World of Warcraft as leadership incubator and education platform

Just a heads-up that I’ve written a small piece for the ABC Technology site on the use of MMOs in education and business. For the seasoned virtual worlds watcher there’s nothing earth-shattering in there, but it’s a useful overview for the newcomer or casual observer. Obviously these concepts don’t just apply to World of Warcraft (WoW), but as the behemoth in the arena it’s one of the better showcases.

I wrote recently on the lessons the latest WoW has for virtual worlds as well, if you’re interested.

For those of you out there playing through the new Cataclysm content, is there anything that’s really impressed you or frustrated you so far?

True names: identity, safety and Blizzard’s Real ID

Identity is a perennial sort of a topic, and Activision-Blizzard’s Real ID programme has brought it back into the limelight. Unless you’ve been hanging out under a rock (which would, you know, be fine – especially from a sun-protection perspective) you’ve probably heard about A-B’s programme which is the first phase of tagging your time in Blizzard games (like World of Warcraft and Starcraft II) and supporting services, with your first and last name.

It’s rolling out initially to the forums and to some in-game communications. Quite what Phase 2 is, is not yet clear. One can only speculate as to whether it might be named after the US 2005 REAL ID Act.

The main focus right now is on the Blizzard forums; a place frequented by only an infinitesimal fraction of the user-base, as is normal for most official game and virtual environment forums. After Real ID is implemented, while you will still be able to read them in complete anonymity, posting will display your name (first and last), and you will have the option of adding your character name to that information.

The apparent aim is to reduce the workload associated with moderating the forums (and certain matchmaking and communications services), while simultaneously making them a nicer place to be.

Of course, if you’re under 13, Blizzard cannot legally display your name without your parent or guardian’s consent. An option for that, I understand, is part of the parental controls.

The biggest problem I see right here is one of disambiguation.

While online services almost all insist on unique names, in practice names generally aren’t. This isn’t normally much of a problem in average-sized, geographically-bounded social groups, but does become an issue for large enterprises – and particularly online where geographical boundaries are not key factors in constraining social networks.

Just how do you disambiguate between two John Fitzpatricks or Catherine Joneses? How about ten? How about a hundred?

The Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) gets around this by requiring all members to have a unique name, one that isn’t presently used by another member and hasn’t ever been used by a previous member of the guild. This eliminates ambiguity in crediting. The “J” in Michael J. Fox stands for “Andrew” – because, quite simply, his own name was already taken by another Michael Fox (1921-1996). An increasing number of actors need to select pseudonyms or change their names to register with the SAG.

Are you going to change your name to avoid being confused with that inflammatory arse on the World of Warcraft forums? No, I didn’t think so.

If someone with the same (or a confusingly similar) name to yours starts making an idiot of themselves – and people are people, it’ll happen – you’re more likely to distance yourself from the problem by distancing yourself from the forum and anywhere else associate with the game that your name might appear, right?

Anonymity is the default offline

We don’t normally think of anonymity as the default state, but it is. There’s 6.25 or so billion people on the planet. There are numerous occasions that we hand over our identification or give our names for one reason or another, but we generally do so only to people that we trust to handle them properly or that simply don’t really care who we are.

Do you know your barista’s full name? Do they know yours? Would you have any idea what their first name was if they didn’t wear a name tag?

We routinely caution our children not to give out their full names to strangers, or indeed to anyone that they don’t have a very good reason to trust (eg: a policeman).

If you ask the person serving you at the grocery checkout or your bank teller what their last name is, they’ll probably be reluctant to tell you. For many establishments it is against policy to reveal that information.

Large and heavily trafficked call-centres and customer-support services routinely assign pseudonyms to their staff to avoid issues of harassment. In smaller outfits, it’s rarer, but still sometimes done if a staff member has a particularly memorable, distinctive or unique first name – or if another front-line staffer has the same first name.

Why do we go through all of this?

Because we know it’s safer!

Or at least we think that’s what we know. It’s not something we feel comfortable taking a lot of chances with. Some of us are certainly practiced at having our names out in the public eye all the time, and dealing with all of the rubbish that inevitably seems to come with it. Not everyone is willing to put up with it.

Ask around among your friends. In any group of twenty or so, the statistical odds are that one of them has been threatened, harassed or stalked. And that’s not counting being online. With those sorts of odds, it isn’t a risk we’re necessarily willing to take.

