Jul 052007

Games Universe 2

“Games are just games aren’t they, all the same thing?”. Wearing my Director of LAMP hat develop and training industry producers (working through the Australian Film TV and Radio School) I come across many traditional producers of media who just don’t ‘get’ games. They look at them through the corner of their eye in that slight crack that has appeared in the ‘mass-market, controlling-author’ blinkers they wear. I am being deliberately confrontational as this is a real and present danger and challenge for the linear TV and Film industry and those purporting to educate for that industry. On one hand they say we make films and TV because it is a mass audience and that means money up front and new media has no proven business models yet when you mention that games are actually as big if not bigger revenue generators they give you a look of “oh yea sure” or “so what, I don’t want to make shoot’em ups for kids”. Ummm. I am not going to make the case here for any side so will leave that to Terra Nova and as regards the games business then have a listen to a podcast I posted on the LAMP site from Luke Carruthers, here.

No this is more about the games universe – that vast range of ‘play’ that constitutes the highly prejudiced word, games. The games universe is big. I am always surprised at growth of the list of latest genre and sub-genre of games particularly across the many online game distribution portals that I am a member of. So I am not going to do a long list of (a) games genre (action adventure etc:), (b) mechanics (first person shooters etc:) or (c) the many game theory taxonomies (sequential, simul, non-zero sum etc:) but something more simple.

AFTRS is about to launch a range of ‘cinematic’ games courses – a particular focus on story, character and narrative. Related to this LAMP ran a seminar last week (which is now podcast – follow the next links) at Museum of Sydney that I called “Living the Story”. Jackie Turnure, a colleague, did a great games film overview and we were lucky last week to also have Deborah Todd over speaking at this event and helping us plan and think about what is going to be good for the games industry but also unique. Deborah wrote a great accessible book on Game Design – From Blue Sky to Green Light. During a brief planning meeting I/we drew up the simple diagram above as an accessible way for non-gamer types to get a sense of the scope of the industry. The diagram attempts to show several things which are all open for comment!

1 The two axes are immersion.
2 The y axis immersion is based on how much is spent on the ‘experience environment’ or the production value. So the better the sound, vision, narrative, characters and mechanic then potentially it will be more immersive – think Shadow of the Collosus on PS2 vs Tetris on a mobile phone.
3 The x axis immersion is based on length of time spent playing. So a quick casual game quiz vs infinite play in virtual worlds and MMOGs – generally! Therefore the more time ‘inworld’ the more immersive
4 The size of the bubble is meant to suggest audience/market size (and is probably the most contentious) so think of this as illustrative, please.
5 Then there are the distribution platforms – locative, PC or dedicated console. This explains why AR Games (alternate reality) have a big foot in locative.

Well it is a first stab. One thing that is obvious is the semantics and naming here. Console games for example refer both to the platform they are on but in the industry also suggest that they are a triple A title – the feature film equivalent of games, delivered on consoles and PCs. Hence that paradox of console games on PC. We also have terms that feel like genre, serious, casual, but again refer to a broad range of sub-categories (in other words you can have a First Person Shooter, Action, Serious Game).

Disclaimer: The above represents my personal views and not that of any employer.

Posted by Gary Hayes © 2007

Apr 202006

TOTPHumans love to work through problems. When we were producing early broadband and interactive TV services at the BBC from 2000-4 it came as a big surprise that outings such as Test the Nation (IQ), maze games and video/audio ‘observation’ quests (Mammals, Pyramid, XCreatures, Death in Rome and later Spooks) drew such loyal and ‘stick-at-it’ audiences – sometimes 4 million playing for 90 minutes solid! Retention and engagement remained high but most importantly the audience keep coming back for more. This continued in other more advanced pilots such as my Top of the Pops which had word puzzles, video observation quizzes, multi-choice (level based as the show progressed) and so on. Give people puzzles and they will consult with each other, help each other and try to be first – oh and want to win prizes/recognition 😉 Tailor made for Web 2.0.

TwoWay TV of course built a mini empire around the ‘casual gaming’ industry around the same time – and they are still going strong into on-demand, IPTV environments. Which leads to the focus of this post – cross-media puzzle solving and an interesting article from late last year in the Australian Age – more below.

