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Archive for the ‘gaming’ tag

The Democratization of Gaming

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On June 4th, my own General Assembly will be co-producing its first conference: the Mobile Gaming Summit. The fairly literal title of the event belies a deeper meaning — a meaning that speaks to me as well as to General Assembly’s mission. In many ways, the Summit should really be called “The Democratization of Gaming Summit”, or more broadly, “the re-democratization of application development”.

The first mobile platform

I started programming in middle school, building games on my TI-83 calculator while bored in class. Word of mouth was the only way to share applications — typically games — and doing so required connecting the two calculators with a special cable. It was hardly a scalable distribution channel, and I can only imagine where Texas Instruments would be today if they had built a robust app store and marketed it to bored hackers in junior high. While Objective C is certainly more challenging than the BASIC* we all learned for the TI-83, the relative openness of the Apple and Android app stores nonetheless represent a remarkable democratization of game development.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe there is any secular force ensuring that this trend has to continue. The creation of popular native PC apps fell out of popular reach over a decade ago and hasn’t come back. There are a number of reasons for this, but ultimately, the continued democratization of mobile platforms must be in the hands of the platforms’ minders — Apple, Google and to an increasing extent, Microsoft — to ensure. While I hear a lot of complaining about Apple’s strict and often Byzantine app store rules, I think the biggest threats to the democratization of app development come not from top-down restrictions and regulation, but from the sneaky and un-competitive practices of established studios.

To give a specific example, it is remarkably easy for well-capitalized developers — be they established studios or spammers — can buy good market positioning by purchasing app downloads. To keep competition fair and developers honest, those who control the platforms must put some limits on these practices.

For the rest of us, it’s all about education. Apple and Google will do whatever they’ll do, but it’s on us to make sure that we as developers know the best practices and methodologies of working within the system. That’s what the Summit — and General Assembly’s educational offerings — are all about. Some of the most creative, interesting and transformative products are created when regular people are given the tools to create and the avenues to distribute and monetize those creations. The more regular people know how best to work the system, the cooler stuff we’ll be able to create.

And that’s why I’m thrilled to be working with the Mobile Gaming Summit. I hope many of you can join us there.

* You also could build TI apps in Assembly, but c’mon.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

April 23rd, 2011 at 4:08 pm

A Mint.com for Social Capital

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We are in the middle of one of the largest and fastest macro shifts in world economic history — the development of a social capital infrastructure analogous to the financial infrastructure built over the past five hundred years. Led by the growth of social networks, the value we are building in our personal relationships is becoming more and more comparable to “true” currency. In fact, social capital is coming closer to fully adopting the three core characteristics of money:

Medium of Exchange: It is far easier to reach all of my friends today than it was ten or even five years ago. More importantly, this communication has clear, quantifiable value that I can exchange for other goods. This has never been the case without insane transaction cost in the past.

Store of Value: I can now much more efficiently build, store and display my social capital. Twitter followers do not deteriorate as quickly in value without maintenance as real-life friends.

Unit of Account: The units of social capital have become far more standardized and concrete. Ten years ago it was meaningless to say you have “300 friends”. Today, the Friend (or the LinkedIn connection or the Twitter follower) is a far more meaningful unit of account.

I had the pleasure of joining Emily Hickey and Michael Yavonditte of Hashable for a demo of their product last week. In brief, Hashable turns the transactions of the social capital economy — introductions, breakfasts, lunches, coffees, beers, et cetera — into a game. I get points when I make an introduction or log a meeting in their system, for instance.

Given its check-in and gaming features, It’s tempting to refer to Hashable as “Foursquare for people”. But I think that’s missing the bigger opportunity — a Mint.com for social capital. Social capital isn’t a game any more than my bank account is a game. Sure, it has some game-like elements — it goes up and down in accordance with how well I “play” the game of life — but ultimately it has its most significant meaning outside of the context of any game framework we put around it. And that is where the real world-changing products will be made.

The next generation of successful social products will acknowledge that our social capital is a currency. They will provide tools to enhance our social capital’s functionality as a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. They will replicate the deep feature set at our hands to deal with money — banking, tracking, exchanging, investing, et cetera — for our connections and relationships. Over the past five years, social networks and the decreasing cost of bandwidth and storage have lowered the transaction costs of social capital exchanges by orders of magnitude. Now, the race is on to provide the best tools and infrastructure around this new currency.

Putting everything in the context of a game is a good way to get quick user traction among a competitive tech community. But social capital isn’t a game, and the biggest companies in the space five years from now will have grown by providing fundamentally useful functionality that helps everyone earn, save, exchange and optimize social capital.

Special thanks to Sam Lessin for helping shape my thoughts on this stuff. If you don’t subscribe to his letter.ly, you are missing some of the most thought-provoking writing in tech today.

Like this? Vote for it on my favorite news site, Hacker News.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

September 19th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The Future of Gaming

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I write a lot about where the gaming industry is headed — specifically as it relates to building game mechanics into non-game apps. Past posts have talked about serious problems in the current thinking about “gameification” and the next game mechanics to be implemented across the internet.

