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Summary:

Jesse Schell, founder of Schell Games and former creative director of the Disney’s Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio, at the DICE 2010 conference gave a presentation about the future of games. He could very well be talking about the future of technology itself. Watch the video.

Forget everything you did today. Clear your schedule and spend the next half hour watching this video. It’s a presentation by Jesse Schell, founder of Schell Games and former creative director of the Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio. A veteran game designer, he is also on the faculty of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

In a talk at the DICE 2010 conference held last week in Las Vegas, he gave a presentation called Design Outside the Box. It is the most mind-blowing thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. And while this presentation was about the future of games, Schell could very well be talking about the future of technology.

Schell, in a very articulate manner, weaves together various technologies — from the social web to reality television to the iPhone to geolocation data — and lays out the future as he sees it. And I buy it. He talks in particular about how no one saw Facebook games coming, and why they threw many people into a panic.

He quips that “there are more Farmville than there are Twitter accounts” and that in Facebook you “pay real money to get virtual money.” From the Playfish acquisition to billions of dollars in revenue generated by WiiFit and Guitar Hero, he talks about how the new games are essentially “psychological tricks.” For instance, Club Penguin offered everything free, including free virtual currency, but in order to spend the virtual money you needed to go to a store where you paid real money.

Schell points out that the future of games is in finding psychological angles and making experiences based in reality. If the past of games was about fantasy, today’s games are about reality (not realism), much like our collective obsession with reality TV.

Schell talks about why technological convergence is a total myth. Technologies are like species on the Galapagos islands, and like them they diverge. Of course, there are exceptions — such as the iPad, which is essentially a new kind of Swiss Army knife. It works as a Swiss Army knife because it fits in your pocket. In comparison, the iPad is stupid because it’s essentially a giant Swiss Army knife that doesn’t fit in your pocket.

I can go on and sum up the entire talk, but you should just watch it. I would never be able to do justice to its brilliance. (Hat tip. #)

  1. I watched the entire thing from start to finish and the last 8 minutes had me slack-jawed in amazement. When he described all the points and incentives we were earning from walking, taking the bus, high-fiving your buddy, I could see myself doing all of those things. Gowalla, Foursquare, MyTown, Waze, Traveller’s Quest are all a part of my daily life and that’s just iPhone stuff. The Weight Watchers part was great. Our lives are turning into games because of the instant gratification they provide. It’s no wonder my students (I teach elementary school), don’t want to wait for anything: they are used to getting everything now. This could be dangerous…

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    1. I think it represents a bigger challenge — it represents what I think is the future of engagement. What that means is that in the near future we are going to see how the advertising is going to be redefined — completely. The traditional idea of brand advertising is about to be transformed.

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      1. I just hope the future of advertising isn’t some augmented reality mashup of Yelp Monocole and Foursquare like in Minority Report. Or that we end up like the sloth humans in Wall-E.
        I did like how he ended the talk with it talking about shaping our behavior for the good: walking, taking public transportation, reading quality books.

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  2. I think there is one BIG FLAW on the whole concept. It will never happen because we will never give up our PRIVACY.

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    1. Tell that to Facebook’s 300MM users, 40% of whom probably have their privacy settings “wide open”, and the Foursquare/Gowalla types who happily broadcast their every footstep.

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      1. I have a new faceplace birthday every two or three weeks…. it’s the best thing EVER!

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  3. Does anyone know where I can get one of those Swiss Army Kitchen sets?

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  4. I think it’s bigger than that. Millions of people manage very complex transactions in the course of playing these games. They interact with people and the results of those interactions give rise to things IN the game, BUT, the real benefit is if we turn reality into a game. Use real world data and generate virtual effects, use virtual actions to create real world effects.
    E.g. how do I manage 50,000 customers and keep them satisfied? What are the tools I have to do it? What behaviours am I seeing currently in the customer base? Ever managed a virtual farm online?

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  5. I do not this this coming, peolpe get bored by all these kinds of bonus and point systems … a few exceptions, weight wachtchers for instance, the point system works because it tells you whether u r on track … but its still the track of becoming thin that people are intereseted in. So the point is, that a system that gratifys your eagerness, only works if its for a long term goal that seems to be desirable … honestly, no one would read a book through, if you find it borig right from the beginning only to get some bonus points that could save you some dollar. ok ok, kids gets distracted from a lot of things, but grown ups don´t get fooled that easily

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  6. Entertainment is all about new experiences.

    I hate the term outside the box. Thinking outside the box. Designing outside the box.

    That’s what thinking and design are by default – outside the box.

    Otherwise it’s not design or thinking. It’s just following a blueprint.

    What’s a bit scary is this guy is envisioning a world where we are all digital junkies.

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    1. Wont we be though? Generations will pass on and keep passing on. Kids now adays all have their electronics and their lives will only get more intertwined with technology. Of course Im not talking about third world countries.

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  7. Let’s have a look:

    Anybody seen Typewriters, Calculators, Transparencies (military called them FOILS) with projector lately?

    So much for the argument of convergence as a myth. Convergence is a function of available CPU power and software advances.

    Not meant personal Om. But how complex would the back end system be to allow you to participate and survive a system driven by Game designers, Food industry and Pharmaceutical industry? Point is, even common heart disease becomes pretty personal pretty fast, like anything else. How secure has it to be, or am I allowed to have some fun with your “guidance” system if I don’t like an article? And people think buzz was a screw up.

    I don’t want to go into his arm chair psychology. Let’s just say I’m not impressed, with the whole thing.

