just throws on whatever is in his closet this morning is inadvertently telling us something.
Thus, as games have grown more mature and more interested in communicating messages, stories, and ideas in a more complex way, it seems to me inevitable that the virtual closets of our avatars have expanded. In a medium where the visual plays a big role in speaking to its audience, understanding characters through their physical appearance is important. Character customization additionally plays to the medium’s strengths as it allows the player the opportunity to participate in how a story is told and how their virtual self is supposed to be understood in the context of the virtual performance that they are taking part in.