23 October 2006

Martine Parry: eGames Speaker Profile

Martine Parry (pictured) will present on two panels at eGames 2006. She is Director of Apply Group and also of trade association ANGILS. Martine has held senior positions in the knowledge industry for 20 years.

Following graduation in Physics from Kings College, London University in 1986, Martine spent eight years in the AI industry, two as a Research Engineer in computer vision systems with GEC Marconi and the remainder with various leading visualisation, simulation, pattern recognition and performance support tools and service organisations, developing business across sectors including defence, the intelligence community, energy, telecommunications, health and finance.

She also developed the telecommunications market for leading European software house Admiral Computing (Group: 3000 employees and US$470m t/o and now merged with LogicaCMG) during the first major period of the industry’s deregulation in the UK.

Since 1996 she has worked within the learning, CGI and games sectors, developing new projects, scoping application needs and analysing sectors and application segments.

Martine founded Apply Group Ltd, a leading business consultancy in order to continue this work. In addition to the core consulting business with Apply Group, she has been responsible for driving the serious games association ANGILS over the last few years and is now transitioning it to a full trade association by embracing organisations as members in addition to individuals. This is driven by a maturing market to some degree.

ANGILS is attracting attention and membership from a global audience as we seek to address the key business, design and deployment issues of knowledge transfer from the games and entertainment sectors to the knowledge industries, and vice versa.

18 October 2006

Pro-Gaming All the Rage

It's 7:30 on a Tuesday evening and I shout out to my sons that dinner’s on the table. They shout back: “We’re coming, just finishing off this match. We’ll be there in 5 minutes.” They’re playing Pro-evolution Soccer 5 on a Sony PlayStation and it’s an “important game.” Welcome to the world of eSports and competitive gaming.

Today, there are full-time, professional computer game players - the most successful of whom make US$100,000 a year by playing in competitive gaming tournaments. Thinking of professional gaming as a sport may seem a little strange, but those who are excelling in it devote the same type of skill, passion and commitment that a real-world athlete does.

“In Jaffer Mir we’ve one of Europe’s leading specialists presenting on competitive gaming” remarked Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (www.kom.om) and organizer of eGames
, 10 – 11 December, Crowne Plaza Hotel. “Jaffer’s the Managing Director of Game Frontier Ltd (www.gamefrontier.com) a UK based digital entertainment and computer gaming company that’s leading eSports across Europe and the North America. We’re delighted to have such an expert present at eGames,” said Al Maskari.

The stereotype of computer gamers as techies competing from their bedroom is shattered by the professional gaming movement. Most of the games played at the competitive level require team-play, so by definition they are intensely social. Serious teams assign roles to each player; much like a football coach would assign a role to his midfield. Tactics are discussed prior to matches, and a post-match analysis often takes place. “This is a sporting movement that’s getting ever more sophisticated and popular amongst young people and it’s not just teenagers, it’s young professionals that make up the bulk of players. Just as a football fan might follow every move or match of Chelsea’s John Terry, many gaming enthusiasts follow their favourite teams or players. Go to any Internet Café around Muscat and you’ll find folk competing. We’ve even got a World Cyber Games - an Olympic style competition where teams representing each country play for medals in a variety of different computer game tournaments,” said the KOM Director General.

Take a look at any sport today and you'll find sponsors, brand names on stadiums to logos on football shirts. Professional gaming is no exception. Since its inception sponsorship has played a major role, enabling players the means to pay for their expenses while focusing on their sport. Four Kings, a British professional gaming team is sponsored by Intel. Sports gaming giant Johnathan Wendel, aka Fatal1ty, (www.soundblaster.com/fatal1ty/fatal1ty1.asp) is sponsored by game accessory manufacturer Auravision. Indeed, the biggest competitive gaming event on the calendar, the ATI/AMD Cyber X Games: Windows XP Championships in Las Vegas is sponsored by all the brands listed in the event's title as well as a host of other major names in the gaming and computer industries. “Just look at Korea as an example, sponsoring a professional gaming team makes good commercial sense. Fifteen million people, or 30% of the Korean population, are registered for online gaming, and that means a big marketing opportunity. In time, this will be happening here in the Gulf and if I were a marketer I’d be looking at pro eSports very seriously,” remarked Al Maskari.

