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A Brave New Medium: Facebook versus World of Warcraft
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A Brave New Medium: Facebook versus World of Warcraft

December 16, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Toolsets and Paintbrushes

With so much left in the hands of the audience, the old standards of separating art from utility become even blurrier for interactive media. If WoW is a social platform, why do its 12 million users pay a monthly fee while 300 million Facebook users enjoy the same basic functions for free?

"A work of entertainment is meant to evoke an emotional reaction, you could argue that email also has buttons and increases social interaction but at its core email is a functional technology, an online game isn't," said Rod Humble, Head of EA's The Sims Studio and art game developer.

"A utility advances by reducing user interaction time and increasing productivity, a game does the opposite, it's the non productive bit that's enjoyable."

During the past 40 years, video games have vindicated the idea that they should be considered as separate from other forms of software. They require purchase of consoles in five-year cycles for the sole purpose of entertainment and expressive experience.

"Playing a game on a console is sort of like going to a movie theater or watching a DVD in your living room. That's a really different experience than browsing the web," said Young.

"Both can be entertaining, both can be engaging, both can be interesting; games on a framework like Facebook and games on your phone are, to some degree, a function of the medium."

With the advent of Facebook, the iPhone, and mass market pricing for computers entertainment and utility are inching closer and closer together. You could be playing Passage on your iPhone when you get a text, Facebook update, or Twitter message.

You could be playing FarmVille on Facebook (whose 60 million users dwarf WoW's user base) with Excel and Outlook a mouse-click away. With games like Spy Master invading Twitter, it's hard to tell where the true art and craft comes in interactive media. Does the designer deserve credit for creating the interactive environment or does the player make it artistic through her creative use of it?

"If we simplify a developer as someone who directs how something should work and an artist as someone who directs how something should feel, then a player definitely swings both ways," said Waldman.

"When playing online shooters I have seen players who do things that are unnecessarily beautiful (like winning a round using only a bolt action rifle or a pistol), it reminds me of ballet or at times improv comedy," Humble said. "Some games are based almost entirely on players sharing their creativity such as The Sims."

As a writer I have a natural interest in better delineating all the potential categories of the emerging media. But what is the purpose of such a distinction for content creators? Designers bring ideas to life; call it art, a utility, or an iPhone game.

"I think it's probably worthwhile to have some sort of taxonomy, but at the same time, you run the risk of over-thinking the categorization versus really trying to understand what's common between these things," said Young.

"I think that's the thing that hasn't really been explored or articulated is the commonality and how compulsion is consistent across MMOs and social networks and traditional video games."

The connective tissue between all forms of interactive media, from Facebook to WoW, and from MS Office to Wii Sports Resort, is in defining the wants of an audience, offering them tools to satisfy that want within a constrained space, and then anticipating consequences for as many possible inputs as you can imagine. In some cases the end result will be a PowerPoint presentation, in other cases it will have been participation in an interactive narrative.

As we continue to wrestle with where exactly the art of interaction comes from, all signs point back to the users. What will inspire or surprise them? What will make them more efficient? What will give them the tools to express a fuller version of themselves within the boundaries of the environment you've created? What purpose do those boundaries serve?

"There are varieties of art, from the narrative rational family such as literature and theater -- to the emotional irrational family such as music and dance," said Humble.

"That's one axis, the other axis I cannot define yet but it has something to do with where the art is experienced, on its way to its final destination -- a person's mind."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Christian Kulenkampff
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Interesting article. But in my opinion the article seems inaccurate by limiting games and especially videogames to "tools of self-expression/ self-exploration". For example I think Solitaire does not fit into the article's view of games.

C. Ritter
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Very interesting article. I think you're right to claim that one of the most essential differences between Facebook and WoW is the realism of people's identities - that on Facebook we essentially represent our true selves, but that on WoW we take on a virtual identity in a fantasy world. I think that factor helps explain the draw of both of these programs. But as Christian hints in the first comment, the fact that videogames are _games_ is the biggest difference between them and other media. Both WoW and Facebook encourage/allow identity play, and Facebook contains some games, but WoW's _main purpose_ is game play. That's a significant enough difference to distinguish videogames from other interactive software - maybe they all fall under the broad rubric of "interactive media," but I'd call them different mediums in the end.

