GAMING: MWEB voted top ISP for online gaming

MWEB was recently voted as the most popular primary ADSL ISP amongst South African gamers. Desmond Kurz, MWEB's Online Gaming Manager, offers some insight into South African online gaming trends.

The Latest Online Gaming Trends

“MWEB has seen an increase in first person shooters as well as 'massively multiplayer online only' games”, says Kurz. “More and more offline gamers are migrating to playing online”. This is perhaps due to cheaper ADSL pricing across South Africa's ISPs.

While South African online gaming is still lagging behind when compared to Europe and the U.S., the SA gaming community is still experiencing double digit growth, according to MWEB.

Online Gaming in South Africa - MWEB GameZone

Gaming stats: what games are the majority of South Africans playing?

“From an MWEB perspective, the majority of South African gamers are playing Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 3, World of Warcraft, Dota 2, League of Legends, Guild Wars 2 and Minecraft", says Kurz. "MWEB already hosts local servers for a number of these titles and is always looking to secure further titles to be hosted locally for South African gamers.”

I asked MWEB's Online Gaming Manager how MWEB plans to broaden their online gaming serivices. I was intrigued to learn that MWEB GameZone has been running a free online training programme for gamers who want to learn how to play online multiplayer games from a beginner level right up to advanced level for competing online.

“To date, this program has run exclusively for Battlefield 3, however, we are proud to announce that this training programme will be extended”, says Kurz. “This will offer players wishing to learn how to play League of Legends and Dota 2. This was in response to a recent poll held on our Facebook page where we asked gamers what games they would like to receive training on.”

According to Kurz, MWEB GameZone is just one of many other initiatives that will be launching in the future in support of the South African online gaming community, particularly competitive eSports. “Its goes without saying that we will continue our efforts to put pressure on distributors and publishers to provide local services to South African gamers, particularly locally-hosted gaming servers”, says Kurz.

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* This review is spoiler free! *

Dear Esther,

I happened upon fragments of washed up letters found amongst the rubbish that the sea brings. Soggy parchments bring word that those on the mainland speak of my lonely plight as some sort of game.

I find it hard to believe that a world exists beyond this island. I am sometimes haunted by human-like figures in the distance, but I know that this is merely my own disillusion taunting me.

I sometimes don't recognise my own words on occasion where I find myself communing with the nature of this place. The car wreckage too seems unfamiliar at times, but again I wonder if it is this island that has dulled my sense.

The mystery surrounding the wrecked boats and ships on the island continue to taunt me. Their once sturdy frames rendered as fragile as paper to the rough seas. Only hollowed skeletons devoid of life remain.

I find myself drawn toward a flashing light like a moth to the flame. I hopelessly hold on to the belief that there lies my salvation. I painfully trek through the bowels of the island in search of answers … or to find a new kind of solace ...

Dear Esther Game Review

A red light beckons; broken boats and shipwrecks mystify.

Dear Esther Game Review - Caves

The atmosphere Dear Esther creates is incredible - it feels cold, damp and lonely.

* * * Dear Esther Game Review * * *

For me, playing a good game is like watching a well written movie but being involved in how that movie pans out. This is immersion at its best. If suspense-injected story-driven gameplay and immersion are what excite you as a gamer, then Dear Esther awaits you.

A mystical mix of good graphics, emotive music and thought-provoking narration is what Dear Esther offers. Although brief (1-2 hours), Dear Esther is a memorable experience from start to finish. The script does vary slightly each time you play, but it is the mature nature of the writing which leaves something new to be discovered each time.

“The script also deserves praise. It charts a course through vastly different topics you never realised you cared about before – folklore, the Bible, shepherding, travel writing, guilt and medicine – and turns them into something meaningful without speaking down to its audience.”
- Dear Esther Game Review by PC Gamer

There isn't much more that needs to be said about Dear Esther. I purchased the game off Steam for $10 and it has been worth every cent. So stay up late, dim the lights, expect no interruptions and enjoy the Dear Esther experience!

