March 31, 2006

MIT C3 NEWSLETTER AND INDUSTRY UPDATE

This week.....

- Stacy L. Wood on the eroding power of celebrity
- Beth Coleman's round-up of Game Developer's Conference
- NASCAR launches meat products
- The flip-side of consumer-generated advertising

Celebrity Sabotages Celebrity?
By Stacy Wood

A U2 concert is a good place to think about celebrity. It was a lesson watching Bono take the Philips Arena in Atlanta -- a diverse audience common only in their rapt adoration -- to a fever-pitch of cheering for...debt relief for Africa! And I might have felt silly text-messaging my name to U2’s One Campaign if it weren’t that Bono’s celebrity opens bigger doors and checkbooks than my own.

Our society understands that superstars are good salespeople. The marketplace believes they sell products -- witness Nike signing LeBron James to a $90 million endorsement contract before he played a single NBA game. The academy believes they sell attitudes, ideas, and causes. Much research in behavioral fields examines the mechanics of role model influence (for a nice review see the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article “Superstars and Me: Predicting the Impact of Role Models on the Self” by Lockwood and Kunda, July 1997). Right now, celebrity seems secure as an arbiter of interest and influence in American culture. But, two trends (and maybe that U2 concert) have me wondering: Is the potency of celebrity eroding?

Celebrity is a function of fame. And, in the past, the avenues to fame were limited and strictly guarded by gatekeepers who (we trusted) allowed only the meritorious to enter. A political analyst had only so many national venues -- a dozen magazines and a handful of television stations. A rock band needed the distribution power of a national label and the blessing of MTV. Now, via the Internet, any 13 year old in rural Nebraska can start a blog, write a webzine, produce music or movies in their bedroom, and send it all out to a national audience. It’s a fast-track to being heard, to having a voice. And while one might argue that this voice is just a tiny peep among a cacophony of other voices, it still constitutes a more open road to attention and, interestingly, a self-perception in the would-be celebrity that their identity is that of a pundit, rock-star, novelist, director, or opinion leader. How do the self-published bloggers view other “real” celebrity pundits? How does a self-produced rock balladeer perceive Bono? As colleagues?

Together with increased channels to fame, combine the current American fascination with the narratives of real people. In recent research, Randy Rose and I examined the reasons behind the success of reality television programming (see “Paradox and the Search for Authenticity through Reality Television” in the September 2005 issue of Journal of Consumer Research). In reality TV, we see the embodiment of Boorstin’s “life as stagecraft” ethic. Reality television makes celebrities out of real people and, since those real people are easy for us to identify with, we see a world in which we too have those opportunities to fame. American Idol, Survivor, The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek...these are vehicles that create cultural stars who often spin their notoriety into a more lasting fame. The reality TV genre validates the elevation of regular people to celebrity. But, again, the nature of reality programming is a fast-track to fame. Kelly Clarkson is unknown in January and an idol by year-end. Is this too fast and too easy for the American public? Is the shininess of the reality TV stars dimmed by each additional reality show? Do we believe that true celebrity needs more effort and more exclusivity? Is the American perception of celebrity a case of the Protestant work ethic meets New York, New York?

These two trends, the multiplicity of media outlets and the popularity of reality programming, seem likely to shift the nature of celebrity but it is unclear what the direction (or outcomes) of that shift will be. Will the authenticity of celebrity be graded and will people be more influenced by “real” celebrities who earned that status through traditionally tougher channels (e.g., Hollywood) or unique talent (e.g., professional sports)? [This makes me think of Erik Cohen’s tourism research where authenticity is in the eye of the perceiver.] Will the mystique and giddy-making aura of celebrity be diluted for self-publishers who see themselves as small fish cohabitants of the same ponds? Or will co-member or “colleague” status make celebrities more influential through enhanced identification? The answers aren’t obvious. As Bono sings, “Some things you shouldn’t get too good at – like smiling, crying, and celebrity...some people got way too much confidence, baby.”

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Stacy L. Wood is Associate Professor of Marketing at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina.
More at http://www.convergenceculture.org/aboutc3/people.php#stacy


--------------- REPORT ---------------

It's Good To Be # 2: Game Developers Conference Round Up
By Beth Coleman

Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata, gave the hero keynote. Not only has Nintendo created a landslide win for itself with the DS portable machine, but also it has several killer games to go with it, the Brain Age being the best publicized. Iwata is a man with a vision, willing to take risks and to make fun of the industry that he is retooling. His advice, totally tongue in cheek: "listen to your board of directors." The new Revolution game system is poised to create additional love for the venerable game company. They are working innovatively yet making the most of a 20-year-old game market nostalgia. The tag line for Revolution is "Every gamer who plays. Every gamer who used to play. Even those who have yet to play. Revolution is for you." Forget whether the revolution will be televised; Nintendo is onto some once-and-future king business. Their trick is not to compete against Xbox 360 or PS3 but to handily scoop up everything else thatis not necessarily coded "hardcore" gamer. And that's the genius stroke: Nintendo has done, with Brain Age as the poster game, what everyone else is moving toward--that is redefine, i.e., expand upon, the definition of gamer, yet keep theoriginal players happy. When the marketing director of a competing game company tells me that Brain Age is the only game his wife will play we can say, "Gentlemen, we've got a hit here."

