Kill Screen's Jamin Warren on the Futures of Gaming
At the Futures of Entertainment, we've always been big proponents of gaming and gamers. I was thrilled to be able to interview Jamin Warren, Founder of gaming magazine Kill Screen. Kill Screen has some of the best game writing out there, and they're constantly proving the importance of games as a cultural form. Jamin Warren told me about why he founded Kill Screen, where Kill Screen's going next and the (lack of) interactions between gamemakers and fans.
Sheila Murphy Seles: Can you tell me a little about your background and why you founded Kill Screen?
Jamin Warren: I started as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, covering arts and entertainment there. I wanted to have my own niche, and besides reading, videogames were the only other thing I had done my entire life. But when I started writing about games, I quickly discovered two things. First, large media institutions like the Journal were not interested in games for either their commercial or cultural import. Second, the type of content for gamers was geared at teens and college-student. As someone in my 20s, there was little for me to express the type of game culture that fit into my life as someone interested, not just in games, but the intersections between play and art/design/music etc.
Other popular movements have had a gatekeeper that ushered them into maturity. Rock had Rolling Stone and then MTV. The Internet had Wired. Indie rock had Pitchfork and VICE had hipsters. That was the impetus for Kill Screen -- to embody this new, older videogame player. Gamers have grown-up, but their culture hasn't.
SMS: What are your biggest initiatives currently at Kill Screen?
JW: Currently, our biggest project is the production arm. My partner Tavit came from Atari and the Primary Wave the music publisher. Brands and agencies are looking for better interactive, game projects, but they don't necessarily have the know-how or experience building those. We know games so we can both build and guide them to create better branded experiences. This summer, for example, we built a project from scratch for Sony Music for Incubus to reinvigorate their fan-base. The game saw tremendous engagement (more than 6 min. of avg. playtime) and sparked a conversation.
On the cultural side, there's a big gap for indie gamemakers in terms of their economic ecosystem. If you're an independent photographer, filmmaker etc., you balance your creative work with your commercial obligations. Game designers have no such system as the games industry writ large is organized like Hollywood before the landmark Supreme Court case against Paramount. Gamemakers either have to work for traditional publishers or hope for their indie project to score a hit. By connecting agencies and brands with game designers, we're expanding their ecosystem to allow them to have a project-based system akin to the one enjoyed by other creatives.
SMS: What kinds of collaboration do you see in the game industry between fans/gamers and content creators?
JW: Traditionally, the videogame industry has done a poor job of engaging fans on their own terms. Nintendo is great example of this failure -- the Wii, for example, made it nearly impossible to connect with others online. Facebook integration on XBox Live and PlayStation Network is woeful. Those lack of dialogic tools is emblematic of a larger rift between those who play games and those who make.
One odd example is FarmVille, which perhaps represents an extreme. They A/B test every user experience and that game is in fact a perfect reflection of the desires of the community. This, of course, sucks the fun out, but it is a conversation they are actively having with their community.
I'm most interested in the user tools that are emerging to make it easier to make games. Microsoft's Kodu is designed for kids and Scratch is another "easy" programming language for game devs. There will be a day where game creation tools will be as commonplace as word processing software.
Transmedia Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design can takes place tomorrow (Friday, April 8th). Prof. Jenkins is hosting and moderating the event - along with Denise Mann of UCLA - and many CMS C3 alumni, consulting researchers, practitioners and affiliates will be in attendance.
It promises to be an important event as "Transmedia' fights its way out of its early adoption/evangelist stage - into a broader discourse on what works, what doesn't, what the future language of the medium is and will be - as well as an exploration of the artistic, creative and market-driven pros and cons of transmedia narrative structures.
Registration is still open and is available through:
TRANSMEDIA, HOLLYWOOD 2:
Visual Culture and Design
A UCLA/USC/Industry Symposium
UCLA Producers Program,
UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
USC School of Cinematic Arts
Friday, April 8, 2011
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
9:45 AM - 7 PM
Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School of Communication
Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood 2 turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.
Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and media research centers in the nation, Transmedia, Hollywood 2 builds on the foundations established at last year's Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story. This year's topic: Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design is meant to move from an abstract discussion of transmedia storytelling in all its permutations to a more concrete consideration of what is involved in designing for transmedia.
