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Darryl>An interesting response from the betting industry on some similar proposals Hmm, well they make quite a strong case there (not that making strong cases has ever stopped governments from doing what they think voters will like!). Richard
Toggle Commented Oct 4, 2009 on Taking a Gamble at Terra Nova
PixPol>On that point we're in agreement - the developer of the virtual world has to have ultimate authority to decide whether RMT is allowed. The question then becomes, what can they do when they decide it isn't allowed but it happens anyway? >I personally don't see how worlds will remain insulated from the pressing of real-world commerce much longer. When the virtual becomes just an adjunct to the real, yes, in those circumstances commerce will be a natural thing. Game worlds will be dwarfed by non-game worlds, and consequently be regarded as something of a niche. You'd be as surprised to find that you couldn't buy something with real money in virtual worlds as you would to find you couldn't buy a coffee in Starbucks. However, there will still be game worlds, and some of these will still have reasons to prohibit the buying and selling of their virtual objects for real money. >I say that only because synthetic worlds that accept RMT are going to have a major competitive advantage if RMT continues to grow. Well, they'll have more money; however, if it comes at the price of having less game, perhaps it wouldn't be an advantage? >They'll spend less effort pursuing illicit traders and they'll be able to take a cut of the proceeds, much like Linden Lab. But they may lose players if they do this. As an analogy, if world sporting bodies spent less time pursuing cheats by allowing competitors to take drugs, from which they received a cut, then they would have much more money to spend on facilities and so on. However, if they did do that then they would lose competitors who regard drugs as "cheating" - even if the rules were changed so that they were explicitly allowed. There will always be players who consider RMT a bad thing, and who will seek to find virtual worlds where it is proscribed. For these players, a subscription-based MMO has a competitive advantage. In the great scheme of these, these people will be outnumbered by the majority, who don't actually want to play games (or aren't able to) the whole time. In absolute terms, though, it will still involve a substantial number of people. >By the way, Richard, the work you have in "The State of Play," along with Dr. Castronova's pioneering work, inspired me to pursue this field as a serious career ambition. I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks. Aw shucks, hey, you're welcome! Richard
Toggle Commented Sep 26, 2009 on Taking a Gamble at Terra Nova
PixPol> struggle to see how the French law could affect the virtual world beyond providing another set of salable rights to content creators. It's by analogy. Basically, the French gambling law is following two lines of argument that lead to the same conclusion: 1a) There should be safeguards to protect people from gambling on sporting contests that are fixed. 1b) The organisations best placed to ensure this are the ruling bodies of sports. 1c) The ruling bodies may have to change the rules of their sport to protect gamblers from fixed contests. 1d) Organisations not willing to change their rules can not protect gamblers from fixed contests. 1e) Therefore, for such organisations gambling on their contests should be prohibited. 2a) There should be safeguards to protect sporting contests from gamblers wishing to fix them. 2b) The organisations best placed to ensure this are the police. 2c) The police have great difficulty proving cases of match-rigging. 2d) A much easier way to stop gamblers from fixing sporting contests would be to stop gambling on those contests. 2e) Some sporting organisations are more badly hurt by match-rigging than others. 1e) Therefore, for such organisations gambling on their contests should be prohibited. For virtual worlds, we can rewrite these lines of argument in terms of commodification: 1a) There should be safeguards to protect people from being ripped off by gold farmers. 1b) The organisations best placed to ensure this are the developers. 1c) The developers may have to change the rules of their virtual worlds to protect players from fraudulent gold farmers. 1d) Developers not willing to change their rules can not protect players from being ripped off. 2f) Therefore, for such virtual worlds gold farming should be prohibited. 2a) There should be safeguards to protect virtual worlds from groups wishing to farm them. 2b) The organisations best placed to ensure this are the police. 2c) The police have great difficulty proving cases of gold farming. 2d) A much easier way to stop farmers from exploiting virtual worlds would be to stop gold sales (RMT) for those virtual worlds. 2e) Some virtual worlds are more badly hurt by RMT than others. 2f) Therefore, for such organisations RMT should be prohibited. As Greg says, it's not a complete match. Nevertheless, there are enough similarities. What it comes down to is that the French government sees gambling as a corrupting influence on some sports, but it doesn't want to ban it outright because for other sports it's integral to what they are. They therefore propose to allow the sports concerned to decide whether to allow gambling on them or not. For virtual worlds, an argument could be made that RMT is a corrupting influence on some, but integral to others. The proposal in this case would be to allow the virtual world to decide whether to allow RMT or not. Richard
