Agentur, Friesenplatz 25, 50672 Cologne, Germany, Tel. +49.221.951515-0, Fax -66
Serious Games – The State of the Game
The relationship between virtual worlds and Web 3D
29th May 2008
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008
1 Preface 4
2 The State of the Game 5
2.1. Term acceptance 6
2.2. The ‘promise’ of serious games – why are serious games important? 7
2.3. Just a game, or is it? 8
2.4. The computer game debate 9
2.5. Dissociation from AAA games (full-price games) 9
2.6. Dissociation from casual games 9
2.7. The mechanics of serious games 10
2.7.1 Computer game genres 10
2.7.2 Classifying serious game genres 11
2.7.3 Didactic concepts 13
2.7.4 Business models and measurability 13
2.8. Examples 15
3 Web 3D and Virtual Worlds 18
3.1. Web 3D 18
3.2. Virtual worlds 20
3.2.1 Creating the immersion effect 20
3.2.2 Classification by display and interaction type 21
18.104.22.168. 1D 21
22.214.171.124. 2D, 2.5D 22
126.96.36.199. 3D 22
3.3. First person, third person – game figures and avatars 23
3.4. Virtual multi-player worlds 25
3.4.1 Second Life 26
3.4.2 World of Warcraft 27
3.4.3 Comparability of SL and WoW 27
3.5. Revisited: when is a game a ‘game’ and when is it ‘serious?’ 28
3.6. Special case: mirror worlds 30
3.7. Special case: virtual worlds for learning 30
4 End Devices for Using Serious Games 31
4.1. PCs 31
4.2. Smartphones and Handhelds 32
4.3. Using games consoles for serious games 33
4.4. Controllers 34
5 Technical Realisation of Serious Games 35
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5.1. 1D text adventures, interactive fiction, MUDs/MOOs 35
5.2. DHTML 35
5.3. 2D, 2.5D 35
5.4. 3D and 3D game engines 36
5.4.1 Papervision3D 36
5.4.2 Shockwave 3D 36
5.4.3 XNA 36
5.4.4 Torque 37
5.4.5 Unity3D 38
6 Conclusion 38
7 Bibliography 39
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The rapid pace at which innovative technologies (particularly on the Internet and in 3D
environments) are developed often makes it difficult to classify associated topics for
service providers, customers and end users.
This purpose of this white paper is to highlight how the topics of Web 3D and virtual
worlds are set to play a key role for serious games, thereby achieving added value. It
must also be pointed out that serious games are relevant for each economic sector that
wishes (or requires) to reach its target group on the Internet or in application development
by means other than the classical channels in use at present.
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2 The State of the Game
The term ‘serious games’ defines applications that impart serious content by using the
entertainment elements and established mechanisms contained in computer games.
As such, ‘serious games’ is a blanket term that includes application types such as
edutainment, simulations or advergames, to mention but a few (see section 2.7.2 for a
- Serious …
The word ‘serious’ refers to the nature of the focal point of an application’s
content or the purpose of the application. Of course, this does not mean that
commercial games cannot have a serious purpose, such as creating sales. In this
context, however, the word is used in reference to the effect that the game has
on the end user. It must be assumed here, that the user is aware that they are in
a serious-gaming context and this has an impact on any expectations they may
have of the application.
- … Games
Here, the user is in a user scenario that they perceive as game-playing. During
the game (or the activities perceived by the user as game-playing), the user
accesses the supplier content in the application in an intensive, yet entertaining
manner. The advantage of this user scenario is that it opens up a variety of
access options to users that are unavailable in other media such as books or
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2.1. Term acceptance
As a service provider, Pixelpark designs applications for customers and their end
customers. With this in mind, it is not uncommon to find that there is a need for
moderation by different user groups, such as the dual customer/end customer target
group, when addressing target groups (a consulting service we are frequently called upon
Addressing target groups is not problematic if the terminology has already become part of
the general (professional) vocabulary of the service providers, customers and end
customers. An example of this is the field of content management systems. This subject
area has been pegged out for years by parties involved professionally with the Internet,
which is why the abbreviation ‘CMS’ rarely requires a glossary entry.
This is not the case for terms that have multiple meanings (which is often the case where
media applications are concerned ) or that contain words that already have different
The term ‘serious games’ is currently only known by organisations that are already
involved with topics associated with it. Whether customers or end users encountering this
term for the first time will understand what is meant by it may depend on the context of
the situation it is used in. Experience shows that both components of the term cause
confusion and even annoyance. The reason for this is that users may have a problem
with the entertainment factor or perhaps the lack thereof.
This term will continue to require an explanation until it becomes established or is
replaced by a newer, more precise variant in future. Until then, it will be defined as above.
Example: The term ‘portal’ can be used to describe a news portal in an Internet context, but it can also
describe the ‘portal technology’ with Java Portlet Specification JSR 168. Finally, a ‘portal’ can also be
implemented with ‘portal technology,’ although each term has a different context.
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2.2. The ‘promise’ of serious games – why are serious games important?
The idea behind serious games lies in attempting, at least in part, to deliver the promise
made a few years ago by society’s digital media. That is, presenting content in the new
media on time, with real added value and utilising the full potential of the digital media.
The digital information revolution with all
its highs and lows has, to a certain extent,
steamrollered society and its desire for
innovation. As a result, we do not make
full use in the media of what might
theoretically be possible regarding
technology and information. Nevertheless,
there is an increasing awareness of the
need to use the challenges and market
opportunities brought about by the digital
revolution. However, the media
competence aspect (the area with the
The Auto-Tutor, exhibited at the World’s Fair
slowest growth, despite urgently requiring in 1964 (3)
growth) is still receiving far too little
The key driving forces behind serious games and other subareas of the multimedia sector
are as follows:
- The high computing power of current, standard PCs
- The increasing availability of online flat rates from network operators
- 3D acceleration hardware as standard
Section 3.4 provides further details about the availability of these key factors and the
availability of other end devices.
