Monday, December 3, 2007

Snow Day

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It’s a snow day here in Vermont. The first major event of the winter, school’s been canceled. It’s an official day of play. From my kitchen table vantage point, I can see children and dogs, parents and grandparents convening over sleds, snow banks and snowmen.
It’s a perfect day to reflect on the nature of play and community, about games and business. A larger global event in the world of play also happened today. Activision (Guitar Hero, Call of Duty) and Vivendi (World of Warcraft) announced a merger worth $18.9 billion. Like our New England blizzard swiftly turns brown fields to snowy white, Activision Blizzard instantly topples Electronic Arts as king of gaming’s snowy hill to become the world’s largest game publisher.
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What interests me about the joining of the two companies is that despite seemingly different product lines, there is a striking similarity. How many of you have entered Circuit Cities or Best Buys to see line-ups of teens playing Guitar Hero together? Likewise Guitar Hero playoffs are popular. At these events the creative style with which one plays the game is as important as successfully completing the levels. It is a game based on having a live community to perform for. World of Warcraft is also a community-based game based on creative expression and performance. Exploration, making a livelihood, meeting challenges successfully together and the ability to gain leadership status has brought nine million players worldwide into this virtual fantasy world.
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Performance, creativity, and community seem to be a winning combination for these two properties. This trio of elements appears to be major constituents of play. What is it about this combination that draws us to the experience? When accomplished in community, mimicking musicians, fighting opposing factors and building snowmen, are fun and motivate us to do better. Motivation to do better crosses boundaries into the worlds of learning and of work. Only recently new controllers, faster hardware and higher bandwidth are enabling these types of experiences in the virtual realms. What new forms will open up and what will be the pitfalls and possibilities? Will we still call snow days to enable random acts of community and creativity, will virtual hot chocolate taste as good?

1 comment:

Andrew Webster said...

At long last, Ann is blogging! Now I have the inside scoop on the industry/psychology/etc of gaming via my RSS feed to your posts. Case in point; I hadn't heard of this merger.

Among the pop-cult games demo'd for me by the Champlain students, World of Warcraft stood out as the most community oriented and the best for building collaborative skills. I remember one student explaining how his confidence and leadership skills were developed by enlisting allies and orchestrating efforts in-world.

Guitar hero is quite the phenomenon. I went to 2 bachelor parties this summer, and Guitar Hero has replaced voyeurism and debauchery as the king bachelor party activity. It rivals beer for human bonding properties.

Great post. Enjoy the snow!