Australia is a place bubbling with enthusiastic new Transmedia talent and I was lucky to present and moderate a great panel at the Sydney Opera House early in July 2011 with representatives from pervasive film making, advertising, art and industry R&D. It was all about experiential storytelling and services and part of the Creative Sydney fortnight and a Metro Screen organised evening (more later).
Interesting times ahead – the Console space finally collides with the Social Virtual World space as Sony and Microsoft race to be first to offer non-closed beta, ‘social (read: commercial) virtual world’ front ends to their ‘trojan horse’ consoles. Will they start to reap the benefits of a very large installed user base as both are likely to launch this side of Christmas in several international territories, and will they fly?
Both the Social World front end and the DIY games components (LittleBigPlanet and Buko) of these consoles have tremendous impact potential due to the massive installed base. As at the end of 2008 we are looking at PS3, XBox360 and Wii have a potential ‘Console Social Virtual World’ user base of 100 million! Compare that to the 1.5 million Second Lifers or even the 12 million WoW addicts…
The report from International Tribune about the two new ‘social worlds-in-your-console’ rivals, XBox New Experience (launching Nov 19) and Sony’s PS3 Home, suggests that Sony has cried wolf too many times. Sony have over-delayed the launch and are probably are trying to start out too big (vs the lower rez, cartoony avatars we see in the Wii [Miis]) and now the XBox equivalent, image above.
…Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess “Home.” “You still can’t tell what it’s all about,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “Home” may be coming a little late compared to rivals. “There are so many more possibilities for a virtualÂ community.”
The NewXBoxExperience (NXE as it shall be now known) on the other hand has much more accessible friendly ‘toons’ which are very simple characters representing you in the basic XBoxLive interface. As I mentioned the interaction is likely to be similar to that on the Wii and Animal Crossing Wii also about to launch looks interesting too in this regards. But NXE will likely put off some of the hardcore gamers who don’t want to be represented by Simpson’s like avatars with minimal options to customise/personalize and make them their own? But is this just a half baked attempt at encouraging more group/tribal ‘mall’ type interaction to get folk to watch more of those ‘netflix’ (one of XBox’s live partners) videos or peer pressure to play/purchase online games they wouldn’t normally play? One think I do like the idea of is layering groups of avatars over full screen movies, so they can ‘play/chat/critique’ but I suspect the studios will put pressure on Microsoft to not allow that. We shall see. Other key partners in the NXE include Netflix, USA Network, MGM, NBC Universal, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and the SCI FI Channel.
The other big question is how to ‘really’ commercialise these spaces vs just incrementally increasing sales of existing product, like videos, within the portal. It is one thing getting your massive online user base to create an avatar and hang out with their friends in an abstract ‘exhibition’ hall while clicking (with a TV remote) on buy-me items like videos and other online games as in NXE but another to draw them in to having their own ‘pad’ as the case in PS3Home.
Having a persistent place to call your own produces, like Second Life, a big increase in user hours (for those who stick with it!) approaching 50 hours per week in the social space. This also brings with it the desire to purchase ‘virtual life’ enhancements (show-off pixel products) and the whole thing turns into aspirational lifestyle marketing on the Home side vs a 3D ‘TV-catalogue’ world on the NXE side. The next question is advertising during your social console moments. Both Home and NXE worlds will have a spattering of environmental or portal advertising from the outset and it will be great to see some contextual ads in there vs generic billboard equivalents. I would hope that Sony or Microsoft don’t go it alone here (even with Massive’s involvement with MS) and that they do adopt the expertise of the worlds largest advertising corporation Google.
So with Google moving into the fray with adsense now being delivered into online games reported by Reuters if brands don’t reach the gamers in the social front end worlds then they have another chance in the games themselves. Google are keen to point out the benefits they offer marketeers here A selection:
Drive your brand: In-game ads have been shown to drive brand familiarity and consideration by significant percentages*
…and have the option for custom sponsorships and integrations: In addition to the media buy you make directly with Google, your Google sales representative can connect you directly with publishing partners for deeper integrations.
Reach the new generation of social gamer: The face of online gaming is changing to include users of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Get your brand in front of users on the largest social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, and sites across the web.
OK they are starting with simple flash games and SocioNet widgets but they have their sights on traditional online games as it says in the Reuters report they are working with Konami and Sony and a few other key partners are already listed on their Adsense in Games site. (It is interesting to note also that Google are kicking advertisers into action with other initiatives including text ads in Google Maps/Earth and YouTube click-to-buy buttons – both reported by TechCrunch).
