Last time I really played video games was as a teenager: games on Apple II (Loadrunner comes to mind), and early versions of IBM PCs (CGA, then VGA...) with games such as Moctezuma's revenge, digger, Asteroid, Zork...
In the past 25 years, I've occasionally played some Tetris, Deminer, Solitaire, Poker, Sudoku, but nothing serious. I did try the Wii a few years ago, but must have played less than 10 times.
Earlier this year, I thought it was time to start looking into this segment of the digital economy I had no clue about, the video game market estimated at about $80 billion, more or less the size of the movie industry. (see this Ibis Capital presentation, slide 7).
My first move was to decide which platform to go for :
I'll maybe write a post about that first decision, because it's absolutely not obvious for a non-gamer. I eventually got a PS3 after asking a few friends and checking a few titles, exclusive to the PS3 (such as Heavy Rain).
In the past 6 months, I've played (or tried to ;) a number of games, including :
My main interest after spending a few hundred hours playing all these games is actually not the game, but the game mechanics used in these games, and try to understand :
Of all the games so far, I've enjoyed most Assassin's Creed 2, and Red Dead Redemption and they seem to share the same mechanics. Below I'll discuss a top-level hierarchy, and some elements that make these games stand out (that's for another post).
1) in all games, there's a simple task to achieve. With that you either finish the task, or get rewards such as points, get experience points, or unlock new features. This is where most casual games fall into.
2) more complicated games use a more complex reward system (character improvement) : the more points you get, or money, or enemies killes, etc. the more your character gets experience points : you can then get a better weapon, better armour, more speed, more wealth, etc. It is not necessary to have a story line just to max out all potential rewards in the game.
3) In terms of contineous interest, it seems there's a continuum of techniques to make the player stick to a game : Firstly of course, there's a story line. It has to be powerful enough to last many hours. After playing all these games, it feels like an interactive movie, as most of the games have long narratives (video segments of several minutes), giving control back to the player for fight or investigation scenes. Sometimes I also got the impression of watching a comic book with video segments. Most titles take their names, theme and universe from the story line. Which along with the game type (shoot 'em up, first person shooter, sport simulator, etc.), this is one of the main reasons making you buy a game ...
Once you've completed the game's story line, it would be a shame to stop the interaction with the player, not re-use the world and universe built, nor add extra features. Most games have added indeed mechanics beyond the storyline that make the game last longer
4) side quests. In Red Dead Redemption (RDR) for example, there are 18 stranger missions to complete, that are not necessary to complete the game;in Assassin's Creed 2 (AC2) there are for example Runs around town, Codex quests, feather quests, paintings, weapons...
5) mini-games : in RDR, there's the possibility to play casino games (poker, dice games, backjack...).
6) in-game awards : in RDR, there are a number of awards you can start collecting involving side-quests: outfits, challenges...This is exactly what Foursquare is doing with the badges mechanisms.
7) game publisher awards related to the game: in RDR, you can sign up for the Rockstar Games Social Club where you are presented with new challenges, usually associated with a leaderboard, where your performance (timing, etc.) is compared to all users. This makes it the first mechanism to really enhance the game with social features : a mission (a segment of the game) you've already completed now has to be replayed with performance in mind. These Awards usually unlock new features in the game. In AC2, after a number of Uplay points, you get an exclusive access to a maze beneath the Assassin's house.
8) game publisher awards : in addition to the mechanics in 5), the game publisher can create cross-game awards. Rockstar games is going that way, Ubisoft as well with Uplay. For example, you can unlock an Ezio di Firenze (AC2) attire to play for your character in Prince of Persia (same publisher for both games). But most publishers are currently just allowing players to add points from different games to their accounts and spend it on any game.
9) console awards: these are more commonly known as Achievements (Xbox) or Trophies (PS3). When I got my console, I had no clue what these were, nor why they would pop up. I actually had to google the words to figure it out. And google online guides for how to get them some of the time (but that's for another post). I've found getting trophies is a very addictive mechanism, asking the player to do a number of things including storyline (1), side quests (2), mini-games (3), in-game awards (4), game-related awards (5) such as performance. I haven't seen the Xbox implementation, but it's pretty well implemented on the PS3 : you can compare trophies with ohter players, trophies between games; there's a mechanism to add up all trophies and put the player on a global leaderboard, putting the player on a quest for even more trophies to reach the next "player" level on the console platform.
10) add-ons: AC2 sells 2 add-ons as chapter 12 and 13 of the 14 chapter story. They are not indispensable for the storyline, hence fell into (2); they allow to make the experience longer; in RDR, you can buy additional packs such as the Liars and Cheat pack, or the Zombie pack to use the same environment with new features, quests, etc. Not only does the player extend his time playing the game, but pays additional money (up-selling).
