Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Finnish Creative Export

Innovation is THE word at the moment. Within the next 5 years VTT will transform from Technical Research Centre of Finland to Technology Intensive Innovation Organisation. Tekes (National Technology Agency) will be Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation starting from 1 Nov '06. How these politics / opinions / words appear in the real world?

It's no problem to generate new ideas or even innovations at the VTT. Tekes has done good job funding commercialisation of ideas, too but I think we are still somewhat lacking the enforcement of innovations. EU, Tekes and other research financiers surely have a significant role in enabling innovations to develop -- why actual enforcement happen most often at SMEs?

ContentBusiness.fi maintains a list of TOP 30 Finnish International Companies in Creative Export. 'The TOP 30 list is based on company exports measured in terms of euros. The data are mainly gathered from within the companies themselves and partially also from financial statements delivered to the National Board of Patents and Registration of Finland.' Digital media & entertainment companies Sulake, StarCut and RedLynx are in the top 10 though this list is not inclusive. Actually it is surprisingly scattered. Even though the list might become interesting as soon as it will cover (at least) digital media companies more broadly. Another issue is how long one should reach for groundbreaking innovations? Sulake has been able to commercialise their solution/innovation of linking Lego type of characters and isometric perspective to online community when other developers were either doing 3D worlds or text-based communities. How large research organisation could experiment and innovate the same way?

Another relevant question would be: is 'Technology Intense Innovation Organisation' just a trend-sniffer, smoother of the path or an aggregator for SMEs or MNEs? VTT is trying to boost up commercialisation of research findings. It is still too early to say what role would suit for such an organisation but still one should strongly question whether to talk about innovations at all. Or if we do, how many innovations are needed to enable the creation of 'Innovation Organisation'?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mobile Games 2010

Nokia White Paper 'Mobile Games 2010' (due to be released at the end of 2006) will discuss about the near future of mobile games. This is a warm-up to the discussion.

Consumers are spending more time with digital media than ever before. In 2005, the use of television increased and online use continued to rival television as the most-used medium. Video games, containing everything from mobile and wireless to networked console and pc games, have established their role as a merchandising category with cross licensing between movies and video games providing a major source of revenue for movie studios and others.

The first defining factor of the current digital media is that the consumption of digital content is channeled through given devices: from iPods to mobile phones and PCs according to the appropriateness of users' needs. Currently, the digital device with its brand and image is a part of the total experience, as Nintendo, Sony and Apple have shown. This also has effects on content. For example Nintendo games can only be played on Nintendo devices and in the spirit of Buzz and EyeToy party games, Sony is integrating more beneficial content, e.g. advertisements, information and music, into video games. This development will have an effect on the entertainment market as well as total gaming experiences in the future.

The other defining factor is demographic data (age, location and gender). The assumption that gender would play a central role in the markets for video games has struck a strong chord with game developers. Before the evolution of more social or physical video game types, the generalization of the Internet has partly changed the situation with various online games and chatting communities, and faded out the differences between girls and boys when looking at the frequency and diversity of use. As a result of social media trend consumers are becoming multi-taskers utilizing several mobile and online channels simultaneously and communication acrobats with their variety of communications devices.

Three interesting aspects about current consumer behavior are: 1) leaving traces, 2) media acrobatics’ multi-tasking culture and 3) pleasure orientation. It is increasingly relevant to leave its own mark (tags, comments, modifications, patches) to the networked media communities and interlinking with mobile with online communities. Multitasking refers to a way of using several channels, devices and services simultaneously to link with other products and related themes. Media acrobatics refers to the fast reception ability of new technologies, devices and services, as well as an open-minded experimentation mentality and misuse (also known as “creative hackerism”). As a general effect of these, one can say that media use is in transition points. The change affects mobile games and the expansion and creation of new active consumer groups.