Activision-Blizzard would like to think that the problem people will be shamed or peer-pressured into silence, while more reasonable heads will prevail and prosper. In my experience, though, the problem people usually have no issue with being associated with their names. They’re proud of their behaviour; or they don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.

That sort of competitive/combative battlelust is thought to be common, but really it isn’t so much. It just stands out more. We’re told that the “The meek shall inherit the Earth”, but they won’t inherit online forums, that’s for sure. Not with Real ID.

And if that service really is going to be expanded to other areas, then perhaps the world really has found its WoW-killer.

Imagine if this sort of scheme was implemented on Digg, or Second Life, or Slashdot. What do you think would be the result?

UPDATE: Blizzard have now reversed their decision.

Opportunity cost: not to be underestimated

Here’s a true story: Like a lot of players, I have a Level 2 character in World of Warcraft that exists purely as a banking / auction house conduit (bank alt). I have another character that is leveling one of their professions and they needed a particular item sold for a measly one silver, 18 copper from one of the vendors right across from the auction house where my bank alt hangs out. 42 virtual steps in fact (yes I counted). It occurred to me to check the auction house to see if anyone was entrepreneurial enough to be selling that same item on the auction house for a mark-up. Sure enough, someone was, at 200 times its cost if bought from the vendor (around 2 gold). Not to be outdone, since that time I’ve sold a couple of the items each day for the same 20,000% markup. I’ve also started selling other items from the vendor at 1000-2000% markups.

For the regular MMO player, this is nothing new, and there’s screeds of research and opinion on MMO economies and player behaviour. I just hadn’t realised how endemic the issue of laziness is. Laziness is probably too negative a term in some respects, as for some people it’s probably just time efficient to buy everything from the auction house. If you’ve got 20,000 gold sitting in your bag and the item is 2 gold, then even at a huge markup it’s a no-brainer compared to trying to remember which vendor has it, let alone the time spent getting to them. It’s a simple example of the concept of opportunity cost (here’s one gamers perspective on it).

This issue has some obvious applicability to virtual worlds more broadly. In Second Life, I will quite often just go browsing at clothing stores that I’ve landmarked rather than try to find something new via the search function – few will argue that the Second Life viewer’s search function is a time sink. Social virtual worlds from Habbo to Frontierville have this concept down pat, making it as easy as possible to provide variety without excessive time expense. It’s a lesson that the more mature worlds are absorbing – it’s the speed of learning that will determine who succeeds and who doesn’t. At this stage, platforms like Second Life, Twinity and Blue Mars are walking the fine line between innovation and an opportunity cost too big for a critical mass of people to bear.

Over to you: what aspects of virtual worlds do you avoid because the time / expense isn’t worth it for you?

Three reasons social gaming on Facebook is declining

Over the past couple of weeks there’s been some focus on the fact that Zynga, maker of social games such as Farmville, had a big decline in users during May. Back in January we predicted some fatigue with those games, albeit in the context of ongoing big growth. The decline for Zynga and its flagship Farmville tend to shine a light on a number of issues that need to be resolved, particularly within Facebook:

1. The Spam Driver

One of the key components of the Facebook-based games has been the promotion of achievements within the game on a user’s Wall. Anyone who’s used Facebook knows this only too well, and the backlash has been considerable, to the point that back in February support this was hobbled. Fast forward a couple of months and you have the widespread drop in numbers. A coincidence?

The old notification spam may have been as annoying as hell but it obviously drew in new players, like any spam-like activity will. It may not be missed, but it’s certainly one of the factors that’s hit social gaming fairly hard. The upside is it will force game creators to make games even more engaging – a better growth driver than spam. Of course, the spam isn’t totally gone either – it’s just simpler to suppress.

2. WoW Without The Wow

Usng Farmville as an example, I only needed to play it for a couple of hours to realise how closely it’s modelled on an MMO framework. Everything from the grinding ‘quests’ and achievements system, through to peer competitiveness and in-world currency. The trouble is, Farmville doesn’t quite have the thrill factor of a hard core MMO. It’s not a fair comparison, but the point is that it’s hard for Farmville to keep innovating so that the endless tasks don’t seem frustrating or even pointless.

