Monthly Archives: October 2006

Seattle Times: Phrogram article

The interface column article is by Tricia Duryee, and is at this link.

Tricia condensed our information into a really accurate, cogent and compelling summary. Thank you, Tricia, and thank you Jeff Fishburn for introducing us!

What: The Phrogram Company, based in Kent

What is does: Develops programming language that attempts to simplify computer development by making code read more like English.

History: Spun off from Morrison Schwartz, a computer consulting group started by Walt Morrison and Jon Schwartz.

KPL 1.0: The initial idea was to create a way to encourage kids to program. The first version of the software was called Kid’s Programming Language, and was launched in July last year.

International: The program was downloaded more than 100,000 times, Schwartz said, and grew in popularity as people voluntarily translated it into 17 languages.

KPL 2.0: After achieving so many downloads, Schwartz said Phrogram wanted to broaden the idea to include anyone who wants to make a computer program. He said computer games or programming, for example, could become as common as making videos and uploading them to the Internet. The new version, launched about three weeks ago, is called Phrogram, a play on “frog” and “program.”

Side-by-side: Schwartz said there’s a key difference between Phrogram and a programming language like C++. He said code is traditionally written with blocks of logic between curly braces — the { and } keys. A block of logic in Phrogram says: “If something is true, then do something.” Said Schwartz: “It’s easier to get started if what you are looking at and what you are typing is more like English.”

The outcome: Schwartz said Phrogram cuts down on the amount of code a person has to write. For instance, to control a 3-D spaceship as it flies around on the screen, it takes 35 instructions with Phrogram. In other languages, it would take 10 times as many.

Solving a crisis: Schwartz said the four-person company hopes it can begin to address the fact that fewer students are interested in computer programming in college. If the process becomes simpler, and if you make it more fun by teaching people to program games, popularity could increase. “One of our slogans is if you can read and type, then you can program,” he said.

Nitty-gritty: The software can be downloaded free from phrogram.com/, but versions are available for about $50 that allow developers to share a game or program they build without having to share the code.

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U.S. students make politics a fantasy game

The Reuters news story is available here.

Politics has become a game for a group of California college students who have launched an online video game, “Fantasy Congress,” in the lead-up to next month’s U.S. congressional elections.

The game, officially launched on Monday, is a new spin on the popular online fantasy sports games where players chose a team of real-life players and tally points based on their statistical performance.

In “Fantasy Congress,” found at www.fantasycongress.us/fc/, a player drafts a team of actual U.S. lawmakers and then competes against other teams.

Andrew Lee, a senior at Claremont McKenna College in the greater Los Angeles area and one of the game’s creators, said lawmakers were ranked based on the progress of their proposed legislation, picking up points on its journey to possibly getting passed into law.

Lee said he hoped the game would inspire people to pay as much attention to politics as they do to sports.

“If people cared about politics as much as they care about sports, we’d have a better democracy,” said Lee

And check out this cool detail!

The creators said they are funding the game with $5,000 in prize money from winning a school-sponsored Web-based entrepreneur of the year award and volunteer labor.

My first reaction was lol (for the uninitiated, that’s laugh out loud in text speech).

My second reaction was, that’s not exactly what most people fantasize about.

My third reaction was, hmm, could this go viral? Would it actually make people think more about politics? Margin of victories are often very small – could something like this going viral just before the election influence some results here and there, which of course can influence some things on the national level (as we know from all the talking heads right now)? Is someone watching what they do with this game and it’s code to make sure it’s non-partisan, and not manipulating the thinking of players in one direction or the other? That wouldn’t be hard to do in a good game. Could online games like this be the next wave of grass-roots and/or online political activity that surprises people in its impact? Might this help some people get engaged enough to actually vote?

Did you know that in the 2002 midterms, 65% of eligible US voters didn’t vote? For the presidential elections in 2004 we did better, only around 40% of us didn’t vote.

Seems to me the best jokes are deep, have layers, and have as much truth as humor in them.

At any rate, I’ll bet you a dollar that $5,000 entrepreneur of the year award turns out to be a very wise selection indeed.

