Ada Lovelace Day

About The Authors

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


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All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

BeebCamp: Eric Ulken: Building the data desk at the LATimes

Posted by Kevin Anderson

A fun example of structured data from the LATimes, which showed the popularity of dog names in LA County by postcode.

A fun example of structured data from the LATimes, which showed the popularity of dog names in LA County by postcode.

This is from one of the sessions at BeebCamp2, a BarCamp like event for BBC staff with some external folks like Suw, me, Charlie Beckett and others. Charlie has a great post on a discussion he led about user-generated content and what it adds to news, video games and also Twitter and Radio 4.

Eric Ulken, was the editor of interactive technology at the LATimes. He was one of the bridges between technology and the editorial

News organisations:

  • We collect a lot of data but don’t use it (We always thought that was a shame. We had a computer-assisted reporting team at the LATimes, wouldn’t it be nice if we used that.)
  • What online readers want from us is bigger than ‘news’ in the traditional sense
  • We need to be an information soure.

They did a homicide map, which mapped all of the murders in LA in a year on a map and which illustrated a blog that reported all of the murders in LA County in a year.

The project was well received, and they decided to develop a data desk. It brought together the computer-assisted reporting unit, investigative reporters, the interactive technology team and the graphics team to bring together the data desk. They all sat together in the newsroom. A lot of synergies were created. The Times had 10 to 15 investigative reporters on different desks from different disciplines.

Ten bits of advice:

  1. Find the believers.
  2. Get buy-in from above
  3. Set some priorities
  4. Go off the reservation (We had a real problem with our IT department. They had their priorities and we had ours. We invested in a server system using Django.)
  5. Templatize. Never do anything once. Do things you can reuse.
  6. Do breaking news. There is data in breaking news. They did a database of the victims. They added information to the database as it became available. The database was up in 24 hours after the crash. They had built most of the pieces for previous applications. (There was a question about accuracy. Eric said the information was being gathered, but it wasn’t structured. The information was edited by a line manager.)
  7. Develop new skills. They sent people out to workshops. They had hired a Django develop who was also a journalist. He taught Django to others in the office.
  8. Cohabitate (marriage is optional). The investigative reporters and computer-assisted reporters still reported to the pre-existing managers, but by being together, they saw possibilities for collaboration without reworking the organisation.
  9. Integrate.
  10. Give back. They worked to give back to the newspaper.

They used Javascript to add this to other parts of the site. They created these two datasets from the train crash and the homicides, but they also have used publicly available data in their projects. He showed their California schools guide. Apart from the standard data analysis available from state and national educational agencies, they also created a diversity rank that showed the relative diversity of the schools. They did do some reporting on the data. In analysing the schools data, they found discrepancies in reporting about the performance of the schools.

In a slightly more humourous example, he showed dog names and breeds by postcodes.

UPDATE: Eric has added some more details in comments below, and you can follow Eric’s work and follow his thoughts on his site.

Friday, December 7th, 2007

CNET, Gamespot and Jeff Gerstmann: Controversy or conspiracy theory?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

On Wednesday, I spotted a post from Michael O’Connor Clarke about Jeff Gerstmann, a games reviewer and Editorial Director at CNET’s Gamespot, who appeared to have been fired for giving a bad review to Kane & Lynch. The game’s publishers, Eidos Interactive, had just bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of advertising on the site and the rumour was that they used the weight of that contract to force CNET to fire Gerstmann. It seems the news was broken in this Penny Arcade strip.

Here’s Gerstmann’s review:

The implications of this rumour are clear: If CNET is bowing to pressure from advertisers to ensure that their own games are favourable reviewed, then CNET’s games coverage becomes not worth the electricity that lights its pixels. Indeed, the suspicion that CNET can be bought immediately devalues all its reviews, across all sectors. If the PR, advertising and editorial departments submit to bullying from one vendor, then there’s no reason why they aren’t doing the same for other vendors. This is potentially very damaging for CNET as it destroys readers’ confidence that what they are getting is honest, unbiased opinion.

