Would you like to write a blog? – 12/7/12

Would you like to write a blog?

Blog by Tim Loew, Executive Director, MassDiGI

MassDiGI is proud to announce an exciting collaboration with the Boston Globe and Boston.com on the establishment of a regional game industry blog for The Hive. In order to support this effort, MassDiGI has committed to organizing gratis, crowdsourced content from local game ecosystem authors, curating and editing the submissions and feeding them to The Hive for posting.

Over the next several weeks, MassDiGI will be gathering a handful of posts, testing and producing guidelines/FAQs for prospective authors. The goal is to have a steady flow of cool content organized for an official launch by mid-January 2013.

The first test post, published today, “Making a game of “Game of Thrones””, by Disruptor Beam CEO Jon Radoff can be viewed here.

This is great opportunity for everyone from studios and campuses across the region to let the world know about the amazing work and research being done right here in Massachusetts. If you have an interest in writing a blog, please contact me (timothy.loew(at)massdigi.org) for more information.

12/19/12 Update – Blog submission guidelines can be found here.

1/18/13 Update – Other test posts to date include: “The big payoff when video games are free” by MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma; “I was a teenage congressman” by Muzzy Lane’s Chris Parsons and “With a little help from my friends: a day in the life of a game developer” by The Tap Lab’s Dave Bisceglia.

2/8/13 Update – The State of Play blog is live and can be found here.

 

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Prioritized Examination – 12/4/12

Prioritized Examination: How It Can Give Game Developers a Competitive Advantage

Guest blog by Chinh Pham, Patent Attorney and Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig – Boston

 In the fast-paced world of video gaming, developing a strong patent strategy can provide video game companies with a competitive edge.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a number of options to expedite the patenting process.  Video game companies should weigh the benefits of a new USPTO program called Prioritized Examination. The Prioritized Examination (PE) process allows a patent application to be placed on an expedited track where a final disposition will be provided within 12 months of filing.  For a nominal fee of $4,800 ($2,400 for small entities), this can be a quick, inexpensive option for removing the application from the traditional route where it now must wait in queue for 2-4 years on average before it is examined.

Because issued patents enjoy a presumption of validity, and have a more defined scope of claim coverage than pending applications, those applications that issue as patents quickly will enable inventors and companies to more effectively market and protect their products that may be constantly subject to improvements, redesigns and replacements.

PE is valuable to video game companies that are seeking to leverage patent rights to establish and maintain their competitive position in a fast-changing market.  In particular, with an issued patent, a startup video game company will be better positioned for investment considerations; a growth-stage video game company may be enabled to identify more partnership and cross-licensing opportunities; and an established video game company will be able to better defend itself against potential infringers.  Again, because issued patents have less uncertainty than pending applications, they are viewed more favorably by investors and licensees, while being more deterrent to infringers.

To maximize the benefits of PE, video game companies should start reviewing their patent strategies to identify any pending innovations or developments that can take advantage of expedited examination.  Should companies decide to file new patent applications, attention should be taken in regards to the most relevant prior art, while it is suggested that a set of claims focusing on features best likely to be allowed be presented in the applications to minimize any procedural barriers.

As the trend in gaming continues to shift toward mobile, social, and interactive games, game developers should consider developing an intellectual property protection strategy in the US.  Video game companies should also weigh the benefits of Prioritized Examination. In the end, developing a strong patent strategy can provide game companies with the edge they need to succeed against the competition.

Greenberg Traurig’s Video Gaming and Interactive Media Team will keep you informed of new patent reform provisions that impact your ability to build a strong intellectual property portfolio. For more information, feel free to contact me directly at phamc@gtlaw.com.

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Rise of the Midcore Mobile Market or “Here we go again” – 11/26/12

Rise of the Midcore Mobile Market or “Here we go again” 

Guest blog by Mike Levine, CEO, HappyGiant Media

Rapid change is a way of life in the modern mobile gaming market. Perhaps in a few years we will look back on these times as turbulent and hectic, as future markets mature and settle into more predictable patterns. But if that’s the case, I see few signs of that future on the near horizon. However, are starting to see certain new patterns emerge – some encouraging as the market grows, others more disturbing, as big publishers begin to fight over what they perceive as the biggest slice of the pie.