World of Warcraft Expansion Delayed To 2007

Here’s the news at Gamasutra

Burning Crusade, originally slated for a late-November release, will see a delay until January of 2007

I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest you try EverQuest 2 while you wait. I have high level characters in both games, and it’s my own humble opinion that EQ2 is now a better game. It’s the one I’m still active in, anyway. You can find it for $10 (with a free month) at big game/electronic stores, and there is also free trial download available on the website.

The two games released within a week of each other in 2004, and when they did, WoW was a far better game. This is why I left EQ2 early on and played WoW for a year. Sony has impressed the heck out of me (as a software professional) with how much they have improved the usability, the playability, and expanded on the game content since release. Thus I’m back in EQ2, and WoW is on hold.

‘Better’ is clearly subjective – so all I’m suggesting is that you check it out yourself while you wait. If anyone else has played both considerably, it’d be a lively comment discussion to trade our opinions about the games here.

Is it possible to have too much fun?

I’m busier than I think I’ve ever been – but having more fun working on cool stuff than I ever have, too! My blog has been slow lately, and is likely to be even slower for the next two weeks, so I certainly wanted to explain. Last week I finished and submitted a long feature for Gamasutra, the coolest game portal on the Web. The feature is basically an extension of and update to the paper in which KPL was submitted to SIGGRAPH 2006. Not sure when the Gamasutra article will appear yet, but it’s likely at least a month out.

This week, I am collaborating with folks at the University of Washington on a research grant proposal, in response to this RFP on Computer Science and Gaming, from Microsoft Research. Our proposal is a fun one, testing the use of XNA + Xbox 360s + Phrogram as a more engaging and rewarding way to teach introductory Computer Science at the university level. If we don’t increase both enrollment and retention, I’ll go work on accounting systems. 😀

On Friday, in a separate connection with Microsoft Research, I’m presenting KPL and Phrogram there on Microsoft’s campus. Our contacts at Microsoft have mainly been with other teams to this point, so I’m very much looking forward to demoing and discussing with the researchers at MSR.

Next week, our first Phrogram book is due to our editors: Create Your Own Computer Games with Phrogram. It’s coming together nicely, and I hope will be the first of a series. This first one takes an absolute beginner up to writing and understanding their own version of the classic Pong! – the video game that launched the video game revolution – in just 75 pages, and a week or two of study.

Week after next, I am flying to Recife, Brazil (old beach city, early spring, lots of history and little white churches!), to give a keynote at SBGames (Symposium Brazilian on Games). It’s Latin America’s biggest game conference – and to this point, Latin America is leading the world in using KPL and Phrogram as part of Computer Science curriculum. Glad to visit! Here’s the title and abstract of what I’ll talk about. Sound interesting?

When User-Created Content Meets Gaming: A Revolution is Coming User-created content is arguably the hottest trend in computing today, as demonstrated by the global success and impact of Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube and others. Games also continue to be a very important and growing business, with 100% growth in sales from 1995 to 2005, and 50% further growth projected from 2005 to 2010. Recent technology is – for the first time in decades – allowing everyday users to create their own graphical and game programs. This change is setting up a coming creative revolution in gaming which will inevitably result when this statement is true: “If you can read and you can type, you can create your own computer games.” This presentation will summarize the data that defines these trends and opportunities, will offer live demonstrations of KPL and Phrogram which show that this revolution has already begun, and will project near-future implications of these changes.

Paying attention to Second Life yet?

New York Times is:

A Virtual World but Real Money

It has a population of a million. The “people” there make friends, build homes and run businesses. They also play sports, watch movies and do a lot of other familiar things. They even have their own currency, convertible into American dollars.

But residents also fly around, walk underwater and make themselves look beautiful, or like furry animals, dragons, or practically anything — or anyone — they wish.

But now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost.

Already, the Internet is the fastest-growing advertising medium, as traditional forms of marketing like television commercials and print advertising slow. For businesses, these early forays into virtual worlds could be the next frontier in the blurring of advertising and entertainment.

