The Age of Transparency Part Three – Curated HyperData

“Our technology has become our gateway to our reality, and our reality has become a distorted ‘hyperreality’ – Baudrillard

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We have entered a time where we rely each other’s shared experiences viewed through our social networks which now extend beyond the local to provide us with the pieces of information that form our new perception of the world. The Twitter-sphere’s and Reddit’s trending threads and hash-tags already represent the flowing current of the zeitgeist, expressing the collectively wired. What are we internet people reading and talking about? What is relevant to me right now? What will be relevant to us when the next 2 billion people come online?

With the adoption of high speed internet connections, the collectively wired have joined to become part of one ersatz nation, shattering the corporate news medias central perspective, along with shoddy and often one dimensional advertising campaigns that once held together the traditionally coveted cable TV model (and sharing cat pictures). Now it’s absolutely necessary to have a social media component and web component as part of your marketing model in all realms of business to measure, understand and interact with your audience.

Just look at decision engines. Individuals believe that there is a certain amount of trust inherent in the fact that these views and perspectives stem from regular people, “just like me”. Review engines built into TripAdvisor, Yelp, Airbnb and even Ebay and Amazon are responsible for herding commerce by affecting decision making and closing sales (sorry sales guys). You don’t need a direct recommendation from a real life friend or convincing salesperson when there are hundreds of people just like you out there writing product and service reviews. In this way business has become a two way dialogue and the massive amount of information available to us means we have to be more discerning and organized about the way we access it.

So how do we navigate ourselves in the sea of information? As mentioned in previous posts, organizing how we digest our data has become its own specialty and will involve the birth of innovative ways of looking at data relationships like the upcoming Semantic Web browser “Tabulator”.

New systems like those from Echosec let us pull social media data and chatter from a specific geographic areas just by clicking and dragging. This is the modern “radio scanner,” except it works for far more than just police events. 

By dragging a bounding box over an area of the map, a snapshot of the local buzz is generated in real-time, accessible from anywhere on the globe.

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Eventually, by filtering context such as “food” or “shows’, I could be visiting a different city and be able to figure out where the best spots to dine for me are because I’ll be able to see various dishes being discussed, tweeted about and instagrammed in real-time.

Governmental agencies also benefit by digitizing information. They can better plan, prepare and respond to civic issues using the latest GIS platforms. Privacy be damned, data, in all its glorious forms is here to share and the human race will be better off for it. When another two billion people come online over the next couple years this will be all too clear. But, in order for data to truly improve our lives, it requires a two way system of sharing. For instance if BC hydro is going to monitor our homes power usage data, in return, the public should have access to a heat-map of the electrical grid in it’s entirety. This may not sound practical to an average taxpayer now, but if you allow for innovation in the free market to drive the improvement of power distribution and efficiency to lower energy costs in the future, it is necessary.

In the meantime, paper map and road guide booklet companies are undoubtedly seeing a decline in sales. In the modern era, pulling over to ask a gas station attendant for directions was a commonality. In the postmodern era, smartphones are eliminating the needs for human interaction and thinking skills leaving us with a cognitive surplus and a feeling of estrangement around one another.

Waiting in a line-up somewhere, better check my phone and see what’s going on.

Multiplied over the number of operations that used to require an interaction, a skill set, or specific knowledge, we are facing an intellectual gap that only the cohesiveness of the wired collective can fill. This means in the future, systems will have to be set up to pull things like traffic data involving signage and bi-laws to feed into a cars autonomous computer system. It will be expected that our surroundings are data packed and digitally quantified. On the plus side, forget ever getting a speeding ticket in a school zone again, even with manual control, you could program your car to always limit your speed inside the bounding box of a school zone during school hours.

Making many more sources of data available to creative people will help society manage resources intelligently to sustain our future growth. Stay tuned for the next article with a look at upcoming open source money and voting systems.

EPCOT Concept 1966

 

The Age of Transparency Part One – Changing Media

Casual computing and access to social media has radically altered our perception of media. We have gone from one channel with several voices to thousands of channels and hundreds of millions of voices in eighty years.

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The birth of social media

 Unlike traditional media, whose purpose is to provide temporary spin and keep you fixed to one channel (don’t touch that dial), social media is an ongoing dialogue that beckons you to explore and connect with an increasing number of social streams. With web 2.0, we’ve fractured a singular narrative of the old media, but there remain many people unsure of the benefits. I’m talking about the holdouts of social media, and I can understand their fears and prejudice about the whole thing.  I’ve heard a lot of reasons, but most of them refer to an invasion of privacy and the time wasting elements.