Timothy Ryan
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Facebook = Free = Lower quality expectations

WoW = $$ = Greater quality expectations

Remember the consumer backlash when Counter Strike went commercial and people were expected to pay for it? Now imagine if people had to pay for any of those Facebook games. Do you think people would? It's one thing to say you have an install base of hundreds of millions, and it's quite another when you actually analyze the number of paying customers. Case in point: Zynga, the biggest success story for Facebook published games, still needs venture capital to keep afloat. These games are designed to scam people and investors alike.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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Facebook and Twitter are scum for childs, tuxedo peddlers and other empty heads.

Such a network, if he had a sense, it must be the soul and knowledge (like Wikipedia), not a pretty face, famous family gatherings and millions of photos .. Young generation hunt pretty face and facebook for me is mainly about sex (whether primary or secondary), whether they say what they want.

There is always a poor man who tries on a page where many people earn money they impose something ..

Richard Cody
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WoW is a director or a parent who guides you through a structure. The game creates the fun.

Facebook is an empty pallet waiting for something to be made of it. The user creates the fun.

Victor Perez
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Timothy, point for you, but it is not scam to do a huge marketing campaign showing fake trailers just to sell another bad game? The language of free to play game is new in this circus and some do not know how to monetize their game play that is because they have been forced to scam people. People have the right to test it before to pay, it is nothing more than that, good companies and products are now difficult to detect, time will tell it.

Richard another for you…

Raph Koster
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Timothy, according to everything I have read, Zynga is profitable.

Ed Alexander
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I liked the article, it was well written. Unfortunately I find I don't agree with the sources quoted...

David Spade made a critical observation of Chris Farley's character in the movie Tommy Boy that I feel kind of relates to how I feel about Young and Humble. There are two kinds of smart: book smart and street smart. I think they are book smart, because I don't see the street smart behind their words.

But it was interesting stumbling upon this article, just yesterday I went for coffee with a colleague and we were discussing WoW (and MMOs in general) and Facebook games. Whether or not you're a hardcore gamer who looks down on such casual, easy games with a watered down experience, you have to admit that both WoW and Facebook are doing what the Wii has been successful of; and that is changing expectations and expanding the industry's audience, many of whom probably wouldn't even describe themselves as gamers, even if they do spend an hour a day or more in front of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, etc.

Simon Tai
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Interesting article indeed, but I find it's comparin apple to orang a bit. Yes, there are social aspects to both, but since the target audience and user base are too different, the basis, contents, and evolution of interactions will essentially be different as well.

The recent phenomenon of growing focus into social services has put a decade long consumer behavior under the spot light and uncovered new business opportunities. Yet, I don't think it has impacted the traditional games much. Perhaps, the word "games" is too broad. My point is that traditional games will continue its own path undetered by the new emerging trend of social network business exactly for the same reason Ed mentioned above.

Victor Perez
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"Games" is like "Movies" or "Sports"... it is an Entertainment with some common characteristics but I will never compare Soccer with Tennis… But just talking about trends: My vision is that online games will be more and more flooded of “quality graphics games” pushing out the facebooks and others social web games. And all of them following the freemium model….

Christopher Plummer
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I liked this article a lot. It was thought out very well and quite intriguing. I guess it doesn't hurt that I also feel similar to the author.

For the people making snide remarks about Solitaire I would say the author addressed this. Solitaire is a game, and the "video game" you know it as is a utility to help people play Solitaire more efficiently and productively.

The identity is that of someone who longs to play in a controlled environment with no surpises.

The want is to let you do this whenever, wherever, and even to score you based on your speed.

The product is one that is exactly the same as it was when it was first released, with its only additions being customization options for your identity and the ability to work as well or better on current hardware.