As Kotaku says:

As our tipster points out, if the rumor is true, it could point to a distressing precedent at Gamespot and parent company CNet. “As writers of what is supposed to be objective content, this is our worst nightmare coming to life,” wrote the tipster.

Our efforts to confirm the story with Gamespot haven’t proved successful. Our current requests with PR, Gerstmann and other CNet contacts have either gone unanswered or yielded a “no comment.”

But rather than address the rumours head-on, CNET shilly-shallied about:

CNET allowed hours to pass by as people continued to spread word of the firings, creating incensed users everywhere. They issued no formal statement and made no attempt to defuse the situation. Eventually, they came out with what I refer to as a “non-denial denial,” in which they made no reference to the controversial situation, resorting to generalized statements about how CNET is a bastion of “unbiased reviews.”

And the first formal response on Gamespot is a masterpiece of not really saying anything:

Due to legal constraints and the company policy of GameSpot parent CNET Networks, details of Gerstmann’s departure cannot be disclosed publicly. However, contrary to widespread and unproven reports, his exit was not a result of pressure from an advertiser.

“Neither CNET Networks nor GameSpot has ever allowed its advertising business to affect its editorial content,” said Greg Brannan, CNET Networks Entertainment’s vice president of programming. “The accusations in the media that it has done so are unsubstantiated and untrue. Jeff’s departure stemmed from internal reasons unrelated to any buyer of advertising on GameSpot.”

“Though he will be missed by his colleagues, Jeff’s leaving does not affect GameSpot’s core mission of delivering the most timely news, video content, in-depth previews, and unbiased reviews in games journalism,” said Ryan MacDonald, executive producer of GameSpot Live. “GameSpot is an institution, and its code of ethics and duty to its users remains unchanged.”

Whilst neither CNET nor Gerstmann were willing to discuss exactly what happened, Gerstmann was keen to play down the implications of his firing by telling MTV’s Multiplayer blog that there’s no reason for gamers to doubt Gamespot’s reviews.

Despite that, public opinion in the gaming world swung against CNET, despite the hints that Gerstmann’s firing may be nothing to do with Kane & Lynch, and more to do disagreements with (new) senior manager Josh Larson. If I may quote liberally from Kotaku:

Speaking with a Gamespot employee yesterday who asked not to be named for this story, we’ve learned that, despite the neutral nature of the Gamespot news item on the matter, the editorial staff is said to be “devastated, gutted and demoralized” over the removal of former editorial director Jeff Gerstmann. While the termination of Gerstmann, a respected fixture at Gamespot, was pitched to his remaining colleagues by management as a “mutual decision”, it was anything but, we’re told.

The confusion over the reasons for Gerstmann’s termination, compounded with a lack of transparency from management has created a feeling of “irreconcilable despair” that may eventually lead to an exodus of Gamespot editorial staffers. “Our credibility,” said the source, “is in ruins.” Over the course of the previous days, a “large number of Gamespot editors” have expressed their intentions to leave. Tales of emotionally deflated peers, with no will to remain at the site, were numerous.

Unless cooler heads prevail or concerns are addressed, Gamespot could see “mass resignations”, our source revealed.

Rank and file employees of the Gamespot organization are unaware of the real reasons behind Gerstmann’s termination. Our source admitted that Eidos was less than pleased with the review scores for Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, but the team has “dealt with plenty of unhappy publishers before.” Our contact stressed that “Money has never played a role in reviews before” and that “[Gamespot] has never altered a score.” No pressure from management or sales has been exercised to remove or alter content, the source reiterated.

However, the source did speculate that disagreements between Gertsmann and VP of games Josh Larson may have been the root cause of the former being terminated. Larson, successor to former editor in chief Greg Kasavin, was described as out of touch with the employees who report to him. The VP is the one allegedly responsible for telling Gamespot editorial staff that it was Gerstmann’s “tone” that was at the heart of his dismissal.