I would agree that at their core, advertising and revenue creation are the long term goal of most of these networks, but in return, they are providing a communications service free of charge. The concern of wasting time relates to how effectively one manages it, but more so, how they organize their consumption of information. Yes you can hang out on twitter all day, but you can also flip channels on the TV and waste huge wads of time with unplanned viewing. In the same way, some people can waste time reading news stories of their friend’s updates on Facebook for example, but I see the news feed as an aggregator of news from many different publications that I follow.

The privacy thing is a bigger issue, but here’s my greatest single argument for taking part in social media. I can represent myself the way I want to. I have control over the content I output – giving you less room to infer things about me that may not be true.  Even more, I can have a dialogue with you that could change your perspective or mine. Depending on what I choose to share, you can get to know me on an intimate level without ever meeting me in person. Taking this a step further, if you podcast yourself or create video blogs, I may end up hearing your voice more than close friends of mine because my daily commute or gym time is accompanied by your show.

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On Demand Media

It took a while – YouTube has been around for eight years now, but user generated content has now become an industry – several popular YouTube channels bring in six figures in annual revenue. Now, with the advent on Netflix people are dropping cable TV subscriptions. The reduction in signal “noise” is significant with the reduction of inane advertisements and old school broadcast news.

The cure for information overload?

People are aggregating their news from multiple web sites  and from their friend’s curated posts every day now. You’ve heard the main news story of the day by 10 am, so why watch the same thing with scripts, advertisements and celebrity driven news when you get home at 6 pm?

“stay tuned” for part 2…

Saving Rim, Part 3: NokiaSoft

Blackberry is in the news again, this time for not getting bought by Microsoft.

We all know the story of Blackberry, if not, here’s the recap. An innovative Canadian upstart that captured the cellphone market with QWERTY keyboards and enterprise ready email integration. One of the first true smartphones and choice of business’s all over the world. Like all great things, imitation was the purest form of flattery and Palm and Microsoft began nipping at the champs heals. Finally Apple jumped in and changed the game for everyone.

RIM wasn’t worried though. Perhaps they should have been.

Palm (remember them?) floundered and was swallowed up by HP, then sacrificed to the tablet god. Blackberry began its slow decline right thought its own tablet attempt and face lift. At this point Blackberry was seen as your dad’s phone, sturdy but incompetent in the new world of Facetime and Facebook.  Despite the heavy marketing effort to signal otherwise, RIM could not make up for a lack of R&D and the  giant technological eco-systems from Apple and Google.

Microsoft stalled on a few devices, trying to perfect the Windows phone which they didn’t really do it until they found a partner with Nokia. At that point, Blackberry and Microsoft partnership seemed like a good idea, Microsoft’s RT wasn’t cutting it, neither was Blackberry’s OS system… Palms OS was dead and Nokia’s ancient Symbian was freshly buried.

The Genius of Nokia. The last maker of Dumbphones.

The Nokia CEO made the right call to partner with Microsoft. The developing world is the largest growth market left to conquer. Nokia has the best penetration worldwide and at the price points needed to serve these regions. Blackberry would have always demanded a premium and would have stayed that way to preserve it’s model. So when looking for a partner to grab the #3 market share, Microsoft had two options. A) High value, small segment B) Medium / low value + huge segment, and went with the latter.

Microsoft and Nokia are playing the long game, the global one.

In the end I know Nokia was a better deal for Microsoft’s global plans but as a proud Canadian and a business person, it would have been really interesting to see Microsoft resources reinvigorate Blackberry. I think Microsoft would have gained some fresh perspective and a leg up on their tablet game and found a natural partner for their office suite of software. No one knows what’s next for Blackberry (other then an eventual sale), perhaps Microsoft is so big they will have the cash leftover for a purchase, but I doubt they would want the headache at this time.

Companies with a lot of cash that want to play the cellphone game and market to the business and enterprise sector might see Blackberry as a logical extension of their brand – I’m looking at you Sony.

Supersonic Commerce

Elon Musk’s idea for the creation of the Hyperloop transport system is not a crazy (or technically his) idea, but it is the logical evolution of high-speed rail and could be a boon to a domestic economy, both by creating jobs in its construction and maintenance and by morphing our idea of acceptable commute distances.

The Hyperloop (a vacuum tube based, supersonic electromagnetic rail system) is said to be able to take 30 minutes to go from San Francisco to LA, a trip that would normally take over 5 hours.

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A cross-country Hyperloop could go from New York to LA in 2 hours.  This is because inside the tubes there is minimal friction and the ability to hit speeds of Mach 2 (two times the speed of sound or about 2400 kph) or higher comes easily. Powered by the sun with energy stored in super-capacitors, the cost would be negligible to run; however, building the infrastructure for a smaller line from San Francisco to LA would cost about around 6 billion dollars.