Toggle Commented Sep 25, 2009 on Taking a Gamble at Terra Nova
Darryl>After submitting my e-mail to be spammed by gambling compliance newsletters, I managed to read the French proposal... Ooh! Where did you find it? >My opinion is that the legislation is completely unenforceable, but will probably have limited impact on the domestic sector. My guess is that it's aimed at the larger bookmakers, not the little guys. Well, the larger ones in Europe - I doubt the people in Thailand are going to care about it... >but in doing that you kick up a whole new range of issues, and people find ways around it anyhow. You do, but at each stage there are fewer people to deal with. Yes, some will find ways round it, but a lot won't; you therefore do cut down gambling, you just don't cut it out. >but what do you do when an operator sets up in Costa Rica whose government and judiciary laughs in your face when you try to sue them? You sue the users who bought the product. In a gambling context, you'd prosecute the punters; in a virtual worlds context, you'd prosecute the gold-buyers. I would guess that police would be reluctant to do this (with drugs, they target dealers in preference to users; it depends on whether they think gold-buyers are "victims" or not). >My guess is you'd end up in the same situation as you are now, where companies do their 'best' to stop commodification if they don't want it, but a black market exists anyway. Or they could accept it and take a share of the revenue. Richard
Toggle Commented Sep 25, 2009 on Taking a Gamble at Terra Nova
greglas>Professional sports organizations should love something like this, right? Well, yes and no. They may love the money but they may not love the duties that would come if they accept it. >it sounds like they get a cut of gambling profits w/o having to do much in return. I think they probably would have to do something in return. They'd have to make sure that none of the participants were doing anything to fix bets (eg. two members of opposing soccer teams collaborating to ensure there was a throw-in in the 19th minute, which has happened), which means that anything done for reasons of good sportsmanship could be disallowed (eg. conceding putts). It could also mean things done for reasons of bad sportsmanship would be treated more harshly, eg. making out you've been fouled when you haven't. >It's unclear how it promotes the public welfare, but it isn't clear how gambling promotes the public welfare in any case. Well the idea seems to be that if people are going to gamble, then what they gamble on should be fair. Likewise, the people whose activities are being gambled on should not feel pressured to change the way they behave in order to conform to rules set external to their sport by gamblers. Example, yesterday a British cyclist lost the chain to his bike while in 3rd position. His support vehicle was trapped behind other vehicles, and couldn't get to him before he lost 3rd place. He was so annoyed when he realised he was going to lose his bronze medal that he threw his bike to the ground and walked off. This is within the rules of his sport. However, it meant that people who had a spread bet on him were going to lose big time. He could have waited and got back on his bike and come 4th or 5th and then they wouldn't have lost. If the sport had OKed gambling, would he perhaps have had to do so? >Private gambling doesn't tax the system or create much in the way of a nuisance to the sport venue or the other fans. It does have an effect on the system. There have been many occasions where participants in sports have changed their behaviour to try influence results. Sometimes, these have brought down the full weight of the law (we had such a case in the UK in the 1990s where a goalkeeper kept missing shots he "could have" saved in crucial matches). The problem is, they're very hard to prove (the goalkeeper in question was cleared because jury members couldn't agree). What the French authorities seem to be saying is that rather than have the police try to deal with corruption, either the sport itself should do it or the police should try to remove the reason for the corruption (the gambling). >But there are certainly details that map -- e.g. the impossibility of total control over 2-party parking lot RMT seems to map well to the impossibility of stopping 2-party parking lot bets. This is where it breaks down, yes, but the aim wouldn't be to stop the petty gamblers/RMTers so much as the large, organised rings. >Of course, if I wanted to give an well-informed response, I'd look at the details of the French proposal. :-) Richard
Toggle Commented Sep 25, 2009 on Taking a Gamble at Terra Nova
