Serious Games Trade Body Launch

30 10 2006

Professor Bob Stone to head up ANGILS

A new UK organisation designed to represent the serious games industry has officially launched today, with Professor Bob Stone of Birmingham University taking on the role of chairman.

The Alliance for New Generation Interactive Leisure and Simulations was first established in 2003 as a network for those interested in how games could prove useful in other industries.

ANGILS has now become a trade body, offering membership to organisations as well as individuals, with a focus on serious games plus the emergence of new technologies in digital entertainment.

Members of the organisation’s Advisory Council include BP’s Joe Little, John Newton of NCR, Mark Oehlert of Booz Allen Hamilton and Paul Hollins of the UK Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standarts. More members, including key representatives from the games and defence communities, are due to be announced soon.

“The existence of ANGILS illustrates that the serious games market is maturing. It’s becoming clearer where the benefits and opportunities are across technology and skills transfer between the games and knowledge sectors,” said founding CEO Martine Parry.

“This is a two-way street, with the game industry benefiting from access to a relevant pool of talent, new projects, new markets and emerging technologies that can help address the issues with next-gen games development. The knowledge industries meanwhile have greater and more cost-effective access to the tools, programming and design know-how that they need to fulfill their requirements for immersive and /or engaging environments, whether simple Flash-based learning games or rich virtual worlds.”

Founding chairman Bob Stone added: “The serious games movement has opened up a hitherto-untapped pool of expertise to the global interactive 3D community as a whole, enabling us to exploit multidisciplinary skills in arts, science and technology, heritage, human factors, AI – to mention but a handful – very early on in the evolution of this exciting field.

“If we also take onboard the lessons learned from the highs and lows of the Virtual Reality “era” of the 1990s, then serious gaming is set to revolutionise the way we work, learn and communicate.”

GAME CITY:Oddworld announces Citizen Siege Movie

30 10 2006

Oddworld co-founder Lorne Lanning has announced that he’ll be directing an animated movie entitled Citizen Siege, in association with John Williams’ Vanguard Films, producer of the Shrek series. Industry veteran Lanning chose his combative keynote at GameCity to reveal Oddworld’s latest project, which will be simultaneously developed as a videogame, using the same database of CG assets – a longtime ambition of Lanning’s. The game is likely to be outsourced to another developer. Release is to be confirmed.

Lanning said little about the movie’s content, but back in 2004, Citizen Siege was being muted as a politically charged adventure game project. From the content of Lanning’s stirring speech, which criticised the videogame industry for not doing enough to explore real-world issues, it’s likely there’ll be some topical elements. Pointing to movies like Fog of War and Iraq For Sale, Lanning wondered why videogames weren’t doing more to challenge their huge global audience. He praised digital distribution as a method of disseminating thoughtful videogame projects – and wouldn’t rule out this form of delivery for his forthcoming movie and game release.

Games are going to be smaller, cheaper, and make more $

27 10 2006

God of War developer David Jaffe believes that smaller games delivered through Xbox Live Arcade, Sony’s e-Distribution Initiative and Nintendo Virtual Console could be more lucrative in future than full size games.

Speaking to Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal about his first e-Distribution Initiative (EDI) game, Criminal Crackdown, Jaffe likened the development of smaller games to the creation of pop songs, whereas full games are more like working on operas.

“And in the future, because I think these services are going to be really successful, I think it’s actually going to end up being more lucrative to write pop songs, just like in the real world, than operas,” he said.

Jaffe also said that he’s not just working on Criminal Crackdown – a kind of “cops and robbers meets basketball” multiplayer game – but will be rolling his team into another project in “about a month”. “And there’s another one in Santa Monica that we’re about to start development on. This is really all I want to be doing now,” he explained.

“So as long as my bosses at Sony let me do this, I’ll be doing this until the cows come home. Because it’s just a lot of fun. And you can get a lot more ideas out there. The first God of War was three years [in the making]. This is about 7 months. That’s a really great feeling.”

Hansoft v4.

27 10 2006

Today, Hansoft announced that v4 of their Hansoft project management and collaboration tools has been released. With this new release, Hansoft now supports “Agile methodology.” This includes Agile methods like SCRUM and eXtreme Programming.

