Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sabbatical Cruising - Next Stop: Serious Games Summit @ GDC 2010



Dear All

I'll be traveling about over the next few weeks. My next stop will be early March, in San Francisco, to attend the Serious Games Summit at GDC 2010.

As my friends from Electric Owl Studios, Pittsburgh, PA, said: GDC is a "blast" - I would add: an "unmissable" (blast).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brazil's Video Game Ecosystem: Superior Serious Games Products


Serious Games are part of nascent Brazilian games market


Via: Gamasutra - Analysis: Inside Brazil's Video Game Ecosystem
by James Portnow

Gamasutra has posted on January 20 an in-depth analysis of Brazil's video game market, authored by Divide By Zero CEO - James Portnow. According to the article, Brazil's game dev. market is underdeveloped, but James Portnow believes it has "infinite possibility." In this detailed regional analysis, he explains why.

James also states that "The Brazilian government has been active in subsidizing, assisting, and incentivizing the creation of educational games". As a result, the Serious Games products coming out of Brazil are, in his opinion, superior to what he has seen come out of the US.

Here is the full article:

Recently, an unusual opportunity came across my desk. It required that I do some business in Brazil. I knew nothing of the Brazilian games industry, so I began to ask around. To my surprise, no one else seemed to know much about either, so I just took the leap and headed south.

Beyond my business dealings, I tried to do as much general fact finding as possible while there. Here’s what I learned.

Overview

Brazil is a place of infinite possibility. It has the drive, the wealth, and a large enough highly educated populace to become the next Korea. It has a large, well established "gamer" demographic and a remarkable desire to grow its own national industry. It is also unfettered by the traditions and mindset that many of the more established markets have developed.

I believe there are great opportunities for members of the US game industry in Brazil, but there are also great obstacles. Piracy is rampant, the industry is inexperienced, funding is almost nonexistent, distribution is next to impossible, and the government is either apathetic or hostile. It’s a risky place. My money says there will either be a boom in the next decade or the industry in Brazil will never start.

I’ll try to go over in depth what I see as the challenges facing the industry in Brazil, the possibilities on the horizon, and what we, the international development community, can do to help the Brazilian industry overcome the hurdles they face -- and how we benefit by doing so.

Hurdles and Possibilities

First, the elephant in the room...

Hurdles

Piracy in Brazil

I’ve long heard other people in the industry say Brazil simply isn't a viable market for games because of the piracy rate. This isn't true. It’s not a viable market for games because of the tax rate.

Games which are six months old in the US are being sold through legitimate vendors at 250 reais, or around $140 US dollars. This is an exorbitant price. It’s prohibitive. If you’re reading this article, you're probably pretty into games and know many people who are. Think about yourself and your friends. How many games would you purchase per year at $140? One, maybe two? Would you buy a console in the first place if you knew that every game you were going to buy was $140? All the consoles I saw in Brazil were sold at roughly one and a half to two times their price in the United States as well.

What if I then told you that you couldn't get on Xbox Live in Brazil? Would you buy an Xbox 360?

Even the very wealthy Brazilians with whom I spoke bought the majority of their legitimate games through Steam or other digital distribution services. For console games, Play Asia is by far the most popular choice (Amazon won’t even ship most games to Brazil), followed by Submarino.com (which still has exorbitant prices but occasionally has good sales), with the local retail outlets being a distant third.

The sad fact about all this is that the retail outlets seem almost exclusively to cater to parents who don't know where else to go. That's anecdotal evidence, but after spending several hours loitering in major retail game stores in several different states, it seemed universally to be the case.

All this isn’t to say piracy isn't an issue. Pirate stores sell games at 5-15 reais ($2.80-$8.50) and have better service. For the most part, pirate game dealerships are small local operations that know their clientele and are willing to go further for their customers than the large retail chains. Interestingly enough, I heard people say that their pirate dealers would let them buy a game and, if they didn't like it, come back a few days later and switch it for something else. That's the sort of service I wish we had in the US.

Regardless of the extra service, people seemed interested in legitimate versions of games so long as they came at a reasonable price. In general people told me they’d be willing pay $20 to $30 more for a legitimate game over the pirated version. That number went up to approximately $40 if the game had internet play and required a legitimate version of the game to play online.

If anyone has sales figures of PlayStation 3 games in Brazil, I’d like to know. PS3 games are currently un-piratable due to the Blue Ray discs.

Academia in Brazil

In the field of research, Brazilian academics far outstrip current US efforts, at least with respect to the cultural and artistic merits of games. There is a disproportional number of government grants and university-sponsored research positions available to those who wish to explore the sociological and historical aspects of our medium.

Unfortunately, in terms of educating future developers to be prepared for the rigors of a career in the industry, Brazilian schools are woefully behind US standards (with the possible exception of a program being set up by Ubisoft in southern Brazil).

Universities across Brazil are currently making a concerted effort to offer game development as part of the potential coursework for students. Unfortunately these nascent programs have met with little success. Given the level of passion and determination I saw in the teachers and the students, I believe these programs will grow and perhaps become the backbone of the Brazilian games industry. But right now, they face challenges unthinkable in the United States.

Brazilian professors have an incredible opportunity -- their game development programs have the chance to grow alongside the private sector aspect of the industry and thus be considered a vital part of the industry as a whole, as opposed to in the United States, where university efforts aren’t well integrated into the larger machinery of the industry. Unfortunately, this opportunity brings with it a monumental challenge: building development classes without a strong local development community.

Schools in Brazil do not have the existing industry from which to draw resources. They do not receive technology from game companies, they don't have internships available to their students, and, perhaps most importantly, they don’t have the opportunity to draw on the experience and talent of the industry to provide teachers and lecturers.