The Past

For the purpose of this article, let’s divide the history of the recent smartphone mobile gaming era into phases.

Phase 1 we can safely call “paid apps” (i.e. Angry Birds). These are games where you paid a fee, usually $.99, and bought an app, and that was it. Of course that was too simple. We had to make things more complicated.

The Present

While the paid app market still exists and is very viable, the clear trend is the rise of the next phase,, “free-to-play”. Free-to-play encompasses several concepts, mainly “IAPs” or In-App Purchases” which show up in the form of purchasing virtual goods, or virtual currency to buy functional or decorative items or other enhancements to a free game.

We should also mention an emerging grey area, called “Paymium” where the app still costs an upfront fee, but has IAP’s inside it as well. In my humble-less opinion, this model really has overtaken Phase 1, as we see many top paid apps like Angry Birds selling items within the game now.

And yet a clear business strategy to a small or medium developer is far from obvious. We hear and read undeniable statistics about the rise of free-to-play (http://ow.ly/fxEai ), however at the same time, we read counter trend stories about developers abandoning free-to-play and moving back to the paid model (http://ow.ly/fxE0F). Or we read of developers making insane amounts of money off free apps (http://ow.ly/fxEeF) and at the same time read stories of developers barely able to make ends meet by making apps (http://ow.ly/fxEcw). What’s going on here?

This makes it a very confusing time to be small or mid size developer. Do you go with the trends and compete with the onslaught of free-to-play midcore games and hope your app sticks out? Or do you go anti-trend, whether it be a paid app, or casual experience not aimed for the hard or midcore markets?

The rise of mobile has changed the games industry eco-system …. or has it? This has always been a hit driven industry, like any entertainment industry. What has undeniably changed is the barrier to entry. It’s much easier and more affordable to make mobile games than it ever has before. Thus, the playing field is vastly more crowded than it’s ever been. This makes it harder on everyone. But it also allows those with deep pockets, to eventually dominate the majority of the market, and as a result define the majority of what the market is.

Rise of the “Midcore”

Out of the ashes of the paid, and the rise of free-to-play model, we see another trend, which in my opinion is slightly disturbing. The big publishers seem to have decided that the real money in this new market is in what’s being called “midcore” games. They are not wrong about this. CSR Racing, Clash of Clans and others – these are high quality games and appeal to what we used to and still call, “hard core” gamers, as well as some younger and non hard core gamers, thus the term, midcore. The theory being (and it’s proving itself out), is that these midcore mobile players are a more reliable and consistent form of revenue than “casual” gamers. These games, along with massive licensed titles (i.e. The Simpsons) are starting to dominate the mobile charts.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should. This is exactly what the game industry has done again and again over the years, giving up on markets that had so much potential, yet didn’t make as much money as the big ticket AAA games, and thus were eventually abandoned. “Edutainment” titles from The Oregon Trail to Carmen San Diego came and went. Kids titles on consoles withered up. For whatever reason, women and children have never been a high priority to big game publishers, minus a few exceptions (i.e. The Sims). And what we were left with, were consoles that by and large appealed to the hardcore market only.

Does this mean the end of titles like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope or Where’s My Water? I highly doubt it. But I do think you will see less of them. We already are. And to succeed, like always, they will have to be very, very good.

So what’s a small or medium sized developer to do? You either go with the trends, and make a midcore, free-to-play game, which now puts you squarely in competition with some very big companies. Companies who certainly have deeper pockets and commitment to fund games and acquisition campaigns. Or, you can go anti-trend, with all the risks mentioned above and more. At my new company HappyGiant, for our first original title we opted to go anti-trend. Our iOS and soon to be Android app, “Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends” (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dolphin-paradise-wild-friends/id556988342?mt=8) is a free-to-play high end pet simulation game, where players collect and play with wild dolphins in a beautiful tropical setting. The game is in 3D and due to dynamically generated water and more, only works on newer devices. We decided to aim high, as we see a big push to quality on these mobile devices happening. We didn’t want to make just another 2D iso game. For us it’s still too early to tell how this strategy will work out – but having done a lot of work with toy companies in our past, and being parents as well, we still very much believe in kids and that kids love playing with apps on tablets and smartphones. So we wanted to make something magical the whole family could share in together, and we are very happy with the results!