You may be thinking this is great for a lot of actors and movie producers but what effects would Hyperloop’s have on the rest of the world?

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Supersonic passenger travel is an old idea, theorized and designed in the early 60’s and 70’s. The Hyperloop itself is based on a paper published over thirty years ago.

By 1969, the world witnessed the first flight of a supersonic passenger jet. This was the Concorde – the spawn of a cutting edge venture between Air France and British Airways. My grandfather flew on it before it was retired. I still have some of the in flight British Airways, Concorde branded memorabilia he handed over to me as a child.  He said the in flight experience was “rock solid”, you couldn’t perceive how fast you were going, there was no turbulence and he didn’t forget to mention how awesome it was to say you used the bathroom at the speed of sound. Supersonic indeed.

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The Concorde transported 2 million passengers in its twenty plus year lifespan with regular flights from New York to London in 3 hours (a distance of over 5000km).

That is akin to going across Canada in about 3 hours or from Vancouver to Hong Kong in 6 hours.

Plans for more supersonic passenger planes like the  Boeing 2707 and Lockheed L2000 were scrapped in the late 70’s citing economic concerns (there was also concern of damage or noise created by the sonic boom – easily avoided by transitioning supersonic speeds at high altitude).

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With computer simulations and the updated engines of today, the Concorde design would easily double its range and efficiency and add a host of amenities for it’s passenger. Wi-Fi at 55,000+ feet anyone?

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For the naysayers that doubt the safety record of the Concorde – stop – it was the safest jet ever flown. It’s demise came at the hands of runway debris, a downturn in the market post 911 and a business model that was unsustainable at the time.

With upgraded technology and smarter business models the state of commercial aeronautics is ripe for change.

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 Have we stagnated?

The speed of travel has always been linked to humanity’s progress. There was a time when horse-drawn carriages and steamships revolutionized the world. The exchange of ideas and cultures has always accelerated technological innovation, and expanded economies. There is little doubt that trade has benefited humanity beyond pure financial need by increasing our level of cooperation with one another leading us to a more peaceful world.

In the past hundred years we harnessed the power of flight and its ability to make trips that used to take a month would be completed in a day. We’ve gone to the Moon, we’ve flown craft to Mars and we even have vehicles on the verge of leaving our solar system for the first time.

Despite all these breakthroughs, it appears we have become accustomed to the status quo of travel for too long. The next step for us is traveling to and from countries on opposite ends of the earth within a couple of hours for a reasonable price.

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The pace of the technological world today makes the current process of travel seem anachronistic.

The internet helps us communicate instantly around the world which has been a great stop-gap solution to physical travel; however, getting to know each other by immersing ourselves in each other’s cultures via business trips and vacations is a wholly different experience in comparison to the cold hard glow of lcd panels.

There are challenges. The airline industry struggles in its current form with increasingly bogged down airport security and multiple stop overs which make travel a more arduous process then it needs to be.

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Canada is a huge country, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to visit family and friends in other cities in as much time as you are used to being in a car commuting to work every day?     Right now it’s an impossibility. The cost of fuel alone has made flight in general a losing business model, but this is precisely why we need a leap in technology to enliven the industry.

On-board amenities and electronics have improved, so has engine efficiency and aerodynamic design thanks to modern-day computer modelling. The higher you fly, the less efficient those old combustion engines become the more efficient electric options become. Instead of zigzagging vacuum tubes across the land, how about slapping together some Tesla Model S battery packs for high altitude electric fan powered flight?

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What the world needs is the ability to have people explore and leverage their dollar to elevate each other’s economy while enriching their lives. With the advent of cost-effective supersonic air travel, the airline industry would experience growth while new disruptive hospitality models like AirBnB would thrive. Local and struggling economies would get a sorely needed boost while people would gain a better understanding and appreciation of the cultures this planet has to offer. The world needs supersonic commerce yesterday.

Check out the “Son of the Concorde” – a hypersonic passenger plane in the works.

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Designing for VR

If you visit this blog regularly or follow me on twitter @alexanderkline , you know I have been raving about the Oculus Rift. I finally had a chance to finally use one, special thanks to @iheartinternets for setting up the nerd home office invasion.

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First Impressions

The headset is remarkably light and unobtrusive. It’s relatively innocuous looking and honestly I would feel comfortable wearing it for extended periods of time, even in front of other people.

We loaded up the Tuscany demo, and boy, this thing is a trip!  It’s hard to describe in words what the experience is like. Close your eyes and imagine you could peer into another world, the world would look slightly pixelated and you would definitely perceive it to feel like being inside a video game. There is no lag when you move your head and look around which really provides the through the looking glass experience.