Then, on a Valleywag post disputing the theory that Gerstmann was fired for a bad review, someone who appears to be a Gamespot insider left a number of rather damning comments (again, summed up well by Kotaku):

No one wants to be named because no one wants to get fucking fired! This management team has shown what they’re willing to do. Jeff had ten years in and was fucking locked out of his office and told to leave the building.

What you might not be aware of is that GS is well known for appealing mostly to hardcore gamers. The mucky-mucks have been doing a lot of “brand research” over the last year or so and indicating that they want to reach out to more casual gamers. Our last executive editor, Greg Kasavin, left to go to EA, and he was replaced by a suit, Josh Larson, who had no editorial experience and was only involved on the business side of things. Over the last year there has been an increasing amount of pressure to allow the advertising teams to have more of a say in the editorial process; we’ve started having to give our sales team heads-ups when a game is getting a low score, for instance, so that they can let the advertisers know that before a review goes up. Other publishers have started giving us notes involving when our reviews can go up; if a game’s getting a 9 or above, it can go up early; if not, it’ll have to wait until after the game is on the shelves.

I was in the meeting where Josh Larson was trying to explain this firing and the guy had absolutely no response to any of the criticisms we were sending his way. He kept dodging the question, saying that there were “multiple instances of tone” in the reviews that he hadn’t been happy about, but that wasn’t Jeff’s problem since we all vet every review. He also implied that “AAA” titles deserved more attention when they were being reviewed, which sounded to all of us that he was implying that they should get higher scores, especially since those titles are usually more highly advertised on our site.

Gamespot insiders were clearly unhappy with what has happened.

Eventually, Gamespot management did address the issue, although they maintain they are legally unable to discuss why Gerstmann was fired, the categorically deny that it was because of pressure from Eidos.

Q: Was Jeff fired?
A: Jeff was terminated on November 28, 2007, following an internal review process by the managerial team to which he reported.

Q: Why was Jeff fired?
A: Legally, the exact reasons behind his dismissal cannot be revealed. However, they stemmed from issues unrelated to any publisher or advertiser; his departure was due purely for internal reasons.

[...]

Q: Was Eidos Interactive upset by the game’s review?
A: It has been confirmed that Eidos representatives expressed their displeasure to their appropriate contacts at GameSpot, but not to editorial directly. It was not the first time a publisher has voiced disappointment with a game review, and it won’t be the last. However, it is strict GameSpot policy never to let any such feelings result in a review score to be altered or a video review to be pulled.

Q: Did Eidos’ disappointment cause Jeff to be terminated?
A: Absolutely not.

Q: Did Eidos’ disappointment cause the alteration of the review text?
A: Absolutely not.

Q: Did Eidos’ disappointment lead to the video review being pulled down?
A: Absolutely not.

[...]

Q: Why didn’t GameSpot write about Jeff’s departure sooner?
A: Due to HR procedures and legal considerations, unauthorized CNET Networks and GameSpot employees are forbidden from commenting on the employment status of current and former employees. This practice has been in effect for years, and the CNET public-relations department stuck to that in the days following Jeff’s termination. However, the company is now making an exception due to the widespread misinformation that has spread since Jeff’s departure.

[...]

Q: GameSpot’s credibility has been called into question as a result of this incident. What is being done to repair and rebuild it?
A: This article is one of the first steps toward restoring users’ faith in GameSpot, and an internal review of the incident and controversy is under way. However, at no point in its history has GameSpot ever deviated from its review guidelines, which are publicly listed on the site. Great pains are taken to keep sales and editorial separated to prevent any impression of impropriety.

For years, GameSpot has been known for maintaining the highest ethical standards and having the most reliable and informative game reviews, previews, and news on the Web. The colleagues and friends that Jeff leaves behind here at GameSpot intend to keep it that way.