This has led to the current revival of technology concepts that were propagated at the beginning of the decade
and which are now being reissued under different names, or even the same names. In addition, user behaviour
and industry expectations are often diametrically opposed (the high-priced success of UMTS, the unexpected
success of YouTube, the questionable success of DVB-H).
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2.3. Just a game, or is it?
The term ‘game’ is used in a broader sense in this document. In this context, it stands for
an application that establishes a game-like situation for users.
In terms of classifying a game, this definition of the term does not necessarily require
formalised criteria for success such as praising winners, totalling points or reaching
certain areas in a level.
An appropriate definition is provided in Wikipedia. Although strong, scientific claims would
not satisfy Wikipedia’s reference criteria, this definition serves as adequate confirmation
of the term’s usage in this case.
Using a game’s contextual situation to define it is logical in the serious gaming
a) It is necessary to avoid contending situations under certain circumstances,
b) It is not necessary to establish measurable parameters, thereby avoiding any
For example, in ‘DON CATO – die
Rückkehr des Luchses’ or ‘Return of the
Lynx’ (see 2.8), there is no end to the
game in the classical sense. The means
that users (generally children) continue to
replay the game, thereby repeatedly
processing the content presented to them.
As such, messages like ‘You win!’ have
been deliberately omitted since they
would detract from the value of the project Screenshot from ‘DON CATO – Die Rückkehr
des Luchses’ (Return of the Lynx)
as an aid to learning.
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2.4. The computer game debate
Naturally, the ongoing debate around the positive and negative impact of computer
games also influences the development of serious games. Although it is not within the
scope of this document to discuss the merits of this debate, the computer game genre is
often held in disregard (depending on which groups are surveyed), particularly in
Germany. As we have already seen in section 2.1, even mentioning the word ‘game’
(regardless of whether it is ‘serious’ or not) can be a stumbling block in some instances.
Customer approach is a decisive factor in this. Where doubt exists, it is better to establish
a subordinate term such as ‘eLearning’ or ‘3D World’ until partners reach the same
2.5. Dissociation from AAA games (full-price games)
Developer studios that produce AAA games (‘Triple A Games’ or full-price games) have
budgets of millions available to them. They are written for the current or next generation
of computers or consoles and represent the benchmark for current technology. They can
be viewed as a driving force behind the industry. With the exception of ‘America’s Army’
(see section 2.8), no serious game lives up to this standard.
However, serious games do not actually have to live up to this standard if we take into
account the fact that they are primarily about reaching target groups rather than next
generation features. Of course, as far as the genre is concerned, these target groups do
not own the latest, fastest generation of computers. It is for this reason that serious
games are somewhat (and, in some cases, totally) overshadowed by their big brothers.
2.6. Dissociation from casual games
Casual games can be defined as games that can be played from time to time.
The following are key factors here:
- Game principle must be easy to grasp
- Low turnaround times
- Low hardware requirements
Because the above characteristics can also be (but are not necessarily) present in
serious games, serious games are often generally looked upon as casual games. This is
not necessarily the case when roles are reversed.
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2.7. The mechanics of serious games
Whether or not an application is perceived as a game depends heavily on the type of
format it has (see also the definition of a game in section 2.3). Careful thought is required
when determining which format type is right for the target case. The final choice should
be based on didactic, technological, business and media considerations.
At the opposite end of the scale to special applications that are created as serious
games, we have ‘serious’ applications. However, even these applications can be used for
game content. Applications with a scripting language lend themselves particularly well to
this, e.g. Microsoft Excel .
2.7.1 Computer game genres
Computer games have been around for a few
decades now. Over the course of time, the
various game subcategories have become
established as genres. Studying these genres
can even provide valuable information for the
topic of serious games.
The following classification is in sync with the 1: PacMan in Excel
arguments of Prof. Maic Masuch (1) and
excerpts are used here for reference purposes. Each area of user demand is shown,
producing a pattern which could possibly be used to determine which genres are
favoured for conveying certain types of content.
- Action: requires fast coordination and skill. Typical of the genre are first or third
person shooters (see section 3.3)
- Strategy: requires strategic thought, e.g. in a military conflict simulation
- Organisation and Management: requires planning skill in a simulation of business
and social structures
- Vehicle Simulation: requires a high degree of understanding for the technical
simulation of a real or fictional vehicle type
- Role-playing: requires skill in order to improve various abilities
To a certain extent, this is the inversion of the serious gaming idea in that non-game engine technologies are
used to create entertainment applications.
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- Sport: requires an understanding of actions and tactics that are specific to sport
- Adventure: requires logical thought and combined ability
- Classics: chess, tennis etc. – there is no general pattern here.
See below (1) for a differentiated description.
This classification can be used as yardstick in serious game development for working out
relevant genres for the planned application.
2.7.2 Classifying serious game genres
It is difficult to distinguish the various genres of serious game applications from each
other. The reason for this is that the classifications are as debatable as the term ‘serious
games’ and it can be difficult to determine clear differences.
Almost all of the terms used below consist of word combinations and are intended to be
self-explanatory in addition to clarifying the focus of particular applications. Unfortunately,
these word combinations have a lot of potential for overlap and clarity is not assured.
It is therefore impossible to distinguish these terms fully. However, they are valuable in
that they do highlight the focus of applications.
The following is a selection of the most common terms in use.
Combination of education and entertainment. An application that imparts learning
material during a ‘normal’ game comes under the heading ‘Edutainment.’