Additionally, interdepartmental cooperation in Brazil seems to be an even bigger hurdle in Brazil than in the United States. In many of the schools I visited, the game development courses were the purview of specific departments. (The split is fairly even between schools that had game development courses run by an art department and those run by the computer science division. Humorously enough, I ran into several programs that were essentially part of the fashion design track.) This means students rarely get to work in interdisciplinary groups, and we all know game development simply can't be taught in a useful manner without exposing students to the diverse specialties that go into game creation.

On top of these underlying challenges, many of these programs lack the resources and infrastructure vital to a successful game development degree. They lack commercial software, modern hardware and even, at times, proper lab and classroom space. If anyone reading this is interested in donating software or hardware to some of these Brazilian programs, feel free to contact me.

Oi Futuro Nave

There was one particular school I came across during my trip, a high school called Oi Futuro Nave. In it I saw the future.

Oi Futuro Nave may be the boldest educational experiment I've ever encountered. It is the child of a partnership between one of Brazil's largest cell phone carriers, Oi, and the government of Rio de Janeiro. The goal of their experiment is nothing short of preparing students for the technological culture of the future.

Every classroom in Oi Futuro Nave is equipped with the latest technology, from digital white boards to modern computers. Even the building is a reminder of and a monument to technology, for Oi Futuro Nave occupies part of one of Oi’s central switching stations. Students can see the massive banks of cables that keep their neighborhood connected through the windows in the cafeteria's walls.

The students specialize in animation, script writing, or game programming. They work in multidisciplinary teams to create projects that incorporate each of these specialties. They spend long days, usually from 8am to 5pm (most Brazilian public high schools have a truncated school day of only four to five hours), working both on these projects and learning all traditional subjects.

t's a young school, having been around only three years, so it has yet to see a class graduate. When the first class enters college, the metrics they return in higher education will say a great deal about the success of the experiment, but so far what I saw there seemed like a testament to the power of technology and education.

Oi Futuro Nave is a public school. This means none of the students pay to go there and they all come from the public school system, which is otherwise notoriously awful. The engagement I saw from students who would may otherwise have simply checked out proves to me its success. Its value comes from the fact that, while the setup costs for the school exceeded other schools of its size, the year to year operating costs (as I understood it) are competitive with other schools of its size -- schools which offer a much worse education.

Oi Futuro Nave takes the mystery out modern technology for these kids, but it leaves the magic. This is the future of pedagogy.

Publishers

How do you finance a project in Brazil?

This question may present us with the biggest hurdle facing the Brazilian games industry. There are no major Brazilian publishers and none of the major Eastern or Western publishers have a large presence in Brazil, with the possible exception of Ubisoft. Venture capital for game development is even more difficult to acquire in Brazil than in the United States (I did not meet a single venture-backed developer, and all agreed that since the dot-com bubble, finding venture has been nearly impossible). Bank loans are equally difficult to get for Brazilian developers. All of the companies I encountered were either self-funded or backed by small private angels.

There is limited governmental support in the form of grants for edutainment games and simulations, which has lead to some growth in the serious games industry in Brazil, but there is little in the way of subsidies or matching funds available to traditional game developers.

Without financial support, many companies are reduced to relying on work for hire to stay in business. This means that their own projects drag on and rarely reach completion, which in turn hamstrings the growth of the Brazilian games industry.

Development

With the exception of Southlogic (the makers of Deer Hunter, recently acquired by Ubisoft) and perhaps Tendi Software (creators of TriLinea for Xbox Live Arcade Indie Games), most of the viable Brazilian industry is focused on smaller non-console titles. They have some incredibly strong mobile developers, including Gameloft and Glu Mobile, but -- much as in the United States -- the mobile game market is practically a separate industry to those creating experiences on any other platforms.

PC and console development in Brazil is in its nascent stages and the Brazilian games industry suffers from many of the problems that afflict the amateur and independent game development community in the United States. Primarily, they have no sense of scope (this is a gross generalization; there are plenty of exceptions, but not many that I encountered). Unlike in the US, where the industry had the luxury of growing up in the Atari era, when a game could be brought to completion by a single individual, game makers in Brazil expect to jump in and start making AAA experience like those they play. Given the funding and trained talent available in the Brazilian industry today, this is an impossibility.

The Brazilian industry is also plagued with too many people who want to be designers. The industry there hasn't coalesced enough yet to establish designer as a separate job. In many of the teams I encountered, most of the team members took part in the design (with perhaps a designated designer as the lead) and, while I believe everyone should have some input, this design by committee approach leads to massive amounts of scope creep and lack of a clear and unified vision. This is something the industry will mature beyond, but until it does, it will prevent the community from ever successfully developing larger products.

There is also something of a brain drain. The most talented and successful Brazilian developers tend to end up working in the US, which means that there aren't enough experienced leads available for beginning businesses. Many times I saw Brazilian developers reach outside the industry for their leads, looking to commercial software engineers and members of the advertisement industry, which uses a great deal of pre-rendered CG, for artists and developers.

On the positive side, wages are lower than in the US. Junior staff tended to receive roughly 20 percent of US wages, with more senior people (especially foreign employees) getting closer to parity with their US counterparts. Unfortunately for anyone hoping to set up a company there, it’s important to remember that you have to estimate wages to roughly double in total cost because of taxes and mandatory benefits.

Another difficulty facing the nascent Brazilian games market is the way the international community deals with Brazil. The few major multinational companies that have game development studios in Brazil seem to be focused on producing products for the international market rather than attempting to grow the national market. This is clearly the safer choice at this point, and may be the correct business decision, but it does curtail the growth of Brazil as a viable marketplace for games.

Several startup companies working on handheld projects mentioned to me they had difficulty getting dev kits and had to switch over to developing for the PC instead. I don’t know how prevalent this is, but without development kits, Brazilian talent will never learn to build for the consoles and will remain of little use to the triple-A console industry.

Distribution

The Brazilian games market also faces the lack of a dominant national retail chain devoted exclusively to games. Say what you will about GameStop, but they do us one service: They provide us with a single entity to work with.

uring my stay in Brazil I visited 31 different game stores. Each of these stores had different ownership, different stock, different displays, and different billing systems. Ensuring your product got into all of the small legitimate stores in Brazil would be a nightmare. Trying to ensure they all paid you on time -- well, that might be an impossibility.

