Playing Together – my talk from NLGD and Develop – now online

22 August 2008

It’s taken a long while to put together, mainly because I wanted to write up my very sketch notes into something approximating what I said, and also because I wanted to experiment with a more representative way of publishing presentations online.

Anyhow, I’m very pleased to share Playing Together: What Games Can Learn From Social Software with you.

It went down pretty well at both NLGD and Develop, and I really enjoyed some of the thinking that went into it. I’m working out what to do about that, obviously, but in the meantime, I thought it deserved a wider audience. Do enjoy, and I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

Pipex: the awful service continues

20 August 2008

I wrote last week about my lack of broadband service from Pipex, and thought I should write a follow-up to that post. The news is, frankly, not good. When we left matters, BT were looking into a fault on my line, and I’d emailed the whole sorry story to some very senior Pipex staff.

Friday, 15th August

BT contacted me at lunchtime to tell me the fault on my line had been fixed.

2pm: Tiscali High-level Support (or words to that effect) call me. I explain that BT say they’ve fixed an issue, but if they haven’t, I will call my contact there back first thing on Monday

7pm: Get home. Plug router in. Phone is fine; ADSL is down. I phone BT and speak to Lee. Lee runs a test on my line again; the line is in very good health, he tells me. Suggests I talk to my ISP; the modem at the exchange might need re-syncing after the fault on the line was repaired.

Monday, 18th August

I call my contact in High-level Complaints, to explain that BT found a fault on the line, fixed it, but this made no difference to my lack of ADSL. She tells me that an engineer will phone me back around 3pm, and that she will give me a courtesy call around half four.

No engineer phones by half four; I try to call high-level support but it seems like there’s no-one on Tiscali front-desk to put me through. I call the standard support line. (Update: my high-level support contact confirms she did try to call me, but called my home number. I’d like to clarify that the problem has never been the support staff, either at Head Office or in the callcentre, but specifically the engineering staff).

I speak to Ricardo in front-line support. He tells me he will do everything to solve my problem, and that an engineer will call me back.

At 1815, an engineer calls. He proceeds to do the same diagnostics everybody else has so far. I point out that all I’m waiting on is the test where the line is unloaded, and that the router is unplugged, so he can just do that and we can proceed.

He points out he thought the router was connected, and could I plug it in? I explain that no, I’m not at home. He tells me I need to be at home for these diagnostics: they need to do a test with the router connected and with the router disconnected at the same time.

I point out that every single time I have been home for a call from engineering, they have failed to call me.

He asks me when I am next in. After some discussion – in which I point out that I will gladly be at home if they can guarantee they’ll phone on time – he tells me an engineer will call some time after seven on Tuesday night. I will be in to receive that call. If I am, we can perform the tests, and hopefully get this fixed.

It is now nine days without service; this is the second time I’ve spoken to a second-line engineer, and the fourth time that second-line engineering has failed to call back when they say they would.

I make my point quite clear: I will wait for second-line engineering to call on Tuesday night. If they do not call on Tuesday night, as they have promised, on Wednesday morning I will ring the cancellations department and look to close my Pipex account as soon as possible.

Eight days. Ten phone calls. No progress.

Tuesday, 19th August

I get home at about half five.

Tiscali High-level Complaints call at half six, to see how I got on with engineering. I explain that they were three and a half hours late calling me back, and that they couldn’t do anything because I was at work. I also explain that they’ve promised to call me back at some time after 7pm tonight. High-level support/complaints explain that they’ll call again on Wednesday to see how I got on.

No-one has called by 10pm. I go to bed, because I’m coming down with something like a throat infection.

Wednesday, 20th August

It is now nine days since my broadband connection disappeared. This morning, I am calling Pipex Cancellations to acquire a MAC code (a process they’ve already manage to mess up for me once before), and I’m moving to Zen as soon as possible. I may well transfer the fault, but I’d like to transfer the fault to someone who’s got some experience in customer support.

Again, I will be emailing this some senior staff at Pipex, and attempting to be reimbursed for the lack of service I’ve had since last Sunday.

Sometimes, the game changes

18 August 2008

I wrote a response in a comment on Leigh Alexander’s post at Sexy Videogameland on the “Four Month Bell-curve”, and felt it only fair to reproduce it here, given it’s touching on some ideas I’ve been batting around for a while. And, also, because back before we had comments, we used to respond to each other like this.

Well, sometimes the problem [with the drop-off in interest after you play a game after launch] is that the game changes.

With GTAIV, there are three phases to the player’s relationship with the city. To begin with, you have the shock-of-the-new: a whole world you’re washed up in, lost, just like Niko. You empathise with how lost Niko is, and you slowly learn to love Liberty City.

The second phase is feeling like you fit in – you know the shortcuts, you don’t always need the GPS, and you take pride in every minute you shave off journey time. This is what it felt like a while after moving to London – I felt native, rather than fumbling around like a tourist.

And then you hit this final phase, where you’re no longer even thinking about the neat shortcuts; you’re just picking up the mission, going where you gotta go.

That’s just commuting. And GTAIV turns into commuting about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through, really. I still love the city, but man, it feels like work.

I’ve recently started World of Warcraft, and bits of that game turn into commuting very, very fast – even though I’m still going “wow” at all the new locations my friends charge through.

I don’t know; I think there’s something about the higher fidelity that makes me concentrate on the artifice to begin with, and only when I tire of the artifice is the game stripped back to raw mechanics.

To use your Sonic example – the distance between the raw mechanic and the artifice is much smaller than say, in GTAIV or Bioshock – and so the “commuting” phase never really kicks in. The game is so focused on making you enjoy the act of being in it, stripping away unnecessary walking between Acts or menu interfaces… it’s an easy game not to tire of. By contrast, I find I tire of games more easily than I used to.

But there’s still joy to be had going back. I went back to Bioshock a few weeks ago and have ploughed through the final 75% of the game – and am about to finish it. I’m really enjoying it, and I think being a way from the hype cycle has helped that. I’m looking forward to doing the same to GTA in the near future.

And, in the meantime, I’ve found staying out of the bellcurve – the hype cycle, if you like – has helped me enjoy games like never before. It’s lovely to be surprised by a new game – something we miss out on a lot now.

Links & notes for this month