Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mojang addresses copying and Minecraft modder conduct

Finally, almost a year after I posted A statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other, Mojang has publicly addressed the issue. Speaking in front of a large audience at this year's Minecon panel on The future of the plugin API, Jens Bergensten (Jeb) said the following during his presentation:

The next thing is more complicated. And that is you can't say that just because you've made a plugin with a certain feature, you have exclusive rights to that idea.

For example, if you've seen the pistons mod, we decided to contact Hippoplatimus who made the original piston mod and he helped us implementing it. And he has credits for that in the Minecraft end text. However, if you make a plugin with a feature like that and we may already have our own plans for a similar feature you may not claim exclusivity for that feature. And the same goes for other plugin makers.

So I'm sure we're going to have some Internet drama. So be nice to one another. That's the best tip I have.

There are so many developers that do mods now that it's very difficult to protect ideas. The copyright laws are still in place, obviously, so if you have drawn a texture or made a model or something like that, that belongs to you and you have the copyrights of that. So people may not just freely steal the work you have done.

(Jeb's statement starts at 11:24 in the linked video; any transcription errors are mine.)

The associated bullet point on the slide says "Minecraft Plugins are not exclusive." But the bullet points in Jeb's comment are really these:

  • No features are exclusive to any plugin
  • Plugin authors (and users) should act professionally

The first point, about disallowing exclusive features, echoes my statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other. Controversy has continued since I published the statement, to the detriment of the modding community. Thus Mojang has finally been forced to speak out on the issue.

The second point might bewilder anyone who hasn't been closely following Minecraft's modding community. This is Jeb's "Internet drama" statement where he directs people to "be nice to one another." Although this statement is forward looking, anticipating future drama, the whole topic of copying and conduct is being addressed due to things that have already taken place.

In the past year there have been several instances when one modder attacked another in a manner reminiscent of bullying. These attacks have been egregiously unprofessional. You've never read about a blood feud between, for example, professional game developers such as Will Wright and Sid Meier. They've never raided each other's forum threads, IRC channels, or YouTube comments, or through their insults and disparagement of the other's reputation, incited their fan bases to attack the other on their behalf. These things have all taken place in the Minecraft modder community.

Despite working for competing companies, professional game developers get along because the gaming industry is not a zero-sum game. Gamers buy and play multiple games and take pride in owning huge libraries of titles. Accomplishments by one designer don't diminish the others. Game Developers conferences and other professional gatherings are happy times where developers get to meet their peers, reconnect with old friends, and make new ones.

Defenses based on claims that developing a plugin is merely a hobby and thus not subject to the bounds of professionalism are no excuse for bad behavior. It may be a hobby for the modder, but it's a business for Mojang. Minecraft's player demographics include a huge number of children and young teens who are readily influenced by the behavior of leading modders. Mojang wouldn't want a think of the children-type scandal to arise in the Minecraft community. The more prominent a modder is the more they can expect to have any bad behavior noticed.

[Updated Dec. 16, 2012, new text follows.]
[Updated Dec. 19, 2012, see Marc Watson's comment for why none of what I say below is likely to happen.]
[Updated Jan. 3, 2012 again as a result of Marc Watson's comment.]

Should Mojang decide to deal with bad behavior it might follow the current practice of other game companies. For example, Riot Games banned a professional League of Legends player and ArenaNet in August suspended many Guild Wars 2 players; you can read about both incidents at the link.

I don't know how Riot Games's rulings work; League of Legends players are named and shamed for every violation if all the rulings are public. In the case linked at the top of the article, the banned player is very publicly named and shamed (both real name and in-game handle) in the ruling since it is the second post in the thread.

Dealing with bad behavior is not the responsibility of a game developer, which might explain Jeb's apparent unease while addressing it. Bad behavior is typically handled by a game's community manager or a software company's developer relations person.

I don't know if Marc Watson's Customer Support position encompasses the community manager role, or whether Mojang would need to hire one. Mojang has waited far too long to address the bad behavior, which has been allowed to fester. Long running grudges and feuds are best prevented early with quick action.

[End Update.]

