Level-Up Talk: Second life of the BBC

31 05 2006

VIRTUAL reality used to be a popular notion a decade or so ago, but now the phrase sounds so dated that the concept has become unfashionable long before it exists. Yet a version of the concept is taking off as people want to lose themselves in the complex virtual worlds of multiplayer computer games —and it heralds a revolution in media consumption that is unfolding at blistering speed.

The best-known multiplayer game is World of Warcraft, a swords and sorcery affair. A year ago Warcraft had 1.7 million paying subscribers; now that number is a remarkable 6.4 million; no wonder Vivendi, Warcraft‘ss owner, reckons that computer games are going to be one of its fastest-growing divisions in the future.

Wherever people gather, brands and advertisers want to turn up too, although the new breed of digital marketing agencies complain that Warcraft is not amenable to their charms. Enter instead Second Life , another multiplayer game. For $9.95 (£5.25) a month, it allows people to buy land and develop it to their own taste, and people roam around in their virtual personas, communicating, seeking entertainment and doing business in the local currency.

The game is also more amenable to marketeers—partly because its owner, Linden Labs, wants something for players to do. Although Second Life‘s free-form style has proved popular with gamers, there are, apart from gambling sites, few other places where people congregate, which is where Radio 1 comes in.

Last weekend, the pop station aired its Big Weekend concert from Dundee in Second Life, with the help of the new media agency Rivers Run Red. The Beeb and its helpers created a network of four virtual islands where sets by Gnarls Barkley and Franz Ferdinand were blasted out to the assembled avatars, who were given the chance to pick up radios to take the sound with them. This being the BBC, people could also copy the radios, trading them freely (in a world where many simple features are paid for in Linden dollars).

This is not the time to discuss whether this is a good use of BBC licence-payers’ money; the largest group of Second Lifes 250,000 players are Americans getting the Beeb for free. However, there are plenty of Brits too— and it is estimated that about 6,000 Second Lifers tuned in via the game. Some of them listened, or at least maintained the web link, for 11 hours.

It is not mass marketing, or mass listening, in itself, but any way you look at it, the growth of broadband, and the desire of a new generation to become immersed online, is changing the media for ever. In 1997, according to a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants, people spent 3.8 hours a week playing with online media; by 2009 that will rise to 11.2 hours.

Compare that with newspapers, for which the amount of time spent reading a week is expected to drop from 3.4 hours to just 2.4, as people buy more infrequently. By the end of the decade, messing around on the net will take up more time than reading books, magazines and newspapers combined, as part of a shift that turns people from media consumers to creators.

The signs of the dramatic transformation in audience — from people who receive media to co-creators—are everywhere. The trend is a natural development from reality television, where audiences are able to influence the outcome by voting—but already viewers, armed with laptops and video-editing software are moving to the next level.

YouTube is a Californian start-up where people put up their favourite videos. It is a trend that British broadcasters have failed to harness, with the partial exception of Channel 4s documentary site. Anyway, not many people at the time will have watched the hapless Guy Goma, a victim of mistaken identity, being interviewed live on BBC News 24 on a topic he knew nothing about.

YouTube, a business founded only in February last year, has helped to make Goma famous. The clip, helped by press publicity, has since been watched nearly 270,000 times on YouTube. There is also a remix, to the music of a childrens television programme. Remixing clips is already a standard feature of the infant YouTube culture, where people put up an estimated 35,000 videos a day. YouTube claims to have six million unique users a day, double the amount who logged in over December.

Whichever figure you look at, a revolution in media consumption is happening. No one in most traditional media businesses has a clue where it will end up, but the trick for existing brands will be to find ways to retain audiences, and advertisers, in an era where people have the tools to rewrite and remix what they do not like.


26 05 2006

B.Tween 2006 has just finished.

I agreed to become the production manager, half in jest, half because I wanted to be a part of it. It has been hectic and all over the place, but really good fun as well.

High points:

Speeches from Matt Locke (BBC), Lord David Putnam, Kieran McMillian (Raw Nerve)

Low points:

changing the program mid way through Friday, Managing a fluid group of students.


The BBC is changing, slowly but is developing.


