Tag Archives: gaming

BeebCamp gave me a new idea for how the BBC could work

I went to BeebCamp today – an ‘unconference’ for people involved in all things digital at the BBC and (this time) some influential and interesting outsiders.

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Sadly, I had to leave early for personal reasons but I got to go to sessions on “The Games Challenge – Making Things Fun” and “Building the Datadesk at the LA Time” and “What Happens When (and if!) Mobiles and Desktop PCs Swap Roles” and one on “Piracy”.  They were all interesting but, in the one on Piracy, I had what feels like a big thought that I want to write about before I go into detail about what happened at the sessions.  So here goes… please let me know what you think…

Pre-pay BBC

Imagine this very simple concept: Each year you pay your license fee to the BBC in exchange for programming that you own and control the destiny of.  YOU decide what gets made because YOU decide which ideas, programmes, themes, seasons, etc you want to invest in.  This could be done via an online marketplace that let’s you manage the money in your account and that links you to what other people are doing with the money in their accounts.
The thinking came out of a discussion on piracy where I pointed out that Bandstocks (which I’ve blogged about before) has partially found a way around piracy of music by effectively creating a ‘pre-pay’ model where listeners who really want new music pay for it to be made and then share in the profits (if any) should the music become successful.  Sure, people can pirate the music later, but the artist gets paid up front if the users really want to hear their album.  There’s no guess work by A&R men – you know the album will sell because listeners have already registered their demand with votes and with their own cold hard cash.
 
People pay the license fee with their cold hard cash, too.  Hopefully because they care about commercial-free content public service content (and possibly because they can be prosecuted if they don’t) – but let’s focus on the first part.

Every year households all over the UK ‘invest’ a fairly large sum of money into the BBC in exchange for a portfolio of content and services across TV, Radio, Web, Mobile, etc that should “inform, educate and entertain” them (probably more than they invest on average in cash in any other company – but I’d have to check this).  But, once they’ve paid it, they have no control over that portfolio.  In fact, they have less direct control than they do if they invested in shares in a corporation because they can’t sell their stocks later. 

Once the funds come in, people like myself, spend loads of effort researching, planning and strategising about what that portfolio should be – we do nothing short of our best to try to “build public value” with the funds we get.  And yes, I honestly believe, most of us do try our best to do this – so this isn’t an attack on anyone inside – I work for the BBC, believe in the BBC and think it does a great job given the giant task it has on its hands.

That said, not allowing our audiences to have at least a level of direct control over what programming gets made seems outdated in the digital age.

I’m imagining a digital marketplace where editors, producers, directors, etc “float” ideas to the public and where anyone who’s paid their license fee can choose to allocate a portion of the funding they’ve pre-paid to us.  This could be at the level of specific programmes (after reading a brief posted by a commissioning exec), for an entire service (if say, they really love 6Music – like I do) or even an entire genre (if you just can’t get enough cookery programming).  Those who don’t have access to PCs or mobiles could acccess the system using paper postal surveys.

Programming would have to reach a certain threshold to go into production and larger areas would need a certain amount of funding to continue.  Those areas that received enough funding to go into production and to operate, would do just that.  New areas could be considered by the public and invested in if they were deemed worthy enough.

Would this water down the quality of our content?  It could.  And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values into the system in the first place to avoid this.  Yes, we still need commissioners and editors to perform this function – I’m just proposing a more direct and accountable connection with audience members.

If we knew every programme had an eager audience before it was made, would we ever have another ‘flop’?  I’m not sure the idea is that good but think about this… if audiences loved (and I mean really loved some programming), I’d suggest we give them the opportunity to invest over and above their license fee if they want to.  I can imagine plenty of fans of particular programmes who would love to be able to pay a bit extra to get an extra episode of their favourite programmes – and just imagine the affinity this would build between the fans and the content.  Just imagine the hype fans would create around progamming/content they’d had a direct influence on financing.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting this would allow audiences to decide whether to pay a license fee but rather that they have more control as to how the fee is used.  I also recognise that a large corporation has many overhead costs and operating costs that audiences would not have visibility of or ever choose to invest in so realise a ‘penny for penny’ approach wouldn’t work – but this could be overcome by a point system or something similar.  The ability to allow audiences to see how their money had been used and the direct impact they’ve had on the content would also strengthen the accountability and transparency of the BBC to them; effectively opening the company up to a much greater degree.