Brazil lacks its own digital distribution structure as well. The majority of the Brazilian gamers I spoke with knew (and sometimes used) Steam. Some had heard of Impulse and Greenhouse. None could tell me of a Brazilian company that provided the same sort of service.This problem is compounded for the Brazilian developers. Most of the studios I talked to didn’t know how to, and didn't believe they even could, get distributed through US services.

Without distribution the internal market in Brazil is stillborn.

Possibilities

Despite all this, there are many ways for Brazil to bloom into an incredible market and a powerful development industry.

Online

The first and most obvious area of opportunity is the online space. I don't think Brazilian developers have the knowhow at this point to make a major Western-style MMO or even compete with second-tier MMOs coming out of Korea or China, but they do have the ability to create very powerful social network- or browser-based MMOs.

The market for traditional MMOs in Brazil is deceptively small. There are about 1.5 million players playing traditional MMOs on legitimate servers in Brazil, but there are a great number of people in Brazil who play MMOs on pirate servers. For many MMOs, Brazil is second only to Russia in its number of pirate servers. While this may seem like a negative, it proves two things: one, that there is interest in MMOs, and two, that there is a lot of rudimentary knowledge of how the back end for MMOs works. After all, if you can figure out how to set up a pirate server from the packets sent to your client, you’ve got to know something.

Brazil also has a highly wired culture, with a great deal of wi-fi-based internet access in the urban centers and 2,000 to 3,000 major internet cafes plus an additional 20,000 smaller unlicensed internet cafes. The problem with the internet in Brazil is that it's not always reliable.

All these facts, as well as the limitations of the hardware available at the internet cafes, suggest to me the possibility of a vibrant web-based MMO community fueled by microtransactions or even more creative monetization methods. Anything that could leverage the man hours and human labor available in Brazil rather than charge hard currency could be incredibly powerful there.

Outside Political Pressure

At relatively low cost, I believe international corporations could work with the industry in Brazil to get the protective tariff on games removed, which would allow game retailers to drop the prices of consoles and console games to US standards, which would in turn go a long way to help eliminate piracy. Without such a step, I believe eradicating piracy or reducing it to manageable levels will be impossible.

There is already such a bill in front of the Brazilian senate, but it is currently languishing in committee.

I also believe the Brazilian government could be convinced to begin incentivizing foreign investment in the games industry. The government is amenable to both cultural programs and to technological investment.

Once piracy decreases, the Brazilian development community and the internal Brazilian market can become viable within a few years. As it takes publishers much longer to coalesce than development houses, I see an opportunity for major Western (or even Eastern) publishers to become the dominant force and the exclusive publishers for Brazil. Foreign publishers could then exploit the comparatively lower development costs in Brazil to turn out culturally relevant (that is, locally successful) titles for all of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.

Serious Games

The Brazilian government has been active in subsidizing, assisting, and incentivizing the creation of educational games. As a result, the Serious Games products coming out of Brazil are, in my opinion, superior to what I've seen come out of the US.

While subjects that fall under the liberal arts are harder to translate across international lines, the sciences are universal. I saw products that could easily be integrated into American classrooms or shipped around the world as top-tier educational games. In the world of edutainment, Brazil will undoubtedly be an international player in the years to come.

Interactive TV

The last and perhaps most interesting prospect for kick-starting the games industry in Brazil is the country's version of digital cable. Its system is designed for interactivity to a much greater degree than ours is in the US. In 2016 they will stop using analog signals entirely, forcing a nationwide switch to digital, and, given television's incredible 90 percent-plus penetration rate, there will be roughly 150 to 170 million digital televisions in Brazilian homes as soon as the switch occurs.

This means that in 2016 there will effectively be a new console with an install base of at least 150 million -- higher than the install base of every current-generation console on the market combined right now -- with software that is totally unpiratable, which lends itself to smaller games, and which is free from outside competition. You can see where I'm going with this.

The only question is how the content will be monetized. None of the developers that I spoke with could tell me if the government or cable companies would simply pay for content then freely distribute it, or if there would be some sort of App Store-like model. If they go with the latter, I believe it will single-handedly infuse the Brazilian industry with the capital it needs to get off the ground.

There might also be incredible opportunities here for foreign developers. I am currently exploring the possibility of getting foreign content onto the system.

Conclusion

Now is the time to get into Brazil. The margin is right. If I were a betting man, I'd say the odds are about three to one that the Brazilian industry never gets off the ground. But at the same time, I'd say the return on resources invested in Brazil at this point will be at least ten to one if the industry does get past its infancy. I also believe that foreign entities have an opportunity to better those odds of the Brazilian industry becoming successful.

But Brazil is not a place for the risk-averse. You can't walk into Brazil assuming things operate there the way they do in the US. It's an easy place to lose your money and wind up with absolutely nothing to show for it. Things there will be the wild west for at least another five years. On the other hand, companies can test the waters right now at little expense, and if things go the right way, a little money now could be a lot of money in the near future.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to commit a little down there. Not enough to leave me busted, but enough that if it goes well, I'm in on the ground floor.

If you have any further questions or inquiries about the Brazilian video game industry, please contact me. I will respond to the best of my ability, or at least see that they get forwarded to the right people.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Book: Creating Independent Serious Games From Start to Finish

End-to-End Serious Games Development



Via: End to End Game Development Blog

About The Book

The tools for game creation are more widely available, and less costly, than ever before. Schools, businesses, organizations (public and private) and political movements are all aware of the power of interactive games to teach, train, and persuade — and grants, internal corporate funding and other monies are often available to create serious game and simulation products. But if you’ve never made a game before, what do you do with that money?