Futurelab, BBC Innovation Lab 2.0 (the northern way, London, South) Film Council distribution.

Ernest Adams Talk at Nlab Leicester

22 05 2006

Today I gave an industry lecture along side Ernest Adams and Micahel Powell at the NLab seminar. The narrative lab focuses on digital writing, and today focused on games, the role of the writer, and non linear storytelling.

Ernest gave a talk about his ‘new’ vision for non linear storytelling, and it is well worth catching if you can. It is a version of his talk at GDC 06 with a few variants, and it set my brain on fire. I have seen Ernest talk at many conferences and was expecting another slant on his usual entertaining look at designing games. His new vision unlocked a series of problems I have been facing in my consciousness and now allows me to think in a new light about gamers and game play.

Ernest outlined his thoughts on non linear stories, touching on branching narratives, combinatorial explosions, resource limitations, embedded vs emergent narratives, fold back theory and pure linear experiences, but the ‘new vision’ is one of ownership. After a talk by Ken Perlin Ernest started looking at an economy or value of credibility in storytelling, and has developed the Ken Perlin Law:

“The cost of an event in an interactive story must be directly proportional to its improbability” where the unit of cost is credibility.

So the cost of doing something by a player, attempting to do something, or evening asking to do something must exist with the game played. If you want to break the credibility of the story you will pay a price. Doing things in a game has a value associated with it and each game has a credibility budget. Ok so what: this means in a world in which a player will not agree with the basic function (i.e. play a war-game as a pacifist) then this is the player’s fault. Thus ‘messing around’ will only give a player enjoyment if he/she creates it and it shouldn’t affect any narrative.

He went on to discuss the laws developers must impose upon a player:

* Physical Laws – you cannot fly in non super-hero game etc

* Social Laws – if you screw around (shoot people) you will die/get shot

* Dramatic Laws – bad role playing cause the story to end. a war-game doesn’t let you be a bad general. This is summed up by the balance between narrative and interactivity. The fulcrum in this balance is role playing.Again so what:

What it means to me is players who agree to play agree to take on a role, like acting or role playing. This has huge implications to me about the violent games argument – it is isn’t that I want to kill people, it is a role I play. As i did when I role played, as I did when I played with action man, as I did when I acted, as I do whenever I play.

Readers are passive, cinema viewers are passive, tv viewers are passive – they exist outside the world. Gaming is different, they assume you will interact with them (obviously) but they also assume you have signed up to be a part of the rules they expect.

E3 Round Up

16 05 2006

With E3 2006 now concluded, Gamasutra is providing a compilation of the coverage of the E3 2006 Conference sessions:

Some of the highlights include:

Massively Cross-Platform Games – On the second day of E3, a panel session was held concerning the ‘crossplatform’ concept, from playing a game through multiple console media, through more wide-ranging ideas, featuring luminaries like Richard Garriott, John Smedley, and Jessica Mulligan.

Game Piracy: Protecting Your Product – In a fascinating E3 panel. ‘Game Piracy: Update on the Latest Strategies to Protect Your Product’, the ESA’s Chunnie Wright talked piracy issues with representatives from the FBI, id, Activision, and more.

E3 Q&A: Nintendo of America’s Beth Llewelyn On Wii – At E3 2006, Gamasutra sat down with Nintendo of America’s senior director of public relations Beth Llewelyn regarding the Wii, as well as Nintendo’s ongoing strategy for the next generation.

Paul Jackson, Electronic Arts’ vice president of northern Europe takes on ELSPA role

4 05 2006

Paul Jackson has signed a two year rolling contract and starts work on August 1st, following a hugely successful career at EA that began in 1988 as regional sales manager.  Jackson’s division currently accounts for around $650m of EA’s global turnover.

He is also deputy chairman of the Government’s Digital Content Forum and a former ELSPA chairman.  “Paul is a great appointment for us. He is experienced at the highest level in games publishing, knows when to delegate and will also make tough decisions,” current ELSPA chairman Andy Payne told MCV.

Mike Rawlinson has been appointed managing director of ELSPA to oversee day-to-day administration, with Jackson’s appointment likely to herald a series of changes with regards to policy and objectives.

Current director general Roger Bennett retires this summer.
via MCV