A brief history of our brains and screens

Originally published in Media Magazine.

A screen is defined as a surface where pictures can be projected for viewing. This term is not just related to media, it defines it; the screen is the membrane that “mediates” or stands between, an image and the individual viewing it. What happens without a literal screen? That image simply pipes directly into our mind’s eye so that we can “see” it in the same way we “see” a dream.

Before we discuss the future of the brain, let’s look at the history of screens. Plato talked about “The Cave,” a thought experiment about ancient people projecting flickering shadows on the wall of a subterranean dwelling – although we should focus more on the past 100 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, cinema, in the form of nickelodeons began to replace live theater. By 1950, television screens had become predominant, ushering in the golden age of broadcasting yet still connecting many brains to a single story. Continue reading “A brief history of our brains and screens”

When all the world’s a screen

Obscura Digital's solution on display in San Francisco

One the most dramatic areas of media innovation is in digital out of home space.  The Lab appeared earlier this week at Mediapost’s DOOH Forum in New York to showcase the most exciting new DOOH technologies.  We brought our friends from Klip Collective and Obscura Digital.  The work was well recieved — prompting savvy industry pundit Joe Mandese to live blog that he was at a loss for words!  Check out the video of the event to see for yourself.

Lab is a “visible example of Mediabrands’ scientific approach”

“MEDIA has selected Interpublic’s Mediabrands as its “agency holding company of the year” – for the second consecutive year – but a more apt honor might be the “anti-holding company of the year.” That’s because, with the exception of certain centralized resources and financial disciplines, Mediabrands hasn’t been operating much like traditional holding company, which typically is all about gaining operating efficiencies while aggregating market share. Yes, Mediabrands does that too, but what differentiates the organization from the rest of Madison Avenue is the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades everything it does. In effect, it operates more like a ventures group responsible for fueling new ideas, businesses and business models. It’s a smart, pragmatic approach, because it recognizes two important realities about the media services marketplace: that there are a diverse array of clients searching for solutions that reflect their specific business needs; and that the marketplace is evolving so rapidly that the kinds of media and marketing services that dominate today may not necessarily be the ones that succeed in the future.”

Read full article including details about the IPG Media Lab’s impact on Mediabrands’ science-based shift here.

The hidden dangers of “life gaming”

I recently spoke to a class at USC, and in the Q&A afterward was asked a very interesting question: “Do you think everything will be a game?” It’s a question I’ve been pondering for a while, but actually being asked by someone forced me into an answer. Before sharing why I don’t think everything will be a game, let me point out a video from DICE2010 that makes a strong case for “Life Gaming.” The 30-minute clip is well worth watching and makes a number of great points.

Foursquare motivated people to check in at their locations by making it into a game, while the founder’s game-less predecessor (Dodgeball) failed. “FarmVille” is the fastest growing media property to 50 million users, reaching that benchmark four and a half months since it’s release. Virtual goods ( buying “nothing”) was a billion dollar industry in 2009. Despite these points and the ones brought up in the video, there’s a serious danger to the prospect of life as a game.

The issue at hand is one of motivation. Gamers don’t wake up with a strong desire to tap a button several hundred times — it’s the framework around those button-presses that gets people engaged. The problem with “life as a game” is that we are motivated to do many things in life simply for their own sake. Making a game out of those actions endangers our very willingness to do them.  Read full article on Mediapost.

EA selects single player for in-game ads

EA selects single player for in-game ad formats (EA)The news that EA is dropping third parties from selling into the company’s dynamic in-game ad inventory is a pretty interesting development. At first blush, it looks like a move to increase margins and control pricing of the inventory. The more I think about the announcement, though, the more I hope the rabbit hole goes deeper.

When publishers of any sort integrate a third-party ad-serving solution, it essentially puts the sales teams and the creative teams at odds. Sales teams want to dream up incredible, never-done-before done campaigns with brands. A third-party solution acts as a bottleneck, shattering many of those dreams. Creatives look at those third-party solutions as invading their space, and find viewing the ads as a necessary evil.

When the ad-serving technology sits with product teams that work in parallel with the core product teams, this changes in a significant way. Suddenly the core product makes concessions to organically integrate with the ad products coming down the pipe, and then the sales teams are able to dream a bit bigger, doing some very neat stuff. I really hope this intention played a part in EA’s decision, in addition to the desire to control pricing and maximize profits. Read full article on Mediapost.

