Chris Filip dissertation blog

Deconstructing and analyzing crowd-sourced games

Category: Findings

Numbers

I thought it would be nice to share some numbers with you, now at the end, about this project.

Blog-wise:
51 blog posts, with the first one posted on the 3rd of October 2013.
36 weeks since I started blogging, leading up to an average of 1.41 blog posts per week.
599 unique visitors on this blog since October, averaging to almost 3 per day.
30 comments in total on the blog
289 views from the UK
87 views from Romania
78 views from the US
16 views from Russia
1 view from Sri Lanka
Search queries that people have used to get to this blog:
“dave pimm games blizzard”
“examples of macroeconomics crowding in”
“crowding out effect examples fo 2013”
“what to see around ipswich area map”

Game-wise:
38 different maps/boards saved on my machine, with 9 major versions found on this blog
17 comma-separated value (CSV) files with the data used to create the cards
99 amenities in total on the map from 233 total amenities exported, as follows:
9 banks
7 fast food amenities
23 places of worship
18 post boxes
23 pubs
19 bicycle parking amenities
753 commas used in the CSV that I used to create the cards

Chris F.

Motivation

Motivation is a subject that’s very important when you’re working on your dissertation. You need it to move forward. I wanted to share something else with you while working on iterating my game.

Motivation

Thursday I met someone at work from the OSM community with whom I’ve had a chat about my dissertation. I’ve explained to him why I’m doing the dissertation the way I want to do it and how I plan to get there. I told him about how I want to make OSM seem interesting to everyone, from the stay-at-home mothers to the clubbing teenagers, and that we’ll have a huge victory when we won’t need to explain why OSM is different from Google Maps every time we talk about OSM with someone new.

He told me a very moving story that really impressed and motivated me to do more work. He told me about how his mother helped improve OpenStreetMap. She likes walking a lot and helped him map a viaduct close to the place where she lives, just by talking to him about it. One day, however, they had to install some new piping for a new system, so they had to move the viaduct. What she did was that she started altering her walking routes towards the construction site and she gave him daily updates on how to alter the route in OSM based on how the construction was working at the time. .

This simple interaction helped map part of the world, and it’s something that I found very inspiring. It would be nice if all the people who walk for pleasure would map the places they walk around…

Chris F.

Deconstructing: AddressHunter

AddressHunter is the last of the gamified apps that I looked to cover and review as part of my dissertation research, when I started, a little over 2 months ago. Let’s see if the last on the list will rise up to the expectations or sinks under the weight of its own ambition.

AddressHunter

I’d like to start by saying that this is the first game that I’ve reviewed that is done by a German-Romanian company called Skobbler, which seem to have invested quite a bit of time and resources in creating quality assurance tools such as this one and MapDust, a bug-reporting website.

AddressHunter is a treasure hunt game with RPG elements. From the beginning, you’re shown your character, with your current experience and how much more you need to advance to the next level, alongside your avatar.

AddressHunter

You currently only have the option to start a multiplayer game or check out the help screen. While over-explained, the Help screen is quite helpful, taking you step by step, with pictures, through how to start, organize, play and end a game.

The purpose of the game is to hunt for addresses in a given area. Once you’ve found an address, you need to tak a picture of the number and submit it as found. The player with the most addreses found at the end of the game wins. Experience-wise, you get 1 point for each address found and a I believe your points get doubled if you win, but I couldn’t find for sure from their documentation. At the beginning of the game, you get to set the radius of the area in which you’ll be hunting for addresses, as well as the time limit and the number of addresses that need hunting.

There are clear game elements, and I like the initiative. It would’ve been nice if they actually mantained the game or at least made it open-source, for others to take it up themselves and improve on it.

However, it seems that for every thing that I enjoy about AddressHunter, there’s one thing that I believe they could’ve done better. I like that you have an avatar, but why can’t you change it? It only represents your level. I like that it gives you a level progression, but that only counts for a fancier avatar. Likewise, the number of points for each level-up doesn’t seem tested. It looks like it would take about 1000 matches to be able to get to the cartographer title.

AddressHunter

AddressHunter

AddressHunter

The image at the beginning of the article is the landing page for the game, and from the start it asks you to login with your OSM credntials. That’s not particularly very good, from my point of view, because it turns away everyone who does not have an OSM affiliation. Kort, for example, allowed you to log in with Facebook. Another thing that they could’ve done in order to improve on the first-play experience and help the onboarding experience is that they don’t say anything about the game itself, when they could’ve just copy-pasted the one-liner from the help page: “AddressHunter – gather as much validated addresses as possible to win experience points and become a cartographer.” That’s the perfect one-liner for the game, looking like whoever wrote this did their game design homework.

I believe that this is the most frustrating thing about AddressHunter: it looks like there was some work behind it, it looks like they had an actual game designer behind this game, but then they fired him just after they launched it and nobody was there to balance it and add extra content, maybe even listen to player feedback.

This game is a good effort, but unfortunately, it wasn’t sustained.

Chris F.

P.S.: The “About” button on the landing page only shows the copyright data and states that this game is version 0.1 since 2011.