The past year has seen the Producer's Guild of America (PGA) embrace the concept of the transmedia producer. The other Guilds have begun discussing the implications of these developments for their membership. A growing number of small production units are springing up across the film, games, web, and television sectors to try to create and distribute transmedia content. Many of today's new transmedia producers are helmed by one-time studio or network insiders who are eager to "reinvent" themselves. Inside the studios, the executives tasked with top-down management of large media franchises are partnering with once marginalized film directors, comic book creators, game designers, and other creative personnel.
The underlying premise of this conference is that while the traditional studios and networks are hanging onto many of their outdated practices, they are also starting to engage creative personnel who are working outside the system to help them re-imagine their business. With crisis and change comes the opportunity for the next generation of maverick, independent-minded producers--the next Walt Disney and George Lucas-- to significantly challenge the old and to make way for the new. So, now, it is time to start examining lessons learned from these early experiments. Each of the issues outlined below impact the day-to-day design decisions that go into developing transmedia franchises. We hope to break down the project of developing transmedia content into four basic design challenges:
What does it mean to structure a franchise around the exploration of a world rather than a narrative? How are these worlds moving from the film and television screen into other media, such as comics, games, and location based entertainment?
What does it mean to design a character that will play well across a range of different media platforms? How might transmedia content re-center familiar stories around compelling secondary characters, adding depth to our understanding of the depicted events and relationships?
What does it mean to develop a sequence of events across a range of different media? How do we make sure that the spectator understands the relationship between events when they are piecing together information from different platforms and trying to make sense of a mythology that may span multiple epochs?
What does it take to motivate consumers to invest deeply enough into a transmedia franchise that they are eager to track down new installments and create buzz around a new property? How is transmedia linked to a push towards interactivity and participatory culture?
As with the first event, Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture & Design will bring together comic book writers, game designers, "imagineers," filmmakers, television show runners, and other media professionals in a conversation with leading academic thinkers on these topics. Each of our speakers will be asked to focus on the unique challenges they faced while working on a specific production and detail how their understanding of transmedia helped them resolve those issues. From there, we will ask all our speakers to compare notes across projects and platforms with the hopes of starting to develop some basic design principles that will help us translate theories of transmedia entertainment into pragmatic reality.
The creative personnel we have assembled include many of the key individuals responsible for masterminding the fundamental changes in the way traditional media operates and engages audiences by altering the way stories are told temporally, by exploring how graphic design translates from one medium to another, and by explaining how these visually-stunning worlds are being conceived in today's "connected" entertainment arena.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Welcome and Opening Remarks
Teri Schwartz, Dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
Denise Mann, Associate Professor/Head, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC
10:00--11:50 AM Panel 1: "Come Out 2 Play": Designing Virtual Worlds--From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond
Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox--Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless "virtual spaces" of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.
Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers--aka "transmedia producers"--charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.
The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a "you are there" effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience's tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida.
Today's panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios' virtual sandboxes.
Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists will include:
Alex McDowell, Production Designer for Tim Burton and Zack Snyder (Corpse Bride, Watchmen)
Thierry Coup, Art Designer, Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, Australia (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)
Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering
12:00--1:50 PM Panel 2: "We're Looking For Characters": Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms
How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms?
Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the "mothership" often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures?
How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination?
Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists will include:
Joseph Ferencz, Strategy and Marketing Manager, Ubisoft
Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment
Alisa Perren, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University
Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, Executive Producers of Smallville
3:00--4:50 PM Panel 3: Fan Interfaces: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?
Once relegated to the margins of society, today's media fans are often considered the "advance guard" that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.
Given the complexities and contradictions involved in negotiating between industry and audience interests, we will ask the game designers to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their fan interfaces. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand either by wearing logo T-shirts or by dressing a favorite Madman avatar in the 1960s clothing, accessories and backgrounds on display on the AMCTV.com "Madmen Yourself" and then spreading the content through Facebook and Twitter.
What is the design philosophy behind a video game like Spore, which allows fans free range to create their own creatures and worlds but then limits their rights over this digital content? Who owns these virtual creations once they appear for sale on E-bay? These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging fan interfaces.
Moderator: Denise Mann
Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer
Avi Santos, Assistant Professor, Dominican College and Co-editor, FlowTV.com and In Media Res.com
Panel 4: "It's About Time!" Structuring Transmedia Narratives
The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media -- the four-act structure of theater, the hero's quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.
We might think of such stories as hyperserials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms.
So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience's attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres -- science fiction and fantasy -- embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristoltelian unities of time and space?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment
Abigail DeKosnik, Assistant Professor, University of California-Berkeley (Co-Editor, The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Discourse and Censorship of Digital Remix)
Jane Espensen, Writer/Producer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood.
