Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back to the future

Finnish game magazine Pelit invited three bright minded researchers to chat about the future of games. One of the chatters was me (1,5 hours late though -uups!) and we talked about the near future (~5 yrs) and more distant future (15 years) of gaming. The first issue of Pelit magazine was put out in 1992. At that time the world of computer and video games was very different from the current one. We can just imagine where do we go from here. What type of issues will be topical in 2022?

At least in the 90s the topics were e.g. what is a game, pc or console, girls or boys, good or bad, simulation or fantasy and public or private. Now we have learned that the definition of a game is flexible. It depends on the definer. For some it is an animated screen saver, for other it is certain structure, lenght and interaction. Game arcades have greatly disappeared (in Finland) and social home-centric gaming is ruling. In general consoles rule the world not to mention that girls have got into gaming and now it's normal to play games. Some of you may remember psygame-list that was active mid 1990s and coordinated by Pasi Hytönen. Now we have several networks, academic initiatives, national organisations and a wide range of conferences, events and happenings around the topic.

As everyone of you can see, the changes have been HUGE. It is definitely not an easy task to see what's happening in 2012. Regardless I decided to polish my crystal ball and give some ideas/opinions about the future. I believe in 2012 Sony/PS3 will still rule the gaming scene. By that time they have linked mobile dimension to the experience. Not PSP-type of a device but something closer to iPhone. Networking is essential in gaming -- in spatial, mobile, console and pc-gaming. Mobile advergames and infogames add nice twists to urban environments. Museums, science parks and advertisers bring the (virtual) communities back to the real world to certain central locations. Users will be co-developers of the games and add own quests and experiences to a platform/world provided by the game developers. Innovative game solutions and content from India and China will finally hit the market and do so-so. What else? You tell me :)

To get inspired, check some famous predictions orLong Bets web site. Please be entertained!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Communities on the move

I gave a presentation about mobile communities at the end of 2005. That time mobility was the Next Big Thing (yes, still is in a way). It was challenging to mix these two ('virtual' community + mobility) together. From time to time I noticed that I was narrowing mobility just to current mobile phones and community just to doing-something-together. Where as I should have had a clear idea of the shape of things to come as well as more pragmatic and need oriented focus on mobile communities.

Definition: 'A network of interpersonal ties that provides sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, social identity, and which always connects its members regardless of where they go. Location, time and resources are not necessary constraints on membership or participation in a mobile community. However, the community may choose to form based on intended restriction of those variables. The limitations are less due to restrictions of the physical world and more due to the desires of the members.' (Credits to Howard Rheingold, Jeff Axup and Barry Wellman.)
At the end of 2005 services such as Rabble, Joca, Photosharing, MoPilot, Flux, MogiMogi, MobileLeague etc. were hot and topical. But it was a fact that mobile phones were not there yet. The devices were just too complex, too tiny and unsuitable for similar community building people had experienced at the Internet. Now we have the next generation of mobile phones (3G) on hand and people are more willing to use web services via a mobile device (in Finland 25% of respondents to Mobile Media Tracking study (N=1500) are already using mobile Internet services). So... what type of mobile communities would be useful - interesting - needed?

Currently mobility is more considered from the cross/multiple media perspective where as mobile community is an extension of online communities, or it is a 'remote control' of web/tv-community. Large online communities such as MySpace and Facebook offer mobile extensions to the services. In general the focus seems to have turned from community to social networking. But still we are lacking of good examples. There are some game innovations (e.g. PocketPal, Rupture) but what we are lacking (in general) is the understanding of motivation factors, payment models and perhaps the ways to link mobility to certain locations, themes or activities. Mobile phones are not perfect devices for community activities or group discussions. It is way easier to chat at the Internet than tap the tiny keyboard. Maybe we should think of mobile communities disassociating from online worlds? Maybe mobile communities are not focused on text based communication but ways of leaving something to certain locations? Perhaps we could create stories, mini games, data/information and even services or advertisement campaigns by a PC/mobile device, carry them with on a mobile device and finally drop them somewhere.

