Moving, speaking

It’s final days for me. In Copen­hagen, that is. July 1 I will exchange this love­ly city for my home town of Utrecht, the Nether­lands. The plan is to con­tin­ue work as a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. So if you’re inter­est­ed, but phys­i­cal dis­tance has been putting you off so far, get in touch.

Between now and then, most of my time will be spent at con­fer­ences. Here’s the run­down:

  • First up is From Busi­ness to But­tons, June 12–13 in Malmö, Swe­den. My talk is titled More Than Use­ful. I will attempt to show that for a cer­tain class of prod­ucts, play­ful­ness is a vital char­ac­ter­is­tic. The idea is to intro­duce the IxD crowd to some game design con­cepts.
  • The week after that I will be at the Fes­ti­val of Games, June 18–20 in Utrecht, Nether­lands. My pre­sen­ta­tion is titled Play­ing With Com­plex­i­ty. I will intro­duce the game design audi­ence to some inter­ac­tion design think­ing and sug­gest data visu­al­iza­tion might be an inter­est­ing area to team up on.
  • Last but not least is good old Reboot, 26–27 June in Copen­hagen. I have sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al titled Play­ful Activism in the Real-Time City, which I hope will be select­ed to be on the pro­gram.1

If you will be at any of these con­fer­ences, do drop me a line or say hel­lo at the event itself.

  1. If you’d like to see it too, don’t hes­i­tate to vote it up. []

Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a tran­script of my pre­sen­ta­tion at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobil­i­ty in Ams­ter­dam on 22 May. Since the major­i­ty of pay­ing atten­dees were local I pre­sent­ed in Dutch. How­ev­er, Eng­lish appears to be the lin­gua fran­ca of the inter­net, so here I offer a trans­la­tion. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video record­ing of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the pre­sen­ta­tion to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for record­ing this.

In 1966 a num­ber of mem­bers of Pro­vo took to the streets of Ams­ter­dam car­ry­ing blank ban­ners. Pro­vo was a non­vi­o­lent anar­chist move­ment. They pri­mar­i­ly occu­pied them­selves with pro­vok­ing the author­i­ties in a “ludic” man­ner. Noth­ing was writ­ten on their ban­ners because the may­or of Ams­ter­dam had banned the slo­gans “free­dom of speech”, “democ­ra­cy” and “right to demon­strate”. Regard­less, the mem­bers were arrest­ed by police, show­ing that the author­i­ties did not respect their right to demon­strate.1

Good after­noon every­one, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a free­lance inter­ac­tion design­er. Today I’d like to talk about play in pub­lic space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing in the city new forms of play will be made pos­si­ble. The tech­nolo­gies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gib­son writes in Burn­ing Chrome:

…the street finds its own uses for things”

For exam­ple: Skate­board­ing as we now know it — with its empha­sis on aer­i­al acro­bat­ics — start­ed in emp­ty pools like this one. That was done with­out per­mis­sion, of course…

Only lat­er half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘ver­ti­cal’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skate­board­ing is tol­er­at­ed. Skate­board­ing would not be what it is today with­out those first few emp­ty pools.2

Con­tin­ue read­ing Urban pro­ce­dur­al rhetorics — tran­script of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The web­site of Gram­schap con­tains a chronol­o­gy of the Pro­vo move­ment in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emer­gence of the ver­ti­cal style of skate­board­ing see the doc­u­men­tary film Dog­town and Z-Boys. []

A Game Developers Conference 2008 postmortem

The 2008 Game Devel­op­ers Con­fer­ence was a bit of a con­fus­ing expe­ri­ence for me. To begin with, I felt out of place. Any­time I intro­duced myself to someone—“I’m an inter­ac­tion design­er, I work freelance”—I would usu­al­ly get a blank stare. (Not many inde­pen­dents mak­ing a liv­ing in the games indus­try it seems.) At a lot of the talks, I was struck by the huge gap between the prac­tice of UX design­ers native to the web, and design­ers work­ing in the games indus­try. I’m gen­er­al­iz­ing here, but I’ll give some exam­ples:

  • Game design­ers still don’t strive to under­stand their audi­ence and the expe­ri­ence they’d like to have.
  • Game design­ers still don’t under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the web. They very rarely embrace the web way of doing things.
  • Game design­ers quite often aren’t able to think on dif­fer­ent lev­els of abstrac­tion about their medi­um, art form or what­ev­er you want to call it.