Crazy talk?  Maybe.  But I’d love to know what you think.

As for the other talks at BeebCamp…  Here were my highlights:

The Games Challenge: Making Anything Fun

This was hosted by staff from Six to Start and helped us work through the challenges and opportunities of making ‘anything’ fun.  We took on Funerals, the Middle East, Health and Safety regulations, commuting and taxes.  And, sure enough, were able to find a way of making each of them fun so, yes, you can make almost anything into a game.

Building the Datadesk at the L.A. Times

In this session Eric Ulken said: “Journalists gather loads of data, use what they need to write the story, then throw the rest away.  I tried to figure out what we could do with all of that extra data.”  The results were the datadesk at the L.A. Times and he showed us some cool examples of what he’s doing.

What happens when (if?!) ‘mobiles’ and desktop PCs swap roles?

This is a session I ran – based in a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to but am very curious about after having read it in Fjord’s predictions for mobile in 2009 (see my previous post on that).   We didn’t, of course, come to a conclusion – but the conversation raised some interesting points which I’ve tried to gather here.

The conversation kicked off with people talking about he pros and cons of storage of assets in ‘the cloud’ and the desire for ownership of assets.  A great point was made that this was an “over 25 model” for looking at this in that anyone under the age of 25 wouldn’t even think about physically owning media (cheers to Alex Murray for that thought).

 Thinking along the lines of download vs. broadcast models for media then lead us into seeing a third dimension to this paradigm which is the ability to upload.  Uploading, the group seemed to agree, allows for a different level of creativity and participation which meant that information in ‘the cloud’ could only really meet its full potential to be socialised.  Someone summed this up really nicely (I thought) by saying, “It’s about what I can do on the device that I can also share.”

Conversation then turned to the idea of portable devices being the centre of users digital lives because they’d contain a portable, central profile that would identify you to other non-portable devices.  A key point here, was that to reach the full potential of this promise interoperability will be needed and the group seemed to still feel like that was a way off.

Mobile predictions for 2009 from Fjord

Christian Lindholm and his team at Fjord (whom the BBC have worked with on a number of occasions) has released a set of predictions for the mobile world in 2009 – and if they’re right, it sure looks like an exciting year ahead. In fact, taking an optimistic view of the trends, you might even say this could be THE year where mobile really comes centre stage. In the spirit of these being ‘Fjord Thoughts’ I wanted to share some of my own thoughts, which I’ve gathered under the headlines from the report. Make sure you read the full report and not just my comments – it’s really good stuff!
 

App Stores are digital Innovation Bazaars

The app stores are clearly going to be a crucial access point between consumers and content/services for their devices – there’s no doubting that. However, what I thought was really interesting here was the prediction that “The long tail of the App Store will allow the iPhone to attract great content and emerge as a true mobile gaming platform that puts pressure on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.”

Sure, you’ve been able to download and play games on a range of devices before and sure, many portable games consoles can connect to the internet, but I think this blurring will be particularly interesting. First, interesting to see which devices become prefered/dominant with which types of users but, moreso, from my perspective because its potentially where content and gaming can come much closer. Anyone fancy an alternate reality game that gives you clues in news stories based on where you are and the proximity of other players?

The Cloud puts digital life at your fingertips

“The PC is displaced as the hub and takes its place as a powerful but non-mobile client.” When I first read this, all I could think was, “Wow!” and then “But REALLY?” Much as I’d love to believe this and it would be great with relation to what I do for a living, it seemed a little implausible – reading on into the report, this is refined a bit to talk about teens and people in developing countries, and I think this is more likely. We see this happening for a small wedge of UK users – a growing minority – but I don’t see a full reversal of hub/client devices this year for mainstream audiences. Watching the behaviour of those audiences who DO make this switch will be interesting though. My youngest brother and a teenager I work with already can’t see the point of having a laptop (nevermind a desktop) when they can have a Blackberry.

