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Even Further Down the Curation Rabbithole
by Adam Saltsman on 05/16/13 02:42:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Rami Ismail and Michael Brough wrote some super interesting and insightful things about indies and curation and (i’m gonna say it even though they didn’t) virality this morning. I really like where they’re going, and I wanted to point out what I think is at least the next (if not final) step in this logical chain.

To (badly?) summarize their arguments, Rami points out that there is a kind of inherent conflict of interest when indie game makers help to curate for services that they themselves depend on for commercial viability. I have definitely felt this myself, and am hesitate to push projects toward Apple that don’t mean some weird fuzzy “standard” that I made up.

Michael continued this thread, pointing out that even if there wasn’t a financial conflict of interest, the basic human fact that people tend to only promote things that they’re personally interested in can have a chilling effect on the propagation of new or otherwise innovative works. We all have our pet interests, and we tend to get excited about, and thus accidentally promote, specifically those things. And of course these things tend to be based on pre-existing notions and so on.

I know this is a thing that happens a lot, but I also think that there are people out there who are desperate for something new, no matter what it is, and will champion it for the sake of pushing boundaries. Those people are, understandably, in the minority, and I think Michael is right that we would all be better served in the long term if we were more willing to push hard on games that we don’t personally enjoy but that we can still somehow understand our worthwhile and positive contributions.

The thing I wanted to add to this, that I think is very important to mention, is that this idea exposes the cyclical nature of curators and fans and platforms and this whole system. This gets kind of hard to write about so I wanted to give an example:

Earlier this year Emily Short and her compatriots at Linden Labs released a super amazing interactive fiction platform called VERSU for iPad. It’s a flawed app, and the pioneering sample pieces that come with it do not fully explore the potential of the platform (which is of course completely natural and expected). VERSU was one of the only major “game” launches this year that I actually cared about, and I talked about it on Twitter pretty regularly for a while.

The thing is, nobody who follows me on Twitter really seemed to care. I remember one or two people latching on to it and getting interested (Bennett Foddy among them I think?). Otherwise, dead air. For a platform that I think is essential to the maturation and growth of the medium! That’s crazy.

On Twitter, more people retweeted and favorited a joke about wolverines that I wrote last night than all of my VERSU tweets combined.

From this, I draw two more insights, in addition to Rami’s financial conflict-of-interest concerns, and Michael’s worries about our own sort of preference-driven quasi-censorship. I think there is a design problem - things designed for mass appeal spread more easily, and mass appeal is partly based on familiarity. Social media platforms are a part of this issue; if you can’t ascertain the value of a thing in 10 seconds your window for virality closes fast. And piling the pressure of instant mass appeal onto a crazy new thing is an enormous burden for people already boldly pioneering unexplored territory.

But there is also a fan problem. Even when I do find something special and unique and new and weird that resonates with me, and I can see why it matters both in the short and long term, and I climb up on my soapbox and shout about it to anyone nearby… if nobody is willing to listen, then to me it feels like it was a waste of time, why bother?

To end on a hopeful note, I wanted to present the idea that it might be ok if weird new things aren’t universally championed and pushed to the front of the line. It might be ok for some games to really be for other game makers, or only for literature buffs, and not the general public. It’s ok for some things to spread slowly, to wait for the moment when suddenly we are ready for them to amaze us.

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Aaron San Filippo
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Ok rambling thoughts coming up, bear with me:

I found Rami's article and yours really interesting. I think I didn't fully appreciate that as "influencers" - you guys probably get inundated with games from up-and-comers on a daily basis.

But I think it also speaks to a slightly bigger topic: There aren't really any universally good methods of game discovery out there, other than the (mostly) small and unknown websites. And these are great, but in my mind, they're not really big enough to connect enough gamers to the games they might enjoy

The big media covers indie games, but they tend to cover ones that make for interesting stories or will draw lots of views, just by the nature of being a media outlet.

It kind of made me think of the old video stores and how there used to be curated section that was just some guy who picked the ones he liked, and if your interests were similar, maybe you'd like them too.

I guess the music genome project is kind of that, but on a bigger scale: If you like this thing, maybe you'd like this other thing too.

Why don't we have that for games?

What if it did exist, and on a big enough scale that if someone made a great game, people who would be likely to enjoy it would have a pretty good chance of finding it?

I think this could take a lot of different forms, but maybe worth thinking about...

Bart Stewart
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I'd like to see a general "thing" discovery system similar to what Richard Bartle proposed: .

Basically: A bunch of people rate things. When you search for a kind of thing (computer games, books, music, etc.), the system looks for people whose ratings on that kind of thing are most similar to yours. Then it recommends something they've rated highly that you haven't rated at all.