“The interest and demand for us to release support for Agile methodologies has been massive,” says Hansoft Managing Director Patric Palm. “There is a need in the market for a tool that can take Agile methodologies to the next level. This is of special importance within game development since these productions are specifically intensive, complex and demanding. We have also had studios running the beta of our Agile release in sharp projects with very positive results.”

“Managing a next-gen production becomes much easier with the benefits Hansoft provides for all team members in their daily work,” says Lars Johansson, Producer at Starbreeze, client of Hansoft. “We successfully implemented an Agile workflow in just weeks in the middle of a production with help of the Agile supporting functionality in Hansoft. It’s truly user-friendly and without the administrative time that other products require.”

Frank Boyd’s Emai to the DCMS re:Creative Research

27 10 2006

From Frank’s Blog:

“At Nesta’s conference on supporting “making innovation flourish” event at the Business Design Centre I find myself lobbying civil servants from the DCMS about the governmnent’s ‘technology programme’ again. One of them asked me to send an email, so I did:

“This is an extension of the case I made to the Creative Economy Programme’s Technology Working Group on extending the definition of Technology R&D to cover experimentation with genre, content and format. There are economic and cultural arguments for this.
While there is a constant improvement in the underlying technologies for new media consoles, set-top boxes, distribution channels and development tools, there is relatively little spent on innovation in content or formats for interactive platforms. With the market still in its infancy, commissioners and publishers, especially in the games industry are extremely conservative and risk-averse when it comes to investing in new content and formats. The vast majority of products released in this country are sequels (I think Final Fantasy XIV has just appeared in the shops) or derived from major brands which have been successful in other media: Harry Potter, James Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean etc).
This reluctance to invest in R&D and innovation stifles economic development in two important areas:
i) the types of consumer who make up the market
Until there are games and other forms of interactive entertainment which appeal to a broader demographic, mainstream games publishers will remain focused on a target market of young males because they tend to be the people who buy their products
ii) opportunities for new publishers or developers to become established.
It is very difficult for independents to develop titles because the production costs are high and the routes to market are uncertain. As a result there is not the same ecology of small, medium and large creative producers in the games/interactive entertainment sector as there is in film or television.
The argument for public sector investment in digital content is not just about the economy, however. Government recognises the cultural, democratic, educational and social value of film, public service media and the arts through debate and policy lead by the DCMS. But an increasingly large number of people does not engage with the 20th century forms which are the focus of most cultural policy (and funding). Interactive entertainment, games and participatory storytelling are becoming more and more dominant as the forms which young people engage with.
We can hope to overcome the phenomenon of ‘toxic childhood’ by trying to persuade children to spend less time in front of computer and console screens; we can also try to improve the quality of the stuff that they engage with when they are in the digital universe, and not just through the provision of factual or educational content. We have always understood the importance of story-telling as a way of conveying cultural, moral and ethical values; we expect the BBC to invest in high-quality drama and to spend large sums of the public’s money on plays and series with very high standards of production. Should we not be investing now in the R&D necessary to establish creative formats, conventions, structures and content for new media entertainment and drama which have the same (public service) values as the best television?
None of this would require any new public expenditure but a reallocation of existing resources. It could be done through an extension of the criteria under which applications can be made to the Technology Programme, through greater BBC investment in creative R&D in new media, and, perhaps, through a Public Service Publisher.”

NMK’s 2nd Life

26 10 2006

Yesterday I attended the NMK session “My So Called 2nd Life” – there were a number of very interesting talks, very perceptive questions, and illuminating conversation in the bar afterwards. The talks were a good mix of big and small company plays and academic work.

As we delved into the various MMORPGS, ARGS, MOORs and so on, it became clear to me that we are actually looking at the early form of the “next” Web development phase after Web 2.0.

To explain…”Web 2.0″ is essentially – when all is said and done – the endgame of Web 1.0 dreams. To be fair, the open environment of Web 2.0 has been taken to an unimagined level with tagging, mashups etc – or was until the money started to arrive anyway – but essentially it is about broadband speed and penetration. Massive numbers of web wise “eyeballs” are connected to cheap, fat pipes, doing a lot of the stuff that was dreamed about in Web 1.0 but was just not then feasible or affordable. We had VoIP in 1999 for example, but you had to buy for $200 what your laptop now comes with for free, then set up your own wifi station (with a pringle antenna), and do it all on a dialup line.