I think the other interesting thing about how ‘the cloud’ will affect our experiences that will emerge will be around how entertainment and media cross between equally connected clients. With over-the-air downloads from the iTunes store, does the music ‘live’ on your PC or your iPhone? And will this be the year that delivers on the dream of being able to ‘take’ a programme you were watching on TV away on your phone when you leave the house?

TV finally goes mobile

I can’t write about this report without being grateful for the praise that Fjord has given the BBC in this section naming us as one of the players who will help drive this trend. Nice. We’re already seeing “mobile couch potato” behaviour growing – peak time for the use of BBC iPlayer on mobile is between 8.00pm and midnight – times when people are relaxing at home (possibly in bed) and using their reliable, fast wifi connections. This is different to what’s seen on the desktop version of BBC iPlayer and later than peak time for traditional TV viewing so very interesting to keep an eye on.

I recently saw another presentation (by another company) looking at mobile in 2009 that predicted that Mobile TV was dead. At first these seemed contradictory – but actually, they were in agreement. What the other presentation meant was that TV on operator portals was dead; and that its time for other TV/video services to emerge – perhaps like BBC iPlayer on mobile and the others that Fjord are suggesting. Wouldn’t it be cool if we stopped watching video on our mobile screens this year and that its when “video goggles” (aka virtual retinal display) takes off?

Location becomes the new service bedrock Sure, I buy this. BUT… the editor in me would modify this prediction slightly. I think there’s going to be a proliferation of applications that use location – but I’m not convinced they’ll all be very useful or as easy to develop as some people think. I talk to a lot of people who make the assumption that if something’s near you, it’s automatically relevant – this isn’t always the case, and even if it is, it might not be what you want.

If I’m searching on my geo-aware device for information about an upcoming business trip or holiday, I definitely DON’T want information about what’s currently nearest to me. I’d probably like to know what hotels people who LIVE near me stayed in when they went to my destination – but I suspect working out these types of subtleties and the user experiences that make them excellent will be a little bit of a way off and that we might see a lot of gimmicks in the meantime (excluding maps, of course). And worse, the top 10 headlines near me, might actually do me a dis-service if it turns out that the raging fire a few towns over is the 11th story, meaning I never get to find out that my home is in danger.

Design Mind: Mobile industry and creative destruction

This is an interesting article I just read about the mobile industry written by Design Mind, the in-house magazine at Frog Design – one of the few that backs up and isn’t looking at what’s the next Series 60 handset or guessing at what Palm or iPhone have planned – but actually looking at some of the historical and traditional forces that are facing the industry.

creative destructionUltimately, it takes a dim view of convergence happening via smartphones – I’m not quite sure I buy it, but its an interesting theory, and certainly possible.  We don’t think about it much but there could be another path to instant communication and access to all the information you need that’s not a PC or a mobile or a hybrid one.  Sure, they’ll both come close – but, the article says, they may never provide the whole solution.  I also liked the importance the article attached to the ‘feeling’ that designed products provide – I think this is far too often overlooked.

Another point that excited me was that this is the first time I’ve read about Nvidia announcing that Tegra would soon be available and able to make video game-quality graphics available on mobiles.  This is going to allow a huge shift in mobile content and services and bring some great stuff to the small screen.

BeeB Camp (aka BBC Camp)

The BBC camp?  Never.  This was BeeBCamp.

Today I attended a really interesting event (‘unconference‘) with various other ‘digital types’ from around the BBC to discuss, well anything we wanted.  I attended a number of self-organising sessions, and here’s some of my notes and thoughts:

Session 1: The BBC’s first MMOG (massively multiplayer online game)

This session was run by Dave Anderson from BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) and he talked about a MMOG called Tronji that they’ve co-developed with BBC Children’s.  It was very interesting to learn about how this has been developed as its getting close to going into beta about how they’re hoping to build critical mass.

The big challenge for Dave seemd to be reconciling how his part of the BBC could find a business model and tech to support it that would allow them to commercialise the world they’ve built for non-UK users while making sure that license fee payers get a great free experience.  He’s not the only one thinking about this.  It’s come up in a number of projects I’ve worked on over the years and is always tricky and is a particularly live issue on one of the projects I’m working on now.