- Game Based Learning (GBL)
The emphasis here is on the structured measurement of learning progress.
Classical didactic methods also tend to be used.
Generally speaking, simulations have very few game characteristics or none at
all. They often focus on conveying highly complex, technical data.
Combination of advertisement and games. As a classical application area for
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serious games, this type of game is usually intended to communicate positive
statements about a specific product to a person.
The terms ‘exercise’ and ‘games’ have been combined here to describe computer
games for which users have to perform movements in front of the computer to
complete objectives. These movements are usually relayed to the computer
through a special controller. The significant growth in this sector is primarily
attributable to Nintendo’s Wii consoles whose new controllers have made
computer games involving physical activity ‘cool.’ Although controllers such as
these have actually been around for a long time, they were really only seen in the
Asian sphere. The huge success of the Wii console has led to a real market
boom in this sector.
- Health Games
This genre is aimed at improving general knowledge of illnesses. However, it also
has a very practical use in that it can augment the treatment of patients. It has
been proven that the way in which users proceed in the game directly improves
their knowledge of illnesses. This fact together with an increased level of self-
confidence can directly aid in tackling illness.
- Innovation Games
In this type of game, users that are part of the desired product target group are
brought into a game context in which they ‘win’ improvements to the respective
product. Possible target groups of this game type are:
o Internal users: the employees of a company are involved in the process
of improvement whilst playing the game.
o Selected external users: a reference group from the desired target group
is involved by playing the game.
o General external users: anyone can take part and they are involved by
playing the game. This type of innovation game is an example for the
development of the open innovation process.
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2.7.3 Didactic concepts
Because users are attracted to the genre of serious games, the definition of the didactic
concept depends on which genre is chosen. There is no direct reproduction of didactic
concepts in serious game concepts. Therefore, the challenge lies in harmonising the
contrasting game concept and didactic concept.
When selecting a conception team for a serious game, it is wise to pick people that are
fully qualified and who know game mechanics and their effect on users (2).
2.7.4 Business models and measurability
Serious games are often created as individual orders in project form by service providers
such as agencies.
It is often the case that the content to be conveyed (e.g. advertisements in the case of
advergames or charitable statements in the case of Food Force) is of such importance to
the client that the game itself is either provided free of charge for the end user or can be
obtained for a nominal fee.
As such, serious games have a viral nature which certainly makes sense in this context.
However, they can also leave project managers working for the client and the service
provider struggling to explain the cost-efficiency of the project. The measurability of the
levels of success achieved in reaching target groups is a core requirement for serious
As far as offline media (such as CD ROMs or DVDs) are concerned, only the number of
orders can be used to determine the actual degree of usefulness. For this reason, today’s
offline media also often contains feedback channels. One option here is providing a
postcard to be returned, though this is now an almost antiquated method. More current
options are an accompanying website for obtaining user opinions or a direct feedback
channel on the Internet, such as a high score mechanism.
An appropriate tracking program can be used to carry out a direct evaluation in online
applications in the browser or open an Internet connection. This makes it possible to track
user behaviour in a highly differentiated manner.
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Differentiated user behaviour can also be evaluated in script-capable virtual worlds. (see
Allowing user programs to be executed.
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A few of the better-known examples of serious games are summarised in the following.
Some examples (such as America’s Army and September 12 ) have been and are still
the subject of political controversy. Others are classical examples of edutainment
Of course, the examples described here only represent a fraction of the serious games
available. Full reviews and some downloads are available on the Internet.
INTEL SECURITY GAME – CRIME SCENE
Game type: adventure, Technology: Adobe Flash
The special feature of this game is that it
allows actual players to play in a
prerendered 3D environment created
using computer graphics. This results in a
high degree of identification with the
characters and avoids the detachment
often felt by users towards 3D characters
in other games.
AMERICA ’S ARMY
Game type: action, Technology: Unreal 2 and 2.5 Engine
America’s Army is special in that the
Unreal game engine was used to produce
it. The primary reason for its inclusion
here is that it is the only serious game that
has attempted to keep up with AAA
products. The game has been the subject
of ethical debate because it is used as
part of the recruitment process for the US
Army’s infantry units.
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Game type: development, Technology: Adobe Director
As the official game of the United Nations,
Food Force underlines the UN’s positive
work. The player learns about some of the
difficulties involved in distributing foodstuffs
around the world. It is highly regarded
because of its subject matter and is often
highlighted as a prime example of a serious
game with a positive focus and a
humanitarian message. According to the
UN, 4 million users discovered this game in
2006 alone. This also makes it a good
example of a serious game with mass appeal. With these user numbers, Food Force is
able to keep up with AAA products.
DON CATO – DIE RÜCKKEHR DES LUCHSES (RETURN OF THE LYNX)
Game type: adventure, Technology: Director
The German Federal Environment Ministry
released this game back in 2001. What is special
about it is that game-play is free flowing. The
flow of the game depends to a large extent on
the atmosphere propagated by the displayed
environment and the protagonists. It can be seen
as a traditional edutainment product both in this
sense and because of the fact that it was
distributed by a government ministry.
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Game type: action, Technology: proprietary development
This health game is special in that it has a
real, positive effect on its target group of
cancer patients (particularly children). In
the game, players actually ‘fight’ their own
illness. Tests have shown that this stiffens
patients’ resolve and strengthens them. At
the same time, they learn facts about their
illness and why certain medications and
treatments have to be used.
Game type: action, Technology: Adobe Flash
Despite being quite unsophisticated, this
serious game by Gonzalo Frasca has been
the subject of a great deal of controversy.