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STEAM: And the future of the video game industry

DIGITAL distribution giant and gaming platform, Steam, has fast become the Google of the gaming world – reaping in an estimated US$468 million (roughly R3.1 billion) in revenues through June 2011, according to mygaming.co.za. This attests to the fact the gaming industry has become one of the fastest growing industries in history.

Using Steam has become compulsory for ardent PC gamers, who are forced to use the platform to buy, install and update several of the latest gaming titles. According to Wikipedia, as of July 2011, Steam had over 30 million active users and offered over 1 300 game titles. It is estimated that Steam has a 70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.

The Steam platform
The Steam gaming platform

The idea of creating a centralised online platform to distribute games and related media online was, in part, a move towards combating software piracy – specifically pirated games. To play a store bought game that is powered through steam requires one to register a Steam account. One then has to be logged into Steam to install the game, update the game, play the game and be offered a host of promotional adverts upon exiting the game.

In bandwidth-stricken countries such as South Africa, one can imagine what a schlep this can be. In my experience, if a newly released game if bought through Steam, it can take up to two days to download and install. Thereafter Steam automatically updates your newly bought game, which can take another day or two. If your bandwidth hasn’t run dry by this point, you then have to log into Steam before you can play your new game for the first time.

Steam Error

The benefits of Steam
One can understand the benefits that gaming platforms such as Steam offer. They have made it extremely difficult for impoverished gamers to play pirated titles; it automatically patches and updates your game collection, and it offers you downloadable content for your favourite titles. It does also offer a lot of specials and promotions, whereby one can easily transfer and convert your money into US dollars and buy games via the web for cheap. In fact, purchasing games through Steam is so simple that it can be dangerously addictive.

However, this is not to mention that the Steam servers are often running at full capacity whereby one is put on a waiting list to play. I was once informed that my newly installed and updated game would launch in approximately five days. Bearing all this in mind it’s fair to say that Steam is having a negative impact on many game consumers who don’t necessarily want to play multiplayer.

Market research

Anti-piracy aside, Steam most certainly uses its cleverly crafted platform for market research purposes. A Steam user’s page includes some brief personal information, details of any games owned, as well as the number of hours played in each game. Steam admits that it collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance and uses this information to justify implementing new features.

However, a lot of this information is collected without notifying the user or offering an opt-out. Some of these metrics are also available publicly, such as what games are being played or statistics of a player’s progress in certain games. Last year, Steam announced that they would begin collecting a list of users' installed software as well.

Steam critiques

Steam has been criticised for allowing developers and game publishers to change prices and restrict game availability depending on the locations of users. Despite the reduction in manufacturing, packaging, design and distribution costs, this can cause some games to cost more than their retail prices. Steam has also been heavily criticised by European users for pricing games much higher in Euro-zone countries.

Furthermore, according to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, “Steam's availability is not guaranteed and Valve is under no legal obligation to release an update disabling the authentication system in the event that Steam becomes permanently unavailable.” - www.gamefaqs.com

Ardent PC gamers can argue for or against the value of Steam. However, if history has taught us anything, it is always wise to be cautious of that which is powerful. However, with Steam now being in the position of power that it is, has implications for gamers worldwide. In our liberal and democratic age, I suppose the biggest concern is a lack of choice.

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GAMIFYING EDUCATION: Introducing gaming to the classroom

EDUCATION is the very foundation of our future. No doubt there are flaws in our current education system that need to be addressed. The marking system, learner agency and voluntary tangential learning are a few of the major issues in education today.

There’s a theory that tries to define each decade according to technological progress. Loosely speaking, by the end of one decade everyone had cellphones, by the end of another everyone was on Facebook, and this decade (2010-2020) it is said that everyone will be a gamer in a broad sense. It’s not a solid theory, but I’m sure you catch my drift.

