Archive for August, 2013

I Never Thought I’d See That

August 26, 2013

Ross Smith, from Microsoft sat at the Serious Play Conference which I hosted last week with the Serious Game Association and Digipen Institute of Technology.  Ross came to see Nolan Bushnell, father of Atari and more currently CEO of Brainrush, a game company based on neuroscience.

Nolan had to rearrange his presentation day for family and within 24 hours we decided we’d put him on the second day.  2b3d Studios asked Nolan, “Have you ever been in Second Life before”.  Nolan said, “Yes, let’s give it a whirl”.  We jump into action.  Paulette Robinson from the National Defense University graciously steps into Nolan’s original space.  We announce a change in the program – Nolan Bushnell will keynote tomorrow afternoon.

Nolan sends me his avatar name, we set up permissions to access 2b3d Studios Theater.  Our graphics guru pumps out real-time signage.  Our team preps and sends out invitations before the day is over.  Slides are loaded up.  And, we conduct midnight rehearsals the night before, Nolan tweaking Mountain Lion on one side, us tweaking the PA system on the other side.  It all works.  We green light it, and wait for the next day’s show.

As Ross Smith sits down in his real chair watching the big screen at Digipen, the camera zooms into 2b3d Studios Theater, closes in on Nolan Bushnell’s avatar, and pans across the backstage .  Ran Hinrichs, CEO of 2b3d Studios, double checks everything with Nolan at the podium – well one is in California and the other is in Washington, but the avatars are in the same place at the same time.

As the screen is ready and Nolan’s taking the podium, suddenly Ross Smith, sitting in the front row, shouts out loud to me from day two of the Serious Play Conference.  “Hey Ran, I’m putting this on my “I Never Thought I’d See That” list on my blog.  Ran grins.  A twitter rushes through the audience.

What a wonderful honor, and what a twist of fate.  Ross Smith is a speaker at the conference, but he is also the director of test for the Microsoft Office Lync Client team and now the newly acquired Skype. He leads a team of testers who put the Lync family of unified communications products through the paces to find defects.

When would anyone ever have guessed that we’d pick a technology, virtual worlds, to save the day and make sure our Keynote presenter, the father of Atari could bring a new and fresh experience to a serious gaming conference.

We thought, the technology gods are serious gamers too, so let’s roll, let’s see what they do to us today.  It worked! Nolan’s avatar faced the audience.  The lip animations began the minute he spoke.  His hands gestured with his words.  His jokes were on point.  He ran his own slides.

In the background, the 2b3d Studios team produced a show – moving camera angles, supplementing with on screen text, zooming on presentation – in short, it was a full scale production television-like team, working on the fly in a virtual world.

Come question time, the audience rose at Digipen, asked their questions, interacted with Nolan as if he were there.  Nolan picked up the nuance of the question, paced himself in the answer and acted as though he were standing in front of the speaker.

His avatar somehow suddenly had a twinkle in its eye.  Apparently, when the situation is real, we project into the environment, making it real.  Whatever – this was a serious use of gaming technology, it was used as a business application, it was an instant solution, and it worked like a television production.  And it was pulled off with only the team’s time to make the production flawless.

What a day for serious games, serious players, and serious software.

Whatever software we use to deliver content over the web, the more it acts like a human, the more human the experience.  When we say serious games, we mean gaming software that does serious things – like deliver on a business goal.  So, I’m delighted we made Ross Smith’s list, and I’m even more delighted that Nolan Bushnell had fun in 2b3d Studio’s Theater in a virtual world.  In addition to making Ross’ list, I heard Nolan say as we were closing, “You know, I think this experience is really neat. I think I’ll do this again”.

Score.  Level Up.

Serious Play, Everything is Going Virtual, Relevant and Actionable

August 12, 2013

As I blogged recently, conferencing is changing.  People can’t afford to go to physical conferences.  So, I troll conference websites for info.  I recently looked at one of the conferences I used to attend in Orlando to see where it thought learning was going.  I was hoping for serious play.

The conference is called Masie’s Learning 2013. The first thing I saw was the word “Rebranding” and “LMS”.  Oh, no, that’s like talking about MOOCs – more content, less interaction.  Then, I saw an anti-article about virtual worlds.  Uh-oh.  Elliot goes after Linden’s Second Life – okay that’s fine, that one company pioneered us into virtual worlds as a social phenomena, but didn’t take us all the way home.

But the real talk should not be hype caution, it should be deeper, especially from a learning maven.

