Unable to install Xbox Live Arcade games on the 360’s hard drive

I’m not a big gamer, but I do have an Xbox 360 and there may be some video evidence on the ‘net of me sampling a game or two at an MVP event a few years back…

These days, much of the console’s use is from my children and, last weekend, my 9 year-old son was keen to buy Minecraft for the Xbox 360 after spotting it on sale in Sainsbury’s.  After coming home and researching, including prices elsewhere, we decided that it was a good deal and I took him back the next day to buy a copy.  One happy little boy.

Unfortunately, when we got home, I was having difficulty installing the game on the Xbox’s hard drive. I do this to avoid wear and tear on the DVD drive in the Xbox, as well as to keep down the noise whilst playing. I expect to supply the optical media to verify that we have a copy (for any piracy purposes) but, from then on, our games run from from the hard drive.

Unfortunately, that option didn’t seem to be available for Minecraft and it seems that it’s the same for all Xbox Live Arcade games. Ludicrous – bizarrely it’s possible to buy the game online and download it to the Xbox via that route (and it would have saved some of my son’s pocket money)!  Unfortunately I don’t think this counts as “faulty” for return to the retailer…

Virtual worlds in 2022 (Dr Richard Bartle at #digitalsurrey)

It’s been a few months since I’ve been along to a Digital Surrey event but last night I went to see Dr Richard Bartle (the massively multiplayer online gaming pioneer whose work on personality types was mentioned last year in the first Digital Surrey event I attended, Michael Wu’s talk on the science of gamification) speak about the future of virtual worlds.

Dr Richard Bartle talks at Digital SurreyIn contrast to Lewis Richards’ Virtual Worlds talk at CSC last year, Richard Bartle’s talk was focused on three possible courses of development for the massively multiplayer online gaming (MMO) industry (slides are available).  He started out by commenting that, had he been asked the same question in 1992, he’d think we would be further ahead than we are by now…

Three views of the future

In the first view of virtual worlds in 2022, Richard looked at the legal issues that threaten online gaming, including:

  • Applying reasonable laws wrongly – for example a well-meaning judge applying the same rules in World of Warcraft to Second Life and “its just a game” is no longer a way in which to avoid the real world.
  • Unfair contracts – with End User Licensing Agreements (EULAs) found to be unfair and ownership over virtual goods bringing property laws into play (Linden Labs, 2007).
  • Intellectual property laws – ownership prevents the destruction or alteration of virtual property; it’s impossible to stop people from selling “stuff” (even if it ruins the game); an inability to deny access by banning things that have unintended consequences (leaving gaming open to compensation claims); and implications of publishing works of art (licensing, records of origin, etc.) – what happens if the rights to an object upon which others are built is suddenly removed?
  • Gaming laws – even free to play games have value in their objects (as proven in Dutch law in 2012) and, if everything has a value, gaming is essentially about chance and cash rewards – i.e. gambling! Some parts of the world (e.g. the USA) have fierce laws on gambling…
  • Money laundering – with a scenario something like: 1) Steal real-world money; 2) hand money to a front; 3) front buys virtual currency; 4) pass virtual currency to game characters; 5) sell virtual goods (legitimately); 6) clean money!
  • Taxation laws – if virtual money has real world value, then it becomes taxable (both income and sales).
  • Patents – it’s possible to patent obvious “inventions” for very little outlay but it costs a lot to get a patent revoked – this stifles innovation.

For these reasons, Richard Bartle says he sees a bleak future when he goes to legal or policy conferences – just a programmers see bugs in code, lawyers see bugs in laws – and accountants see bugs everywhere (it’s their job to highlight problems).

In the second view, the repeated incursions of reality into virtual worlds gradually break down the distinction between real and virtual – and virtual worlds are no longer imaginary places of freedom and adjuncts to reality.  New MMOs open up and recruit players from existing MMOs – but these are the disloyal players – or they get MMO “newbies”. With too much reality, MMOs become unsustainable as fantasy and existing players’ expectations are lowered whilst new players didn’t have high expectations to start with… Meanwhile there’s the question of monetisation – with 95% of casual gamers being funded by the 5% who pay – those who pay have the ability to do so (i.e. are richer in real life) and their ability to become more successful in the game removes any sense of fair play – is it still a game if one can buy success? Reaching out to children becomes attractive – both as a source of new gamers and also because micropayments make it easier to take money from children as the credits are paid for by the parents. And, as non-gamers use “gamification” in marketing and “edutainment” as a teaching aid, the attempts to combine the fun games and “un-fun” education lead to nothing more than un-fun games. In effect the sanctity of game spaces as retreats from reality disappears…

In Richard Bartle’s third view of the future, MMO designers found themselves able to influence politics. In 2010, the median age of the UK population was 40 (41 for women, 38 for men) so half the population were born in 1970 or later and grew up with access to computers. These people play games, don’t feel addicted to them and resent politicians imply gamers are psychopaths. Consequently politicians representing games as anti-social find themselves unpopular. Gaming flowers with new casual games, new players, and simplified creation of virtual worlds.

When Richard speaks to designers and developers he sees passion, imagination, and freedom of spirit because MMOs give something that your can’t get elsewhere – the ability to be yourself. If that goes away, they simply create new virtual worlds.

What is most likely?

