25 Sep 2010

IGI 2010 - Part II

After coffee the next session was focussed on trends in digital entertainment consumption and how end users will access the products being made. The era of gaming being tied to a console or PC is coming to an end with more and more users accessing their digital entertainment through other devices such as smartphones or the new wave of tablets. These devices offer the opportunity to be always connected, to a network and thereby to your friends. Iceland is ideally placed to take advantage of this surge in connectivity as it is one of the most connected countries in the world. Cellphone coverage is unparalleled, even in the middle of nowhere, and a large majority of homes have a broadband internet connection. The barriers to entry into gaming are lowering in other ways to as was detailed in Andie Nordgren's (CCP) talk about participation literacy.

Participation literacy (PL), Andie explained, it the amount of know how required to get the most out of a game. Liking something on Facebook is an activity which has a low PL requirement, but its depth is correspondingly lacking and the rewards for participation so small as to be intangible. Conversely, something like EVE online has a high PL requirement but the depth of play available and the felling of involvement for the player are higher. As people learn how to participate, as opposed to simply passively consuming, their entertainment. the level of participation literacy in the populace will increase allowing beginners to move up the scale from liking things on facebook, to farmville, and ultimately to games like EVE. As consumers become more literate in how they can interact with their technology tastes will diversify and wider markets will be opened up.

Some interesting, but obvious, comparisons were made with more traditional forms of media, Andie having first hand knowledge of working with musicians and television producers, and it was put forward that the greatest barriers to bringing more interaction to these industries was the attitudes of those within them. Good television requires preparation and control, which is hard to achieve when an interactive element is added, and she found that some musicians, even those who were interested in where they could go with the emerging 'new media', were hostile to the idea of interactive and collaborative music creation tools. 

I found myself wondering if it was even worth approaching these established forms of media and adding interactivity to them when it would be far easier to do the reverse, ie; take elements of the old and add them to the interactive world of the new. We have seen this done already with games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band where the bridge between gaming and music was not made by the music industry but by the gaming industry.

Finally Andie put forward the idea that the gaming industry would disappear, to be replaced instead by a kind of 'participation' industry where end users participated in the creation, selection and success of their enterntainment. The increased connectivity allowed by new technologies would be an enabling force in this evolution and as participation literacy increased more diverse forms would emerge allowing users to choose the depth and complexity of their experiences.

The second talk in this session was from Peter Warman of NewZoo, which collates and publishes market data from the games industry world wide, and ruminated on the movement of games down the Maslow Pyramid of needs. He put forward an idea complimentary to Andie's in that as games become more and more accessible and the technology more ubiquitous games will move down the pyramid, lowering barriers to entry and becoming part of our daily life.

Starting at the top of the pyramid, the traditional view of games has them as a luxury, a way for us to use our imagination and push ourselves to be better at the game. as games developed they started rewarding us for our achievements within them, to begin with the reward was being top of the high score table and besting our friends. This tapped into the next level of the pyramid and supplied our need for esteem, both that of others and our self-esteem. The new wave of social games moves gaming down to the next level as we connect with the people we play the games with, both in person and virtually. Or social needs are met by these games and we gain a sense of community and belonging from playing them.

As far as I can see, gaming is yet to appreciably meet our physiological or security needs, unless we start getting paid to play them (financial security, see below) and the new ways of interacting with our games (brainwaves, motion controls) keep us in better shape than simply lounging on the couch and playing them. The trend is there however and is visible in the figures. Gaming is no longer restricted to the couch or desk as mobile platforms allow us to play while out and about, whilst seeing to our physiological needs.

The final speaker of this session was Ville Miettinen from Finnish company Microtask who eplained what a microtask was and how they could be of use in a gaming context. A microtask, Ville explained, was a small amount of work which generally takes no more than a few seconds to complete and which earns the microworker a small fee fro completion. An example that he gave was the entering of data from handwritten forms so that they can be easily stored digitally. Another example of a microworking service is Amazon's Mechanical Turk. the type of task in the example, simply entering text into a form, was compared to the game Typing of the Dead, where the player kills zombies by typing words that appear on the screen, their damage and rate of fire determined by the speed at which they type. He summed up the benfits of microtasking in games by saying they could 'extract the intelligence of chinese gold/ISK farmers and sell it to Icelandic Vampires.' Ville also suggested that games companies should seek partnerships with those that have a need for microtasking an build the completion of these tasks into their games. Allowing players to either pay for their game time via such tasks or giving other bonuses and perks.

This is possibly an extreme example but the potential is there to see. There are risks however; if games are reduced to a series of obviously work like tasks which must be completed in order to play the game (or even pay for the game) there is a risk of the fun going away. The trick will be to hide the work-like aspects of the tasks and make completing them fun. In the Q&A session following the talks Andie pointed out that the priamry function of games and gaming ws to provide entertainment, not pay the player's bills. Using player's in-game activities to complete microtasks for payment, unless well disguised, could have a detrimental effect on the entertainment value of the game itself. 

One concern brought up by a question from the audience was the development of virtual 'sweat-shops'. Unscrupulous people in the developing world may hire large numbers of the poor and needy to man computers all day completing microtasks whilst pocketing the lion's share of the income from the tasks themselves and paying the actual workers next to nothing.

As the second session ended and we broke for lunch (which included whale, a bit like beef but with a salty aftertaste) and I was left considering while the future may indeed be bright we should be wary of losing sight of what gaming is. It is about participation and interaction, and the fulfillment of certain needs, but above all it should be fun. As soon as playing a game becomes something that is a requirement and not a choice, for example using the playing of a game to pay everyday bills (apart form a few rare examples, of which I am one), it automatically loses some of the fun, which is what gaming is supposed to be about.

Continued in part III

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