I love to play. I love to playwitchoo on the blog with language. I love to play team sports but my old body doesn't let me do that much any more. I also love to play games - not mindgames, people; PC games. Xbox games. PSP games. Those centers of entertainment that allow my imagination to run wild. That, when being played by a 55 year old man, justify immaturity in a really pleasurable way. That software that makes my PC/Xbox/PSP worth spending money on even for no other purpose than escape or learning or whatever.
Do I do a lot of that? No. Do I wish I could play more games? Sure. But I can't. While work can be play (the subject of another entry way down the road), it isn't the same as playing Civilization IV or Rome: Total War.
Okay, this isn't supposed to just be a rant on playing games. There is a distinct purpose to this entry. Here 'tis.
The Prototypical Principles of Producer/User
I'm realizing that there is a germ of the new business logic and models we are trying to define that resides in the pc and video games world. This is not some small effort that has a little impact and might be a good thing. We are talking about an extant $26 billion industry that PricewaterhouseCoopers thinks is going to be a $54 billion industry by 2009. One that is driven by its users in a way that isn't yet replicated in any industry of any kind in the world that I know of.
Its a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World
You can see the germ of the model for the newgen businesses that we customer experience evangelistas have been pushing, in what gamers and sociologists call "the mod community." For those of us over 50, that doesn't mean the cool modernism of the 50s and 60s, though it does kinda (I mean, the Vespa is coming back!) It means the community of gamers who are participating in the modification of the games - sometimes to the point of a total rewrite. These modifications of both PC and more recently, video, games are and are becoming an essential part of the production of the games themselves and have been in the PC gamers world, in particular, for more than a decade.
The idea of giving the game engine to the gamers was first put forth in 1996 by John Carmack, then jefe of Id Games - the producers of the now classic first person shooter Doom. Carmack had noticed that the gamers, mostly young kids, were hacking the game and creating tools to do that so that they could customize it and play it the way they wanted to. Their intent wasn't malicious. As Gen Xers and Yers are wont to do, they wanted control over their gaming experience. They created the tools so that they could have that. Carmack, rather than attacking the kids and discouraging them along the lines of the recording industry association's insane attacks on the peer to peer MP3 college downloaders, instead embraced them. He gave them tools that were even better than the ones (see figure below) they had created and continued to encourage the creation of the tools and the modifications to Doom. The release of the engine - meaning the graphics production tools, the level creation tools, and data, triggered the mod world and spawned thousands of what Doomites called "WADs" - don't even ASK what that stands for. (Actually, I don't know). The user created tools triggered by the revolutionary blessing of Carmack (BofC) were sophisticated enough to modify Doom down to its compiled code. (The Samsung difference with Sony comes to mind here when it comes to user participation. Check out this blog entry of last week). This led to what has been an unstoppable co-creation of value for the game producers and the game players. Each of them works in harmony with the other to make sure that the game engines and the customization tools are released usually to the retail version of the game and that those tools and engines are used to create what are exceptional modifications.
In This Case, Half A Life is Better Than One
This model was so successful even in its early years that some of the mods spawned major commercial successes. Valve, a hip young game company produced a wildly successful game called Half-Life in 1997 that had a sophisticated toolset and engine they called "Steam" (get it?) released with it (Now called "Source."). A team of modders headed up by someone who I presume is now legendary as these things go, Minh Le a.k.a. Gooseman, developed a terrorism/counterterrorism mod they called "Counter-Strike." This became so popular that Valve acquired the team so that they could release a commercial online version of Counter-Strike(another topic for another time is the online gaming world and its implications for the new business model). The results? Incredible popularity. Look at these numbers:
- 30,000 Internet servers devoted to Counter-Strike (2002)
- 85,000 players at any moment in time (Gamespy, 2004)
- 4.5 billion minutes of playing time online per month (horse's mouth, 2004)
The Mod Cultcha: CoCreationism (But not in a Fundamentalist Sort of Way)
The model is simple. It is the model of what is called a participatory culture by academics and called "really cool" by the 14 year olds who are among those who play and modify the games. Its characteristics seem to be:
Take a look at this example of a website that is optimized to this effort. This is the website of Civilzation 4, the 4th iteration of a series that is perhaps the most successful game in PC game history - certainly one of the most lauded. Its creator, Sid Meier, is considered the resident genius of game creation with an incredible number of golden releases on his resume, but none more successful than Civilization. To date, Civilzations I through 3 and its upgrades have sold something like 5 million copies - an incredible number for a strategy game that has primarily adult appeal. (Civilization IV just hit the stores on October 27.).
If you can see it, note the tabs: News/Downloads/Mod Central/Community/Developer Blog/City Comparisons/Buy Now/Support.
Most important are th central entries - Mod Central, Community, Developer Blog. This is participatory culture in its glory. The idea is straightforward. There is an ongoing creative interaction between the producers and the gamers that is in near real time that, when done well results in the creation of large numbers of free modifications to units, scenarios, maps, graphics or gameplay as a whole that lead to increased value that enhance the sales of the game which spark an even more interactive discussion among the gamers (Community) and between the gamers and the game company (Developer Blog). This is a sophisticated cooperative business model and culture driven by the desire of the gamers to have control of their gaming experience and the intelligence of the gaming companies to let them. The game company becomes both a producer and an aggregator. The prototype of the model? See Business 2.0 on Consumer Passion - the article I mentioned a few days ago.