By 2010, mobile media will have developed into an integral part of a total gaming experience. The experience environment will no longer be device-specific but will cross different devices as well as social and physical contexts of use changing the experience into a continuum ”everywhere – all the time – by any device”. This development will boost the development of more fragmented games where users can take the game with them on a mobile phone and continue playing on any screen (public screen, at an Internet café, on a cruise ship or in a shopping mall), as well as having a clear role in supplementing and modifying the game content. Toolboxes will be widely available to users. Mobile devices will have become the controlling device for the total experience as well as acting as a payment channel.

Mobile users will use their wallet, wearable or jewel kind of mobile terminals when gliding from one network to another without even acknowledging it. Mobile users will get both selected and edited television and online content on their mobile devices when requested, according to their context and social profiles. The issues taking a strong foothold in the development of novel types of mobile games are: 1) agile methods in project and technology development, 2) utilizing context information in mobile solutions, 3) brand development through co-modification possibilities provided for various fan communities, toolboxes and modification tools, 4) tagging and marker technologies created by both professionals and enthusiasts that enable the social intelligence of the environment. Adaptability and modularity will be key issues when shaping future game experiences.

The device, the user, the context of use and the content are mobile. This enables more and more possibilities for users to act as co-creators of content. Web2.0 trends with mash-up from the Internet will quickly become common in the mobile world at the same time when cross media solutions evolve and different media are not considered as separate contexts of use but as one complex entity of different devices and channels. Hybrid media (combining printed with digital media) will be key solutions for flexible marketing of ad hoc and long-lasting games through different channels and various user groups.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Exhausted by EC

EC projects are problematic. At the same time they (or many of them) are interesting but usually they are a) reported by engineers which is no good and they are often b) badly presented. As it was at the 'Networked Audiovisual Systems Concertation (somewhat the same as cooperation between projects) Meeting', held on 24.-25. October is Brussels.

After warm weather and relaxed, inspiring and elevating days in Istanbul I landed Brussels. I exit Gare du Nord at the 'wrong' side and in the next breath I was looking through windows where girls were posing on their underwears. On my way to the hotel I got a snapshot of the situation in Iran. One guy was collecting money to hire lawyers for students who were arrested and tortured in Iran. Unfortunately I live in a country where one can/will pay literally everything with a payment card. Next morning I felt sick -- due to food poisoning or virus (?). So I was vomiting through the EC meeting.

Despite lack of food/sleep/energy, I managed to take part most of the discussions. This is a short summary, the hall of fame of EC projects :) presented at the meeting. So if you are interested in what's happening, check out these projects:NEMI, Citizen Media, Content and GamesatLarge.

NEM (Networked and Electronic Media) Initiative focus on an innovative mix of various media forms, delivered seamlessly over technologically transparent networks, to improve the quality, enjoyment and value of life. Citizen Media developes a solution to enable multiple non-professional users to co-create networked application and UGC. Content is a network of excellence focusing on content delivery networks and home users. GaL intends to design a platform for running interactive rich content multimedia applications.

It is a pity that most of these (1-15 Million €) projects do not really generate any solutions that will be commercially utilized. Certainly they generate some new information but unfortunately too often new ideas are disguised as academical mumbo-jumbo covered with technical details and blurry graphs. Europeans really have a lot to learn from the US (oral presentation and pitching) and Japan (visualizing information). For example OLGA project focuses on interesting issues but I doubt the results will generate the next Google or WoW. BUT perhaps the above mentioned projects will do differently!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Moments - Istanbul

Helsinki-Istanbul-Brussels all night long -- at least for the last few days. I spent (too) few but very fruitful days in Istanbul. I am part of the Aspectacles group which will start making multimedia / video art pieces which challenge our ideas and conceptualization of things. One of our core members is from Istanbul and Turkey will be one of the junction points of our work dealing with cultural stereotypes and prejudice.

I am qualified to discuss about prejudices as I had very strong opinions about Turkey until May 2006. I hadn't been there but of course I knew about 'sun&sand' charter trips to Alanya, human right issues and stories about Turkish men selling leather jackets, carpets... After visiting Istanbul for two times I have to say that I am enchanted by that city. I hope that Aspectacles will stir up the discussion further as well as open new viewpoints to foreign cultures and peoples more generally.