It explains in simple terms why the war on
terror is so difficult. Although players can
use weaponry to eliminate terrorists at
large, innocent bystanders are also
permanently in their sights. As a result,
innocents always end up being
unintentionally destroyed by the player.
The subsequent grief of the witnesses and their resulting hatred mean that the player
creates more and more terrorists. These
have to be eliminated again and the player
is caught in a vicious circle.
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3 Web 3D and Virtual Worlds
3.1. Web 3D
Since the birth of the World Wide Web 15 years ago, people have been coming up with
ways of enhancing and improving it. One obvious option for enhancing it is to use virtual
objects and places to change, replace or enhance the document-oriented structure with
pages and sites.
One possible way of achieving this would be
to make the Web 3D-capable. Silicon
Graphics (SGI) and other companies made
suggestions to this end in 1995. Back then,
SGI had hoped that they would be able to use
the World Wide Web to access a wider
market for their workstations with highly
advanced 3D capabilities. The Inventor
Format provided for this by SGI represents
the basis for the VRML format, thereby creating a kind of ‘3D HTML.’ In addition to
allowing 3D objects to be loaded and displayed on HTML pages, VRML allows links
within these objects. This means that entire sites can be created from VRML.
There were a few reasons for the limited success of this approach. On one hand, users
expected realistic interaction in a 3D
context, rather than just a display of
3D objects. In other words, they
expected what we now understand
by virtual worlds (see section 3.2).
VRML was incapable of living up to
these expectations since, for
example, even realising gravitation
represented too great a challenge.
On the other hand, the computing
and graphical quality of the standard
PCs available at the time was still relatively primitive. Furthermore, the cost of an SGI
workstation did not exactly make it suitable for the mass market. A third point was that
Not the only one (see section 3.2.1.)
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any VRML model that even came close to producing realistic effects was too large to
justify at the time in terms of the band widths and the associated waiting times and costs.
Now, in 2008, we can consign all of these points to history. We are now fully capable of
creating appealing Web 3D objects, in other words, displaying 3D objects in the www
context (the ‘how?’ is explained in section 3). We have now reached the stage for the
single player/user context that SGI wanted to be at all those years ago. However, this
development has progressed relatively slowly since today’s expectations are more
focused on entire virtual worlds rather than 3D displays on the Web. As explained in the
following (see sections 3.4.1 and 3.4.2), applications such as Second Life and World of
Warcraft have played a role in this.
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3.2. Virtual worlds
What is Web 3D lacking when compared to/as we cross over to virtual worlds?
The simplest way of giving users the subjective impression that they are in a virtual world
is to ‘transfer’ them to a virtual environment where they are able to move.
Additional parameters also have to be created if the application is to be of any use. The
following are the minimum requirements in a single player context:
- The environments (e.g. levels)
- The rules for interaction with the environment (e.g. gravitation, collision detection,
- The rules for picking up and dropping objects (e.g. items)
- The existence of NPCs (non player characters such as ‘bots’) and interaction with
The following parameters also apply in multi-player contexts:
- Interaction with PCs (other users’ avatars)
- Communication with PCs
The following must also be considered for ‘Massive multi-player’ contexts:
- The persistence of the virtual world
- The economy
- The community
3.2.1 Creating the immersion effect
Three-dimensional displays are not strictly necessary to create the immersion effect, that
is, the subjective feeling of involvement in a virtual world. Users can only have a mental
perception of the world because it is virtual. As such, the degree of immersion, or level of
involvement in the events in the game, can be influenced using various stimuli. Aside
from visual impressions, these can include audio elements or game controllers.
Firstly, however, the various types of graphical output are classified in the following.
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3.2.2 Classification by display and interaction type
The oldest form of computer game is
text-based, meaning that it has no
graphics and only uses text to create a
game context. Ever since the oldest
example ‘Colossal Cave Adventure’
from 1976 and the subsequent text
adventures of the 80s (particularly those
by Infocom), ‘MUDs’ have continued to
enjoy popularity as typical massive multiplayer games of this genre. The latter are also
being used in Canada for eLearning purposes. Otherwise, single-player interactive
fictions (IF or text adventures) only have retro appeal.
In text adventures (aka IF or interactive
fiction) or in a multi-user domain (aka
MUD or dungeon), users interact by
entering text commands. In other words,
movements are made, for example, by
entering directional commands such as
‘go north’ or even just ‘n.’ Thus,
movements are made without switching
between scenes. The user also triggers
actions with text commands. Both the
game and the player always have a status 2 Infocom Werbung from around 1983
that has been precisely defined.
A typical member of this genre is ‘British
Legends’ which was very popular at the time
of CompuServe and which can still be played
online to this day.
The classical MUDs sparked various
modifications, above all the MOO (MUD
object-oriented). Today, this category is often
still used for eLearning purposes and (if we look at it from the perspective of the
previously mentioned definitions) can be seen as part of serious games. MOOs enhance
MUDs in such a way that locations can be built within the game (user-created content).
MUDs/MOOs are less popular because their output is purely text-based.
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Remarkably, almost all 3D virtualisations have a console on which users can enter text to
chat or issue commands as a power user. Thus, a pattern emerges whereby users prefer
1D input as of a certain functional level because it is ‘easier and faster,’ even in
immersive 3D worlds. The existence of this pattern is confirmed by the increasing number
of services that function primarily via text input. One example here is ‘Twitter.’ This web
service allows users to send text messages to a group of people via a very simple
interface, thereby effectively functioning as a group text messaging service.
