Gamification: How Games Are Everywhere

by danhon

Gamification * 3
David Helgason, CEO Unity Technologies

One of the founders of Unity Technologies. Got asked here in the Spring to talk about Gamification. The problem is that in the programme for this conference, the subject is this : games are leading the charge on mobile, web, TV and invading social network platforms (in the conference programme). So I have a bit of a solution for this. It won’t be the core subject matter, so sorry about that.

I’m going to talk about Gamification for a bit, then something’s brewing – a perfect storm – and I’ll try to get back to the topic. This is my time from a year ago, we’re 50% larger now.

So, Unity. It’s a game engine that’s pretty boring by itself, there’s a lot of them, they’re pretty good, there’s open source ones, cheap ones, there’s more to it though. We spent a lot of effort making it easy, tools, workflows, documentation, making it layered. The initial thing you see is a high level drag and drop game creator, but layers below that, you can go deeper, and build large, streaming MMOs, complex experiences, FPSes. We have a profiler, we’re about to release a debugger finally, and a lot more stuff. We’ve created – democratic licensing – a free version, low-priced, and that’s almost it. 200k developers using it, 20x more than a year ago, 5x more than the previous year. Explosion in developers using it, thousands of companies, high end customers, but hundreds of schools, multiple industries. This all spins out to forums, communities, sharing, etc. Over 30m people have played Unity games in the browser, 2.5m installed per month. Every single browser, over a decade’s worth of hardware. That’s really important when youre targeting the web, which is a broken piece of hardware. Also we’ll go to the newer stuff. That’s too much detail already – we support the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch – 20% of the games on the appstore are made with Unity. Just about to launch Android support, in pre-sale now in our store, and have had for a while and releasing support for consoles. Also, since we’ve grown so fast, we have resources, so we’re pumping up the quality and a new version, Unity 3, licensing client middleware, umbra, etc. a very valuable package with cool new features. There’s more to it, I’m not going to bore you with that, which I could do.

We’re at a good vantage point. We are in a unique, unusual position to see trends, hear things early on. So that’s what led me to get excited about gamification.

I heard about it last November from a journalist. Christian at Playfish used it at Develop last year. Definitely not new. Summed up lots of concepts. The power of a concept or an idea is in organising your thoughts, understanding the world. My brain lit up like a star field. It uses game design outside of games, e.g. in product or user experience, and use of game technology in other fields. Its first meaning has been covered much more – foursquare, wii fit, mint, swoopo, etc. Lots of coverage this year. Foursquare, I’m addicted to it – to getting the points. Then mint.com, a personal finance site where you can track your expenses, a very neat product, but they’ve been using game design to hit your budget, your scores, it’s quite neat. It’s not really game, there’s something there. And the whole Fit thing. Fitbit. EA Active, all that stuff. And then the dark side is Swoopo, it’s a site that turns shopping into gambling. If you look at it superficially, the only way to win is not to play. If you get into it, you can spend hundreds of dollars buying an iPod, that should cost a lot less. It uses game mechanics to drag people into this experience.

Lots of coverage, Jesse Schell’s talk at DICE, but it got paraphrased into our lives as an RPG. You should watch it. There’s upcoming books about it, there’s companies being created that will take game design to other fields, and Scott Dodson’s talk will be on GDC Online. With that, I will cop out of saying anything, Scott’s slides are thorough, they analyse Gamification and give a historical overview and all of that.

Now, the second meaning – gamification of technology. It’s affecting us directly. This didn’t need a word to start happening. Militray training and simulation for over a decade, when we were starting out in 2003 with this stuff, some of our friends in architecture were using game engines to visualise, complex data and visualisation, then medical visualisation, social spaces and interactions – social worlds, that have got a bad name, but large groups it can be really useful – and then long tail art, VJing, experimental media, and every week we see a new thing. Those are different trends. Gamification maybe sums them up.