End to End Game Development: Creating Independent Serious Games From Start to Finish, issued in December 15, 2009, is about the process of conceptualizing, developing, producing, distributing and marketing independent serious games and simulations.

Written by two veteran media content producers and creators, End to End Game Development provides no-nonsense advice and a step-by-step process to building an independent, low-budget serious game or simulation from start to finish.

About The Authors

Interested in a more detailed overview of how to combine narrative with gameplay? Wondering if classic Hollywood storytelling techniques might apply to the creation of serious games and simulations? Check out the author's first book for Focal Press, Story and Simulations for Serious Games, issued in November 29, 2006.

Nick Iuppa


Nick Iuppa has 40 years experience as a production executive, writer and interactive designer for entertainment and industry. Recently Nick completed an 11-year stint with Paramount Pictures where he served as Vice President and Creative Director of Paramount Digital Entertainment. For more about Nick…

Terry Borst

End to End Game Development is the second book Terry Borst has co-authored on the subject of serious game and simulation development, based on his narrative scripting and design work in the field during the decade. For more about Terry…

Extended & Bonus Chapters

There are good reasons to visit their website, and here are a few of them:

View, print and download an extended chapter 20 (Selecting Development Tools), an extended chapter 21 (The Design Document), and a bonus chapter 28 (Your Game, Version 2.0). And read updated information about game engine licensing fees (free! — in an increasing number of cases).

A bonus fable! More on wizards and corporate wizardry
Product Description By Amazon
 
You're part of a new venture, an independent gaming company, and you are about to undertake your first development project. The client wants a serious game, one with instructional goals and assessment metrics. Or you may be in a position to green light such a project yourself, believing that it can advance your organization's mission and goals. This book provides a proven process to take an independent game project from start to finish.
 
In order to build a successful game, you need to wear many hats. There are graphic artists, software engineers, designers, producers, marketers - all take part in the process at various (coordinated) stages, and the end result is hopefully a successful game. Veteran game producers and writers (Iuppa and Borst) cover all of these areas for you, with step by step instructions and checklists to get the work done.
 
The final section of the book offers a series of case studies from REAL indy games that have been developed and launched successfully, and show exactly how the principles outlined in the book can be applied to real world products.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cerebral Vortex: Research Driven Serious Games


Casual Serious Games



Via: Cerebral Vortex Games - Free iPhone Games On President’s Birthday

PRESS RELEASE

THOROLD, ON – January 22, 2010 – Cerebral Vortex Games, Inc. (CVG), a Thorold, ONTARIO-based developer of casual games, has announced that its President, Keith Makse is giving away their iPhone games away for free.

“Birthdays are like spinny rides”, said Makse. “You keep going around giggling until you lose your lunch. Then you get on again!”

In his best imitation of a spinny ride, Makse has dropped the price of his popular iPhone games, Word Burst, Sonus and iPrioritize to Free. “I should be celebrating my birthday like this every year”, said Makse, “Instead of me getting presents, I’m going to give them away! It’s like I’m January’s Santa!”

Established in October 2006, Cerebral Vortex Games is an independent Canadian-based developer creating casual and research driven serious games.

Cerebral Vortex Games is developing the Augmented Reality Game, Ghost Breaker, and have also been working on the psychology recorder, Happy Thoughts.

Download Word Burst on iTunes free

Word Burst is the on-the-go version of the company’s popular word/action Flash game. Gamers are presented with a grid full of random letters while a timer ticks down. Players spell words by rapidly clicking on letters. Creating a word and making it “burst” will award you points and more time—the longer the word, the better!



"With over 130,000 words, Word Burst has a bigger vocabulary than your English teacher," said Keith Makse, President of Cerebral Vortex Games. "Everything from 'Aardvark' to 'Zymurgy.'"


A high-tech variation on a classic memory game, Sonus challenges players to study a pattern of musical tones and multi-colored lights. They must repeat the pattern back by touching the correct buttons on screen. The stakes get higher as the pattern gets longer!



“Think you’ve got a good memory? Prove it with Sonus,” says Mr. Makse. “We have two awesome modes available: Repeat After Me and Reverse. We’ll be adding more cool modes for Sonus in the future,” added Mr. Makse. “So stay tuned.”


iPrioritize is a simple idea. It's a tool for you to use to get more results. Like any tool it takes some experimentation and playing with to master but many people find that it's the simple idea that makes the big difference.

To use iPrioritize just follow these steps:

- Add your main tasks that are in your head right now

- Answer the six simple questions

- Give your instant answer...don't over think

- Not sure means 'no'



Friday, January 22, 2010

BBC Back To The Games Market


BBC's commercial arm to make a return to the world of games




Via: MCV - BBC Gets Back Into Games

The BBC's commercial arm is to make a return to the world of games "in a big way" following the closure of its multimedia division in 2005, reports exclusively industry news source MCV.

BBC Worldwide is looking for publishers and developers who can turn suitable intellectual properties into games for the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo Wii, the iPhone and even into online games for the likes of Facebook.

The Worldwide department has even hired a former EA and Yahoo exec, Robert Nashak, as executive VP of digital entertainment in order to do so.

Children's brands such as "In The Night Garden" are said to be ripe for DS and Wii games, while Doctor Who titles could appeal to the older child and the likes of Top Gear to the big kid in all of us.

"We are open to conversations with anybody in games about all kinds of business models to see how we can extract more value", MCV quotes Neil Ross Russell, MD of children's and licensing as saying.

"Outside of Disney we have the most well-known line-up of children’s characters around the world".

Here is the full article :

Broadcaster's commercial division Worldwide wants to turn key IPs into DS, Wii, iPhone and online games, MCV can reveal.

After spending years sat on the fence, the BBC is returning to games in a big way, MCV can exclusively reveal.

Via its commercial arm BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster is courting both publishers and developers to turn Doctor Who, Top Gear, In The Night Garden and many, many more into games for all audiences.

No stone will go unturned: the BBC wants to see its brands on iPhone and Facebook as much as it wants to see them on DS and Wii.