188.8.131.52. 2D, 2.5D
2D and isometric variants (commonly
referred to as 2.5D since scenes are
displayed diagonally from above without
perspective distortion) are popular
display formats, particularly in Web
browser and flash environments. The
advantage here is that no 3D
acceleration is necessary on the client 3 Habbo Hotel
computer. In addition, the Flash Player
is now so widely distributed that it does not have to be installed. It provides a simple way
of ‘simulating’ the graphical immersion of a 3D context without any great hardware or
It is, however, essential that the player figure is always visible, even in this variant. The
user is therefore aware that they are controlling a player figure and that they themselves
are not involved in the game’s events. Any identification the user has with this figure is
Movements are performed in two ways in games of this type. The first is point-and-click,
where the figure is made to move to a position when it is clicked on. The second is cursor
control which attempts to map the isometric display on the cursor cross.
3D game formats are some of the most immersive because both the first and third person
variants make the user feel as though they themselves are part of the events in the
The 3D format has shaped the genre of computer games.
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3.3. First person, third person – game figures and avatars
In order to create the display of an environment in a 3D game, a point of reference is
required from which the player perceives the environment. A field of vision is also
required through which the user sees the game world on the monitor. This field of vision
plays a crucial part in immersing the user in the virtual world.
Technically, a virtual camera is placed in the virtual environment and this determines
what is graphically displayed (generally speaking, the polygons of a 3D world are
rendered on a 2D screen). In current games, first and third person views are displayed
depending on the respective narrative point of view.
The basic premise for these game modes is that the player is controlling an object in the
game, that is, the game figure. Where this game figure represents the player’s virtual
‘self,’ then it is referred to as an avatar. Whatever the player sees depends, therefore, on
the position of the virtual camera in relation to the game figure. How or whether this game
figure is perceived in relation to the environment depends again on the game mode that
is in use.
In first person mode, the arrow keys or WASD keys are used to steer a virtual camera
around a virtual environment. Depending on the game, the camera’s field of vision is
between 70 and 80 degrees which closely represents the normal human field of vision. Of
course, this display is a mere approximation of the actual vision involving head and eye
movement we use to guide us in the real world. A side effect of this approximation in the
game is that the game figure is either not displayed at all (one does not see oneself when
looking straight ahead either) or only a part of the body is visible (e.g. in an action game
this might be an arm and hand holding a weapon). Therefore, the representation of the
player or game figure is required for games that are strictly in the first person view
because they can never actually be viewed themselves.
The effect of this is that in the first person view, the player always feels as though they
are part of the events in the game. This is even the case if the player is aware that they
are possibly representing someone else .
This point features in the current political discussion around computer games. It is unclear as to whether
identification with the game figure is excessive in this mode. However, this discussion is not part of this paper
(see section 2.4).
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In third person mode, the virtual camera is positioned behind the game figure, which is
why the player only sees the figure’s back. The advantage of this is that the player can
always see ‘who they are.’ The disadvantage is that the figure obscures part of the
environment. In addition, camera positioning becomes difficult when the figure is standing
with its back to a wall. The current way of overcoming this is that the camera is
temporarily swivelled around the figure. The challenge here lies in avoiding obstacles that
might obscure the game figure from the user. In a third person view, the relationships
between the camera position, figure size and the environment that are perceived as
correct are not physically correct .
Thus, there is less identification with the game figure in a third person game than in first
person mode. For this reason, this type is more suitable for game scenarios that allow the
management of multiple avatars.
What must also be pointed out is the fact that players are always in first person mode in
1D contexts and always in third person mode in 2.5D contexts. Both are possible in a 3D
application. Scenarios exist in which users switch between both modes (e.g. for in-game
cut scenes, that is, film sequences realised within the game engine).
The size of the space has to have a scale factor of 2 in relation to the size of the game figure: see (3).
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 24/40
3.4. Virtual multi-player worlds
We now come to the issue of how to make virtual worlds for multiple players. The key
areas in this are the protocol and architecture.
A characteristic of virtual 3D worlds is that they cannot run via standard web protocols
because the demands placed on protocols by virtual 3D worlds are very high. The main
problem is that the http protocol, which drives the WWW, is not suitable for real time
applications. As a consequence, the classical client/server technology of the Web cannot
be used for virtual 3D worlds. No standard for the server technology of a virtual 3D world
(in other words, server software and a corresponding protocol) exists yet. As far as clients
(for the application or the browser plug-in) are concerned, various manufacturers are
competing to win favour with users (see section 5). However, at least fully developed,
functioning solutions exist for this area. Companies attempting to establish virtual
MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) on the market have to deal with both
aspects: the client server applications or browser plug-ins and server operations. This
means that operators of MMOGs either operate their own servers or have them run by
other parties. With this in mind, the more successful a virtual 3D world becomes, the
higher the running costs will be. Hence, operators have to construct their own scalable
infrastructure which leads to significant levels of expenditure.
Two important phenomena exist at present that cannot be ignored when looking at virtual
3D worlds. These are World of Warcraft and Second Life. Both continue to be the subject
of a great deal of controversy. However, even though these two phenomena were not the
first of their respective genres, they can now certainly be viewed as driving forces.
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3.4.1 Second Life
Second Life (SL) is produced by Lindenlabs
who themselves describe it as a virtual 3D
world. However, it can also be described as an
MMOSG (Massive Multiplayer Online Social
Game) . Although SL has existed since 2003, it
only began to receive widespread recognition
at the end of 2006.
“Second Life is a synthetic world that is 4 Second Life in Windlight Viewer (12)
realistically displayed on PC screens. It can be
fully configured to suit the individual requirements of a project, brand or campaign. Users
experience this world in the ‘first person’ because they themselves are represented there
by a personified character or ‘avatar.’” (3)
The limits and potential of SL are explained in detail in (3).