John Platt, Co-Executive Producer, Big Brother, The Surreal Life
Tracey Robertson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Hoodlum
Lance Weiler, Founder, Wordbook Project
Justin Wyatt, Executive Director, Research at at NBCUniversal, Inc (High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood).
Lobby, James Bridges Theater
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
Tickets are $5 for faculty and students of accredited institutions and will only be sold at the box-office of the UCLA Central Ticket Office and at the door on the day of the event (prior registration required). Valid university I.D. is required. Registration includes admission to conference and reception.
UCLA Producers Program
UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media
203 East Melnitz
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Phone: (310) 206-3761
Fax: (310) 825-3383
Since we're spending the end of this week helping to organize the CMS 10th Anniversary, I figured that I'd write up a short article highlighting some relevant videos with which Consortium blog readers could relax during the weekend.
The above video was presented at DICE (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) 2010, by Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell, as the "Design Outside the Box" keynote lecture. Although the video was posted and I saw this back in February, I feel like Schell's talk, Beyond Facebook, is still extremely pertinent and engaging (in fact, I heard it mentioned at both the MIT Business in Gaming conference as well as BarCamp Boston 5 this past weekend). Schell discusses the future of gaming beyond social games (that is, games taking advantage and facilitated across social networks, like Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook), when game elements will become integrated into the tiny facets of our daily lives.
The second video in today's post was present at TEDxEdmonton by Sean Stewart, who has led companies such as 42 Entertainment and Fourth Wall Studios and has helped produced major alternate reality games (ARGs) such as I Love Bees (an ARG for Halo 2). In Bard 5.0: The Evolution of Storytelling, Stewart explains the steps in which storytelling has changed in terms of interactivity and sociability. He illustrates modern examples of interactive storytelling through transmedia properties, drawing particular attention to how the form and function of each media platform affects the consumption of the story by the audience.
Today, I'm sitting at Microsoft NERD attending the MIT Business in Games conference. This morning, I attended a presentation called Hollywood, Music, & Games (which skewed toward just "Hollywood & Games"). The panel included:
Chris Weaver (MIT & Consulting Researcher for C3)
Mike Dornbrook (Harmonix)
Paul Neurath (Floodgate Entertainment)
Mark Blecher (Hasbro Digital Media & Gaming)
Ian Davis (Rockstar Games)
The panel talked about cross-platform narratives, how franchises span games and movies, and the problems that game creators have faced dealing with Hollywood executives and movie producers (as well as the implications that these problems have had on "good games").
Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"
A sequel to the smash hit PC video game, Portal, is coming in 2010. Portal, produced by Valve, was released in 2007 in The Orange Box, for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The unique gameplay and interaction with the game's environment brought Portal to immediate popularity among gaming communities.
Over the past week or so, Valve took an interesting transmedial approach to announce Portal 2.
Convergence of Industry and Fandom: The Japanese Musical Character as Production Platform
Once per month, the Comparative Media Studies department holds a general staff meeting, after which one member from the department gives a presentation. For November's assembly, Philip Tan from GAMBIT gave a presentation entitled "Hatsune Miku & Nico Nico Douga: Remixes, Media Production, and File Sharing."
Hatsune Miku (her name means "first sound / future") is a 16-year-old character from Vocaloid, "a singing synthesizer application software developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody" (Wikipedia). The software allows anyone to create a song with synthetic vocals, allowing for creative new melodies, recreations of old harmonies, and the imagination of improbable or impossible music.
Hatsune Miku Live Concert, Japan
In commercial terms, Miku-chan met wild success, finding a strong fanbase in the otaku subculture of Japan. These fans have created thousands of permutations of original videos, fan comics (doujinshi), mashups, fan art, and cosplay. Even in America, Miku has spread across the online American anime fandom like wildfire, and her image is noticeable to even young fans.
Below, I've embedded a video recording (excuse me for the not-so-great audio quality) of Phil's 15-minute presentation on the progress Hatsune Miku has made for fan production in Japan. It's the perfect example of an industry-produced piece of media that has been utilized by audiences in ways unimaginable to its producers. Amazingly, as Phil will explain, the industry actually celebrates the fan production and honors it in new productions.
Philip Tan is the executive director for the US operations of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a game research initiative hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is concurrently a project manager for the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore.
