Eavesdropping Media

Month: March, 2012

The inevitable emergence of the web series


I think it is fair to say, television is having a golden age. In the last 15 years, great comedy series like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Office, & 30 Rock have transformed the genre, while dramatic television has achieved pure brilliance with shows like Buffy, The Wire, Firefly, Mad Men, Sopranos, & Breaking Bad. Of course it must be said there has been plenty of crap during this period too, but the great programming absolutely eclipse this.

At the same time as this great television has been airing week after week on the traditional networks, downloading and streaming of video content online has exploded in popularity.

While “Old Media” has been trying to curb this phenomenon for over a decade, it seems that they missed the point. Like the music industry in the late 90s, many large broadcasting media players fail to see that we now expect our content to be free, on-demand 24/7 and without blatant commercial breaks (although we accept the odd preview and pop-up ad).

As huge corporations and organizations are busy trying to make it illegal for us to see their shows for free, more opportunities for alternative media sources continue to pop up. There is a hungry audience for free content.

Image by Alexandre Normand, CC BY 2.0

As it has been said more than few times before, we are living through a television/broadcasting revolution. No longer do viewers simply sit quietly and watch. We want to participate and influence the media we consume.

Enter the web series. Broadcast solely on the web, these shows have been slowly filing the gaps. Due to their low budget and the low barrier-to-entry – anyone can shoot a quick video and throw it up on the web – these web based shows can take more chances, for better or worse.

What’s more, the medium basically requires that the creators of these programs connect with their audience day in day out. If a producer decides to crowd fund the project, as is often the case, they will need to connect with their audience before the shooting even begins. Its amazing to see producers, writers and developers tweeting behind the scene details, offering extra video interviews on youtube, posting links to blogs and Facebook pages. It describes a profound change from the traditional dynamic between broadcaster and audience.

So as an ode to this new-ish medium (although, truth be told, the first web series come out in the 90s!), I have compiled a list of some excellent web series for you to check out. Are you are ready to cross over?

The Guild – Show revolving around the adventures of an in-game MMORPG guild. Created by web sensation Felicia Day!

The Bitter End – Fantastic Montreal based comedy about 2 brothers.

The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks – A sad playwright’s adventures in love. Staring Adam Goldberg

Between 2 ferns with Zach Galifianakis – Celebrity interviews between 2 ferns

Ikea Heights – A soap opera set entirely in Ikea.

Web Therapy – Lisa Kudrow stars as a therapist working over the web

Husbands – Jane Espenson‘s comedy series about 2 men exploring the ups-and-downs of matrimonial bliss.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – A Joss Whedon musical masterpiece!

7 minutes in Heaven – Interviews in a closet with comedian Mike O’Brien

For some seriously creative (but kinda out there) web series check out:

Please feel free to suggest additional titles below. I am always looking for a new series to jump into!


New Sim City at Last!

Sitting in the corner of my third grade elementary school classroom was a single Apple Macintosh SE/30 desktop computer. It was mainly used for teaching, but it also had a couple early video games (like Oregon Trail). Included in its small repertoire was the original Sim City from Maxis – the first game in the long running Sim City franchise. Sim City is a game where you build a city from the ground up, manage it, and watch it grow. Its like an introduction to urban planning, but gamified!


My teacher would only let students play Sim City* once or twice a week, as a special treat. He used the oh-so-unfair “pick a name out of a hat” method to decide who got to play. And to the dismay of my 8 year-old self, I never got picked.

Like all things in life you so want but cannot have, this early experience got me forever hooked on the game.

By the time we got a computer in our home, Maxis had released its second title Sim City 2000 *. I finally got to play to my hearts content. and that i did until I was pulled away by the family or life or the need for food. The addiction had begun. I loved that game. To build a town, watch the buildings pop up and see the people come… that was such pleasure. Later it was Sim City 3000* and Sim City 4*. Gameplay got more complex and the graphics got better, but that core joy – building a city that “lived” – was always the highlight. It didn’t exactly stop with Sim City either. I loved (and still love) those games where you got to play the architect, the mayor, the theme park manager, the leader of a great empire or – in the case of the successful Sim City spin-off “The Sims” – god.

*I have linked some demos to the various titles in case you want to have a look at the gameplay

Sims City 5 Announced

Needless to say, when I recently learned about the new Sim City release, scheduled for 2013, my heart skipped a beat! Another version to explore, to build with & to waste hours of my life (oh but hours wasted in bliss)!

Here is the trailer:

According to the specs, they have included an emphasis on environment and resource sharing among different towns. There may be an online component.. All things I am so looking forward to trying…

There is a little pre-release demo up online that you can see here.

My elementary school self is completely flipping over this!

The Sukiyaki Song

A little Japanese musical gem from the 60s!

Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki Song von Knightrdr

I am surprised I hadn’t spotted this song earlier. A little TV trivia: it was featured in the Mad Men episode “Flight 1”. You can watch the clip here!

Would love to find more 60s music from Japan. Any suggestions?

The Explosion of Gamification and the Inevitable Backlash

In the last 2 years, the word Gamification has gained a lot of traction – gracing the tongue of many a marketer/business strategist.

Originally coined in 2004, Gamification describes the inclusion of video game-like reward systems in non-gaming environments, with the goals of altering or manipulating one’s behavior. The idea is, if you want someone to behave in a certain way concerning your product or task, you should offer them pavlovian-style rewards and level-based progression (ie. leveling-up). This will keep users engaged, motivated and focused on the goal that you have set for them.