Anyone who has kids knows these devices are transforming entertainment (for young and old) It would be a shame if the game industry, once again, turned its back on the casual market, where it seems more viable than ever given the mainstream proliferation of these devices. These are no longer just game machines, or primarily owned by gamers, even though games make the majority of the profit on them. Hitting the home run in the casual market may be more difficult or hard to predict, but this doesn’t mean we should give up on it. Those who don’t will be in a position to dominate that side of the market. The alternative is a market dominated by a sea of clones all aiming for a similar type of player and controlled by publishers who will dominate the charts through big money acquisition campaigns. Hopefully if anyone understands fostering a mentality of “Thinking Different” it will be Apple. The mainstream market is too big to ignore, even if the large game publishers don’t yet see that.

You can follow Mike and HappyGiant @HappyGiantMedia and Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends @DolphinApp.

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The Importance of Community – 11/2/12

The Importance of Community

Guest blog by Jonathon Myers, Narrative Designer for Game of Thrones Ascent by Disruptor Beam

Jonathon Myers at the 2012 Boston Festival of Indie Games

Due to recent events — the closing of 38 Studios and Zynga Boston, layoffs at Turbine, and the impossible-to-miss purchase of LucasArts by Disney — the prospect of working in the games industry must be scary to those considering it as a career. It may appear unstable, which is partially true… Our dependency on technology means massive disruptions on a semi-regular basis. People speculate: Are MMO’s dead? Is the Facebook game audience shrinking? Should everyone drop everything and invest in mobile? What’s going on with that OUYA thing anyway? I won’t pretend to know the answers. What I do know is that in the midst of all disruption and change, a member of the game development industry can look to one thing that ties it all together: community.

We have an incredible game development community here in Massachusetts. For the sake of reference, I’m listing many of my favorite meetups below. I’m sure there are many more. Game development or tech innovation events take place a couple times a week most weeks out of the year. If you have a T-pass, you have access to a network and the local exchange of larger ideas. At a time when most headlines would lead one to believe that opportunities are sparse, attending these events will show you that there is a strong community looking out for each other with jobs and opportunities shared as announcements. Participating in a conversation and exchanging cards at these events is often a great way to find employment and sometimes better than anonymously emailing an HR department. At these events you can also obtain knowledge of industry trends the same as you would from studying a trade publication. Panels gather to showcase industry talent as they discuss relevant topics and current events. Local companies will share their findings and offer up postmortem lectures so that others can learn from both their mistakes and successes. Game development meetups in Boston function like a migratory agora.

I’m very proud to be a part of the Boston game development community and I speak up about this all the time to narrative design peers at the typical annual conferences. When I first decided to put my creative skills to use in making games, I met one person to start out. It was Darius Kazemi, the head of Boston Postmortem at the time. It turns out that Darius was a great person to meet. He learned my name and my interests as a writer and introduced me to people. As I began to attend Boston Postmortem more often, people would come up to me and ask, “Hey, you’re the one interested in narrative, right? Darius said I should talk to you!” I also met Scott MacMillan, who founded an independent game developer movement in this area with other devs like Ichiro Lambe and Eitan Glinert. Ditto with Alex Schwartz and Elliott Mitchell, founders of the Boston Unity Group. I could keep going with this in an attempt to map out more of the scene with which I’m the most familiar, but I think you get my point. By investing time and effort in community events, I quickly learned about the industry I wanted to join from the people in the trenches. I listened to advice and found mentors. I witnessed as the people I came to know tried new things. I observed trends and met co-collaborators at game jams for side projects in order to try out new things. Most importantly, I quickly became part of a large-scale exchange of ideas. I blinked my eyes and everything had changed. I was suddenly one of the people working on projects, building products, and taking the time out to share my experiences at a meetup.

