Tuesday, 4 October 2011

On Telification

I am sorry I said that word, I really am

Gamification is great and all (it isn’t) but it’s all a bit yesterdays news, don’t you think? ‘I remember gamification’ say the elder statesmen of the media world ‘and it was rubbish’ they continue.

Well the problem with it was that it had precisely fuck all to do with games. It was, as Margaret Robertson so eloquently put it, pointsification. Shaving the most insignificant layer of fluff from the exposed flanks of gaming’s prone body and magically exchanging the meaningless word gamification for the meaningless word engagement.

Do you do group discounts?

Of course for real gamification, actually learning from games and applying their sense of agency, loss, learning and self-improvement to anything that stays still long enough, the future is as rosy as it ever was. Those that really understand games are still rare, but they get less rare by the day and their influence will be felt everywhere. Gamification is dead, long-live gamification.

And so to telification. Adding television-like elements to things that are not television. This one can’t possibly get wrongly understood, right?

What this means for television

There are two kinds of broadly interactive television, Participation TV and Interactive TV. 

Participation TV is where the show invites contributions from the viewer, but doesn’t necessarily give anything back. Big Brother and The X Factor both fall into this category, inviting the viewer/player to give their opinion and vote for their favourite, but with no guarantee that their views will be reflected in the show itself. The Million Pound Drop also falls into this category, with the playalong elements, while mentioned as statistics, having no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the show.

This can be seen as the gamification of television. It’s adding game-like thinking to television. In all these cases, the show came first and the game came later. The TV show is by far the most important part of the equation and the game-like elements are there to get the player invested in that show, not to give them a meaningful game-like experience. It works very well, largely because it retains the essential TV experiences of passive, sit-back, almost ambient entertainment. 

Interactive TV is where the show reacts to every viewers input individually. It reflects the players actions back at them and alters their experience of the show accordingly. It is a vanishingly tiny sector of the TV market, in fact the only example I can think of is Dutch show ‘Intuition’. (Disclaimer - we make this show) That is undoubtedly going to change, as more broadcasters decide to take a risk with shows that put the focus on the audience rather than the show itself.

"The Rubik's Cube Show" never got the respect it deserved

This is the telification of games. This is starting with a game and adding in the television elements until you have something that looks enough like a TV show to persuade a broadcaster to pop it on their channel. 

These kind of shows won’t necessarily make for very good television. The problem with making them work is that either the game will make demands of the show which will make the show suffer or the show will make demands of the game which will make the game suffer. Seemingly simple factors such as pacing will be pulled in two totally different directions by the need to provide a good television (slower) or a good gaming (faster) experience.

Getting Interactive TV right will be extremely difficult. It is a whole new type of show and the rewards for getting it right will be vast, but in order to do that, television and game thinking will have to be brought to bear in very even measure. Only teams who can bring a genuine understanding of television and a genuine understanding of games together will be able to make this kind of thing work.

What this means for games

But what if we ignore the television entirely and apply telification to games that intend to remain games? I don’t mean the sort of EA Sports presentationism, where game and TV producers are locked in a dizzying race to make the art of sports presentation so bombastic it literally hurts your face when you look at it. And I don’t mean the idea of episodic content, seasons of content, a ball fumbled so expertly by Valve with their Half Life updates that no-one even knows where it is anymore.

FACT: The Queen is a huge fan of Frankie Boyle

Television has three relevant strengths. It is linear, it is broadcast and it is passive. Games can be linear in the same sense that a single television program is linear, but they are not linear in the same sense that a television channel is linear. Games are broadcast in the sense that many people may be playing the same game on the same server, but not in the sense of many people doing *exactly* the same thing at the same time. And games are passive in the sense of having cut-scenes, but even those bits aren’t truly passive, as you’re actually mashing every single button on the pad at that point, to try and dispel their dreadful interlude. 

These are genuine strengths, do not underestimate them. Television, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a rather popular way of passing the time. How can games take these strengths and use them to forward their own agenda. How do you make linear, broadcast, passive games? And if you could, if you did, would you even call them games anymore?

I think you can and I think we will, but I don’t know what we’ll call them when we get there.

Telification. It’s going to be rad.

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