But while the word may be relatively new, the actual concept is most definitely not. For years prior to the advent and introduction of the word “Gamification”, one could find tons of literature about game principles in business and some people calling for a “Game Revolution”. Plus teachers have been giving out gold stars for good behavior for some time! And what about behavioral science, behaviorism, & pavlov’s dogs? If gamification is just the repackaging of these theories from the first half of the last century (1900-1950), what makes it so attractive? Why are managers and executives jumping over themselves to try and incorporate this into their organizations?

Well the “gamification” craze actually stems mainly from the video-game industry, an industry that has been growing steadily since the 80s. Video game developers have been working for years to find new ways to motivate gamers and keep them in the game. So with the video-game market booming, some of their in-game strategies have caught the attention of other industries and organizations. Companies, especially those in other fast-paced media-related industries, are constantly watching for the latest trend or strategy. Gamification is quite simply trending.

We have also recently seen the introduction of gamification by a number of tech companies in the fast-growing app market. These companies are in essence testing out these video game strategies in new contexts, and so far some seem to be achieving great success with them. The most widely cited example is Foursquare, a very successful mobile application where highly active users are rewarded with badges, titles and discount deals.

The benefits of gamification

In some cases the introduction of videogame-principles within a new domain has produced incredible results.  The experiment with Fold.it (as mentioned in Peter Diamandis‘ talk) offers an example of how gamification coupled with crowdsourcing can in some cases be used to solve complex scientific problems. Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding and is a part of an experimental research project developed by the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science & Department of Biochemistry. Anyone can learn how to “play”, but the puzzles that “gamer” are solving are not irrelevant. These solutions are analyzed as part of the  bio-chemical research being performed by scientists at UW. The results of some of the higher level protein folding puzzles can be used to solve “real-world” problems, such as targeting and eradicating diseases and/or creating biological innovations.

Fold.it shows that if you can break a complex problem down into many parts, then “gamify” these parts, creating small rewards for each part solved, you can motivate ordinary people to participate in solving really big problems. Without the set of rewards and the game-like feel of the program, many people never would have played and would not have provided their time and brainpower to solving these problem.

The burst of energy and excitement around gamification is most visible in Industry. Many companies are incorporating gamification into their marketing strategies in order to influence consumer habits and increase brand loyalty. On another side, there has been a boom in new start-ups offering mobile apps to help you quit smoking, exercise, eat better or generally live better using short term rewards and progress reports. Some companies are even embracing gamification internally in an attempt to get more productivity out of their employees.

But like all new trends, Gamification has been introduced, promoted, over-hyped and then torn down… all within a couple news cycles. The criticism of gamification seems to have emerged last summer, with a number of experts, bloggers and journalists changing their tones and calling it a BS trend.

So what are some of the criticisms?

Gamefication can demotivate genuinely interested individuals. As described in this article by Gabe Zichermann, children who have shown an affinity for a certain activity will sometimes loose interest in that activity once rewards or trophies are introduced. For example, if they were to have won a competition and then lost the next, their initial interest could easily die. As Zichemann puts it, they “can have that intrinsic desire extinguished by the introduction and subsequent removal of extrinsic rewards, such as trophies or cash”. Gamification in this case completely undermines their motivation to perform in the activity. So could gamification in essence promote the performance of an activity by those who don’t  truly genuinely enjoy the activity, at the expense of those that do?

What about delayed gratification? According to this New Yorker article, the Marshmallow Experiment with kids in the 60s showed that those students who delayed a reward as child, had an easier time with self-control and motivation later on. As a result they were likely to be successful on their SATs, had an easier time maintaining friendships and had fewer behavioral problems as teens. So I wonder, does the instant gratification of a reward-based strategy actually promote “good” behavior on the long term? If this is supposed to raise brand loyalty, will this loyalty actually last? New studies show that while location-based apps have a huge number of registered users, 99% of these aren’t using the service very much, only once a week or less. According to Sebastian Deterding’s great slide show (see below), this would suggest that this was “brief novelty effect burning through a large user base rather than a sustained, long-term engagement”.

Behavioral control is kinda evil, no? Well obviously it has a bad ring to it. I don’t think anyone particularly likes the idea that they are being manipulated to do what the company wants them to. I wonder if eventually this wouldn’t just make people kinda resentful. Ian Boggost explores this perspective in his blog entry about the topic, writing:

“The very point of gamification is to make the sale as easy as possible.

I’ve suggested the term “exploitationware” as a more accurate name for gamification’s true purpose, for those of us still interested in truth. Exploitationware captures gamifiers’ real intentions: a grifter’s game, pursued to capitalize on a cultural moment, through services about which they have questionable expertise, to bring about results meant to last only long enough to pad their bank accounts before the next bullshit trend comes along.”

Here is Sebastian Deterding’s presentation about the trouble with gamification:

So should we go with gamification, or not?

Look, we will likely never find a one-size fits all solution to all the worlds problems (although I know the fanatics out there wish that such a solution existed). For certain things gamification can be a huge productivity booster, for others it is completely inappropriate! Imagine a doctor working in a gamified environment! Yay, the patient lives, level up + reputation points. Boo, the patient dies, lose 5 career points and skip a turn.

So like all tools and trends, Gamification won’t necessarily work for all people or all tasks all of the time. Gamification can help with menial tasks and changing personal behavior (on the short-term). But we shouldn’t assume that this one strategy can have a sustainable impact alone. There are many other ways to motivate people to action, such as through team work, collaboration, genuine interest, belief in a project, general curiosity(as discussed in my article about the Future of Education), positive attitude about work, strong leadership, etc.

We should not reject gamification, but let’s think about it as one piece of a larger puzzle.

If we want to improve efficiency within organizations, increase customer loyalty, or change our behavior for the good, then let’s exert some of that delayed gratification – and not backflip blindly into new trends the minute they come along.