He has served as a member of the steering committee of the Singapore chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and worked closely with Singapore game developers to launch industry-wide initiatives and administer content development grants as an assistant manager in the Animation & Games Industry Development section of MDA. He has produced and designed PC online games at The Education Arcade, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied and created educational games. He complements a Master's degree in Comparative Media Studies with work in Boston's School of Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Media Lab, WMBR 88.1FM and the MIT Assassins' Guild, the latter awarding him the title of "Master Assassin" for his live-action roleplaying game designs. He also founded a DJ crew at MIT.
Specialties: digital, live-action and tabletop game design, production and management
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Bruce Sterling's keynote lecture at the 2008 Austin Game Developers' Conference. (I was there co-presenting a video game adaptation workshop with Matthew Weise, a comrade-in-arms of mine at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.) Sterling was, as ever, utterly brilliant; given my previous exposures to Sterling at SXSW conferences in the past, I was expecting to be entertained. What I hadn't expected was for Sterling to give his entire lecture as a piece of performance art.
Hello, thanks for having me into your event today, and thanks for that intro. Though there is a problem with that: I am not Bruce Sterling. He couldn't make it. He sent me instead.
The reason he couldn't make it is that in 2043, Bruce is 89. Dr. Sterling is too frail to get into a time machine to talk to game devs, so he called on me to do it. I am one of his grad students. I volunteered, sort of, to journey back in time using some of our new technical methods. It wasn't exactly easy, but I am here and fully briefed.
Priceless. You should definitely swing by Koster's site and read the whole thing, even though it can't compete with the sheer ludicrousness of Sterling Dr. Sterling's unnamed grad student whipping a cheap kitchen towel out of a bag and introducing it as his computer.
"So my PC is like a towel," not-Sterling said. "Cheap and old and the dullest thing in the world, I have always had one. '2008, computer pioneers, they still think computers are exciting! They don't get that computers in 2043 are like bricks, forks, toothbrushes, towels.' I researched that subject, and yeah, for an old fashioned audience, a mid-21st century computer is cool. So here it is: General Electric personal mediators, very stable, five years old. No full functionality in 2008 because we don't have the cloud here yet. It tapped into something called Windows Vista when it got here and gave up, gone all limp, nothing left on here but this frozen screensaver pattern." Which, of course, was the pattern on the towel. Like I said, priceless.
What really left me howling, however, was when not-Sterling all but name-dropped C3.
Interactive Piracy: What Dialogue Really Looks Like
We here at C3 spend a lot of time thinking about copyright and IP, and the debates over "piracy" of materials online. In addition to our white paper on the topic, we have a whole blog category devoted to copyright and fair use. On the whole, however, most of our attention has been directed towards the music and film/television industries since they are the site of some of the most visible and vicious IP battles. I often overlook the games industry, who are often engaging with the same dilemmas. Recently, however, CMS colleague Josh Diaz from the MIT Gambit game lab, brought a very interesting case to my attention.
Back in early August, Cliff Harris, founder of independent PC game company Positech Games posted an open call to anyone who pirated copies of his games to tell him why. Fed up and perplexed by why people downloaded illegal copies of his games rather than paying the relatively low price per game, he did something that most major corporations have failed to considered: he asked why. Rather than going from the assumption that fans of his content were out to rip him off and seeking to correct the behavior through legal action, he made an effort to understand the motivating factors in search of problems that he might be able to address.
Last month, I read an article in The New York Times from Brad Stone, looking at a "Risk-esque" game created for Ivy League schools called GoCrossCampus. The game, called GXC, is called by their site "a team-based locally social online sport that revolves around your connections, location and interests. The game is billed as "a massively multiplayer game built on your social networks.
This local angle to digital culture is what I've been writing about for some time now and one of my greatest interests in the potential of new technologies. This post is not really about this Ivy League game per say but rather how social networking sites and initiatives like this are proving just how localized the global adoption of online technologies can be.
In a Web 2.0 world, global really is local. Many of the earliest, most utopian writings about the Web were about how people could transcend the boundaries of where they are from, their local community, in an effort to reach out to others like them. In other words, we could defy geographical boundaries and make new connections, based not on proximity but on genuine compatibility. Online fan communities, matchmaking sites, and a plethora of other social gatherings are built on this principle.
As many of you may have read in this post here on the blog earlier in the month, I'm teaching a course this semester on the history and current state of the U.S. soap opera genre, using As the World Turns as a case study. As I continue research on that field, and particularly how one of television's oldest genres may transform itself in interesting ways in a digital age, I'm always interested in hearing of new initiatives being launched.