Perhaps that wouldn't make a community as such but at least it might generate some virtual-social-location specific groups (like IRC channels, MySpace Communities...) which could all be visible at the Google Earth locator service? Still questions remain related to revenue and operating models, motivation factors... but my point was basically just to look for novel viewpoints to the topic. If nothing else, this is an interesting topic to study further.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What will be the Next Big Thing at the digital world?

Teens and youth turned social networking into an international phenomenon. Messenger, YouTube, MySpace and picture galleries (Hi5, IRC-galleria, Kuvake.net) were the last wonders of the Internet. But what will the next Big Thing? How youngsters keep amazing us with new innovations and ways of (mis-)using technologies for their own purposes?

Let's start with randomly picked trends. 1) Urbanisation, 2) Premiumisation, 3) Happiness, 4) Personalisation, 5) Ageing, 6) Anxiety, 7) Globalisation and 8) Ethics. At first the list of megatrends seems rather lame. Wasn't personalisation, globalisation and all that in the headlines already five years ago? But aging is definitely an interesting trend. 'For every 100 persons aged 20-64 in 2050, we can expect 57 persons aged 65 and over.' Conclusion: should we focus on seniors instead of youngsters? Seniors have all the money and time not to mention their health and vividness! Actually VTT has already started "Idea movement for the elderly people" to involve seniors in the innovation processes.

Another trendsniffer Communication Experts Need to Know believes in video, online advertising, online music listening, content aggregation, independent publishing, web conferences, web-based presentation tools, mobile group messaging, P2P casting, visual search engines and web metrics. This is another great list of things -- which already exist! Perhaps Google could reform the online advertising? But I would quess that mobile group messaging is not there yet. There might be some interesting cross media (online+mobile) entertainment (read: games) solutions on their way though. In able to get the general picture of let's say "web2.0" I could use visual search in able to see and understand the relations between social software and RFID tags for example. In general I prefer 'the-faster-the-better' solution plain and simple instead of complex trend-'mindmaps' of anything and everything.

The conclusion? Trend lists are often too general. I quess 'born global' (when talking about the youth), alternative forums, cross-multi-media, 2D bar codes for marking and urban zones will be issues we will see in the near future. Already now youth facilities in Finland have expanded to the online worlds. Maybe the next step is to make another link back to the real world -- to urban zones and areas where youth hang around? Global (online) fingermark seems to be another 'trend'. Youth want to be visible in a broad range of real and virtual forums. They want to build up recognizable online identity and existence. When it comes to actual services or products... hm.. that is a tricky one. I quess voyerism, micromovies, videoblogs and 'espionage' will become more common. Mobile phone (camera) and online video portals will be the technical enablers of that. Also I believe virtual worlds (SecondLife, Habbo, etc.) will be applied more for utility purposes (education, remote work, youth work, cultural activities...). In Finland there already is one signals towards this direction. "Virtual youth facility called Netari" already exists in Habbo Finland. Would it [finally] be the right time for elearning? We'll see! At least various quidance and support services seem to be on the rise.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

From information highway to social hint networks

At the end of the 1990s Finnish youth were far ahead of the rest of Europe, if not of the world when it comes to texting (SMS messaging) and communication acrobatics -- ability to use and misuse digital tools (mobile phone and the Internet) for their own purposes and with as less money as possible. I would claim that Finnish (and European, Asian and American) youth are still settlers of new phenomena and practices. We suft no longer at the INFORMATION highway -- we dwell on social hint networks where FUN is the key motivator.

Malcolm Gladwell (BOOK: The Tipping Point 2000) created a nice picture to concretize the change. With Tipping point mr. Gladwell 'refers to the moment when something unique becomes common'. I believe that youth are the trendsetters and that social hint networks are one step closer to the ubiquitous society.