Deconstructing: MapRoulette

In the next to last OpenStreetMap improvement game that I was able to find till now, MapRoulette. It’s the initiative of OSM member, developer and awesome person Martjin van Exel. It started as an initiative from him to help the OSM US community correct the mistakes that a government data import created to better map the country. It now is one of the most addictive OSM games, from my point of view. Here’s what I think about it.

MapRoulette

MapRoulette is a simple game/gamified app. It presents you with a problem and asks you to see if you can fix it. At the moment it asks you to try and connect unconnected roads that apaear that they should be connected (roads that end within 5 meters of another road). When I started working on this round of MapRoulette, there were over 20000 errors that needed fixing, and at the moment there are just under 8000. I started working on it earlier this week, so you can see that it works.

What’s it made of?

MapRoulette works on campaigns: it starts with a type of error that they want to fix (till now only in the US from what I know), and then they allow people to work on it till it’s done. Once no more errors remain, they move to another campaign.

MapRoulette

Once on their webpage, as seen above, you’re presented with one of the errors. You are then given options in the right-hand side and can choose to mark the error as a false-positive, if you know it’s not an error or skip it if you think you can’t do it or don’t know if it’s an error or not. If you want to try and fix it, you can open that part of OSM in either JOSM or Potlatch, which are 2 of the 3 big OSM editors out there.

MapRoulette

Once you click edit, you get this nice dialogue asking you if you fixed the problem. You have the options to say yes, no, say it was already fixed or that it wasn’t an error after all. The reason why I like ths dialogue is that it allows you to say that you’ve done it or that it wasn’t a problem or that you couldn’t solve it. It’s permissive.

Now comes the best feature of MapRoulette. Once you press any of the buttons, this happens:

MapRoulette

and you’re taken to the next problem. Again, and again and again. Once you click that button, there’s no “Do you want to move to the next error”, there’s just “Here’s the next error, have fun”. And that’s what makes it so addictive.

First, all the errors that appear on MapRoulette are easily fixed. Anyone can do it and most of them have the same degree of difficulty. There’s the great option of being able to skip a problem if you want. If you are new to MapRoulette, a guide is always posted on the right-hand tooltip, with an explanation not only of what needs doing, but also why it needs to be fixed. For example, this last connectivity error really helps routing algorythms.

Gamification-wise, it’s interesting to see the statistics of the challenge: how many erros remain, how many have been fixed this day and in the last hour. This helps the players a lot because you know that, for example, from the 24 that have been done in the last hour, 8 are yours.

There are no leaderboards, no levels, no badges. It works completely off the intrinsic motivation, letting them know that they have contributed to getting the number of fixed errors up and lowering the total number of errors, but that’s about it. Another interesting part for MapRoulette is that it works off campaigns, which are another name for missions. Each of the challenges is huge, in the number of hundreds or thousands of errors, so no one person could fix them easily, there’s no solo-ing the dungeon. Instead, it’s a community challenge, and anyone can participate.

As an improvement for MapRoulette, I would like to see the number of original errors, and then the current number, to give me a bigger sense of achievement when I look one week later and see that over 50% of errors have been fixed, and it will also motivate me to work harder to get the number down faster, a progress bar, if you will. I would like to see if it would work better if you also had personal statistics based on cookies, so it could show you the number of the errors that you fixed per session and per day. That might take down the sense of community challenge though, and increase the sense of personal achievement instead of being part of something bigger.

To conclude, MapRoulette is nice and simple, and that’s where it strenght lies.

Chris F.

Do I want emotions or mechanics in my game? Why not both?

In the feedback for my dissertation proposal, one of the points which was raised was that I had not talked about the different approaches for the game that I had considered. That was mostly because I had not considered too many things, preferring, instead, to focus on my research. In this post, I will discuss the different types of mechanics/games that I have thought about since I got the feedback for my proposal.

Game Mechanics

One of the first things that I thought about was the type of game that I could make. Would this be a quiz game, will be a territorial acquisition game, or will it be something different? I wanted to start by looking at how I could integrate the main behaviour I want for my player into the game: adding data to OpenStreetMap.

First, I thought about wild things. I don’t want just another quiz game, I want something different for my players.

Could I make a racing game? Maybe something akin to AddressHunter, where players are given a certain number of tasks in their area, and the first one to complete all of them wins that race. This would be a competitive game, with players competing against each other.

What about a puzzle game? Maybe if I give players a puzzle, something like a riddle, or tell them that something has been hidden at a certain location, and that they would have to solve the puzzle using clues from different elements around them (they would get more hints based on the more data that they add to OSM), players would be compelled to do that. I’m envisioning this as a multiplayer coop or single player game, with players either going on their own to find clues or playing with friends.

These were nice, until…

It was at around this point when I attended the first lecture on emotions in games with my tutor, Dave Pimm. A very interesting point to make, he said that all great games had emotions attached to them. He talked us through how the great writers worked with emotions and what some of their techniques were. Especially, he showed us some ways in which we could create emotions in our players in order to make our games better. A good game, he said, is one where you start designing with emotions in mind. With a compelling story. Not necessarily mechanics. Mechanics should be derived from the emotions, not the other way around. That, incidentally, is something that we briefly looked at during our first year of university, while we were studying the Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics(MDA) framework of Robin Hunike and associates. According to the MDA, while a player comes in contact with the game from a Mechanics->Dynamics->Aesthetics perspective, when you design a game, the designer needs to see it first from an aesthetics(emotions) point of view and then work towards the dynamics and mechanics.