Unlike other popular online video games like World of Warcraft that are competitive fantasy games, these sites meld elements of the most popular forms of new media: chat rooms, video games, online stores, user-generated content sites like YouTube.com and social networking sites like MySpace.com.

I  highly recommend you click and read – there’s much more there about the real companies actually beginning to do real business there, about the model Second Life uses to make money, and about the tax implications of buying and selling virtual assets.  It’s been around for years, but clearly it’s going mainstream now.

Book recommendation: Snowcrash – Neal described all this over a decade ago, in a more real and practical and way than anyone else has, including the model of how VR real estate and VR business and VR lifestyle will be making gigabucks.  And if you don’t grok how and why that’s happening, and how soon it will – well, log on.  Start with WoW and Second Life and EQ2.  🙂
As if NYT yesterday wasn’t enough, there was also Wired:

Second Life’s Must-Have Stuff

Second Life residents are spending $7 million a month on digital goods and services. If you’re wondering what people do in a world with no levels, no score, no set challenges or quests, perhaps a clue may be found in some of the 15 terabytes of user-created content being bought and sold within the virtual world.

Linden Lab, Second Life‘s publisher, estimates that the total amount of content being created by its users is equivalent to the output of 5,100 full-time programmers. And it doesn’t pay them. Rather, these content creators pay Linden Lab, for the land needed to build their creations and for the stores or islands where they display their goods.

Have you seen my previous blog post about user-created content? Remember megatrends?  This is a gigatrend. And it’s just getting started.

The article presents a bunch of that user-created content – and includes YouTube (user-created again) videos of them in action – including a real-time chat translator that currently supports 10 languages!!!  The article also features a new bit of technology for us to cogitate on: SLURLS which can teleport you directory to that content in the game.  So you can buy it, of course.  And if you have a Second Life, of course.

So: paying attention to Second Life yet?

Group: Video games can reshape education

Associated Press is pretty mainstream media – great to see them reporting on this now!

Group: Video games can reshape education

Scientists call it the next great discovery, a way to captivate students so much they will spend hours learning on their own.

The theory is that games teach skills that employers want: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem-solving under duress. Unlike humans, the games never lose patience. And they are second nature to many kids.

The idea might stun those who consider games to be the symbol of teenage sloth. Yet this is not about virtual football or skateboarding. Games would have to be created and evaluated with the goal of raising achievement, said federation president Henry Kelly.

What’s needed, he said, is research into which features of games are most important for learning — and how to test students on the skills they learn in games. The departments of education and labor and the National Science Foundation would lead the way under this plan.

Schools, colleges and universities are a fractured market. They make their own buying decisions, and are likely to be dubious about the value of games.

“Common sense tells us that a medium so basic to the lives of these ‘millennials’ has potential beyond the living room,” Lowenstein said. “We would be crazy not to seek ways to exploit interactive games to teach our children.”

But when he thought about how games would work in class, questions kept popping to mind. How much training would teachers receive? Who would persuade school leaders and the public that games aren’t a waste of time? Would education schools add serious gaming to the curriculum?

Ultimately, he said, teachers need to see games as a way to help — not as a threat.

Yes, this is all very hopeful! It’s particularly great to think of this actually having significant government attention and funding, since that means that it will also get significant academic and industry attention, as both chase those dollars.

But that last quote I ended on is a really really important stumbling block which isn’t going to be addressed easily by government or industry or academic administrators – it’s about all the teachers who are actually in the classroom. Here’s data from a previous blog that shows just how difficult all those teachers might be:

Less than 30 percent of teachers ever play games outside of school. And 82% of children have played games in just the last 3 weeks.

There’s a generation gap for ya.

 

The Computer Science Crisis

I’m working on a lengthy article for GAMASUTRA that will be the biggest press Phrogram has gotten yet – thanks Beth and thanks GAMASUTRA!

I thought I’d blog some of the data from it, focused on the Computer Science crisis, to do my own little bit to spread the word about this – it is indeed a crisis!