Turkey is not that backward country as many of us still think. It is true that Turkish media is heavily monopolised. Almost all of the major dailies are owned by a few cross media groups and it is highly nationalistic. The Doĝan Group, the largest and the most prominent of these media giants, owns a substantial part of the media landscape in Turkey: The major dailies Hürriyet and Milliyet, “the most selling” boulevard daily Posta, the quality paper Radikal which has liberal and left-wing authors, the sports daily Fanatik, the business daily Referans and the English daily Turkish Daily News are all owned by this giant media group. The other major player in the media business the Merkez Group too has a quite large share in the media market. The mainstream Sabah which competes with Hürriyet, the most prominent regional newspaper Yeni Asır, the boulevard paper Takvim and the sports daily Pas-Fotomaç do belong to the Merkez Group.' (Source: Media Landscape Turkey) There are still a number of issues to be dealth with -- one accelerator is EU.

Now I am at Brussels. Tomorrow I will join the Networked Audiovisual Systems Concertation workshop. At least one link between these two subjects is that Turkey is an EU candidate. EU has stated several requirements for the media in Turkey, e.g. prison sentences for journalism related offenses were replaced with heavy fines. Penalties of banning newspapers and the distribution of the newspapers and shutting down the media outlets were repealed. However, despite these improvements 157 journalists, publishers and human rights activists were prosecuted in 2005 for expressing their ideas. 29 of them were charged with “insulting the Turkish identity, the Republic and the institutions of the State” while 17 journalists commenting on the human rights issues were accused of “influencing the court decision” and “attempting to influence the fair trial”. 12 journalist-writers were charged with “disseminating terrorist propaganda” based on the TCK (Turkish Penal Code) or the anti-Terrorism Law. 15 journalists/human rights activists were charged with “inciting hatred and enmity or humiliation” based on TCK (Source: Media Landscape Turkey).

While the general media scene is still somewhat under (EU's) pressure, networked, audiovisual ways of communication: blogs, podcasts, online comics and other websites are raising different viewpoint to issues under discussion. Art will be just another way of challenging people's ideas and raising up new topics into discussion. I strongly believe that besides EU pull there will also be civil journalism/media art/blogger push to expand our thoughts and shake the stereotypes. Aspectacles will do its best to contribute :)

Friday, October 20, 2006

But seriously... 'Beneficial' or 'Serious' Games

Serious Games Summit is approaching but I am unable to attend because I will go to Istanbul and Brussels instead -- and will probably be discussing about similar issues as my colleagues at the Serious Games (SG) Summit. Why there suddently is so much fuss about socially acceptable games? Are SG's hot and topical or just overly hyped?

I would say 'yes' and 'no'. SG's 'are intended to not only entertain users, but have additional purposes such as education and training' (Wikipedia). But why are they called SERIOUS games, what's so serious about beneficial purposes and how to link them with pleasure? Has is something to do with categorizing things? The same way as girls are CASUAL gamers and boys are usually ranked as HC gamers? Are 'serious games' just another tendency towards presentability of games, an intention to make them mainstream?

I am not that fond of the term 'serious games' but I very much like the idea of utilizing interaction, structure and/or dynamics of digital (leisure) games in other fields. 'Everyone publishes' idea will increase the challenges of so called information overload: how to personalise content, how to deliver right information/data to right user(s) at right time and using most convenient delivery channels. I believe games really have a lot to offer to this discussion.

Currently there are several initiatives focusing on related issues (besides Serious Games Initiative): Games for Change, Games for Health, Games for Brain... Ok, ok the brain-thing is a bit different but the idea behind that site is definitely related to this topic. A big part of the development is still very much technology-driven; 'cool GPS, and 2D bar codes... should we create some UBIQUITOUS game out of it....'. There are also attempts to link sectors that have been quite far from each other, like technology development with social politics, welfare work or pedagogs.