For instance, see this post from December 2006 on the SOAPnet Fantasy Soap League, the idea being to mimic the success of fantasy football by having fans play games based around some of the stereotypes in the genre. I guess it's a chance for those of us not terribly interested in sports to nevertheless participate in something similar that, in part, measures our knowledge of a media property while also encouraging us to watch the current product. I know I participated in pro wrestling fantasy leagues once upon a time that incorporated some elements from this approach, and it reminds me as well of the Fantasy Television League that some C3-affiliated folks have taken part in.
But, in following soap operas for more than two years here on the Consortium blog, I'm always interested to see how these initiatives launch in the U.S. daytime serial drama industry, which is what attracted my attention to this post from Adrants back in March.
In an effort to further build their brand, Soap Opera Digest has launched casual games surrounding the soap operas, available here. The choices include a jigsaw puzzle of the cover of SOD, a variety of word-based games, solitaire, and other variations on classic casual games.
GDC Roundup 2008: Diversity and Innovation in the Contemporary Games Industry
I ran this over on my blog, but in light of our various conference roundups here on the C3 blog of late, I thought it might be good to share some insight on the GDC as well.
Every Friday afternoon, the team at our GAMBIT Lab hosts a game critique session. Lab staff and students pick a theme, bring out a range of contemporary examples for people to play and pick apart, as the lab seeks to develop their own strategies for game design. GAMBIT's remit commits it to trying to expand and diversify our understanding of games as a medium of expression. A few weeks ago, Eitan Glinert presented the group with his perspectives on the games which had been nominated or won awards at the recent Game Developers Conference, and they individually and collectively generated a lot of buzz and excitement in our group.
There is especial interest here in games which manipulate time and space in creative ways. Some years ago, I was part of a group which organized a series of Creative Leaders workshops for Electronic Art. One of the exercises we did was have game designers read passages from Alan Lightman's novel, Einstein's Dreams. Lightman, a physicist, was interested in describing worlds with radically different structures of time and space and then playing out how they would impact the lives of their residents. Our conversations with game designers focused on how they might give players the experience of "visiting" such worlds, though I have also had fun in class discussions getting students to imagine what it would mean to design media for the inhabitants of such worlds.
"Your Move on Scrabulous!": Hasbro's Legal Facebook Faceoff
Around late November of last year, I stopped playing the popular Facebook application Scrabulous, because it was wrecking havoc on my productivity.
Back in January, I started up again, spurred on by Hasbro's crease-and-decist order and have since been nervously awaiting the outcome of the Hasbro versus Scrabulous legal faceoff. With Mattel having also joined the battle, every move might be my last (most recently played: Pledged, for 22 points). But it's telling that I decided to reintroduce the game into my still-overpacked schedule because of the need stake my claim while I still could: whether or not I plan to keep playing, I felt compelled to make known that I supported its right to exist.
According to a recent New York Timesarticle, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Not only have multiple "Save Scrabulous" Facebook groups cropped up, some with several hundred thousand members, but the executive director of the National Scrabble Association, John D. Williams Jr., noted that "People believe it to be in the public domain . . . The idea that Scrabble belongs to a corporation is something that people don't or are unwilling to accept."
Seems that board games based on media properties have been more prevalent than media properties based on board games. After all, it's easy to create a fairly low-maintenance ancillary product by replacing the names of various streets with venues associated with The Simpsons or Star Wars. It's a bit more challenging to turn the very brief narratives of most board games into film.
Now, news has come from Hasbro that a major deal has been signed to do just that, however, and many of the world's favorite board games are set to come to life through a partnership with Universal Pictures.
This is not a rant, although it could easily be mistaken as one. This post points out a small but nagging problem I'm having: being broke. No, this has nothing to do with my salary; I'm totally loaded being paid as a Research Assistant at the Convergence Culture Consortium.
This is about me being broke because of the savvy marketing/PR people working year after year to market games that are just updated versions of a past successful title with a few new features (on maybe a new system) for more of my money.
A year ago today, Sam Ford wrote a piece about the emerging storytelling more "serialized" narratives that were being seen in games. These episodic titles, being shorter in length, would be lower-priced.
A future look at an innovative marketing approach for fans is being tested this year at Seattle's Safeco Field.
The Nintendo DS is going to change the way we attend sporting events and participate as a fan.
The deal was struck as part of Nintendo of America's majority ownership of the Seattle Mariners, but it shows the ways in which technologies can be used for a variety of purposes, in this case using a Nintendo device not just for video games, but as an audience participant of live sporting games as well.
