Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Data-mining in games bill proposed in CA

A story appeared on Joystiq yesterday about a California Assemblywoman named Lori Saldana who is trying to introduce a bill into state legislature that would make it illegal for companies to embed spyware into their games. They write:
Battlefield 2142 has come under scrutiny for requiring players to install software that collects personal data from users' PCs and transfers it to foreign servers for advertising purposes. Consumers aren't warned of the adware application until opening the game box.

Read the short coverage on Joystiq here, or go to the original article on GamePolitics.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TV Goes MMO

Corus Entertainment - parent company of Nelvana, YTV, etc. - is launching an MMOG (named "Constellation" for now) based around its various children's brands. According to KidScreen, the beta has already launched at this point, with the full game expected to become available in early 2007. From the KidScreen coverage:
The popularity of gaming on YTV's website - which hosted 17 million gameplays in the first 10 months of 2006 - along with YTV Tween Report research that reconfirmed tweens' love of on-line games, prompted the initiative. Corus has since set an ambitious course to create the largest MMOG network in North America for its kids audience.

The apparatus will include a number of on-line worlds where users will be able to play games, compete and chat with other users, collect information and interact with their surroundings. The plan is for the environments to be secure, monitored, and above all kid-friendly. Access to the game will be free for all users with revenue being derived from sponsorship and in-game advertising.

You can read the rest of the article here.
This news comes right on the heels of a similar project announcement by US-based Cartoon Network, which plans to launch an MMOG based around its programs and characters in 2008. It can also be seen as an attempt to reproduce some of Disney's massive success in transforming its theme park areas/brand franchises into MMOGs, such as Toontown and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean MMOGs. With these large commercial media companies jumping onto the MMOG bandwagon, I think that issues around commercialization and data-mining in online games--especially when minors are involved--are only going to rise to the forefront in the next couple of years, as ventures such as these produce online environments that serve primarily as marketing initiatives. While it's nice to see a Canadian initiative of this size and significance, I can't help but cringe at the idea that it will be entirely ad-supported. I can't wait to read their EULA!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mission in Snowdriftland

Another quick note (and evidence of procrastination) on something I found through Joystiq...this awesome online advent calendar by Nintendo: Mission in Snowdriftland. You're allowed one level a day, as per the advent calendar rules, although since it's the 11th, we get to play a few extras as catch-up. Check it out!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Happy International Children's Day of Broadcasting!!!

I'm emerging briefly from end-of-semester paper-writing mayhem to post a short appreciation of UNICEF's International Children's Day of Broadcasting, which is today! Broadcasters around the world, including Canada's own YTV, participate by showing special programming for kids, and invite child participation in the production and presentation of the broadcasts. UNICEF will also be giving out awards to broadcasters who "capture the spirit" of the day. You can read more info about International Children's Day of Broadcasting on the UNICEF website, as well as on the website of this awesome initiative (that I am proud to belong to) called MAGIC: Media Activities and Good Ideas by, with and for Children.
I celebrated by watching a wonderful short film which aired on YTV this afternoon called If the World Were a Village, based on David Smith's children's book (of the same name) on the global population. The film presents a wonderful overview of what the world's population looks like - in terms of geography, ethnicity, religious beliefs, languages spoken - before getting into major issues such as poverty, hunger, gender, and a child-friendly discussion of global inequalities. A great resource for parents, teachers and especially kids. Ask your library to order it if they don't have it already.

Monday, December 04, 2006

McDonald's Kiddie Gyms! Ha!

From USAToday, a disturbing and hilarious story about McDonald's new attempt to pacify the mounting uproar over childhood obesity (and their contribution to the problem) by replacing its famous PlayPlaces with "R Gyms" ("R" for Ronald of course). They're currently being tested in seven outlets across the US and, if successful, may soon become available nationwide. From the article:

Some typical R Gym gear:
- Video bikes. The stationary bikes are hooked to video games kids can only play while peddling.

- Electronic hoops. T he mini-basketball court gives electronic feedback like cheers and broadcasts "Great Shot!" when a kid makes a basket.

- Climbing equipment. Think rocks of molded plastic. Monkey bars. And some have climbing ropes.

- Video dance pads. Kids dance on electronic pads that signal video screens to show the moves.

It looks like a strong focus is being placed on hybrid fitness/video game technologies...Which of course opens the door for all kinds of corporate "synergy" including, most obviously, the use of advergames and other forms of "sponsored" games (that would coordinate with Happy Meals campaigns, for example). What I really don't get is, isn't playing on play structures pretty active already? This is ultimately just lipservice--come and eat unhealthy fast food and we'll let you play in our "high-tech" gym to burn off some of the calories we've sold you.

Anyway, if you're interested in childhood obesity, I just found a great site for resources on media and childhood obesity at Common Sense Media.

Kids Love Reality...TV!?!

Media Life Magazine reports on findings from a recent study into the television preferences of 2-11 year olds, and found that reality television shows rank highest among this age group. From the article:
As falling numbers for CBS's "Survivor," NBC's "The Apprentice" and ABC's "The Bachelor" indicate, the reality TV craze seems to have faded among most TV viewers. Except among kids. For those ages 2-11, reality remains the hottest thing on TV, occupying the top five spots in that demo on broadcast this season.

Some of the results are really surprising. I was expecting to see So You Think You Can Dance, The Amazing Race or even America's Next Top Model, but no--although these shows seem skewed younger, none appear in the top five. Topping the list? A home improvement show! How weird is that!?!

1: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
2: Survivor
3: Dancing with the Stars
4: Dancing with the Stars (another version) *tied with* America's Funniest Home Videos

The article gives a few reasons why reality shows are such a hit with kids, including that they are family-friendly (parents and kids can watch them together), they're on during prime time, and that they are currently filling a gap left by the lack of family sitcoms. They point out that the jokes in shows like The Office, while popular among adults, are a little too sophisticated for younger kids. Makes sense!
Looks like a good time to come up with some new show ideas, networks!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Regulating the Media Suddenly Becomes a Costly Affair

From Gamasutra, a disturbing story of greed and corruption:
The video game industry's trade body, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has announced that US District Court Judge George Caram Steeh has ordered the state of Michigan to pay $182,349 to the ESA, for attorney's fees and costs derived from the legal battle that found the state's anti-violent game law unconstitutional.

So, let's recap here: The State of Michigan, like many other states (who are also being sued by ESA, by the way, to an overall tune of $1.5 million) tried to pass a law making the video game industry's own (ESRB) ratings system mandatory and enforceable, which would stop kids from being able to legally purchase games rated for teens or adults. The ESA opposed the law, and launched a lawsuit that eventually saw the bill shot down in April on grounds of "freedom of speech" infringement. And now the ESA is suing the state for the legal fees it incurred because it decided to oppose the law in the first place--the one that would make its own ratings system mandatory. ESA President Douglas Lowenstein had this to say:
"States that pass laws regulating video game sales might as well just tell voters they have a new way to throw away their tax dollars on wasteful and pointless political exercises that do nothing to improve the quality of life in the state. In nine out of nine cases in the past six years, judges have struck down these clearly unconstitutional laws, and in each instance ESA has or will recover its legal fees from the states.”

To track these and other developments, I recommend Game Politics.