The next phase of the Web though will (imho) be both a continuation of this trend, yet different. It is a continuation in that it will do, with ever increasing power and bandwidth, what we have done since the text internet (and before) since time immemorial – form “social nets” and communicate with each other. It is different in that it will be virtual 3D, and that is a much richer contextual environment that will blur real life with virtual life.

i.e., not so much Web 3.0 as Web 3.D!

Taking some of the principles of the Web today and projecting, here is a possible scenario-set:

(i) User Generated Content – building our own spaces, our own personae, and probably using the 3D worlds to make our own content – machima is the starting point, but YouTube has shown there is a lot more talent out there than those officially sanctioned by the Media Moguls. Who will be the first to film Hamlet in 2nd Life or similar?

(ii) Existing content – as iTunes has shown, content at a reasonable price, allowing a high degree of user choice and “playlisting” (a form of user content generation) that is easy to download/upload is very attractive. I also think content rights may increasingly evolve into a de facto “Use it or Lose it”

(ii) Identity and Profile – my 3D avatar(s) becomes the repository of my identity, which I own. This avatar travels between applications and interacts with them, sometimes in 2D, sometimes in 3D. I will probably have a nuber of avatars (profiles) depending on the application, Clearly the management of Intimacy will be far more subtle than it is today on MSN say, and relate more to real life.

(iii) Search will change….at present search in 2nd Life is non existent, that must change and will do so as it becomes open. The current search regimes were built for Web 1.0, (which is why the GYM crowd have had to acquire web 2.0 technology), but the emerging world will have much richer metadata and thus new search techniques will apply.

(iv) Webservices are becoming mainstream, reliable and have an increasingly light touch on the client, allowing dumber and dumber devices to become part of the experience.

(v) Bandwidth – ah, bandwidth. The nay-sayers argue that as soon as we all start consuming movies etc the bandwidth will collapse. But my observaton over the last 10 years is that there has always been a nay-saying about bandwidth, especially by the owners of the last generation of business models. However, bandwidth provision and demand are in a sort of helix dance, and there is still a huge amount of darknet out there. I don’t think we will all be consuming TV and VoD movies all the time anyway, the alternatives are just too enticing and will become more so as the blend of real and virtual worlds increases.

(vi) The Customer Environment – Game machines, Mobiles, TV, PC…will all interwork (not as devices, the manufacturers are determined not to do that) as Services. I will set up my service on my PC, consume it on my TV at home and interact with it on a Mobile or Nintendo when out and about. What will be most revolutionary is the the “environment” will blend between the virtual and the real world. My Avatar has already attended seminars on line in 3D, 2nd lifers increasingly arrange to meet in real pubs, and ARG players play virtual games in real worlds – the trend to using reality as a backdrop to the 3D characters’ world will continue.

Will I still consume old media – sure, the new never replaces the old – but they fight for the same hours and wallet, so getting attention will be the key issue going forward.

(vii) Analytics – there is a lot of data generated by you online….all the commercial Co’s (and no doubt governments) will want to collect it, but I see an increasing counter-drive to privacy as well – the end position will be an Opt-In play – I share data about me, but at a price.

(vii) Advertising… must happen, and is to be encouraged as a way of subsidising services – but beware, we can “TiVo” a virtual world quite well. 2nd Life for example has roughly doubled in population in 4 or so months, a mass immigration if ever there was one, and this is attracting mass retail interest. However, caveat retailer – in 2nd Life or similar users can just go somewhere else, so the challenge will be to enhance the existing experience – for example will an easy to navigate 3D Grocery mart be better than shopping online off a web page?

To me it is quite sad the way many Brands are now barging into 2nd Life, boots and all, to get the publicity buzz – the risk is it turns into another overdeveloped tourist resort, the virtual equivalent of Torremolinos or somesuch. (Mind you, I was told yesterday that in 2nd Life life the inhabitants have moved from mainly building cool stuff to buying expensive branded shoes and colouring them in, so it looks like the package tourists are coming in droves! I await the first Virtual Timeshare huckster with trepidation :-D)

For this reason, one can imagine subscription services also existing, both as business models where longer term commitment is required to build services, or for private services, or simple to avoid advertising supported ones.