If that doesn’t get me flamed, I don’t know what will.

GDC 2008 was huge. By far the largest con­fer­ence I have ever been to. I heard some­one men­tion the num­ber of 16.000 but I could be com­plete­ly off. The pro­gram com­mit­tee obvi­ous­ly went for quan­ti­ty over quality—I attend­ed some real­ly great talks, but also some real­ly bad ones. In addi­tion it was hell to fig­ure out where to go. In hind­sight I missed out on some great ses­sions. Appar­ent­ly every­thing was record­ed, but they need to be paid forCMP appar­ent­ly think they’re doing the games indus­try a ser­vice like this. I think not.

GDC Mobile in par­tic­u­lar was a weird, depress­ing affair. The mobile game indus­try seems to have defined itself in such a way that there is no way for it to actu­al­ly suc­ceed. The major­i­ty are still try­ing to deliv­er a con­sole-like expe­ri­ence on a small screen, com­plete­ly miss­ing the poten­tial of the medi­um. Sigh.

Some themes I spot­ted:

  • Tech­niques for enhanc­ing cre­ativ­i­ty: Annakaisa Kul­ti­ma, a (game)researcher at the uni­ver­si­ty of Tam­pere in Fin­land pre­sent­ed game-like tech­niques for idea gen­er­a­tion. I’d par­tic­u­lar­ly love to play around with her NVA cards. Sam Coates and Graeme Ankers of SCEE showed how they’ve improved inno­va­tion and con­cept cre­ation using a whole range of tech­niques includ­ing lat­er­al think­ing.
  • The web way: There were some hap­py excep­tions to the gen­er­al igno­rance of the pow­er of the web. Justin Hall demoed PMOG—an excit­ing con­cept using the web as a gam­ing plat­form. Hope­ful­ly this will start a whole wave of “datagames”. Raph Koster blew me away with his very techy ante­mortem of Meta­place—a com­plete rein­ven­tion of MMOGs built from the ground up both with and as web tech­nolo­gies.
  • Sto­ry, dra­ma, nar­ra­tive, blah: “The audi­ence are not your mom. They don’t care about your stu­pid sto­ry,” said Ken Levine, writer and design­er of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed BioShock. I’m still not sure BioShock is actu­al­ly as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as peo­ple make it out to be. But Levine’s approach to sto­ry in games—having mul­ti­ple lev­els of detail that can be con­sumed as the play­er sees fit and telling the sto­ry through the environment—makes sense to me. I enjoyed Peter Molyneux’s demo of Fable 2 most­ly because of his crit­i­cism of Amer­i­can prud­ish­ness. “If this were Ger­many I’d be naked on stage right this moment.” Molyneux attempts to cre­ate dra­ma through sim­u­la­tion. Offer­ing free­dom of choice, but choice with con­se­quences. I won­der if this is a road lead­ing nowhere…
  • Mobile: Some peo­ple attempt to play to mobile’s strengths, with great suc­cess. DC of Pikkle in Japan showed a lot of crazy-ass Flash Lite games that are deliv­ered over mobile web. These mobile social games com­plete­ly cir­cum­vent the car­ri­ers and con­se­quent­ly dis­rupt the whole mobile mar­ket over there. Shades of Playy­oo here—although Pikkle has the ben­e­fit of 90% Flash Lite play­er pen­e­tra­tion, where­as in Europe we’re appar­ent­ly on 20%. Equal­ly true to mobile’s nature but offer­ing a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence is loca­tion based gam­ing. Jere­my Irish talked about the ori­gins of Geo­caching and showed won­der­ful work he is doing at Ground­speak. Loca­tion based games are full of emer­gent com­plex­i­ty. I enjoyed hear­ing that Irish tries to have play­ers be in the world in stead of the screen when play­ing.
  • Mis­cel­la­neous: Sul­ka Haro’s talk about Hab­bo was sur­pris­ing­ly thought­ful. Lots of good stuff on iden­ti­ty play and how Habbo’s lack of explic­it sup­port for it is not hold­ing play­ers back—on the con­trary, less fea­tures seems to cre­ate more space for play. Takao Sawano of Nin­ten­do delight­ed me with an in depth look at the evo­lu­tion of the Wii Fit con­troller. Secret of the big N’s suc­cess is clear­ly the close col­lab­o­ra­tion between its hard- and soft­ware divi­sions. Rod Hum­ble unveiled The Sims Car­ni­val, EA’s con­tri­bu­tion to the con­tin­u­ing democ­ra­ti­za­tion of cre­ative tools (again rem­i­nis­cent of Playy­oo). Hum­ble proved to be a very knowl­edge­able not to men­tion fun­ny speak­er. See­ing Ralph Baer and Allan Alcorn play PONG on the Brown Box was awe­some.