IP detection seems to work to an extent for us – but it’s not perfect and is far less perfect on mobile than it is for fixed-line broadband.  Issues like Opera Mini routing all its users through Norway and Blackberry using strange international proxy servers means that determining which country a mobile user is in is far more complicated than it is for a fixed-line broadband user.  I guess by the very nature of mobiles being, er, mobile, they’re harder to track.  There’s also the issue of what happens when a user with a UK sim card and subscription roams out of the UK and the issues of when a non-UK user roams into the UK.  (Nevermind my friend who’s phone picked up Orange France while he was standing in Dover recently…)

Session 2: What is the Common Platform?

Steve Bowbrick (who it turns out I worked with on a project called TotalTele.com way back in 1997 and haven’t seen since) is the BBC’s new ‘Blogger in Residence’ – but he’s not just blogging.  He’s advocating something he calls (somewhat clunkily in my humble opinion) the Common Platform.  He described himself as being a ‘critical friend’ – one who can be friends with everyone around but who won’t go native while he’s here – I liked this way of describing what he’s doing.

So what is it?

It seems to be a vision he’s creating for what the BBC could be and how it could provide value after the ‘broadcast era’ that’s centred around ‘openness.’  He said it should involve 5 things: Creation, Enterprise, Learning, Participation and Communication.  I can’t argue the BBC shouldn’t do those things but, I want to know more about what he’s got in mind – I’m sure alot of other people in the room have had those thoughts.

When pushed on the details of how exactly he imagined his vision manifesting itself, Steve elaborated that he thought it was like an ‘added layer’ on top of what’s already there on the Internet.  Interesting, but some would argue the Internet already exists and no one needs the BBC trying to control it and that as an organic network it will improve itself to meet the needs of its users.  I pressed him about whether he thinks the layer is something that the BBC should build or if its something that we can encourage the growth of by building our stuff in certain ways and he didn’t seem convinced either way.  Personally, I think there’s a greater case for building public value (did I just use that phrase?!) by building things well and setting examples that will build up better semantic relationships rather than trying to create some monster application that will try to ‘control’ a medium that clearly isn’t controllable.  Granted, the control Steve is talking about is enhancements that make it all better but I can’t help but be wary.

Session 3: How NOT to run an Alternate Reality Game

This session was really interesting – I didn’t even know the BBC had attempted an ARG before today – but it also annoyed me.  The speakers told us about how they had run an ARG around the programme Torchwood and about the lessons they learned.  They were (not direct quotes):

  • Don’t make any assumptions about your reality or the alternate one you’re creating – check everything;
  • Don’t underestimate how much work it will take;
  • Be prepared for there to be a change in the real world (say current events) that require you to change your alternate reality.

All very sensible from what I could see – and great to get these tips ‘from the horses mouth.’

That said, the speaker didn’t feel the work had been worth the effort (despite others in the conversation being fairly impressed with the stats!) and seemed to be advocating that the BBC not try an ARG again.  (He did suggest that we might do less elaborate “brand extensions” so wasn’t completely negative on the idea.)

Now, from my perspective, not getting something QUITE right doesn’t mean never do it again.  It certainly didn’t sound like a failure and I’d rather see us try to do better next time.

The game, as it was described to me, ran exactly alongside episodes – so was in some ways still essentially linear and only had the length of the series to attract an audience from TV.  I’d like to see one where the story is less linear and that can last over a longer period of time to catch on virally.  The game also sounded very PC-based (though there were clearly links into the real world) and I’d like to experiment more with what we can do with mobile and out-of-home content to see if we can create ARGs that manifest in the real world away from the PC.  I think there’s a connection to be made with geocaching here too… somehow.

I’d love to know about any great examples of mobile ARGs that people have seen!

Session 4: Does the BBC need a games strategy?