I’m thinking.  It’s not about Second Life okay, but it certainly is about serious play and everything going virtual – people, laboratories, environments, interaction, big data to 3D objects.  That’s what learning is about now — “interplay in the data with people around the world, who know what they’re talking about”.  I read on, hoping to see something like “Everything is Going Virtual”.  But I don’t see it.

So I turn my attention back to an article I’m writing on Virtual Worlds as Communication Tools for enhancing personal relationships – the bread and butter of interaction.  And then, I go back to the virtual world application we’re building and do a “sprint” review with my worldwide team.

I then jump over to the conference website and I smile looking at the titles at the Serious Play conference:   “The Power of Serious Games”,  “Playing Between: Weaving the Internet of Things into 3D Environments”, “Global Cooperation Spurring Innovative Health Games”.  I see “Problem Based Learning, Wicked Problems, and Virtual Environments”.  I see “Using Games to Make a Large Scale Health Operation More Efficient”, “Serious Games and Leadership Development”, the “Psychology of Fun”. the “Attack of the Algorithms:  Serious Play with Netbots”.  I see THE FUTURE.

I’ve been going to learning conferences for 30 years.  What I’m looking for now is a bonanza of more virtual, more interactivity, more immersion, more synchronous mentoring.  I’m looking for interacting with the experts who are talking about how to assess serious games, how to create them and how to set up evaluations to make sure they are doing what they designed.

I’m just thinking — is there a game for this?  Then, I go back to another virtual meeting with another team, and say, “keep building, keep testing, this release will blow them away”.

So, I’m sticking in Seattle.  Grounded again.

The Serious Play Conference will start on August 19 at Digipen, one of the leading game development schools in the world.

The marketing data from Ambient Insight will tell us that gaming is definitely the future of learning.

2b3d Studios will focus on interaction, integrating every device onto the Internet and virtualizing both the environment and human psychology.  We’ll beat a drum – adapt, embrace, build, play, measure, rebuild, adapt again – move into the Internet of Everything – what if I could hook up a sensor on a tire … what if I could hook up a nanometer on a cell …. what if I could hook up a brain interface to …. Isn’t it grand.

Clark Abt wrote something prophetic in his Serious Games book in 1971.  He was talking about high school education, but look at how relevant his statement is to all learners today.

“A students who drops out of school because it does not seem relevant to his life, because he does not understand the material being taught, or because school forces him into a passive role, will look elsewhere for relevance and action … We have talked about the ability of games and simulations to improve motivation and to relate the learning environment more specifically to the real world.  The growing trend toward increased game use in the classroom is likely to continue into the future as schools seek additional ways to make learning active, relevant, and exciting for students and teachers and to lower the barriers which often make school “foreign” to young students”.

Mr. Abt adds about the necessity of teachers: “The teacher must decide in what order concepts can be taught most effectively, by what method they can be communicated most memorably, and at what point review and evaluation are needed for “closure”.  Abt, Clark. Serious Games. 120. Maryland: University Press of America.

I’m a teacher and a businessman.  Serious play design shapes order for lots of players quite nicely.   Serious play increases interaction with the other players.  And by using protons to increase engagement and communication, serious play teachers can achieve closure on any topic – making it more relevant and more actionable.

The joy is: we can do that anywhere in the world with any subject area, working in any environment that looks just like the physical world – nano, micro, macro.

Oh you all know this. Do you want to change the game?

Serious Players Make and Play Serious Games

August 7, 2013

The Serious Play Conference begins in two weeks in Seattle (August 19).  And what a great place to have a conference about serious play.  Seattle hosted a world’s fair in 1962 that ignited the country about the enchantment of science.  Everyone was invited, and everyone came.  Today, Seattle’s historic Space Needle and the location of the fair is a thriving civic center.  Our founders had a vision.  Use entertainment to teach a serious subject and ignite everyone’s imagination.  That tradition is literally in our blood, and in our water.  What a great place to keep the serious play tradition alive.

So, the Software Game Association, 2b3d Studios and Digipen are inviting the luminaries and serious player dreamers to Seattle.  We are hosting the conference at Digipen Institute of Technology – a dedicated world-renowned leader in education and research in computer interactive technologies. Ran Hinrichs, 2b3d Studios CEO will be emcee.  The SGA is the executive producer of this playful event.  Our keynoters, speakers and attendees make up an intriguing line-up of serious people, who play serious games. They come from all walks of life.

Jesse Schell is a luminary in serious play and will be keynoting.  I first met Jesse at Carnegie Mellon, as he had just been recruited by Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch, author of the Last Lecture to supercharge their Entertainment Technology Center program.  Jesse is on fire, and his associations with Walt Disney Imagineering, CMU, Freihofer’s Mime Circus and the Juggler’s Guild is renown.  Jesse is a serious player. If Jesse Schell isn’t in the play yard, we won’t have as much fun.  When he’s there we might even encourage him to juggle more than the art of game design.

