ARTO

Time for a status update on my stay in Singapore. I have already entered the final three months of my time here. Time flies when you’re having fun eating everything in sight, it turns out.

On the work front I have indeed found the time to do some thinking about what my next big thing will be. Nothing has firmed up to the point where I feel like sharing it here but I am enjoying the conversations I am having with various people about it.

In the meantime, I have been keeping busy working with a local startup called ARTO. I have taken on the role of product designer and I am also responsible for product management of the user-facing parts of the thing we are building.

That “thing” is about art. There are many people who are interested in art but don’t know where to start when it comes to finding, enjoying and acquiring it. We’re building a mobile and TV app that should make that a whole lot more easy and fun.

When I say art I mean commercial, popular and contemporary art of the 2D variety. So painting, illustration, photography, etc. Things you might buy originals or prints of and put on your living room wall. Others are doing a fine job on the high end of the art market. We think there are parts remaining that have been underserved to date.

There are many moving parts to this product, ranging from a recommendation engine, content management system, mobile app, TV app and more so I am never bored. There is always something to figure out in terms of what to build and how it should work and look. For the past couple of years I was always too busy managing the studio to really get into the details of design but now I can totally focus on that and it really is a pleasure.

On the people side we have a small but growing team of brilliant individuals haling from various parts of the region including Vietnam, Myanmar and India. This lends an additional layer of fun challenge to the goings on as we constantly negotiate our differences but also discover the many commonalities afforded by the globalised tech industry. I also get to travel to Ho Chi Minh City regularly which is a nice change from the extreme order that is Singapore.

It is early days so I not only get to help shape the product from the very start but also the company itself. This includes figuring out and maintaining design and development processes. For this I find my Boydian explorations quite useful, paired with what is now more than 13 years of industry experience (how did that happen?) I have also conducted more hiring interviews in the past few months than I did in the ten years before.

In a month or two a first version of the product should be in the market. When we’ve gotten to that point I will do another of these updates. In the meantime just know I am up to my armpits in thinking-through-making about art discovery and enjoyment on screens small and large. If you have anything related to share, or would like to be one of the first to test-drive the thing when it arrives, let me know.

Teaching design for mobile social play

Last week, the group project I am coaching at the Utrecht School of the Arts kicked off. The project is part of the school’s master of arts program. The group consists of ten students with very different backgrounds, ranging from game design & development to audio design, as well as arts management, media studies, and more. Their assignment is to come up with a number of concepts for games that incorporate mobile phones, social interactions, audio and the web. Nokia Research Center has commissioned the project, and Jussi Holopainen, game design researcher and co-author of Patterns in Game Design, is the client. In the project brief there is a strong emphasis on sketching and prototyping, and disciplined documentation of the design process. The students are working full time on the project and it will run for around 4 months.

I am very happy with the opportunity to coach this group. It’s a new challenge for me as a teacher – moving away from teaching theory and into the area of facilitation. I am also looking forward to seeing what the students will come up with, of course, as the domain they are working in overlaps hugely with my interests. So far, working with Jussi has proven to be very inspirational, so I am getting something out of it as a designer too.

Reboot 10 slides and video

I am breaking radio-silence for a bit to let you know the slides and video for my Reboot 10 presentation are now available online, in case you’re interested. I presented this talk before at The Web and Beyond, but this time I had a lot more time, and I presented in English. I therefore think this might still be of interest to some people.1 As always, I am very interested in receiving constructive criticism Just drop me a line in the comments.

Update: It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to briefly summarize what this is about. This is a presentation in two parts. In the first, I theorize about the emergence of games that have as their goal the conveying of an argument. These games would use the real-time city as their platform. It is these games that I call urban procedural rhetorics. In the second part I give a few examples of what such games might look like, using a series of sketches.

The slides, posted to SlideShare, as usual:

The video, hosted on the Reboot website:

  1. I did post a transcript in English before, in case you prefer reading to listening. []

Design-related endnotes for MoMo AMS #7

Yesterday I attended my first Mobile Monday in Amsterdam. The theme was “value” and in my mind, I had already equated the term with “user experience”. This was a mistake. Contrary to my expectations, the event was well outside of my comfort zone. Discussions were dominated by business and technology perspectives. I found the experience frustrating at times, but I guess this is good. Frustration often leads to new insights. Therefore, although this may not sound as a recommendation, I would say MoMo is an event worth visiting for any designer interested in mobility. It will remind you that in this industry, many ideas you take for granted are far from accepted.

