Monthly Archives: June 2008

Schools’ Tech Curriculum Called ‘Boring’

That’s the headline of a Business Week article – but it’s something I’ve been talking about for, oh, three years now. The only good news is they’re helping spread word about the fact that 50% fewer kids are studying computer science than they did five years ago.

I have some suggestions that I’ve made before. Yes, I am offering solutions here at the top before presenting the article which (as people have been doing for 5 years) describes the problem.

Video games have ‘role in school’

No, parents and teachers will not like that suggestion. The data makes that point obvious. On the other hand, reality is not optional.

My conference presentation on this point from last year

Phrogram as presented at SIGGRAPH 2006

Kid’s Programming Language paper I presented at SIGGRAPH 2006

Here’s Business Week’s article describing the problem. Let’s solve it, shall we? It’s really not that hard. Computer science is fun.

June 17, 2008, 12:13PM EST
Schools’ Tech Curriculum Called ‘Boring’
Fewer and fewer kids in secondary schools choose to study computing, which threatens Britain’s tech future

by Natasha Lomas

The teaching of IT in secondary schools needs radically overhauling as it is putting kids off a career in technology, leading figures from academia and industry have warned.

The UK’s status as a world class IT nation is being threatened by a skills black hole which is getting bigger ever year as fewer and fewer kids choose to study computing.

Companies already have difficulty sourcing skilled IT staff—and government and industry bodies have warned thousands more skilled staff will be needed over the coming years to power the so called ‘knowledge economy’. But as numbers of computing students continue to drop off, the question is where is the talent going to come from?

Professor Lachlan MacKinnon, head of the school of computing and creative technologies at the University of Abertay, Dundee, has called for a radical overhauling of the curriculum in secondary schools as “boring” ICT classes which focus on Word and Excel are turning teenagers off IT as a career.

Deep technical skills are required to support the IT industry proper, which is not the same as learning the basic ICT skills that employees in all industries need nowadays, said MacKinnon.

The reality is that the IT industry needs more computing graduates than are currently being produced just to keep up with current demand—yet computer science student numbers have declined by around a quarter in the last three years so the future for UK IT looks very bleak indeed.

“We’re going to hell,” he warned. “It’s not a good place to be.”

Karen Price, CEO of tech industry skills body e-skills UK, also called for a radical overhaul of the curriculum in schools, warning: “The current curriculum is having an extremely negative impact on young people’s attitudes to IT.”

Price pointed out there’s been a 50 per cent drop in applications to computer science degrees over the last five years. “Young people are not choosing to study [computer sciences]. We’re sitting on a time-bomb, quite frankly,” she said.

According to Price, an A-level in computing is not a prerequisite for a single university computer science degree and she said this shows how little value is placed on secondary school IT qualifications.

Moreover, despite being vital to drive the UK’s knowledge economy, computing is not classed as a Stem subject (science, technology, engineering, maths), said MacKinnon, meaning higher education funding has been significantly cut back—to the tune of £100m in recent years.

Nor is IT eligible for SIV status (aka a strategically important and vulnerable subject) and the government support that would bring.

MacKinnon warned: “Without significant intervention higher education cannot meet growth targets [for the IT industry].” He called on the government to provide tax breaks and partner-with-industry to encourage internships and graduate entry schemes to get young talent into IT and help others transfer across from different industries.

The offshoring of entry level IT jobs has exacerbated the skills shortage by making it increasingly difficult for IT workers to gain the necessary experience to boost their skill level, he added. “Because we are not employing at entry level offshoring will kill our industry stone dead,” he warned.


Limbo of the Lost: Brilliant? Funny? Shameless? Lawsuit?

This is worth a bunch of laughs and boggles. First, the game is a legit boxed release:

Here’s the publisher page

Here’s the Wikipedia

Note the Wiki says they have “stopped distribution” while trying to sort out the controversy. I assume this is why the Amazon page says “ships in 3 to 5 weeks.” My guess is, the only place we’ll get a copy now is second hand, or black market.