It actually takes a moment to get used to the fact that you can look around freely (lag free). When you start to look up and down, around and  behind you, you start to realize how confining looking straight at your monitor has made every digital experience you’ve ever had up until now.

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The whole experience is not without flaws. The pixel density although satisfactory, could definitely be higher. This will just be matter of time as miniaturization moves forward and costs come down, in fact the consumer version is said to be targeting higher resolutions in a year or so when the Oculus hits the mass market.

That being said, the SDK version is entirely serviceable and gives you a sense of how far this tech could go. Anyone who uses one of these things will immediately have gameplay scenario ideas and unique uses come to mind.

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Check out the guillotine simulator (link)

 VR User Experience Design

A key element of getting VR right will be designing experiences around the unique properties and scenarios this technology can offer. Right off the bat, I did feel a bit queasy jumping in and moving around too quickly while snapping my in-game body left and right using the mouse.  To ease the transition perhaps games can tie a calibration sequence into the introduction to get the player used to the headset  and controls while making it part of the narrative.

Another aspect of the VR experience is the feeling of being disembodied in the world. Developers will have to create “virtual bodies” for players as you will expect to see when you look down. Along with this are the needs for proportionate movement speed, architecture and scenery that need to be scaled to approximate reality.

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Being able to see your own hands in the VR world would be incredible. I can see this could being accomplished with systems from Leap Motion or even the Microsoft Kinect device. When control sticks are needed the  Razer Hydra sticks seem to be the best option.

It was a bit jarring to see a giant floating mouse cursor when hitting the wrong button on the keyboard. User information will need to be centralized and overlaid in a way that is unobtrusive rather than the traditional dashboard hub, unless it is a driving or flying sim with working gauges (as per the helicopter demo).

Finally, if you are looking for the full on VR experience you need to be able to move your whole body. Check out the Omni directional treadmill , it already works with Team Fortress 2, Crysis and Skyrim.

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Afterthoughts

This is exciting stuff that will only get better with time as the development kit improves and support for more devices is added and refined. I think a lot of people will be pre-ordering the consumer version of the Oculus and I’m glad to see game developers jumping on board. I recently helped fund one that is taking advantage of the unique experience provided by the Oculus called  The Gallery : Six Elements.

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The Second Coming of VR

I remember a time when a Virtual Reality business setup shop in my hometown of Victoria, BC, inside Hillside mall. Run like a futuristic arcade, you stepped into booth and put a clunky headset on, you were given some kind of joystick and told you would experience virtual reality for a couple dollars a minute.

I loaded up Duke Nukem 3d (must have been around 1999) and was very aware of how much this VR experience was like pressing my face up against a large curved monitor, to make matters worse, the head tracking was laggy and the game experience was disjointed and awkward.

The VR shop closed down within a month or two, I walked away disappointed, wondering when or if we would see VR in our lifetime.

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It seemed like so many movies that had represented VR in the past(Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and even newer ones like the Matrix) were way off the mark and the dream of true virtual reality would never be realized until the Oculus Rift appeared.

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The founder of the Rift, a young man named Lucky Palmer didn’t want to live in a world that couldn’t conceive of proper VR headset. He saw that graphics and processing power of modern computers were simulating more realistic environments, that the pixel density of smart phone screens were increasing. Meanwhile  sensors were getting cheaper and the advent of 3d printing converged to make it feasible to prototype a commercial device that could change the way people game, learn and even interact.
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The Oculus is revolutionary in that it simulates a field of view akin to what you are used to seeing out of your own eyes with lag-free head tracking that essentially tricks your mind into thinking you are having a valid experience. I haven’t yet experienced it for myself , but there is a litany of videos of people trying it that all seem genuinely blown away

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From  urban youth to grandmothers and the all-important game development community, everyone is hailing it as the next big thing in interactive entertainment.
There is a case to be made for simulation and training of professionals as well as therapeutic uses and a place for it in a clinicians setting as well. This is a technology to keep your eyes on.

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The Future of Free to Play

What is Free to Play (F2P) all about?

Back in the early days of PC gaming I can remember how coveted game demos were. Magazines often packaged a CD-Rom of current game demos as a value add to give you just enough of a taste to whet your appetite, hook you,  and get you to purchase the whole thing upon going gold (release). Traditional video games for as long as I can remember have hovered around the $50 mark.  Not today, some of the newest, highest production value games are free.

That’s right 0$

If you have the time but don’t have the money you can play a ton of games for free with either ad support or stripped of premium features. Faster game-play, better and additional items and goodies await you for nominal fee.

Getting you to pay for these features is the true goal of Free to Play which is essentially a Freemium model.

Does this work?

Yes , in the mobile space we’ve seen it work with Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Draw Something and many other titles. One thing they all have in common is the excellent job they do of roping you in.