I thought I’d share some thoughts concerning the salient points of the evening.

Context

Context was often equated with location. To me, these two are far from the same. Location is, at best, a component of context, which also involves what people are doing, who else is there, what objects are present, etc. But, more importantly: Context arises from interactions, it is relational and therefore cannot be objectified. Coincidentally, Adam Greenfield has posted some valuable insights on this topic.

As an example, consider a person present in the White House, in the possession of a firearm, in clear sight of the president. The meaning of this situation (i.e. the context) depends completely on who this person is and what his motivations are. He might be working (bodyguarding the president), he might be at war (making an attempt at the president’s life) or he might be playing around (the gun isn’t real, he’s the president’s son).

Anyway — I subscribe to the view that we should not attempt to guess context, the above example has hopefully shown that this is an impossible task. (At least, as long as we cannot reliably read the minds of people.) In stead, we should ‘limit’ ourselves to giving places, things, etc. a voice in the conversation (making them self-describing, and accountable) and having context arise those voices, as determined by the people involved.

Open source

Ajit Jaokar posited that open source mobile software (such as Android) will lead to new device manufacturers entering the arena. The analogy was made to the PC industry with the emergence of white-label boxes. I wonder though, for this to truly happen, shouldn’t the hardware be open-sourced too, not (just) the software?

In any case, I think having more handset manufacturers is wonderful. Not in the least for the fact that it will open the door for a more diverse offering, one potentially tailored to regions so far under-served by device manufacturers. Which brings me to my next point.

Local, global, diversity, relevance…

Several speakers alluded to the fact that mobile is a global market, and that businesses shouldn’t be shy about launching world-wide. I see several issues with this. First of all, without wanting to sound too anti-globalistic, do we really want to continue on making stuff that is the same no matter where you go? I find diversity a vital stimulus in my life and would hate to see software experiences become more and more the same the world over.

Let’s in stead consider the following: A service that might make perfect sense in one locale very likely does not offer any distinctive value in another. I think the example of the now defunct Skoeps1, which was discussed at the event, illustrates this perfectly. It did not work in the Dutch market, but offers real value in ‘developing’ countries, where the amount of video crews on the ground is limited and images captured by locals using mobile phones are therefore a welcome addition to the ‘official’ coverage.

Context redux

Which brings me back to the question of context, but in this case, the role it plays not as a component of a service, but in the design and development process itself. I was sad to see the most important point of Rachel Hinman’s video message go unnoticed (at least, judging from the fact that it was not discussed at all). She said that starting point for any new service should be to go out “into the wild” and observe what people are doing, what they want, what they need, what they enjoy and so on.2 From this real and deep understanding of people’s contexts, you can start making meaningful choices that will help you create something that offers true value.

It was this notion of starting from people’s context that I found most lacking at MoMo AMS. Besides Hinman, I was surprised to find only Yme Bosma of Hyves3 alluding to it. Who’d have thought?

  1. Skoeps — pronounced “scoops” — was a social video site focused on citizen journalism. It went out of business because not enough “users” were “generating content”. Ugh. []
  2. Not surprisingly, Hinman works at Adaptive Path. Athough I very much agree with her presentation’s premise, I felt her example was a bit disingenuous. I find it hard to believe Apple designed iTunes to fit the mixtape usage scenario. This, I think, is more of a happy coincidence than anything else. []
  3. Hyves is the biggest social networking site of the Netherlands. []

Blank banners — see me speak at TWAB 2008

Provo protesting with blank banner

In 1966 Provo took to the streets of Amsterdam with blank protest banners.1 The use of rousing slogans had been outlawed by the city’s mayor. The ‘protesters’ were arrested. Provo achieved their goal of making the authorities look silly by playing at protesting.

They took existing rules and decided to play within them, to see how far they could push the limits of those rules. They were not allowed to use actual slogans, so they decided to use unwritten banners. They made use of the ambiguous nature of play: They were protesting, but at the same time not protesting. There were no forbidden slogans on their banners, but at the same time, the slogans were ever so present through their absence.