Some exciting ideas are starting to surface which involved introducing gaming into the classroom — making education more fun and engaging. Again it is no solid science, but a few schools (especially in the United States) have started implementing such ideas into their teaching techniques and have started to see positive results. They have begun gamifying education.

To put gaming into better perspective — the most successful games on the market today are ones that encourage gradual progress. These award the player with experience points as he or she progresses through the game. Once enough experience is gained the player levels up, which comes with particular rewards or perks.

Benefits of a rewards system in education

Working towards clear and tangible levels with clear rewards or benefits would be a huge motivational factor for learners. Assignments and tests would feel more rewarding rather than disheartening if there is something to be gained. This wouldn’t necessarily require a major change in the way papers are generally marked. Marks would merely be changed to levels and learners would work towards a total rather than down from one.

Offering class-wide achievements, such as giving the whole class a reward if one or a few learners accumulates X amount of experience, would also encourage peer support. Rather than envying the top achievers, peer pupils would encourage their progress. The top achievers, on the other hand, would understand that they couldn’t get the best possible score unless they help the other learners improve their marks.

Gamifying Education

Gamifying Education: Agency

A huge hurdle for teachers is dealing with learners who lack a sense of agency — who feel that their opinions and choices don’t matter. They may feel that they have no control over their choices, perhaps ones that were made for them by their parents. They lack long-term goals and motivation — something that is common in young people today.

It is known that learners with a higher sense of agency do better at school. What’s interesting is that agency is the life force of games! You are in full control over the choices you make and the future lies entirely in your hands. What’s more, games teach us that if we fail, we try again (or try something different) until we succeed. This could be a huge benefit behind the idea of gamifying education.

Voluntary tangential learning and information

A third challenge for our educational system is encouraging learners to pursue information voluntarily outside of the classroom. Homework, for most, is a bore — a chore that needs to be completed before we can play proper games. There are very few external motivators that encourage self-education.

An idea behind gamifying education is to turn a subject into a game by leaving out pieces of the puzzle and using information that you want learners to learn on their own as keys that unlock the next section of the game or subject. In searching for this information there’s also a chance of tangential learning — learners stumbling across other pieces of related information.

I recall one of the most exciting times in my own education, which was when different subjects started to interlink and connect up. And this happened long after high school. Learning and understanding the connections between information and ideas is so important in education. A cross-disciplinary approach could be created early on by creating the keys mentioned here across different subjects. This will also allow learners to shine in different subjects and encourage communication and sharing of education among them.

Gamifying education may also create an understanding and an appreciation of the importance of other subjects that learners may not immediately be interested in. I sure wish I had understood this when I was in high school.

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NEWS FLASH: MWEB to host an additional 53 gaming titles locally!

MWEB is continuing to expand its online gaming offering through its existing partnership with Gameservers.com. Riding on the back of the successful launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops, MWEB is looking to expand its platform further to ensure that local Internet users have a superior gaming experience.

To support this, the Interent Service Provider will be hosting a further 53 Gameservers.com titles on its network, including the likes of the popular Counter Strike, Battlefield and Medal of Honour.

“Online gaming is a key focus for us in 2011 and we are excited by the growth that we’re seeing in this space. Our goal is to position MWEB at the forefront of online gaming in South Africa,” says Derek Hershaw, CEO of MWEB ISP.

To further support these additional titles and to ensure a flawless end-user experience, the ISP has deployed its own Steam server allowing South African gamers to get automatic updates on their favourite games. Steam has servers all over the world, which host several major gaming titles.

“The decision to deploy a Steam Server is another value added service to our customers and means that they won’t need to worry about hunting for patches and spending hours downloading updates on unsolicited websites,” explains Hershaw.

The new gaming titles and the Steam servers will be hosted in MWEB’s Cape Town and Johannesburg data centres to ensure that customers have a superior gaming experience.

Both MWEB and non-MWEB customers will see benefits from the local hosting of the games and Steam servers as they will no longer have to connect to international servers.

- Issued on belhalf of MWEB and Greater Than

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