Here’s the link to the hilarious 13 page (so far) thread on how Limbo of the Lost released using art blatantly stolen from Diablo II, Painkiller, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004, Thief: Deadly Shadows, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Silent Hill 4, Crysis and scenes from the 1997 film Spawn and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

The evidence is right there in the thread: side by side shots from Limbo of the Lost and those they “borrowed” from. Links to the game’s trailers are also there, and seem so hilariously cheezy that the whole thing just might be an intentional joke or ploy. One would assume intentional on the part of the developers and designers, as opposed to the publisher…

Romans Used 20-Sided Dice Two Millennia Before D&D

Annoyingly casual journalistic license, but amusing anyway. Why would a glass die with unidentified non-Roman numerals bought in Egypt in the 20s be called Roman?

Romans Used 20-Sided Dice Two Millennia Before D&D


Many of us geeks take great pride in the ability to recite the history of role-playing games based on the 20-sided die, but what about the history of the die itself? Apparently it predates the original Dungeons and Dragons by almost two millenia.

Christie’s, auctioneer to the rich and famous, sold a glass d20 from Roman times. It was included in a collection of other antiquities that sold in 2003. The markings on the die don’t appear to be either Arabic or Roman numerals, but it’s probably a safe bet that it was used in a game of chance. As the auction catalog notes that several polyhedral dice are known from the Roman era, but remarks, ” Modern scholarship has not yet established the game for which these dice were used.”

I wonder – how do you say “critical hit” in Latin? (Ed. note: “maxima plaga”)

The seller acquired this die from his father, who picked it up in the 1920s in Egypt. Sounds like the beginning of an Indiana Jones movie, doesn’t it?

And on that note, haven’t got a copy yet, but I have to check it out:

D&D 4rth edition has just released:

What interests me most about the new rules are the online tools, called (and sold) as DnD Insider. Check this out – about time, eh?

D&D Character Builder, a program that helps you create and manage your D&D characters. This program allows you to create a character for any D&D game, walking you through the process of rolling the dice and assigning your game statistics, as well as creating a visual version of your character using “paper doll” models and “drag and click” selections of armor and weapons. At the end, you can save your character and print out a character sheet, as well as go to any D&D tournament and call up your character for use, or use the character at the Virtual Gaming Table (see below). With this package, you get to create and store up to 10 different characters or up to 10 different versions of one character (your character at different levels), or some combination of the two.
•Exclusive D&D-related novels and short stories written by your favorite authors
•Real-World D&D Search Engines (find D&D gamers, game stores, tournaments, and events in your area)
•In-Game D&D Search Engines (find feats, spells, magic items, and other D&D-related topics)

Digital Gaming Table, a program that allows you to play D&D using the Internet as your kitchen table, with a viewable play surface, dice rolling, virtual miniatures, and voice chat. Now you don’t have to wait for your home gaming group to get together to play a game of D&D. You can still play your weekly face-to-face game, but now you can also play two or three more times a week by finding a game at the virtual table. Or, you might want to reconnect with your old gaming pals who long ago moved away-now you can all play together again on a regular basis!

How geeky is this? And this? And this? 😀

Wii, WiiFit, Exercise and Physical Therapy

Brilliant. Note the subtitle for my blog? 🙂 Keep an eye out for the WiiFit. Hello, Sony? Hello, Microsoft? Where are yooouuuu? This is just the beginning:

Nintendo Wii popular choice for therapists, children
WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Jackson Peterson is running fast.

He’s running in place, moving his arms back and forth. So excited about the virtual race he is running that his physical therapist, Barbara Maxwell, is having trouble catching up with him — on screen, of course.

“Oh, there he goes, got him,” said Maxwell, a little winded after catching up to her client in one of the activities of the interactive Wii Fit, a popular video game on the Nintendo Wii console.

The North Texas Rehabilitation Center has recently adapted the highly interactive game console into its physical therapy program.

“It gets them moving, and it is something that is interacting with them; they don’t realize they are doing therapy,” said Susan Knowles-Martin, Director of Marketing and Development for the center.

According to an article in PT Magazine, a professional magazine of the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists around the nation have been introducing the Wii to patients. This has led to a dramatic increase in treatment compliance and a general upbeat attitude about therapy.

“It’s about making the therapy interactive and fun,” said Knowles-Martin, who explained that because of the large number of children treated at the center, the Wii has allowed them to make therapy sessions more fun.

“It’s perfect for a facility like this. Half of our clients are kids from 3 years old all the way up to teenagers,” she said.

