Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Computer mediated communication in games

Yesterday I attended an event focusing on social games. The event introduced new Playstation titles such as Jungle Party and Sport Quiz and a survey on playing habits and interests towards social gaming. Key take away points IMHO were: 1) the share of social games is already ~20% of Playstation Finland's turnover. 2) Girls have really got into gaming -- thanks to SingStar and Buzz games. 3) Gaming has been social but now it is Social 2.0 :D Sorry, I couldn't insist the lame web2.0 joke. 4) People seem to be open to new ideas: majority of the respondents were interested in a game on human relationships! (future of The Sims perhaps?)

Another ground for social gaming is of course the Internet. World of Warcraft is THE MMOG at the moment with its overwhelming number of registered users: 7,5 Million. While the yesterday's superheroes: South Korean games (Kartrider, Lineage II) attract 1-3 million users, UK-based company Galaxylife surprised me with their claim to shake the current conventions.

According to The Argus: "The game, also called Galaxylife, is part of a new generation of social or "community" games which focus on interaction and personal expression. Galaxylife allows people to play each other on any device - PC, laptop, Apple, mobile phones, Smartphone and PDAs. The game is free to download and free to play. Galaxylife will make money by selling virtual goods."

What I found especially interesting was that their CEO Tim Greenhalgh estimates sales could hit £11 million within two years - with net profits touching £7 million. That is a strong claim especially when the competition is really tight and Galaxylife Ltd is just about to launch Galaxylife MMOG at the end of January 2007.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Video games into movies

Media integration is no news. Boundaries between different media (video game, movie, book, tv, radio...) are flexible. Popular book are made into movies and movies formulated into books. Video game has been a marginal form of entertainment but as you can see, the number of video games put into movies is increasing. A common claim has been that movie based video games are equal to bad movies. I agree that it is a challenge to put straightforward games such as Mortal Kombat into a movie. The game is all about "Fight!" "K.O.!" Who would like to experience that ~2 hours without the ability to interact?

Currently the brand matters not a media format. Harry Potter is the thing. The original "format" of the idol is a by-matter. Harry Potter is a protagonist, movie star, hero, character in a book, miniture figure, idol, ... All in one. Thus it is interesting to follow the discussion of Doubutsu no mori (Animal Crossing) movie (will be showing in cinemas in Dec06 in Japan). People seem to have rather negative views of movies based on video games. "Why to make a movie of Animal Crossing?" "If not adapted it will be a boring one" etc. I agree that some video game movies have been rather weak ones causing low sales figures.

Maybe I am still charmed by Totoro but for me Animal Crossing - The Movie doesn't seem to be that far fetched idea. The game gives quite a bit of possibilities for the story (movie) and because this is an animated film the authors do not have similar challenges as the producers of Tomb Raider movie. If you don't remember, there was a lot of talk about choosing the perfect Lara Croft look-a-like heroire, an actress not too known but perhaps not too unknown either who will come up with the goods. Whatever the truth it is interesting to see what type of audience will go to see Animal Crossing the movie. And do they promote the movie as "based on a video game"? Who cares anymore?

Monday, November 20, 2006

1990s strikes back!

1996 was the peak of (the first) girl games' movement. Brenda Laurel, Theresa Duncan, Laura Groppe and others founded companies such as Purple Moon, Her Interactive, Girl Games Inc. and Rhinestone Publishing. First Girl Games came out in 1993, Barbie Fashion Designer became a first best seller girl game in 1996 and surprised the market. Some legends claim that Barbie beated Quake (the hottest game on earth at that time) in sales figures but that was not the case. Barbie Fashion Designer did well though. The game was the sixth best-selling CD-ROM game in 1996 and 1997. Mattel sold more than 200,000 units within the first month of its release. In the last two months of 1996, retailers sold $11.5 million worth. After the success of Barbie game entrepreneurs got aggressively into girl games business and nearly 200 titles for girls were published in 1997 according to market analysts. Companies such as GirlGames and GirlTech flourished and web pages were pinky and fluffy.

In 1997 Girl Games Inc. published Let's Talk about Me which had four major sections entitled "My Personality," "My Body," "My Life," and "My Future." With the exception of the latter, they all offer a mixture of information and fun. Now Exchange4media has launched an online community for girls in the 14-19 age group to share their joys and anxieties and get solutions to their growing up concerns. is a guide to knowing what a girl always wants to know, but perhaps never asked. There are various interactive sections – viz. Your Body, Your Mind, Beauty, and Love and Relationships. For serious advice on family, friends, school and health, one can click on ‘Advice for Life’. Personal advice can be sought by posing the problem to ‘Ask Nisha’, a girl’s virtual friend. Beinggirl looks much better and has better content than girlspace ( but certainly miss the gaming part).

