Saturday, June 16, 2007

Games gone wild

A great article in the Times Magazine on the current state of online gaming. Millions of people now spend a significant fraction of their waking hours immersed in a virtual gameworld. The numbers will only continue to increase, along with the richness and complexity of the worlds. Just as gaming drives the development of graphics cards and even CPU chips (see Sony's Cell processor), it may eventually come to drive AI development, as designers seek more realistic and complex interactions between game characters and players. (Other drivers of AI development: search, human-machine collaboration, cat and mouse security competition between malware/spam automatons and security systems, ...)

Why anthropic "typicality" arguments (all the rage in the current nutty world of theoretical physics) are meaningless without an assumption about the possibility of virtual worlds.

A slideshow of game players and their avators, like the one below.

NAME Jean-Fran├žois de la Fage BORN 1979 OCCUPATION Journalist LOCATION Paris AVATAR NAME Dark Freeman AVATAR CREATED 2005 GAME PLAYED City of Heroes HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 21 CHARACTER TYPE Natural hero SPECIAL ABILITIES Invincibility

NYTimes Magazine: ...More than eight million people around the world play World of Warcraft — approximately one in every thousand on the planet — and whenever Li is logged on, thousands of other players are, too. They share the game’s vast, virtual world with him, converging in its towns to trade their loot or turning up from time to time in Li’s own wooded corner of it, looking for enemies to kill and coins to gather. Every World of Warcraft player needs those coins, and mostly for one reason: to pay for the virtual gear to fight the monsters to earn the points to reach the next level. And there are only two ways players can get as much of this virtual money as the game requires: they can spend hours collecting it or they can pay someone real money to do it for them.

...In 2001, Edward Castronova, an economist at the University of Indiana and at the time an EverQuest player, published a paper in which he documented the rate at which his fellow players accumulated virtual goods, then used the current R.M.T. prices [R.M.T. = real money trading] of those goods to calculate the total annual wealth generated by all that in-game activity. The figure he arrived at, $135 million, was roughly 25 times the size of EverQuest’s R.M.T. market at the time. Updated and more broadly applied, Castronova’s results suggest an aggregate gross domestic product for today’s virtual economies of anywhere from $7 billion to $12 billion, a range that puts the economic output of the online gamer population in the company of Bolivia’s, Albania’s and Nepal’s.

Not quite the big time, no, but the implications are bigger, perhaps, than the numbers themselves. Castronova’s estimate of EverQuest’s G.D.P. showed that online games — even when there is no exchange of actual money — can produce actual wealth. And in doing so Castronova also showed that something curious has happened to the classic economic distinction between play and production: in certain corners of the world, it has melted away. Play has begun to do real work.


Anonymous said...

The sole reason that I have a Second Life account is to explore the AI possibilities of that virtual world. It is a very useful and rich environment for battle-hardening your theories and ideas about information processing.

Kiara said...

I am not so good in online games. I hope to play this World of Warcraft, really or this EverQuests. The Download Games
I have been playing for quite some time now are only hidden-object games and some of the educational games that I got from a recently known site.

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