But back to the ingame advertising which if done right and using dynamic behavioural and personalised targeted techniques will indeed be a significant step forward for marketeers who are just getting their heads around basic social media. One big hurdle to come though is the old walled garden product/service vs open field product/service – you have lots of great ingame ads pointing to limited content in say NXE or Home Walled Gardens vs the potential of wandering around Halo 3 or Far Cry 2 and being able to purchase the ‘book, music, film’ inserted with 1-click to buy from Amazon, while STILL ingame or at least a quick hop out to the ‘social virtual world portal’.
This is all about clever product placement and relating it to the game your in (see my recent post on the renaissance of hundreds of films being made of games) is both the opportunity and the real challenge (being ‘sensitive’ to the story world and narrative of the game). So for example making sure the latest 2008 car is not being advertised in the 2020 story world of Crysis or subscriptions to Star Trek eps on demand embedded in Star Wars Galaxies. At least the social, vanilla spaces will allow contemporary advertising without too much jarring such as in a simple ‘gathering environment’ like Home below…
In summary I still think NXE is a half way house, a little too old school, cable/IPTV for my liking, and that Sony have the right model in the medium/longer term by persisting with a much more sticky, immersive and larger scale social ‘customisable’ environment – which as we have seen for the past 4 years in Second Life will drive much more inworld commerce. I hope that PS3Home allows some ‘theme’d’ areas too – based on loyal fans of certain games – to the extent that the social hangout becomes almost like a TV/film green room, a place to relax outside game world but feel your with like-minds…the 3D forum becomes a reality.
For those folk who fancy a trip down to Monash University Law Chambers on Wednesday 25 June and who want to see where ‘Underbelly’ meets Social Virtual Worlds and Online Games well we have just the seminar for you. My opening talk’s title “The Sex, the Violence and the Dirty Money: The Truth about Social Virtual Worlds” constructed several months ago now seems a little OTT, wonders how he will live up to the promise…oh yes just cite every mainstream ‘heritage media’ article about the evils of online games and social virtual worlds and voila. Of course I will be talking about some of the benefits too. I might also use this lovely video I picked up from a side exhibition in Seoul last week from APEC Education Foundation Series which points out the evils of the internet (sorry, safe use of) – this particular one entitled ‘Copyright Infringement’ is ‘so swank’…btw I will be putting up my Seoul talk at the trilateral Broadband Summit in a day or so.
Seminar (PDF available from here)
Wednesday 25 June 2008, 4 Ã¢Â€Â“ 6.30 pm
Monash Centre for Regulatory Studies, Monash University Law Chambers
472 Bourke Street Melbourne
Gary Hayes, Director LAMP @ AFTRS and Head of Virtual World Development, TPF
Dan Hunter, New York Law School, Melbourne University Law
Melissa deZwart, Senior Lecturer, Monash Law
David Lindsay, Senior Lecturer, Monash Law
Businesses, and communities of users are increasingly operating in virtual worlds, such as Second Life. But doing business in virtual worlds raises many complex, novel legal issues. Already, potentially landmark cases have come before US courts. This seminar features well-known experts and legal academics in this rapidly-emerging area. It will be an indispensable introduction to virtual worlds, as well as an overview and analysis of significant legal issues.
4 pm Welcome
4.10 pm The Sex, the Violence and the Dirty Money: The Truth about Social Virtual Worlds
4.40 pm Property, Intellectual Property and Virtual Worlds: What Do Virtual Worlds Tell Us About Property?
5.10 pm Beyond the Terms of Service: Legal Issues in Regulating Virtual Worlds
5.40 pm Copyright Protection of Buildings and Artistic Works in Virtual Worlds: Comparative Legal Analysis
6.10 pm Questions & Discussion
6.30 pm Refreshments
Gary Hayes is the Director of the Australian Laboratory for Advanced Media Production
(LAMP), which is run through the Australian Film, TV and Radio School (AFTRS), based in Sydney. LAMP is rapidly emerging as AustraliaÃ¢Â€Â™s preeminent media R&D and production lab. Through AFTRS, he runs workshops in multi-user virtual environments (MUVE), exploring the potential of shared social online virtual spaces for collaborative production, creativity and education. Gary is also Head of Virtual Worlds with the UK-based Project Factory. In this capacity, he has produced and built both the Telstra and ABC Second Life presences, and is currently building and devising other commercial and game-like services for virtual worlds. From 1995-2004, as a Senior Producer and Development Manager for the BBC in London, Gary led the BBCÃ¢Â€Â™s development of the internet, interactive TV and emerging platforms. As a published music producer, composer and performer, he has had over 200 works performed live and on TV, film and radio. Gary has been an International Interactive Emmy juror for the past two years.