For me Beinggirl sounds like a re-run of Let's Talk about Me?! The 1997 version failed but perhaps better interaction possibilities and community aspect would do the trick? It is somewhat funny to follow the current trends (second wave of girl games) -- Pink PSPs and NDSs are currently available and titles / services published are leaning to the same images as girlgames SMEs in the 1990s. What were the lessons to be learned -- or is it just a question of timing? What I know is that Mimi Smartypants (Rhinestone Publishing) was one of my favourites. Especially the PANCAKE songs were excellent! There were five-to-six songs... well... about pancakes -- and they were really funny ones :)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Web2.0 = broadband?

On Friday I took part in SOMED workshop 'Social media in the Crossroads of physical, digital and virtual worlds'. The key note speaker was Petteri Järvinen. (For those who don't know, Mr. Järvinen was a PC-pioneer and published several down to earth books of micro computers, PC applications and viruses in 1986-1990. He has received several awards for popularizing ICT techology and currently continues writing books (current book: Improve Your Data Security came out in 2006) and works as a consultant. Even though he is an expert in ICT his 'In English' page on his website does not seem to work.)

Anyhow Mr. Järvinen gave a nice, provocative introduction to the topic. He pointed out the amount of hassle there is around social media and web2.0 but found it relatively hard to find clear definition of it/them. By bringing to a head: he made a conclusion that Web2.0 = broadband because minute based Internet rates do not bound the users no more, videos and multimedia seems to be at the core of the use of social media and people spend more and more time online. I just wonder is social media about content and services or participation and enjoyment after all, or is it just another technology-driven trend that really makes no difference in the long run?

Broadband certainly is an enabler but would social media happen without it? I think 'yes' because comparable trends have existed before the invention of web2.0. Eric von Hippel talked about user innovations already in the 1970s. Users have been creating content, annotating and promoting home made stuff way before computers became common. Content were not published globally but it certainly was published for a certain audience. Another example with a 'global appearance' is fanzines. I published Diarium Autopsia metal fanzine in the beginning of 1990s with my friend Heidi and we had subscriptions from over 20 countries (Europe, South America, North America, Australia and Asia). Our subscribers could easily answer to Mr. Järvinen's question: 'What do I want?'. It might be true that Petteri Järvinen would categorize Diarium Autopsia to the same class as digital games and TV series Lost or CSI -- trash. Which means that Mr. Järvinen does not belong in to our target group unlike hundreds of others. In the case of web2.0 we could give similar answer to the question 'What do I want?' -- and the answer is: 'Who are you?' In the case of 'everyone publishes' it is easier to reach sub-groups and minority audiences via the net. Which makes it even more difficult to define the target group.

The third issue I found interesting was about audiences. Petteri Järvinen talked about blogs and wondered what is the purpose of such 'write only' medium (again intensified by me). Shouldn't there be an audience for whom to write a blog? Exactly! There is expected to be a number of subscribers for newspapers but would a blog be a noteworthy medium even though it would be written just for me even though I would not mind if someone would find my blog while Googling? Is this a weak signal alluding to new demands for newspaper publishing as well? Newspaper will most definitely change because already now they are already full of old information when they are delivered. I have to think that though further. Until next time!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

People on the move

By 2009, just under one billion mobile phone units will be shipped, up from 743.2 million in 2006. Consumers are increasingly using their mobile phones to play music and games, gamble and access adult content. As a result, the global market for mobile entertainment is predicted to be worth in the region of $40 bn by 2010. This is good news for e.g. Ironstar Helsinki which is preparing a mobile multiplayer simulation game 'PocketPal' - a mindblowing mobile experience due to be launched soon. According to Business Insight (The Future of Convergence report) worldwide annual shipments of smartphones grew from around 14.6 million units in 2003 to 26.5 million in 2004, rising to 42.5 million in 2005. The worldwide smartphone market is expected to more than triple to reach sales of 153.5 million by 2010. What is also interesting is that according to the analysts in 2009 167 million broadcast-TV-to-mobile enabled handsets will be shipped, representing almost 18% of the entire 935 million handsets which are expected to be produced in 2009. This will give interesting opportunities to content developers if nothing else. I just hope it won't take another 2-3 years until mobile services start to fly.

Monday, November 13, 2006

TV+SMS = the beginning of Interactive television?

SMS TV games have been around for a while already. To my knowledge the first TV SMS games were aired in 2001 in Finland. Companies such as Frantic, Add2Phone, Fun2Phone and RedLynx have been active in the field. Also services by e.g. Yarosa, MIXTV and Two Way TV are currently on the air around the world.

Surely there have been interactive tv & movie experiments at technical and design universities already before 2001. Interactive tv experiment Cause and Effect (2003) by Teijo Pellinen&co. is one of my personal favourite. The experiments with audio interaction and unlinear storytelling have been funny ones but TV SMS chats and games were (IMHO) first successful itv products for mass market. The [first] peak of such interactive tv services seemed to be the year 2003. Besides Cause&Effect and other projects, TV SMS games were superpopular.