Will net neutrality kill cloud gaming?

Will net neutrality kill cloud gaming? (Microsoft Xbox)Column originally featured on MediaPost

The title of this post is “Will net neutrality kill cloud gaming?” — and no, that’s not the wrong way around. While a handful of game developers just advised the FCC on the importance of net neutrality for the future of online gaming, and to an extent correctly so, there are cause-and-effects in play that also pose significant threats.

Let’s get some definitions out of the way. First off, for the purposes of this post, “cloud gaming” refers to games that are rendered in the cloud (i.e. on servers). In essence, this is the promise of services like OnLive, a gaming offering that portends high-quality gaming on the simplest of devices by centralizing the heavy lifting in the cloud. It’s not there yet, but the intent has many gamers’ hopes up for a day in the future when they can leave the hardware arms race behind. Read more.

How games support personalized narratives

How games are supporting personalized narratives (iStock and EA)Column originally featured on MediaPost

Online content, as it becomes increasingly interactive and tailored to the individual, faces a problem: How does it deliver an individual experience and still contribute to a cultural identity?

We have a human need for joint attention. When we see something cool, we point it out to a family member or friend. When we see a movie we really like, we — unprompted by the studio — tell our friends to go see it, too. We crave a shared cultural identity.

We also like personalization. We want content that is tailored to our interests, and the “choose-your-own-adventure” type of storytelling resonates quite well with audiences. We’re especially seeing instances of the latter in gaming. But this concept of personalization seemingly operates against the need for joint attention. So how can the two needs both be satisfied? Social frameworks seem to be key. Read more.

Video game consoles amp up the video

Gaming consoles amp up the video (IPG Media Lab) Column originally featured on MediaPost

Game consoles are continuing their stealthy takeover of the living room. We’ve been seeing this trend for a while, but the pace is accelerating as the holiday season approaches.

The PlayStation 3 is going Netflix next month. The second console to get the streaming video service, this added functionality should help the PS3 sales for the holiday (which are already predicted to be high due to the lower price point of the PS3 Slim). The solution currently works using a disc shipped out from Netflix, though it’s been confirmed that eventually a native client will be released. There are still rumors of a similar disc-based approach coming to the Wii.  Read More.

How to avoid in-game ad debacles

How to avoid outrage for in-game ads (Anyaka via Flickr)Column originally featured on MediaPost

Last week, columnist Shankar Gupta noted the loading time debacle with “Wipeout HD”‘s in-game ads. The story is a frightening one for marketers unfamiliar with the gaming space. What was essentially a 10-second mistake resulted in the early termination of a campaign and loads of upset customers. Is the gaming space really so unpredictable and volatile?

Yes and no. Gamers can be a surly sort, quick to band together for a common cause against a shared enemy. But it’s really not that difficult to know how to avoid conflict. A key concept here is one that really should prevail for all media channels: The best advertising is perceived by a consumer as content. The “rocket science” for gaming ads involves maximizing ROI, targeting the buy, and leveraging the in-game elements into a larger integrated campaign. Avoiding a riot shouldn’t be rocket science, and here are a few tips to help avoid such a scenario. Read More.

EA: A market trend?

EA: A marketing trend? (Sims3)Column originally featured on MediaPost

Electronic Arts is shaking things up and leading by example. The video game company seems to be evolving a new approach to game publishing, one that promises a cross-platform distribution model fortified against piracy.

The game worth looking at closely for following this trend is “The Sims 3.” The title launched but a few months ago, and has now seen over 3.7 million copies sold, outstripping the previous bestseller “The Sims 2.” What’s interesting about these sales is that they follow a torrent (pun intended) of pirated downloads from a leaked version of the game prior to release. Rather than lamenting the piracy, EA execs suggested that internally, they shifted the viewpoint to seeing the leaked version as an “extended demo.” The reason behind this was the sheer volume of additional content exclusive to registered users that didn’t ship on the retail disk.

EA has instead approached the Sims franchise as a content portal to additional downloads, some of which were free, and others for pay. They are now adding this same model to the iPhone version of “The Sims 3,” making use of in-app commerce enabled by the iPhone 3.0 software release. This brings up the other facet of EA’s burgeoning model that’s extremely compelling: cross distribution.  Read more.