Dan Hunter is an expert in cyberspace and internet law, and artificial intelligence and cognitive science models of law. He holds a chair in law at the University of Melbourne, and will join the New York Law School faculty permanently in mid-2008. Dan regularly publishes on issues dealing with the intersection of computers and the law, including papers dealing with the regulation of virtual worlds and high technology aspects of intellectual property. He was one of the first scholars to examine the social significance of virtual worlds, co-founded the scholarly blog Terra Nova (terranova.blogs.com), and ran the 2006 State of Play/Terra Nova Conference at New York Law School, and the 2007 State of Play Conference in Singapore. Dan holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge on the nature of legal reasoning. He was a tenured faculty member at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, from 2000-2007, where he continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member. Prior to joining Wharton he taught on the law faculty at Cambridge University in
Melissa deZwart is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching in the Faculty of Law at Monash University, where she teaches Cyberlaw, Law of the Internet, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and Introduction to Legal Reasoning. Melissa is an expert in cyberlaw, e-commerce law, information technology law, technology contracts and copyright law, and is widely published in these areas. She is the co-ordinator of a Monash Arts/Law grant researching the law and regulation of virtual worlds, and has been instrumental in establishing the Monash presence in Second Life. In 2008, Melissa will introduce the graduate subject, Law of Virtual Worlds. Melissa has a PhD from Monash on the intersection of copyright and contract in the digital environment. Prior to joining the law faculty, she was the Legal Manager at CSIRO.
David Lindsay is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University teaching Intellectual Property Law, Copyright, Law of the Internet, Communications Law & Regulation and Trusts. He is the author of many articles and reports in the areas of intellectual property law, internet law, communications law and privacy law, and a wellknown speaker on these areas. David is a contributing author for Copyright and Designs (Butterworths, Sydney, 1996-) and the author of International Domain Name Law: ICANN and the UDRP (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2007).
I had a minor eureka moment at Milia, suddenly the new mobile kid on the block was exposed, naked with all the acne and teenage angst that every immature platform goes through – clear for all to see. I gave the mobile, or rather the content that us humans have so far designed for it, the benefit of the doubt for many sessions at Milia. On our portable new toy these sessions ranged from specific business models for mobile, purportedly innovative content pitches, showcases of the best content and endless references in keynote sessions to this revolutionary platform. On the exhibition floor we had the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Orange showing off the latest toys for boys. Then of course we had the commercial food fight sessions that goes on with new platforms – as the very clever Mark Halper said in his introduction to Mobi Wars session…
“a 42 billion dollar market by 2010…putting aside the sad anthropological fact that this turns our species into one born with gadgets in our hands, the question becomes who will make money? Mobile entertainment as the phrase plainly tells us joins together two powerful industries accustomed to calling their own shots. Entertainment and mobile. Think Murdock, think Vodaphone. Now get them chasing 42 billion dollars together and they start to look at each other kinda funny. To summarise it both want 70%. This may be new media but it’s not new math. “
Regardless of the fact that some services started on mobile and then went to TV/PC, my sense of disbelief finally broke at the Content 360° Pitching Session: Total Mobile & User Generated Mobile Content. I suddenly came to realize that regardless of the endless “made just for mobile” or “unique world first experience” mantra that permeated most of the presenters talks, 95% of the content experience was in fact not very good, poor. Poor, to the extent that all the formats were borrowed directly from daddy TV or their older sister ‘broadband. PC’ unchanged. In these early days, run by marketers after early big buck and brand positioning and NOT true creatives the quality of services we must expect will indeed be copycat and souless. So some of my ‘exposed’ services include:
The TV Reformatters. VJ Search from Chum TV (who sell programmes to 130 countries worldwide) for example. Reality shows ‘as TV’ but on your phone. ’10 finalists fight it out…’ you get the idea. To be fair there were tens of you vote for this then that type services – proud that they are really using the communication capability of the phone but most proud that things are actually working! That is obviously a major factor – before we get creative, lets make sure we get real – and it is so easy to copy existing formats.
The Straight Reversioners. Vodaphone talking about their ‘variety packs’ of mobile TV channels “its about content not channels”. TV straight onto the phone. Full length movies, Eurosport simulcasts, 24 mobisodes etc: Vodaphone Germany have over 30 TV channels and on and on. Several of the network presenters reminded me forcibly of BskyB in the early days ‘its new, lots of choice, delivered in a new way…’ and more marketing hype but it is still TV as you already know it Jim.
The Same Olds. There is nothing new under the sun as I saw the upteenth CDROM-type service reversioned for the mobile phone, yet being praised for it’s innovative idea. There was the alphabet learning game, or the recipe book online or how about navigating through short video clips.
