Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lessons from the Online Games Industry - Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about games as learning tools, the social benefit of games and the need for design and architecture.

It's worth remembering of course the online games industry itself is still at an early stage of evolution - and this is reflected in the level of development maturity we see in interfaces, UI or architecture. Many comparisons can be drawn with the early stages of the Internet.

This actually leads to our next point of discussion - which is that the ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) are very good at using multiple media, each to the best of its capability. Perplexcity from MindCandy Design used puzzle cards sold through Borders, online, offline, events, and other media over a 2 year game which recently ended with somebody finding buried treasure outside of London.

Which brings me be to the most important lesson of our session. Something I've argued before but was brought home much more vividly, in the discussion. In a world of falling content prices, and uncontrollable piracy, digital natives migrating away from television, the magic word is "Experience". It's what customers and audiences pay for. It's the reason why we pay 5 times as much to watch a film in a theatre instead of at home. It's the reason why people stay logged in to Second Life or Habbo Hotel for as long as they do. The only way forward for big media is to focus on Experience. Highlighting it through multiple media, online and offline, games, interaction, engagement, community and anything else that does the trick.

The question is, is big media listening?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lessons from the Online Games Industry

In what ranks for me as one of the best Convergence Conversations we’ve had till date, episode X wandered through the world of games, stories, design and ludic, liminal and learning experiences, in the short span of an hour and a half.

The first obvious stream of discussion worth touching upon is the interfaces and overlaps between learning applications and games. Games can be specifically designed with learning experiences in mind. Lets call this explicit learning through games. These are objective driven, and their effectiveness can be measured by the learning results they do or do not deliver. You know, a game with falling letters which trains you to type better without looking at the keyboard.

The second and potentially more powerful learning is that which occurs implicitly through games. This isn’t measurable, often because these games weren’t created as learning tools. We’re talking about learning social processes by participating in tribal games – such as World of Warcraft. The kind of things families were once supposed to imbibe – belonging, pulling your weight, doing the dirty work when necessary, participating in team decisions. These are important lessons that can actually be learnt from games. At the other end motor skills, cognitive skills or other spatial and social skills can continuously be enhanced as a bye product of games. The question here, perhaps, is how to harness them.

Which off course suggests that there is actually a valuable social benefit to be derived from games, contrary to what Boris Johnson would have us believe, when he said “Its time to garrotte the game boy and paralyze the playstation and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and prospects of young males. They become like blinking lizards, motionless, absorbed, only the twitching of their hands showing their still conscious” In actual fact even parents are noticing that their children are developing and growing through experiences in games which prepare them for working in groups and with other people in work situations.

Clearly a lot depends on the game design and architecture. This is an conscious decision by skilled people. It was commonly felt that games designers are terrible storytellers. Of course, it may well be argued that writers aren’t the best at designing compelling interfaces. But the ARG format appears to be one of the most powerful – primarily because of its flexibility – it uses each medium to its best use, rather than force all the experience onto one medium. A tendency to only talk about Second Life is natural, but Second Life still has many limitations especially in it’s interface. The ability to mix real life with online experience is clearly a powerful stimulant for users. Although the ARG’s like other games face the challenge of scaling to millions, rather than thousands.

still to come... state of development, the secret of the experience, and more...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Digital Music Longs to Be Free

When we ran the Intellect Convergence Conversation on "What Price Music"? - many of us argued there that the technology solution to policing rights has no future. We also argued that the only deterrent to piracy was to lower prices to a point where it would not make sense to pirate music.

In December, 2006, Moser Baer in India announced that they would sell DVDs and CDs at a price low enough to deter pirates. They announced a price point of Rs. 34 for a DVD movie (under 50p) and Rs. 28 for CDs (well under 50p) - this, truly, is a deterrent price point for pirates.

Last week, Steve Jobs suggested that DRM be dropped from music sales. Of course, Jobs had the security of the success of Apple iTunes behind him before he suggested it. It would have been a completely different announcement at the start of the iTunes journey, had he made it then! Of course, now that Jobs is out of the DRM closet, EMI have also announced that they've been mooting the same proposal.

Bottomline, the music industry is starting to stop fighting the dying light of it's old business model. As I've argued before this is great news for consumers. Prices will continue to drop. Advertising & marketing models around music will get a filip. There is a lesson in this for tv and movie content as well.

For the music industry the question may well be - is it too late already?

Friday, February 02, 2007


Attended the Beers and Innovation session organized by the NMK. Ian Delaney from NMK has his version reported here. The topic was "Do Agencies Innovate?"

Apart from the interesting conversation on the evening, I found it an excellent counterpoint to the work on innovation done late last year by the Government, as well as a good time to reflect on the concept of innovation.

I often think Innovation has become a 4-letter word. Everybody likes to have a bit of it, most people think others are doing it all the time and very few people know how to do it well!

Here are some of the most common myths I’ve discovered when people discuss innovation:

  • There’s always a tendency to confuse innovation with any sort of creative work. This is especially true when it comes to the digital agencies, and creative industries in general. Every marketing campaign is touted as innovative. Clients demand it, agencies trumpet it. It feels like no creative job ever gets done without innovation. Of course, the reality is a little removed from this. Plenty of good creative work exists which is not innovative. A print campaign with an eye-catching visual is simply, good.
  • There is also often a misconception that to solve any problem, innovation must be a necessary ingredient. This is also not true. In fact, innovation is often the hardest approach to a solution (short of invention) – and often has equally low success rate. When I was involved with the Intellect’s Innovation Council work recently, it seemed that the government was very keen to adopt innovative solutions. Only, many of the problems that governments grapple with don’t actually require innovative solutions – but rather more obvious and industry standard ones. For example in Government circles, getting different departments to drop their silo mentality and work across departments is seen as an innovative practice, something many large organizations have been doing for decades. Innovation – at least as most dictionary definitions suggest – involve something new. Whether we should treat it as new just because it’s not been done before by us, or by people like us is a debatable matter.
  • Innovation is good for everybody – this is partly true, but not all organizations need to be innovative – and certainly not at all points. For best results, innovation needs to be nurtured, managed, evaluated and appropriately scaled. Innovation usually suggests an improvement or a good outcome, but that would suggest that it’s only the successful ones we’re talking about. Uncontrolled innovation is the organizational equivalent of a nuclear explosion. Suppose in a large organizations, each of 10,000 employees came into work one day and decided to be “innovative” and new/ different about the way they did their work on that day. The result would only be chaos, of course. Just like in a nuclear reactor, the system needs to be engineered to release a certain amount of energy – no more and no less for it to be harnessed and effectively used.

The full paper on innovation can be obtained by writing to me at