Sorry, David Cage. I had to.

Sorry, David Cage. I had to.

Since that talk, I’ve been playing around with the idea of an RPG. I thought of what setup would cause people to want to work together and add as much detail to a map as possible, while at the same time not encouraging competition, which, I believe, would lead to cheating more. It occurred to me that one of the premises which people might accept for needing to add lots and lots of detail onto a map would be that the map didn’t exist in he first place due to a disaster that happened and that changed the world. Now, people would have to work together in order to remap this new, emerging world, in order to help themselves and help other as well.

But why the RPG, you ask? All the previous examples that I gave allowed for very segmented play. People would log in, play a mission and then go home. What I loved about Ingress was its neverending-ness. I always had something to do, if I wanted to do it. I could always strive to go to another part of town or another town to capture more portals and make more fields. An RPG would allow me to add elements like level progression and quests on top of a literal open world that the players could explore. Moreover, by creating a role-playing game, it’s possible to allow the players to select their own characters and interact in the “magic circle”, that place where the make-believe is the strongest. Since the choice of what data a player could add to OSM is absolutely huge, I played around with the idea of specialized classes which would be seen as “experts” and get some extra points for adding certain elements. For example, there could be an Engineer, who would have roads, waterways and bridges as a specialty, while the Fashionist would get extra points for stores, clubs and fast-food restaurants. This could be taken even further, into adding extra points for specific details of establishments. I’m thinking that at the moment OSM is doing pretty well in Western Europe and the US, so there aren’t as many roads to add, for example, but at the same time there are still a lot of roads that need speed limits and the “lit” tag, as well as sidewalk information. We could create an Architect class who would get benefits for adding the number of level to each building and building entrances, or maybe add a perk to the Fashionist who would get more points if they also added the opening times for each store, as well as the phone number.

Those are all speculations, but seems like it could work. I’ve also thought of a system where the PoIs (points of interest) give perks and temporary boosts. I also thought of people creating farms of PoIs around their house to always keep themselves in top shape by adding fake points of interest. I’ve seen people create farms of high-level portals in Ingress, so I believe people could do that here as well. However, what if a PoI could have levels? The more people use the PoI, the higher its level is, so if I create my own fake PoIs, they would only be low-level and not give me too much of a boost. This would work more or less as a self-regulation system.

This is about it. I like each of these ideas on their own, so I believe at the moment my next step is to actually create prototypes for each and test them to see what the public reaction would be.

Chris F.

Opinion on Raph Koster on Play in Games

The Game Developers Conference is happening just around this time of the year in the United States, and Gamasutra is covering it, posting snippets and ideas from the talks. The whole talks will be posted later on (somewhere where I’ve never been able to find them), but the articles on Gamasutra are a really good point to start discussions from. I’ve just read an article written about a concept that one of the people who we’ve studied at university has formulated and this is is me talking about it, the concept of Play in Games.

GTA V golfing activity

Koster, who is one of the game theoreticians who are actively trying to define the notion of a “game”, has stated that due to a recent scandal regarding whether or not a game was a game, he has been “trying to look at things this way to pick up my tools from my workbench and do better”.

Regarding play in games, this is what Koster theorized:

Across all types of games, there is play. And Koster expanded on this word — challenging how we should even think about it. Yes, it means the activities you do in a game. But using it also implies a possibility space. Think of the usage “this rope has a lot of play” — looseness, in other words.

“Games are meant to wiggle; they’re like machines. You poke and prod at them to see what comes out the other end. That is the overall scope of play of the system,” Koster says. “Play is the wiggle room. It is space. It is explorable areas.”

What is important, he says, is to deliver via games a set of both mechanics and meaningful symbols that are neither too much nor too little for the human brain to hold. In essence, if something is too simple, it bores us; if something is too complicated or abstract, it is no longer interesting.

“The interesting area for play is what is interpretable,” says Koster. “What isn’t just one or two ways, but also isn’t every possible way. In stories, that’s signs and symbols that have more than one meaning. In games, we do the same thing by having consequential choice of input, of agency — by letting the player do different things, by choosing different verbs.”

A complicated system engages the mind, says Koster, and teases the brains of players, and works best when it lies in the middle space between the two extremes of simplicity and complexity.

What I like about this is that his declarations fit in perfectly, in my opinion, with my read on the Cheater’s High, which say that people feel good when cheating because they do something that;s outside the system that gives them an advantage.

Koster talks about pieces in the game that are not part of the core gameplay, that allow the player “wiggle room”. It’s things like collectables or optional (OPTIONAL!!!) mini-games that you can play to pass the time in the game, to take a break from the main story-line. These might even be beneficial for you, like the extra life hidden corridors in the first 3 Prince of Persia games.