“We are open to conversations with anybody in games about all kinds of business models to see how we can extract more value,” said Neil Ross Russell, MD of children’s and licensing.

“Outside of Disney we have the most well-known line-up of children’s characters around the world.”

It’s a big about-turn for the broadcaster. The BBC closed its Multimedia division in 2005 after sales crashed in its boxed product business, subsequently aborting an attempt to get a PS2 game of spy thriller Spooks off the ground.

“We’ve been reactive to the market in the last few years,” explained Dave Anderson, head of multimedia development at BBC Worldwide.

“There were a few opportunistic licensing deals, but we were largely aggregating and holding on to our properties to wait and see how the market developed.”

The new effort will push key kids’ IPs towards games for DS and Wii, while more long-running brands find their feet on all sorts of platforms.

But the move goes beyond just licensing out properties.

Said Ross Russell: “What we’re trying to do is build the brands here – this is not about opportunistic licensing. If we wanted to do that we would have done more with these key brands over the last few years.”

As part of the move, BBC Worldwide has hired former EA and Yahoo exec Robert Nashak as EVP of digital entertainment. More details on his appointment will follow tomorrow.

MCV will reveal more on BBC's new strategy to fund new titles based on its properties and work closer with games publishers and developers next week.

Games Market: Specialization Proceeds At Extraordinary Pace


 Games companies learning about the value of specialization

 
Via: gigamesindustry.biz

 giDaily Newsletter dated January 14th states that although most comentators agree that the story of games business in the past few years has been all about breaking into the mainstream, an  assessment of what's actually happened in games of late is a tale of companies learning about the value of specialization.

"The mid-section of this narrative is about companies learning that actually, the only way to keep those profit margins high is to learn what their strengths are, and focus on those areas - and about companies who can't make that transition gradually falling by the wayside."

Tha author goes further by saying that he suspects that this story ends in a few years' time, with a landscape largely made up of highly specialized companies, each focused on a relatively tight market segment. Some of them  will be modern publishers who have learned to focus; some will be developers who have learned that such tight focus can actually remove the need to work with a dedicated publisher, if you can build the right skillset.

The author provides anecdotal evidence of this transition in progress, the most dramatic example being Electronic Arts, whose entire restructuring plan can, on some levels, be summed up "as an attempt to give the giant publisher a laser-sharp focus on a small number of key areas which it can dominate, rather than simply being one among many in a wider variety of industry sectors. There's more to it than that, of course, but it's beyond question that Riccitiello's EA is proving much more circumspect about picking its battles than Probst's EA, which was willing to wade into any arena that presented itself, no matter how ill-equipped it may have been for the challenge."

"Meanwhile, outside the world's giant publishers", the author continues, "specialization proceeds at an extraordinary pace. When we first got excited about browser based games, Flash games and mobile phone games, there was always a vague assumption that these would be integrated into the operations of "real" game publishers some day. Even those companies which set themselves up as the leading publishers of such new content were often essentially designed to be acquired by a game publisher at some point down the line, rather than with the intention of ever really being a force in the wider market."

The author wraps up stating that companies are learning that such specialization isn't just viable, it's often healthy. In other words, "it's only to be expected that many of the industry's top publishers, after their flirtation with emerging markets, will fall back on what they know best - making core games for a core market."



Here is the full story:

Ask almost any journalist or commentator what the story of the games business in the past few years has been, and you'll probably get the same stock response. It's all about breaking into the mainstream, you'll almost certainly hear. It's about the rise of the Casual Gamer, this mythical mass-market beast unleashed upon the market by the dark genius of Nintendo's Wii and DS, whose successes other companies are now rushing to emulate.

It's a fairly straightforward narrative, and like any good story, there's a grain of truth at the heart of it - but as an assessment of what's actually happened in games of late, it's sorely lacking in insight, which makes it all the more disappointing that it's such a widespread view of the market.

What's really happened isn't so much a tale of cracking the mass-market (your granny may have bought a Wii, but the stark reality is that the console's installed base is still less than half that achieved by the PS2) as a tale of companies learning about the value of specialization. It's a story that starts in an industry dominated by publishers who view themselves as jacks of all trades, capable of straddling every genre and target market in the business - because after all, the consumers are all gamers, at the end of the day. The mid-section of this narrative is about companies learning that actually, the only way to keep those profit margins high is to learn what their strengths are, and focus on those areas - and about companies who can't make that transition gradually falling by the wayside.

And the third act? As ever, I'm reticent to stare too deeply into the crystal ball, but I suspect that this story ends in a few years' time, with a landscape largely made up of highly specialised companies, each focused on a relatively tight market segment. Some of them will be huge companies, aiming their efforts at a tight but very large segment, and some will successfully span several different sectors with highly differentiated subdivisions and sub-brands. Some will be modern publishers who have learned to focus; some will be developers who have learned that such tight focus can actually remove the need to work with a dedicated publisher, if you can build the right skillset.

The evidence of this transition in progress can be seen fairly readily in the behaviour of the industry over the past couple of years. Perhaps the most dramatic example is, of course, Electronic Arts, whose entire restructuring plan can, on some levels, be summed up as an attempt to give the giant publisher a laser-sharp focus on a small number of key areas which it can dominate, rather than simply being one among many in a wider variety of industry sectors. There's more to it than that, of course, but it's beyond question that Riccitiello's EA is proving much more circumspect about picking its battles than Probst's EA, which was willing to wade into any arena that presented itself, no matter how ill-equipped it may have been for the challenge.

Staying at the top of the market, Activision, too, has made it clear that it's keen to pick its battles with care. The company has been blunt - perhaps too blunt - about its ambition to launch nothing that isn't a $100 million franchise, representing a clear attempt to remove the publisher entirely from the middle ground and turn it into a brand that only launches slick, expensive, core gamer titles.

