Sep 122006
 

Presented by AFTRS LAMP. How are virtual worlds developing and what are the opportunities for media creatives?

Luke Carruthers is a games developer who runs a company called Imaginary Numbers in Sydney. The company creates online games and their first title Tactica Online is a fast-moving strategy RPG set amidst conspiracy and intrigue of Da Vinci’s world.  Luke Carruthers’ first company, Magna Data, was founded in 1993, and went on to become one of Australia’s most successful early Internet service providers. Sold in 1999 for A$16 million, it was noted for its innovative services, including operating one of the country’s first DSL broadband networks. Since then he has founded three more companies, all focused on the Internet and telecommunications market, including Inter-touch, an in-hotel network operator recently acquired by NTT DoCoMo for US$70 million, and Alterna Telecom, which provided wholesale PSTN switching services and was acquired by RSLCom in 2002. Secretary of the Internet Industry Association from 1995 to 2001, and joining the board of the Game Developers Association of Australia in 2005, he has also worked with numerous government and industry bodies aiding in the development of the legislative and regulatory framework for the telecommunications, media, and entertainment industries.

Summary of the presentation

Using World of Warcraft and Second Life as examples at both ends of the spectrum of social online games Luke talks about environment design, demographics and game-play competitive structures of these services. He differentiates between role playing competitive games and sand-box environments of virtual worlds and talks in great detail about the motivations of game players and the social drivers of MMORPGs. Luke also addresses issues of self-policing and trust based social networks that spring up naturally in these environments referring to the griefers who try to upset the narrative/gameplay of other and the groups of guardians that try to reduce this irritation. In contrast he talks about the virtual world of Second Life as a game with no rules, goals or driving narrative. The economics and the fact that upto 50% of inhabitants of ‘worlds’ tend to be more socially outgoing females as opposed to the 15-30% in ‘games’ are used as part of the differentiation discussion. Luke talks about the way players communicate in worlds and how games such as Final Fantasy XI one has english and japanese speakers thrown together and how emotes and symbols are used more in those cases.

Luke then talks at length about the film/game business and production cross overs and how now films like Avatar is being created as a film and online game simultaneously. With costs of $64 mill for WoW the budgets are similar to major features with around $60mill in profit each month. He says that games took 20 years to reach a $10bill industry in the US whereas film took 90 years to get to the same level. The skills required for games creation are similar to film fx and in the US film students have a lot more game ‘education’ than in Australia. Luke sayd that this money is made mostly throught the dominant model of subscription and pays for the designers, producers, artists and programmers that form the four divisions of most games publishers. An interesting aspect of MMORPG production is the cultural differences in that Final Fantasy for example, which is predominantly and Eastern game, has around 75% passive cinematics (or linear video) and 25% actual interactive gameplay. He talks about the potential cross over in skills between traditional film and game production citing cinematographers, writers, composers, set and production designers have a role to play, whereas editors are more focused on the cinematic creation. Luke suggests it is only in the past year or so that how a scene is presented to the player is important and that is promising for traditional film creators especially lighting design which is going through enormous growth at the moment.

Luke finishes this insightful presentation by talking about the future and how AI will take a more dominant role as the next generation of SIMs type games come to the fore and emotional expression, realistic body language and character/personality will mean it becomes harder and harder to tell the difference between human or machine controlled avatars. The final element of the talk is about the ethical, control and moral dimensions of game access as well as the things Luke sees will make the difference between games and film blur to the Nth degree.

AFTRS Sydney 5 Sept 2006 – Time 57:46. Click to listen

PODCAST SUBSCRIPTION
All LAMP podcasts are also published through the iTunes store.

This presentation was highly interactive with lots of questions and has been edited to provide reasonable continuity.

Audio edited and processed by Gary Hayes.