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Draw Something in particular saw explosive user acquisition initially as everyone with a new smart phone had a friend they wanted to try doodling with, limited selection of colours and all.

The typical strategy of these companies is;

1. Acquire you

2. Retain you

3. Monetize you

Developers know the first 20 minutes are key. If they can achieve this, they will keep you interested for as long as possible and retain your business.

Past, present,  future

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In the past a mere taste of a game was enough but with companies competing for user’s time a midst a sea of time killers, what model is guaranteed to generate the most revenue? Can ancillary items like important marketing information for advertising make the game developers more money than the initial cost of the game?

As it turns out, the F2p model does this well and more. By the end of the year , we will see a social enabled free to play game in virtually every genre and internet enabled gaming device. What defines “gaming device”?

Anything with a browser. Use your imagination. In the future expect to see a whole lot more F2P.

Friction is the key

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Creating the right amount of difficulty or slow down with just the right amount of ability to progress in the game is what the ultimate free to play games strive for.

On PC I think Tribes Ascend has really nailed it. Great game engine and fun game-play with a ten-year legacy of Tribes players. You can play for weeks to upgrade a couple of your stats but you may be enticed to pay for different weapons sets or customization slots within days.  I expect to see the same thing with Hawken.

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On my phone you will find the excellent AOD army of darkness defense game (based on the movie with the same name). Free to play, spend money on coins if you wish to increase your stats and upgrade units earlier on. I found there to not be enough friction and I was able to beat the game without being tempted to spend any money. Still great fun and I am hoping for a follow-up from this studio, the more cult movie franchises tie-ins the better.

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Another game I recently began playing is Clash of Clans. This game is a turn based city build/defend strategy game with social aspect of being able to join clans and attack other players. With this game the friction is almost too high, I know almost right away this game is going to be frustrating unless I give in to spending some money.

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The perfect amount of friction has the player eager to play forward without discouragement while clearly seeing the value of a purchase as an immediate benefit and thus will be compelled to spend a little bit.

The value proposition of these games is tied inherently to the core gameplay mechanics.

In more complex scenarios like Valves, Steam exclusive DOTA 2 game can lead to complex economic systems that are self-sustaining and rely partially on user-generated content to make new items and customize your players load out, sound effects and more. This is a really interesting prospect because of the ability for users to generate revenue, trade and contribute to the creation of its own self-sustaining economy.

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The Social Element

We know games like Draw Something and Cash of Clans draw in the friends of users, as does DOTA 2 (I was given 5 invites for the pre-release access). It is widely known that generally people like to play games with friends, and because of this Facebook has been a great game finding and playing platform as web browser technology ploughs forward and better games come through the pipeline.

For those against Facebook, or at least gaming through it and for those publishers not cool with the 30% cut Facebook takes of the profits, there are publishers and independents with their own free to play game platforms.

Leaders

Kixeye, the bad boy of F2P has their own platform built into their website at www.kixeye.com

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On their website platform you will find their premier titles War Commander and Battle Pirates which are MMORTS style games with true synchronous combat.

Kixeye is a pioneer of hard-core free to play MMORTS (massively multi-player online real-time strategy) style games with social elements and real-time synchronous game-play (instead of waiting for opponent to take a turn, the action happens in real-time on both sides) which is quite the technical feat with approximately 4.8 million users logging in monthly.

Having achieved commercial success through Facebook, Kixeye’s average player spends about 1.5 hours playing War Commander a day, with a 400,000+ DAU (daily average users) count.

As with many free to play games, the friction point of Kixeye games are primarily speed of play with base building taking the majority of the players time unless they choose to buy speed ups or purchase resources which many Kixeye players do. In fact Kixeye has one of the highest ARPPU’s (average revenue per paying users) in the industry at about $0.80 per paying user.

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Then there are MAU/DAU (monthly and daily average users). This figure is essentially engagement, how many of the monthly users actually come back and play daily? After all, they can only spend money if they are in your game. Kixeye’s War Commander sees a very consistent 1 million active users per week (WAU) meaning they have an extremely high level of user engagement.

Kixeye will hope to repeat this success with a new exclusive F2P MMORPG later this year.

Now that I’ve bombarded you with a few of the industry metrics and bored you to tears lets refocus

Of course there are many more ways to measure your game’s level of success, but making a great game that people want to play has got to be the core you work from. There are more games of varying quality using this free to play model than ever before and likely more games to come. It is conceivable that after the bean counters run the numbers, traditional subscription modeled and $59.99 one time purchased games will become free to play.