After match-making, the next HUGE challenge is marketing. It took 5+ years to come up with plausible ideas how to turn Internet communities into money-makers, now it is the time to start considering how to promote serious games or at least push them from the shadows of fringe to the marginal of digital games.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bizznizz -- playful kidpreneurship

When I heard about Bizznizz, an intiative by Dutch Postbank, I was excited! Bizznizz is cool entrepreneur 'game' for kids. After setting up an account (I was able to do it despite my weak Dutch language skills but I quess my Easy Blue account will never be validated because this service seems to be only for Dutch. The registration form only accepted Dutch phonenumbers and postal codes which means that I made fake ones -- which means that I probably will not get user name for the system). Damn!

But this is what I know about the service and the reason to get excited: Kids who set up an Bizznizz account will receive a briefcase containing materials for printing their own t-shirts, stickers, letterhead, flyers, and business cards. First they will decide what type of a business will they start to run. After that they can create company's image/brand by designing a business card and printing supercool company t-shirts. Their business can be something in between walking dogs and moving lawns.

As far as I have understood, this kidpreneur 'game' links virtual with real. Kids have their virtual companies but they will actually be advertising their services to real life neighbours with real flyers! After finishing the job they can update their online account. But will they get real money? I don't know but the basic idea is super nice, I just wish Finnish Post would launch a similar service. I would be keen kidpreneur -- perhaps little overaged but who cares, I can be anything I want -- at least in the virtual world ;)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

MobiTV - Hot or Not?

I've already mentioned that we'll have a session at the IST 2006 Conference and a supernice event at Andorra on 23rd November (2pm>). Now I would like to urge you to fill out the Mobile Television questionnaire. If you are unable to meet us at Andorra (Helsinki Finland) in November remember to add your e-mail address to the questionnaire if you would like to get the results of the query by email.

The questionnaire is here, remember to share your opinion with us not later than 17th November!

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's all about "Mii"

Social media is greatly a matter of hype at the moment. Surely successful online community services exist and there are theories such as Prof. Orihuela's 'The 10 Paradigms of eCommunication' which are very nice abstactions of such a huge issue.
Orihuela's view(s) of eCommunication (very much related to the debate about web2.0 and social media) is:
Paradigm I: from audience to user
Paradigm II: from media to content
Paradigm III: from monomedia to multimedia
Paradigm IV: from periodicity to real time
Paradigm V: from scarcity to abundance
Paradigm VI: from editor-mediated to non-mediated
Paradigm VII: from distribution to access
Paradigm VIII: from one way to interactivity
Paradigm IX: from linear to hypertext
Paradigm X: from data to knowledge.

Many social media solutions --most of them online-- seem to be variations of a same idea. Developers create a platform (YouTube, eBay, Kaboodle, Flickr...) and wait for users to create content and make it a 'real' service. After gaining huge number of users, the developers try to attract companies like Google, sell their company and become millionaires ;). Why not if it works!? What I find interesting is that currently the whole issue focuses on Web2.0, even though there are mobile phones and game consoles in plenty not to mention other consumer electronics. Where are all successful mobile or console communities?

Even though digital games (pc, online, console, handheld, mobile) is a niche compared to online services, surprisingly few social / community solutions have been introduced to gamers. There are/has been XBox Live and NGage Arena but their fortunes are still far from the ones of WoW, Second Life or Habbo.

Reuters just (12 Oct 2006) published an article discussing about the community potential next generation consoles offer. It is a fact that gaming devices will be networked. But 'while Playstation 3 presumably follow a model similar to Xbox Live with a robust online component offering games, music and movies, Nintendo's Wii will include the tools users need to mint a "Mii," a customized, cartoony version of themselves. Mii Channel character creation software lets users choose from dozens of features, including eyes, hair, lips and eyebrows to create a virtual character, also referred to as an "avatar" in video game parlance'.

Is this any different from Habbo? Well, the innovations do not necessarily have to be brand-new ones. It seems to be more relevant to understand: when to utilize certain possibilities and how to utilize and market them. For example IMHO Second Life and There are not that much more innovative than Alpha World but still current 3D virtual community solutions are way more popular than somewhat similar services were in the 1990s.