The reason why these extra activities, even as far as just allowing the player to find really nice vistas or giving them a “cinematic camera” that they can activate to get a nice view will give the player some options, rewarding them for playing the game. I don’t necessarily believe that these “play” segments give the player meaningful options, but rather playful options. A really nice example I can think of at the moment is the shmup that you could play in Blizzard’s Starcraft 2 between the missions. It was optional, it didn’t give you anything other than the personal satisfaction of getting a high score, but what it did was keep you in the game, engage you. Why should I exit Starcraft 2 and go on another website to play a smaller game to relax between the single player campaign missions, when I can stay in the game and play a mini game to relax?

The reason why I think that Raph’s idea is really important for my dissertation is because it reaffirms something that I’ve been working towards, and that I believe that a game such as the one that I’m working on needs, not to only have a main mechanic and a set of preset missions that you can’t stray away from. It needs to allow you explore, since it’s a map game, a game that needs to make you go out there and explore, share your knowledge and reward you for it. If it takes you out in the real world, it might at least allow you to do more than follow its railroad to the letter. Explore, have fun.

At the same time, games should not abuse this, they shouldn’t be just minigame games (Quantic Dream, I’m looking at you. Good thing you have captivating storytelling mechanics). They should have a solid set of mechanics that the player can use and learn, and also allow you to take an in-game break from the game.

Don’t know if this is right or not, but maybe with the types of games that I’m going towards, the gamified apps, maybe it’s a questions of not only giving meaningful choices, but also giving playful choices.

Chris F.

References:
Nutt, C . (2013). Raph Koster on ‘play’ – the possibility space for games . Available: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/204085/Raph_Koster_on_play__the_possibility_space_for_games.php. Last accessed 10th Nov 2013.

Deconstructing: Ingress

I apologize in advance for the length of this article. First, a little background: Ingress is a Google Lab game from Niantic Operations. The guy behind the project is also the guy who was the lead on Google’s geo division, responsible for Maps and Earth. He wanted to make a game using Earth and Maps’s capabilities, and went to form this Lab division called Niantic Labs. Ingress is a game, which helps Google with something (nobody can decide what with yet). It’s not just a gamified app, it’s not just an app. It’s a game, and it’s HUGE. And it’s brilliant. Here’s why.

 

The Game

Ingress is a mass multiplayer online territorial acquisition game played on mobile devices using a modified version of a map, with extra information added on top as an additional layer. The player joins one of two warring factions in the game, The Resistance and The Enlightened.

As a player, your goal is to help your faction control as many “mind fields” as possible all over the world. In order to take control of mind fields, your faction needs to control portals. You can link 3 friendly portals together to create a field. The larger the distance between the portals, the longer the links and the larger the field will be, the more points (dubbed MUs – mind units) your faction gains.

The extra layer

In many ways, Ingress is an augmented-reality game (ARG). It has special in-game information that only players would know about, such as XM, portals, even the factions themselves, it contains a unique premise: portals have opened throughout the world in key locations, and you need to capture them for your faction. It also makes the player feel special through this, by allowing you to feel like one of the relatively few people who can do anything about this.

It comes with a lot of developer-generated content, such as weekly reports about the game done in a news-style video, “journals” written by key influential figures in the game and even having real-life books written about the universe.

All of these, along with encouraging the players to set up communities via channels such as Google+ and Facebook allows for a very, very deep game immersion.

On a technical side, the game has 2 layers. The map background, which is a simple grey map with all the streets and paths on a dark background, with 2 different widths: thick for streets and thin for paths or pedestrian-only streets. The second, top layer, is the game-only information: XM fragments, portals, resonators, dropped items, links, fields and the player.

The player is represented by an arrow indicating your current position and orientation, with an “action radius” of 45 meters around you, in which you can take actions such as hacking portals.

Technically, it seems very simple, as Kort does the same thing, as well as tons of other OSM-based games. What I love about this game is that it takes itself seriously and uses the resources available to it for creating the virtual world around it and keeping the players invested via worldwide events, just like most mass multiplayer online games. At the moment, an event called Operation #13Magnus is taking place, at the end of which the game will go from closed beta to open beta.

I, the Player

First, it needs to be said that you will need to get out of your house to play this game. The game relies on your GPS location, so you will need a GPS-enabled mobile device in order to play it.

You can take actions as long as you have energy (called XM in the game). Your energy does not regenerate over time (ha, Facebook games). Instead, you need to walk over XM clusters that are spread throughout the in-game world. Also, each portal has a field of XM around it that regenerates over time, assuring that you will be able to take a minimum number of actions, provided you are next to a portal. Most of your actions require you to be in a 45 meter radius from the target of your action. Also, you collect XM from the same radius.

XM field around a portal. The circle around the player is the action radius. If your XM meter is under the maximum value, you automatically harvest the XM inside the radius,

The player has quite a lot of options in the game, as far as the games that I’ve visited till now go. Your main goal is to help your faction have more MUs than the opposing faction. You do this by linking friendly portals together.

In order to link portals together, you need to have Portal Keys. To get Portal Keys, you need to hack portals. You can hack both friendly and enemy portals. A hacked portal yields one or more of the following items: XMPs, resonators, mods and/or the key for that portal. Not every hack guarantees a portal key, and, as far as I’ve seen, once you have a portal’s key in your inventory, that portal won’t drop another key for you. You can, however (as I’ve recently learned from some veterans), drop a key on the ground, hack a portal, get its key, and then pick up the key that you’ve dropped earlier, giving you two keys.