What must also be considered here is the
ability of the SL platform to support ‘user-
generated content.’ This is an important
characteristic of SL since it enables users to
create their own 3D objects and scripts. As
such, SL makes it possible to create serious
games directly within it and use script to
store measurability. Perhaps this makes it easier to understand the hype surrounding SL.
The potential of the very far-reaching, ‘user-generated content’ means that SL occupies
an extraordinary position. At a glance, this is probably the closest one can get to a vision
of a next generation Internet, or Web 3D. Quite a lot of water has passed under the
bridge since Second Life made its first appearance and its relevance is now more
disputed than ever. What is true is that SL is currently seen as a role model for virtual
worlds. On one hand, this has the following positive side effects:
- Virtual worlds are viewed as relevant for social and economic issues.
- 3D applications can be developed as independent programs in the Second Life
client without the classical web browser context.
The aforementioned game definition applies here (2.3).
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On the other hand, the following negative aspects also become apparent:
- There is no direct relationship with the ‘classical’ Internet due to the browser
independence. Although this is currently being enhanced in Second Life by the
operating company, the integration is not yet complete.
- Second Life currently embodies a 3D virtualisation as well as an open social
network. These are two things that do not necessarily fit together and were linked
due to the operator’s policy.
In the worst case scenario, these negative aspects could have serious consequences for
virtual worlds as a business model. If the Lindenlabs policy fails and no other serious
alternative can be found, then the concept of virtual 3D worlds may suffer a major
Lindenlabs currently operates SL in a computing centre. The SL client is an independent
program that users have to install. The source code of this application was released as
open source. At present, efforts are also being made to release the protocol (5). The
hope is to develop a cross-platform standard for 3D worlds which could represent the
breakthrough for the acceptance of virtual worlds.
3.4.2 World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft (WoW) is a game by Blizzard Entertainment that was released in 2004.
Member numbers have exceeded 10 million since the beginning of 2008. It only works
online and is part of the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game)
genre. This means that each player can play a specific role defined by themselves in a
conflict between two sides. WoW also allows user accounts to have multiple avatars with
various characteristics. For example, they can also act on either side of the parties
involved in the conflict.
WoW is mentioned here because it is a mass phenomenon with a very solid business
model behind it. It appears to deliver what people want from a Web 3D application: a high
degree of immersion and a very large world which can be traversed on foot or in the air.
3.4.3 Comparability of SL and WoW
There are many other examples (Everquest, EVE online or Twinity, Croquet) of the
phenomena seen in SL and WoW. However, none of them can be viewed as being as
cutting-edge, widespread or typical for the genre.
It must also be made clear at this stage that SL and WoW are two very different
constructs. For the purposes of comparison, the main traits shared by them and the
differences between them are listed in the following.
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Shared traits exist primarily in the following aspects:
- 3D display
- Large world consisting of sub-regions through which seamless travel is possible
- Persistence of worlds
- Avatars used as player equivalents
The main differences are seen in the following aspects:
- World economy
- Business model
- User-created content
Both camps’ advocates usually have no understanding for each other whatsoever. In the
most extreme cases, this even causes what can only be described as ‘religious wars.’
The reason for this is that classical gamers do not have any interest in Second Life. This
target group cannot see the point of having a virtual world without a gaming side to it. On
the other hand, Second Life’s target group does not want to be put into the same
category as gamers, favouring the ‘free,’ unconstrained nature of SL.
3.5. Revisited: when is a game a ‘game’ and when is it ‘serious?’
Is Second Life a game? The competition appears to be split where 3D worlds are
concerned. Although some definitely want to be a game, they also merge social and
communication elements with the experience.
If we take chatting as an example, all virtual 3D worlds allow at least text-based chatting
and some even allow speech-based chatting. At present, no 3D world allows video-based
chatting since this would have a negative effect on immersion.
For instance, classical multi-player games provide the option of using key combinations
to send predefined text messages. This strengthens game appeal since these messages
(voice, tonality etc.) are embedded in the game’s atmosphere. Although there is also an
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 28/40
option of sending ‘actual’ text messages, these are only used intensively during breaks in
In MMORPGs, however, chatting is a community-promoting element. Interestingly,
chatting is used both in the game context and for general conversation. Chatting is a
genuinely popular part of the experience and increases customer loyalty.
Is World of Warcraft a game? There may be little doubt about this, but to attribute WoW’s
phenomenal success merely to its standing as a game would be to do it an injustice. In a
strict sense, it consists of a number of games that have different game mechanics. The
‘Quests’ in particular are, to a certain extent, games within a game. These can last for
hours, they require teamwork and none of the team members are allowed to opt out while
they are in progress.
Outside the Quests, players build up their character but also have time for small talk. The
social aspect is almost inseparable from the game aspect, which is almost certainly the
reason behind the massive success of WoW.
There is a lot of discussion about whether WoW promotes social behaviour as well as
skills required in professional life. If this proves to be the case, WoW could certainly be
classed as having the characteristics of a serious game. While other parties are
attempting to prove the opposite, time will tell what field studies will tell us about WoW
and virtual worlds (7).
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 29/40
3.6. Special case: mirror worlds
Mirror worlds are not used very often for
serious games (yet). These are 3D parallel
worlds that show our actual world in as much
detail as possible, unlike fictitious worlds (7).
Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth are
two implementations for displaying the earth
in this way and have both compiled huge
volumes of data consisting of map materials and aerial photographs.
Both have a browser and client (a separate program for 3D display) variant. The browser-
based variants tend to focus on map displays whereas the applications are aimed at
providing 3D displays that are as sophisticated
Time will tell whether this medium will become
more popular for serious games. It would, of
course, lend itself particularly well to historical
or geographical content. A few schools and
universities are already taking the first steps in
this direction by using released Google
Earth/Maps technologies in some lessons.