17 October 2006

Ericsson's Mobile Java 3D Technology

A focus on cutting-edge Mobile Java 3D technology has made Sony Ericsson a preferred choice among game developers and a leader in mobile gaming.

In June, Sony Ericsson introduced its new Java platform, Java Platform 7 (JP-7), which supports the development of advanced games with high picture resolution and better 3D graphics, and makes it possible to run several applications simultaneously

We spoke to Peter Ahnegård, Content Acquisition Manager, Games & Graphics at Sony Ericsson who says the company has become a leader in Mobile Java 3D technology. “We were involved really early on in the mobile 3D era and we took on the challenge to educate operators and game developers on the technology. Today, the majority of our game developer partners are producing 3D games in addition to their 2D games. For example, Beach Mini Golf 3D and Extreme Air Snowboarding 3D by Digital Chocolate.”

The Preferred Choice
The benefit for game developers using Sony Ericsson’s platform is that they do not have to make changes to every game they produce to fit the various Java handsets on the market. “Our strategy is to base a number of devices on the same Java platform version. Not only does this save developers a tremendous amount of time and money, but it also means operators can spend less time on game verification later on,” says Ahnegård. “Game developers have said they are really happy with this approach, and recently Fishlabs, which is one of our game developer partners, stated that they only need a single binary code to support all our 3D handsets.”
Making games easily accessible to consumers

Sony Ericsson is not only focusing on making it easier for game developers to create games. The company is also making sure playing and accessing games becomes more attractive to consumers. “If people knew how to access mobile games in an easy way, the market would explode,” commented Ahnegård.

The Fun & Download service, which can be accessed through the company’s website and WAP service, is meant to make it easy for consumers to download all kinds of content, from video clips to games. “We now have a very good games offering on the portal and traffic has increased thanks to improved accessibility and promotions. Today, the major part of revenue from Fun & Downloads is games.

Another such service is PlayNow, (www.midlet-review.com/index?content=handset_review/sony_ericsson_w550i) which can be accessed through the menu option on phones. A service that is updated on a regular basis. “Sales have increased dramatically with new users accessing PlayNow and we’ll continue to develop the service in the year ahead by adding new functionality and improving the user interface,” commented Ahnegård.

Sony Ericsson has also been making mobile phones more attractive to gamers. The W550 and W600 Walkman phones, launched in 2005, and the K790 and K800 Cyber-shot phones, launched in 2006, are examples of this. These devices are very entertainment-focused and appropriate for games because they have two additional A and B gaming buttons on top of the screen and a screen display that can be rotated 90 degrees to support two-handed game control in landscape mode. This creates a PC or console-like game experience familiar to more-experienced gamers.

Sony Ericsson intends to continue developing new devices with gaming features, for example, the P990 smartphone, the M600 messaging device, and the W950 Walkman devices that will take mobile gaming into the future. According to Ahnegård: “Our UIQ 3 phones not only have hardware-accelerated 3D, they also provide better graphics than first-generation consoles.”

More Generic Games
In an effort to encourage people to play more games, Sony Ericsson is pre-installing games on all their devices. “Our job is to make sure operators have a solid and extensive offering for each device we introduce to the market,” comments Ahnegård.

Sony Ericsson has opted for a general selection of pre-installed games to attract a wide audience of gamers. “We are getting better at selecting pre-loaded content that suits the intended target audience, which means we are not only offering 3D action games. With our game developers, we are constantly discussing what types of games we and the operators need,” remarked Ahnegård.

The Future
Sony Ericsson is focusing on improving the gaming platform for the next generation of mobile phones. The company is looking for the best hardware and platform solutions to be able to help developers create exciting, high-quality games targeting different consumer segments.

Sony Ericsson’s efforts in establishing itself as a leader within mobile music is also having an effect on the type of mobile games the company will be offering in the future. Sounds is a lot more than just music. For Java ME and UIQ applications, it can mean everything from sound effects that make games rock to easy-listening instructions for applications such as language courses.

Ericsson Recommends


Get a MUVE On

With online teaching and training on the rise, the search is still very much on for the most effective way of delivering online courses, and encouraging interaction between participants at a distance. Second Life (www.secondlife.com), is the newest, hottest thing in the online teaching world. Gavin Dudeney of The Consultants-E (www.theconsultants-e.com) and presenter at Knowledge Oasis Muscat's eGames Conference (10 – 11 December, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Muscat) looks at the learning and educational opportunities offered by Second Life.