The problem is, the damage has been done. Whatever the reason for Gerstmann’s dismissal, the appalling way that CNET handled the crisis means that a lot of people now believe that the Chinese wall that separates advertising and editorial has been permanently damaged. That in and of itself means that both Gamespot’s and CNET’s credibility has been severely dented and if there’s one thing that a publisher cannot afford to do, it’s to appear even for a moment to be in the pockets of its advertisers. Readers want impartiality, honesty, transparency, and if they sniff a rat they’ll leave in droves.

CNET should never have fired Gerstmann without thoroughly thinking through the implications of such a precipitate dismissal. Doing so without a strategy in place for addressing the inevitable rumour that would follow was stupid and short-sighted. In any company, that sort of “marching off the premises” style of dismissal is bound to cause a rumpus, especially when the person being fired, as Gerstmann appears to have been, is much loved by their colleagues and readers, and has been there for so long. It shouldn’t have taken a genius to realise that there’d be a pretty strong reaction against it, and that some sort of thought should be given to how to address the rumours early on.

Whether Gerstmann was fired because of Larson, or Eidos, or something else, is almost irrelevant now. The conclusions one can draw are that either CNET’s in bed with its advertisers, or it’s being managed incompetently by someone prone to throwing hissy fits and firing people on the spot. If one were being generous, one might just put this down to an HR/PR fuck-up, but there is a valuable lesson to be learnt by every publisher and every company with externally-facing bloggers: Look before you fire.

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Dale Herigstad and new television

Posted by Kevin Anderson

There was no WiFi in the hall at X|Media|Lab so I’m going to tidy up these posts and publish them over the next few days. The day started with Dale Herigstad with Schematic.

Dale Herigstad, the Chief Creative Officer with Schematic, has done with work with the BBC and iTV, and he wanted to talk about the ‘new television’.

Rich digital content on any screen, any where.

He talks about distance in terms of different types of video experiences, from the 3-10 foot traditional experience to the 2-foot experience on computers, iPhones or personal video players. He also talked about the 200 foot experience on large screens - either movie screens or large public spaces.

He moved through different types of paradigms from print, photography, television and film and now interactive media. Schematic works with EA Sports in Vancouver. He talked about pre-game space - the things that happen before the game actually loads. They are bringing in live feeds from ESPN ticker and video streams on an internet connected XBox 360. Broadband content is always in the game space. On the left hand of the basketball game is the interface for the game itself, but on the right hand is broadband-delivered, real-time ESPN sports content. The line between the game and traditional video content is blurred.

Dale talked about ‘new time’, about navigating not only by channel but also the line between now and next, between programming that is on air at the moment and ‘catch up watching’. Further back there is the archive, and further in the future, there is the promotional material.

He showed the blending of programmed content on discs - whether that is games or HD-DVDs - with dynamic IP content coming in over a broadband connection. He showed off the Miami Vice HD-DVD, which featured a live interface to Google Earth embedded in the player so that you could track the characters as they moved through the real world of Miami. But he emphasised that this was not simply embedding a web browser or web application into the DVD or cable TV experience. This was elegantly placing live, real-time information objects in the interface.

The content can also be advertorial content, and he showed off Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. You could ‘click’ on the phone that he was using in the film and see ordering information. At the end of the film, you could see your shopping cart or bookmarks in the film.

Schematic also did work with Microsoft Surfaces and a connected XBox 360 to navigate programming. The programmes all had additional information such as who had been ‘fired’ from the Apprentice. He showed off some prototypes for ABCs on demand player. They not only had the programmes, but they also had interactive ads embedded in streams, understanding that people using on-demand video also would expect interactive ads.

In closing, Dale said: New time. New space and new opportunities.

Postscript: Dale works with Ball State University on design for new television interfaces. He says that he also has a lot of ideas about news projects and presentation. I’m going to try to catch up with him over coffee and brainstorm.