My only concern with this trend is that game-play mechanics may not translate well to a free to play model. Critical friction points may be out of alignment with user value perception and result in lost opportunities and players more likely free to stray to another game. With an emphasis on building micro economies as outlined in Gabe Newell’s vision of the industry ( http://youtu.be/PeYxKIDGh8I ) , there is a chance for creating longer running, organic, self-marketed and thus higher revenue producing games in this manner.

There are many games to play and  too little time to play them all. Let quality, variety, game-play and friction separate the wheat from the chaff.

rofl friction

Other free to play browser games can be found at:

www.Kongregate.com

www.wildtangent.com

www.mmobomb.com

If you are interested in learning more about free to play gaming check out:

www.gamesbrief.com

www.appdata.com

www.allfacebook.com

The Return of TableTop Gaming

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I welcome gaming with friends, it’s a great way to unwind, catch up, and have a few laughs.  Being of the video game generation , I never expected I would revert to board games.

I’ve owned everything from an old Atari computer with Basic and a floppy drive to load games, to a 286’s to Pentiums to the latest multicore systems of today. Along the way were consoles from Sega, Nintendo , Sony and Microsoft.

My PS3 has mostly become a Netflix machine connected to projector for large screen low definition movie watching and most of my gaming has shifted to free to play browser and steam games on the computer or *gasp Iphone.

My quad core workstation has a beefy video card if I need to push some frames but my 2010 MBP follows me to the couch and has become my companion.  When I burn out from watching all these glowing screens, I revert to my love of reading on my non backlight e-ink Kobo Touch.

So here I am with all this electronic technology never expecting to actually enjoy a board game again.

As a child I had my fill of Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue with family and friends before video games completely eclipsed these. The Original Social Games.

With my friend’s encouragement and frankly no choice but to play with them, I was coerced into becoming a Settlers of Catan player. A simple game of resource management, dice rolls and every changing strategy and diplomacy. Simple yet nuanced.

Sitting around the upside-down cork-board at my friends bachelor pad with four others to play a board game seemed weirdly anachronistic at first. Probably because we were used to playing Quake 3 over the internet on our own servers from the comfort of our own homes. When we were in the room together Gears of War was usually the choice for split screen cooperative play on massive projector screens.

Remember the poker fad from a few years ago? That was probably the only other analog experience we had as a group.  Interacting on a competitive level with your friends without the intermediate of technology is a shockingly refreshing experience. No need for to be mic’ed up on Ventrilo to hurl some insults, just say what’s on your mind, no need for emoticons, your face will do.

Then there are the “Feelies”, with Settlers of Catan, physical objects such as roads, settlements and cities are little plastic pieces with an air of quality and metaphysical as well as real weight to them as they get placed on the board.

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A particular arrangement of roads and cities popping off the board in physical space becomes somehow more striking as a symbol of attrition, perhaps as intimidating as scouting an enemy nuclear silos in StarCraft or a fleet of Protoss carriers coming your way. The development cards which you can buy as tech tree like skill boosters in many games, sometimes stack up to grant extra points or powers like taking all of one resources out of your friends hands (the monopoly development card).

My question is, with the resurgence of board games like Settlers of Catan, are we going to see a new half digital – half physical mash up of the genre?

Let’s look at another classic board game, Monopoly – consider all the different versions and interpretations of it. Pretty cool, but you need a new set for each one. I don’t know many board game hoarders with multiple versions of the same game. Personally I have a Star Wars version of Monopoly, but that’s it.

With newer multi touch interfaces, tougher glass like Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, and a decrease in screen costs as they scale larger and larger, it only seems logical that we will see a shift towards rediscovering board games in the digital realm.

Sure we’ve all seen the crappy digital versions of classics like Monopoly where you pass the tablet around to the next player, but something is lacking in the experience. Since all board games are turn based , passing along the screen from player to player kind of works, but it also kind of sucks, there no central focus for the group, the experience is numbed without the central source of attention and without seeing what individual players do as they are doing it. Worst of all, these experiences are made more ethereal without the presence of Feelies in your hand or on the board

So we lack holographic technology, but we have tablets that are foresee-ably going to be cheap and large enough to cover an average coffee table, powerful enough to display high end graphics, be connected to the internet and playback sound effects.

But the digital versions of the board games suck compared to playing the real thing!

As 3D printers come online, and new NFC technology gets even cheaper, old and new school game designers and hardware developers have an opportunity to do digital board games right. Half physical with printed pieces tagged with NFC (near field communication) codes for software identification and half digital with animation, sound and the ability to load infinite variations of game sets, brands, publishers, spin offs, mods, and more. Imagine playing a Settlers of Catan version modded out based on HBO’s series, The Wire (I’ve given some thought to it)

Everything that’s great about software gaming brought together with physical intermediary of game pieces to tie the experience together in a corporeal and social setting.  I think we are still a few years away, but we will start to see some leaders emerge with a standard sized multitouch tablet and a great viewing angle that will become the standard delivery method for these games. What pieces you can’t get sent in the mail or purchase from your local hobby stores will become 3d printable downloadable designs that will carve itself a niche with a new set of hobbyists, artisans and hackers to push the community forward and eventually make it mainstream.