We see something big brewing, a real change. Something exciting is happening. This is the perfect storm. The first enabler is programmers. 8-16m programmers in the world, depending on how you define and count. Really good odds that 70-80% will be to make games. Most of them won’t make games. But it creates a baseline of interest in the technology. The second is education. Game development education has been fastest growing curriculum in the last several years. We’re educating disturbing numbers of game developers out of universities, high schools, primary schools, they’re learning interesting skills but they won’t all be making iPhone games and making a living from it. Large groups of people with interesting skills, they’ll find a way to use them. Third, content creation. There’s probably some Maya/Max users in the room. Content creation is changing these days, Maya 2009, 2008, etc. Might be drawing blanks. But outside the professional space, Google Sketchup, and animation, companies like xtranormal, etc. animated characters, etc. that have been very hard normally, specialisation, tools, takes several days to do a little cycle, but they’re not getting the same quality, but decent quality out of an hour of work. Not often where we see more than an order of magnitude increase in productivity. This is not going to put professionals out of work, but 10-20x more people will create that content than today. Finally, technology and community. What we think happens there is that a standardised platform that people can use to do highend games, small games, outside the game industry and those people to work together, a critical mass of knowledge creation. Once a piece of tutorial has been created, it can be dissemninated widely in forums, wikis, scripts, addons. People build businesses around this. This is so new that we’re in the shock of it, in the last 9 months our userbase went from 9k – crazy ball of energy that has to be released somehow. We feel, we’re sure this is going to affect a lot of industries.

That’s where I intended to stop. But I felt bad about the other topic. I’l ltouch on that at the end.

So, Gamification 3. 2 fairly fundamental things happened, depending on who you are may or may not have been overlooked. Facebook got games and games exploded there. It had the rocket fuel to become the largst social network in the world. Games powered – created – this deeper interaction, virality, the social games companies made so much money, it was an engine of revenue for Facebook and it grew really fast. They had this amazing thing happen there. And at the same time, the iPhone app store opened up and the device became a gaming device and was propelled much further by that. There’s something about games that is very powerful engine. And sort of, based on that, a lot of stuff is happenign. All the other social networks are focussing on games – just a couple of days ago, Google invested $100m in Zynga to get them to build them a gaming platform, and what we see is not reported yet, but inside our offices, all the phone companies, tv manufacturers, STB manufacturers are rushing to get a games strategy, to be really successful, they need strong games content. We’re seeing beyond that, media players, applicances, radios, etc. Manufacturers coming to us and begging for a games strategy. If this is gamification, this is it as an economic driver that pushes our ecosystems out there. With that, that gives us a third meaning: a process where games are a primary ecnomic driver for new platforms and ecosystems. What sums up these ideas is that we have this in the room, this is where it gets creative. We can be proud of this industry that creates value for everyone else. It drives so much stuff. I wanted to end with congratulations.

So, questions:

Q: Will all games get dumbed down? A: No. Good games will be good games.

Q: Do developers need to specialise? You work with architects etc. A: I have a hard time thinking a company will do all those things well. I haven’t seen a company yet, really. I know companies that specialise in other peoples projects, who get hired to do those non-game projects and do them well and those clients pay well. There’s an opportunity there. If you’re a games company, will you get your best people poached?

Q: What’s the most outlandish company approaching you for gaming technology? A: Not a company we’ve talked to directly, but we’ve talked to people who do digital radios. Then microwaves?

Q: What’re they looking for? A: Mainly visuals.

Q: Do you think iPhone games built on middleware are crappy? A: Well… He also said consumers would decide. I think he doesn’t understand the economics of game development, fundamentally. It’s reasonable to use native UI framework for information driven application, but for games. No one seriously does that. Not when it’s smaller productions for phones.

Q: People are using Flash in browser space. Do you think Unity is going to get to that position where it’s ubiquitous? A: I don’t want to brag too much, but on our browser strategy, ecosystems are changing, this will be less of a problem. Unity games for the browser are 50-70% success rate conversion for installing the plugin. If retention better, then it’s OK, harder for lightweight social games. We’re doing a few initiatives that will change this. A lot of organic growth of plugin installation. 30m is low over the entire world, you get hotspots. 60% of users on their site had Unity on some media company. So get hotspots, organic growth. We’re working with Google on Chrome native client. It lets Unity and other stuff run natively on the browser. Every single Chrome browser will natively run Unity. And then in a few weeks, a new plugin installation method. It’s taken success from 60-70 to 90%. Combine with organic growth, success goes into 90s, so 95-98 does that matter? For a lot of games it won’t. We know it’s a problem and a political one.

Q: Additional plugins that we make that run in the browser, to extend Unity? A: No plans for it right now. We can discuss it later.