Lisa>I am, actually, and I do think it applies, though certainly there are nuances across the various venues. But D&D is played, on the whole, by very small groups of people who already knew each other. Oblivion is played by people on their own, only a very small fraction of whom ever posted to a web site on the subject. Disneyland is visited in family groups or coachloads, with very little interaction with other parties except while standing in line and complaining about having to stand in line. Your research on the nature of connection in CoH would seem to have very little to say about these, because the nature of connection in them is so different. The reason they are different is in no small measure because they aren't virtual worlds and CoH is. >My research questions had to do with the nature of connection and communication in these spaces, and whether there might be possibilities for skills development and personal transformation. Well there is, yes - in CoH and other virtual worlds. In my book, I describe how this personal development works and why it works. There's plenty of data that support it, too. However, my theory only applies to what I call virtual worlds, and only in the case when people play for fun. Now if other people think it might well apply to related areas, OK, well they're welcome to try it out. If it works, then they need to figure out why it works; if it doesn't work, well, it won't bring my theory down because I never said it would work. Your research concerns CoH. You could plausibly extend it to other (what I call) virtual worlds, so long as you guard it with caveats. See how Dmitri Williams works with the EQ2 data, for example: all he ever says is in terms of EQ2; it may well apply beyond EQ2 to other MMOs, and this may even be blindingly obvious; however unless the links are already established, that's for future research. >But what about the breast cancer survivors who huddle about Hearts games on They have avatars. There is a replication of physical space. They don't interact with the Hearts game through those avatars, they're just placeholders. In the days before players started conflating the word "avatar" with "character", this would have been much more apparent - you couldn't call a placeholder your character. Also, the replication of physical space is too abstract to count for much. However, even if you fixed this (so you played using a 3D client and saw "your" hand picking up cards realistically) it still wouldn't be a virtual world because it doesn't have the persistence. >I would argue that is a virtual world. Social space doesn't cut it in my mind, as there is clearly a community of practice at work. Virtual worlds will develop communities of practice, yes, and you can say that if there is an established virtual world then it will have these. However, having a community of practice does not make something a virtual world; they're necessary, but not sufficient. People working on open source projects have communities of practice (and deeper, too), but they're not virtual worlds either. >Now, this is the first time I have heard you say that the spatial aspect is critical to the definition I was giving an argument that it was, in an effort to show you what I meant by an argument. I can't back it up with any scientific evidence (well, except in an anthropology "I say it so it's a fact" kind of way). >(did you say that in your book? can't remember). What I said was that the players represent individuals "in" the world. >What I am saying, is that as a digital native more or less, my experience of these spaces is a bit more fluid There is a step change between what is a virtual world and what isn't. "A bit more fluid" doesn't cover it. If you were to consider ONLY those aspects of a virtual world which are shared with other social spaces, and be SURE that none of the variables particular to virtual worlds were going to be applicable THEN you could extend your work in virtual worlds to other social spaces. However, you would NOT be able to call those other social spaces "virtual worlds". >as I said before, I think the future is likely to be littered with all sorts of experiments with various types of virtual worlds that don't rely heavily or completely on the physical/spatial component There will indeed be new and exciting developments, yes. The ways in which they overlap with virtual worlds and bounce off each other will be very fruitful areas for research. I doubt very much that researchers will be content to use data collected on virtual worlds as a basis for understanding these new hybrids: if they use the earlier research at all, they'll want to know what they can carry over and why. Claims by a "digital native" that "fluidity" enables them to do so will not be regarded uncritically. >Likewise, I don't think immersion is reliant at all on the physical dimension. It's not, but it makes it great deal easier. >I have a 6-year old that I get to observe on a daily basis Hmm. Remember earlier when I pointed out that "I've been doing this for years" is a dangerous line of argument to take? So is "I've been watching my children". Other people have more children than you and have been watching them for longer. The digital age did not begin 6 years ago: your child is not in the first wave of "connected" youngsters and you are not gaining insights unavailable to people whose children were born 10 years earlier. If you were, then 10 years from now you would have to bow to the views of researchers who had younger children than you purely on the basis that they had younger children than you - whether they were talking nonsense