Da Vinci I stumbled (literally via the firefox plugin of the same name) across the Google personalized homepage feed for the Da Vinci code. Clicked a couple of times and voila there it was mixed in with all my serious media feeds. I played for a while but was less interested in the first square puzzle grid – which although was fun I just didn’t have time (the reward for me taking part was also not clear – untold riches doesn’t cut the mustard), what was more interesting was the fact that the TV in the corner of my lounge suddenly blurted out a Da Vinci Code scratchcard promotion. The same branding, similar puzzle symbols etc: strange coincidence, strange timing. What is going on? Later on in the evening I was checking out the trailer for the movie via my 29Guide iTunes feed (which actually was downloaded on the 4 April) but compelled by my cross-media exploits I wanted to check out the movie. (I have struggled through the first half of the book finding it a little dry, hoped that the movie had some ‘colour’). The trailer focused on the strong set-up, true to the book’s enigmatic death in the Louvre. Again rather bizarrely on the TV (we all multi-task at home don’t we?) a variation on this trailer appeared, at the same time! Perplexing indeed, has someone connected my browsing habits to broadcast adverts? Now that is what I call personalization 😉 The thing that intrigued me with the video podcast trailer (apart from the lack of a URL – although everyone just googles movie titles nowadays anyway) was the three sets of symbols interspersed with the trailer credits at the end. This drew me into my own webquest on why they were there. Embedded calls to action? I eventually ended up in a rabbit hole of endless sites giving commentary about the concept (fact/fiction), numerous puzzle solving spoiler sites, many sites that spoofed the whole thing, several mash-ups (such as the auto Dan Brown book fun generator) and on and on. I also came across several blogs and funny spoof videos that may or may not be centrally controlled, and then the launches of the Sony/Kayak mobile game, the commissioned PS2 console game – all before the film is out. We then get the DVD, extras, various on-demand offerings and so on. The film is tailor made for casual puzzle game exploitation for sure!
But..after my little user journey I suddenly realised that there is such as thing as cross-media overload. If you try to be everywhere all the time you can actually water down what could be a very constructed and tightly managed enigma surround your property. I also found a very useful article from the age entitled “The Vampire Code“. It refers in some detail about the ‘marketing techniques’ (the real world term for cross-media viral distribution) for the book.

Everyone in publishing insists that the only reason for Dan Brown’s sales is word-of-mouth. But his word-of-mouth was nurtured by a massive pre-publication campaign and amplified with television exposure, media momentum, cross-media tie-ins and even plain old advertising. While many mid-list books struggle for any crumbs of exposure in review pages, many publishers look to The Da Vinci Code for clues that will unlock the secrets of bestsellerdom.
Dan Brown’s fourth novel was launched on March 18, 2003, backed by a $500,000 television campaign, unheard of in the book world. This built on several months of advance hype – an unprecedented 10,000 cheaply printed copies of the novel had been given to American booksellers by the end of 2002.

So the freebie, get them addicted model (read my Media Addiction post) still works combined with a ‘look-we-think-this-property-is-important-look-at-this-expensive-ad-campaign’ strategy. The article then goes on to point out the need to embrace the other many forms of ‘word-of-mouth’ blitz – give stuff free to those who shout the loudest (not rocket science!)

“Publishers are still coming to grips with the internet, and we see the same cautiousness when it comes to the bloggosphere,” says Cunnane. “But they’re wrong, totally wrong.”
She believes the way forward is to send books to bloggers, to start conversations with readers online, even to publish whole books on the net.

I suppose this post is similar to my previous post in that there are many techniques to reach fragmented audiences today and there will be many more layers to come BUT be very careful about adopting all of them. The science behind cross-media exploitation is still young (fellow LAMP mentor Christy Dena highlights existing models in a talk from last week) and the scatter-gun approach shows both an element of panic and certainly immaturity but more importanly will confuse an audience if not done with careful planning. Poor marketing (be everywhere all the time) does not work in a world where ‘being everywhere’ IS the actual experience for the audience.
Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006