It is very true that circles rise together. The people that you know now will be growing and moving into different positions year after year. If you establish relationships, give to each other, and put time into your community, it will come back to you later. Not only will community participation help you to grow your career, but you’ll also find that a grounded community will be there for you when a disruption occurs or a company goes under. Which will happen. It always happens. But the community remains, tying it all together.

Recent news and the subsequent reaction of this community to those events has brought back to my mind a poem titled Desiderata. It was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. Here’s the part that keeps coming to mind:

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Game Developer Meetups in Metro-Boston:

Boston Game Jams http://bostongamejams.com/

Boston Indies http://www.bostonindies.com

Boston Unity Group http://www.meetup.com/B-U-G-Boston-Unity-Group/

Indie Game Collective http://www.indiegamecollective.org/

International Game Developers Association (IGDA – Boston)  www.bostonpostmortem.org

New England Games SIG http://negamessig.com/

Women in Games Boston http://wigboston.wordpress.com/

And, of course, MassDiGI https://www.massdigi.org

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Why Create a Game? – 10/29/12

Why Create a Game?

Guest blog by Peter Caparso, President – North America, Adyen Global Payment Services

 

Adyen’s Peter Caparso (center) at the 2012 MassDiGI Game Challenge.

Why do you create a game? I like to ask game developers this question and the answers I get back often involve creativity and innovation. What a lot of folks don’t take into consideration when creating their title is how are you going to get paid? Making the next break-through viral game involves intelligence, design and money. If your title doesn’t sell, then you won’t be producing many new titles anytime soon. Take some time now to consider the commercial elements of your release so that when you go to market, you mitigate potential failure points.

The best advice I would give to future developers and publishers is to take a moment and consider your monetization strategy. What markets do you want to reach? What payment methods will you accept? How much is it going to cost you to accept payments? There are many options available to you and if you do a little homework, you can quickly put a payment plan in place that should accommodate your needs. Banks, payment companies and even wallet methods (like PayPal) can all offer you solutions however make sure you find the right partner for your needs.

One last bit of advice, make sure you negotiate some wiggle room when you do sign up with your bank/payment provider so that as business conditions change (i.e. your title is a smash!) you can alter what you pay to allow you to reap the benefit of producing a successful game.

Adyen’s Westborough, MA-based team is always willing to discuss payment strategies. For more information, please feel free to contact me directly at peter.caparso@adyen.com.

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New Rules of the Game for Filing Videogame Patents – 10/22/12

New Rules of the Game for Filing Videogame Patents

Guest blog by Chinh Pham, Patent Attorney and Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig – Boston

Greenberg Traurig’s Chinh Pham (right) at the 2012 MassDiGI Game Challenge.

On September 16, 2011, President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (“AIA”) into law. With this Act, the U.S. patent system is experiencing the most significant reform in more than 60 years. One of the most important changes is the shift from a “first-to-invent” to a “first-inventor-to-file” system. Innovators of video gaming, mobile media, music and social networking technologies need to understand how this new process will impact their ability to protect and monetize their inventions.

Under the former patent system, a video game developer who conceived of a technology first but files a patent application on that technology after a competitor can still be entitled to a patent on that technology. However, in the new first-to-file system, the first applicant to file a patent application is entitled to a patent regardless of who conceived of the technology first.

The first-to-file patent rules will take effect on March 18, 2013. To adequately protect your video game related technology, you may want to consider accelerating the timetable for patent application filings. Video game developers should consider patent strategies early in the design phase rather than waiting for a development of a prototype. This allows you to establish earlier priority dates over subsequent patent filings by your competitors, and can potentially require your competitors take a license to avoid infringing your technology.  The earlier priority dates can also enhance your ability to attract investors.

Greenberg Traurig’s Video Gaming and Interactive Media Team will keep you informed of new patent reform provisions that impact your ability to build a strong intellectual property portfolio. For more information, feel free to contact me directly at phamc@gtlaw.com.

 

 

 

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The Phases of Game Production, Part 2 – 8/9/12

It was this heavy.