or not. >My point is that the experience of the 'connected-to-the-grid-from-birth' results in a very different type of brain The hardware is the same; the best that you can argue is that the software has a different emphasis. >And yes, I do feel like I am in my Facebook page when I choose to visit there. Is this in the same sense that you feel you are "in" the real world, or in the same sense that you feel you are "in" a word processor document? In other words, is it presence or projection or both? If you are sitting at your computer "in" your Facebook page and you start to daydream, when you snap out of it are you at your computer or in your Facebook page? >It's a very immersive experience replete with avatars No, immersion is replete with people, not avatars. The immersion felt by people in virtual worlds isn't the same kind of "immersion" you get in books or a culture or music: it's deeper than that. It's a tying of your identity to the identity of an imaginary individual (your character) such that over time these two different identities become the same: you ARE your character. In Facebook, there doesn't seem to be much scope for this kind of immersion. You're in Facebook as yourself - a slightly idealised version, perhaps, but not a wildly different one. You could, I guess, say your Facebook character is different to your real self, but it would be in the same way that you might say your work self was different from your home self. There's no conceit that you're representing another individual in Facebook, you're representing yourself. >My findings are supported by data and experience; the point I was making is that sometimes my perspectives are so deeply internalized and based on synthesized experience that I don't remember where they came from. And I rely rather heavily on intuition. Well we can all make that claim. >What is interesting about our disagreement/discussion here is my complete and total assumption that these spaces are fundamentally similar and therefore one set of findings applies to another digital space Indeed. From my perspective, if you want to extend your work in one area to another area, you have to show the route you're following. If they're isomorphic, you need to explain why they're isomorphic - you can't just make an assertion that they are isomorphic and hope we'll all go along happily with it. That's an argument based in faith, not reason. You can say "I'm an expert and I just know this is true", but we're all experts here and that line isn't going to impress us. You have to persuade us, not appeal to your academic authority - we all have academic authority of our own, so it just becomes your word against ours. >at least when we are talking about such constructs as communication/friendship, etc., which we were. To say this, you need to account for why the parts of virtual worlds you weren't talking about would have no bearing on it. Example: let's suppose that men and women typically form relationships of different extents. Furthermore, let's suppose that because of the nature of CoH, men outnumber women in it 4 to 1. In a different social space, which draws people for different reasons, you may find that women outnumber men 100 to 1. Now: how can you extend conclusions made regarding CoH to this other area? Even if this other area were a virtual world in my terms (which are more specific than yours), you still couldn't do it unless you could demonstrate that gender wasn't a factor, or that one of the axioms was wrong. Why do people play an MMO like CoH? Does this make it a self-selecting group in some way? Is a consequence of such self-selection that they will form groups in ways that are atypical to those formed in society at large? Why do people recovering from breast cancer play Hearts on MSN? The group is clearly self-selecting in some way. Is a consequence of such self-selection that they will form groups in ways that are atypical to those formed by society at large? Crucially, are they atypical in the same way that CoH groups are atypical? If not, then you can't use data from the former to draw conclusions about the latter. >The technology changes, graphics change, rules change, but the nature of belonging and friendship don't. Oh, but they do. Here's a real-life analogy. Soldiers from conflicts will keep in regular contact with their army buddies for decades after the conflict ended. They don't keep contact with their schoolfriends or workmates, but they'll keep contact with people in their unit indefinitely. The reason they do this is because friendship under fire shows you just who your friends are. The friendship they gain is at an intuitive level. In MMOs, if you've been (in today's paradigm) raiding with people every night for months on end, you get to know people at a deep, intuitive level. You understand them, and they understand you. The friendships you form are deep and strong - at least in comparison to the more casual acquaintances you have in the MMO. If you have flitted around from one social space to another, you probably won't have seen this. You'd have had to have stayed with one for a long, long time with the same other people in order to experience it. Indeed, if you were looking at it through an academic's eyes you may never have experienced it, because you were too detached. Furthermore, it's