The trick is in the motion. The Wii Fit uses a unique platform called the Wii Balance Board that can measure a user’s weight and center of gravity. The game has about 40 different activities, which include yoga, aerobics and various balance games which have allowed the therapists to target specific areas of concern.

“It’s a way to measure their progress,” said Lesa Enlow, director of programs, who was showing the game off to a group of students from Archer City High School visiting the facility.

“This balance stuff is hard,” said one of the students as he stood on his toes while attempting a high jump in the ski-jumping module of Wii Fit.

Enlow sees the Wii as a training tool that can adapt to the needs of their clients as well.

“It’s modifiable enough to where you can be disabled and still use it,” she said.

The Wii wireless controller can also be used as a handheld pointing device since it can detect acceleration and orientation in three dimensions. This allows for therapists to use the game controller to measure various types of movements, she said.

“We have a machine back there for wheelchair patients; the wheel simulates the turning and you can do the exact same thing with the Wii,” Knowles-Martin said. “Instead of keeping them in the gym, you can have them turn a steering wheel with the Wii and watch their wrist movement.”

The Wii also has other therapeutic uses. According to PT Magazine, rehabilitation clinics around the country are making use of the Wii fitness package for improving weight bearing and balance in patients following total knee replacement or back surgery.

So far it has been a hit with the younger clients like Jackson.

As his head moved from one side to the other, a little character on the screen was heading soccer balls back to the kicker.

“Wow! I got it,” he said as the 20 minutes of physical therapy came to an end.

Knowles-Martin said kids see the game as play instead of an extension of therapy.

“Since they have a shorter attention span, you have to incorporate play into therapy. If it’s not fun to them and they don’t know why they are doing it, they won’t do it,” she said. “With the Wii they can see how good they do and it gets them excited.”

New Phrogram Book at Amazon – make your own games!

Here’s a link to Jerry Lee Ford Jr’s new book at Amazon:

Phrogram Programming for the Absolute Beginner

Full disclosure: I’m one of the guys who invented Phrogram and its predecessor, the Kid’s Programming Language. But I don’t get a cut on Ford’s book! 😀

A game company you never heard of – with 60 million registered users

Well, with 60 million users, you might be one of them – but their demographic is much more international than most gamers in my part of the world, and their demographic is much less needful of cutting edge consoles or computers. So my bet is you’re not yet one of them.

Gameforge AG is a privately held German company. They’ve been in business since 2003, and only have 90 employees. They just opened a San Francisco office.

They publish the most successful and popular browser-based game on the planet, OGame, and 26 other games.

Their active users number 10,000,000.

Their games run in 23 different languages, with users in 30 different countries around the world.

A couple of years ago I posted 2005 to 2010 projections for the game industry. Here’s the online drilldown from those projections:

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%

The short session market shows the largest growth, though all of the online markets are the hottest place in gaming growth. GameForge is completely focused on the online market, has a model that satisfies the short session market brilliantly, but that also engages users all the way up to the long session market. I think it’s fair to say they dominate the browser-based market – if you have other games or companies you’d like to suggest as competitors there, please do post a comment. Because GameForge is privately held, I haven’t found any revenues for them – but I am going to conservatively guess they are on the order of $10,000,000 a month, or $120,000,000 a year. The key question for them is how successful they are in converting free users (all their games can be played for free) into customers who pay for upgrades that allow them to play the games more successfully. My estimate is based on the conversion percentage being 5 to 10%. Whatever their revenues, I am quite sure their growth is better than those very high projections for the industry, since they are so succesful within the industry.

The only weakness I’ve seen so far is they haven’t also enabled good mobile access to their games. When people can also play from their cell phone browsers, GameForge will hook way more users, way more solidly. Surely they are working on that.

More about their gaming and revenue models in a later post. Meantime, if you haven’t yet, check out OGame, or any others they publish that look interesting. I’m in Universe 27 in OGame, btw, as Tor. Send me a note. 🙂

Study Shows No Link Between Violent Games and Crimes

Here’s link to the IGN article by Jimmy Thang:

Study Shows No Link Between Violent Games and Crimes
University of Essex researcher disproves correlation.
by Jimmy Thang

May 20, 2008 – With the recent release of GTA IV, a game that allows you to steal cars, kill civilians, and conduct drive-bys, the topic of video game violence is back at the forefront of the media. While most gamers equate the potency of videogames to the violent movies that we’ve watched for years, the dissenting hand opposes violent video games due to their interactive nature.

