Jul 102008

Google Lively - SilkCharms Pad 02
Although this new soon to be ubiquitous virtual world is not as vastly customisable as Second Life it has some nice useful, linear machinima features such as the rather quaint preset animations and its obvious cartoon aesthetic. I just put together a quick sequence of some of the ‘solo’ animations of the toons up onto the LAMP YouTube channel and after that the couple anims which are quite compelling with more to come from 3rd party developers. With the unlimited ‘viewfinder’ camera positioning and mild set and avatar customisation alongside already thousands of ‘room/environments’ it does offer rapid machinima potential. It won’t be as ‘unique’ as some of the Second Life ones I (now at 200 000 views!) and others have made for example…But Google Lively has some nice off the shelf story environments (my wikipedia entry) which mean less set up as in ‘green field’ social virtual worlds and already story ideas are rearing their ‘lovely/lively’ heads 🙂

Google Lively – Solo Animations

A sequence of animations for individual characters in Google Lively (filmed as Gazlitt in Windmill Forest)…full list in sequence…angry, applaud, bow, buzzoff, cheer, confused, cry, dance1, dance2, drums, evilaugh, fear, fidget, flirt, foottwirl, haricomb, happy, headphones, hearnoevil, laugh, love, no, peace, plead, point, puke, raisehand, rofl, sad, seenoevil, shrug, shy, sit, sleep, speakno evil, stickouttongue, strut, surprise, tada, taunt, walk, wave, what, wink, yawn, yeah, yes

Google Lively – Couple Animations

A sequence of couple animations for avatars in the Social Virtual World, Google Lively (filmed as Gazlitt and SilkCharm in a Windmill Forest)…full list in two short sequences…

1) backhand, hi5, hug, kick, kiss, punch, shakehands1, shakehands2, slap,

2) bodyslam, buddy, choke, cryonshoulder, dance1, dance2, hi5, holdhands, hug, kick, kiss, kisscheeks, kisshand, kungfu1, kungfu2,. patonback, pattycake, propose, punch, shakehands, shakehands02, slap, squash, tickle, whisper

Jun 022006

…and the never changing human.

Senor Hontar: “We must work in the world. The world is thus.”
Father Altamirano: “No Senor Hontar…thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it”
Final lines of the film ‘The Mission’

There have been several events this week that have focused my attention on the nature of immersion. Within AFTRS and LAMP I have been giving presentations to traditional storytellers and filmmakers about cross-media alternatives to the linear ‘tale’. I have also been preparing to chair the Mobile Content World Australasia next week while today I saw a great presentation from Philip Brophy on “Sexual Robots and Plastic Humans in Anime” – and I have been getting further into the rabbit holes of Second Life (SL) and World of Warcraft (WoW). Now this combination of things has drawn me into trying to answer the age old question of “What defines an immersive service”, why do some experiences keep people hooked until the wee hours, why is TV, particularly getting a bad rap, why films in cinema have a level of ‘temporal’ engagement and why games (especially Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games MMORPGs) keep you entranced. This post may turn into the usual stream of conciousness – but hey thats the wonderful world of blogs. Lets look at some stats before I go any further.

There is a great post from the Daedalus Project in January that has some startling statistics from a sample of 2000 people using mass social network services (and role playing games specifically) and who ‘used’ to watch TV. To sum up, across the board they spend more than 3 times in connected games environments than they do watching TV.

Looking at the chart above (linked from the Daedalus site) we can see across a wide demographic that TV is becoming a ‘nice to have’. Here is an excerpt off the post:

MMORPG gamers spend on average 21.0 hours per week playing the game, and spend on average 7.7 hours per week watching TV. The national average for TV watching per week is around 28 – In other words time that was spent watching TV has been displaced by MMORPG playing. Of interest is the spike in play-time among female players over the age of 35.

Research from many other areas also show that TV is becoming more and more an ambient media type. That radio and now TV are things to have on in the background while you do more engaging things. Here are a three comments from this post again that illustrate this…

I can absolutely confirm your findings. I watch almost no TV anymore since I started playing MMORPGs. TV is pretty much a solo activity, while (at least for me) playing a MMORPG has a large social aspect.

I have the TV on while I play the game. Just as backround noise, otherwise I go nuts. I included time the TV was on as ‘watching TV’ when I took the survey… because I do, rather. I just don’t pay as much attention to it as I usually do… and, it could easilly be replaced with a few good music albums. :shrug:

I’ve noticed a trend with my online friends and myself. We’ve moved a tv into the computer room. Most of the people I play with are male between the ages of 18-40 but still tend to watch ‘cartoon’ or ‘anime’ while playing. We also use voice over ip while playing and comment on the shows while playing.