Next week, some of these thoughts will be brought into event format. The New York Gaming Meetup is partnering with the Y+30 to host a panel event on the Future of Gaming at 92YTribeca in New York City. Specifically, we’ll be looking at what gaming will look like in thirty years. If you’re interested, RSVP here. Panelists include Ben Feder (CEO, Take Two Interactive), Stephen Totilo (Editor, Kotaku), and Eric Zimmerman (CEO, GameLab). I’ll be moderating (read: desperately attempting to keep mental pace with the panelists).

It should be a fascinating event. Sam Lessin’s Y+30 always brings a unique outlook to these things by stretching the scope our projection to thirty years. In the words of Bill Gates:

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.

The Y+30 tends to be conscious of this quirk of the human mind — and accounts for it. It’s hard to project out thirty years without getting into the realms of sociology, psychology and philosophy (often in that order), so you have to be prepared for a wide-ranging discussion.

While I’ll save the best parts for those of you who attend the event, here are some topics I hope we’ll cover:

The future of the console. Will independent gaming consoles (or their analogue) exist in thirty years? Are full-body inputs the way of the future?

– Relatedly, what platforms will be most important to the gaming industry in thirty years? Will mobile gaming dominate?

– What features will be most important to gamers in thirty years? What trends will we want to read about?

Games and Society. Will the prevalence of online games for younger and younger children change the way those children interact with games (and the web, and society) as teenagers and adults?

The expansion of game mechanisms to non-gaming apps. How far is it going? Are we going to live in the world of Jesse Schell’s vision?

– Will people develop an immunity to traditional game mechanics? If so, how will this impact other aspects of life?

I’m sure plenty more will come up. Hope you can join us.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

July 13th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

The Next Generation of Game Mechanics

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I’ve already had a few things to say on the coming explosion of game mechanisms in non-game apps, but listening to Gabe Zichermann talk at last week’s New York Gaming Meetup raised some new questions.

I agree with Gabe on a lot of things. We’re absolutely seeing a proliferation of game mechanics throughout the internet, and the resulting points or badges are totally divorced from real-world value. But everything I’ve heard on this topic has presumed that most of the innovation in game mechanics has already happened; that the real advances will be in applying points, leaderboards and badges to anything and everything on the internet. In other words, we’ll see a world of thousands of companies replicating a limited pool of “proven” game mechanics to guide user behavior. There have even been entire companies formed to help companies stick points and leaderboards on their apps.

It’s a crock of shit, really. There is a whole world of compelling game mechanics out there, only a small part of which is the Activity > Points > Badges flow that Foursquare nailed. Game mechanics are going to expand throughout the web, but they’re going to diversify and incorporate a wealth of varied engagement strategies as they do. Different tactics work for different people and different sites, and consumers will demand diversity and deeper engagement as they become more hardened to “vanilla” game mechanics.

So what are these next-gen game mechanics, you ask? Here are a few I think we’ll see much more often:

Building and Growing: Most people like to build and grow things. You can chalk the psychology up to our agrarian past, but Ford knew this when they put a virtual tree into the Fusion. Leaderboards feel like a zero-sum game, and many people will respond better to a mechanism that feels more collaborative. Like growing a tree, for instance.

There’s a corollary mechanism to this — building or growing something that can help you play the game better in the future — that could be particularly powerful. This mechanism is analogous to building a strong base in a RTS game. People are doubly motivated to do it since it puts their involvement in the game on an exponential growth trajectory.

PvP Competition: This is a no-brainer. People can be motivated by leaderboards and badges, but it’s nothing compared to the passion you see in player versus player competition. That said, this is somewhat psychographically specific — lots of people have no interest in direct competition with other players, and I imagine that designers will initially approach PvP competition in non-game apps with a lot of caution. But I can’t see it staying on the sidelines forever given its power.

Real World Rivalries: I experimented with this in GoCrossCampus a few years back, and I still think there’s really something here. As I mentioned above, many people love to play games against other live players (whether asynchronously or in real-time), and real-world rivalries only accentuate the power of this mechanic. Your leaderboard isn’t doing enough to engage users? Let players represent major sports teams or their colleges and see which team/college is the best! Use real-world rivalries and your app can piggyback off your users’ natural loyalties and affinities.

Leveling: I’ve seen some non-game apps using this already — such as online forums that reward activity by “leveling up” members based on post count — but it’s still woefully underused. Levels give people goals, the lack of which can be the death of a traditional points-based reward system. If members don’t think they’re working towards anything other than more points or a slightly better place on the leaderboard, they probably won’t hang around too long. Social game developers know this well; it’s worthwhile to study the leveling system that Farmville uses to keep players from leaving in the early stages of gameplay.

Chance: When “gameifying” apps hits the mainstream, incorporating elements of chance into these game structures will be a big deal. People in the tech and media world like the meritocratic, deterministic nature of Foursquare, where points can only be earned, not “won”. But normal folks like to win and will often value a chance to win something valuable over something small and guaranteed. Game designers aren’t blind to this, and the game-based apps of the future will absolutely allow users to wager their virtual currency and tokens.