In order to capture a portal, you need to deploy Resonators on it. Each portal can be fitted with a maximum number of 8 resonators, and once it has all 8, it can be linked to other friendly portals. You will need to destroy an enemy portal in order to be able to deploy your faction’s Resonators on it. Resonators have a life bar that naturally decays with around 1/6 of its life per day. You can recharge a resonator’s life, either while having the portal that it’s attached to in your action radius, or remotely, from wherever, if you have the key to the portal that it’s attached to. If you recharge a resonator remotely, the amount by which you recharge it depends on the distance to the portal, with a higher distance lowering the recharge efficiency (only noticeable over huge distances: from Ipswich to a portal in central London, the efficiency was 99.7%).

To destroy an enemy portal, you need to destroy the enemy Resonators on it by using an in-game weapon, called XMP. An XMP fires a damaging circular wave from your current location. It damages any enemy resonators caught in the wave and its damage decays with distance, with the most damage being dished out at the dead center (your location). So, if you want to do the most damage to an enemy Resonator, you need to stand on top of it when you fire the XMP.

You can also apply up to 4 modifications to a portal. These modifications come in 6 flavours: Shields, Force Amplifiers, Link Amplifiers, Multi-hack, Heat Sinks, and Turrets. These have effects such as making the portal more difficult to attack, increasing the intensity of the portal’s response to attackers, and increasing the yield of hacking the portal. As of September 2013, an individual player may place up to 2 mods per portal. They may not be removed or upgraded once placed.

Everything in the game, except XM fragments, links and fields, has a level between 1 and 8. As a new player, you start at level 1. Most of the actions you take generate AP, and you level up at certain AP values. Although you have all the action set unlocked since level 1, it’s very hard to engage in conflicts at lower levels. For example, destroying enemy resonators if they’re a higher level than you is very challenging. At low levels, you’re much better off if you just capture neutral portals for your faction, hack enemy portals and link your faction’s portals, hopefully creating fields.

As a player, you also have in-game access to the game community, through the COMM (communicator). You can select the range for which to see player messages in the COMM, with choices between 20km, 200km and global. Once you’ve selected which range you want to see, you can broadcast messages either to only your faction or to both factions. Also, in the COMM you get alerts every time sometime does something notable in your chosen radius, from capturing a portal to establishing a link or creating a field. You get these messages for both factions, and you’re also alerted if anyone attacks your portals or resonators.

We, the Faction

All your actions as a player help your faction. The more fields your faction has, and the larger they are, the more MUs your faction has. You can see the global score inside your OPS screen, which is more or less your dashboard. From your OPS screen, you can see the global score, you can access your inventory, the game settings and your stats.

The global score is usually around 50%-50%, with occasional variations. In almost 3 weeks of playing, the most disparity I’ve seen was 57%-43% for one of the factions.

Much like the Alliance vs. Horde dynamic of World of Warcraft (WoW), being a member of one of the two global factions allows you to feel part of something greater, it gives you a feeling of belonging. It’s great when you see people who are of a higher level than you giving you a helping hand with understanding the game, or giving you the items which you need.

This being a GPS-based game, it also means that if you want to organize something akin to a WoW raid, with tons of players working together at the same time for a greater faction reward (like creating a huge field between cities or countries), you actually need to meet with those people. I met with 3 other members of my faction this weekend and it was really great to do stuff together, take portals from the other faction and create fields and make most of Ipswich belong to my faction. Meetings like this are also a great opportunity to learn new things about the game, new strategies and secrets. I’ve been asked by one of the others that I met with yesterday: “So, Chris, how’s your gear? Is there anything you need? I have some level 4 XMPs if you need them.”. It took me aback for a bit, making me feel like an actual part of something bigger. It also sounded like someone trying to sell you something, only he was giving them away to help you play better: he’s a level 8 player, what need you he have of level 4 XMPs when he has level 8’s?

I’ve had a lot of help since I joined the game, mostly with understanding the underlying mechanics and the community’s perception of the game, and I think the game would be so much more bland without this layer on it.

With this extra “you need to be outside” layer, one of my first concerns was “What would happen if I met someone from the opposing faction, hacking away the same way I am doing right now?”. I was worried about the real life interactions with a person who was my virtual opponent, not knowing if they would know to differentiate between the real world and our digital rivalry.

During my meeting with the other Ingress-y people, I approached this subject as well. They have told me that generally that is not the case and players are actually ok with people from opposing factions, a fact also confirmed by the general Ingress Google+ groups, where people from opposing factions prod each other with in-game monikers such as “Long have my eyes endured the spreading of the enlightened . It’s time to stop it,
it’s time to resist” (pro-Resistance) or “Resistance is futile, you will be Enlightened” (pro-Enlightened) and then reaffirming that everything was in-game. I’ve also been told that there were a few exceptions (as there usually are), with some people whose phones have been stolen after being stalked by people using an unofficial app which allows you to track a user’s movements using their activity feed.

As a gamer myself, I should know this, but I felt that the extra stripped intimacy might affect parts of this dynamic. I’m happy to know that is not generally the case.