Beta

The definition of our beta phase is ‘Pencils Down, all work complete’.  As  our projects approached beta, all of the pie in the sky, nice-to-have features flee from the minds of the team. When a project enters beta, you work with what you have. You don’t enter beta until you have what you need. But once you do, your goal is to polish polish polish. Every feature, every mechanic, every asset has to be made the best it can be. That means testing, bug-fixing, optimizing…anything that needs to be made better than it already is, anything that needs to look good for real people to look at.

Release

Release is probably the most stressful part of the production process. You haven’t been able to do everything you’ve wanted to do, but you’ve (hopefully) done everything you’ve had to do. You polished and you polished and you polished. You tested, internally, maybe even externally, you’ve killed bugs and you’ve marketed and everything you’ve thought to do. And then you hope it’s enough to succeed.

Walt’s Take

My take is that Beta and Release are actually low stress/high intensity times for the project team.  On these projects, with a fixed date when the program ended, the teams got to experience a typical game development ‘hard deadline’ to ship.  With a looming deadline, the stress about decisions evaporates – the hard reality of time pressure makes decisions self-evident.

As for release, something always goes wrong with release, and it is never what you expect.  For the Nanoswarm team, we were actually delayed shipping the product to Apple because the students’ company, 80HD Games was not officially formed yet.  They were code and feature complete, but had to hold off until they got the official paperwork.

One of the most satisfying results for me of the SIP program was that the students got to see projects in a complete cycle, from Concept to Release.  Many developers go years in the industry without seeing a complete cycle and our program got folks to see it in just one summer. – Walt Yarbrough & Oleg Brodskiy

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The Wonderful World of UV Mapping – 8/2/12

Jim McCarthy, Artist, Self-Prettyfier.

 

I’m James McCarthy and I attend RPI and this summer I work for 80HD Games on their award-winning game, Nanoswarm. Some of my work on Nanoswarm included UV mapping the 3D models. UV mapping is one of those jobs most people underestimate and tend to dislike, and while I admit it’s not my favorite part of the 3D process, it’s an important part nonetheless. UV mapping is essentially taking a 3D model and unfolding its sides, then laying it flat on a 2D plane, like opposite of origami or papercraft. The names come from the variables, U and V, which represent X and Y on a 2D texture plane. X, Y, and Z are already variables used in 3D space, so we use U and V to store this texture information as separate variables. On average, it takes as long to UV map an object as it does to model it; the more complex the model, the longer it takes to map.

Yes, that is a Game Boy. And yes, it is awesome.

 

The first thing I did before UVing was look at what type of game we were making, what the player will be able to see, and the game’s art style. For this particular project the camera is high above the nanoswarm and the art style is simple and stylized, which means the resolution of the textures doesn’t need to be large. Having the camera high up also means a model can have subtle seams (two parts of a texture that don’t transition nicely).

After planning the UV maps, I started unfolding the 3D models onto a 2D plane. Here’s an example of an unfolded crate.

No, it’s not the Companion Cube. We can all weep together.

 

I then added a placeholder texture, so that I could identify which side corresponds to which location in 2D. This texture also helps identify any stretching and shows how much resolution each side has assigned to it (the smaller the squares, the more resolution).

 

It’s the Psychedelic Cube!

 

As you can see, most of the shapes on the model and 2D plane are identical, which means tiling wouldn’t really be noticeable, given the camera height and art style. When you lay two of these sides on top of each other on the 2d texture plane, they both hold identical information and have no variation between them. The model also showed some texture stretching (most visible on the flat corner at the center of the image) which I quickly remedied by changing the shape on the 2D plane slightly.

 

Now, it's the Cool Cube. Yes, I am sorry, thanks for asking.

 

You can now see that the identical sides on the object are the same color, and that a lot of space has been freed up on the texture sheet. This free space was used for other objects’ UV maps, so that multiple objects use the same texture, saving even more space. You can also see the seams I mentioned earlier where the triangle meets the edges, but once a texture is painted on the crate it will not be very noticeable. Now that the model is successfully UV mapped, I exported the 2D image you see and gave it to the texture artist, so that he can make the model look nice and pretty.  – Jim McCarthy

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Solar Panels and Wind Turbines – 7/26/12

Dan Cherkassky, seen here, fleeing from himself.

