Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Learning Curve and Game Immersion

TIME seems to have some strong words for Second Life.

With all the constant hype surrounding SL, it's nice to see some calm realism from TIME. While there's no question how incredibly successful Second Life has proven itself to be, the learning curve issue is a huge one, and it is indeed the thorn in the side of any immersive game. That's what makes casual games so effective -- easy to learn, easy to play... but less immersive than the super-complex 3D world-type games. The key, then, is allowing for a broader scope of gameplay, allowing for each individual user to enter into the game and play at his or her own personal level of intensity and involvement. Ideally, this concept would be implemented in the style of first-degree price discrimination, to borrow a microeconomics term. It's easy for a game to appeal to specific player subset or psychographic. However, it's quite harder (and quite more lucrative) for a game to offer a substantiated slope of game immersion, connecting the most casual user with the hardcore grand strategist into a single, unified game. It's a tough challenge, but it's a challenge we aspire to overcome with GoCrossCampus.

Also, for a related funny: Get a First Life


(Supposed) Vision: The Solvency, the Deficiency, and the Opportunity

And now, please welcome a lovely bit of GXC ego:

Despite the incredible cultural solvency inherent in the college-age market, few brands have sought to interact with student society on a truly evocative level. The intricate social networks of college students living together combined with a hunger for new and exciting forms of personal entertainment add up to a potent mix of cultural capital waiting to be realized, compiled and packaged in branded form. The 360-degree, 24/7 onslaught of today’s mediascape leaves college youth awash in cultural ambiguity and information overload without engaging them in meaningful, sustainable, and motivating ways. To engage the modern student social landscape, something decidedly more rigorous and engrossing is quite needed.

The bloated and stagnating world of online “social networking” sites have been limited in their insight and vision by attempting to provide a single social environment for every student user while declining to invest themselves in the actual social makeup of each individual school. And without the specialized architecture to do so, these “social networking” websites have fallen prey to deadly cultural ambiguation, giving their very users little room (or reason) to fully involve themselves in the online offerings these brands have created.

Yet hope still remains! By bringing the vigorous world of casual gaming to the college market, we hope GoCrossCampus will facilitate a new wave of social interaction online for students by providing custom-built gaming engines for every campus in the country. Not only does GoCrossCampus feature a world of dynamic social interplay on-site, the platform also facilitates meaningful and highly motivated interaction between students through the infinite complexities of open strategic gameplay. By uniquely tapping into the wealth of preexisting competitive spirit and team pride inherent on all college campuses, GoCrossCampus succeeds in engaging the student populous not only in the online realm but in the real world of their actual college campus as well. In this sense, GoCrossCampus captures and engages the prime college market with meaningful social interaction, strategic gameplay, and great fun -- overall, an inspiring new opportunity for the business world today.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Astroturf

Astroturf never got off easy. While it is typically associated with corporate dirty tricks at best and Orwellian propaganda tactics at worst, I feel that there are some benign marketing applications of Astroturf that remain to be explored.

What if, rather than directly manipulating media to give the false impression of a grassroots movement, the mission was reengineered to inspire a well-orchestrated grassroots push that, while feeling amateur and genuine, was coordinated to feel as such? While probably overreferenced, the Swift Boat Attacks are a good example. The Bush campaign didn't make those veterans up -- it simply defined its mission in such a way to inspire genuine sentiments, which it then incentivized and captured. Obviously the ads were funded by the Bushies; however, the veterans and their feelings were real.

It may have been morally questionable on Bush's part, but it worked. And when it's two competing companies instead of politicans, the ethical questions are significantly less thorny.

How is this applicable to anything? First, it can change the way marketing is done, especially to crowds particularly sensitive to grassroots efforts. Instead of presenting a coordinated, Web 2.0 face to college students, perhaps subdividing the market and presenting a "localized" face to the audience is a better fit. Rather than appearing as a corporation attempting to market a product, acting as a behind-the-scenes technology provider and letting the local reps do the work as "fake grass" may be worth a try.

Depending on the implementation, branding could be nearly nonexistent. But when approaching cynical and anti-corporate markets, is this a bad thing?

- Brad

Monday, July 9, 2007

Organic Leadership

One of the biggest surprises from the GXC test launches was undoubtedly the richness and variety of governmental styles adopted by the various teams. True, Yale and Harvard may be weird test markets. But this doesn't mean that we can't take the things that happened there and separate the elements inherent to human nature from the weird things that only Harvard kids will do.

As we've mentioned before, over 50% of all undergraduates played the game at both Yale and Harvard, and a lot of interesting social dynamics emerged. One of the most notable features of the test games was the development of organic leadership positions and structures. In all, it worked in microcosm much the way one can imagine an early civilization developing a government over a period of generations.