This eliminates human curation. That's good and bad; it bypasses the gatekeepers, but it also loses quality critical commentary attached to ratings. It also means that recommendations will tend to only give you things you'll like, rather than new kinds of things you might learn to like (but a "surprise me" search feature could help with that).

On balance, I think a discovery system like this would clearly be a win. I don't know why this isn't yet a thing that exists.

Aaron San Filippo
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Bart: Thanks for sharing that!

I feel the same way: why doesn't this exist? Steam *kind of* does it, by showing you what your friends are playing... But it's a very closed system, is only for PC games, and is ultimately most geared towards maximizing revenue through sales.

James Yee
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Isn't that basically how Amazon works? When I'm looking for, say liquid coolers for my computer it also shows me other brands and ones with their ratings. Even when I'm looking at a particular brand.

I've had it recommend new games to me too.

Bart Stewart
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James, I'd say the difference is that Amazon shows you what *it* thinks you might like (which might or might not have any bias toward things they're trying to sell), whereas the system Richard Bartle suggests compares your interests directly with other people. (Steam's similar.)

LibraryThing comes pretty close to this. It shows you other people who have the most books they've entered that match the books you've entered. It's not quite a rating system, and it's specific to books, but otherwise it's an example of the basic idea of getting recommendations from someone who likes most of the things you like.

I can see no reason why a general-purpose version of this couldn't catch fire. Assuming it did, its obvious next strategic step would be to hook itself to providers of whatever it is that was recommended to you. If it discovers for you a game you've never played that sounds great to you, and makes it easy for you to buy that game immediately (say, from GOG) for a percentage of the sale....

Neal Nellans
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I first saw versu at the experimental games workshop at gdc this year. Like you, I was also impressed by the potential of the platform. But when I explained the concept to my wife and my mom, the two most avid readers i know, they lacked to muster the same enthusiam. Maybe its the fact that artists can see the potential of new ideas that others might miss.

The scale and scope of the games landscape has multiplied so rapidly, that curation by any metric is a difficult task. Ultimately, the marketplace decides which curators opinions are valid. I feel that any level of curation is a step in the right direction, as it informs fans about similar content and increases public awareness about the creators of that content.

Bart Stewart
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I'm with Jay Anne; I think there are a couple of strong currents being fought against here.

1. Interactive fiction will always be a tough sell. People like books, and graphics are sexy in computer games, but that middle ground is barren. You occasionally get a few nice flowers that individuals have carefully cultivated, but it's probably never going to be a bountiful orchard.

2. How you tell people about things matters. I like hearing the ideas behind products. Biz-types like fact-based, bottom-line bullet points. But most people like a dramatic story. They're not inspired by behind-the-scenes info or secondary utility -- they want to know how it will be fun for them personally.

The folks at Rock Paper Shotgun have become highly valued recommenders because they excel at turning game products into stories. By dramatizing their play experience, they personalize it for their readers and get them thinking, "Hey, this is the play experience I could be having. That's cool; I've got to try that!" ("Let's Play" videos serve a similar effect, though they take some of the mystery out of the play experience.)

So there are the suggestions for reaching more people with new/different kinds of computer games: sexy it up so that its look is distinctive (Twine seems to be trying this in the IF area), and dramatize the coolest play experiences (or, even better, convince someone with a big soapbox to dramatize it for you).

Golly, other people's problems sure are easy to solve, aren't they? ;)

James Yee
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GiantBomb does the same thing as RPS and I think that's why both sites are doing as well as they are. They are curators in a way, but they tell you WHY they are doing things. Like why is GiantBomb showing a lot of DOTA stuff? Because Brad is a big DOTA groove right now and wants to share.

That personal connection lets us do what we do with our friends, take their advise, tips, and recommendations with the right grains of salt. For instance, I don't like MOBA games AT ALL so Brad being all for DOTA red flags that game in my mind without even needing to know a thing about it. (Even though I know plenty)

Communities are great ways to filter games. The question is how to find YOUR community. There are so many options it's easy to get lost and there's no "central" location for all of them. Not sure we NEED one though.

TC Weidner
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the collapse of the price point has caused a problem here. When people/customers/gamers were accustomed to games ranging from $30-50, a small developer had an opening to price in at say $20, even at the lower point all they/we needed to do was find a small audience as they really only needed 5,000 direct sales to be " successful". $100,000 bucks for a lil one or 2 man indie was great.

Now however with the price point collapsed to basically nothing, small developers have to now find audience 10 to 100 times larger just to make that same 100k if they are lucky. With these F2P shenanigans or 1 dollar price points, suddenly a small little guy has to find 100,000+ customers to make what he used to be able to make with 5,000.