That last comment about anime leads nicely onto the talk today but first it also shows how TV has become only a small part of a simultaneous mix of media and also against the more immersive media has been relegated to “background noise”, something you put on to fill in the gaps, or perhaps surprise (see later). Why is this? I believe it is the formulaic and mature nature of TV. There is very little truly original or out of the ordinary. TV has become stuck in the thing that once elevated it – the schedule. With a constant cycle of news, ads, reality, soaps, quizzes, murder mystery, etc etc: there is nothing new for younger audiences who are making their own drama on other platforms. Now people make their minds up in 0.2 seconds about a website and what it represents, the same way that young people scan across thousands of TV channels – making their minds up quickly about ‘what it is about’, they are simply speed reading formulaic production. Even broadcast interactive TV (something I was part responsible for creating) is a thin veneer of interactivity that occassionally engaged but only for the small windows of time it was on. Now of course scheduled TV is being diced and sliced and made available in bite size proportions on on-demand mobile and broadband platforms. Anyway back to experiences on the rise and more about immersion from an escapist viewpoint.

This has no alt to stop low life traffic!Philip Brophy came into AFTRS today and presented an interesting talk called “Sexual Robots and Plastic Humans in Anime”. I am not going to talk in detail about this but highlight a couple of things. He talked about some of the real cultural differences between the country that creates most of the games in the world, Japan, and those who consume it, the West. Something that resonated with me was that the Japanese psyche is all about cosmological connection, that everything is inter-linked and the fantasy that can spring from that leads naturally to forms such as Anime and a game producing culture. Whereas in the spiritually ‘vacuous’ West the perspective on these games are about monetization, escapism and losing the spiritual subtlety inherent in them.

I asked him why the Japanese are less into MMORPGs then, than other parts of the world and he replied that there is a strong belief that the relationship with avatorial representation (online or not) is as relevant in the physical space (they dress up as anime type characters) as it is in the virtual space – in fact if they want to personally represent characters they prefer the physical space. Identity is amorphous in Japan, a tree, cat, plant, human are all relevant and interchangeable – very fantasy RPG. The Western (mostly US) attitude to MMORPGs in that it is often about creating, playing in and generating a new world, a frontier, a land grab with associated, rampant capitalism. That is certainly true of Second Life which at times feels like the Wild West – perhaps a replacement for the real world that is oh so over populated and where Western culture can live out its dreams – for a fee. The key point about immersion here is that the Japanese have an existing ‘storyworld’, deep connection or grammar that permeates the anime form and is passed from film to film, game to game. The games they create naturally continue this narrative continuum and these experiences are enticing to western audiences who are after spiritual fulfillment as much as game play.

US flag in SL As an example of how the ‘west’ tends to corrupt what are potentially wonderful sandboxes of how we may evolve as a species (who knows one day on other bits of rock in space;) here are a couple of very recent experiences in Second Life (see previous posts on ARGs and Personalization in SL) – and the associated ‘agency’ or engagement that goes with it. The first is nationalism and bringing the old world into the new. One of my houses is on a hill. Someone, ‘presumably’ from the US, has bought some land next to it and immediately erected the American Flag. OK this may not be as bad as a nuclear power station or a skyscraper that others have had to endure, but why on earth would you want to flaunt real world nationlism in a borderless, country-less virtual, nirvana type world. I have politely requested they reconsider their motives of course. Anya, a neighbour, had another land issue, this time more about land access and neolithic, militant attitude. You can follow this on her post – Outrageous Militia Style Behaviour. The point here is that in social networks things can become very personal – when you have ‘space’ of your own that is impacted by and impacts those around it. This resonance is key to immersion.
In reference to environment in Second Life there are endless real world representations – everything from fantasy islands to recreations of real cities but mostly endless malls. Yes like ‘anytown’ America large buildings lined up on grids selling the same stuff you get in the real world. In World of Warcraft I have experienced a great deal of pack animal activity, which is actually part of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ type of narrative in that world – but I do find it less compelling for reasons above (the west mis-reading of the fantasy genre) and my points in a previous post.