Rock stars & Rock-Paper-Scissor

This year's Independent Games Festival Audience Award, which preceded the Game Developers Choice Awards, introduced a new category to this competition of low-budget and indie development: Best Mod. This addition describes some well-timed lateral thinking in regard to what constitutes a game developer. Some of the old-school--dare we say modernist--ethos that one must hand craft every single script in a game has fallen by the wayside or at least shifted toward a world where user-generated content (UGC) is of growing importance. UGC signals emotional investment. Whether a game "makes you cry" or not, as Janet Murray phrased her talk for GDC, the thing we are looking for at this stage of the game where a high level of technicalexpertise is assumed is the strong connection. In this sense, many of the lessons of Web 2.0 can also be applied to Games 2.0. Nintendo's revival of the Sega catalogue ported onto the new terminal is a clear mark of the revaluing of the retro game look. One can see in other quarters a movement back to lower-res or even 2-D in design with the purpose of creating a specific relationship with the game world, one in which the player is literally filling in the blanks with her imagination. (Listen to Brenda Brathwaite's talk at CMS colloquium for detailed work through of this idea. Or stay tuned for my interview with her.)

P.S. In terms of intriguing independent games from IGF, the following titles are the ones to watch: Darwinia, a kind of mini- Spore; Dad'n Me, a Web-browser game; and the innovative 2-D Braid.

Will Wright, rockstar game designer -- not Rockstar, but EA -- made it abundantly clear in his vertiginous keynote that, to quote Sandra Bernhard, "Without you, I'm nothing." The UGC homily to be learned from the canny WW is that the response level to the Sims was so profound in terms of creative information sharing, pre-MMO version, that he actually built fan feedback intothe design process of Spore. "What are the monsters you want to meet on other worlds," etc.? His talk itself actually toggled between an ABC of WW development theory--research research research, demo demo demo--and his obsession with astrobiology (the investigation of life in theuniverse); all this in preparation of course for the upcoming launchof Spore. The reception to the keynote and the first looks at Spore were not received without some hater feedback ("He went too fast;" "Looks boring;" "He's a genius but not a supernova genius;" blah blah blah). But, considering how WW has previously revolutionized game play in every aspect, let's wait to see Spore before sending the old mare out to pasture.

On the subject of UGC, it is Philip Rosedale of Second Life who is the current prince of the ever-expanding boarder of game world. He spoke as part of the Serious Games summit at GDC. His company, Linden Lab, has sent a provocation through multiples worlds in establishing a high-graphic virtual world wherein everything is owned and created by the user. The value of the Linden $, how much money has been exchanged in-world with strong exchange rate with out-world (U.S. $), has been obsessively documented in venues outside of traditional game reporting. With the most recent user countat 160,000 and the numbers now growing at an accelerated pace, people are sniffing ashift in the wind with this one. SL is still, numerically speaking, a micro-niche, but the serious ambition of the model is what impresses. The turn-of-the-screw regarding SL is that other media groups (and we are not at all onlylimiting ourselves to video games) need to come to grips with the radical notion of non-proprietary living.

In the rock-paper-scissor game world UGC beats IP and smashes DRM. Which, by the way, is not the same thing as saying it is profit-free enterprise. Can companies risk "fans" seriously talking back?

My thanks to Mike Garrison of MTV Networks, Philip Rosedale of Linden Lab, and Ichiro Otobe of Square Enix for the set-ups, feedback, and sly analogies.

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Beth Coleman is C3 faculty director of game culture and mobile media initiatives. More at: http://www.convergenceculture.net/aboutc3/people.html#beth
Catch Beth live and in person at the C3 Conference at MIT, 27-29 April 2006.


--------------- TRANSMEDIA ---------------

-- Superman Returns will be released in part in IMAX 3D, using a proprietary 2D-to-3D conversion system.
http://www.corporateir.net/ireye/ir_site.zhtml?ticker=IMAX&script=410&layout=-6&item_id=837144

-- NASCAR has launched a line of branded meat products.
http://www.boingboing.net/2006/03/30/moment_of_adversyner.html

-- Credit card companies and game makers will reward their customers who spend money in the real world using private label "rewards" credit cards. They will use gifts of virtual currency such as Blizzard's World of Warcraft gold and Second Life's Linden dollars.
http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2006/03/the_future_of_credit_cards_ear.html

-- TV networks are tapping into the talent pool of web video makers.
http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2006/03/26/clip_and_play/

-- The American Composers Orchestra plans to raise money for its young-composer and educational programs, with a charity auction, including exclusive ringtones that have been created for mobile phones by ten artists.
http://www.moconews.net/?p=5607

-- Chinese regulators said they would not allow Rolling Stone to publish its second Chinese issue after a 125,000-copy roll-out that broke numerous rules.
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-fg-stone30mar30,1,275115.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

--------------- STATS ---------------

-- Nearly one in four web users watch online video at least once a week and nearly half do so at least once a month.
http://www.marketingvox.com/archives/2006/03/30/twothirds_of_web_users_have_watched_online_vids_and_video_ads/?rss1

-- According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Bridge Data, the relevance of portability to podcast usage has been vastly overstated. In fact, more 80% of podcast downloads never make it to a portable player or another device - they are consumed on the PC.
http://news.designtechnica.com/talkback109.html

-- Research from America Online (AOL) has found that females over 40 years old spend the most time per week playing online games at 9.1 hours, which accounts for 41 percent of their connection time. Comparatively, teens spend 7.4 hours per week playing games, while females under 40 log 6.2 hours.
http://www.clickz.com/stats/sectors/demographics/article.php/3312301

--------------- ADVERTISING ---------------

-- Detroit Free Press writes about advertisers tapping their costumers' creativity.
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060327/BUSINESS07/603270382/1020/BUSINESS

-- General Motors has launched a website that invites viewers to create their own commercial for Chevy Tahoe by putting together pre-canned video clips and music, and some people are using this opportunity to express their views on American politics.
http://aramsinnreich.typepad.com/radar_waves/marketing_and_advertising/index.html


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Compiled by Ilya, Sam, Alec, Geoff, Ivan and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (ivv@mit.edu)
http://www.convergenceculture.org

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