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.
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.
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
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 for—CMP 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.
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).
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.
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!
(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.
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.
(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.
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”.
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 interestingstuff). 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?
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!