(viii) Bad Behaviour. Yesterday we asked the Linden guy about possible money laundering, tax evasion, fraud etc on 2nd Life. One of the speakers actually noted that deviant behaviour is a norm in society. The answer so far is we must be all be excellent to each other and be self policing. .I can believe that in an early environment it is all fine, but by and large cometh the money (the stampede by the Brands shows its arriving), then cometh the crooks.

We are all the same underneath all this…humans do human stuff, regardless of the medium or the media.

(ix) V-Government – it is clear that if the Real/Virtual world mix occurs in a commercial sense, it needs to exist in a governmental sense too. That doesn’t mean I want to see Dave peddling his Green V-Bike in 2nd Life, but it does mean that government communication will need to reach into this world. Who knows, maybe this is the way to break the political apathy in so many developed countries. Anyone up for the Ban No Fly Zones Movement in 2nd Life ?

(x) V-B2B – Videoconferencing, meetings, presentations can all be failrly well done in 3G worlds – in fact there are advantages over traditional Videoconferencing, we were told yesterday by IBM that one unexpected effect of Virtual Conferencing is avatars having “water cooler” conversations, which you can’t get in a phone meeting or videocon. Private environments where business can be done will no doubt come into effect, if not on 2nd Life then elsewhere.

Thats a brief brain dump summary. One small step for avatar kind……

There’s Gold In Them There Virtual Hills?

26 10 2006

By Adam Crowe

Sorry. Here’s another post about Second Life. Anyone would think that there’s nothing else going on in the world apart from Second Life. There is something so truly compelling and open ended about Second Life because it’s one of the first web experiences that has opened up a huge chasm of opportunities and no one can see the end game. Not even its creators.
All the hype is creating a virtual land-grab so companies can say they were in Second Life first but I suspect they haven’t thought about the risks or real benefits. They have no aim once in there, there isn’t a plan of how to make use of virtual worlds, it’s just a school playground with the first in saying ‘Bagsy that sim, we were first nah, nah nah-nah, nah’. The amount of businesses that have entered in the last month is sizeable including Sun Microsystems, Intel, MTV and Reuters to name a few.
So how will these real life businesses fair in a virtual world? No one knows. Second Life has a completely different behaviour ecology and no-one’s really figured it out yet. For example, last week I visited the new offices of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) the global ad agency. I thought I may be able to meet some of the staff and see if there was anything interesting happening. When I logged on there was no-one there. It was interesting to note that their offices are very big grand shiny. A reflection of real world aspiration as opposed to blue sky virtual creativity. After hanging around for 20 minutes some people came online who seemed to be employees. The first person I met wasn’t really interested in talking to me and the second made it very clear that she, “didn’t see what the point of all this stuff was”. I was intrigued to know what the management at BBH had told their staff about Second Life or even how to approach it if they had no experience. Unfortunately I couldn’t get an answer out of them.
If you’re a big corporation entering Second Life, how do you control your on-line presence, your image, what your employees do and how people interact with you? There are many considerations to make. As opposed to the real world, Second Life has no consequences. For instance you could go into Second Life, pretend to be a BBH employee, ask everyone you meet for virtual sex and even masturbate in front of John Hegarty himself if you wish. What are the consequences? If companies and brands open virtual spaces in Second Life that other users don’t agree with, what’s to stop residents holding demo’s with placards outside, making a movie of it and posting it up on YouTube? Individuals could be as provocative as they like with no real consequence. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.
Currently the main reason companies seem to be getting into Second Life is because of the column inches it generates. And who can blame them. The way Second Life is usually reported fuels hype and confusion simultaneously due to the absence of an explanation of why this is happening. At their worst, the format of a story about Second Life tends to be quite generic:
1. Announce XYZ Company has moved into Second Life
2. Avoid – at all costs – explaining why and what this is expected to achieve
3. Spurt out the current headcount of Second Life residents and say how much they’re spending in multiples of millions
4. Mention Second Life is an anarchic world where residents can do whatever they please or just buy stuff like good little consumers
5. Refer to the Second Life sex industry and sign off with a knowing wink