At the moment Nintendo is a defendant at console markets. If their current position (3rd after PS2 and Xbox) has encouraged them to think different, innovate and take risks, the third position has been an advantage for Nintendo. Gamers are eagerly waiting for Nintendo Wii to hit the market. Social gaming, modern party games like EyeToy and Buzz and users as modders are the future of gaming. Hopefully Sony and Microsoft will learn something from Wii and Mii.

The number and spread of gamers (target groups) is expanding. I do not agree with research companies and 'leading media measurement companies' like comScore who (dare to) state that: In the US 'on average, gamers are 41 years of age with an average annual income of $55,000. Further, females account for 52 percent of the gaming audience. The average gamer has been online for nine years and 84 percent have broadband access at home.' Who ever the future gamer will be Nintendo Wii is nicely rebuilding the future business of interactive entertainment.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Fame & Fortune' trading game

I was happy to come across Weblo -- a game/web2.0 service where players invest in real estate, websites and celebrities (that exist in the real world). It's a kind of virtual RMT-Monopoly. Weblo involves buying, selling, collecting and increasing own ranking. 'Everything you own can be turned into a website that you drive more traffic to, increasing your share of the ad revenue and thus increasing its sale price.'

Weblo players can buy e.g. the Eiffel Tower or half of Sydney. After buying enough land they can even become presidents. 'Properties, Celebrities and Domains have their own individual significance in our real-world lives. Properties promise us investments and financially secure futures. Celebrities become our role models and remain a constant source of fascination. Internet Domains are the source of global communication.'

Monday, October 09, 2006

Digital Games & New Territories

"The market for video games in the UK is the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, after USA and Japan." This has been the case for the last 20 years. In the beginning of 1980s the ZX Spectrum was released in the UK. It quickly became the most popular home computer in many areas of Western Europe. Arcade and home computer (console) games by Nintendo and Sega sprouted in Japan and many experiments were also under way in the US.

It is not that far-off days when the basement floor of E3 was full of 'innovators' and propeller heads from unusual countries such as Iceland or South Korea (since 1999). In 2003 the scene of digital games broadened when South Korean developers (/GameInfinity) climbed up from the basement and very visibly brought up their expertise (Mu, Lineage, Exarch...) along with their strong will to rule (at least) online game worlds.

Related to this -- Gamasutra pointed out in mobile editorial 'A vision of mobile gaming in 2016': 'Consider that by the end of 2006, 2.5 billion people or 38 percent of the world’s population will own a cell phone. Taken a step further, I believe the forthcoming tidal wave of advances in the wireless device and its network will soon allow it to become a “good enough” gaming console in regions such as India, China, Latin America and Russia.'

About half a year ago I came across a documentary about Brazilian game scene. Even though it focused rather strongly on [CS] tournaments type of gaming, it made me wonder how the future of digital entertainment will look like. Which countries will be the superpowers of game development in 2020? Instead of repeating current state, we should ask: 'What if?' and/or 'Why not?!" Could Brazilian developers bring something to the market that would change the scene? At the moment Brazilian game developers might work as subcontractors but I quess it is just a question of time when the innovations start to flow. And if you think Brazil will not be the next superpower of digital or mobile games, I'll repeat the question 'why not?' ;)

Few interfaces to Brazilian game scene:

  • According to Made in Brazil Games, the MIBG, is the first and only medium to deal with national games exclusively.
  • ABRA Games - Brazilian Association of the Game Developers is a non-profit organisation which object is to fortify Brazilian game (&development) industry.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

UCLA lectures online / game patches

Recently I came across UCLA Design Media Arts lecture series 'Games People Play'. UCLA has kindly videoed all the lectures and put them to the web. The reason I found that website was (googling and) my interest towards game patches (wads, add-ons, mods, misuse, hacking, skins...). A couple of posts back I wrote briefly about 'lead user/chasm' theories and the ways users' innovativeness has been supported e.g. in digital games.

"Patches range from a simple repair of a programming bug to intricate new game scenarios, replacing the characters, sounds, architecture and/or game challenges in the original games."

