Playstation Home boasts 7 million users

playstation-3-homeThe PS3’s Home virtual world service is now 7 months old. Peter Edward, director of the PlayStation Home platform group, reported at Brighton’s Develop conference that there are now 7 million Home users – and that a typical European visitor spends 56 minutes in Home per session. The service also generated $1 million in micro-transactions in its first month, a statistic that will presumably excite potential advertisers and content providers.

However, many internet forum commenters note that the service still has a bare-bones feel – especially the European service where new content is often delayed due to localisation issues – and many areas feel like little more than advertising for full-price retail games. However, nDreams’ complex alternate reality game Xi managed to establish a small enthusiastic community and clearly there are exciting possibilities for a virtual world with an inbuilt userbase. Only time will tell if Sony are able to capitalise on Home’s full potential.

Via Edge online.

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Building relationships with Microsoft’s Milo

ss_preview_2.jpgDuring Microsoft’s E3 keynote presentation last night Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux demonstrated Milo, a virtual 10-year-old boy. Users interact with Milo via full-body motion tracking (courtesy of Project Natal, Microsoft’s new camera tracking accessory) and voice commands. In the demo Milo demonstrates impressive AI, tracking the demonstrators’ movement, and answering her questions, also making observations about the user’s clothes and expression. While Milo is a tech demo, and presumably the demonstration is scripted to play to the AI’s strengths, it’s an impressive performance.

While Project Natal has Wii-like possibilities for full-body videogaming, Milo seems a more curious prospect. Much of the internet reaction has focused on the fact that interacting with Milo doesn’t appear very gamelike, and the odd mother-son relationship between Milo and Claire, the demonstrator, backs up this viewpoint. At first glance, the Milo application appears to be less a game and more a simulator along the lines of Nintendogs, but far more lifelike and personal.

I’ll be interested to see whether Milo’s subsequent outings tend towards game features (e.g. Animal Crossing), purer simulation (e.g. Nintendogs), or – admittedly less likely given that this is Xbox rather than Wii – possible educational applications.

Click here to see a video demonstration of Milo, and here for a Youtube video shocasing Project Natal.

Microsoft’s views on educational games

Microsoft’s Neil Thomson offered an outlook on educational games at the recent Games 3.0 event in London:

“We’re in the business of producing fun, not education. It so happens that certain products we produce have educational value. We’re in the business of creating fun entertainment and the moment we try to pretend we’re in the business of education we’ve crossed the line and it’s dangerous for us as a company and as an industry.
We’ve got to concentrate on producing great quality commercial products that will sell, because it costs too much money to get that wrong.”

This seems to sum up the big players’ attitude to educational games. Even Nintendo seem to be cautious in their courting of educational customers, seeming to prefer their software to have crossover appeal to educators rather to tailor products specifically to learning outcomes.

See gamesindustry.biz for more of Neil Thomson’s comments.

Game based learning 09

London’s GBL09 conference seems an appropriate first post for this blog, as it featured three particular proposals that cover a wide range of methods of using videogames for learning.

1. Retrofitting commercial games for learning

Derek Robertson (Learning and Teaching Scotland) and others talked at length about using commercially-available hardware and software in the classroom. Largely, this method involved purchasing popular hardware (Nintendo Wii and DS, Playstation 2) and using software as a starting-point for extended school projects. For example, Vicky Mackenzie (East Dunbartonshire) discussed using Wii Sports’ tennis game as a central part of a geography project where pupils planned routes and also produced customized team logos. In each of these cases, the branching learning opportunities afforded by engaging pupils was seen as more important than the learning outcomes of using the games themselves.

2. Creating bespoke educational software

Dr Jacob Habgood (Sumo Digital) argued that most attempts at educational software have been like ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ – i.e. an uncomfortable mix of gaming and learning. He presented excerpts from his PhD – a dungeon-crawler fighting game with number-wielding skeletons. Two versions of the game were produced – one with maths teaching intrinsic to the skeleton-battling, and the other with the maths content made extrinsic. Dr Habgood argued convincingly that the intrinsic model was far more effective in not only teaching the maths content, but also in engaging the users.

Click here to see the presentation in full.

3. Creating a totally new learning environment

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell used his keynote address to present his vision of the future of classrooms. He envisaged that classrooms could be made more like office environments, with pupils working at terminals in separate pods, communicating with each other and the teacher remotely. While some of his arguments struck a chord (such as arguing that one specific teacher cannot be ‘in phase’ with every pupil in the class, therefore allowing pupils access to many different educators online would be valuable), there were ripples of unease among the audience comprised mainly of teachers and educators.

At times, GBL09 felt an uncomfortable mix. Speakers discussing adapting commercially-available games to the curriculum (or, more often, using commercial software simply to enthuse pupils, making more traditional schoolwork more palatable) outnumbered those who spoke about creating all-new educational games. Perhaps a clearer distinction needs to be made between retrofitting commercial games and creating bespoke software for learning (surely both are valid, possibly for different purposes) to avoid GBL09’s lengthy post-lecture Q&A sessions debating the differences between the approaches.