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Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Guardian Changing Media: Game on: Gaming and virtual economies – players in control

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Nick Higham, moderating
Ed Bartlett
, vice president, Europe, In Game Advertising (IGA)
Justin Bovington, CEO, Rivers Run Red
Gavin Forth, head of entertainment, Orange
Timo Soininen, CEO, Habbo Hotel
John Burns, senior director of e-commerce, Electronic Arts Europe

NH: Justin, what is Second Life?

JB: Virtual world where users create everything in the world. 5m unique users. But that’s half the story. 1.6 million people log in in for average of 4 hours in there. Very difficult to monetise social networks. Second Life has an economy. 1.7 million USD exchanged, thousands of businesses earning real money within SL.

NH: How is this money transferred to the real world?

JB: Linden Dollars have an exchange rate with USD, just like air miles have an intrinsic value, so do Linden Dollars. SL is just one - there’s also things like World of Warcraft.

NH: What do people do?

JB: People create things, run events, wedding planners, all sorts of thing. From the last panel, content and brand, people are getting behind their own content and their own brands.

NH: Who are these?

JB: Average age of SL is 33 - these are not 17 year olds, it’s actually very sensible people. [audience laughs] All high education mostly college graduates, 10% are professionals, e.g. doctors.

TS: Difficult to explain Habbo without being able to show it. Business model is different to most, it’s end-user based, not advertising. It’s a personal virtual world ad online community for 13 - 15 year olds, 50/50 split male female, non-violent, moderated virtual world. About self-expression, UGC, about being who you want to be and playing together. Four areas, Habbo Hotel, 19 ones around the world; Habbo home page; Habbo multiplayer game section; users’ own web pages.

74 million player characters, started in 2000, 7.5 unique users per month, 400m page views.

Opportunities for companies to sponsor an area, or have in-game advertising, or holed events, create your own virtual area and advertising using interstitials as people navigate from room to room, us IM to communicate message, sponsor games and prizes. Market surveys are popular because kids are very responsive - response rates 10x higher than industry average. Create background themes. Brands are most powerful form of self-expression for teenagers.

Brands that have used Habbo including iPod, and various music artists, Moo cards (?? - they looked like them).

NH: What’s the different to SL?

JB: Mythical thing about ‘brand immersion’, how you move people from conversation to brand loyalty. SL allows people to have immersive experience, collaborating with the brand. How do you make brands content, that’s when people will really engage. But the bottom line is that if you add value to someone’s virtual life that you’ll be successful, if you try to crowbar your message into their world, they won’t engage with you. The internet has always been about the head, about information, but SL have really hit people’s hearts, it’s very emotive.

JN: EAE has a more conventional history. How do you see this going/

John B: I agree with Justin’s point, gaming itself is a reality now as a media forum, and a forum for a vast group of consumers. It’s not niche. And the online revolution is happening and the definition of online for games is changing, all gaming is beginning to develop an online aspect, whether through broadband or mobile. Tremendous opportunity for major bands and consumers. We have a franchise, Battlefield, and we have an active community playing that game, 1.2 million users, and people interact, it’s not a passive experience. Beyond gaming being such a large market, and online being key, one of the differences between gaming and a lot of the other things that exist on the net, Gaming is interactive, we make people engage, sometimes at a deep level.

JH: Who are the gamers? Habbo it’s 12 - 15, but SL is 33?

JohnB: Both are correct. ‘Gamers’ is too narrow a definition, it’s consumers. Gaming is on your mobile, it’s on the net, it’s many things on many platforms. We see this, yes there are hardcore consumers, but when you look at the Sims which is one of the most popular games, they are female with a broad age range, so the stereotype of gamers is out of date.