As some blog readers may know and those within C3 who follow my work more in-depth, I am quite interested in surplus audiences. For anyone interested in my thesis work on soap opera fandom, you will see that come out even more. (A copy of my thesis is available here; thanks for the plug, Boing Boing.)
My work has focused in the past on female fans of professional wrestling, for instance, or in my thesis work on male viewers of soaps, or viewers over the age of the target demographic. No matter what the lies of target demos might tell us, these people still add significant value to the properties and often are engaged consumers/fans.
C3 Alum Geoffrey Long sent me this piece a little while back on Wii players 50 and older.
Place-Based Gaming, Romance Interactive Storytelling, and Choose-Your-Own Adventure
Our research manager here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, Dr. Joshua Green, sent me an interesting link to an interactive love story that is being described as akin to the "choose your own adventure" books of times past--except this takes place in actual real space.
The project is called She Loves the Moon, and it is a story told in San Francisco's Mission District through stencils on the sidewalks, connected by arrows. The story starts with two characters located in two different location, one at 16th and Valencia with the stencil "He Leaves His Lonely Apartment," and the other at 21st and Guerrero with a similar stencil. The couple meet through the course of the game and make several decisions, leading to four possible endings, depending on the choices players make.
A collection of writing about the stencil story is available here, and the project already has a Flickr site here.
How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?
While thinking today about how this issue between the Writer's Guild of America and television producers seems to have been stretching on for quite a while now, I began to realize that a lot of the issues I've been covering for the Consortium since we started our blog a little under two years ago, and especially since I've been the primary contributor to the blog since last summer have not changed that much.
So, while people talk sometimes about how fast change happens, it is important to realize that the falsity that nothing is ever going to change is often countered by an equally tall tale, that things are changing extremely quickly. The truth is that industry practices, corporate infrastructure, technological lagtime, and an endless variety of factors causes everything to move slowly.
I was told by an industry executive not too long ago that the upfronts this year didn't feel that much different, as if this person were somehow disappointed. I think that's how we all feel when we realize that the new environment feels only slightly removed from yesterday's...and that's because we as human beings can only move in steps. The first cars really did resemble horseless carriages, and the first mobile phones looked quite like landline phones. Change necessarily comes one step at a time.
That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the stories that were posted here on the blog during this same week last year. You'll see a few stories that have fallen by the wayside but a few more that could quite possibly be easily plugged into this week's headlines and still seem right at home.
A Look at Recent Writing from Affiliated C3 Thinkers
I wanted to point the way to some interesting posts from various Consulting Researchers with the Convergence Culture Consortium. A variety of our affiliated thinkers maintain regular blogs regarding their opinion of the latest developments in the media industries, and a wide variety of other subjects.
Henry Jenkins posted a piece on his blog last week emphasizing his own interest and respect with NBC's Heroes and his reading of a recent interview with Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, in which he brought up reading Jenkins' book Convergence Culture. Henry links his look at fan communities with Rob Kozinets' recent writing on wiki-media.
Jason Mittellwrites about the contest among the different cities of Springfield across the country to claim The Simpsons and to host the premiere for the upcoming Simpsons Movie. The state Mittell calls home, Vermont, won the contest.
It's election year, so Congress is making its political rounds to make sure that it connects with social conservatives, concerned parents, and anyone else who can be swayed by similar arguments. Already this political season, Congress has seen fit to raise the indecency fines at the behest of The Parents Television Council and other censorship-minded organizations.
And now they have moved on to find yet another way to attack the First Amendment in order to score more votes in November--in addition to trying to bring back up banning flag burning...
For those of you who caught The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this week, you may have seen some excerpts from the latest Congressional hearing where Congressmen attempt to scare a generation of voters who don't know anything about video games while, in actuality, probably planning to do nothing but increase its votes.
Stewart was pretty well able to let the Congressmen speak for themselves to make fun of them, as Fred Upton from Michigan claims his own ties to video game culture because of his love of Pong, followed by Rep. Joseph Pitts' admission that middle-class kids could handle video games while poor kids in rough neighborhoods might get confused because the environment on violent games is like what they live in every day.
Stewart said it appears "the House of Representatives is full of insane jackasses." Well, we can at least say that they are people who have their minds on re-election, which makes the bi-partisan discussion of video games on election coming right now about as sincere as...well...a politician. But, for those of us who are interested in an environment that encourages a "convergence culture," rhetoric about eroding First Amendment rights in order to gain a few extra votes is no laughing matter.