As for which future view is most likely, Richard’s whole presentation was linked through three films (High Noon, The Misfits, and Dirty Harry) – all of which featured actors who were also in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. So he summed up the likely courses using that film:

  • The Good: virtual worlds provide a place for humans to be humans.
  • The Bad: virtual worlds are stifled with real-world laws and policy.
  • The Ugly: virtual worlds become mundane.

He considers that MMOs provide too much that people want in order not to be successful and that, if legislated away to obscurity, that would only be a temporary state and they would return. I guess we’ll see when we look back from 2022…

My view

As a non-gamer (perhaps more accurately a casual gamer – I play the odd game on a tablet or a smartphone, and I do have an Xbox 360 – upon which my sons and I play Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Kinect Sports, so I guess they are virtual worlds?), I found a lot of Richard’s views on “reality” rather difficult to grasp – and I got the impression that I wasn’t alone. Even so, the vision of the real world tainting the virtual world was fascinating – and perhaps, I fear, a little too real (it’s not just online gaming that is impacted by well-meaning but ultimately flawed real world decisions).

Speaking with one of the other attendees at the event, who mentioned someone had been questioning the link between the Internet and the real world, I guess my inability to understand the mindset of a MMO gamer is not so far removed from those who can’t see why I would want to live my life on social media…

Credits

Thanks again to the Digital Surrey team for staging another worthwhile event, sponsored by Martin Stillman from the Venture Strategy Partnership and hosted by Cameron Wilson from Surrey Enterprise.

[Update 27 March 2012: added link to Richard’s blog post and presentation materials]

After hours at UK TechDays

Over the last few years, I’ve attended (and blogged in detail about) a couple of “after hours” events at Microsoft – looking at some of the consumer-related items that we might do with out computers outside of work (first in May 2007 and then in November 2008).

Tonight I was at another one – an evening event to complement the UK TechDays events taking place this week in West London cinemas – and, unlike previous after hours sessions, this one did not even try and push Microsoft products at us (previous events felt a bit like Windows, Xbox and Live promotions at time) – it just demonstrated a whole load of cool stuff that people might want to take a look at.

I have to admit I nearly didn’t attend – the daytime UK TechDays events have been a little patchy in terms of content quality and I’m feeling slightly burned out after what has been a busy week with two Windows Server User Group evening events on top of UK TechDays and the normal work e-mail triage activities.  I’m glad I made it though and the following list is just a few of the things we saw Marc Holmes, Paul Foster and Jamie Burgess present tonight:

  • A discussion of some of the home network functionality that the guys are using for media, home automation etc. – predictably a huge amount of Microsoft media items (Media Center PCs, Windows Home Server, Xbox 360, etc.) but also the use of  X10, Z-Wave or RFXcom for pushing USB or RF signals around for home automation purposes, as well as Ethernet over power line for streaming from Media Center PCs.  Other technologies discussed included: Logitech’s DiNovo Edge keyboard and Harmony One universal remote control; SiliconDust HD HomeRun for sharing DVB-T TV signals across Ethernet to PCs; using xPL to control home automation equipment.
  • Lego Mindstorms NXT for building block robotics, including the First Lego League –  to inspire young people to get involved with science and technology in a positive way.
  • Kodu Game Lab – a visual programming language made specifically for creating games that is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone.
  • Developing XNA games with XNA Game Studio and Visual Studio, then deploying them to Xbox or even running them in the Windows Phone emulator!  Other related topics included the use of the Freescale Flexis JM Badge board to integrate an accelerometer with an XNA game and GoblinXNA for augmented reality/3D games development.  There’s also a UK XNA user group.
  • A look at how research projects (from Microsoft Research) move into Labs and eventually become products after developers have optimised and integrated them.  Microsoft spent $9.5bn on research and development in 2009 and some of the research activities that have now made it to life include Photosynth (which became a Windows client application and is now included within Silverlight), the Seadragon technologies which also became a part of Silverlight (Deep Zoom) and are featured in the Hard Rock Cafe Memorabilia site.  A stunning example is Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ TED 2010 talk on the work that Microsoft is doing to integrate augmented reality maps in Bing – drawing on the Seadragon technologies to provide fluidity whilst navigating maps in 3D but that environment can be used as a canvas for other things – like streetside photos (far more detailed than Google Streetview).  In his talk (which is worth watching and embedded below), Blaise navigates off the street and actually inside Seattle’s Pike Place market before showing how the Microsoft imagery can be integrated with Flickr images (possibly historical images for “time travel”) and even broadcasting live video.  In addition to the telepresence (looking from the outside in), poins of interest can be used to look out when on the ground and get details of what’s around and even looking up to the sky and seeing integration with the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope.
  • Finally, Paul spoke about his creation of a multitouch (Surface) table for less than £100 (using CCTV infrared cameras, a webcam with the IR filter removed and NUI software – it’s now possible to do the same with Windows 7) and a borrowed projector before discussing his own attempts at virtual reality in his paddock at home.

Whilst I’m unlikely to get stuck into all of these projects, there is plenty of geek scope here – I may have a play with home automation and it’s good to know some of the possibilities for getting my kids involved with creating their own games, robots, etc. As for Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ TED 2010 talk it was fantastic to see how Microsoft still innovates and (I only wish that all of the Bing features were available globally… here in the UK we don’t have all of the functionality that’s available stateside).