Virtual MallAre we cheating on ourselves and playing it safe. Adopting the same old attitudes, following formula yet again, regardless of the potential of these open environments? I believe most humans are indeed afraid to break the mould and be different, they need to be guided by narrative, to have clearly identifiable characters in films and role play games. Given unlimited possibility or something remotely familiar most of us will go for the latter. There is also a point about identity that is worth mentioning – the differences between a true Role Play Game vs something that is more improvised or free form vs something formulaic. Being able to represent yourself ‘in’ the medium (which is why so many people still want to get on TV) obviously goes back to our evolution – trying to be accepted by our peers, the tribe/pack (now by showing off in virtual spaces or on a quiz show) through to our persona being resonant in the experience. Virtual worlds that allow a Japanese style, connection to any living form is actually part ‘of’ our evolution. This could get deep here but I will stay in shallow waters and just say – being able to personalize yourself and your environment and not be fixed a playing a wizard, a character or ‘being’ a quiz contestant is highly empowering. Empowerment is critical to immersion.


So why are these ‘new worlds’ becoming so addictive to many millions? Why is staring at a screen becoming a turn-off? Why are mobile devices never going to be the one and only device through which any kind of immersion takes place? What ‘are’ the ingredients of immersion. Here are eight key ones that quickly spring to mind to aid ‘experience’ producers and offer an alternative approach to service creation. These are non-exhaustive and echo the above ramble:

1 SCALE – of the experience. The size of the screen and the amount of story world to explore has enormous impacts on immersion – as well as the detail of individual objects within the ‘world’. This is why when I have been recently looking at mobile content, the only ones that stand out are services that connect people, that create something larger than the isolated thing in your hand, the pawltry representation of you. Mobile has to involved sharing content, telling stories and using physical space – sounds like the Japanese psyche again! One of the reasons cinema will exist for a long time is that the large dark room filled with people is a captivating environment. Now, imagine a cinema where the image is a locked off-shot, of a shared world and all the audience are controlling and representing different characters engaged in a common goal or story. Ummm.

2 SENSES – goes without sayiing that the amount of senses that are engaged by an experience gives it most potential to immerse. Now as I have said before we dont need to consider full immersive reality rather make sure as well as intellectual and emotional engagement you consider sounds and the grammar of visual. Probably forget about touch, taste or smell for the moment – leave that to the porn industry to work out.

3 SERENDIPITY – how the world or show you are watching has elements of surprise. As mentioned earlier the more scripted and formulaic the less immersive. People only watch a film for the fifteenth time, I believe, because they strangely hope that there may be something different OR they are peeling back the layers, looking at minute detail and looking way beyond the basic narrative. Something like Second Life has the potential to be very serendipitous, other role plays less so, an unspoilt new film at the cinema can surprise, sadly TV and pop-music are at the other end of the scale.

4 STORY – does the narrative engage. This is obvious, if there is nothing for you to be drawn along by (even your own story in some cases) then you will switch off. What makes the story compelling, what makes it extraordinary, fantastical or deeply and emotionally resonant?

5 PERSONALIZATION – Hence the title of this blog. How much can you minutely affect the world and yourself in it? How much will the world reflect you for being there? Most importantly, how much of your real world personality can you bring with you into the experience. In a TV show that has SMS vote in you can steer it very, very bluntly. Some shows allow you to put personal content into them for all your peers to see, some virtual worlds allow you to move the ornament on the shelf 3mm to the left or turn it into an ocean, blogs allow you to broadcast your views to potentially millions. It is all about making the world feel like you belong.

6 RESONANCE/CHOICE – How much control or agency do you have over the experience? Are your actions permanent and seen by all? Can you really do and say what you want – freedom of choice. True resonance is like a virtuous circle, you do something and there is a response that forever changes the environment. Like real life. The pushed media of TV, radio, cinema has zero resonance, it all happens in your head. Which is why stories ‘have’ to be based on life’s shared drama. In truly interactive models your actions have impact and will reaction will take place.

7 TEMPORALITY – How real time does the experience feel? Scheduled TV never feels real time – the only successful shows in the future will be live events, music, sports, live news etc: Everything else has a dubious future in the scheduled world. MMORPGs feel real time when you are in them because of all of the above. Ones that have scheduled events or require you to invade or fight at a certain time are more about story than true immersion. I could go to second life now and stand still for two hours on a beach somewhere – or I could find some friends to talk to, take part in a game, or go clubbing, explore, or build a house. Each of these is also about choice taking place when you want them to. If you decide to do things as a couple or a group then obviously – like real life – compromises temporally will have to take place.