UCLA's lecture series is actually about games and art. (In 2005) they had really nice range of artists talking about their game related works. I think game patches can also be a work of art even though Anne-Marie Schleiner or other well known patch theorists/artists were not lecturing this time. Ms Schleiner is one of the 'patch art' pioneers. She collected an online art show of video game patches Cracking the Maze in 1999. ''More and more artists are becoming aware of the tools available to them offered by game software" (Schleiner 1999).

Chris Crawford blame current digital games for their uninnovativeness. Perhaps user innovations and game patches could enrich the scene of commercial digital games as well? And besides patches some sort of demo scene still exists, machinima is an upward trend and mod's are current state of the art. There are also some university seminars where modding has been under the loupe.

In my opinion social media&games and web2.0/mobile2.0/game2.0 what-ever is the future of digital content. I hope web2.0 developers understand the lessons to be learned from digital games. Games have been 'open' and user-created from the beginning. In the 1980s there was a direct connection between game studios and gamers (gamers provided ideas to developers), MUDs were user innovations from the beginning and currently there are various toolkits and editor software available also for non-programmers.

Check Arstechnica's article: Are player-driven games the future of digital gaming?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Habbo meets MySpace

Habbo Hotel (.fi) has relased Habbo-Home extension to the concept. Habbo Home is somewhat related to MySpace. Every Habbo character has their own personified 'home page' where they can put highscores, list of friends, funny animations and a lot more. This is rather interesting renewal and better position Habbo in between community services (MySpace, Second Life) and online games (WoW, Ragnarok, Kartrider).

My current favourite is Habbo-Home by Tuu but it is really interesting to see how the real innovators = users will adapt or misuse the Habbo-Home idea. What I especially like about Habbo- Home is that the concept seems to allow user 'innovations' flexibly. You do not just change the color theme or add a wallpaper, you can mix and match rather freely. This is a thing I expected to find from MySpace when publishing my own MySpace page. Possibilities to personify MySpace page are actually surprisingly limited (and I quess you cannot get rid of the ads/banners).

Dude, pimp my Habbo Home! My soppa-page (up/right) is still rather ugly but watch out! I will add some real soppa flavour to it within no time :)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Matrix | sema | 2D bar codes

Semacode (Canada), VTT (Finland), Denso-Wave (Japan) and others have quickly understood the possibilities of mobile phone's camera and outlined range of solutions which utilize the camera. One direction of development is 2D bar codes -- you know those squares with black and white pixels in them (=tags). Tags can be easily captured with a mobile phone's camera and decoded to obtain a certain www address.

The first truly two-dimensional bar code was introduced by Intermec Corporation in 1988 when they announced Currently Japan is leading the development of 2D codes - no doubt about it. Interactive television programs have strengthened co-operation with mobile phone developers. TBS (Tokyo broadcasting System) and FujiTV have done co-operation with ColorZip Japan when developing server based color barcode reader technology. One can easily access sponsored websites, listen to music samples or win prizes by "clicking" the codes. Also NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai) utilizes 2D codes, more precisely QR (Quick Response) Code.

A few years back Japan was practically the only country where 2D bar codes were in use due to the more advanced cameras. At that time VTT was already developing 2D code reader solution named UpCode. UpCode is an optical code reader that uses mobile phones/devices to add any electronic information or system to printed products. With the application it is possible to integrate all businesses, and all forms of eCommerce, with print media. Current trends are towards... content-wise 3D images, animations and technology-wise 3D or invisible codes.

There are still only a few examples where 2D codes have been utilized in games. Just to name a few:
- Conqwest (2004) & other treasure hunt games
- Gridlock
- MupeLand Yard

We (too) have developed our own solutions to link e.g. culturally significant spots with a orienteering and a problem solving game. We utilize both GPS and 2D bar codes. The really interesting and inspiring solutions are still on the way.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Edugames is a hot topic (once again)

"Play has historically been acknowledged as an important part of learning, and has been present in learning environments through simulations, role plays and quizzes. As digital versions of play have evolved, interactivity-savvy entrepreneurs,professionals, academics and teachers have naturally introduced the palate of technologies afforded them by the modern world into formal and informal learning spaces."
[From: Unlimited learning Computer and video games in the learning landscape]

Sidney L. Pressey and B.F. Skinner developed teaching machines in early-mid 1900s. In 1924 Mr. Pressey 'showed that automated-instruction facilitated learning by providing for immediate reinforcement, individual pace setting, and active responding '. B.F. Skinner was inspired by Pressey's work and in 1954 he developed a machine to teach arithmetic.