Ed: This is an entertainment media, our core demographic is 18 - 34 male, but we have a lot of female, and a lot of ‘grey gamers’, so we cover a large range of people and products. Cost of developing games has spiralled, so some of the EAE teams are over a 100 people, and the games themselves are getting cheaper, so the margins are narrower. So advertising is a way to do that.

2003, Hive was the first product placement for gaming, did a lot of work with RedBull - couldn’t make product claims on TV but could put them into a game. Move to become a platform channel, so aggregate games into a single channel. When you look at these games, there are so many choices, so we take entire game spectrum, and aggregate together through our tech, can then insert ads seamlessly, and can do it in context.

Games are now very realistic, and these environments have to be believable, and adding brands increases the realism. Can also add geographical relevance - can geotarget advertising, so someone in Germany would see different advertising to someone in the UK.

NH: How important is this for Orange?

Gavin: Gaming is the second largest revenues stream for Orange. Lagest is music and ringtones in particular. It’s interesting when you start looking what peopple are doing with virtual communities and how you can start bringing that into mobiles. Starting to see mobile access and get people playing against each other in environments that reflect the real world, e.g. if it’ ssnowing in the real world it’s snowing int he game.

Broad spectrum of users, from deeply immersed people who are into Second LIfe; mid-range gamers who like console games; also strong area of casual gamers, like most people in the audience, playing things like Sudoku, most of those people are significantly different to traditional gamers, so older, more females, and they are games like Sudoku, crosswords, and ‘Deal or No Deal’.

NH: What are the ad opps?

Gavin: branding is key, so one of the most successful was Sudoku sponsored by The Economist. Looking at sponsors to subsidise the price of the game, as most games are around £5, so sponsor puts ads on to make those games cheap or free. Provide click-throughs after the game, that works.

NH: How welcome are branded messages and advertising in the game environment?

TS: The biggest risk is that people start treating it as another media space, but it’s not, it’s the space of the users. Don’t allow any flashy banners, or anything in-your-face. Kids love and hate brands, but they are self expression, so we give them the opportunity to use the brand in clever ways. But we are taking careful measures not to over-commercialise it, because otherwise that’s the end of the story. We work with things like Coca-Cola, but I’m sceptical of brands going there directly, and brands have to go where the users are, not that he users have to spend time with the brand.

NH: What about Second Life? Lots of brands have stores in Second Life and they’re all empty.

JB: there are monolithic buildings that sit empty, and you have to ask why do that? Have to think about where the brands are going rather than corporate identity. Most brands think of themselves as content, and virtual worlds are an obvious part of their mix. It’s all about picking the right audience for the right product, so in Second Life, have had some weird and wonderful people thinking they can come in and get something from it. What wouldn’t work would be, say, Cillit Bang adverts. It’s less traditional things that you think would work, and Penguin publishers are great, because people can discuss novels. Radio works, because people can come together as an event based processed.

John: Our experience is that advertising in games in and of itself isn’t new, so consumers have adapted to that, they like it, it ads reality to their experience. What is new is connectivity, think of games in the broad sense. As that accelerates, that enables us to change ads to messaging. E.g. Need for Speed, ads are relevant to today, and tomorrow you’ll see new, different ads. You have to be sensitive to the needs of the users, and understand what they will accept. As more games go online, our ability to deliver great content is growing. Major brands should look at games as a valid place for their spend.

Questions
Historically, minority markets haven’t been well catered for, e.g. gay and lesbian.

Gavin: Games are being developed for all communities, including niche communities such as battlefield surgeons. ten years ago games were all about shooting, but companies like Nintendo span every genre, sexuality, race. Everyone is a consumer, and everyone can find something to entertain them.

Lord Puttnam: Replicating real life online, Timo said that brands are the most powerful way of expression for children, but that’s alarming. I’ve worked hard to support creativity in the online world, and it’s an entertainment medium, but so is TV and radio, and they are also agents for serious change. When will the creatives in this medium join the human race and start tackling serious problems instead of being pure entertainment?