(See also A statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Google weighs in on how gamers use search

I didn't know it when I posted Measuring MMO popularity with Google Trends, but Google had earlier issued a white paper and blog post on how gamers use search. Both the blog post and white paper are in support of Google's ad business and aim to convince game publishers to advertise with Google.

The blog entry, How the digital era has changed video game launches, summarizes the white paper.

The white paper itself, Understanding the Modern Gamer, has the details and is based on an analysis of "…video game searches…for the top 20 selling games of 2010 and 2011."

Quoting various bits:
Game searches included title keywords, such as ‘Elder Scrolls V’, along with all relevant game title keyword variations, such as ‘Gears of War 3 trailer’, ‘Battlefield 3 website’, ‘Batman Arkham City review’, and more.
Search data analysis is representative of gamer behavior for 2 reasons: (1) millions of gamers use search engines, providing us with an unparalleled data set and, (2) gamers are incredibly savvy Internet users whose searches reveal an extraordinarily high level of intention.
Desktop engagement patterns closely align with game unit sales trends (.92 correlation)…
In 2011, desktop searches per gamer grew 20% y/y. Additionally, desktop search volume for marquee titles increased 29% y/y, outpacing the 8% growth y/y in console gamers online.
Our data reveals a .92 correlation (on a scale of -1 to 1,1 signifies perfect correlation) between clicks during the 10 month game launch cycle and game units sold during the first 4 months post-release…
More importantly, our data demonstrates that 84% of sales can be predicted by all clicks during the 10 month launch cycle. We used the regression coefficient from our analysis to create a predictive model and found that if a game accrues 250,000 clicks in the 10 months around launch, it will likely sell between 2 and 4 million units in the first four months after release.
Although user click data is a powerful predictor of game unit sales, we readily acknowledge that other factors – such as game quality, TV investment, online display investment, social buzz, and more – must be incorporated into our analysis to create a predictive model that is even more accurate and reliable.
There is a quantifiable link between what people search for and what they buy that enables us to predict game sales.

Note that the study may involve console games only.

At the time when a person conducts a search, that game has the person's attention. This is more true than for Xfire or Raptr which merely measure when a program is running, not what the owner of the computer is doing.

Xfire and Raptr are not measuring attention. As Wilhelm Arcturus reports, they will report a game in use when a computer is left unattended with a game launcher open. Even if the game itself is running, the player may be on a bio break, macroing, or using some other AFK-based exploit where the game is running without the player present.

Google Trends statistics reflect people physically present at their computers actively typing the name of the game into the search box. That's a significant level of engagement with a game, even if they aren't actually playing at the time of the search.

Google Trends does have some issues that may result in it undercounting mature games. As a game matures, everyone becomes familiar with it. Once it's old news the number of people searching for it by name to get general information will fall.

Well after release games may retain high numbers of engaged players conducting searches, but these searches focus on details of the game. Such searches include highly targeted game-specific terms but often not the name of the game as discoverable by us using Google Trends, although Google itself could tie such searches back to games using its data. (See also Tobold's commenter Oscar's comment about "functional" searches.)

Discovery of game-world information for mature games may also move off Google to game-specific database sites, build configurators, or forums, depending on the extent of the game community's ecosystem.

Despite these shortcomings, I think Google Trends is much better suited than Xfire or Raptr to measuring the popularity of a game, due to Google's huge demographic advantage.

SOE president John Smedley validates the use of Google Trends to measure game popularity

In the throes of the recent launch of PlanetSide 2, SOE president John Smedley has been quite active on Twitter. Tonight (or actually last night) he tweeted this:

Happy to see this

His tweet links to a Google Trends plot much like this one:

The difference being that his plot shows the most recent 90 days, while the above shows an absolute time range of September through November. Both plots are similar now but the above plot won't change after the end of the month. [Update: He tweeted on November 22nd when the most recent data for Google Trends was from the 21st. November 21st is the point where the blue line for Planetside 2 briefly crosses the red line for League of Legends.]

When I first blogged about Measuring MMO popularity with Google Trends a bunch of MMO bloggers were pretty critical. Smedley could have cited Xfire or Raptr, but his tweet is a nice validation of Google Trends from the president of a prominent MMO company.