One member of our C3 team, David Edery here at MIT, has published a piece entitled "Games as Lifestyle Brands" on Next Generation on Tuesday.
In this piece, Edery discusses the disputed definitions of the lifestyle brand, which can mean a product that becomes a part of your life, a product that you make part of your self-identity, a marketing campaign launched around a narrowly defined product that expands to all aspects of one's life (such as the Harley), or myriad others. Edery is right in that it's something that we know when it works, but we don't quite know what it is. For instance, I would argue that Target is not (ironically) targeted enough to be a "lifestyle brand" because it's a large retail store that distributes the products of hundreds of companies. It has elements of a lifestyle brand but just is not that concentrated enough.
In Edery's piece, though, he extends this argument to video games, about whether there already is lifestyle brands among video game publishers or not. Is EA Sports or Harmonix a lifestyle brand? It's an interesting discussion to have, and Edery's piece is worth taking a look at.
My take is that it's going to be just as hard for video game publishers to truly be lifestyle brands, just as it seems hard to me for movie production companies to be lifestyle brands--their products are often not concentrated enough to be a single statement and are not immersive enough. Sure, Harmonix has elements of a lifestyle brand, just as you may argue Lion's Gate has a certain feel to its films, but there's a major difference between publishers that release various titles and a store you go to regularly (The New Yorker), or a television network (MTV).
Whether your agree or disagree with me, the point is not that this makes video games less desirable to market. After all, even though I don't see Target, Starbucks, or IKEA as fully being a lifestyle brand, they still have many elements of a lifestyle brand that they incorporate into their marketing strategy that is beneficial to both producers and consumers. And, as David mentions, not every brand is or should be a lifestyle brand.
But incorporating more elements of lifestyle branding for video game production certainly helps labels develop a following. EA Sports comes as close as any video game label I can think of in that their product line is sufficiently limited and has video games at its core but extends to all sorts of ancillary products. But how can other video game developers copy or even build on that success?
The top headline in Wednesday's USA Today looks at the way cable companies are looking toward online and cable game profits--online profits alone are projected to reach $3.5 billion by 2009.
In the story, David Lieberman looks at the buzz in the annual cable operators convention in Atlanta centering on pay-for-play broadband games, noting that if cable doesn't jump on the bandwagon to do everything possible to support online game play for PCs and for digital cable, that telephone companies won't hesitate to fill the need for the service.
Already, multiple cable operators are rushing to provide customers with extensive backlists of titles. In the story, Cox, ReacTV, and Comcast are quoted. While I'm in town here in Atlanta for the PCA conference, I was able to learn more about Turner's initiative. While the newest games are not being made available for such services for fear that it would cut the need for people to purchase the titles for themselves, the services are already proving that a lot of games can be pulled from the archives and provided to players, who are interested in the games for nostalgia, to grasp the history of gaming, and...the biggest reason of course--because they are intriguing games.
But the question is what the buzz is from the other side--the people who are jumping on board these subscription-style services or the on-demand pay-for-play services. Is this a fad, something exciting for technology's sake but whose power will taper off once people get used to the service? Or is this the beginning of the new way to play games? And what does that mean for those who provide the platforms or who benefit most from retail sales of games, as these services begin to introduce other possibilities?
Of course the cable industry is very high on the idea--they have the most to win, providing a product for a niche that is currently not being served. But, for other players, what is there to lose? What is there to fear? And, most of all, what does the consumer want? For those of you who are hardcore gamers, is there something special about "owning" the game versus playing it through a subscription service? And, as these services become more elaborate, will there come a day where interest in owning your own game is minimal?
Market research company Greenfield Online is preparing a plan for Burger King to sell promotional Xbox 360 games in their stores. The games would apparently riff off 'the most popular game types,' adding the super-creepy Burger King character to an action, fighting, and racing game; customers would have the option of purchasing one for $4 with any Value Meal.
Now, given that the only thing that has intrigued me about the XBOX 360 thus far is the presence of the Burger King in the photo-realistic Fight Night: Round 3, this is an interesting tactic.
On top of which, given the price of XBOX 360 games, who's really going to pass up games -- even ones that are almost pure advertising -- at $4 a pop?
Stocks Down But New Developments Coming for Comcast, Electronic Arts
Peter Grant and Nick Wingfield had a pair of interesting articles in last Friday's Wall Street Journal about some major developments for Comcast and Entertainment Arts. Both companies had a sharp decline in their net profit in the last quarter of 2005. For Comcast, the decline was 69 percent, while EA's was 31 percent.