JB: Youth don’t define themselves so much through fashion, and inside Second Life there’s been a huge outpouring of political movements, in France, Mr Le Penn opened offices and was greeted with derision. But people in Habbo and SL, People are creating their own stuff, young film makers and content producers are coming through and creating their own culture. People ask how does someone spend all this time in there? Well, these people are not watching TV so much or going to the cinema, and it’s up to all of us to go with them.

TS: Habbo is a social environment and if you behave badly, you’ll not get friends. It’s like practising real life. Average session is 35 minutes a day, so it’s a part of their life for socialising typically with existing friends from school. Habbo culture is non-violent, it is responsible, and want to be the good guys. Work with several governmental and non-profits, sponsoring virtual infobus, where there are trained adults who can talk about problems users face, like obesity, or drugs. Not trying to simulate reality, but as these things are important to them.

John: I think we already have that, clearly gaming is an entertainment medium so you serve a variety of tastes, but we all understand the validity of the question and the gaming industry continues to offer positive things to consumers: helping people to act responsibly in online spaces, helping them work around making decisions and choices which they might work into their life. So there are many positive things in games.

Ed: It’s a good question. We have a network of over 50 games, and lots of engagement. Games industry only really 30 years old, only since 95 that it’s become the industry it is now. So we’re seeing the same stories about games that our parents saw about rock music. It’s become so commercial now, it has to have a commercial element to it. But you are seeing more serious games, using it for helping people with disabilities, or helping reform people in prison.

Q: What’s the space for government in these communities?
Q: What do brands do if they aren’t cool? Can we still get involved? E.g. universities.

Gavin: Any advertising has to be relevant to the customer, so if you put advertising for government in front of people who aren’t interesting it’s not going to work.

Ed: The COI are one of the early adopters in this space, it’s a great way for them to engage with things ike drugs messaging. Universities might be less relevant but we’re all expanding into new areas

John: Yes, there’s absolutely space for it. In some of our games we had a campaign from Frank, the drug advice agency. And cool brands have their place, but the real estate in games is pretty broad, so I think.

Timo: It’s all about packaging and making it relevant. If you have to go there and deal with the issue to that it fits with the environment, not be too serious, offer something interesting. Non-profits are popular because they’ve worked in a style that fits with the environment. Virtual worlds and communities have an opportunity to refresh your brand, but you can’t just put banner ads up.

JB: Lots of examples of this already in SL, Swedish Embassy is in SL, John Edwards and Rudi Giuliani are already in there Great captive audience to get your message across. Cool brands have to still tell their story better.

NH: Are today’s gamers people who will behave differently or will they grow out of it?

Gavin: No, people continue to game as they grow.

Ed: TV is evolving, and gaming is a part of that. Trick is to get as many eyeballs together at once as possible.

John: There is a shift, it’s just part of the entertainment medium, but it’s at the cutting edge of the move from passive to interactive. In other passive mediums, like TV, they are trying to become more interactive, but gaming’s already there.

Timo: Yes, we’re like a training platform for the more serious online games, so people learn the netiquette, learn behaviours that are never going to go away. People talk about user generated content, but we’re moving to user demanded advertising.

JB: Step forward 10 - 15 years, I’m from the Star Wars generation and that’s where my cultural references rae from, where as these people’s references will be from games.

I’m surprised that no one mentioned in their answer to Lord Puttnam’s question the variety of serious projects going on in Second Life. There are support groups for stroke victims and educational places such as a house which explains what it’s like for someone who has schizophrenia. There’s also a huge presence from universities whose students are gathering not just for social reasons, but to attend classes and tutorials. And there are NGOs such as Creative Commons who hold talks and lectures and provide information. I’ve no doubt that’s that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because I’m way behind with my Second Life news these days.

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Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

The games people play: Cruel 2 B Kind

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Yesterday, myself and Matt Biddulph went down to Dolores park to take part in playtesting Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost’s new game, Cruel 2 B Kind. It was the first time that the game’s been run, so we and five other teams of two were the guinea pigs.

