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1:08pm on Thursday, 2nd March, 2006:

Setting up a Game Lab


How do you set up a computer game laboratory for students? More specifically, how do you set up one for virtual worlds?

I'm supposed to be looking at ways of doing this for the Essex University, but there are a number of problems you don't get with regular software:

  1. Licences. Normally, the university would buy a site licence for something like Visual C++, but games don't do this. How can I get a site licence for, say, World of Warcraft? How can I get one for Civilization IV?
  2. Accounts. I was impressed enough with my recent experience in EverQuest 2 to consider giving my students exercises such as "Compare and contrast the newbie experience for a mage and for a paladin", but to do anything more in-depth I would want players to have an account. Although it's possible I can require that they subscribe to the game for a year (we don't give them free calculators for arithmetic, so why should we give them free accounts for online games?), this probably wouldn't go down very well — especially as they'll be paying £3,000 a year fees come October. The university could easily buy some accounts, but how could it manage them? There are no provisions to ensure that an account's password can't be changed, or that it can only be accessed from a particular IP address. What happens when some enterprising student uses it to farm stuff to sell on IGE — then gets the account banned?
  3. The university's firewall. I've mentioned this before. It's fixable, but will require some arm-twisting.
  4. Patches. Students can and do accidentally or deliberately delete files and uninstall programs. What happens when they uninstall the virtual world software? In regular computer laboratories, the university re-images drives (I believe it does so automatically every night), but this isn't possible with games. Firstly, we have the lack of a site licence mentioned in 1), which means every game we install needs its own software purchase and its own CD key to work. Secondly, when there's a patch (ie. often weekly for virtual worlds), the master image also needs to be patched or there'll be a ton of downloading every time someone wants to play.
  5. Management. People will want to play in these labs out of academic hours. They'll also want to "borrow" CDs and install them on their own PCs or in the inventory of Cash Converters. How do we police this?

I'm SO tempted to insist that anyone who comes to Essex University to study online games has an account with Sony (for its new multipass system) or Blizzard (because they'll probably have one anyway), because that would fix issues, 1) 2) and 5). Unfortunately, it would probably cost us students. 3) and 4) can be handled by dumping yet more admin on our computer service staff, except in the case of those games that require CD keys.

Maybe I'll pay a visit to a Cybercafe and see how they do it...

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).