very, very difficult for such "spiritual communities" to arise in the usual online social spaces, because there's no pressure for them to form. There is such pressure in virtual worlds, though, especially game worlds (MMOs). >It sucks as much to get unfriended on Facebook as it does to get booted from your guild in an MMO. Does it suck for me if you unfriend someone who is my friend? >Another thing about anthropology is that we look for universals, and that is also what I am doing here... Do you have rules to determine the point at which you decide you haven't found one? >facebook and WoW are obviously not the same, but there are arguably some aspects of the user/player experience that are common across them. I agree. However, if you are to use research from one to support an argument in the other, you have to be explicit about which aspects are and are not important. >I used the term 'digital space', btw, throughout my thesis... That's perfectly fine. It's not where we came in, though. The archbishop was talking about Facebook and Myspace; you were talking about City of Heroes. As an analogy, your research was on modes of transport and the Archbishop was complaining about horses. You attacked him using data about bicycles. Now you can do that if the bicycle data exclusively concerns modes of transport (because a horse is a mode of transport), but if there's anything there that is bicycle-particular (eg. range) that might discount its being applied to horses, you can't use it. >Anyway, my research of the last five years is informed by this perspective. Or, if you rely on it too much, distorted by it. Richard PS: Good news! I'm going to be offline for the next two weeks, so you won't have to endure any more of these rants. I'm sorry if I've come over as rather aggressive, but it seems like this is a debate worth having. As you say, we should probably have it face to face sometime..
Toggle Commented Aug 9, 2009 on Me vs. The Archbishop at Terra Nova
Lisa>What I am trying to articulate is that I think some of our definitions of virtual worlds might be a bit limited by this assumption that they must replicate physical spaces. What I am trying to articulate is that if you want to talk about "social spaces" then talk about social spaces. Don't talk about virtual worlds as virtual worlds and then try to extend your work to social spaces in general. You are over-extrapolating. If what you are saying about City of Heroes comes from a perspective in which the physical representation of space and avatars in real-time is invisible or irrelevant, then you would have a case for considering it alongside other concepts with which it shares a dimension. If, however, those defining features of virtual worlds are not invisible or not irrelevant, then you have to demonstrate why they can nevertheless be ignored. Example: suppose you do a study on breakfasts. You find out a lot of detail about the nutritional content of breakfasts. Can you then extrapolate your research to cover meals in general? Well no, you can't: the defining quality of breakfasts is that they are the first meal of the day. You would expect this to have an impact on the nature of their nutritional value. However, if you were to analyse breakfasts in terms of whether they were healthy or junk, then you could, perhaps, tentatively offer the possibility that this may be something that also applied to other meals: in other words, you could propose an hypothesis that people who eat unhealthy breakfasts eat unhealthily for other meals. You or someone else could then undertake research to support of falsify this hypothesis. What would not be OK would be for you to breeze through some kind of "don't you think?" argument to "prove" that some archbishop who said kids were getting fat from eating junk food for lunches was wrong because they all had healthy breakfasts. >Social spaces sometimes replicate physical spaces, but they need not do so. Then those are not virtual worlds. Think up some other term for them, or just use "social spaces". Or you can think up some other term for what we're currently still clinging to as "virtual worlds", which may actually be more useful (life was SO much easier when they were all called MUDs...). >It meets all the other criteria. Well if you think that dropping one criterion is fine, the following all become virtual worlds: - Dungeons and Dragons (not automated) - Counter Strike (not persistent) - Disneyland (not virtual) - Age of Empires (no avatar) - Oblivion (not shared) - Kingdom of Loathing (not real-time) Are you happy for your research to be applied to all of these? And for research done on any of these to be applied carte blanche to your field? If they're all "virtual worlds"... >perhaps it is going to take a retrospective evaluation at some point in the future to sort out this ontological debate. But wouldn't you want to sort it out now? After all, if you don't then a retrospective debate could invalidate all your research because you were making category errors. >I simply wonder if the character of the user/player experience (ie, does it feel like a world?) will be more of a determiner than some objective definitions based on previously formulated notions of cyberculture, etc. This is fine. It's almost a given these days that virtual worlds will have associated out-of-world