To War, To War, Rome is Going to War, With A Hidy, Hidy Hidy, Hidy, Hidy, Ho
One final example -so that you can see the love that is actually involved in this highly successful business model. There is a series of games put out by Creative Assembly called the Total War series. It is highly lauded for its graphics, its strategic and its battlefield tactical gameplay; its complexity and yet simplicity of the gameplay. Its one of my personal favorites. It and Civiilzation are the two that I would play the most - if I had the time. I swear I don't.
The game is graphically gorgeous with thousands of individual soldiers rendered according to the millitary outfits of the particular unit and particular city-state that they represent. Its an amazing achievement. But Creative Assembly admits that to do what they wanted to for gameplay they had to play with historical accuracy a bit - quite a bit, though those who aren't Roman history buffs really wouldn't notice since the game itself is so dazzling. However there is a group of modders who for the love of the game (Kevin Costner is NOT among them) and for the love of history have put together teams of developers, graphic artists, programmers, historians and others to completely rework the game with a mod that is hundreds of megabytes and utterly (and successfully, I might add) transforms game play to an historically accurate version of Rome: Total War, that they call Rome: Total Realism. They are on version 6.2 as I write this.
What is fascinating to me is the level of discussion and interaction going on amongst the teams working on the game and those who are just participating in the forums, throwing their two cents in. But look at the level of discussion in just the history section of the forum. "How do we know things about ancient history?" "The Arab Revolt" "Spartans afraid of the sea." Arcane, perhaps; highly philosophical perhaps; but a matter of real things to the persons who are modifying the game to customize their own experience. There are dozens of discussions on the modding techniques, the sources for the history, the tools for the graphics, the quality of gameplay, etc. And, readers and buds, this is for free and being done out of love. Creative Assembly encourages this and the sales of the game are amazing, hovering around #10 in all PC games for months on end after flurries at #8 for awhile.
For a final exclamation point on this: take a look at what kind of team positions exist for this mod:
- Lead Programmer
- Lead Skinning Artist
- 3D Artist
- Lead Graphics Artist
- Video Producer
- Web Designer
- Lead 3D Artist
- Programmer (3)
- Lead Historian
- Skinning Artist
- Music Composer
- Assistant Programmer
- Graphics Artist (2)
- Campaign Map Designer
- Forum Administrator
- Public Relations Manager
The Coming of Age
This is only the beginning. The Xbox/360, PS2/3; Nintendo DS/GBA/Revolution and PSP are just beginning to embrace the mods and the hacks. Currently, with some exceptions (See Counter-Strike again), the video game world allows configuration, but not customization. So for example, in Madden Football '06, you can customize "My Madden" which gives you limited control over the experience through the gameplay and the cyberbling you can earn for successful efforts that you can decide to make. But there is no engine or toolset to make Madden '06 Arena Football '06 or Psychobabble Tournament '06. But with the exception of Sony, who are using the "upgrades" to the PSP firmware to discourage hacking and modding, most of the other software and even the hardware vendors are recognizing that the provision of the customization tools and the encouragement of the modding community - e.g. the co-creation of value - are the model that they need to keep evolving in their ever burgeoning industry. Competitions sponsored by the game companies for best mods, events and conferences hosted by the game companies for the modders; constantly improved tools developed by the gamers and the companies and better and better communication between the producers and consumers tells you that maybe even $55 billion is a conservative number.
Are the Lessons There?
We've heard the expression "out of the mouth of babes" for so long (God. What minds you have!). The modders I've been speaking about are probably ranging from 14 to around 35 years of age. But the relationships between those modders and the game companies seem to be the prototypical model for the newgen customer and the business logic that is needed to succeed in the new economy. What are those apparent characteristic lessons for the larger business ecosystem?
I may be making too much of this but I think that there is a model well worth examining that exists here and when the resources are out there to do so, I'm going to. Right now, I'm throwing this out to you. Is this a prototype of a new business model and the new enterprise logic that Shoshanna Zuboff calls for in "The Support Economy?" Can this be applied in some ways to other industries? Phillips Medical Systems customers want to change their relationships with Phillips from vendor/customer to strategic partner?
Can this model be considered in that? I think it can. $26 billion dollars says I might be close to right. Any takers?
- There is a collaborative customer experience that provides transparency for the customer into the inner workings of the companies themselves.
- The companies encourage the customization and personalization of the experience of the customer
- The companies and the customers jointly create and provide the tools to make this collaboration successful
- The customers have the level of emotional and behavioral control of the environment that the company provides that they need
- In fact, the customization effort itself, not just the result, is part of the experience, thus enhancing the producer/consumer collaboration all the more
- The overall effort involves a corporate culture that is defined by the voice of the customer first
- The model uses and provides the most advanced technological tools that exist vis a vis the use of the Internet for these globally matriced communities that are interactive and real time.
- The company and the customer each get value in ways that are appropriate and satisfying to them
- The company's revenues increase accordingly as, I would speculate here, does their profitability, given that their customers are doing something freely - and for free
- The customer's experience with the company creates not just happy campers but advocates who recruit others to purchase the products and then to collaborate on building the personal experiences