Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kindle(ing) for Games Industry?

Seth Godin has an interesting post up about the Amazon's e-book device, the Kindle.

I must first fault his post for one thing. For all the pros and cons he discusses, there's not one mention of the device's use of DRM. While he's correct in citing some of it's limitations, he fails to note what is by far the most significant one. Surprising, given that he talks about his own affection for 'buying books to give to someone else', something you can't do with DRM'ed e-books.

This one complaint aside, he offers some intriguing ideas about how the Kindle could be improved, and many of which I beleive apply equally to games. Most of them fall under the umbrella of viewing the 'connected device' as a social platform, and not just a distribution platform.

Much of the talk about Kindle has centered around the convenience of having all your books on one device and purchasing them over the internet, and also around digital distribution, and what this *could* mean in terms of savings to consumers and/or increased royalties to authors. (In fact, much of complaint-camp posting has been about how this has not yet translated into such savings, but that may just be a matter of time as existing books are still paper - and thus publisher - dependant).

Seth instead talks about how the device falls short of it's opportunity to capitalize on it's connected nature. How books should ship with/connect to the readership's commentary. How I should be able to see what books my friends are reading and what htey thought of them. How I should be able to see (if desired) notes in margins, highlighted paragraphs, stickies, disputed facts, links to corroborating or conflicting points of view. How I should be able to link to any word in the text to get a dictionary definition, wikipedia entry, etc. All fantastic points.

I think there's a parallel here with digital distribution as it pertains to games.

Much of the discussion around digital distribution has been about how it might (or might not) translate to increased savings to consumers and/or increased revenue share to developers. Also discussed is how it's allowing for feasibility of certain formats/genres/etc that might not otherwise be feasible, as they wouldn't acheive the revenue needed to justify retail shelf space allocation.

While all of that's true, Seth's comments bring to mind some ideas about how the connectivity of game platforms could enhance the social aspect of games. We are seeing the beginnings of this with Wii's service allowing user rating of game titles, Xbox Live letting you see what your friends are playing, and Steam letting you see what your friends have purchased and commented on.

However, I beleive these things might only be the beginning.

Connecting user ratings & recommendations with a social network allows for networks of trust, as well as 'networks of taste' (not the 'people who liked this also liked' amazon thing, but letting you develop networks of people who've enjoyed games similarly). Connecting the online distribution with the social network potentially could allow for gifting of games, friend discounts, etc.

The idea of annotation is also intriguing. Note how the video I linked to in this post, uses Viddler and someone's commented on a particular point in the stream. We've also seen how games like Portal have shipped with 'Director Commentary' features in the game where they've annotated the game with facts about it's design and development. I find the idea of user-contributed commentary intriguing. Players could opt to play through with commentary on, and could do so with comments from a given person or group. This could be their friends, from a group like the reviewers at JayIsGames, or a favorite blogger/designer/luminary, etc.

In any case, there's a lot of room for innovation as these platforms connect. It will be interesting to see where it takes place. In general, the PC is the place that has the most rapid churn and innovation, but it's often a closed vertical model that allows for consistency of experience (e.g. annotation of games would need some kind of API to allow for linking to a particular object or event, and usage of that API would need to exist across all games on that platform). My bet is that we'll see the first instance of this on somehting like Raph's Metaplace system, though someone like Sony or Microsoft could chose to drive it across theirs (not likely, as Sony's been hands off with theirs, and Microsoft's been letting others catch up as of late, it seems). Other potentials could be Flash or Silverlight, or perhaps whatever secret-sauce gaming thing Google's working on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brought to mind something I'd written a few years ago:

"Well, off the top of my head I think e-books that allow every individual to add comments and notes which can then be tagged, searched, and interactively overlaid might be interesting. Imagine if that book had a physical Master and multiple virtual instantiations available to people everywhere through an immersive 3D space (like how Second Life now has virtual books) or through other platforms that allowed them to add their own notes, have them both automatically aggregate and self-distribute and then perpetuate and perhaps even evolve with the original language. It's almost like peer-to-peer knowledge sharing or something. I don't know what you call that. But it's the opposite of one lone researcher sitting in a library and scribbling notes in the borders of a book that will be seen by few, if any, people. And if those scribbles are brilliant insights then the hope, of course, is that the world has access to that thinking. Not when someone discovers it, but in realtime." (Link)

As to trust/reputation networks, there's a system about which I've tweeted that starts off with the idea of being both social and connected as well as open. Eventually I'll write about it in detail as I've not yet seen anything like it mentioned anywhere.