3.7. Special case: virtual worlds for learning
Surprisingly, there are no large or successful virtual worlds dedicated to learning. Virtual
worlds for learning are currently isolated applications and often have their origins in the
MUD sphere. It would appear that one either has to be involved in either gaming or
communities to find virtual worlds useful. The combination of learning with games does
not seem to be valuable enough to be of any use, commercial or otherwise.
However, others have recognised that this is not necessarily the case. NASA is offering a
reward for the creation of a virtual world for learning (in this instance: MMO, massively
multiplayer online educational game). The terms and conditions are relatively harsh since
most of the funding has to come from partners. However, if even NASA considers such
an undertaking to be important (9), it must surely be worthwhile.
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 30/40
4 End Devices for Using Serious Games
The following figure is a timeline of the history of devices that have been used for
Konsolen = Consoles
In addition to PCs, the current platforms are games consoles, handhelds and
As explained previously, the core components that drive serious games and other sub-
areas of the multimedia sector are:
- The high computing power of current standard PCs
- Online flat rates from network operators
- Standard 3D accelerator hardware
In broad terms, almost everyone has a computer suitable for serious games, even if it
looks like an office computer. Although current office PCs only contain simple onboard
graphics chips, they have an acceptable level of 3D acceleration. They cannot (and are
not intended to) match the performance of state-of-the-art graphics cards.
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 31/40
4.2. Smartphones and Handhelds
Smartphones and handhelds use technology that requires a high degree of
miniaturisation coupled with low power consumption.
In terms of computing power, they can be compared to
systems from the 90s. As a result of this, many classic
games are now available on today’s mobile end
devices. Because old computer games have become
cool again in a ‘retro’ sense, it is necessary to mention
Scumm VM by LucasArts. An ambitious team of
developers use this virtual machine to transfer reverse-
engineered games to a variety of end devices
(including Windows Mobile, Nokia Series 60 and the
Unfortunately, no development environment exists for programming Scumm VM (not to
mention the licensing issues), meaning that this avenue is closed for serious games.
The general idea of establishing a virtual machine architecture has already emerged a
few times. The most recent example was Nokia’s N-Gage, which had its own game
application programming interface (API, or in other words, a game programming
framework). However, this was not a success due to the poor sales generated by the N-
Gage. Nevertheless, Nokia is making another attempt with its new N-Gage, perhaps
meaning that this type of VM (virtual machine) approach may be considered again in
Until then, development will continue to be mobile device-specific and Java or flash-
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 32/40
4.3. Using games consoles for serious games
It is not possible to use consoles for serious games at present. The business models of
consoles work in such a way that the hardware is financed indirectly by game software
and the associated licenses. This prevents all and sundry from developing games for
consoles since both the means for production (developer kits) and the licenses are
subject to a certification process. The game concept must also be submitted to the
console manufacturers who then check it and evaluate it against certain criteria for
success. The development studio can only apply for a license (which is usually cost-
intensive) once they receive the manufacturer’s approval. However, development can
only begin once the studio has applied for developer kits. These can be very expensive
and one is required for each developer. If a console is very new, then the hardware is
typically only available as a ‘raw’ version which has to be connected to a PC.
Development cannot proceed without developer kits.
The entire process is very costly and is aimed at AAA game development. As such, it
favours large developer studios.
This current state of
affairs is just beginning
to change. Microsoft’s
Xbox 360 is the first
console open to
developers. These are
generally small scale
development teams that
develop casual games,
for example, and have to
work within small
budgets. Microsoft has
made the XNA Library available so that developers on lower budgets can produce games
for the Xbox and PC. The only catch here is that developers can only release these
games if they have direct access to the Xbox or the ‘Live Gallery.’ The console must also
have permanent access to the Internet. A different and simpler certification step is
required for the acceptance of the project in the Xbox Live Gallery. Version 2.0 of the
XNA Library was available as of April 2008. What is most interesting is that it supports 3D
functionality and does not claim to be a complete game engine. An advantage of XNA is
that it is also available for PCs. This makes it possible to carry out development for the
PC and Xbox in parallel, although there are differences in design (e.g. the fact that the
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 33/40
console has no standard keyboard) that have to be considered when developing
There are also indications that Nintendo will open up the Wii console to a certain extent.
The developer kits are set to be available for less money than has previously been the
It would therefore be reasonable to expect that consoles will also eventually be opened
up for small serious games. This would make other target groups and user situations
Special controllers are back in fashion after the revolution in movement games started by
the Nintendo Wii and its individual input devices (such as the Wiimote). Games such as
Guitar Hero have become hugely popular, the latter coming with plastic guitar-like
controllers allowing the user to play various pieces.
The Wii Fit game (which has a controller resembling a set of scales) is receiving a great
deal of attention at present. At the time of writing, ‘Wii Fit’ is being released as a
movement game for the Wii games console. It is not difficult to see why this game could
break new ground since it appears to combine physical exercise perfectly with a
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5 Technical Realisation of Serious Games
As mentioned at the outset, the high performance of current home and office computer
systems is one of the key contributors to the increasing popularity of 3D visualisations
and serious games. Even non-3D realisations benefit greatly from this increase in
computing power. Because not only high-end systems are relevant for development, the
hardware and software requirements can also be met by less expensive systems.
The following outlines a selection of tools with which we have development experience,
but which are not our own developments.
The market for author tools is very large and the following list makes no attempt to cover
it in its entirety. Requirements must be identified and evaluated where actual projects are
We carry out evaluations for actual projects on behalf of clients.