Admittedly, the ambition to make this transition and the reality are rather different things - not only does a publisher ignore smaller titles and new IP at vast risk of letting the next break-out hit slip through its fingers, but a firm with Activision's ambitions in this regard needs better quality control and product assessment processes than the company presently demonstrates. Modern Warfare 2 hides a multitude of sins, but not everyone has forgotten that Activision's two other major Q409 titles were a slow burning cult success (in the case of DJ Hero) and an outright embarrassing flop (Tony Hawks Ride), rather than commercial triumphs.

Then there's Ubisoft, which this week made clear that it's planning to tone down its efforts in the casual market and focus on what it's been really good at recently - high quality titles for the core market. It's not that the casual market is doing badly - far from it - rather, it's that the people making money there are specialists, not daytripping core game publishers. Ubisoft has done better than most in the sector, but even it cannot really compete with companies whose raison d'etre is to reach this market segment.

Look, for a perfect example of this specialization at work, at the top 10 games of 2009 in the UK, a chart conveniently unveiled by GfK ChartTrack this week. The top ten has two Activision titles in it - both Call of Duty games, hardcore first-person shooters prized for their online multiplayer. It has two EA games in it - both FIFA titles, from the unrivalled EA Sports catalogue, which dominates the sports markets on both sides of the Atlantic. There's one Ubisoft title in there, core gamer favourite Assassin's Creed 2. The other half of the top ten is all about Nintendo, with five casual or family-friendly games making up the rest of the chart.

What games define Activision? Call of Duty, of course, and since the Vivendi merger, World of Warcraft (which isn't in the chart but still made enough money to wallpaper the moon in hundred dollar bills and still have enough left over for the taxi fare home). Electronic Arts? Brave attempts at new IP and pushes into exciting new digital markets will probably pay off in the end, but right now, it's Madden and FIFA. Ubisoft? Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, pretty much. Nintendo? Mario, of course, and Wii Sports / Wii Fit - the Axis of Casual.

It's not an accident, of course, that the defining games of each publisher are the ones which sell the most. It's perfectly blatant logic that commercial success and widespread recognition go hand in hand. Each publisher has a strength that it's playing to, and they are increasingly learning that playing outside those comfort zones is hard work, prone to failure and ultimately a fairly weak investment compared to simply playing the game you're already good at.

Meanwhile, outside the world's giant publishers, specialization proceeds at an extraordinary pace. When we first got excited about browser based games, Flash games and mobile phone games, there was always a vague assumption that these would be integrated into the operations of "real" game publishers some day. Even those companies which set themselves up as the leading publishers of such new content (often by means of hiring better PR people than their rivals rather than any real achievements) were often essentially designed to be acquired by a game publisher at some point down the line, rather than with the intention of ever really being a force in the wider market.

Yet today, companies are learning that such specialization isn't just viable, it's often healthy. Specialization - be it on a genre, or a target audience, or a medium - provides a wealth of benefits, both in terms of specific expertise and in terms of the ability to structure your entire company around the requirements of your market sector. It's hard for a company used to building monolithic boxed software to embrace the mindset required to iterate quickly and release lots of smaller products, or to run a full-scale service for several years. It's not just the developers who have to change their working habits - middle and upper management, too, require re-education, and bare basics like how money flows into and through the company need to be reconsidered.

Moreover, if you're a company used to selling $60 software to your customers and making a $10 margin, it's natural to have a serious conceptual problem when setting up a service which deals in Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) figures instead, especially if those ARPUs are being measured in cents rather than dollars. Isn't this cannibalising your lovely, straightforward high-margin business, to some degree? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't - but for the specialist firm, which deals in nothing but high-traffic, low ARPU business, that's not even a consideration, making them more nimble and less constrained in how they choose to do business.

In other words, it's only to be expected that many of the industry's top publishers, after their flirtation with emerging markets, will fall back on what they know best - making core games for a core market. This won't excuse them from having to think about new business models - even core games are going to see their revenue models overhauled vastly in the coming years - but it'll certainly mean that the list of what we consider to be the world's "top games companies" will need a serious rethink in the coming years.

Those who will be left behind by this change - those most at risk in both this transition and the move to new business models in general - are those who simply don't have a specialisation. Studios which can produce major, exciting, AAA games have nothing to fear - no number of highly addictive iPhone and Facebook games will ever remove that market. Equally, those who can create genuinely entertaining family and casual products will find comfortable niches, as will those with valuable expertise with running games as services, rapidly developing high-quality titles for small-game plaftorms, and so on.

There exists, however, a crop of development studios - many of them quite venerable - whose existence has been entirely predicated on the existence of a market for games which fall somewhere in the middle. They're not bad games, but they're not fantastic games either - competent movie licenses for movies that don't quite set the world on fire, decently made clones of games that were popular a year ago, enduring classics like racing games where the cars have guns on them, or nondescript shooting games where you fight aliens, demons, or alien demons. They're the games that scrape back their investment, because the investment is low, and because they're delivered on time and on budget, the publishers come back for more.

This work, I fear, is going to dry up - for the simple reason that the investment required for a PC or console title has risen to a level where a "competent but unexciting" game can't really justify it. Meanwhile, whole new markets have sprung up underfoot, less risky ones where small investments can turn into significant rewards. We're already seeing a polarisation in the industry between games that were hugely expensive to develop, and games that were incredibly cheap to develop, with companies deserting the middle ground and flocking to the extremes. That's going to leave studios which presently eke out a living on that middle ground in a seriously bad place. It's time for them, too, to pick a lane and stick with it - to find a specialisation and master it, before the undifferentiated ground they're standing upon is swallowed up entirely.






Thursday, January 21, 2010

Total Immersion Serious Games Transforming Brand Assets


Serious Games for entertainment marketing



PRESS RELEASE

MARRYING THE MARKETING TO THE PRODUCT, TOTAL IMMERSION BRINGS AUGMENTED REALITY TO MARQUEE HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASES
AR Gives Movie Buffs Reason for a Double Take – And Marks Company’s First Music Industry Campaign, for Universal

LOS ANGELES (January 20, 2010) – In what may herald a new benchmark in entertainment marketing, augmented reality is beginning to transform the way key brand assets of hot film and music properties – performers, characters, scenes, and more – migrate from the original medium to the consumer’s world.