I’ve spent many an hour doing pointless / frustrating things in World of Warcraft for example – but it didn’t seem that way as there was always an enticing goal at the end of it. Sure, Farmville offers bigger an better houses / sheds / farming equipment but it wears thin pretty quickly. The challenge for social virtual worlds, like gaming more broadly, is keeping it interesting, and it seems there’s still some work to do. There’s also the issue these social worlds aren’t truly socially interactive: when my avatar can chat and farm with my neighbour, then I’m starting to get interested again.

3. The Trade Embargo

Whether it’s Second Life, World of Warcraft or Entropia Universe, one of the keys to their success has been the ability to make money as well as spend it. In some cases that can translate to hard currency – in others its the ability to earn virtual currency from selling goods that are no longer useful or have been created by their original user (here’s a great post on the growing focus on content creation). Sure, in Farmville you can do some limited selling but it’s the finesse of the more mature platforms that provide a lot of the enjoyment. When I can make decent amounts of real or virtual money in a fair way in a social world, then I’ve got even more incentive to stay there. Money isn’t a driver for a lot of people, but it’s more the link between that money-making capability and a more intricate community that makes the difference.

A reversible decline

All the issues discussed above are evolutionary ones to some extent – as social gaming continues to improve then one can hope their interactivity, creativity and overall engagement will improve also. I’m pretty confident the decline is a short-term one and to some extent a desirable one. Sanity checks like that can lead to better platforms and applications and that’s the way things appear to be heading.

Over to you: what are the gaps in social gaming that need to be filled?

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

1. We talk quite a bit about virtual goods and their popularity. MMO Behemoth World of Warcraft proved it in the past week, selling hundreds of thousands of an in-game mount called the Celestial Steed at US$25 a pop. No-one but Blizzard software know how many they sold but given queues exceeded 140,000 at one stage, we do know the number is big.

2. The SLENZ project has completed its run, but here’s a great write-up of how the work done still has legs.

3. The legal actions keep on coming for Linden Lab, as discussed by Tateru Nino here.

4. Version 2.0.1 of the Second Life viewer is now available, and there’s now a fleshed out FAQ document for Viewer 2.

5. A sad piece of news: Singapore-based virtual worlds dynamo Andrew Peters, passed away after a battle with cancer on the 13th April. I had the opportunity to correspond with Andrew many times including via phone and he was certainly a man committed to his work and its outcomes. The full announcement of his death is given below, and Andrew’s sense of humour would have appreciated the title of the press release:

Andrew Peters, Singapore’s resident social media marketing guru, moves on to Heaven 2.0

Singapore, 22 April 2010 – Andrew Peters, Singapore-based social media marketing guru, passed away at 4.45am (NZ time) on Tuesday 13 April in Christchurch in his native New Zealand at the age of 47, after losing a secret battle with cancer.

With 25 years’ experience in publishing, public relations, sales and marketing for leading industry brands, he worked in Sydney in the second half of the 1980’s with ICL and Wang Computers, then with Anixter, Australian Consolidated Press and Project Media in the 1990’s, before setting up a branch in Singapore in 1999 for public relations agency McCorkell & Associates, as Vice President, Asia Pacific.

He joined Pacific West Communications – started in 2001 by his Singapore best friend and business associate Imran Omar, in 2005. As Regional Director Asia Pacific for Pacific West, he was responsible for strategic development, overseeing client portfolios, business development and providing counsel to deliver value-added solutions that delivered sustainable results for clients.

He was instrumental in founding the Internet Industry Association of Singapore (IIAS), and sat on the Executive Committee of Singapore-based ‘The Digital Movement’ – a non-profit set up to build a community of young leaders in web 2.0 and social media and connect them to overseas experts.

Example activities included Nexus 2007, the first major Web 2.0 conference in Southeast Asia, which brought together 700 of the best entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, bloggers and world class thinkers from companies like O’Reilly, Google, Microsoft, Lenovo, Salesforce, Second Life and Yahoo; and BlogOut – a gathering of the best technology bloggers. He also sat on the Advisory Board of the Association of Virtual Worlds.

Highly connected with online & offline web 2.0, virtual worlds and social media communities, he had roles with a number of entrepreneurial ventures, and a close interest in virtual worlds and gaming platforms.