According to McKinsey’s report, in 2003, approximately 900 million SMS messages were exchanged through TV related services in Europe. The European SMS market generated more than 400 million euros in 2003, which is expected to grow to 750 million euros in 2004. At the same year Antti Seppänen gave a speech at the GDC on TV SMS services and the bright future of mobile entertainment. A year later a broader picture was put up at IST Event 2004 at The Hague (NL). Monique de Haas chaired a session at the conference and published a report of the discussion. She continues the discussion at her blog. What is interesting though, is that despite the development of digital television, itv experiments and fresh ideas, TV SMS services still are a sort of "killer app" of interactive television. Let's see if digital television or mobile television will bring something new to the picture. Join us at Dubrovnik Pub at 23rd November 2006 and chat about the future of mobile multimedia!

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Games are good for you!

Finnish media has (finally) understood that violent games are not the total picture of digital game cultures. Tomorrow morning YLE's AamuTV (Morning TV) will discuss about beneficial games (serious games) which educate e.g. about nutrition, world hunger or recycling. World Food Programme's Food Force is an excellent example of successful combination of play and education/edification. Helsingin Sanomat NYT published an article about it on Friday.

And this week SubTV will air documentary on The Sims. The Sims does not belong into the same category as beneficial games but it certainly enables people to play on social relations, fame/fortune or even life/death. The documentary nicely shows how virtual hobbies can have an influence to the real life even though the game would not be MMOG (massive multiplayer online game) or other ways networked experience.

Social, informational and physical games are developing into interesting sub-cultures of gaming. As most of you probably know The Sims is the ultimate best seller of digital games. The Sims and its sequals have sold over 25 million units. DDR (Dance Dance Revolutions) have some 2 million gamers worldwide and even informational games are on the rise thanks to Food Force, sites such as Nutrition Explorations and McDonalds. I should also mention PSP Lonely Planet guides as that is a KILLER idea. I really liked the interface and the whole idea of portable, durable and updateable Lonely Planet guide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Foresight: 3rd generation game consoles

I went to a party arranged by Playstation to check out PS3 presentation on 28th October in Helsinki. The first PS3 console had arrived to Finland and Mr. Thomas Puha (editor of Finnish Pelaaja mag.) was invited to present PS3 titles Motostorm and Resistence. [[A bit late, you might think... Isn't blogging supposed to be super fast media, telling the news before anyone else? Oh well. I had my birthday, one of my friend adopted a boy and just brought him back to Finland, Halloween happened and all that have totally consumed my spare time :) Plus ex-ski jumper, ex-stripper and a singer Matti Nykänen's performance at the PS party left me out of words.]] Anyhow I was surprised how uninnovative and lame the PS3 games were. Besides the demos, we watched six minutes of PS3 trailers and IMHO Motostorm was the only one that caught my eye.

Thus Yankee Group's estimate that Sony would lead in next-gen market share by 44% in 2011, (with Xbox 360 taking a close 40% share, followed by Wii with a wee little bitty 16% share) at least raises some questions. It is true that PS2 have a solid lead but how much content actually matters? Why to buy a 3rd gen. console if there are no must-have titles? I am a fan of PS but I really admire Nintendo's boldness (e.g. NDS Electroplankton, Nintendo Wii) and am interested in novel ways of interacting with the games. Maybe Wii's tennis will finally displace Sega Dreamcast Virtual Tennis from the 1st position of 'the best tennis game'?

Discussions concerning PS3 vs. Wii vs. XBox360 can be found from the net, e.g. MercuryNews. PS3 and Wii both have qualities of expanding the users by supporting 'party gaming'. Digital gaming is partly developing towards social activity and spectator sport. That is an outstanding development even compared to the point of time Playstation was relased in 1995. Back then Sony's marketing strategy was a clever one (selling PS as a trendy and socially acceptable piece of consumer electronics instead of a computer) and now it seems that consumers are accepting PS as a home entertainment/media center.

For the last few days I have played EyeToy Lemmings and I am quite excited. I like previous EyeToy games but Lemmings is really bringing something new to the EyeToy gaming experience. I have some technical problems though. EyeToy games work well on my living room except Lemmings. Lemming is often interpreting dark shadow at the background as a part of the player (=me) which makes it practically impossible to play as Lemmings cannot go through the 'wall' (the shadow that is). I quess that's a question of lightning or background colours. Lemmings has nothing to do with 3rd gen. consoles but I sincerely hope that game developers and publishers have not totally abandon innovations when avoiding risks.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fill out our questionnaire: Mobile TV hot or not?

If you want to get an overview of the current state of Mobile Television business, I urge you to fill out Mobile TV Hot or Not? questionnaire:

The results will be published on 23rd Nov. 2006 at the IST Event 2006, INCCOM Congress and online. This questionnaire is done in open innovation fashion so if you want to get the Excel-files of the survey, please drop me a line.

The questionnaire is a part of EC-funded INCCOM project.