The game is based on ‘Assassins’, and the idea is that you have a weapon, in this case a random act of kindness such as congratulating someone or blowing kisses at them, and a weakness such as having someone congratulate you or blow kisses at you. So you have to go round the park, using your weapon on anyone you suspect is in the game. If they look at you puzzled, then they’re not in the game. If they say ‘Oh, you’re too kind’, then they are in the game but you haven’t managed to assassinate them because your weapon doesn’t match their weakness. If they surrender, then you assimilate them into your team and get more points.

Matt and I had a bit of a chat about strategy before the game, which went something like:

“We’re British. We’re going to lose.”
“Yup.”
“And it’ll be embarrassing to wander round a park doing… whatever it is we have to do.”
“Yup.”
“We should try to be as conspicuous as possible, so that we can get assassinated as soon as possible, so that we’ll have more fun.”
“Yup.”

However, I didn’t expect us to be assassinated quite as quickly as we did. Essentially, we sat around for about 10 mins, scoping the place out and looking for anyone else who was scoping the place out. Then we decided to go for a bit of a wander. Within a matter of seconds, a girl had come up to us and asked Matt what his camera was, and then congratulated him on it.

Of course, being British, Matt said “You’re too kind!”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him say lots before, so the would be assassins started to slope off, knowing we were in the game but that they hadn’t killed us. Took me a second, but eventually I realised that a) they were in the game and that b) being congratulated was our weakness and that c) we’d have to confess to our deaths.

So our game lasted no time at all, but I have to admit, it was much more fun going round in a group blowing kisses at strangers than it was working in a pair wondering if we were going to be insulting people by doing same.

Eventually, we ended up with two marauding packs in a Mexican stand-off. We sat on picnic rugs playing Duck Duck Goose (a new game to me), and they lurked behind some trees trying to look inconspicuous and failing. Eventually, with only 10 mins to go, the other group rushed us - using a non-game playing couple with a dog as a decoy, and running straight out of the sun at us, deploying their final, fatal weapon. We were, essentially, kissed to death.

The game was, without doubt, fun. It was also a bit confusing. Much of the organisation, such as sign-up on the day and the deployment of weapons was done over SMS via email, which is new to us Brits as we don’t have that system in the UK. Phone funkiness (my old Treo doesn’t always announce that an SMS has come in) caused a bit of confusion, as did the rules.

I think you were supposed to all deploy your weapon at once to everyone in the opposing team, but when Matt and I were assassinated, I’m not sure the assassinating team did that. They congratulated him on his camera, but didn’t congratulate me on anything. I don’t know if that’s how it was supposed to work, or if congratulating one person in the team is enough.

It was, in fact, pretty hard to remember your weapons, your weaknesses and to remember that when you assimilated a team then you took on their weapon and kept your weakness, in order to ensure that the game can still be played (after all, you’ve just used up your weapon on their weakness, so theoretically you need their weapon in order to have any effect on anyone else). That was kinda hard to keep in mind in the heat of the moment, especially as we thought we added their weapon to the arsenal, rather than expiring ours and using theirs.

That confusion actually did have a significant effect on the outcome of the game. It turned out that being kissed to death wasn’t our weakness, so in the end, we should have won that final showdown.

It would have seemed churlish to argue these points at the time, though, as everyone was having a good time and no one was really all that bothered about winning. But I would say that the rules need either simplification or lots of clarification. The tech side of things - the text messages - also need to be clearer and more timely because they did get a bit confusing too.

This was, though, a test and we were there to help iron out wrinkles, so I really hope that Jane got enough info out of us to make the next game play more smoothly. I wish I was here next Sunday to take part, but I’ll be back in London, trying to catch up on my email.

Meantime I’ve put my photos up on Flickr, as has Matt.