There are more, but this is enough to argue my point. It’s hard to imagine any of these tools not being used on a large scale over the next five years. Marketers and developers must stop mimicking points and badges and start thinking about how game mechanics integrate with their apps on a fundamental level.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

July 6th, 2010 at 6:52 am

NY Gaming Meetup: A Study in Iteration and Hockey Sticks

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The more time I spend working with startups, the more I find useful lessons for growing companies in random places. Take my gaming (industry) meetup, for instance. I’ve been running it for over a year, but only recently has it begun to “hockey stick”, in industry parlance.

NY Gaming Meetup RSVPs

The Opportunity: After running a gaming company in New York City for six months, I realized that there wasn’t a good place for people in the gaming industry to meet others in the gaming industry in an open, cross-pollinated environment. The International Game Developers’ Association’s New York chapter held regular events, but they were primarily focused on software developers, not the entire game creation ecosystem.

The Tactic: Create the New York Gaming Meetup, a (monthly) event where game developers can freely interact with others in the gaming industry as well as those outside the industry. Events would be regularly attended by investors, marketers, designers and others with a big role in making successful games. Meetups would be oriented around a series of demos of games built in the NYC area with networking before and after the demos.

Challenges:

(1) The NY gaming industry is highly fragmented with a focus on small (1-3 person) indie development shops. This isn’t Seattle or LA; there are only a handful of mid-sized gaming studios in NYC. It was critical to recognize that New York is a very different place and build a program that caters to those differences.

(2) There are few potential sponsors of such a meetup in NYC. This event would have to take root with minimal budget.

(3) Space in New York is hard to come by. The event would have to be structured and timed to let us take advantage of free space in bars and restaurants.

(4) As I’ve previously written, the New York tech landscape is very siloed, with little cross-pollination between verticals. In Silicon Valley, anyone working on a tech-enabled solution considers themselves part of the tech industry. In New York, we frame ourselves in terms of the particular vertical we are tackling — the “advertising industry”, the “gaming industry” or the “fashion industry”, for instance. This makes it difficult for events to reach across the social graph, and to this day I rarely see any Gaming Meetup regulars at other big tech events like the NY Tech Meetup or the Y+30.

Execution: For its first year, the event took place at Gallery Bar in the Lower East Side on Tuesday nights. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give the location a 2, the venue a 7 and the cost a 10 — it was a free (but good) space with AV equipment in a out-of-the-way Manhattan neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love the LES, but it’s a suboptimal place to host an after-work event.

Initial Results: The Gaming Meetup got a decent but not overwhelming response. We had a fairly predictable number of attendees — 55 to 75 per meetup — over our first ten months. The event wasn’t really gaining traction, but it was establishing a good core of game developers and people who loved what we created. The content (demos from local game developers and entrepreneurs) was hit or miss. There weren’t enough games being developed in New York City for us to be truly selective, and for every awesomely cool and instructive game that took the stage we had one guy just trying to sell something to the audience.

Iteration: A few months after starting the meetup, I started iterating on the model. Here are some things we tried and the results we got. Since metrics are important, changes were evaluated on (a) the number of attendees we got, (b) how long those attendees stayed and (c) how people reviewed the event.

Moving it later: Most people would show up at 7:30 anyway, so our 6:30 start time didn’t make any sense — especially since attendees had to travel to the Lower East Side. Good change, kept it.

Focusing on networking rather than demos: The demos started to get stale after a while, so I created one networking-only meetup to see how people would react. Bad idea; many people will only travel for content.

Fewer Demos: This was partially out of necessity, but ultimately it proved to be a good call. Six demos is simply too many. Four is much better.

Themed Meetups: We ran our first themed meetup (on Mobile Gaming) in March, and it was a tipping point of sorts. As it turns out, there is a certain “optimal specificity” in this kind of stuff — make it too general (“Game Demos”) and people aren’t sure what they’ll get. Make it too specific (“Android Development Best Practices”) and most people won’t care. Something in the middle (“Social Games”, “Mobile Gaming”, “Innovation in Consoles”) is ideal.

Higher-profile speakers: Last month, Kenny Rosenblatt (CEO, Arkadium) came and spoke on the topic of social games, and our meetup got 2x the number of people we’ve ever gotten. I’m a bit surprised that I hadn’t gone the high-profile-keynote-speaker route before. I’m certainly capable of sourcing them, and they give me far fewer logistical headaches than half a dozen demoers (one of which will inevitably bring a mac without the right VGA adapter).

The Hockey Stick: As you can see from my chart of RSVPs, I’ve started to figure this thing out. Popularity, of course, is self-reinforcing — now that we’re getting real traction, we’ve landed a great venue at AOL Ventures in the Union Square neighborhood. And our May meetup already has 90+ RSVPs, which is well beyond what any previous NY Gaming Meetup has gotten by this point. Most excitingly, we’re lining up partnerships with other Meetup groups for this summer — for example, we’re getting together with the Y+30 to host a panel on the future of gaming.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

May 2nd, 2010 at 9:13 am