In the 1990s such 'unique' thing was SMS messaging. Currently tapping on the tiny keyboard is as normal as it gets. I believe that the next thing will be 'fun and games' and we are already approaching the Tipping Point. There are several reasons for my belief: 1) Information overload and personalisation, 2) Mr. Kawashima's BrainTraining is a hit amongst japanese seniors, 3) user created content, 4) online communities and 5) cultural change.

To put it short: people look for relevant information through right devices at right time (multitasking, cross media, digital device armoury). Online communities such as Second Life blur the line between real and virtual. For example American Apparel and Reuters are active in the virtual world, and some members of the community make real money by renting a virtual hoverboard or selling neat virtual items at the eBay. Digital games are no longer just for teenage boys. Thanks to Nintendo, Sony EyeToy, SingStar and mobile game developers -- the gaming will change and start to interest wider audiences. Cultural change refers to change from local to glocal, from sequential to real time, from information to entertainment and from 'them' to 'we'.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Promises - promises...

I am still pondering my plans and promises for the New Year. Therefore I though of starting with OLD promises. Last year I promised to talk about youth and media culture at the "Next Phase of Information Society" (in Finnish) 10th of January. Even though the event is a part of Jyrki J. J. Kasvi's campaing for getting re-elected to the Finnish Parliament the program looks really interesting! I am happy to be there -- and I am sure I will learn a lot.

Another nice event is Forum Dynamo (in Finnish) on 27th January. I will be giving a talk about "social media and youth cultures" together with Marjo Laukkanen, a researcher from the University of Lapland. I am excited about this because we have prepared really excellent show for the audience but also because I have never met Mrs. Laukkanen! But it'll be a blast!

The third promise was to join a blogger-group coordinated by journalist Jussi Ahlroth. We shall write "online 'zine focused on digital games" (in Finnish). The challenging part is to actually reach the audience. At the moment finnish games journalism is based on reviews and game-geeks are interested in reading about the cool graphics, the AI and playing modes. The new blog-zine will skip all that and focus on phenomena, cultural embodiments, sub-cultures and-so-on of digital gaming. I really hope such blog-zine will reach its audience and will advance understanding and discussion on games and (digital) media culture in general.

Those interested (and Finnish-speaking) can follow the links provided. If you do not understand a word but would like to hear the highlights -- drop me a line :)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hello World!

Souplala back on track -- new year, better stories & higher hopes :)

One of the most exciting digital media events: Doors of Perception 9 is approaching! On this account I will focus on India. ICT-wise India has been HOT for a couple of years already. The annual economic growth rate continues to exceed 8%. Everyone knows how the purchasing power and number of potential consumers have expanded (Source: IT Korea Dec06).

India’s inexhaustible supply of skilled IT workers and engineers has underpinned the rapid growth of the country’s services sector. India is accounting for around 65% of all outsourced IT services work and nearly half of all back-office tasks (responding to computer helpdesk enquiries and processing medical claims and credit-card bills). (Source: The Economist Nov06).

Also the market for game development is expected to increase 10-fold by 2009, according to a National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) study on animation and gaming industry in India. According to the study, while the market for game development in India was estimated at $30 million in 2005, it is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 77.8 per cent, reaching $300 million by 2009. The report says that Mumbai is the hub for the gaming industry in India and emergence of new gaming platforms such as mobile and online gaming, and increasing PC penetration in India are leading to the growth of the gaming market. Mobile gaming is expected to dominate the Indian gaming development market. (Source: Nasscom Oct06).

Cultural convergence is referring not only to collision of cultures (west-east) but also to lifestyle crash (nature-technology-urban-rural etc.). This is what DoP9 will be discussing about. The development of ICT and social technologies is a global trend. Dop9 focuses on the use of emerging technologies to achieve sustainable and socially-responsible growth in emerging economies. It is also very interesting to see what type of software products will come out from India when local developers start innovating. Indian game developer might just as well create the signature product for mobile platform!