5.1. 1D text adventures, interactive fiction, MUDs/MOOs
Although text adventures are not
exactly en vogue at the moment, they
can be useful, for example, in
learning environments. There are
various author systems for realisation
such as Inform (3). There are various
OpenSource implementations at
Games that are very simple can be mapped using dynamic HTML. Here, HTML elements
(and therefore the range of applications) are so limited that this method is really only
viable for text-based applications.
5.3. 2D, 2.5D
The clear winner in the 2D and 2.5D sector is Adobe (previously Macromedia) Flash. This
vector-based, streaming format is extremely widespread. Most games on the Internet are
based on Flash since trouble-free installation in web browsers is a must for users. Adobe
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 35/40
is now set to tackle browser-independent use with Adobe Air. It will be interesting to see
what level of success this will achieve.
Microsoft Silverlight is a serious, upcoming competitor in this seemingly crucial market.
Although the Silverlight plug-in is not especially widespread at present, it is only a matter
of time as far as the user base of Microsoft’s operating systems is concerned. Silverlight
is the clear leader in terms of the video streaming quality options. It has also been
announced that DRM (Digital Rights Management) is to be implemented.
5.4. 3D and 3D game engines
Papervision3D is a 3D software renderer based on Flash. This means that although it
uses the 2D graphics optimisation of Flash, it cannot use the 3D hardware acceleration of
the graphics cards. However, as previously mentioned, the high performance of today’s
processors means that the quality of the 3D display is still acceptable.
The popularity of Papervision3D with
developers in particular can be attributed
to the fact that the Flash plug-in is so
widespread and that they have been
waiting so long for 3D. Shockwave 3D is
produced by the same company and is
3D-capable as standard, but it is not as
widespread or as popular.
5.4.2 Shockwave 3D
While Flash implements vector-based graphics, Shockwave is the corresponding pixel-
based plug-in enhancement for web browsers. Shockwave 3D is a development capable
of displaying 3D whilst using hardware acceleration. It uses either the DirectX-7 or
OpenGL graphics standard for this. The fact that it is overshadowed by Flash seems
somewhat unfair since it was released at a time when issues such as band width and
graphics performance were still limitations to be reckoned with. Nevertheless, it is now
possible to use this technology to display even complex models. Shockwave 3D also
comes as standard on many computers, giving it a similarly broad base to Flash.
As discussed in section 4.3, Microsoft’s XNA framework can be used as a 3D engine.
Despite the fact that it (currently) lacks more extensive game engine functions, it is
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 36/40
unique with regard to the development of applications in parallel for PCs and games
The Torque Game Engine (TGE) is a 3D game engine which can be traced back to 2001
when its predecessor was used to realise one of the first massive multiplayer games. The
fact that this makes it rather old is what makes it interesting for casual and serious games
that have to run on a broad base of computers. Torque’s clear advantage lies in its
network layer which allows very efficient multiplayer processes, thereby facilitating the
management of large numbers of players. The successor, TGEA, also allows the use of
modern shader technologies. TGE’s disadvantage is that its content pipeline (for
importing 3D levels, objects etc.) is highly complex, representing a steep learning curve
for 3D creation and programming.
At present, the Torque Game Engine is also being migrated to the Xbox360 as TorqueX
and may become one to watch with regard to games console development (see section
4.3). It also uses the XNA Framework.
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The Unity3D game engine has the potential to be at the cutting edge of tools used to
create serious games. The Danish company that produces it has deliberately positioned it
in this market. The development environment is currently only available for the Apple
Macintosh although a PC version has been announced. As with Shockwave 3D, it can
create stand-alone applications on a cross-platform basis for PCs and Macs. A separate
plug-in (which needs to be installed) can also be used to create web applications.
However, Unity3D makes use of features of current graphics cards, especially shaders. It
is therefore better suited for creating serious games that run on the current generation of
The wide availability of high-performance computer systems with high-speed 3D graphics
acceleration makes it possible to use 3D technologies in the form of Web 3D applications
on the Internet and in Extranets or Intranets. 3D immersions are becoming increasingly
established among end users and can be used for serious games. Manufacturers of
games consoles are also preparing to make their products accessible for casual and
In addition, multi-user worlds are making new interactive concepts possible. Virtual
realities with user-created content are establishing social networks and enhancing
classical, browser-based Internet technology, whilst providing a new platform for serious
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 38/40
1. Masuch, Maic. (now FH Trier) BIS. [Online] http://bis.informatik.uni-
2. Zyda, Michael. From Visual Simulation to Virtual Reality to Games. IEEE Computer
3. Novak, Matt. Paleo-Future. [Online] http://www.paleofuture.com/2008/04/auto-tutor-
4. Määttä, Aki. Realistic Level Design for Max Payne. Gamasutra. [Online]
5. A Design System for Interactive Fiction. Inform 7. [Online] http://www.inform-fiction.org.
6. Web 3D. Pixelpark. [Online]
7. Web 3D. Wikipedia. [Online] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web3D.
8. Scholz, Christian. Linden Lab releases first draft of the Second Life Open Grid
Protocol. mrtopf.de. [Online] http://mrtopf.de/blog/secondlife/linden-lab-releses-first-draft-
9. John Smart, Jamais Cascio, Jerry Paffendorf. Metaverse Roadmap. [Online]
10. Cheryl K. Olson, Heiko Gogolin. Harvard-Studie zu Videospielen - "Nichtspielen ist
ein Zeichen fehlender Sozialkompetenz". Spiegel Online. [Online]
11. Scholz, Christian. Windlight ist zurück. mrtopf.de. [Online]
Pixelpark Agentur, 2008 Page 39/40
12. NASA. NASA Learning Technologies Request for Information: Development of a
NASA-based massively multiplayer online learning game. NASA. [Online] NASA.
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