Did you know that there has been a decline in US computer science enrollment of over 60 percent since 2000? Here’s the national data, from a UCLA study:
Computer Science in Crisis
The more one examines that graph and thinks through the long-term implications of those numbers, the more mind-boggling they become. Of course, the rest of the world will be more than happy to pick up that work, if 60% less Americans want to do it. So the real question is: are computer science, software development and game design and development going to go as rapidly overseas as textiles, electronics and other manufacturing already have?Note from the graph that for women, the problem is even worse. There are many factors which are contributing to this trend, and there are a good number of people in Computer Science academia working on it – but clearly there isn’t enough visibility nationally for the issue.

If you are a blogger or a bookmarker, can you help spread the word? That’s our best way to get mainstream media to notice and put attention on this problem, which is of course the best way to get politicians to do something about it.

Other data demonstrates how ironic this decline in computer science is. For instance, computer and video game software sales have more than doubled between 1996 and 2005, and are projected to increase a further 50% from 2005 to 2010. A recent study by Nielsen is particularly stunning: 64% of all players of online games are women. Clearly, then, the lack of undergraduate interest is much more specific to Computer Science as a profession than it is to general usage of computer technology, or specific interest in computer games. Both points are most clearly true for women.

The chart is from:

Vegso, Jay. Interest in CS as a Major Drops Among Incoming Freshmen. Computing Research News, Vol. 17/No. 3, May 2005

Jay’s article is available online at http://www.cra.org/CRN/articles/may05/vegso

The GAMASUTRA article will detail out our own response to the Computer Science crisis – watch for it in a few weeks!

The other end of the world

My wife Andrea grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina – far from our home now in Seattle. She is there now, visiting family, and taking many wonderful photos. Wish I could have made the trip! Next time. She has recently posted a bunch of photos from the trip on her Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreaschwartz

I will share some of my own favorites, but you really should go check out all of them. When it comes to photos (and just about everything else!) it’s surprising how different our own personal favorites can be.

This one must be seen large:

Andrea hermosa! 🙂

50 Books For Everyone In the Game Industry

Ernest Adams at Next Generation (I have found a lot of good and deep and intelligent content to blog about there!) has put together this opus of a Web article – when’s the last time you saw page 1 of 10 on a article on the web?!? From:

50 Books For Everyone In the Game Industry

What I’ve done is to assemble a collection of books that address the following questions:

  • What are games (and videogames)?
  • What has been the history of video games?
  • How are games related to other media, and what might we learn from those media?
  • How and why do people play games? And finally, how (in general terms) should we design and build them?

I’ve organized the books roughly by topic…

The topics are…

  1. Theory
  2. Design Practice
  3. Writing
  4. Graphic Design
  5. Music / Audio
  6. Online Community
  7. The History of Games
  8. Sociology
  9. People, Projects, and Businesses
  10. Other Media and Useful Disciplines
  11. Deep Background
  12. Inspirations

I’m not gonna spoil his fun by listing the books here – the article link is up top there. But after I post it I’m gonna go shopping for used books at Amazon. 😀

Shifting gaming demographics

In the last few days, lots of articles are coming on on this topic, based mainly on the results of Nielsen Interactive Entertainment’s annual study. The Hollywood Reporter has the best coverage I have found, in Online gaming attracts more women than men (Nielsen study tracks booming genre). I’ll quote lots of highlights below, but before I do, I want to also quote from a previous blog entry of my own, since the two sets of data combine in ways that are REALLY interesting and important. From Game industry projections – 2005 to 2010:

Total global game software market:
$23.1 billion in 2005
$35.4 billion in 2010
Compound Annual Growth Rate 8.9%

Mobile game software 2005 $1.67 billion
Mobile game software 2010 $6.5 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 31.2%

PC online game software 2005 $3.2 billion
PC online game software 2010 $9.1 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 23.2%

Console online game software 2005 $0.26 billion
Console online game software 2010 $2.95 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 62.5%

Handheld game software 2005 $3.84 billion
Handheld game software 2010 $2.7 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate -6.8%

PC retail game software 2005 $3.1 billion
PC retail game software 2010 $2.7 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate -2.7%

Console game software 2005 $11.0 billion
Console game software 2010 $11.4 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 0.7%

Online gaming drilldown:

2010 long session market (eg MMOs) $4.82 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 26%

2010 mid session market $4.72 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 29%

2010 short session market (eg casual games) $2.5 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 34%

So I combine that data with the Nielsen data, and here are a couple things I see: future growth in the game industry is especially focused in the areas of female and online games, and the already-sold stereotypical demographic of teenage boys playing console and handheld games is stagnant or in decline.