Obviously, I'm much more familiar with the Yale game. And as one of the most politically-focused campuses in the country, Yale obviously presents an interesting test case. In all, I saw a few major forms of government emerge:
  1. The Roman. Triumvirates and co-leaderships were surprisingly common, especially early in gameplay. These would typically arise from "whoever had control of the email list" complemented by one or two intense strategists. Examples: early Bingham, Farnam
  2. The Idi Amin. This was perhaps the most effective system of government encountered. It's also the most straightforward -- one intelligent, charismatic leader brings all orders down from on high, and the players accept and follow with minimal infighting. Example: Durfee
  3. The Athenian. Democracy, it was found, was often the last resort of teams on the decline and often little more than an excuse for widespread infighting. Still, some teams stuck with their 20+ member-councils. God bless them. Example: late Bingham
  4. The Somalian. Others never quite got it together. Between infighting clans, Argentine-style presidential succession plans and uncoordinated attacks, the anarchaic teams rarely made a significant presence in the game. The fact that no individual was directly responsible for new player recruitment is probably a big contributing factor. Examples: Vanderbilt, L-Dub, Lawrance

So what can we make of all this? What social variables drove some teams to become democracies, while others were perfectly suited to an absolute monarch? Could this provide us with any lessons beyond the gaming space? What drives nations to their respective styles of government, and why can forcefully replacing one style of government with another often be a recipe for failure?

This isn't a political or current events blog, but I wanted to give everyone a taste of some of the questions that are raised (at least in my mind) by these games. Be on the lookout for more analysis, and specific study of what makes these social dynamics click.

- Brad

Sunday, July 8, 2007

35 Perspectives on Social Networks

I'm sure historians will be analyzing and re-analyzing the social network phenom for years to come, so I thought I would pass this along as a possible preview of what's to come.

I'm fairly sure that most of those "perspectives" are little more than the musings of a researcher with a bit too grant money to go around. Some are downright over-the top and probably there for no reason other than to get bwoggers like me to link the article. For example:

The body and sex perspective
Social networking sites are sexual playgrounds for young people where they portray themselves in a provocative or soft porn-style manner. It is all about appearance and body making the youngsters superficial and shallow.

Keep that in mind when you're building your LinkedIn network, fellow entrepreneurs!

Others may deserve a second look. Check out:

The branding perspective
Social networking sites are places where young people learn the mechanism of branding and learn to sell and brand themselves in a positive manner.

The growing intersection of the individual and the brand will be a running theme in my writings here. Most humans possess some natural marketing talent... that which is needed to conduct normal social interactions and keep up physical appearance. However, online social networking presents the opportunity for the individual to coalesce into the brand through multiple sites, profiles and an expansive online presence.

Also interesting:

The surveillance perspective
Social networking sites are surveillance. Everything young people write online are saved and can be used (against them) by marketing people, future employers and so on.

While probably a bit narrowly defined, it is worth noting that individuals are getting increasingly adept at displaying more and more of their private lives. So on and so forth. If you're reading this blog, the trend is probably old news. But it's certainly one worth understanding.

- Brad

The Seven Wonders of Marketing

If you haven't seen it already, I encourage you to read up on the New Seven Wonders of the World, courtesy Swiss businessman Bernard Weber.

On the scale of Marketing Brilliance, this is up there with the Million Dollar Home Page. Although I haven't been able to find any data on the number of text messages sent, the business claims that over 100 million votes were cast. While this is somewhat lower than the SMS recordings of an average episode of American Idol, the SMS royalty revenue generated certainly recouped the cost of the website and marketing. And then some.

This post isn't about the quality of the new list. That being said, I don't think it demonstrates much more than the sheer number of cell phones in Brazil. Christ the Redeemer, while nice, is a dubious 'Wonder of the World' at 38 meters and a completion date of 1931. For comparison, the Colossus of Rhodes was 33 meters tall and completed in or around 280 BC. However, the Rhodesians must have less forgiving text messaging plans.

Regardless, this illustrates the fundamental power of competition. Regardless of how shoddy or corporate the poll was, it worked brilliantly. Not only did patriotic Brazilians, Mexicans, and Jordanians (among others) visit the site repeatedly to vote, national leaders endorsed the site and encouraged their citizens to participate.

Is mega-scale virtual competition the next worldwide sport? This poll hardly gives us the answer, but it does provide an interesting proof of concept for those wishing to capture the minds of nations and the advertising dollars of international brands. If the ancient Hellenic tourists, creators of the first List of Seven, were to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, they would no doubt be awestruck. However, the very existence (let alone success) of this poll would be utterly inconceivable to anyone before, perhaps, 1990. Which brings up perhaps the biggest absence in the new list:

The Internet.

- Brad

The Goons, and How to Recognize Them

As you can see in the handy sidebar at the right, there are five of us. While I will probably be the most prolific poster, it's not out of the question that all of us will appear on here in one form or another, especially as the new site nears launch. Here is a quick rundown on everything you need to know. Most importantly, how to quickly identify the writer of a post:

1. Me. The protagonist. Posts are short and witty, with impeccable spelling and a 13+ grade-level vocabulary.

2. Brimer. The court jester. Terry Gilliam as a Web 2.0 mascot, dancing in an animal costume in the end zone of the corporate stadium. Posts involve physical assault by awesomeness.

3. Sean. Posts are pretty. Too pretty, in fact. Frequent readers may wonder why the real world doesn't feature more pastel gradients.

4. Jeff. Posts will usually involve advertisements for programming talent. Posts will not be pretty. Unless, of course, he makes the mistake of asking Sean to work on it. In which case 13 hours will elapse, and the post will be pretty. Very, very pretty.

[If you know PHP, Flash, Ajax, MySQL, have experience architecting or developing highly scalable websites and want to work in a fun, innovative, and entrepreneurial environment, please contact! -- Jeff]

5. Isaac. The guy who knows things. Posts will usually involve the west coast, Web 2.0 and actual programming. Which is good, because people have told me that databases and such are important for these intarwebs.

- Brad