The next jump towards 'edugames' was made when microcomputers became a bit more common in the 1980s. At that time CAL (Computer Assisted Learning) and drill games for match and language were introduced in schools. The following development step was in 1989-1995 when multimedia computers and CD ROMs were introduced. People bought efficient computers with a CD drive, a sound card etc. Thanks to the edutainment trend, the time seemed right for edutainment or edugames.

The last exuberance started around year 2000 when researchers discovered that edutainment hasn't been succesful because the term entertainment is too vague. Thus the solutions is: Edugames (and to use best seller games e.g. Sim City and Civilization in schools). And here we go again...

So what's the connection with ELSPAs report? First of all I am surprised that the report start with some sales figures. So what if 'Over the past 20 years, the UK’s computer and video game industry has grown into a multimillion pound business.' Are sales figures that relevant when talking about educational games or ways to use digital games in teaching?

The other thing is that too often reports like this just try to glue two things together. 'Digital games may become important tools for encouraging personalised learning, using these technologies has highlighted that they enable social engagement and collaboration.'

Yes we have heard that many times already. Are there any best practise examples? How to force / persuade teachers to learn to use computers and promote gameplay as an alternative way of learning? How to fit games into rather tight curriculum? How to actually utilize games in teaching? Would Web2.0 / social media solutions be more efficient 'tools' for uncompelled learning? Communication, sharing ideas, learning by doing and giving support is in the core of teaching IMHO. Thus web services could pretty nicely offer tools to motivate and inspire to learn new things.

I find it hard to believe that commercial game developers 'appear keen to work with educationalists in the development of their products'. I don't say that they are not interested. But it is not a question of will, it is a question of money. The game should make a lot of money to the producer and distributor -- perhaps also to the developers. I quess it (still) is pretty hard to assure financiers to put money into 'supercool (!!!) math edugame targeted to GTA players'. Or am I just a small-minded pessimist?

I am no expert in teaching, I am no educationalist, I completed comprehensive school ages ago and I am definitely not against edugames / edutainment / edusoftware. I actually think that there are a few nice edugame examples (e.g. golden oldie History City). The problem I have with this edutalk is that too often it seems to focus more on politics than creating a concrete initiatives. Of course games industry tries to improve their public image but isn't this a bit lame way of doing it?

Games = Fun?

Yesterday I spent an evening at the Games&Storytelling lecture listening to Chris Crawford's provocative lecture of games and storytelling. Mr. Crawford repeated that a) game is about fun, spectacle and exitement. And in spite of market studies, b) games are (still) played only by boys and young men. c) Games are not innovative (sw products). They just repeate same patterns, same structures... invented already in 1980s. Due to these 'facts' games have and never will become mainstream.

I agree with Chris that there are certain elements which define games. I myself am more into experimental games at the moment so I would not define games JUST as fun-excitement-spectacle. But I agree with him that majority of games are still soooo '80s. And that is one reason why the majority of gamers are male. In the beginning of 1990s one challenge was to get girls to play with computers. Now -- thanks to the Internet (and mobile phones) -- geeky computers are suddently a cool thing. But still: the game producers are not totally sure of these 'NEW' target groups. Why to take a risk if you can sell Doom over and over again to current gamers?

In Finland (according to a survey we (VTT) did in January 2006 N=1489, participants were randomly picked Taloustutkimus Internet panelists) 20% of 13 - 18 year old girls played games daily or almost daily. But at the same time: 15% of 65-75 year olds played games daily or almost daily. Explain that! My explanation is that seniors are lonely and they kill time playing Minesweeper, Tetris or Solitaire. Girls on the other hand... well, some are really into LAN games, many girls play WoW, Habbo, The Sims, free online games... so there are broader variety of gamer types and also many girls define games differently compared to (teenage) boys.