Check out the links below to see one of the emerging leaders (Epawn) in this upcoming market.

http://youtu.be/wcqKR1OihSY

You can clearly see from the video the benefits of the digital experience being brought to the analog turn based gaming age, move a piece, and watch the animated attacks flow over gorgeous textures!

More to come on gaming as I follow-up this article with a look at the free to play market and the future of casual gaming.

A Labour of Luxury – Manufacturing in the 21st Century

While Samsung and Apple fight for patents about who’s got round or square corners, a slide to unlock and other mundane and generally indiscernible features, workers at a major manufacturing plant are rioting and striking in the thousands for fair wages.

Of course manufacturers bid for contracts and the lower they go, the higher the chance of clinching it. That means design and engineering companies like Apple and their manufacturing contractors like Foxconn have a symbiotic relationships. One benefits from the other and this trickles down to us consumers in the form of savings right?

Not entirely.

See large telecom companies are still subsidizing these phones, hooking you with lower then manufacturer’s retail prices by taking a small loss on the hardware and taking a huge profit on service fees for the duration of your contract. Upwards of 10 billion in annual profit looks to be quite normal for the big wireless telecom providers. (http://www.vancouversun.com/business/all/Telus+wireless+segment+helps+boost+revenue+billion+profit/7038865/story.html)

So while giant’s battle in the courtroom over billions of dollars, the people at the bottom, toiling away to meet demand are being paid fractions of these gigantic profits (http://www.bgr.com/2012/05/03/apple-cell-phone-profits/) with company and factory owners and mid management taking the lion’s share of the wealth generated for their use personal gain and leaving thousands to squabble amongst each other to get out like the crabs in the bucket they have become. Foxconn’s parent company makes about 3 billion in profit annually but Apple makes closer to 30 Billion annually. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/12/fortune_500_foxconn_apple_profits/)

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what’s important.

Many of us if not all have smartphones now. This entwines our lives with technology on an intimate level. I say intimate because many of these devices come everywhere with us. For many of us they are moving from a luxury to a necessity. We seem to be using them and enjoying them and even creating a new thriving industry of app development making people wealthy 99 cents at a time.

There are a few argument’s, some intuitive, some economic for fair wages. Many of them discount the complexity and challenge associated with high technology devices. After all as design elevates many of these new devices are becoming more sophisticated and challenging to manufacture, requiring more skill and trained labour to develop.

Because of all the complexity and commerce associated with our technology perhaps manufactures should begin to place more emphasis on fair wages. What I mean by this is the ability for privileged societies on earth to raise their standards of ethics associated with the delivery of high tech products which are becoming more important in today’s modern society.

I realize this crosses into much contested ideological territory of what fair wages are and the cultural relativity associated with them. I’m going to make blanket statements here but I believe that wealth if even slightly more evenly spread out would have the effect of creating much less disparity in the world and therefore less tension, crime and unhappiness that lead to all sorts of nasty self-perpetuating problems.

I think we are caught in a hard place right now economically – although it makes sense to outsource labour and disperse a portion of wealth to ailing countries, in the long run we know this hurts local economy’s by reducing spending power of its citizens and contributing to inefficiencies due to shipping and transportation logistics which inflate costs and further deplete and toxify the environment.

Personally, I would like to see a new era of responsible employment become the norm. What I mean by this is paying wages which allow workers to move to higher positions after learning their positions.

With a higher level of society has to come tweaks and leaps in the way we do things. As we work smarter, a major reorganization will transpire out of necessity. I believe we are seeing this now as companies stockpile enormous profits and hesitate to invest while lower end labour workers are either out of work or are working treadmill wages.

In today’s interconnected society, doing the right thing leads to profit and further survival. Paying fair wages may reduce the company’s overall amount of hires, or their profits in the short run, but in the long run people who care about these issues (generally anyone who hears about them) will be more inclined to purchase from companies who treat their workers fairly.

Looking forward, perhaps training robots will replace more tedious jobs and save companies even more money. However there will still be a need for humans to supervise and service them. New robots like Baxter from Rethink Robotics is the first step towards a major industry reorganization. See video – (http://youtu.be/rjPFqkFyrOY ).

