If you follow the news in technology, you'll have seen that games (and specifically gamification) is a big thing right now. This month Supermondays (or Super MonTuesdays thanks to the Monday Bank Holiday) took the subject head-on with talks from various angles in the industry, ranging from Java-based gladiator cricket games, to running games at conferences.

[EDIT: Videos are now available on the Supermondays blog, who also link back to me … careful! Don't cross the streams!]

Gladiator Kricket — Andy Banks

Gladiator Kricket — Really!

Real life Gladiator Kricket. Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

If there was one thing to be taken from Andy Banks’ talk on Foof Production’s Gladiator Cricket game, it’s that taking the plunge may get you far farther than you ever dreamed. Fed up with the expensive (and hokey) mobile games that their kids downloaded, Banks and friend John Carnell decided to start creating mobile games. Their initial idea, Gladiator Cricket (yes, it really is gladiators playing cricket), went through a winding but ultimately rewarding process (they pitched to Durham Cricket club, who were interested but ran out of money during the initial development time, then had the luck of their India-based developer sitting at a networking dinner next to a high-up person in Disney India, who was, yes, looking for a cricket java based game).

Banks also talked about some of the challenges they’ve faced in a foreign market (Indian networks demand 75% of all download fees, astoundingly higher than the worldwide 27%), knockoffs (unfortunately Java isn’t very secure, so they know that over 40,000 copies have been downloaded from clone sites), as well as outsourcing developers (while the team had a bad experience with a South Korean company, the current one in India has been great for them, though they recommend vetting thoroughly).

Banks also brought up a wonderful rule of (literal) thumb — their game has apparently received great reviews from mobile gaming magazines because you can play it one-handed on a bumpy bus ride while you use the other hand to hold the handrail. 

For Play, lessons learnt from years of hard practice — Jeremiah Alexander

Jeremiah Alexander

Demonstrating some of the details of the every1speaks game

Jeremiah Alexander of Ideonic talked the concept of gaming and how it relates to gamification, as well as the work his company has done in the field.

  • Gaming is about … pleasure and pain.
    Above all, what you want to achieve is achievement giving pleasure, and not achieving (or not playing) some form of pain. One example of this was the game playf.es that Ideonic ran at two conferences. Part of the fun of the game was secrecy (they never officially announced it at any conference, so the pain for attendees was realising they were missing out), also later tangible rewards (badges etc).
  • The Law of Attachment — the more/time effort you've put in defines pleasure or pain.
    The more difficult it is to achieve a certain level, the more attached a person is if they gain it (or lose it). Their school game Every1speaks needed to encourage students to keep on playing, so points were given for being social and connecting. This later gave students certain privileges about how they could have input in school events and issues, so became more attractive to obtain.
  • Toys, Games and Doing It : they're all different.
    Alexander was pointed that many things described as games or game-like are actually just toys as they don’t have game rules associated with them. One example is the Fun Theory piano stairs — while it seems like a game, it isn’t really one unless you’re challenged to play a specific song or similar (which would turn it into musical hopscotch, come to think of it).
    That said, it doesn’t take much to turn something into a game, as the game mechanic just has to be a verb (running, moving, clicking, tweeting), in other words any word that you can put an -ing on can become a game mechanic.

To sum up: Reward + engagement + challenge = games

He finished up with a word of warning on those who’d like to ‘gamify’ one of their business offerings: don't gamify a boring process, strip it back to basics then consider very carefully how you might be able to add game mechanics to it.

The Future of the Gaming Industry — Andrew Willians

Third Time's the Charm, or something like that.

We have seen the future. And it has a lot of threes.

Andrew Willians of Ubisoft Reflections brought the big game angle to the evening (I had to Google what AAA game meant, to find out that depending on who you read, it’s apparently either the triple threat of being cutting edge, innovative, and expensive … or just the gaming equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster) with a combination of cynical and hopeful thoughts about the state of the industry.

  • This year’s Christmas Game Selection: Brought to you by the number 3.
     Willians noted a frustrating trend in AAA software titles — many of the highly anticipated titles for this Christmas also had a 3 tacked on the end. This can be frustrating as (again, like Hollywood films), it suggests the industry is busy keeping franchises going rather than innovating.
  • … Or the number infinity.
    Annual updates to franchises like FIFA (now on the 11 edition) may not bring anything new to the genre or platform, but help companies fund their new work.
  • The new guns and game releases took extra time to develop? Yeah right.
    One of the big issues that franchises have to deal with is keeping communities engaged between the annual releases, so the extra guns and paid unlocks staggered out can help retain interest. ( Willians was asked if this was fair, given players had already paid for the game. He felt they weren’t as objects such as guns are usually optional, though you may be pressured into buying it if you’re playing with your friends, and the money paid for the unlocks is an exchange for having to spend hours aiming at shooting a characters helmet or similar. I did think of the Oatmeal comic on gaming as a grownup here).
  • New franchises are often developed for new IPs to help franchise the latter. 
    New platforms require titles to encourage use — and often have different ways of playing. Examples of this include Angry Birds , Minecraft, Farmville, and CoverOrange.
  • A successful ‘simple’ game may still require a reasonably sized team to make. 
    Games like Angry Birds may appear deceptively simple, but a lot of work has gone into the quality of the experience. Many of what seem like simple games have large development team credits. So if you think you can make a simple iPhone game yourself that is a runaway hit, you may be in for a shock.
  • The Apple market is saturated with clones. 
    For every Angry Birds there is an Angry Farm. Again, just don’t do it. (The Android market isn’t so bad).
  • Mobile does not have to be cartoon. 
    The flipside of the success of games like Angry Birds is the assumption that mobile game need to be vector cartoons. The platform is highly capable of advanced graphics, and there are in fact a number of games with amazing rendering and effects.
  • It's all about balance.
    Balancing money (franchise releases) and inspiration (original ideas) can be key to both keeping game design teams sane and also helping the company. Double Fine Productions' “Amnesia Fortnight” where they made the most of time after a project ended by splitting the company up into four teams to come up with innovative game ideas, has been seen as an initiative that reinvigorated the company and also arguably saved the industry. While those involved with large game corporations don’t get much say on new ideas, it does suggest that allowing time for new ideas can help keep company morale and reputation in the market.

I had to snap the picture of the so-called pipeline. Who can't relate to this one?

Pipecurve … I mean pipe line. If you were really drunk. Or working on a project.

The course of projects, like love, never run smooth.

The night was also an unusually interactive one (perhaps taking from the spirit of the night), with calls to the floor about future topics people wanted to hear about. They ranged from Arduino to making money from ioS apps, so it looks as if the next year is going to be an interesting set of SuperMondays!

Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.