11) multiplayer mode : this is the 3rd and extremely powerful way to enhance the gaming experience. You basically either start the game all over (doubling the playing time) in multi-player mode (although limited usually to about a dozen players), or go into mini-games (free for all, team 1 vs team 2, 2 player mode...). This makes the game much more interesting, because you are testing yourself against real people.
12) real-life mode : this is an extension of the game's universe into real-life, with events such as fan encounters, exhibitions, etc. The excellent marketing used by game publishers (podcasts, mini-sites, ads, billboards, figurines, magazines, contests, etc.) owuld fall into this category. I might explore this in another post.
13) sequels : one a character finds its universe, it can be reused for sequels, becoming a franchise. Mario for example is a well known character franchise. Castlevania seems to have the world record though.
My final comment is that a game costs between 15 euros (used) to 60 euros (new), sometimes more for a special edition. In terms of entertainment value, it lasts much longer (between 50 to 100 hours) that a hardcover book (several hours, ~20 euros), a movie theater screening (2 hours, ~10 euros). Hence it makes sense to enhance the intrinsic value of a game to justify the higher cost of it, versus of other forms of entertainment.
Game mechanics are being explored by a number of sectors (foursquare et al., magazines, social shopping...), but unless we understand the whole range of game mechanics in play, these implementations might just not work. I'll come back in a future post on other aspects developed by modern console games.
Lately, I've been reviewing many magazines for the iPad. Today I spent 2 hours reading 'Gourmet Live", a free app for the iPad, based on the historic Gourmet print magazine. I had first heard about it here, and was interested in knowing more about the game mechanics of the magazine. There was some praise in the press that I don't share by now.
How does it work ?
- the app is free, and so far new weekly issues are also free (I have editions #3 and #4. I couldn't find a way to get older editions #1 and #2).
- the content offered is rather limited, only 10 articles of 2-3 pages, with pictures; I am a bit disappointed at the quality of the writing, and choice of subjects (although I should be a perfect target for a gastronomy magazine)
- whenever you finish reading an article (almost every article), you unlock new content (a set of recipes, more stories, that appear on the shelves on the same level as your magazine).
What I did not like :
I originally thought it would be great to adapt game mechanics to reading a magazine, but the implementation is rather poor :
1) after unlocking 3 new contents after reading 3 articles, it gets annoying : there is no real game mechanic involved, you always get new content, very predictable, just by reading a piece. They should at least get inspired by foursquare's game mechanics : after reading 5 articles, after reading 3 issues, after reading 5 articles on wine, after reading articles on the 7 continents, after sharing with 10 friends, etc. As it is, the only interest seems to be for Gourmet, in that they don't pay the distribution cost (bandwidth) for people not reading the whole of the magazine.
2) In addition, the notification for new content is annoying, as it occurs a few seconds into the reading of a new article usually. They should just add the content automatically with no notification, or make it as a scrolling text at the bottom. Multitasking on iOS should also enable background downloading.
3) You can connect the app with either Facebook *or* twitter. Not both. That's just plain stupid. And it's only for sharing notifications of rewards on your facebook well or twitter stream, nothing else. The link sends back to a landing page on Gourmet's site, for you to download the app. This is just too heavy. I'd much rather prefer an option to share content with Facebook, Twitter, gmail, etc. (just like Foursquare's iPhone app does) on an article by article basis (this option is not present), and on notification by notification basis. After 7 notifications on my facebook wall, I deleted 5 of them, and deactivated the notifications on the app.
4) In addition, there should be a web version of the article available somewhere so that the link you share (facebook, twitter, email...) sends back to the article (with a download app button - that's ok) so that your contacts can read it. As it is, there's no social implementation on this app. The option should be available on each article, and bonus content.
5) There's also no interaction with a social graph : there's no way to know which of your contacts and friends is reading the content, liking it (like Facebook's Like button - not present here), etc.
6) I couldn't find a leaderboard and stats, typical of a massively multiplayer game, as claimed by the folks behind the app.
7) there's no forum / comments section on the app, as you would on a blog, enabling discussions around each article.
8) you don't find all of the almost standard navigation mechanisms from other magazines : left-right swipes to change articles for example, thumbnail of article pages, etc.
9) all contents appear on the same page, mixed between recipes and articles. I suppose we need a way to organize this content : hierarchy by country / regions, by date, by type + a search box.
10) finally, my iPad crashes as a whole after downloading 2 "unlocked" contents sequentially. Only way out is to reboot the iPad...
1) the topic of the magazine : food and wine, but Food+Wine seems a contender here
2) lots of pics, recipes. nice. Eye candy.
3) There's a "favourite" button on each article, that puts all articles together. At some point I guess I'll need a way to rate (1-5) each article for faster retrieval ?
4) no ads so far. I wouldn't mind them if they are targeted right
5) one of the additional content had video embedded in the page. That would be great if expanded to chefs cooking the recipes presented.