Harvard University are running classes there, and so are Trinity College Dublin. Suzanne Vega performs there, and Kurt Vonnegut talks about his writings ‘in-world’. You can even take a class in creative writing, or learn how to become a video director there. All from the comfort of your own home.

The place is Second Life, a three-dimensional online synchronous environment, known in technorati circles as a Multi-User Virtual Environment, or MUVE. The time is now. Think of a video game, where you can take on a 3-dimensional character (or ‘avatar’ in MUVE-speak) and visit an entire ‘world’, populated by real people, who are accessing Second Life from their own computers. You can chat, both via text or audio chat, exchange ‘objects’, even buy and sell land! Second Life may not be new – MUVEs have been around since the later 1970s - but it is most definitely sexy, to the point where the BBC Horizon series is planning to make a documentary about it, and it has appeared on BBC television and radio, and in magazines such as Business Week.

Founded by the Real Networks CTO Philip Rosedale in 2003, Second Life (SL) is a privately owned virtual world, which currently has approximately 740,000 users. In Second Life you sign up for free, design a 3D representation of yourself and move around a rich online world, in which the residents interact, build houses, design clothes, make gadgets, dance at virtual clubs and, yes, attend classes.

But is Second Life all just fun and games? There are plenty of people who refuse to refer to Second Life as an online game, and rightly so. Whilst there is plenty of gaming occurring ‘in-world’, there is also a burgeoning collection of more serious projects, from courses in ‘cyber law’ taught under the auspices of Harvard Law School (
blogs.law.harvard.edu/cyberone/), to awareness-raising projects for young people (http://www.holymeatballs.org), and even a group dedicated to discussing and exploring the potential for education in such environments (www.simteach.com).

So what is it exactly that makes Second Life more successful than other online social environments in recent history? And why are educators being drawn to it in droves?

Currently, most online teaching and training is done via Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), or learning platforms – one of the most popular being Moodle. Yet there is something inherently flat and static in a VLE, based as it is on webpages. And no matter how much socialization work and pair and group interactions one builds into an online course in a VLE, one rarely has more than a flat photograph of each participant as the embodiment of their real life character, and emoticons and other emotion-conveying devices never really capture the essence of a person, nor entirely mitigate any potential for misunderstandings which may arise from the almost exclusive use of the written word. Despite the availability of text chat for communication, and even of voice chat in VLEs, online course still tend to lack the cut and thrust of real time interaction – the synchronous, or ‘real time’ element of communication.

For this reason educators are starting to look beyond the idea of a VLE to something that emulates the real world in a more immediate and recognisable form - and they are looking to MUVEs such as Second Life for the solution.

Second Life is particularly adept at handling media, supporting a variety of audio and video sources, as well as public text chatting, private messaging and audio communications A combination of these elements can provide a rich learning environment in which more traditional text-driven elements such as reading material can be delivered alongside real opportunities for communication which transcend the disembodied offerings of most online schools in which text chat and email play a large part, or tutoring is carried out by a faceless tutor working in a call-centre style environment.

Take a look at a set of personal interactions in Second Life and you will notice how much more ‘real’ and warm they can seem, when compared to similar examples in a VLE. With the physical presence of people in the same space or room (albeit in cartoon form) one has more of a sense of the person behind the text or voice, and this is enhanced by the clothing they have chosen, how they stand while they talk to you, if they wander off to look at something while you are chatting with them) and generally how they behave. My character, for example, can often be found wobbling on a unicycle, or on rollerblades or riding a virtual Segway, as I run training sessions in Second Life. Non-verbal forms of communication - as well as cultural features – are suddenly part of the communication again, and this is perhaps the most significant difference between a MUVE and other distance training platforms.

Whilst it is definitely too early on in the educational exploration of the possibilities of virtual environments to draw any final conclusions, the anecdotal evidence from the courses and classes in Second Life suggests that both learners and teachers find it a less intimidating and richer way of working than other distance tools they have experienced .

To get started in Second Life, you simply download the software (
www.secondlife.com) and sign up for a free account on the same site. Once installed and running, you create the virtual representation of yourself, customising your look, the clothes you wear, and how you move and interact with the other ‘residents’ and then set off to explore the ‘grid’, as it is called.