EA's decline was almost entirely attributed to shifts in the video game industry toward new gaming systems while there was simultaneously a shortage of Xbox 360s made available for the Christmas season due to a slowdown in production that didn't meet viewer demand on behalf of Microsoft. The company predicts that 2006 will continue to see tough trends like this, as the company is investing a lot of its capital into games for the upcoming Playstation 3 platform, so that a lot of money will be spent out on preparing for projects that will not see profit this year.
For Comcast, the decline was due to litigation and tax issues, as well as stock loss on the company's Sprint Nextel holdings.
The most interesting section of the Grant's article, however, is about the ways that Comcast is combatting this loss--becoming more competitive in the realm of telephone service, as cable and telephone providers continue to go nose-to-nose. We've written about this trend in reverse as well, such as this entry back in September about Verizon's entry into the cable market (based in another great article by Peter Grant). Discussing the importance os service providers just isn't as much fun as the interesting content of the actual entertainment creators (ah, but maybe that's my humanistic bias), but this could have a major impact on the communication industry as a whole...At this point, it looks like the major players in both industries are interested in trying to hang on by claiming dominance of both...Does that mean that an even fewer group of people go home with all the winnings, or is this going to create further value for the consumer--Are we headed for even more of an oligopoly or great old-fashioned capitalist competition?
Nielsen Entertainment and Massive Inc. announced a partnership Wednesday under which Nielsen Interactive Entertainment will provide third-party accountability and measurement for in-game advertising on the Massive Network...
Massive operates the Massive Video Game Advertising Network, a system that enables advertisers to fine-tune customizable placement according to consumer demography, game genre, behavioral data, daypart and other factors, and all aspects of the campaign can be changed across the network instantly as well as being accurately trackable (HR 10/18).
The WWE, under Vince McMahon, is an exemplar in many ways in using various media effectively, and this posting features reasons why the WWE has made such a name for itself in the video game market in particular.
The WWE games were revolutionized in recent years by offering various modes of play, including not only the player vs. player match option and a career option, which allows the player to enter the complex area of building a WWE career, etc.
Currently, TNA offers a successful alternative to the WWE but only on a small scale. It will be interesting to see how their reputation in the video game industry develops. If their property is attempted to be constantly prepared to the WWE and their accomplished development of video games, it might not be fair.
Do any of you have any thoughts on the video game/wrestling crossover or have any experience of your own? Since I am the least inclined to play video games of our fellow posters, I have only experienced these games when playing with friends. After all, I know that if I ever started, it would be like eating Pringles...I'd never stop.
From the same article as the previous entry: for those following the convergence of films and video games -- it seems that we can look forward to more Year-of-the-Matrix style transmedia experiments, as the industries begin to comprehend the logic of games that are complements, rather than adaptations, of their cinematic counterparts:
Said Bruce Friend, executive vp and managing director of OTX Research: "The boxoffice has been weak, so studios will look to get more creative in their advertising."
Stocks said he also expects another form of creativity to become more important in the Hollywood-gaming relationship. Over time, video game developers will likely start working more closely with film studios when it comes to creating games tied to movies, a move that would benefit both sides, he said.
Said Stocks: "If there is more interaction between the film and the game, and the game offers expanded stories and more character development," gamers will be happier and enjoy both products more.
Hot on the heels of the recent reports about the efficacy of in-game advertising, Massive Inc. has announced that they will start integrating "dynamic 10-second ads" into video games in more fluid and logical contexts:
Longano said a traditional 30-second spot would interrupt game play too much, but he is optimistic that gamers readily will watch the shorter commercials. "Advertising makes the gaming experience more realistic ... people accept it and actually like it" as long as it doesn't interfere or distract too much from the game itself, he said.
He explained that players would get to see the short animated videos in "natural" situations, such as when moving their game characters by a TV set that is turned on.
Massive will start using the spots in about two weeks and will charge higher rates than for its static ad displays within games, according to Longano.
Electronic Arts is opening a Singapore development studioo to customize current video games for Asian markets, according to a brief in the "Global Business Briefs" section of yesterday's Wall Street Journal.
EA will redesign the game for at least five different Asian languages at the studio, whichwill have 20 workers from across the continent, as well as the Netherlands.
The decision reiterates much of the current research being done toward the potential profit modifying existing products for distribution in Asian markets. Will the move work for EA as well as it has some other companies in the past few years?