There was more—I’d love to go over all the won­der­ful indie games I saw at the IGF and else­where for instance—but these were by far the most enjoy­able ses­sions for me. If you’re look­ing for in-depth reports you could do worse than to start at Gama­su­tra. For me the real chal­lenge begins now—digesting this and mak­ing it applic­a­ble for inter­ac­tion design­ers on the web. I have a huge back­log of small­er posts lying around that I want to get out there first though (and this one has grown far too large already). So I’ll end here.

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

Speaking, lots and lots of speaking

First, the bad news: I won’t be able to make it to Inter­ac­tion 08. Which sucks, because it looks like it’s going to be a won­der­ful con­fer­ence with a smart crowd attend­ing. I would have loved to meet up with friends there. And of course I was look­ing for­ward to shar­ing my ideas on play­ful prod­ucts.

There’s plen­ty of oth­er events in the pipeline for me though, both big and small. Here’s a run­down:

Next week on Tues­day 16 Jan­u­ary I’ll be fly­ing to Oslo on invi­ta­tion of Are Hal­land at Netlife Research. I’ll do a short pre­sen­ta­tion at the UXnet meet­up, focused on the appli­ca­tion of game design to UX for the web.

Short­ly after that, I’ll be par­tic­i­pat­ing in Bar­Cam­p­Copen­hagen. I’ll prob­a­bly do a ses­sion about my thoughts in mobile social gam­ing. Oth­er than that I’m look­ing for­ward to just hang­ing out with the Dan­ish geek crowd.

In Feb­ru­ary it’s time to cross the Atlantic to San Fran­cis­co for the Game Devel­op­ers Con­fer­ence. I’m speak­ing at GDC Mobile about design­ing casu­al gam­ing expe­ri­ences for Gen­er­a­tion C. I’m going to make good use of my com­pli­men­ta­ry all access pass. You’ll most like­ly find me play­ing weird stuff at the Inde­pen­dent Games Fes­ti­val.

One final engage­ment tak­ing place in June that I can already announce is From Busi­ness To But­tons, organ­ised by my friends at InUse. Here I’ll get a chance to talk about the stuff that I had planned for Inter­ac­tion 08: play, sto­ry­telling and com­plex sys­tems. Look­ing for­ward to it.

If you’re read­ing this, and hap­pen to be attend­ing any of these events. Do drop by and say hi. I’d love to meet and chat!

Web of data — third of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the third post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here and the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here.)

Typ­i­cal­ly, IAs have con­cerned them­selves with the design of web sites. The metaphor most suit­ed and used for the web so far has been space. Even the term ‘infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture’ points to this. Nowa­days, besides hav­ing to tack­le the social dimen­sion (as per the pre­vi­ous trend men­tioned) IAs are forced to rethink the spa­tial metaphor in favour of a new one: the web as plat­form. This means design­ing for a web of data, where sites become data sources and tools to view and manip­u­late that data. This is a far cry from the old hier­ar­chi­cal mod­el. Like design for social soft­ware, IAs are still explor­ing this new ter­ri­to­ry.

There was an excel­lent pan­el on this sub­ject (notes and audio at The Chick­en Test), with amongst oth­ers Tom Coates and Matt Bid­dulph (both pre­vi­ous­ly employed by the BBC). Coates’ pre­sen­ta­tions (Native to a Web of Data and Greater than the sum of its parts) are essen­tial resources. He gave a super short overview of what design­ing for the web of data is all about. Matt went beyond screen based media into the realm of phys­i­cal com­put­ing (see the first trend) show­ing some cool exam­ples of Arduino pro­to­types feed­ing into Sec­ond Life.