Really interesting conversation here.  The general consensus here was that yes, we do need one.  The audience are crying out for them and will abandon us if we don’t engage with gaming.  But, more interestingly, we discussed the fact that even amongst the people around the table, everyone was talking about something different when they talked about a ‘game’.  Console games, mobile games, virtual world games, ARGs, playground games, board games, web-based games, puzzles, the list goes on.  It wasn’t until the end of the conversation when I mentioned Celebdaq that anyone really discussed the fact that this is probably the most successful game the BBC has done to date.

I think a great outcome of this would be for someone to put the type of games into some sort of simple framework and then say what our business strategy for each type is.  One serious fly in the ointment was the that the BBC is in a tricky space from a regulatory perspective when it comes to games but, interestingly, the ways of working in this space that we talked about almost all included collaboration with the games (or other) industries, which I think show how we could create beneficial partnerships across the range of games and I think that if this was mapped against the framework for the types of games we could produce it could be a powerful way forward in a space that’s traditionally been very difficult.

There’s probably already a bright spark someplace in the BBC that’s already done this so if you’re out there, please, come out, come out wherever you are…

Which reminds me – if nothing else – today was a great day for meeting and connecting with alot of smart folk from around the business I work in.  The type of day that makes me really happy to work for the Beeb.

Session 4: My session! – Should We Bother With Bluetooth?

I lead a conversation with a few other people about whether or not we should try to use Bluetooth as a distribution mechanism.  The conversation basically centred around the fact that Bluetooth is widely used by teens and a free technology which makes it even more attractive to them.  In fact, one report I read said that UK teens and young people use Bluetooth more than their peers in any other country.  All that said, when we’ve tried to do projects using Bluecasting, the results have been underwhelming.

Bluecasting and users Bluetoothing content to each other are clearly two different ways of communicating and what I took away from the session is that we should move our Bluetooth efforts towards trying to fit with the natural behaviour that teens have – sending stuff between themselves – rather than trying to be a, errrr, broadcaster pushing content over-the-air to them in a linear fashion (Bluecasting).  We talked about trying to create a non-linear narrative that was distributed this way and how you might be able to use it in conjunction with a ‘hidden camera’ or game show…  If anyone has any ideas, please shout!

A few thoughts on how the day was shaped

It was great that people took the time out to organise the day and, as I said above, it was a really good one that made me happy to be working at the BBC.  But I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the format since creative facilitation is one of my interests.

The day was billed as an ‘unconference’ that was self organising.  The ‘un organisers’ put a grid of times and tables on the board and asked people to talk about something or pose a question for people to join them to talk about.  It reminded me of the ‘Open Space’ methodology which I’ve seen used other places with slightly different executions.

Open Space aims to be light touch and when you have a bunch of like-minded and engaged people in a room works well but, there’s a few things that still could have gone better:

Ground rules.  You gotta have em.  I know that no one likes them and thinks they know them, but there were a few times today when I thought it would have been good to remind people that in this type of setting ‘no idea is a bad idea’, etc.  We were told ‘No Powerpoint’ upfront – which was a godsend.  I also felt like it would have been helpful to have a few neutral facilitators around to help slow conversations build up momentum – or even just some pointers about unconference techniques that work well, for people who felt ‘stuck’ during their conversations.

Also, moving on from these types of events is always hard.  We talked about this a little bit at the end, but a mechanism to help people try to take something concrete away might have strengthened it.  In any training on how to run these types of things, one of the thing you learn is that you should ‘record everything’ and I really agree with that.  Lots of people were making notes today – and I’m sure I’m not the only one blogging by any stretch of the imagination – but I still feel like some great stuff might get lost – purely because there was just SO much good stuff!

Korea: X|Media Lab: 3D internet, virtual worlds and Mobile

I did two speeches back-to-back earlier today at the X|Media Lab and Mobile Content 2008.  In both, I gave an overview of what the BBC’s been doing on mobile; which is slightly ironic since the Koreans are so far ahead of the UK, technologically.  Hopefully I had alot to share with the audiences about the content side of things.

The theme of this X|Media Lab is “3D Internet: Virtual, Visual and Social.”  I have to admit, I don’t know a hell of alot about the 3D internet other than that it exists and has a huge audience.  Before spending last week at Crossover Nordic, I didn’t realise just what a huge audience it has but when it was put in the context that many of the big worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life have more inhabitants than many real-world countries, my ears perked up and I realised it was time to pay more attention.  Good thing I’m here.  But what on earth was I going to talk about?