The just-concluded holiday season affirms the trend. With the DVD launch an increasingly important coda to tentpole titles, Total Immersion (www.t-immersion.com) has infused augmented reality (AR) into three of this season’s hottest home entertainment packages – for Paramount’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Star Trek, and Fox’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

At the same time, the company has executed its first campaign for the music industry, for Universal Music TV/All Around The World artists N-Dubz. As part of its latest release, the platinum-selling band interacts with viewers – and performs in AR.

Total Immersion’s latest applications reveal an evolution in marketing that merges multiple channels and uses the latest in AR technology to engage consumers in the brand experience as never before. The company supplied AR applications to Paramount and Fox to promote the theatrical release of all three titles.

Among this past holiday season’s biggest movers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen “went AR” in two-disc Blu-ray and DVD sets.

Fans can give life to an augmented reality incarnation of robotic character Optimus Prime by simply displaying DVD or Blu-ray boxes before a webcam. Viewers can also access a special website, which asks that they assemble the Matrix of Leadership to bring Optimus Prime back to life, fix his armor and calibrate his weapons by controlling his aim during target practice.



Paramount Home Entertainment’s DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases of Star Trek deploy AR to take consumers on a self-guided tour of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Showing the disc box to a webcam triggers an AR journey of five cabins on the Enterprise -- and even enables consumers to fire on foes from the ship’s deck.
 


20th Century Fox’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian likewise enables consumers to enter the movie experience. Just as museum wonders come to life in the film, so the DVD and Blu-ray Disc packaging (abetted by a webcam) unleashes Rex the Dinosaur, the giant squid and Amelia Earhart’s plane, among other snippets. All seemingly pop off the box -- and put the consumer at the center of the action.



N-Dubz’ new album, Against All Odds – released on Universal Music TV/All Around the World -- features an augmented reality performance by the band, triggered from data embedded within the album artwork. When displayed before a webcam, the artwork reveals 3-D images of the band chatting with the viewer and then giving an impromptu performance of the hit new single, “I Need You” -- all within the palm of the viewer’s hand. Consumers can turn the sleeve artwork around to view the band from alternative angles. Band members move as fluidly as they would if they were physically standing on the paper held aloft.

“We’re helping home entertainment marketers engage their audiences on an entirely new level, with experiences from each film crossing from cinematic ‘reality’ to theirs, ” said Bruno Uzzan, CEO and co-founder, Total Immersion. “After more than a decade in development, augmented reality has moved into prime-time. Some of the world’s largest brands are using AR to enhance both brand loyalty and the customer experience, by propelling consumers into a unique 3D interaction with their film. Hollywood is embracing the opportunity to enable fans to explore their handiwork through a process that blends the physical and digital worlds.

“AR is a major technical achievement,” Uzzan said. “But it’s just as compelling a marketing milestone. Through AR, we’re taking the equity of the franchise – key assets like characters and scenes – and giving them to consumers. AR adds value by enabling consumers to explore and experience what amounts to a new entertainment ecosystem. And this is just the beginning.

About Total Immersion

Total Immersion (http://www.t-immersion.com/) is the global leader in augmented reality. Through its patented D’Fusion® technology, Total Immersion blurs the line between the virtual world and the real world by integrating real time interactive 3D graphics into a live video stream. Leading the augmented reality category since 1999, the company maintains offices in Europe (France and the UK ), Asia and in the U.S. , and supports a network of more than 50 partners worldwide.

Find the latest news concerning Total Immersion projects at: http://augmented-reality-news.com/.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New ARG EVOKE: Serious Games Changing The World


Serious Games challenging us to play a better future


Via: Avant Game Blog - URGENT EVOKE: Help Run A 10-Week Crash Course In Changing The World

Avant Game (Jane McGonigal) is launching a new Alternate Reality Game called Evoke - a crash course in changing the world.

The goal of the game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most pressing problems: hunger, poverty, disease, war and oppression, water access, education, climate change.

The game is a project for the World Bank Institute (the learning and knowledge arm of the World Bank).

The game runs for 10 weeks, with a new mission and a new quest each week.

Players who successfully complete all 10 missions and all 10 quests will be able to claim their honors: World Bank Institute Certified Social Innovator – Class of 2010.

Top players will also earn mentorships with experienced social innovators and business leaders from around the world.

If you just want to play the game, follow @evokenet on Twitter or email evokenet@gmail.com to receive an alert when we launch.

If you want to help running the game, they’re putting together a team of five game assistants. Honorarium: $1000 USD, plus an invitation to the EVOKE conference in Washington, DC.

You’ll be needed online for 1 full day (8 hours) a week for 10 weeks (March 3 – May 12, 2010), plus a few days for pre-game orientation and training. You can work from anywhere in the world and choose which day (or night) of the week you’ll work.

Responsibilities:

• Play the game

• Help answer other players’ questions

• Moderate discussions

• Review “mission evidence” (blog posts, videos, photos, e.g.) completed quests, so you can award points to players

• Write a weekly blog post, or make a weekly video, reviewing your favorite moments from the game that week

Skills required:

• Great at social networks and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Ning, etc.)

• Able to consume lots of digital media quickly (watch lots of videos, read lots of blog posts, follow lots of Tweets) and pick out the most interesting stuff

• Trustworthy, reliable, able to work independently

• An epic sense of adventure – this is a brand new game with very big goals

TO APPLY please find all the details here at Avant Game Blog.

