Month: January 2012

Console Pricing – How Low Can We Go

by Harry Holmwood

As someone who grew up in the eighties, I remember fondly the introduction of the Compact Disc.  Impossibly cool-looking, shiny discs, each apparently indestructible and capable of playing Dire Straits at unrivalled quality.  A few failed audio and video formats later, DVD came along and did the same thing for video.

All that time, the message, from the manufacturers, to the media, to the man in the hi-fi shop was “if it sounds better, it is better”.  And we listened to that message; and we heard that it was good.

But things started to change in the late nineties.  MP3 players didn’t sound better.  And once Apple married a cool, intuitive MP3 player was to a vast, convenient digital store, the music world changed forever.  Convenience beat fidelity.

It’s doing it again with video – I can watch a TV show live, in crystal-clear digital HD or, I can stream it from iPlayer when I want.  At lower quality.  Not bad quality, but I could have better, at the cost of just a little convenience.  But I choose the convenience every time, and so do more and more people.

So, if convenience wins over visual and audio fidelity, what does that mean for gaming?  Despite the impressive processing power available, the best selling smartphone and tablet games hardly push graphical boundaries, but, particularly when combined with a free-to-play business model, they can engage huge audiences.

People have low attention spans, and there are a million other things to do if engaging with your product is too much hassle.

So, if people don’t care so much about fidelity, what do they care about?

Price, for sure.  The explosion of the free model, and revenue growth figures from apps which have made the move from premium to freemium.  It’s both common sense, and demonstrable, that adding a payment barrier at the start of a game will greatly reduce the number of people who’ll ever start paying.

But – haven’t console games got the biggest payment barrier of all – the console?  Could it be that the days of expecting users to pay upwards of £300 to start playing is coming to an end?

Consoles are incredibly expensive to develop, launch and manufacture.  Development costs for games has rocketed as developers push graphics and content ever higher to take advantage of the consoles’ power. The biggest games must now sell millions of copies, at  £40 or more, just to break even.

Outside of the hardest of the hardcore, who’s really going to be impressed if Call of Duty in 2015 looks even more realistic that it does today?  Are we in danger of turning AAA gaming into an industry only for the most rabid enthusiasts?  Is the console’s destiny akin to that of high-end audiophile systems, where the hardcore fool themselves into thinking they’ll have a better experience if they pay hundreds of pounds for ‘special’ speaker cable?

We’re now anticipating announcements about new hardware from Microsoft and possibly Sony, later this year.  Let’s be honest, as an industry, we’re not as excited about it as we used to be, are we?  And if we’re not, how do we think the public’s going to feel?

Isn’t the better strategy perhaps to focus on removing the barriers to entry – getting the pricing of existing console platforms lower and lower and lower – until they’re genuine impulse buys?

For years now, it’s been possible to buy a DVD player for £30 or less.  What would it mean for the industry if you could get a ‘current gen’ games console for a similar amount?  Answer – everyone would have one.  And what if an open pricing model, with both premium and freemium games distributed on demand, created a seamless, way to start playing?  Now, it might not be possible to build a PS3 for less than £30 today, but it won’t be long before it is.

My feeling is that by eliminating the barriers to entry for consumers, we’d open the door for real innovation from developers.  Innovation that would drive new experiences, new business models and new customers and, in turn, pave the way for continued success in the console sector.

Right now, that innovation is all going into the web and mobile markets.  With the right approach, that innovation might just return to the boxes under our TV screens.

I suspect it won’t happen – certainly not before it’s too late for the incumbent console manufacturers.

Harry Holmwood

Gamification, Exploitationware or Cowclickivism* : Where is it all heading?

by Gina Fegan

* Article Wired Magazine, Jan 2012, by Jason Tanz

(www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_cowclicker/all/1)

 image

My issue with all of these words is that they are more about the buzz and media hype that they generate than a real understanding of what is actually going on and where it will lead us.

As Marshall McLuhan put it so succinctly “anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either”. From painful experience gained, I wholeheartedly agree with McLuhan. Taking this a little further and unpacking this statement it reveals two profound truths:

1. All entertainment teaches us something – even if we don’t know what it is at the time.

2. The more we are ‘entertained’ or engaged the quicker we learn.

It only takes cursory reflection to come to the conclusion that we know this already; it is not new, its just being articulated differently. Chess teaches the philosophy of war. All children’s playground games serve a purpose, ranging from enhanced physical dexterity to the niceties of social interaction. Stories use our engagement with the characters to tell us how to behave, or how to react to challenging circumstances, which we may confront in life. Being chased by zombies may appear a frivolous use of time, or may enhance physical dexterity useful in keyhole surgery whilst at the same time exemplifying the benefits of evasive action when in the presence of superior odds.

The question is, do we know what skills we are acquiring and why, or when, they might be useful.

Having accepted the value of entertainment in learning, (studies of which have been referred to as Ludic Epistemology; Ludic Learning; Learning to Play Playing to Learn), the next trick is to master it.

From my experience in teaching a foreign language the tools of the trade include:

– engaging the students,

– using all their senses,

– providing a safe place to take risks,

– giving real time feedback through positive criticism.

Some of the activities that do this really successfully are classic games, but equally useful are group discussions, reading, writing, singing, and sharing experiences, all designed and facilitated by the ‘animator’ or teacher. So the whole experience is more that the single game and needs a broader understanding, and a greater context within which to place the particular task.

So pulling back we can see that ‘gamification’ is a process of using something entertaining to engage someone, combined with positive feedback to cause behavioural modification. This does not make it an end in itself, a singular act; in fact it shows that it is one of the many tools in the game we sometimes call life.

Gina Fegan