Design Assumptions (repost)

Now that the game is out I’d like to repost Tim Sweeney’s write-up about our design assumptions. Comments are welcome:

“In the course of making PeaceMaker, it was necessary to make certain assumptions and statements about things that are not really known in order to bring the game into being. We admit that these core assumptions are debatable issues, and we encourage exploration of them. However, they are not significantly questioned or challenged within the scope of playing PeaceMaker itself. Much as an artistic work claims a certain license to choose what it says about the world we live in, we claim this license in making this game. We feel it is a positive message we are sending, and should we second-guess these assumptions we risk our message not being heard, or having the wrong message sent entirely.

We stand by these following assumptions and do not consider them biased towards one particular side or the other, but rather biased on the side of peace in general.

Two-State Solution
The end, “winning condition” of the PeaceMaker simulation is the two-state solution. This may sound controversial to some, but is the consensus of a majority of those that desire a peaceful solution, and is the aim of past peace talks, UN resolutions, and the USA-backed “road map.” Even though we end the scope of our game there, however, that does not mean that every problem and every concern has been addressed, or that the violence has completely stopped. We simply must choose a limit to the scope of the simulation. We welcome other views and encourage discussion about the validity of that solution. We believe that regardless of this assumption, a lot of the insights that can come from our experience will be beneficial for reaching any resolution.

You can make a difference!
Sometimes it is said that the conflict is eternal, and can never be resolved. Or that a single minister or president can’t do anything to affect the conflict in any regard. We disagree. The impact of one person’s resolve, especially a powerful figure such as we let our players pretend to be, cannot be dismissed. While our players cannot simply end the conflict with the wave of their hands, they can make a difference and simulate real progress (or regress, if the player fails).

The other side wants peace too
The true motives of the other side are constantly called into question. Some insist that many Palestinians would not be content until the Israeli state ceases to exist. Others claim that many Israelis believe that Gaza and the West Bank rightfully belong to the state of Israel. It is the case that certain individuals may hold these views, and the player will have to deal with them in the course of the game, but we assume these views are not shared by the entire populations. We believe that a majority of people want a sustainable, fair peace.

You lack complete control of your own side
Continuing from the above topic, the player does not represent the entire, monolithic “side.” They do not have direct control of everything. They have to work with limitations, attempting to gain support so that they can make bold moves, and there are also independent simulated actors who are going to cause disruption through their actions no matter what. The player is not in control for everything their “side” does, though they do have to take some responsibility, as they will be blamed even if it wasn’t their decision.

Small concrete steps, not grandiose plans
PeaceMaker is a game about small actions leading to a gradual solution. It’s about observing the range of week-to-week actions and concrete steps possible. Other events will happen at the same time, changing the situation on the ground. It is not a game about hammering out detailed negotiations about the specifics of border lines, tax rates, and timelines. Such frameworks are admirable, but are always going to be imperfect, and be disrupted by action or lack of action. We believe that forward progress is a better thing to demonstrate than a fragile and complicated plan.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the possible”
Not only is there a balance in the gameplay, but there is also a balance involved in making the game. We cannot make a perfect, detailed, realistic simulation — it would be completely inaccessible to all but a handful of people. We can also not make a “light” game in the traditional sense of video games — it would trivialize the conflict and be a step backwards. PeaceMaker, we believe, is a fair compromise that moves us in the right direction. This is the same lesson we hope players find through playing our game.”

PeaceMaker Site

We’ve made some changes in the PeaceMaker website- we introduced a new reviews section and updated the homepage with rotating quotes. As we gather more feedback from customers we hope to introduce new sections so people can share their unique experience with others. We are also interested in showing the wide variety of opinions and perspectives: some of our players are hard core gamers while some never played a video game before. Some are content experts and some are making their first steps in understanding the issues. Some are finding it too easy and thus unrealistic, others are struggling for weeks and never won the game. The list goes on and on so more to come. As always, feel free to comment and tell us what you think.

Voice of America TV

Voice of America has just published a TV report about the PeaceMaker game and our formal launch event in Washington DC (the National Conference of the World Affairs Councils of America). Dennis Ross, the former US Ambassador, is commenting on PeaceMaker and the story focuses on the growing trend of “serious games” and their impact on society. Click on the top links on the VOA page to watch it online.

PeaceMaker around the Globe

I thought it might be interesting to list the countries that have already experienced the PeaceMaker game: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, China, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.

We are proud of our international appeal. People expressed to us that the only limiting factor is our ability to translate the game into more languages and the addition of more international payment methods. Be sure that we are working on those tasks as quickly as possible so we can expand the community of PeaceMakers.

"I Made Peace"

We’ve received a note today from Rolf Burton and he kindly allowed us to post it in its entirety. The subject of the Blog post is the subject of his email – “I Made Peace”:

“I was at the Sundance Film Festival. That’s where I found out about the game. The most surprising thing that came from my experience with the video game Peacemaker was when the game ended and I created peace. I knew fully well what game I was playing and what my objective was but when peace was actually achieved it was such a weird feeling. I mean there isn’t supposed to be peace in that region right? We all want peace but do we believe it is possible?