Motivation

Why have I played Kort only for 2 hours on a Saturday night but Ingress ever since I’ve downloaded it? Why am I even now plotting what the best route would to be to go get some Coca Cola from the local Iceland by passing the most portals and still get there till they close at 4PM? Why did I manage to persuade someone to switch from iPhone to Android just so they could play Ingress? All in all, what makes this a good game?

First, I believe that this game is very good simply because it has a high level of polish. It’s immersive, it doesn’t have visible bugs, and it looks like there has been quite a bit of design going in behind it. To be honest, it passes my personal favourite test for seeing how much game design effort has been in a game by allowing me to easily visualize it as a non-digital game.

While being owned by Google does have its advantages, I think that’s not the main thing that drives the advanced polish state that this is in. It’s a game, plain and simple, and you can see that it has been done by people who love it. It’s not just another university project, it’s not a master’s thesis, it’s not a side project. You can see that the amount of time that needed to be put into this so it works has been put there by people who worked on this full-time. Would the game be better, as Eric Raymond suggests, if it were open-source? Possibly. Would it have been a good idea to start this project as a weekend project by someone who works full time as something else? I don’t think so. Even Raymond says that good open-source projects build on what other people have done, before making them your own.

What does the game do to motivate me?

One of the things that I love the most is the amount of feedback that it gives you. Ever since you start the game, there is a voice feedback that tells you what you’re doing. It welcomes you back, tells you the amount of time since you last logged in (if more than a few hours). If you capture a portal, it congratulates you on your hacks and captures, tells you when a portal is attacking you, tells you when you’ve collected XM and so on. A game that gives feedback to its players is more likely to keep you invested because you know what you are doing and why certain things happen. For example, if you hack an enemy portal, ADA (the voice) tells you that you are under attack and you can see the portal shooting out a red lightning at you.

Enemy portal retaliating after you shoot an XMP burster

Taking Bartle’s model, here’s what you get for each type of player:

As an Achiever, you can collect badges in-game, with 8 badges available, each with 5 ranks, awarded for different achievements. No, you don’t get a badge when you’ve just started a game, after your first portal hack etc., these are badges you actually have to work for. I only have 1 badge at the moment, for holding a portal for a certain number of days. I’m close to getting the first rank of distinct portals hacked when I’ll get to 100 and that’s about it as to how close I am to getting badges. Another aspect that will appeal to Achievers is that you have TONS of detailed stats which you can gaze at in your OPS screen, from how many kilometers you’ve walked with the app open and in-focus (having it in the background doesn’t count) to how many MUs you’ve brought to your faction.

Agent tab in OPS screen.

As an Explorer, well,this game was made for you. You get to explore the real world around you, find new interesting things, and even can submit portals, which can then go live in about a month after submission. Your job in this game is to find and submit new portals, based on the awesome things around you.

Portal submission screen. Take a picture, write a name and description and you’re set.

The COMM is the in-game social channel, and it’s a great design choice: it gives Socializers something to do, allows new players to ask for hints and generally facilitates interaction between players, making it a truly multiplayer game. Socializers take care of the community and make sure that everyone feels welcomed.

Player conversations in the chat. [secure] means that only other users of the same faction can see those messages.

When a portal or resonator that you own gets attacked, you get an in-game message and email, if you’ve signed up for it. This feedback towards the player allows Killers to feel good, knowing that any damage they do on other player’s portals gets fed back directly to those players, harassing them in a way. ADA also tells you that you did a good job every time you destroy a resonator, which also appeals to a Killer’s ego.

Damage report on a Resistance portal, telling the player that a link has been destroyed.

Damage report on a Resistance portal, telling the player that a link has been destroyed.

But, why?

Why would Google invest in a game? What does it bring to them? Well, there’s a lot of speculation going on, with a fair share of conspiracy theories to them, as with everything Google-related.

The guy behind the project, Brandon Badger said that they are still considering how to monetize this opportunity, from the data collected on ad placement.

Ingress would also be, according to Badger, a really good launch product for the Google Glass. How awesome it would be to actually have a proper AR overlay for portals AS YOU LOOK AT THEM, and not just on your phone?

They could use this as a marketing software for the Glass, a more logical reason, take path and walking data from their users and update their Google Maps with better directions for walking.

Conclusion

Ingress is a great game. It shows that when you put a focused team on a project, and allow them to work just on that a great game can be made. I also think that Ingress is the proof of concept that map games work in real life.

Till next time, I’m gonna go get some Coca Cola and capture do some fields throughout Ipswich, hopefully I’ll get to level 5.

Chris F.

Deconstructing: Kort Game

I’ve recently been playing the first gamified application on my to-play list, the Zurich-made Kort. This is my attempt at deconstructing it in order to find out what makes it tick.

First, let’s see what the goal of this is: you need to verify a series of OSM data points around your GPS location. Each type of issue has a unique item. For example, buildings that need to be named have a blue building icon, places of worship that don’t yet have a religion assigned to them have a person praying on a green background, roads that don’t have a type of surface have a brown background and places whose languages haven’t been assigned have two dialogue bubbles on a dark green background. They’re easy to identify like this.

different icons for different types of missions

different icons for different types of missions

In terms of game flow, once the player signs in, he is presented with a map of the area that he is in, centered on his GPS position. You see two types of missions: the first one is the “add things that don’t exist yet” missions, and the second one is “verify what someone else said” missions. From there, you choose your missions and you complete them.