If you would like to try it out, come and look for my character, Dudeney Ge at EduNation in Second Life, a private virtual island designed for teacher training. Bring your rollerblades - I’ll be more than happy to help you explore.

12 October 2006

eGames Promotes Virtual Reality

David Wortley the Director of the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University (www.coventry.ac.uk/newthinking/html/serious.htm) and Gavin Dudeney (pictured) of The Consultants-E (www.theconsultants-e.com) will deliver a Second Life workshop at the forthcoming eGames conference.

What is Second Life (SL)? Created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, SL is a virtual world and role playing environment that is completely owned by its participants. In this alternate world, personalized avatars, representing each player, interact to find and create entertainment, experiences and opportunity. “SL does pretty much what it says on the package: players control their virtual alter egos - avatars - to live an alternative life. It offers hundreds of activities, from the mundane to the strange: you can make friends, travel, attend a pop concert or visit vampire castles,” said Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat and organizer of eGames.

When asked about the SL trend, David Wortley said: "Second Life is moving up the list of places digital marketers want to be. Not only do these worlds give all brands the chance to connect with their constituents within a social construct, they also represent platforms where brands can enable players of the games with services, products and experiences. SL is growing by 22 per cent each month and if this continues there will be 3.6 million Second Lifers by July 2007.

According to recent research, the SL audience is made up of young professionals and not teenagers as many people think. This explains why there are about US$5.3 million (over RO2 million) in user transactions over the course of a month in SL. Players can purchase virtual products such as houses, clothing, accessories, game services and pay for them with real dollars via a currency system. SL uses Linden dollars, which players buy with real cash to conduct business with vendors within the game. Once the vendor decides to "cash out," their Linden dollars are converted back to US dollars - after Linden takes its fee.

But people aren't just buying goods - they're also building viable virtual businesses that provide them with real income. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, there are people making six and seven-figure incomes within the SL economy. “Numbers like these make SL difficult for companies, marketers and brands to ignore,” remarked the KOM Director General.

Brands that will be successful in SL are the ones that interact with the game seamlessly and find innovative and imaginative ways of talking to players. "Companies need to make sure they’re offering customers something they want," says Al Maskari. One company that is doing exactly that is the sports manufacturer Adidas. In September, Adidas set up a store in SL, to support the launch of its extra-bouncy A3 Microride trainers. SL residents can buy them for their avatars. Reebok – an Adidas owned company - is launching an SL version of its customisation service: players will be able to design trainers for their avatars and also order real versions for themselves. “Reebok is providing consumers with something that they actually want to experience, not just bombarding them with meaningless marketing messages,” said Al Maskari. But should other brands be considering SL? “I think so, it offers an opportunity to reach an audience that can be difficult to connect with. The folk on SL are totally immersed in the environment, so they don't really interact with magazines, TV or other media," says Al Maskari.

Talking about where SL is leading us, Maskari said: “I would think that before 2015 - just nine years away - VR technology will give us fully realistic experiences for all practical purposes. Then there will be fully immersive VR with direct stimulation of the brain: real virtuality as good as the physical universe, while, of course, retaining the possibility to allow users to do things which would be impossible in physical reality, for example, flying over Jebel Akhdar like a bird or walking on the Moon without a spacesuit.”

“Isn’t it marvellous that this type of event and discussion is taking place in Muscat? Knowledge Oasis Muscat really is putting Oman on the global digital map,” Al Maskari said proudly.

10 October 2006

Ericsson Backs eGames

Ericsson today announced the company is joining forces with Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM), the Rusayl-based Technology Park, and sponsor eGames 2006, scheduled for 10 – 11 December at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (www.egamesoman.blogspot.com).

On the conference, organiser Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, KOM said: "We feel that eGames is well timed, happening at this rapidly moving point in the mobile and serious gaming industry as more sophisticated gaming products and gaming enabled mobile phones start to hit the consumer market and when globally gaming is worth more than cinema, video and CD sales."

According to Al Maskari, the eGames Conference is dedicated to meeting the needs of professionals focused on mobile and serious games and their educational and commercial applications. "Attendees will include decision-makers setting the standards and looking for insights to improve their businesses and they come to eGames to get the opportunity to drill down to the key issues," said KOM's Director General.