I can say after playing the game and finding a solution I know that subconsciously I was certain that peace was not an option. When peace was achieved and I learned ways that it could happen my whole paradigm for the region changed. I realized that even though I am someone that would like to see peace in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, in actuality I did not think it was possible until after playing this game. Many times parents or colleagues will tell you to achieve something but most of the times have no idea what the process is to achieve that goal. And then people feel bad never achieving those grand goals they were told to achieve. It’s similar to saying we want peace in the Middle East but then no one ever attempts any of the paths that could create peace.

Learning with Peacemaker how many different paths to peace already exist reminded me of this quote I had cut out of a magazine that read “Oh God, I do not pray to you for peace for you have already provided us with so many ways if only we would follow them”. If anything Peacemaker shows the player that peace is actually possible. It’s the most important first step in creating peace. Believing its actually possible. May I suggest your next game focus on a solution to improving democracy in the United States.”

Why PeaceMaker costs money?

I have been meaning to write this for a while now in response to several emails and postings. I am finally going to throw my first round of comments into the ring to respond to the overall idea that we should be giving away the game for free, why we are a for-profit, and finally why we are charging for the game.

To the comments we get that “I won’t purchase a game that should be free”, or along the lines of “how is a game that is meant to reach people charging money”, on a personal level it has always struck me as odd that thing associated with “peace” should only live in the non-profit or free segment of society. Another comment that we were always asked was “what is your business model”. This implies that because the game is about conflict resolution or “peace” that the standard models don’t apply. It is about spending where your values or interests lie, if your interest is in games why not a game that has received reviews from an established game designer such as “is fun, challenging, tense at times, and extremely well presented”? If you’re interested in the issues then we also equate the experience with a documentary. We address a social issue in an interesting way. I could go on and on for experiences that people pay for that are similar at a base level to what we are doing.

We did have a long debate on whether to be for-profit or non-profit. The issues that drove our decision can be summed up fairly simply with the reality that it was easier and faster to find funding for the profit venture. There is a growing trend for social entrepreneurs, self sustaining models with positive missions, ie positive changes through for-profit ventures ( even this years Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mouhammad Yunus ). We also chose to remain unaffiliated through investment or sponsors. We fought for a long time to maintain the mission of our company and were very sensitive to bias concerns. We continuously saw the opportunity that if we are financially successful we could influence the gaming industry as a whole to understand that this type of mature content is not only in demand but a financial opportunity. To lead by example and to help populate the space with more titles like ours. We still work with and maintain great relationships with several foundations and non-profits for providing the game in places where funding is a problem and for creating wider awareness and support for communities and educators to engage people through the game experience.

We feel we chose a price point that is fairly low for what we have invested in the project, and hopefully not a barrier for too many people. You could also insert a whole argument here on perceived value of something you purchase versus something that is free ( I am not going to extrapolate on that argument except to say this drove some of our decision on the final price ). The main objective is to earn enough money to be able to update this title, expand its community interaction, and to address other topics we have in the que. The primary drive has never been for personal financial gain.

I could and will continue to expand on this, as this is only some of the thinking and issues we have addressed. I attempted to keep this short but was unable to get the basics out without going on a little bit of a soapbox rant.

Hamas and the Jewish Settlers

So, some Israelis and Jews didn’t really like the actors’ diagram at the bottom of our “game” web page. They protested what they perceived as a simplistic equation of Hamas=Settlers, which in their view is completely wrong. The short explanation is that we didn’t mean to compare between the two groups, as each one of them has its unique goals and they execute their agenda with different means (not to mention that they don’t necessarily have a single voice to begin with). The reason we highlighted them was that both oppose the two-state solution and do not recognize the other side’s claim for territory or sovereignty. In PeaceMaker, when playing the Palestinian President or the Israeli Prime Minister these groups could present the most persistent opposition to your actions.

Asymmetric Gameplay, Asymmetric Feedback

One of the fascinating things about an interactive piece like PeaceMaker is that it can take a life of its own. Players get positive messages you didn’t intend to convey, others try very hard to find the bias towards one side or the other. Such is the common observation of “which side is easier”. For example, we got this note from Josh Felberg:

“Something i noticed while playing through both sides is that the job of the Israeli Prime Minister seems to be much more difficult than that of the Palestinian President. Almost every action by the Israeli PM is scrutinized and complained about by either one side or the other, while the actions taken by the Palestinian President seem to generally gain support more easily.”

Interesting to compare to a blogger from a few days ago:

“Playing the Israeli side is actually pretty easy… Playing the Palestinian side, however, is all but impossible. You have no funds with which to institute policy programs or government construction. Talking peace to the Israelis gets you hated by your own people. Deploying police and attempting to arrest militants is pretty much ineffectual.”

It is all new to us, and we will be looking for answers. How come people find the experience so different? Is it related to pre-assumptions that lead the scenario in a certain direction? All I can say is that we aimed to create a realistic and balanced environment, arguably optimistic, with no intention to say that one side holds the key to a solution or that one side is to blame.

General Dani Yatom Plays PeaceMaker on TV

Israeli Channel 2 News ran a story about PeaceMaker yesterday. They do a very good job in presenting the game, portraying both perspectives. The intriguing part is when they let Dani Yatom, the Israeli general and former head of the Mossad, play PeaceMaker. As a response to a suicide bomb he commits a series of military actions starting with an apache strike, a military operation and a curfew. When he moves into diplomacy Yatom puts pressure on the Palestinians and demands anti-militants action. To make a long story short- he loses, the third intifada breaks out and he claims the game is “unrealistic”. We can only suggest a different course of action :)