Hello, my name is Dan Cherkassky and I’m the artist working on Energy Drive at SIP. Coming from a background where I was focused on digital sculpting and painting, switching over to meet the requirements for Energy Drive has been a bit of a challenge. Though the buildings we use are 3D models, they had to be adapted from the sprites used in the original game. This proved difficult thanks to the inclusion of a number of buildings, the need to keep their look varied, and making textures that are not too realistic or cartoony.

For example, a regular solar panel is composed of a number of cells, which normally would make for a fair amount of detail. However, we tried to keep with the original game’s colors and initially the mix of the two ended up looking weird. Having few details on the model also made it look bland, so we looked for an in-between; we came up with a simple solar panel model, with the cells being made from a light overlay image, giving it just enough detail. It was not too real and not too cartoony, exactly what our content owners wanted.

Many other buildings were fairly straightforward, as a few details here and there were not difficult to maintain. The wind turbine, however, proved difficult because of how much simpler it was than most of the other models. Out models do not have details, such as bricks or paneling, but they do have larger depressions and extrusions, such as windows and pipes, neither of which are really present on a wind turbine. This resulted in a very simple looking structure, even by the game’s art standards. Fortunately, it turned out that this simplicity was remedied once the building was animated, as the spinning blades drew attention from the building and looked more like a real wind turbine. Maybe it was the lack of spinning from the start that caused the visual disconnect, but whatever the reason, we felt better about the turbine once it was animated.

Overall it was great working with varying styles, new techniques, and simply getting things done. It’s great to work on a project like this, especially when it teaches you so much! – Dan Cherkassky

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How to Win with Social Causes – 7/24/12

Scott Henderson discusses the social impact of social cause games.

When non-profiteers and do-gooders ask me for the one piece of advice I could give to help market their cause, here’s what I tell them:

” Not everyone cares about your cause. But someone does, and they can connect you to others who do too.

Let’s accept reality. The world is full of problems – some we can solve and others we need to figure out how to live with. In this hyper-connected age, you can be easily overwhelmed with stories of great causes from around the world and in our own backyard that need your help.

What’s true for causes is true for games. We’re competing in a very crowded marketplace and need to find a way to stand out and attract the people who care about our cause or game.

Most causes and games don’t have big Hollywood blockbuster-sized budgets to blanket TV, radio, and the Internet with advertisements. However, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the rest of the social media ecosystem, everyone has a soapbox and megaphone to gather a crowd.

For those who want to bring social causes and gaming together, you have a range of approaches you can take to attract your crowd – some obvious and others not so much. Here are five that come to mind:

 

Virtual Goods/Donations

Zynga has helped a number of charities sell virtual goods and then donate the proceeds. This method started with a sweet potato seed packet, which benefitted relief charities in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

 

Game Mechanics

Trying to educate players on the complexity of energy conservation? Want to teach health care providers ways to improve their patient diagnoses? Want to illustrate the challenge of those living on the edge of poverty?  Create your game around the factors that drive those issues and challenge players to figure out how to win.

 

Narratives

You can develop story arcs that help players have fun while gaining a deeper appreciation of the issue. It doesn’t have to be a morality tale or preaching.  Maybe you create a quest for players to overcome.  Or maybe you set your game in a developing country.

 

Characters

Want to challenge people’s stereotypes? Develop characters who are dealing with disability, homelessness, natural disaster, or some other issue. Make these characters relatable and portray them in a unique light. Even subtle character traits can make a huge difference.

 

Compassion Drives Action

The word “compassion” comes from the words that mean “suffer” and “together”. Your mind has mirror neurons . These neurons make it possible for you to look at others and feel what they’re feeling – as if you’re gazing in the mirror. When we sense pain in others, we will take immediate, specific action to remove that pain.

 

However you choose to bring social causes and gaming together, make sure to give your players ways to support you in taking action. – Scott Henderson, Cause Shift

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