Nolan Key Bushnell is a serious player. Nolan will be keynoting. Nolan is an American engineer and entrepreneur who founded both Atari, Inc. and the Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theaters chain.  I first met Nolan at the Defense GameTech User’s Conference in Orlando last April.  Nolan has turned his battleship to Serious Play with his Brain Rush company, in which he has been studying neuroscience to convert gaming addiction into serious play and serious learning.  Now that is my quote, not his, or maybe that was his quote and is now ours.  Without Nolan, we wouldn’t have the daVinci factor in the conference.

Mihayl Csikszentmihalyi will be keynoting.  Csikszentmihayli’s flow model is the secret to keeping the player motivated in a serious game.  In the field, we say intrinsically motivated.  That means, we are in flow, and we’re happy when we are in flow.  We all know when we are in flow.  But, do we know why we are in flow? Mihayl says we need to meet three conditions: set goals, provide feedback, and teach the player the right skills.  If your serious game misses those cornerstones, think it through again.  Mihaly is a pioneer in understanding happiness and creativity.  Serious players need to experience great outcomes when they learn, and they need to be in flow.  Flow is good business because the player learns new skills and emotionally engages in the play space.  His Fligby leadership game is a great example.  I first met Mihaly as a graduate student at UCLA in a book.  Then, I met him at every conference I attended on learning.  And now I can’t talk to a serious player who doesn’t mention the need to create flow in their game. Without Mihaly at the serious play conference, we would be missing the river.

James Rosser is a keynoter.  I first met James at Elliot Masie’s huge Learning Conference, this is a more traditional learning conference, but Butch (aka James Rosser) came in one year and ignited the future with talking about Are Video Games Better at Laparoscopic Surgerical Tasks.  He cited superior eye-hand coordination, faster raction times, superior spatial visualization skills.  Former President of the Society  of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons said serious games might make better surgeons.

Now you have to come.  I’m very excited about continuing the tradition of our forward looking city and our luminary colleagues to advance serious play.

Serious Play, Serious Jobs

August 6, 2013

The Serious Play Conference at Digipen Institute of Technology, a leading game institute is right around the corner.  2b3d Studios in collaboration with the Serious Games Association will be producing the conference.  Our intent, leverage the expanding market of serious games and turn it into serious jobs.

Serious play is simple.  The mission is to use gaming technology, gaming techniques and gaming mechanics to create learning.  By serious, we mean the outcome is serious.  You play the game, and you improve a skill.  You play a game, and you do your job better.  Maybe serious play makes you a better sales rep by simulating customer interactions that you role played in a serious game.  Maybe you’re a more informed field nurse because you have practiced setting up a mobile health unit in rural location in a virtual world.  Maybe you’re a more strategic business decision maker because you’ve been running a wine business with several other people in your daily serious game.  Whatever your profession, serious games and serious play are designed specifically to improve your performance and possible create serious jobs — some of those virtual, where you commute to your 3D space rather than down the freeway across town.

What we are doing this year in the Serious Play Conference has not been done before.  We are bringing together the industries across the board – whether you’re in the business of architecture, finance, human resources, education, or health care, you are using gaming technology to impact your business.

Using gaming to create more interactivity and more immersion is the brass ring.  If you can get people collaborating together in a place where they are focusing on solving a problem, you have increased your interactivity.  If you use high level graphics that look like the environment they work in, you have more immersion.  If you use rewards, recognition and points, you increase the motivational factors.  The technology lends itself to adding more play to learning, and more rapid development for working.

Serious play is controversial in the work place.  But we want to change that, and make it a strong component of the work place.  So we are reaching out to various groups in industry, government and education who have accomplished three tasks:  a) assessed the technology and related it to relevant business objectives; b) created something in the technology that can be used and measured; c) evaluated the technology that they created based on their objects to determine if it is hitting the goals.  We are doing that to bring hard core expertise to the table to help you take advantage of this technology.

In advancing serious play, one has to take a serious approach to it.  You must understand the theory driving the significance of this emerging trend.  You must actively create something meaningful in it.  You must test it against your objectives.  This is a serious game of cutting costs, increasing productivity and being ahead of your competition.

As the web evolves into a 3D environment, and incorporates the physical world, you can think of ingenious ways to make that happen in your organization.  We believe if you focus on serious play, you can end up with some serious jobs.