Jared Spool talked about the usabil­i­ty chal­lenges of web 2.0 and focussed on (among many things) the short­com­ings of RSS and the dan­gers of mash-ups. RSS as a tech­nol­o­gy is pret­ty cool, but no nor­mal user intu­itive­ly under­stands its appli­ca­tion. This is a tech­nol­o­gy still look­ing for a killer app. Mash-ups are typ­i­cal­ly made by enthu­si­as­tic ama­teurs look­ing to com­bine avail­able data sources or inter­faces. This means we’ll see a wave of sites with seri­ous usabil­i­ty issues. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing per se, but still some­thing to look out for.

Social — second of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the sec­ond post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here.)

The recent web revival, that I will not name, pushed one trend to the fore­front – social soft­ware. The most chal­leng­ing aspect of design­ing social sites and appli­ca­tions is that you’re not ‘just’ design­ing for sin­gle users, but also for groups as a whole. The IA com­mu­ni­ty is still in the begin­ning phas­es of cre­at­ing a body of knowl­edge about how to best go about this.

Andrew Hin­ton gave one of the best talks of the event, first describ­ing the unique prop­er­ties of net­work-like com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice and how to design for them. From there he made the point that IA itself is a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice, not a for­mal dis­ci­pline, which means it should try to stay open and flex­i­ble.

Bonus: Gene Smith took a stab at the build­ing blocks of social infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures and came up with this nice mod­el.

IA Summit 2007 — Leaving Las Vegas

I’m sit­ting in the North West Air­lines World Club in Detroit using my eleven hour (!) lay-over to work away all the email and RSS feeds that have been pil­ing up dur­ing the past days of being (most­ly) off-line.

I had a great time at the IA Sum­mit. It was def­i­nite­ly worth the trip. Attend­ed lots of thought-pro­vok­ing talks and met a whole bunch of inspir­ing peo­ple. It’s inter­est­ing to now be able to put the Euro­pean IA scene in con­text of the ‘inter­na­tion­al’ one.

I’m sin­gle-quot­ing inter­na­tion­al, because to be hon­est, I think the IA Sum­mit is a North Amer­i­can event. Of course there were quite a few vis­i­tors and even speak­ers from out­side the US & Cana­da, but I can’t help but feel that the major­i­ty of atten­dees real­ly are not very aware of the tru­ly inter­na­tion­al char­ac­ter of the IA com­mu­ni­ty.

That’s a shame.

One exam­ple is some­thing I real­ly should have fixed dur­ing 5 minute mad­ness: the announce­ment of the Euro­pean IA Sum­mit. Apart from men­tion­ing the event’s name and URL, peo­ple weren’t exact­ly per­suad­ed to come over. It wasn’t even men­tioned that this is in the beau­ti­ful city of Barcelona!

Any­way, I’ll just use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to invite all my Amer­i­can col­leagues to make the trip and get a taste of how we do things in Europe. Seri­ous­ly, I’m sure peo­ple will enjoy learn­ing about the unique issues we’re deal­ing with (I did the oth­er way around). Like Jesse James Gar­rett said: “embrace ambi­gu­i­ty”.

On a dif­fer­ent note, I’ll prob­a­bly be doing a series of posts over the com­ing weeks like I did for the last Euro IA Sum­mit, once I get my notes ordered and fil­tered. Stay tuned.

IA Summit 2007 — one week to go

IA Summit 2007 logo

While we’re on the top­ic of attend­ing events: I’m lucky enough to attend this year’s IA Sum­mit. It’s all the way in Las Vegas (a long flight from my hum­ble coun­try) so there’ll be plen­ty of jet lag to cope with. Also it’s just the con­fer­ence for me, no time to attend the pre-con­fer­ence work­shops (which is a shame real­ly, because there’s plen­ty of inter­est­ing stuff). Regard­less, I’m look­ing for­ward to expe­ri­enc­ing the moth­er­ship con­fer­ence after two years of being at the Euro IA Sum­mit and meet­ing lots of new inter­est­ing peo­ple. Per­haps I’ll see you there?

Reboot 9.0 is here

Reboot 9.0 logo

Just received an email from Thomas that the next Reboot is here. Release 9.0 is themed human? and promis­es to be anoth­er inspir­ing event. They have a new web­site up (run­ning on the Dutch anyMeta) where I just added my pro­file. If you con­sid­er your­self a prac­ti­cal vision­ary and love the inter­net — make sure you’re there!