Game companies listening? We could really use some broadening of game industry content outside it’s current narrow niche – especially in the console space – so I really really hope they are listening. So here is some data from the Hollywood Reporter article:

Nielsen’s extensive survey of demographic, age and gender trends in the video game space found that as of August, about 117 million people in the U.S. qualified as “active gamers,” meaning they spend at least one hour per week on a gaming device. That’s up from 112 million last year. Of the active gamers, 56% play games online, and 64% of those online players are women, according to the study.

about 117 million people in the U.S. qualified as “active gamers,” meaning they spend at least one hour per week on a gaming device. That’s up from 112 million last year.

The study also shows that while gaming remains a part of consumers’ lives as they age, they approach it with a different mind-set.

“We call them ‘family focused,’ ” Della Maggiora said. “This is a group that was once avid gamers; they have been playing games on average for 14 years, though now with life-stage changes — having a mortgage, kids, marriage — their focus falls on to their family. So, while gaming is still a part of their life, it is not consuming them, and they turn to games to relax and kill time.”

According to the report, active gamers spend upward of five hours a week playing games socially, a pace led by teenagers, who are socially involved in gaming about 13 hours per week.

While women are dominant among online gamers, men still outnumber women in the overall video game space by more than 2-to-1 (70%-30%). Older females make up the largest percentage of casual gamers, usually playing online card and puzzle games. Thanks to casual games and the emergence of massively multiplayer online games, 64% of active gamers play on a PC. About 24% of active gamers engage in gaming on their mobile devices.

But video games must compete for wallet share and clock time with other forms of entertainment. Active gamers spend an average of $58 a month on entertainment, $16 of which goes to video games. They also average about one-quarter of their weekly leisure time (13 out of 55.3 hours) playing video games. After gaming, music is the second-most-popular activity among the majority active gamer groups, though it is tied for first among females at nine hours.

The video-game industry is undergoing a transition from current- to next-generation consoles, with Xbox 360 on store shelves since November and Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 shipping next month.

“Next-generation gamers are looking for compelling, innovative and unique gameplay experiences that not only deliver high-end quality gaming but also allow a communally connective environment, and the Xbox 360 has delivered on both,” Della Maggiora said. “Nearly eight out of 10 Xbox 360 active gamers say that the Xbox 360 has lived up to its next-generation gaming promise of quality gameplay, rooted in superior graphics and sound quality. And nearly 50% of active gamers with Xbox 360 are on Xbox Live, while another quarter (26%) say they are planning on subscribing soon.”

That last quote is one that doesn’t address user demographics particularly, but I left it in there for a few good reasons. First of all, it seems to me 80% is a pretty good satisfaction level after less than a year of XBox 360 usage – kudos to the 360 team! – and this also seems to me pretty good evidence that the move to next generation consoles will happen quickly rather than slowly – that’s 80% of next-gen users telling their friends they should also buy next-gen. Second of all, this niche is by far the biggest booming, from the projections, which I will reiterate here:

Console online game software 2005 $0.26 billion
Console online game software 2010 $2.95 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 62.5%

And last and most interesting, the “online console gaming” niche is the place where the seperate demographic groups that we’re talking about might be converging. This is a very important point because of its implications: first of all, this could break the “offline teenage console gamer stereotype” out of that offline scenario and bringing it online, making it more social. And second of all, if satisfying online console content is available for them, the older and the female and the casual online gamer demographics could move in the direction of the consoles – a very important shift, since they are all primarily online on the PC now.

If these thoughts are interesting, and you missed my earlier related blog post based on a different study, you might also check this out:

Study says: There are SIX different types of gamers