Some answers?
Both media and business needs to understand the motivations of individuals within Second Life to glean any useful answers from it. Basically there are two lenses you can examine Second Life through, two viewpoints if you will: as an Immersionist, or as an Augmentationist. So far, mainstream reporting of Second Life has tended to blur the two to great confusion. Let’s explain the two views:
Back in September, Akela Talamasca of the Second Life Insider referenced Lys Ware, of Second Life Creativity wiki page detailing a theory of Augmentation vs Immersion.
The distinction between the two is this (though we are sure to note that these are the extremes and that most people’s experience of Second Life lies in the grey area in between):
The Immersionists want Second Life to be a world in itself that should be a complete escape from ‘Real Life’. Immersionists tend to be enthusiastic roleplayers and avoid disclosing any of their real life information. They also tend to and form groups to help flesh out their Second Life experience.
The Augmentationists view Second Life as just another online interaction tool. Augmentationists see nothing wrong with more interaction and connectivity with real life and are usually the keenest to use other Second Life related web services and established brands to extend their social experience.
These two viewpoints are important to consider when reading (or writing) anything related to Second Life, since they frame the particular bias of the author. For example, there have been numerous blogs and mainstream news articles: Brand Republic, The Observer, The Economist, The New York Times [registration required], The Guardian, BBC relating to Second Life that mix the Immersionist and Augmentationist viewpoints seemingy unaware of the confusion they are creating. Though, that isn’t to say that the two viewpoints can’t co-exist. It’s just that the subtleties of the two viewpoints are not explained to the reader. So is it any wonder some people just don’t GET Second Life?
Thankfully there are some voices of reason…
Here’s an extract from the ‘Does Second Life Have a Shelf Life?’ story found on Brand Republic’s website:

But is it set to be just another adland fad? It’s hard to say, Richard Huntington, [Planning Director at United London] … argues: “In advertising, we always overestimate the short-term impact of new technology, but underestimate the long-term impact. We get very enthusiastic early on, then forget about it until it really is making a difference, and then we’re too late.” In general, he urges caution. “If a business has any doubt about whether to go into this arena, then they shouldn’t do it. The people that actually understand the medium can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Second Life is unique in that individuals who are part of it create content which adds narrative to the world. By building houses, making clothes and setting up communities they are part of the unfolding story of Second Life. Organisations need to understand that to be successful in Second Life, as with real life, they will need to create both the content and the context that adds to the Second Life experience and develops the world for the better. The end game is what we make it.
By Raj Panjwani and Adam Crowe

Using Game Mechanics for Social Software

25 10 2006

# Putting the Fun in Functional – Using Game Mechanics for Social Software – An excellent presentation on how successful social media sites like MySpace are like a game (via: Web Strategy by Jeremiah):

* Collecting: Impressive collections = bragging Rights
* Points: Redeemable points drives Loyalty & Social Points expree svalues of the “game”
* Feedback: Draws attention through movement & change and accelerates mastery
* Exchanges: Are structured social interactions
* Customization: Increases Investment and creates barriers to exit

Middle Ground – the sour spot

25 10 2006
The Middle Ground Gets You Cancelled: The Plight of Moderate TV Successes, and what it means for the games industry.

Last November, Grant McCracken wrote about long tails and fat middles, the discussion of the rise of indy films alongside the distribution of blockbusters, including the peril of being in the middle. He quoted what is called “the death valley problem”:

“Big companies are flourishing. Small companies are flourishing. It’s the one in between who struggle.” This is an area he labels the “sour spot.” However, Grant questioned “whether the death valley model is the right way to think about this problem.”
Someone should have told this to CBS, apparently. As Edward Wyatt’s piece in yesterday’s New York Times points out, though, this can often have dangerous consequences for those who fall in the middle. He takes up the point of Smith, the recent CBS show that was a moderate success but was dropped after only a few episodes aired because it had dropped from 11 million in the first episode to a little more than 9 million in the third episode.

And how does this relate to middle ground games, not the GTA’s, the FIFA’s, or even the deadrising. Nor does it affect the Introversions, or train simulators. But think about the second sight’s, the time splitters, those games with high production values, huge content investments, but middling to low marketing spend, and telling sales figures.