8 ESCAPISM – or ‘play’. This goes back to my earlier point about the reason for play and associated spirituality. Why do adult females around 35 (to choose an example demographic from the earlier stats) want to play in MMORPGs? Is it as much about escaping reality or constructing ideality? Does the representational nature of these worlds mean so much more subconciously than endless souless advertisements on TV, or another episode of a soap, or fomulaic hollywood film? Does selecting an identity that is impossible to achieve in real life become a most powerful addictive escape? I suspect all of the above. In terms of building ‘play’ – it should be as fun making it as doing it. I have mentioned before that sometimes authors of experience get so lost in the creation process they forget someone has to watch, play or take part in it! Then it is much weaker an experience. Today the experience author has to create tools for play, rather than fixed media and fixed routes through it. Randomness can go someway there – but for true immersion through play, think of how much the imagination can run wild with a piece of paper and some crayons, whereas the latest ‘limited’ electronic gadget ends up on the shelf after and hour.

Which reminds me – my blog time limit of one hour writing is up. Yes I am strict with myself. I will add some more if I get time. But for now I will leave you with the tip – gauge your own levels of immersion as you do different things and work out why you are so. That isn’t easy but no one ever said it would be.

“…thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Oct 282005

Pelican Santa Barbara ©Gary Hayes 2005Picking up from a thread in my previous post, something that I have been occasionally known to fume about is ‘professional’ attitudes to user generated content. We are moving into a period where there will be more user generated content in the next two years than in all human history and alongside this we have range of attitudes that vary from fear, snobbery or encouragement. Snobbery is a nice word for some of the ‘takes’ I have heard from my fellow producers, broadcasters and gatekeepers over the years.

Why the wall then between on one side, professionals and gifted wanabee amateurs and the other ‘normal people’, whatever they are? I have split the attitudes of the pro/gifted ams into three camps.

The conduits. Not a great term, but blogging in the morning means my vocab has not kicked in properly, but I digress. ‘Conduits’ are the enlightened content gatekeepers, broadcasters who realise to ignore the growing ‘noisy’ majority is to do it at their peril. They create areas for the great user content conversation to grow and flourish.
The scared. Those who would rather bury their heads in the sand, ostrich thinking, and keep doing what we are doing hoping ‘they’ might go away, burn themselves out. They know something is afoot but are not quite sure what to do about it. They know their days are numbered anyway but try to hang on to what they have regardless.
The snobs. These are the worst kind. They simply say that there is a world of difference between what we ‘professionals’ do and what the public do. The public stuff is not fit to grace our TV’s and we don’t want to dirty ourselves by making it look good.

OK there are probably lots more of attitudinal categories but for now lets go with those. Firstly lets decide what user generated content is. The content itself is textual opinion and discussion (comments, diaries etc), photos and audio/video. These are delivered through managed big and small brand portals and via self-publishing, blogs or avBlogs.
Here is a mixed bag that sums up the current media take on the ‘user content revolution’.

In a previous post I mentioned that moving internet user content onto TV is receiving mixed reviews. The article Current TV fast but treacherous points out how ‘appalling’ it can be if done wrong – they perhaps fail to note that the early ventures into this territory may be more about early bird cash-in, rather than really providing a valuable platform for good user work to emerge.

Perhaps the antithesis of the above model is the BBC who (having personally been part of that ‘listening to the British conversation’ machine for over 8 years and involved in many TV/web ‘user portals’) exist on being a ‘trusted’ conduit. The recent article “BBC site braces itself for more open user comments system” points out that users have a real appetite for sharing thoughts if it is well managed, but also that to moderate and make sure the conversation stays on topic and in the moment is not easy

An average 6,000 comments are submitted on a typical day, and up to 20,000 on a busy news day – but only around 10 per cent of those are published.

But it goes on to point out that because only 10 per cent get through users here are perhaps motivated more by vanity than social good? But that is changing and self-moderation by the users themselves is the only way to go. In reference to the old model moving to the new…

“It’s a bad user experience. It’s arbitary, unpredictable and users get frustrated because their comments aren’t being published.”
Mr Mermelstein described the new system as a ‘quiet revolution’ for BBC News Online because of the more relaxed approach to content moderation.
Due to launch on 10 October after nine months in development, the new system is effectively a heavily customised message board system that features different discussion topics each day.
More contentious subjects subjects will be fully moderated but for the first time, comments on selected threads will be posted live on the site. The new system will rely mostly on ‘reactive moderation’, asking readers to report inappropriate content and material that breaches house rules.
Readers recommend
Users will be able to browse comments either by chronological order or by a ‘reader recommend’ rating system.
A typical reader might scan just 15 or 20 comments, so the recommendation system is an efficient way for readers to browse the best content. It also encourages readers to become more involved with discussion threads by flagging useful or interesting contributions.