These robots have the potential to take the monotony out of jobs and elevate people sense of self-worth. I realize robots may still displace some workers initially however a major shift to local product manufacturing could also bring with it the ancillary jobs included in the full lifecycle of the products, from raw resource harvesting to disposal and recycling creating many more jobs with a level of diversity unseen presently.

If we can’t pay people fair wages on the other side of the world, can we get away with it in our own backyard?

Probably not.

But think, if we paid people wages that kept them happy and moving forward in life on the other side of the world, what would stop us from bringing manufacturing back home and doing the same thing here?

Perhaps that’s the ultimate answer and North America could certainly use the jobs.

How to Save RIM: Part Two (Saving the Canadian Dream)

Instead of writing a eulogy for Research In Motion, I would rather focus on some ideas that might save the brand.

Perhaps it’s because I’m on optimist, or because I’m a hopeful Canadian entrepreneur and recent grad of Royal Roads University‘s Bachelor of Commerce program that I can’t help but think of ways to save “The Canadian Dream”.

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RIM stands out as one of the few high tech Canadian start-ups to play with the giants of a major industry and was actually winning for quite some time.

Mostly it represents great possibility to me of what can be accomplished from north of 40.

We also happen to share the birthplace, Waterloo, Ontario.

So how do we rescue RIM? Let’s examine the current market and some key players;

Apple

Has more cash than most nations on earth right now, a coveted brand and very good reputation for quality products. A tribal following that is gaining steam year over year and ability to out innovate and win patent wars that crush competition.

Where they are now with the iPhone is similar to where Blackberry was probably 7 or 8 years ago.

They seems to be erecting barriers as they attempt to claim the leadership in the market.

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Courtesy of http://www.comscoredatamine.com/2012/04/android-captures-majority-share-of-us-smartphone-market/

Google

The internet giant. The only entity still bigger then Apple and possibly more influential. Swallowed Motorola for patents, it’s Android OS pervades low cost tablets and a litany of cell phone that range in quality, perhaps peaking with offerings from HTC and Samsung.

Also gaining popularity and prominence – Apples number 1 threat (hence the Motorola acquisition – they seem to be prepared to play IP chess with each other for the next while).

Coming up third but still a major threat to the previous two’s market share is Microsoft.

Microsoft

Seems to be playing a game of catch up with its competitors, but should not be overlooked, is still a powerhouse. Think about how late it entered the gaming console market with the Xbox and yet now outsells the previous king of entertainment, Sony. The sleeping giant is waking up.

Microsoft is doing everything right these days. Not quickly, but right. They are taking time to reinvent their brand, working with more hardware vendors to compete with Apple’s consistency.

Their alliance with former cell phone heavyweight champ Nokia could pan out to be a very strong player. How?

Nokia is already a well-established communications brand – they only lacked a useable modern operating system. Windows mobile fixes this. Windows 8, Surface tablets and cloud services (Skydrive) form a very competitive and robust ecosystem that only Apple can match at this time.

Back to Basics

There is where we come back to RIM, without focusing on mistakes they have made, is there any way for them to compete with any of these giants? Is they brand worth anything anymore?

Yes.

Perhaps to a smaller set of business users that require higher level security, high quality communications and did I mention security?

The cloud is going to be an ethereal and magical place where many new computing experiences are to be had, until the first time a serious business reliant server gets hacked, then it will be terribly frightening.

Perhaps the R&D and acquisition budget at RIM has run dry, so my previous article about pioneering battery life tech may not be realistic at this point. But they can still focus in on their core competencies.

The Fix

How many models of Iphone are there for sale? Pretty much 1 (2 now), and the previous iteration at any given time?

Why does RIM have 17 models!!?

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Many of them hardly look different. Who are they building these things for?

Reign it in guys, you need 2 phones, tops.

Who is your market? It’s not kids, it’s not grannies, and it’s not even teens anymore. Come back to centre. FOCUS on your target market, your core competency.

Business people.

Make it attractive to have one, make it the BENZ of cell phones for business people but most of all make it functional, make it an ESSENTIAL tool.

Consolidate your 17 designs into 1 or 2 which focus on the business user’s needs (yes I’m going to come back to battery life).

Perhaps a larger screen, a superior keyboard, class leading security, a cloud service for documents and perhaps MS Office Mobile, built in.

This is where a strategic play can be made. Business people still love Microsoft products (admit it, you’re excited about Office 2013)

A partnership between RIM and Microsoft to meld the Windows platform onto RIM hardware would expand MS’s mobility presence, as well as draw more business users back to Blackberry.

A new Playbook could be made as a Surface tablet, which I will write about later in the month as I think it is poised to become the king of tablets.

So there you have it, RIM + Microsoft = the rebirth of mobile business domination.

Either that or Rim goes the pay of Palm, and that would just be sad.