The police were not willing to take on Provo’s ludic attitude. They refused to step into their magic circle and play at opposing them. In stead they broke the rules, arrested them for real, and by doing so, lost—at least in the public’s eye.

This example—and hopefully a few others—I will discuss at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobility. In 20 minutes or so, I hope to inspire designers to think about what the near future’s blank banners could be. My session is titled ‘Mobile components for playful cultural resistance’ (an unwieldy title in desperate need of improvement) and will probably be in Dutch.

The conference is organised by Chi Nederland and will take place May 22 in the beautiful Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. Keynote speakers include Ben Cerveny, Jyri Engeström and Adam Greenfield. It looks like this will be a very special conference indeed.

Image source: Gramschap.

  1. Provo was a Dutch counterculture movement in the mid-1960s that focused on provoking violent responses from authorities using non-violent bait. Read more about them at Wikipedia. []

Designing a mobile social gaming experience for Gen-C

Update 21-03-2008: I’ve added some images of slides to allow for some more context when reading the text.

This is a rough transcript of my lecture at GDC Mobile 2008. In short: I first briefly introduce the concept of experience design and systems and then show how this influences my views of mobile casual games. From there I discuss the relation of casual games with the trend Generation C. Wrapping up, I give an overview of some social design frameworks for the web that are equally applicable to mobile social gaming. As a bonus I give some thoughts on mobile game systems mobile metagames. The talk is illustrated throughout with a case study of Playyoo—a mobile games community I helped design.

  • I’ve included a slightly adjusted version of the original slides—several screenshot sequences of Playyoo have been taken out for file size reasons.
  • If you absolutely must have audio, I’m told you will be able to purchase (!) a recording from GDC Radio sometime soon.
  • I’d like to thank everyone who came up to me afterwards for conversation. I appreciate the feedback I got from you.
  • Several aspects of Playyoo that I use as examples (such as the game stream) were already in place before I was contracted. Credits for many design aspects of Playyoo go to David Mantripp, Playyoo’s chief architect.
  • And finally, the views expressed here are in many ways an amalgamation of work by others. Where possible I’ve given credit in the talk and otherwise linked to related resources.

That’s all the notes and disclaimers out of the way, read on for the juice (but be warned, this is pretty long).

Continue reading Designing a mobile social gaming experience for Gen-C

GDC and another interview

This Saturday I’ll be jumping on a plane to San Francisco. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be attending the Game Developers Conference. I have a session at the GDC Mobile sub-conference elegantly titled “Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C”. Read more about my session on the conference site. It’ll basically be 1/3 crash course on the social web, 1/3 rant on mobile gaming and 1/3 talk about enabling creative expression through games. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll be in SF the full week (flying back the next weekend) so if you happen to be around, and feel like hanging out, do drop me a line. (Your best bet is an email to “kars” at this domain or d-ing me on Twitter.)

Finally, if that isn’t enough self-promotion for one post, (I’m risking a mass unsubscribe here) I was interviewed a second time for the Playyoo blog. Head over there for some talk about the Game Creator—a tool I designed for them that allows people to customise classic games and publish them to mobile:

“And then there are the games that are entirely personal. They make no sense to you or me, only to the person who created it and their friends. For example, I saw one variation of Lunar Lander where you need to land a crab on someone’s, let’s say Debbie’s, head. Now, I have no idea who Debbie is, but I can imagine Debbie is a friend or sister of the game’s creator. And it must have been a lot of fun for them to include the picture, and then have an easy way to distribute it to their friends.”

Playyoo goes beta

Today Playyoo went beta. Playyoo is a mobile games community I have been involved with as a freelance interaction designer since july of this year. I don’t have time for an elaborate post-mortem, but here are some preliminary notes on what Playyoo is and what part I’ve played in its conception.

Playyoo's here

Playyoo brings some cool innovations to the mobile games space. It allows you to snack on free casual mobile games while on the go, using a personalized mobile web page. It stores your high scores and allows you to interact with your friends (and foes) on an accompanying regular web site. Playyoo is a platform for indie mobile game developers. Anyone can publish their Flash Lite game on it. Best of all — even if you’re not a mobile games developer, you can create a game of your own.