His pioneering work in social media marketing paid off with the success of the first annual Tattoo Show in Singapore in 2008, which catered to a niche group of individuals who loved body art but who were too niche for mass media to cover on a daily basis, or with frequency before the event. Social media engagement was a way to generate pre-interest in the event, and allowed for near real-time coverage and the creation of related events.

Epitomising the theory of the ‘long tail’ made popular by Chris Anderson – a niche strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities; and using social media and traditional PR hand-in-hand, he drove 15,000 attendees to the event and in the process, created an online regional tattoo community of more than 4,000 members.

He worked on virtual worlds projects with Second Life, and helped bring Germany’s virtual worlds creator Metaversum Gmbh’s Twinity into Asia. He developed social media strategies for AUSTRADE Study in Australia Events, and was social media strategist for cable television talk show ‘Asia Uncut’, broadcast on the Star World Network across Asia. He put in place a social media strategy for Singapore-based online television reality show Supermodelme.tv – the first Web TV Reality show, as online publicist for global audience acquisition & interaction, and was also social media strategist for a number of Malaysia-based clients.

With social media marketing still in its infancy, Andrew Peters independently pursued a ground-up strategy of connected community building, actively integrating people from outside the professional world and inspiring talented new content creators who became friends, passionate online collaborators and agents; to make full use of the free resources of the Internet medium.

Exemplifying many of the concepts outlined in David Meerman Scott’s best-seller ‘The World Wide Rave’, in which his work for the Singapore Tattoo Show is highlighted, he got people around the world talking about his personal and client brands, events and messages, building audiences from scratch and inspiring online interest communities to link on the Web by creating online buzz that drove buyers to the virtual and physical doorstep. He created value that people wanted to share, and made it easy for them to do so.

Variously characterised as witty, wry and genuine, while loving the ‘seriousness and silliness’ of social media and the ‘digital revolution’, his fierce belief in community give-back and his desire to help and coach others, exemplified a passion for creativity and diversity, and a desire to listen, learn and add value without hesitation. In his final year he was looking with collaborators, into book publishing offers and ideas for new reality TV shows.

He was laid to rest on 16th April in Christchurch, and his life and work is to be commemorated at a gathering of friends and collaborators in Singapore on 24th April.

He leaves behind, best friend and business associate Imran, adoptive parent Stan and sisters Holly and Kyro, birth mother Marlene and siblings Sandra, Karen, Barbara and David, and a host of online followers, collaborators and friends in Singapore and across the Asia Pacific region, and further afield. He has a virtual afterlife on Facebook and other social media sites (although he is no longer active on Twitter and Foursquare).

ENDS

http://www.facebook.com/APLINK?ref=ts#!/group.php?gid=117745381570582&ref=ts
“In Loving memory of Andrew Peters”

World of Warcraft, your boss and succeeding at work

For a lot of people, politics, corporate strategy and philosophy are the sort of topics that lead to thoughts of using a cheese-grater on an inner thigh. If you’re a cubicle jockey in an office, or someone questioning their existence in the meatspace, then WoW may be able to help. When I say help, I don’t mean in the ‘yep I’ll call in sick and play WoW for three days straight to show those idiots’ sort of way. I’m talking about the real-world opportunities that WoW can provide you as far as leadership development, strategic thinking, political nous or plain old perspective on the important things in life.

And no, winning 100 Wintergrasp battles for your achievement is not ‘important’ in this context. I’m talking about improved work performance or perhaps (don’t laugh) improved relationships at work or home. It’s not Mana oil I’m trying to sell you, it’s more telling you some stuff you probably already know, but hadn’t thought about in this way. So onto the first instalment: talking about WoW at work, legitimately.

Chances are you’ve talked about WoW at work. In order of likelihood, you’ll have talked to a fellow player, a good friend who humors your WoW passion, or a vague acquaintance that is your only conversation option on a particular day at lunch (the same person that will avoid you the following lunchtime). Unless your colleague plays and has the odd Level 80 or two, the reality is they can’t understand why you’re passionate about WoW, let alone being able to see any real-world outcomes. This is where a change of tack is required. Let’s cross to a typical office lunch room:

Colleague: I’m not sure what to say to my boss in my performance review tomorrow.

You: (deciding colleague would be a ranged DPS if they played) Are you happy with your performance?

Colleague: Yeah pretty much, I haven’t had any complaints.

