Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Per Cen

Feel the roar of the crowd in online gaming

Niall Firth, technology editor
rexfeatures_1221364at.jpg(Image: Tom Watkins / Rex Features

There's nothing like the visceral roar of the crowd - that hair-raising, spine-tingling moment when thousands of people all sing, or shout, in unison.
But translating that unique feeling to an event that is taking place online is tricky. Now a new project at MIT's Media Lab aims to give online gamers something to shout about.
Roar, developed by PhD student Drew Harry at MIT's Media Lab, works much like any other chat software, such as Google Chat or the in-game chat clients in role-playing video games. Users can write messages to fellow gamers which appear at the bottom left of the screen and are visible to all.  Roar also lets users group messages by 'section', which could be subject matter or region, whatever the users want.
Each section can be thought of as the different parts of the same stadium, says Harry. They are not private and you can see the list of the most popular sections and how active they currently are. What differentiates Roar from other chat services is that users can choose whether to chat their message or "shout" it.
A chat goes to everyone in your section but expires and fades from the screen. Shouts, on the other hand, last much longer and can be taken up by other users and spread from section to section, just like a real chant inside a football stadium.
If enough people in your section like your shout, by clicking +1 on it, then it spreads and becomes visible in other nearby sections. If it continues to get votes, it can be shared across the entire audience.
The software looks at which words are being shared as shouts at any one moment. The more words there are, the more active the crowd is being. This lets you see when the crowd is going crazy or when everyone is hushed in anticipation, says Harry.
Just like at a football match or baseball game when spectators start chanting a favourite player's name, users can coordinate to make sure their shout becomes prominent. If they all say the same player's name, for example, they can make it appear in huge letters across every user's screen.


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