The answer had to be about how mobile and virtual worlds could overlap and complement each other.  Here’s my presentation (.ppt) and I’ll elaborate on it below, because the more I think about it the more excited I get about the possibilities.  Click to Download: X|Media Lab Presentation

So here’s what I suggested could be done:

1) Mobile can provide a persistent and ubiquitous connection the worlds, extending the opportunities for play and connection to the worlds.

Users of these worlds are ‘addicted’ to them and I suspect would welcome any opportunities to be more connected, more immersed and able to constantly participate ‘in world.’  I understand there are some Flash clients being developed for phones that will hopefully create 2D or 3D versions of the worlds.  This seems good, but like a ‘mini-me’ type of approach; and I’m not sure this will work.  Will the screens be big enough and good enough to render something useful?  Will on-the-go users really want to pay this much attention?  Or would they rather a thinner connection when the world is in their pocket at work?

On thing I spend alot of time telling people is that mobile ‘isn’t just a mini version of the web.’  Sure, mobiles access the web, but a mere copy and paste approach doesn’t always ensure success.

I think it might be cool to see if the types of services that help audiences stay in touch with their real world would be popular with helping them stay in touch with their virtual worlds.  SMS alerts sent from the worlds or text messages from or between characters in the world seem like an obvious opportunity. Imagine a guild of players in World of Warcraft texting out of the world to players in another guild to get online and help them in a battle where they need backup/support.  Texts would reach the players and they could rush from the real world back to their PCs to get in world and play.

The Twitter Fountain in Second Life is a start at this as Keren Flavell from SLCN.TV pointed out to me, but its still feels more like novelty and the beginning of something better:

And what types of web apps could provide data from the worlds to thin mobile clients, widgets or even simple mobile web pages?

2) Thinking about this type of connection and play, I wonder how these could be crossed with Alternate Reality Games.  ARGs are doing more out of home and with the crossover between real the real world and mobile and I think that this type of crossover could be replicated into the virtual world – possibly even triangulated between reality, alternate reality and the virtual world.  What a game that could make.  Can you geocache in any virtual worlds (yet)?

3) So how could all this work.  Well, I’m no expert.  But I have an idea that flexible, open web services could sit in the middle of these different ‘worlds’ (aka media) and provide the glue that lets transactions and interactions flow between them.

For example, using the Last.fm API you could (I think) create a situation like this if you built the right connections into the Virtual Worlds, Mobile Web, etc:

- I’m in a physical store and see a CD I want to recommend to a friend;

- I capture the barcode/semacode on the packaging which gives me information about the album from the mobile web on my phone;

- I could then choose someone from a list of virtual friends to recommend the track to;

- They would get notified, in say Second Life, and be able to stream the track for free;

- If the friend likes the song, they could add it to a Last.fm style playlist or even buy the track using real or virtual currencies.

In my presentation, I tried to describe it with this diagram:

To elaborate…  If we’re moving to a world where the ‘Internet of Things’ is becoming a reality, then everything around us will be connected, not just our devices.  This should apply to things in the virtual world as well.  If flexible and open web services can connect to these via mobile devices, strong connections between the real and virtual world can be created.  Behind this a strong system design strategy would be required.  Expanding from the idea that ‘Designing for Accessibility is good design’ (because everyone can use it), you could move to the idea that designing for mobile is (also) good design because everyTHING (in the real and virtual worlds) can access and use the service.

I’m obviously not going to be the only one thinking about this stuff but sitting in a room full of experts on this world has me really excited.  Neil Katz, from IBM, told me about a few examples where you can start to see this stuff coming to life in a very basic way.

The first was an IBM R&D project that echoed/emulated a Virtual World on Treo device.  Video of it here:

He also showed me this motion-aware mobile interface on a Samsung for Virtual Worlds (very cool!):

Also: Click to download my Mobile Content 2008 Presentation (similar to the X|Media Lab presentation but with a little more detail on the specific content the BBC has done)