Wyatt writes, “The quick cancellation of ‘Smith’ elucidates how television, like the movie industry, has become a business where there is little room for modest success. Network executives might endlessly talk about how, in an era where the attention of audiences is ever more scattered, new shows need time to find themselves. But those same executives are often quick to pull the plug on an expensive production that does not immediately perform to expectations.”

Game audiences currently do not have the luxury of finding itself ready for new products. All or nothing. and with people like Mark Rein shrugging off episodic content how will the middle ground fair for the games audiences?

Wyatt goes into the details of Smith, falling into this middle ground of less expensive niche programming and high-production blockbusters. The rest of the episodes that have already been filmed are going to be distributed online, along with a synopsis explaining what would have happened in the rest of the season.

Wyatt writes:
“But with an average of nine million fans having tuned in, inevitably there were many disappointed viewers who were looking for the fourth episode of ‘Smith,’ only to find yet another episode of ‘CSI.’ Some of them took to Internet bulletin boards to express their outrage.”
But, to return to Grant McCracken for a minute and his desire to move beyond this view that the middle is a “sour spot,” I think it is very applicable to the Smith example.
In this piece from a few months ago, McCracken writes about the success of Pirates of the Caribbean as a film that wasn’t a guaranteed blockbuster nor an indy film but that did well at the box office, despite being “in the middle.”
In that piece, he writes:

The “death of the middle” strategy is straight forward. It says, spend massively to guarantee hits at the top, and fund lots of little films to fill niches (and find sleepers) at the bottom. The middling films, the DOM stategy says, are too small for marketing muscle and too big to connect to anyone.

But what are we assuming here? We’re assuming that the block busters are manufacturable, that the studios can manage their way to sensational numbers. Really? It looks like Disney came this close to refusing the essential ingredient of this summer’s blockbuster. (Is he drunk? Is he gay? Please. It’s called acting.) Were it not for Depp’s refusal to rework his foppish Jack, this block buster might well have been a middle weight, and no block buster at all.

I wonder if it isn’t time for Hollywood to get chunkier. Maybe the real opportunities lie in the middle ground. A chunky approach to marketing says go for the sweet spot, the place with money enough to hire real talent, and enough freedom to set them free. (Freeish.) There has to be a habitable space between the deeply eccentric, entirely self indulgent freedoms of the indie and the “fear of falling” rigidities that understandably beset the studio when spending $160 million.

In this case, what is said about Hollywood makes sense for television as well, and one has to wonder, as show after show falls off network lineups this fall, which of them could have gone on to be major successes in the long-term. But, until there is a monetized way to value the shows that take the middle ground, and until there is more economic incentive on the network’s part to care about the success of shows long-term, then would-be fans of Smith and many other shows will have to just keep guessing what might have been.

Virtual Travel agency

24 10 2006

Virtual world travel agency opens (digital) doors

In what could be construed as either opportunism or hyper-cleverness, two Italian entrepreneurs have opened the doors to a virtual world travel agency, Synthravels, as the virtual world boom approaches its apex. The pair promises to lead the uninitiated curious through some of the most well-known online spaces, demonstrating each world’s unique appeals and landmarks to potential customers.

They offer tours of over 20 worlds, from Guild Wars to There, specialising their destination guides according to the topographical and social slant of each space.
From their website (reg. req’d):

Synthravels is the first organization to offer a complete guide service to all the people who want to make a tour in virtual worlds without knowing these new realities, even if they have never put their feet in these strange, synthetic grounds.

Gaming for the terminally lazy and/or the tourist? This could revolutionise the MMOG platform faster than a hawker can set up a holy water stall next to an apparition site. Witness the throngs of business people setting up “My Grandmother went to Azeroth and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt” stands! Be amazed at the flocks wide open to avatar muggers (pdf)! Watch in disbelief as the prices of virtual property shoot through the roof near newly decreed “places” of interest, and plummet in areas without tourist attractions.
How absolutely fascinating.
Then again, it’s not a new idea. As Raph writes, there were tour operators in action in Ultima Online back in 1997, and treasure hunts have been used in virtual worlds for several years to initiate newbies when they first arrive.
But then again, as the gap widens between those who know what “we’re” talking about and those who can’t make heads nor tails of games and virtual worlds, an independent and user-friendly guide to the options may be a great introduction.