social spaces as adjuncts; it won't be long before social spaces have virtual worlds as adjuncts, too (eg. via Metaplace). It could be that players regard them as part of the same service, and this is likely to be a fruitful area for research. However, it is very unlikely that players are going to think that virtual worlds are the same thing as other social spaces, any more than they think that listening to music is the same as attending a concert. They may be part of the same general experience, but they are different in fundamental ways. I would also point out that although an attitude of "I simply wonder" is perfectly laudable and defensible (academics need a sense of curiosity), it seems to be somewhat at odds with your initial post. You weren't "simply wondering" whether the character of the spaces were similar - you were asserting a direct correspondence between the two in order to show that the archbishop didn't know what he was talking about. >I was making the point about internalization and synthesis because I will sometimes generate a finding without supporting it directly with data. How can you call that a "finding"? What you have is an hypothesis. It's only a finding if it is supported by the data. >However, what it is based on is a long, long time playing games, and several years of data collection. Be very careful with this line of argument. Other people have spent longer playing games and have spent more time collecting data; if you equate time and effort with quality of insight, then you make it possible for any one of these people to blow you out of the water even if their interpretations are utterly bonkers. You can't disagree with them without discrediting the basis you established for the authority of your own research. >What separates anthropologists from other scientists is that our opinions constitute data. This puts you in the same bin as theologists, then. That being the case, your argument with the Archbishop is purely a religious war which is of little relevance to the rest of us. >Oh, and I think Mark Bell, as a graduate student, did a nice piece of work summarizing the conventional wisdom regarding definitions of virtual worlds. Yes, he did. I wasn't expressing an opinion on his proposed definition, though; I was expressing an opinion on your reference to his proposed definition as "the standard definition". >Is peer review really necessary for us to have a conversation about it on a blog? If you start waving "standard definitions" in my face then yes, for those they are. >Isn't, in fact, this conversation peer review? If it were, it would be the kind that returned the paper saying, "good work but slack scholarship". >I would argue that my Facebook profile page is my residence in that particular space, and my avatar occupies both that space and more public spaces on the site. Go on, then: argue this. Let's see you explain how you feel that you are "in" your Facebook page, such that if someone else "in" your page asked you where you were, you would reply "I'm here, but I'm just heading over to there" and it would seem quite natural. Human beings have experienced millions of years of evolution living in a 3D world. They can process the information they see without thinking about it - it's all done automatically by the visual cortex. They use this to build an internal model in their head of the world they are in, which they can then treat as an object separate from reality (ie. it can be altered by their imagination). Close your eyes and imagine throwing a ball at a wall: you know what's going to happen because you can see it in your imagination in a 3D model of the world you constructed right there on the fly. We can bypass the visual cortex and access our internal world model using other sensory data if we like: blind people still have a 3D model of where they are in the world. We can also inject elements into this model via our imagination: this is how novels work (and textual worlds, too). We can internally visualise the space in which we are, or other spaces in which we are not but into which we can temporarily project ourselves. Now the thing is, these internal imaginary spaces are modelled based on the real world. The more they differ from the real world, the less the hardware of the brain is geared to handle it. It can handle different spaces - mathematicians can "see" abstract entities, composers can "see" music - but on the whole it takes a lot of training or some strange accident of birth to be able to do this with any degree of competence. Imagining you are in some place you are not, however, is so easy that pretty well anyone can do it. Virtual worlds use a model based on real space because the human mind is excellent at visualising it - indeed, people can't really help doing it, it's so ingrained. This is how people can become immersed in virtual worlds - they can feel that they really are there, in that world they have built in their heads. It's why virtual worlds are so powerful. This isn't a spatial metaphor: this is a spatial model. So: explain why a Facebook page is just the same kind of thing as this, and perhaps you'll go some way towards persuading us why Facebook is just the same kind of thing as WoW. Richard
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2009 on Me vs. The Archbishop at Terra Nova