The advent of violent video games raises many questions. Has video game violence gone too far? Aren’t M-rated games intended for mature audiences? Among the sea of good questions, the quintessential one arises, “Is there any scientific evidence to support the claims that violent games contribute to aggressive and violent behavior?” In the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, University of Essex researcher Patrick Kierkegaard answers that query by stating there is no data to support the theory that videogame violence promotes violent crimes. His study interestingly provides the opposite correlation.

Kierkegaard asserts that past studies were predominately biased. His data shows that there is no correlation between the rise of violent videogames and the amount of crimes committed. Despite violent games becoming more mainstream within recent years, statistics show that violent crimes committed from juvenile delinquents have declined since the early 1990s. “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence… Instead, violence has declined,” wrote Kierkegaard.

Even though Kierkegaard found no ties between real life crimes and videogame violence, he admits that more research needs to be done. He also doesn’t rule out the possibility that videogames can influence behavior and emotion, noting that even books can spur violence in already sadistic individuals.

Age of Conan and Fun Things To Do With Your Horse

No, it’s not what you thought I meant.

Check it out:

As the l33tsp33k comment says:

pwnage ^^

Wii versus PS3 versus XBox 360 Market Share May 2008

Yes, my posts from a year ago on market share of Wii versus XBox versus PS3 have been the hottest, most visited posts on my blog. So here after a year away are the May 2008 sales. In a nutshell, Wii is selling over 3x as many units as the PS3, and even more than that against the XBox. Guess who called that right way back when? Barron’s projections last week didn’t do so well, so replacing that with:

Video game sales up 37 percent to $1.12B in May

By AMANDA FEHD – 3 days ago

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — U.S. retail sales of video games, consoles and game accessories hit $1.12 billion in May, a 37 percent rise over the same month last year, driven by the chart-topping Grand Theft Auto video game, market researcher NPD Group reported Thursday.

Nintendo Co.’s Wii console is still the top-selling hardware unit, with 675,100 units sold in May. Nintendo’s DS handheld player took second with 452,600 units sold. Those units have captured the top two spot’s for four consecutive months.

Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 trailed with 208,700 and 186,600 units sold, respectively.

Hardware sales rose 34 percent to $428.6 million, while software sales rose 41 percent to $536.9 million, compared to the same month last year, NPD reported.

Take-Two Interactive Corp’s Grand Theft Auto continues to be the No. 1 selling video game, and its version IV, released in April, sold 871,300 units in May.

NPD analyst Anita Frazier said the success of Grand Theft Auto IV is not translating into big hardware sales for either the PlayStation3 or the Xbox 360 games consoles, “but there may yet be a lift in June due to gift-giving for Father’s Day and graduations.”

Sales year-to-date come to $6.6 billion and the industry is on pace to bring in revenue between $21 billion and $23 billion for 2008, Frazier said.

Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s the Wired blog post:
Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s my answer, posted also there as a comment:

Of course you’re right.

AoC rocks, but will be limited by how narrowly focused it is on adult guys. And I don’t think they’ve left themselves enough room to change that over time.

Hardcore gamers don’t want a Wii, and don’t want non-hardcore gamers to exist.

The problem of a Wii-style game is half a game design problem, and half a content problem.

The game design problem means the game has to actually contain within it multiple different ways to play the game, which variously appeal to the range of players. This primarily means the gameplay needs to make room for true casual gamers (note that’s different from “casual players” of current MMOs). Current MMOers call that “dumbing down” – but the point is the game needs to attract and interest and hook true casual gamers. If you think of this demographically, the game might abandon the attempt to hold hardcore MMOers, to better focus on casual gamers. There are way more than 10x as many casual games as hardcore, so this does not have to be a bad business decisions. Note this also has implications for the business model – casual players aren’t going to pay $15 a month as easily as hardcore MMOers do now.

And the content has to be content that appeals to the full range as well – this probably means the content needs to move toward or into the “real” world, because that’s the content humans have the most common interest in. Maybe a known brand could do it. Most everyone here (readers and commentors at the Wired blog) will piffle this, but here’s the answer, if they design it right:

Harry Potter