The Wannabees. There were several ‘virtual’ so and so type services and quite a few ‘mobile episode’ services (one day someone should join those two words up and charge people for using it 😉 . For example “PS I Love You” from MediaCorp– very culturally targeted, aimed at an innocent, teenage Asian audience. The thing that struck me with this and many others with this and a couple of similar services was the middling production value but poor script, direction and little edutainment value (cutting corners abounds).
The PC on your Mobile’rs. Several projects talked about UGC and mobile. How mobiles are story tools extraordinary? They are but in the wrong hands things can go horribly wrong. Several pitches and commercial services struck me as straight lifts from PC. Time Capsule, effectively video nation on your mobile, or an endless range of send in your ‘audition’ clip for a range of be a celeb services – your 15 seconds of fame in many cases.
There was hardly any content that drew gasps of approval from the audience. Several examples produced laughter though – for the wrong reasons.
Now I am sounding terribly old school here are some of my favourites. They are still only 60% there but at least they feel they are in the right direction.
Paul Bennun, Somethin’ Elses – a user generated TV programme. Basically passionate viewer comments about a range of topics compiled for peer review but presented in a more unique way, without the feeling that this was PC reformat. There was an observational quiz programme, although nothing new, used the audio strengths of the mobile to a great extent and the video just supported that and posed questions that often required a second playing – keep the money rolling in guys!
Pieto Bezza from Neo networks in Italy showed a half-game, half drama service called Video Partner. It premiered in March 2003 on 3 in Italy now on Orange in Israel. You effectively navigate through a range of short clips (after an mms, push, call to action) to either woo a man or woman (non-porn, aimed at Italian adolescents) – learn how to be nice to the opposite sex, kind of thing, in the privacy of your own hand. Pieto called it a video adventure (copyright the expression now Pieto!) Who could you play with (as a man) “we have Sarah, a dancer, or she wants to be. Then we have Julia, the next door, innocent, pretend to be innocent, student. Then we have Rebakka, a sensual foreigner…” Quite a complex hierarchy, you choose an option from a multi-choice at the end of each video clip – “what should you say to her after a failed dance audition for example’…although the production value was low there was something game-like about it that almost worked.
I would have liked to have seen more personalized, targeted services. Ones that know you, give you a unique experience (in the context of this blog) – but none spring to mind, in fact there just weren’t any – and that was sad. Still years away from those heavily personalized mobile experiences, perhaps it is time to move some of my ideas into the market 😉
Judy Gladstone from Bravo!Fact in Canada showed some very personal and poingnant cell phone video shorts that they commissioned as part of ChumTV shorts. Here the audio and textual overlay played a significant role – a multi-dimensionalism was created vs a flat reversion relying heavily on video only. She talked in two sessions about cliff-hangers and the cross-media implications of this – but there is a fine line, it felt good from the personal story aspect but I kept flicking into this is self indulgent new media arts/poor UGC mode too.
There were very few services that used the locative capability of the phone combined with DMB (left image) but ‘our friends’ from Tasmania had some great ideas, which is why they won the pitches I believe – what is it about Tasmania – perhaps the distance from the market gives them big picture advantage, over to you Mr. Gurney! Mip/Milia was mass market stuff after all and it is very easy for academics and experimental labs to point the finger (dear me that is what I have just done!). Across 3G point-to-point, broadcast and synch mobile services there is such a long, long road ahead. Then there is media and hardware convergence. I say media convergence, which was used in the wrong context several times, but from a perspective of mobile media convergence…as a successful new format comes along it will be duplicated from many carriers and providers around the world, bandwagon convergence.
I know from personal launch experience that early ‘mass audience’ launches does require lowest common denominator thinking, reduce the risk by reducing the number of variables that can go wrong. Add to that pure greed, yes lets be clear on that one, and you have a recipe for mediocrity. (As a tangent I thought it hilarious that there was serious discussion about Fox asking for a fee on their earlier trademark of the term “Mobisode” – several presenters were a little concerned about using the term in public as the royalty amount was not yet made public – greed indeed, shame on you Fox.)
Back to the mantra, it doesn’t matter that it was “made just for mobile”, well in fact it does because to be honest the production value and conceptual depth made most of it look like a series of cheap pilots that TV companies would turn down in a second – so it could therefore ONLY be made for mobile. It also reminded me that, back to my opening statement as an adolescent platform, in the commercial world at least mobile has no true identity and it heavily borrows from its older media family – one day it will leave the nest and stand-alone. I expect I will be part of that evo, sorry revolution.