Mr. Crawford's alternative to neutral/dull/uninnovative digital games is interactive storytelling. Those who have read Mr. Crawford's papers/books since The Art of Computer Game Design might not find this notion that surprising. One concrete outcome of his ponderings is StoryTron (ex-Erazmatazz) which has been under development for some time already. There are not that much stuff at the Storyton website but perhaps you can get more out of the idea by listening to Christy Dena's cool podcast interview with Mr. Crawford. I am not totally sure about interactive storytelling but I am totally sure that in able to make digital games a mainstream hobby one has to find another 'format' of.. well, interactive storytelling or games :). Serious games will most definitely NOT be the solution as those who are not into games are not into serious games either.

Besides interactive storytelling there are lost of experiments going on where game (graphics, structure, interaction) has been intergrated into other content. Once again media art has many fascinating examples of interactive storytelling (Note: not same as stories) and creativity. Also games such as Kick Ass Kung-Fu rebuild and challenge the definition of digital games.

Some ideas how the future of games/interactive storytelling/interactive software/computer installations/serious games/what-ever would look like, check out Wired Next Fest's list of exhibitors.

Another source of inspiration could be newest The Escapist mag. where Mr. Warren Spector discusses: Should Games be Fun?

Those into storytelling: check out Christy Dena's own blog 'CrossMediaEntertainment'.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Innovation methods

Suddently everyone is talking about innovations. At the work we are not doing research or inventions anymore, we are innovating. We even hired Innovation Director to coordinate (?) our innovativeness. But what do we actually mean when we talk about innovations.

(A bit) funny thing is that today's hottest innovation theories have been first introduced years ago. Everett Roger published his book Diffusion of Innovations in ´62 and Eric von Hippel Lead Users: A Source of Novel Product Concepts at the Management Science Journal in '86. Lately Geffrey Moore and Henry Chesbrough has provided new terms to the discussion: crossing the chasm and open innovation. Chesbrough's book Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (2003) focuses on similar issues where we (at the work) are aiming at: buy or license processes or inventions (i.e. patents) from other companies (read: us!). Adina Levin's blog discusses about the differences between crossing the chasm and lead users theories.

Today user innovations and community innovations are at the core of innovation theories and ways of putting theories into practise. For example open source, (game) modding and demo programs (patch, plug-ins) all highlight the users' role in software development. Also hobbyist and enthusiasts have their motivation and will to modify content. Not to mention tuning which has become very topical through tv-programs such as Pimp My Ride.

Whereas open innovation focuses more on companies or institutes and their ways of opening their innovation processes, lead users as the 'extreme edge can tell you exactly what they want to solve their critical need.' Web2.0 and social media trends bring up the role of users in a new way. Web2.0 promote ideas put up at von Hippel's lead user theories: the people (lead users) have the deepest understanding of needs underlying emerging products and services. Often they make their own prototypes, using what resources are available to them, to address their own critical needs. One thing that lead users have in common is that they enjoy sharing their insights. They're aware of the potential benefits of the company's work and look forward to advancing a cause.

So what? (For example) web2.0 (and game) developers might be somewhat aware of the potential users have to offer but they do not necessary understand the ways and methods to utilize lead users (or users in general) in their innovation/product develoment. I have been discussing with web2.0 service developers and listening to their ideas of 'If you make a web service they will come'. Some companies even arrange user tests two months before publishing the product. Eh -- why? There are not that many issues to improve anymore. Users tests should be done iteratively and from the start of the process! For developers I sugget to spend some moments with von Hippel, Chesbrough or Roger Moore ;) books and get inspired!

Sources / more resources:
Lead users take innovation to the extreme
Wikipedia: Lead User
Wikipedia: Diffusion of Innovation
Joseph Schumpeter
Outside In Innovation