MGC: Leading a Passively Multiplayer Life
Will passively multiplayer gaming revolutionize our social network, as well as our gaming habits?
(Mobile Games Conference coverage sponsored by Glu Mobile)
One of the Mobile Game Conference's keynote speeches was not like the others. Justin Hall may not run a multi-million dollar company or have a long list of impressive-looking credentials (besides being hailed as a pioneer blogger), but he still delivered, by a wide margin, the most interesting keynote speech of the show. Or any show, for that matter.
Hall ruminated on his concept of what he referred to as an entirely new genre - "inescapable games," or Passively Multiplayer games. The game, Hall explained, would be one that everyone is playing at all hours of the day. This is made possible thanks to the incredible amount of user data that individuals voluntarily give up about their hobbies, interests, school or work schedules, and all other aspects of their lives.
"'Spyware' is software that users unknowingly have on their computers that gathers information about your browsing or computing habits and sells them to a third party," Hall said. "But there is also myware software, which allows you to spy on yourself. Examining our own data about ourselves and how we spend our time in any given day can greatly increase self-awareness, and therefore, our productivity."
All that data also, Hall explained, makes for a fantastic videogame playfield.
"You gain 'experience points' by using MSWord or by sending emails. Every item you cross off a 'to do' list gives you an experience bonus, until eventually you 'level up' your life," Hall said with a grin. "You become U+1."
Hall then took the concept a couple (or a couple dozen) steps farther, and explained how a genuine game could be created out of this data, using an open-source mobile social networking app called Jaiku. Jaiku can tell you where your buddies are (by using GPS or cell tower locations), how many people they're with (by number of Bluetooth devices around them), whether their ringer is on, when they last answered a phonecall, and lots of other data.
"It's true that this gives up a lot of privacy, but it also provides a enormous sense of presence that has never been experienced before. Jaiku can tell my friends that I'm in Seattle, in a room with over a hundred other people, and that my phone is silent. My hope is that in future iterations the software can infer that I'm at the Mobile Games Conference."
So how can all this data and connectedness be worked into the concept of a passively multiplayer game?
"Imagine the game that runs on top of Jaiku alerts you that a bomb is going to go off in 24 hours. To defuse it you need to assemble 16 levels of chemistry expertise, and 22 levels of physics expertise. The friends on your friends list all have levels for both skills - levels that have been determined by their real-life expertise and activities. You'll need to pull enough people together, either friends or friends of friends, to defuse the bomb," Hall said.
"The game is just an extension of what we're already doing. How we're already connecting with one another. When a friend has relationship problems they know they can call me. Financial problems? They better call someone else," Hall explained. "This game is how we learn that we can aggregate our friends to solve the real problems in our life, and not just the fictional ones."
Although Hall didn't expressly make the connection, it's clear what he's going for. Just as his friends shouldn't come to him for financial advice, not every fictional problem can be solved with the same (or even similar) groups of people, as well. It's all very exciting stuff, but won't this just lead to people spending more and more time staring at LCD screens instead of interacting with other people? This is the question that closed out Hall's keynote address.
"Mobile gaming is all about driving people into the machine. We're telling people at the bus stop 'hey don't turn to the guy next to you and ask how their day is going. Play this game for a couple minutes instead.' You're in the wrong industry and at the wrong conference if you're worried social interaction declining," Hall said with a smile.
It's hard to tell whether he believes his idea is a good one, or not.