All the missions around Ipswich at the moment

All the missions around Ipswich at the moment

From what I’ve seen till now, there’s only two things that you can do: either you choose from a list of possible choices (i.e. choose religion of a place of worship) or input text (i.e. what’s the name of this pub?).

Input text

Input text

Choose from a list

Choose from a list

After each mission you are awarded a certain number of “Koins”(points), based on how hard/important the developers thought that mission would be.

Screenshot 05

You are also awarded badges based on the quantity of information that you put into Kort, with badges being awarded for your 1st, 10th, 100th and 1000th missions completed, respectively missions verified. There are also badges for being the 1st, 2nd and 3rd player worldwide. You are told immediately when you win a badge, in the same message in which you’re being told how many Koins you got from that mission.

Screenshot 06

And that’s, more or less, the game. I believe it’s quite good at giving you feedback about what you’re doing at any given time, with quite frequent dialogues Through the Profile tab, it allows you to see your stats: the number of missions/checks that you’ve completed, it shows you your global ranking and Koins, as well as all the badges in the game, with the ones that you’ve got being unlocked.

Look at all these badges I don't have

Look at all these badges I don’t have

Through the “Highscores” tab, you have access to the global leaderboard which shows you the top 10 players, followed immediately by you. As you scroll down, more and more of the top players get revealed, but your place is still immediately after them.

15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 383..Wait, what?

15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 383..Wait, what?

You also have the option to see “My score”, which will show you the scores with you centered.

383 before me, 383 just after me...

383 before me, 383 just after me…

Analysis

The gamified app is good, but it could stand for some improvements.

I like the style of it, it’s really clean and it achieves its purpose. I believe that having different types of icons based on the type of task is really good, because it allows me, as a local, to think about or look for specific details.

It’s also good that it only shows you missions within a certain radius of your position, so you don’t get missions from another town or another country unless you’re actually there.

I’ve had a fiddle with ideas of not allowing you to resolve a mission unless you’re right next to it, in order to avoid cheating, but I guess you just have to take some chances. I did know one or two things on the map before I ever left the house (I went into town to actually check the things I completed), but I can’t help but think that I could just complete all the missions from my home and still get all the Koins. I would suggest you would have to be in a 100m radius of each of the missions in order to complete them.

Speaking of cheating, I don’t really understand the point of verifying missions before putting them in OpenStreetMap, with some of the missions having really high verify requirements (5 people need to verify this piece of road before it’s included in the OSM database). Although I understand you’re trying to prevent cheating, I don’t really see why I’d have to wait however much till 5 other people play this in Ipswich and verify my submissions when I can just get onto OSM and add the information there myself.

6 people needed to tell what a road is paved with. Sounds like Romanian bureaucracy

6 people needed to tell what a road is paved with. Sounds like Romanian bureaucracy

I would understand if you were trying to justify this as part of the game logic and make an important mechanic out of it, but the game only awards 5 Koins for each verified road. I wonder what would happen if they were to switch the importance of the missions, with checks being worth more Koins than missions. I believe it would be quite interesting, because people would know that they need to do checks to be high in the leaderboard, but in order to do checks, they need to complete missions. It sounds like a nice economic model.

One of the things that really irks me is that it does not have any location-based leaderboards. I’d be much more pleased to know that I’m the best Kort player in Ipswich than seeing that a random German user is on the first place world-wide.

Point related, I don’t know why they called their points Koins. I understand the need to call points something else than points in order to give the player a higher sense of immersion, but please don’t call anything Koins unless I’m actually allowed to use them as coins and exchange them for something else (maybe allow me to expand the radius around me in which I komplete missions or give me a nice avatar or I could choose a mission on the map on which to add a bonus for the person who kompletes it).

Now, let’s talk about the way this game plays with motivation.

It works really nice in giving me choices, as in I can choose to do whichever mission I want to do, be it a mission or a check, which is good: you’re not railroading me. It might seem a bit vast to a first-time player, but it’s straightforward enough to make it work. But.

When you finish a mission, it congratulates you and tells you that you’ve won Koins! Basically, it praises that you did something by telling you that you’ve won points, not that you have helped the world. I believe it encourages cheating by working off of extrinsic motivation (I get points), not on intrinsic motivation (I helped map the world!). Seeing as how it’s an OSM game, and as I’ve mentioned above, Koins are just over-glorified points, it seems a bit unnecessary to just tell me I got more points and it might work better if I knew I helped someone.

It also has no choices when it comes to player customization. I can use my Google/Facebook/OSM avatar, and that’s about it. What about letting me set an avatar in-game, maybe from a list? Maybe unlock more and more avatars as I complete more and more missions. Also, what about titles? It would be nice to know that I’m the Naming-King of Ipswich, because I named 100 buildings around town. If you are giving people choices about what missions to do, at least reward them differently based on those choices, with more than a different number of Koins.