All in all, it's a first attempt at game interactivity in a magazine app, but I think that by focusing on the "unlocking" content mechanism, they totally missed the point. I've met Mike Wolf a couple of times, and he's a great person : I hope these comments will help him and his team improve the magazine. I look forward to a greatly enhanced issue soon.
I took me a long while until I finally went to buy an iPad last week. I spent the first few days trying to find proper iPad apps, and organize them into something useful. As I only got the wifi version, I don't really use it as a portable computer, but as a content reader, and I update the content when I get a wifi signal.
There are a few thoughts, in addition to the current comments on the iPad magazines being wall gardened and the new form of interactive CDROMs. I tested the device in various environments, including a couple of hours outdoors in the park, in my bed (20% of the time spent it seems), sitting in a couch at my club, etc.
A few comments on the apps:
Opportunities for e-commerce : buy a whole basket of products
Turning magazine reading into a game : the more you read, the more content you unlock and experience points you gain
Updating content after an issue has been published (just like the web ;)
More intuitive navigation between articles
Opportunities for ecommerce (on this watch for example)
Last december (2009), I was fortunate enough to attend a small conference in London, Noah Conference, focused on Internet-related growth companies. It was a real breeze of air, with companies in "boring" sectors, doing fantastically well, with clear business models and execution. Many of them really impressed me, reinventing how to sell tires online, gold online, downloads, etc.
In these days of the World Cup, I'll just mention Kentara / Perform's campaign to bring online the 1st and largest pay per view live streaming of a UK football match. All major TVs refused it (although they felt it could target 8-10m unique viewers), so they went themselved and marketed it as www.UkraineVEngland.com.
They brought a fantastic 360 marketing approach including :
Watch the presentation below:
Multiply that by the close to 600K users who watched it eventually, the operation brought in £3.6m-£4.8m on this operation. Not bad for one operation, that could be repeated regularly.
That said, I'm going back to Noah this year for inspiring speeches by successful entrepreneurs.
When the first commercial computers came out in the 60s, they were so expensive that time-sharing was invented: people had to queue to get time on them (read accounts of those days: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution or Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire). In the 70s, minicomputers allowed for a larger distribution on computing power, opening the era of client-server computing. The 80s were then ready for the Personal Computer era, where most semi-basic work (spreadsheet, accounting, word processing, desktop publishing, etc.) could be done locally.
That paradigm lasted until the mid-90s when the world-wide-web arrived on the consumer scene; and we all started putting back processing power in a central computer, the web server associated with a site. Local computers tended to behave again like a dumb terminal (à la VT100) with a browser. But users still did lots of stuff locally (email, photography, video editing, etc.).
10-15 years later (around 2004 with Flickr's API launch), the paradigm changed again. Browsers got intelligent (with AJAX and HTML5 soon), enabling local processing power and more importantly, mashups (Wired magazine had a very interesting article covering this trend very early on - maybe I'll find it), allowing (either on client-side or server-side) mixing of several sites/services, to create a new service. The central computer (company) is not one anymore, but a number of them. Hence the term cloud-computing was minted to described this new "central computer" consisting of many "central computers" (actually in the tens of thousands now, to compensate for scalability. Check slideshare for horror stories).
There's an interesting way to look at all this, analogous to the MVC model in software engineering:
- you might want your data all the time with you, WHATEVER the computer you are using, which means you need access or a copy of your data + your environment (settings) + your apps (bookmarks, passwords, or even installable apps) to read the data. Many computers are somehow addressing this : Dropbox, Allmyapps, exoplatform, AgileWeb... It's a complicated market, as most apps are not setup to host their settings, and data on a remote drive. And it's complicated to do for each app. So either you set up all locally, or all remotely... in terms of simplicity #fail
- In addition, a lot of your experience is done online with no local copy, nor backup (think blogs, facebook, twitter...). Since you're relying more and more on this, companies such as Backupify or LaCie are helping you access but also secure this data. The problem is that users don't understand the value of backups, unless they experience a disaster once. #fail
- since the world has gone quadruple-play (mobile, web, TV, connected device), you want to have access to your data with an appropriate "presentation layer" on each screen, wherever you are. Folks are attempting this: Dropbox is doing a great job, twitter and gmail are available almost anywhere, Pogoplug has a solution, but we're not quite there yet... #fail ;)
Hence, to me, the real challenge of cloud computing now is not the processing layer: that was solved with the evolution of the web. It's still the presentation layer for many devices (but many folks are working on that now). It's all about the data layer. It's how do I get a seamless computing experience, whatever my device (even if it's not mine), wherever I am, today and tomorrow ?(Pix from Flickr)
Un film de Benjamin Rassat - Une coproduction 13ème RUE - La Générale de Production
On French TV tonight. Amusing! this movie (2x52min) traces the history of the French Internet economy. And it starts (spoiler: and ends) with an interview first published on this blog !
A must see.