There are so many conferences around the world looking at this topic now as social networks become such a dominant force that a few of my other category the ‘scared’ are starting to peep out of the sand. A conference “User Content the Real Deal” in a couple of weeks in London sums this up succinctly:

“User generated content” (UGC) poses challenges to both broadcast and publishing media and to consumer brands. This event will look at how large-scale media players and brands – as well as newcomers in the digital sphere – are approaching and working with the growing phenomenon of User Generated Content as a way to engage consumers and build relationships that gel with the C2B power-dynamic ushered in by the digital age. How is the balance of power changing? For a start, much UGC creation, consumption and sharing takes place outside the normal parameters of media control – whether that is the control of creation and distribution which is handed over to consumers by the combination of portable music players, editing and file-sharing software + internet, or the control of what we can see, and what constitutes “entertainment”.

Another take on user content is the realisation that around any popular human activity there will be the ‘low life’. The vultures that swoop around the skies above ad hoc nomadic marketplaces looking to cash-in and prey on the most valuable asset, the large group. This Wired article yesterday about Web 2.0 (seems 1.0 to 2.0 is popular at moment – see previous post) – falls partly into my snobbery classification while also pointing out that the new, user generated participatory web 2.0 is itself falling prey to the same problems as web 1.0, the old corporate driven model.

The cycle is so predictable, it’s almost a natural law: Every new internet movement popular enough to generate buzz also generates a backlash. While there’s no strict agreement on exactly what Web 2.0 is, much of it involves public participation and contributions from the commons. (snip) “A lot of participatory media is mediocre,” blogger and journalist Nicholas Carr told Wired News. (snip) “The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional,” wrote Carr. “We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity.” Speaking to Wired News, Carr lamented the long, slow decline of professionally produced media, like good old-fashioned newspapers.

We can certainly expect attitudes like this, especially from journalists, film and TV crafts people and professional musicians. After all ‘we’ (yes I am one too) have trained all our lives and the world is not fair – a guy who spent a day randomly wandering with his DV cam talking about life in South Central LA is more downloaded that “that film that took me ten years to make”!. This is a natural response but one we will have to get used to. I am not suggesting for one moment that user generated will take over from the polished or that the pro stuff will come back. Both will co-exist. I leave you with a final article which shows the realignment that will take place over the coming years. It is one thing to have democratisation of content distribution (as long as it isn’t stealing some of the pro stuff – won’t go into bit torrent recent court cases!), but it is unlikely to remain a flat landscape. We are already seeing the star bloggers, the best commentators, the best new filmmakers. Each social network has within it an inherent human mechanism to praise and push up the good and to eject the bad – broadcasting has been in this mode for the last 50 years, but that is changing as there are too many voices to be heard now. Back to the Wired article “Bringing order to Blogosphere” which is looking at another variant on my conduit class. There are good blogs, false blogs, very bad blogs and great blogs. Put all the great ones together and voila…

Pajamas Media has signed up 70 bloggers including Instapundit.com’s Glenn Reynolds, CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow and Pamela from Atlas Shrugs. The site, which will officially launch Nov. 16 (snip) The site aims to be “a whole online news service of bloggers from all over the world,” said Simon. With a list of contributors that reads like a who’s who of the political blogosphere, Pajamas Media thinks its daily blog picks will be of a higher quality than automated services like Memeorandum or keyword aggregators like Technorati.(snip) “It’s not about right or left, it’s a different model,” Simon said. “There will be 70 different people with 70 different views.”

So clumping the good stuff together makes sense, isn’t that how the media has worked since the beginning of well, the media? Newspapers, TV, Radio are just groups of good storytellers and commentators – the real big differences here, which is the main thrust of the post, is that anyone on the planet can join the club, if they are good enough. Finally another great conduit example which I mentioned a few posts ago. MTV realising the need to ‘incubate’ good music, to at least be seen to sponsor ‘amatuer’ activity is good for its image. The link to the press release on Oct 10 “mtvU – Student produced New Music, Original Shows and Features

Driven by overwhelming student demand, “mtvU Uber” is available everywhere, through both non-stop streaming and a unique on-demand capability, enabling viewers to customize their experience. “With today’s announcement, we are handing over an entire channel online to college students and everyone who wants new music,” said Stephen Friedman, GM, mtvU. “mtvU Uber gives them the power to create and program their own channel, and will remain in perpetual beta mode as they experiment and pioneer the digital future.”

About sums this post up. Who is going to create the digital future? Will it be those entrenched and hanging on for life in old business models or the ‘new blood’ given the tools to create. I suspect very heavily the latter. There can be a win-win situation though if the ‘scared and the snobs’ become the ‘conduits’ – if they don’t the term ‘dinosaur’ will indeed reach its natural conclusion.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005