I am generally against over-socializing an app, but when it comes to crowd-sourced efforts, I would add the option of allowing me to share my exploits around town on different social media websites, in order to maybe attract other users to the game and in the community.

Conclusion

All in all, it’s a nice gamified app, but it has a lot of fine-tuning to do, especially in giving the players more options and motivating them, keeping them in the game.

Crowdsourcing: who does

In doing my research about crowd-sourcing, I found out some very interesting examples of companies who use this, and I thought it would be nice to share my findings here, as part of the visibility of crowd-sourcing as a technique.

I’ve already talked about two examples in my previous post, those being the crowd-sourced posters for Barak Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign:

They opened the crowd-sourced competition for posters for his 2012 campaign, which he won. You can find more information about this project here.

The second example that I gave was Toyota’s logo, which was crowd-sourced as part of an open call for submissions in 1936. They received over 27000 submissions, out of which the one that we now know has been chosen.

Another example that I used was Heineken, which crowd-sourced their latest bottle design. I called this “companies finding out that crowd-sourcing is cheap” beacuse instead of paying an agency or a few designers for a new bottle design, the guys at Heineken have just paid the web programmers to program and design their submission website and an ad agency to design their campaign ad. Many would argue that this is more expensive than just paying an agency to design a new bottle, but if you take into account the visibility that they have gained from this contest, along with the hundreds of thousands of entries from people all over the world, I would sau that they got more than they invested, which is good from the company’s point of view.

T-shirt design website Threadless allow users to create tshirt designs, which then get voted on by users, with the best designs being produced and sold by the guys behind the website, with the creators receiving royalties for the sales. They use both crowd creativity and crowd-voting in their business model.

Coca Cola has also used crowd-sourcing throughout the years, with the most recent campaign being for redesigning their logo.

I believe even earlier than Coca Cola, Pepsi ran a “Design your own can of Pepsi” contest in 2007.

Lego also has a crowd-sourced platform for new set designs, called Cuusoo. People can create sets, suggest them and have other people vote on them. Once every few months, a series of sets (usually 3) who get over 10000 votes get chosen and evaluated by LEGO experts. Generally, one of those three sets goes into actual production by LEGO and the designer is awarded the set that he or she created and gets 1% of the total sales of the product.

There are other companies which use crowd-sourcing as well, but I thought that these were some of the most relevant ones for this blog post because I really liked the projects.

Chris F.

Crowdsourcing example: The Oxford English Dictionary

While on my internet travels of trying to find out examples of gamification and crowd-sourcing, I have found out what I believe to be one of the biggest crowd-sourcing projects in the pre-internet era: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Oxford English Dictionary

This dictionary was composed over the course of 70 years, with one or two central editors and over 800 volunteers who read books, trying to find first uses of words, which they would then mail back to the editors. If having almost 1000 volunteers doing work that would benefit a greater audience from their homes isn’t crowd-sourcing, I don’t know what is.

What I found most interesting about this, though, is that at that time I doubt that such a concept as gamification existed (it isn’t in the 1888 edition of the OED anyway). So, how exactly did the editors manage to get so many people to help them out?

Maybe if we are to send them badges for each 10 words that they contribute…

If I’m to think what would motivate that many people to go through sometimes obscure books and articles, trying to find the first mention of a word and then thoroughly document it, as well as spend quite a lot (from 1p to threepence) on mailing each new reference back to the central office, I’m inclined to believe that it must have been something quite important. Maybe some of them were trying to leave a legacy: after all, when you know that your work has the potential to be in the first ever unified English dictionary, the value of that can’t be quite measured. So to some of them, it’s possible that the work might have been a reward in and of itself. Then maybe there were literary societies where volunteers met in order to work together and read facsimiles. One of the editors of the OED did, after all, start the Early English Text Society in order to get access to older texts and get them republished. It’s not unreasonable to believe that people created more societies around the work that needed to be done for the OED.

Those are two motivations for volunteering for something like this: your work could forever be saved in a place where a lot of other people would see it, and you could meet with other people with the same passion as you. But surely there must have been a meticulous way of organizing 800 people to do work. You couldn’t just tell them to go out there and find words, because they would be lost. Where to start? Since even the editors themselves worked on a letter-by-letter and in some cases even subgroup of letters by subgroup of letters basis, I’m guessing that each volunteer was given a lettering interval to check, for example from Ap to Az. More than one volunteer would get that same grouping, of course, to be able to cross-reference, but this sounds terribly like one of the mechanics that get circulated around when people talk about gamification: missions. Breaking down the huge task that your player has to do into smaller, easily digestible parts is what happened here as well, in my opinion.

So, in the end, you can see that even two hundred years ago, people were using these mechanics that we make so popular in order to get volunteers to work. And that, even two hundred years ago, people were motivated by higher purposes and by socializing.

Chris F.

Note: I could not find lots of notes on the whole process of gathering the actual data from volunteers, but what fragments I’ve found, I used to deduce the above. In order to find more materials about the OED, visit the wikipedia link, with avenues from where you can learn more.

References:
Oxford English Dictionary. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_English_Dictionary. Last accessed 13th Oct 2013.

OED. Reading Programme. Available: http://www.oed.com/page/reading/Reading$0020Programme. Last accessed 13th Oct 2013.