You: (knowing how a sucky ranged DPS can hide in a big raid) Well, have you ever had people say you have been doing a good job?

Colleague: Not really.

You: (having used the ‘Gear Score is crap as a raid effectiveness measure’ argument many times yourself) Well, there’s your strategy for the performance review. Tell your boss you’re happy with your performance to date, but that you’re really interested in getting better job definition so you can improve further. It’s not reasonable for you to be penalised if the ground rules haven’t been clearly laid out.

Colleague: Yeah that might work. Is that what you did?

You: (Being a leet melee DPS) Nope – I had plenty of positive feedback from people that I was able to show my boss. I actually applied some of the teamwork stuff I’ve learnt in World of Warcraft to my job, and it seems to have helped a bit.

Colleague: Really? What are you doing for lunch tomorrow / can I marry you / omfg I’m signing up for WoW tonight.

It may sound cheesy, but conversations similar to the one above happen all the time. Sure, your chances of getting hitched by providing some WoW-based advice is pretty low, but the odds are better than embarking on a 25-minute discussion with same colleague, of how the well-geared but stupid tank you had to heal in the Pit of Saron wiped your 5-man run three times. All that will lead to is you being tied to your desk and pelted with staplers. Plus, those sort of discussions need to be saved for work friends who actually play and may even laugh at your WoW anecdotes. Maybe.

Over to you: have you ever discussed WoW in the workplace, and if so, did it work for you?

A detailed map of Exodar vendors and trainers

A detailed map of Darnassus vendors and trainers

This map has been updated and moved to here

How to win at PvP in World of Warcraft

It’s been a while since I’ve done a WoW post, and I can’t think of a better reason than a piece of machinima called ‘How to win at PvP’. If you’ve ever been involved in PvP in any extensive way in WoW, you’ll get many a laugh from this masterpiece:

There’s also some good info in this piece for MMO developers, on what not to do in PvP combat. Over to you: what are your pet PvP hates?

Thanks to Wow.com for the heads-up.

World of Warcraft: the ‘crack’ myth

firemage-sept2009Before I question some of the hyperbole floating around the mainstream media over the ‘World of Warcraft is like crack’ story, I have to make a disclosure. I do play World of Warcraft and am in fact a Level 80 Fire Mage. Snigger all you want, but there’s dozens, if not hundreds of you reading this that play WoW too, and you love it. More on that later.

The latest iteration of the ‘WoW as Crack’ story, finally picked up by the mainstream Australian media, is that a UK-based psychiatrist is asking WoW’s creator Blizzard Software to cough up some money to assist counsellors who want to get to know the game better. The theory is, once they understand what it is they’re dealing with, they can tailor interventions better. As a health professional myself, it actually makes a lot of sense. Without knowing the environment a person with a problematic behaviour interacts with, it’s difficult to fathom their motivations or triggers for what they are doing. Blizzard Software, not surprisingly, haven’t made a comment on the issue. They’re not about to trumpet the need for counselors to be embedded within their game, even though there have been some significant individual examples pop up here and there.

Some would argue Blizzard, or any game creator, aren’t under any obligation to assist the proportion of their clientele who play at harmful levels. Others will claim there’s as much a duty of care as say a tobacco company may have to its customers. The reality probably sits somewhere in the middle. It wouldn’t hurt Blizzard to fork out a few thousand dollars to assist health professionals trying to get their head around why a teenager or adult wants to spend 16 hours a day undertaking raids or quests. As a corporate citizen it’d give Blizzard some credibility and let them influence the agenda of how big the issue really is. As a proportion of its more than 11 million users who pay US$12.99 per month, truly addicted users would only make up a tiny percentage. Add to that those who compulsively play (there’s a difference) and you have a bigger population but still far from the majority. There’s no doubt there are people whose lives are seriously damaged by addiction to massive multiplayer games – it’s just that they’re well and truly outnumbered by those who’ve found a whole new social outlet or those exploring the learning opportunities.

Which brings me back to those of you who play WoW: next time you log in, type “/played” in your chat window and be dismayed or amazed at how many days you’ve been a Troll Shaman. I put in around 25 days of time per year in WoW, which probably makes me borderline compulsive. That said, I’ve substituted 2-3 hours per day of Australian Idol and Rove for an activity that requires strategy, socialisation and hand/eye coordination. How is that undesirable behaviour?

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