"By delivering the conference keynote address Ericsson will play an important role at eGames. We're delighted to welcome them as partners, they bring with them a wealth of international experience in the gaming space. In addition to Ericsson's participation we've confirmed presenters from Europe and North America that are at the bleeding edge of the gaming industry, it'll be an exciting two days," remarked Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM's Head of Marketing.

Commenting on their involvement, Peter Andersson, General Manager for Ericsson in Oman said: "We fully support eGames as it provides a unique opportunity for experts in the gaming industry, business and education to exchange ideas and perspectives as well as share understanding and best practice relating to the future of the Gulf's growing mobile and serious gaming community."

06 October 2006

Business Week Introduces Mobile Content

In response to the growing demand for sophisticated and relevant content for mobile devices such as smartphones, PDAs and other handheld computers, Business Week has launched a new portable-electronic content delivery product, Business Week Mobile Edition. Starting in September, all of the high-quality content readers have come to expect from Business Week is now available free of charge at www.businessweek.mobi.

As Business Week advances on the mobile frontier with a new product offering, Microsoft Windows Mobile will support its efforts as the exclusive on-screen advertiser on Business Week Mobile Edition for 2006, and will be integrated into the Business Week Mobile Edition advertising campaign.

As the first global magazine to use the ".mobi" designation, Business Week hopes to provide easy recognition and ease of use to consumers who wish to access its content on their mobile devices. Consumers will soon be able to recognize Web sites specially designed for use by mobile phones by the new ".mobi" suffix, which is being introduced alongside the popular ".com," ".org," and other domains.

"Business Week Mobile Edition presents an ideal platform for providing professionals with timely insight when, where, and how they want it and for our launch sponsor, Windows Mobile, to reach this 'on-the-go' audience," said BusinessWeek.com Senior Vice President and General Manager, Roger Neal.

Yahoo and Mobile Advertising

A "select group of advertisers" are participating in the test (http://mobile.yahoo.com/searchmarketing/) of sponsored listings on mobile web search results, according to (http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/061004-090744) the Search Engine Watch blog. The number of advertisers will increase as the program is rolled out. Consumers who click on the sponsored links will be taken to the advertisers' mobile website or a landing page to get more information about the advertisers' offerings and will be able to call the advertiser.

Yahoo had already been testing mobile sponsored search in Japan and the UK. In early September, Google announced that it was testing a mobile version of its popular AdWords ad offering, MediaWeek
(www.mediaweek.com/mw/news/interactive/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003219561) points out.

Response rates of mobile pay-per-click ads tend to be higher than online because of increased relevance and reduced ad clutter.

Yahoo's Mobile Web service, available on most mobile phones via major operators in the US and UK, provides access to Yahoo's Mail, Messenger, Search, News, Finance and Sports services.

01 October 2006

Serious Games Expert Set to Speak

David Wortley the recently appointed Director of the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University, an international hub for e-games technologies applied to non-leisure/entertainment applications such as e-learning, simulation and marketing has been confirmed as a keynote speaker at eGames 2006 scheduled to be held 10 – 11 December at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Muscat.

“There was time when computer games were seen as an entertaining diversion from the real world. Now the cutting-edge technology behind entertainment games is being used to solve real-world dilemmas in areas as diverse as education, healthcare, national security and corporate management,” said Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat and organizer of eGames 2006. “You need only look at the successful use of games such as SimCity, Civilization or Hidden Agenda as learning tools in schools and universities across the globe to understand the potential of this type of technology,” said Maskari.

“The University of Coventry has already grasped the possibilities. The Serious Games Institute is a new initiative designed to transfer the ideas, skills, technologies and techniques used in commercial entertainment games to local busineses. Managed by Coventry University Enterprises Ltd in partnership with Warwick University, the Institute will provide a focus for Serious Games activity,” remarked Wortley adding: “I’m delighted to be presenting at eGames, this event represents an important milestone in the development of the Gulf’s gaming community.”

The first of its kind in the UK, Coventry’s Serious Gaming Institute combines the skills and expertise of academic staff with that of partners from the UK’s domestic video games industry. It represents a novel approach to the integration of technology transfer, applied research and professional development and presents a unique opportunity for computer games developers to diversify their product base. “I’m looking forward to developing ties with Knowledge Oasis Muscat and contributing to its efforts in building a gaming cluster on the Park,” said Wortley.