Serious Games By Serious Factory - France

Serious Games democratize the use of 3D content in the work environment


Via: COMMUNIQUEZ.biz - Serious Factory Birth

Boulogne-Billancourt, January 19, 2010 - SoBuzzy, a leading publisher of 3D environments and AD-Invaders, a video game studio, yesterday announced their merger to give birth to Serious Factory, a group specialized in interactive 3D communication.

"3D virtualization is the future of the Web", says William Perez, CEO of Serious Factory. The synergy between 3D environments and video games responds to the increasing demand for experiential online content.

3DWeb and Free2Play games are a key element of Internet evolution. They provide immersion capabilities to game worlds, allowing anyone to manipulate objects and offering more realistic online experiences.

This rationale has become part of SoBuzzy and AD-Invaders natural evolution.

The purpose of Serious Factory is to democratize the use of 3D content in the work environment by means of integration with business communication”, says Sebastien Bru, co-founder of AD-Invaders and Serious Factory Marketing Vice President. Serious Factory will therefore benefit from the expertise of the two market players.

AD-Invaders, founded in 2006, is a 3D gaming agency offering specialized communication solutions by use of Advergames, Serious Games, and Social Games.


For the launch of the new Toyota Auris, the marketing and communication teams of Toyota France wanted to put another version of the game Toyota Auris Ice Experience on-line, showing the new Auris in the Andros Trophy 2008.
Making people discover the new Auris being the main objective, Toyota France wanted to create a showroom to make the public discover the range before playing on-line, an option lacking in the first version of the game.
Welcomed by Olivier Panis, net surfers are invited to select and customize the new Auris they will pilot on a snowy circuit. This project was developed together with Ad-Invaders, a company specialized in the creation of on-line advertising games. This partnership well appreciated by Toyota France has proven to be ideal for this version of the game, the first edition having been largely spread by word of mouth from the moment it was released in March 2007.

SoBuzzy, founded in 2007, is a leader in the design and development of interactive solutions and online virtual spaces.


Virtual Showrooms


This merger is expected to further strengthen their market positioning by combining two complementary visions.

Serious Factory's customers include well-known references such as Peugeot, Toyota, Renault, Atari GmbH, Dassault Systems, Euronext, Colas, Dassault Aviation or Ubifrance.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

GDC 10 Serious Games Summit: Videogames Can Make A Difference


Serious Games focusing on child safety issues


Via: Game Developers Conference 2010 - Serious Games Summit

SGS Session: Violence Prevention - Playing A Video Game Can Make A Difference

Speaker: Allan McCullough (President, Child Safety Research & Innovation Center)

Session Description

Video games haven’t always been associated with preventing violence against children but a new Serious Game entity intends to change that. The Child Safety Research & Innovation Center (CSRIC) is a non-profit organization that uses video games to teach children how to respond safety to potentially dangerous situations.

One of the most difficult challenges violence prevention experts have is measuring prevention, CSRIC uses the power of video games to track and measure the child’s change in behavior game play by game play - tracking the child’s prevention skills. To help bridge the child’s learning from the game to the real world CSRIC provides parents and educators with animated vignettes showing the teachable moments with guides these trusted adults can use with children.

Idea Takeaway

Attendees will learn about a new Serious Game entity whose primary medium for preventing violence among children is video games.

CSRIC's primary focus is on the child safety issues that have an offline and online component such as sexual predators and bullying / cyberbullying.

About Allan McCullough

Allan is President of Canada’s non-profit Child Safety Research & Innovation Center and CEO of the video game developer Entertaining Knowledge Inc. He is also an expert in the field of child safety and street proofing of children.

Allan founded Child Safety Research and Innovation Center to work with his computer game company to blend the non-profit world of advocacy and safety with the engaging world of computer games. The partnership is designed to develop computer games to teach and reinforce safety skills, as well as measure vulnerabilities in children.

Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and trained as a ships navigator with simulation computer programmers, Allan adapted the tools designed to train navigation to training children on safety. 

His passion to help protect children from sexual predators began in 1985 when two members of his family were involved in the search for a missing girl in the United States. Her body was discovered hours later - she had been abducted and murdered by a known child molester.

From that point forward, Allan devoted himself to finding ways to street proof children. Early in his work, Allan determined that the most effective way to engage, entertain and educate children is through role-playing computer game so that the safety skills could be acquired by having the player simulate the safe practices he or she should use in real life.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and The Incredible Journey Home Game

His first product, released in the Fall of 2008, was Sydney Safe-Seeker and The Incredible Journey Home.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and the Incredible Journey Home is a suite of products focused on “Street Proofing”. It is comprised of an entertaining CD-ROM game to teach child safety; parent and educator assessment tools that track the child’s safety knowledge; and a wealth of support materials and activity sheets for parents, educators, police, and other child safety professionals.

The game provides an interactive exploratory environment where 5 - 10 years old children are asked to make decisions based on game scenes that were developed to mirror real and sometimes dangerous situations. The game actually measures and reports back to teachers and parents the vulnerability of the child to ten different ploys used by sexual predators. 

In addition to measuring and reporting, the game develops safe habits through the use of prompts and feedback during the course of the game. The more the child plays, the more they learn about safety.

The game is a role-playing adventure style game with numerous interactions that lead up to a potentially unsafe situation. The player is presented with an audio/visual decision prompt for each potentially unsafe situation that must be answered to continue the game. Based on the player’s selected answer, the game branches to one of two outcomes showing either a safe or potentially unsafe situation (no violence will be shown). Animation and audio will be used to provide more detailed feedback, and animation branches provide educational outcome knowledge.

Sydney Safe-Seeker enhances a child’s confidence and self-esteem by teaching them safe behaviors when they encounter a potentially threatening situation.

Educator and Parent applications identify particular situations where a child responds unsafely and then coaches them on how to handle the “teachable moment” without raising the anxiety of the child.

Allan’s work has received the support and attention of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Victims of Violence, Chris Hansen (of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator series), WiredSafety.org and many others.

Allan continues to reside in Canada and splits his time between there and the NY Metropolitan area where he maintains a second home with his wife.