It’s that last bit I’ve worked on the most. I took care of the interaction design for an application imaginatively called the Game Creator. It allows you to take well known games (such as Lunar Lander) and give them your own personal twist. Obviously this includes the game’s graphics, but we’ve gone one step further. You can change the way the game works as well.

Screenshot of my lolcats pairs game on Playyoo

So in the example of Lunar Lander you can make the spaceship look like whatever you want. But you can also change the gravity, controlling the speed with which your ship drops to the surface. Best of all, you can create your own planet surface, as easy as drawing a line on paper. This is why Lunar Lander in the Playyoo Game Creator is called Line Lander. (See? Another imaginative title!)

At the moment there are six games in the Game Creator: Tic-Tac-Toe, Pairs, Revenge, Snake, Ping-Pong, and the aforementioned Line Lander. There’s long list of other games I’d like to put in there. I’m sure there will be more to come.

Since today’s launch, people have already started creating crazy stuff with it. There’s a maze-like snake game, for instance. And a game where you need to land a spider crab on the head of some person called Rebecca… I decided to chip in with a pairs game full of lolcats (an idea I’ve had since doing the very first wireframe.) Anyway, the mind boggles to think of what people might come up with next! That’s the cool part about creating a tool for creative expression.

Screenshot of a Line Lander game in progress in the Playyoo Game Creator

So although making a game is very different from playing one, I hope I managed to make it fun nonetheless. My ambition was to create a toy-like application that makes ‘creating’ a game a fun and engaging way to kill a few minutes — much like Mii creation on the Nintendo Wii, or playing with Spore‘s editors (although we still haven’t had the chance to actually play with latter, yet.) And who knows, perhaps it’ll inspire a few people to start developing games of their own. That would probably be the ultimate compliment.

In any case, I’d love to hear your comments, both positive and negative. And if you have a Flash Lite compatible phone, be sure to sign up with Playyoo. There is no other place offering you an endless stream of snack sized casual games on your phone. Once you’ve had a taste of that, I’m sure you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

My GDC Mobile 2008 proposal: accepted!

Mobile gaming by Kokeshi on Flickr

It doesn’t say so on the site yet, but I am on the program for next year’s GDC Mobile.1 Yesterday I got the email that my talk — titled Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C — has been accepted. To be honest I was quite surprised. I work in the blurry overlap of the interaction design and game design fields, have no actual game titles under my belt and proposed a weird subject to boot. Who in their right mind would invite me to speak? Of course I am also really excited about this. GDC is the professional event for the games industry so I’m honored to be part of it.2

My talk will be closely related to the things I’ve been working on for Playyoo. I’ll discuss how short-session mobile games and a web based meta-game can interconnect to create a social game experience that allows different levels of player engagement. I’ll look at the ways you can align your game design with the expectations of Generation C: customization & personalization, recombination and connectedness. I might post the extended abstract sometime in the future, for now I’m just wondering: Who else is going to GDC? What would you like to see me discuss?

Update: The conference site has been updated, here’s the description of my session.

  1. Don’t be scared by the big Orc in the header of their site. []
  2. Now I just need to figure out whether traveling to the US twice in one month is a feasible undertaking. []

I was interviewed for the Playyoo blog

I was interviewed by Playyoo the other day

Most of you will probably know I’m involved1 with this new mobile game community called Playyoo. I haven’t blogged about it here explicitly because most of my contributions so far are still being developed and will hopefully hit the internet around December. I have an excuse to talk about it now though, because recently I was interviewed by the people of Playyoo for their blog. Read about my thoughts on the role of sociality in (mobile) gaming and how that will work in Playyoo’s meta-game, as well as what I think about casual games and the unique game design opportunities for mobile.

A quote from the interview:

What does the term ‘casual game’ mean to you?

‘Casual,’ to me, says something about the level of attention and engagement that a player has (or is required to have) with the game. For me as a designer, casual games provide interesting challenges. It might seem simple to create these casual games, but they’re actually quite tricky to pull off, or pull off well, that is. From a game design perspective, I think it’s more challenging to pull off a high quality causal game than yet another first-person shooter game.

Read the rest of the interview over at the Playyoo blog.2

  1. They’ve hired me to do game and interaction design. I have been working on mobile games, a game creation tool, and a web-based meta-game. []
  2. Thanks to Alper Çuǧun for the photo that’s in the post. []