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. []