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  8. Fascinating to hear, but there’s NO WAY I’d want to live in that future. I still believe that most of things you do should be done because they should be done, not because some advertising agency will give you 100 bonus points for them.

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  9. Wow that video was really inspiring. Thank you for posting it.

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  10. I can imagine a time when commercial interests and public interests converge to promote individual behaviors that lead people to act as better citizens of their town, country, and planet. Having your life become an ongoing game could be one way it happens. Even the most severe libertarians could find nothing to object to if individual behaviors that add social value were objectively tracked and rewarded. It distills “rugged individualism” to its absolute essence-your contribution to society (as a consumer or as an involved citizen) will be precisely measured.

    I imagine most people will want a “time out” option, though, so they can go eat a cheeseburger, down a scotch, or go into finance and design the next generation of securitized subprime mortgages and credit default swaps.

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  11. Jesse seems to contradict himself. He says people are desperately searching out “real” stuff today yet we will soon have all actions driven because of points we can gain and as determined by corporations? How real a life is that?

    Talk to anyone in HR and they’ll tell you carrot/stick systems have their limits and also can have very bad, unforseen outcomes (Wall Street).

    Perhaps I’m not forward thinking enough but I think Jesse has taken a few smart observations and turned it into an unsupportable thesis. Om, while it’s fine to be a supporter of the vision I’d expect that as a journalist you’d at least explore possible flaws in the theory.

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  12. Camera guy, you suck.

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  13. @arjun,
    A secret plot is unfolding here: finding flaws is your job. This is the internet, not journalism. =:-)

    @dude,
    Director sucks. Camera guys (2 of them) point where the director tells them. Actually, the slides kind of suck anyway.

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  14. What a horrible dystopian vision of the future.

    Seriously, this is meant to inspire?

    Might make a nice cautionary tale of a short film, but that’s about it.

    • bleah
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  15. The interesting thing about Jesse’s presentation is that is suggests the creation of a new virtual currency. Imagine that this ‘point system’ he envisions is universal and persistent, perhaps based on a single platform solution (Facebook), or perhaps through some agreed-upon standard. From there it is easy to imagine a thriving trade in points, much as most virtual currencies are traded. This is inevitable given that in any point system that creates value some will want to develop the appearance of achievement without having invested the time to actually achieve anything. The more persistent and pervasive is this ‘point system’ the more quickly demand for raising one’s score will rise. From there it’s easy to imagine allowing people to ‘buy points’, and it’s a very short hop from there to allow people to ‘mortgage’ or directly sell points in order to make ends meet, or, barring that, trade points in for the staples of daily life. At that point one would suspect that the IRS would develop a vested interest in this system (not to mention the Federal Bank).

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  16. “Of course, there are exceptions — such as the iPad, which is essentially a new kind of Swiss Army knife. It works as a Swiss Army knife because it fits in your pocket. In comparison, the iPad is stupid because it’s essentially a giant Swiss Army knife that doesn’t fit in your pocket.”

    Did you mean “iPhone” there?

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  17. The model for this supposedly inevitable future seems to be current successful “psychological tricks” which are really nothing more than deceptive advertising practices, marketed especially to children and anybody who can be tricked into acting against their own self-interest.

    I love games — traditional games which I choose to play when I want to, and which do NOT interface in any way with my real life — partly because I can choose when I play and when I don’t, and which ones to participate in and which ones NOT to, and when I want to compete and score big and when I just want to mess around. One of the many reasons the future described in this talk is so terrifying and depressing is because I am apparently enrolled in all these games without my consent, and I am forced (by my employer, corporations, and even the government) to compete against others I have no interest in competing against. And while some of those agents forcing me into playing games against my will may claim to have my best interests at heart, some of them manifestly DON’T… they are simply interested in parting me from my money as efficiently as possible.

    Rather than making use of this kind of mind control via coercion and deception, the government should be outlawing it :/

    I believe and hope, however, that in fact this grim future is NOT inevitable… because as many people as there may be who play Farmville, there are more who could but DON’T. You can study the demographics of the players all you want, but that won’t tell you anything about the people who don’t play. Not everybody is a sheep lining up to be led to the slaughter.

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  18. After watching the entire vedio,to me it’s all about future
    advertising,creation of a new virtual currency,really inspiring vedio.

    Thanks for Sharing

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  19. Watched all of it, thanks man.

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  20. Forgoe the privacy argument… security would be primary concern and not just for the people using this new technology but for the companies who adopt it… people hack point structured systems all the time. (Tax fraud), old school game genie, aim bots etc… Imagine if you can actually gain real monetary value for learning how to hack a heart rate monitor or some rem sleep advertisement software… i wouldn’t go to work anymore,, id sell tutorials how to compromise that stuff and then act as a consultant to those companies… thats where the real market would be :D

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  21. Thanks for this. I haven’t yet seen the vid but the premise as you describe it makes perfect sense to me. Many of our current tools, twitter in particular, permit communication of a sort but lack closure and want for responsiveness. And designed as they are for an open state of talk, for saying what you will, they’re unstructured.

    Games provide structure, and in that, the possibility for play and for creative communication. Structure enables as well as it constrains. And further still, it puts relationships into play — allowing users to reference their relationships, interpersonally or within group contexts, for communication purposes. And when games become ritual they contribute to socialities, serving as an community or social resource that supplies different ways to interact, communicate, and a mechanism for keeping state.

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  22. It bugs me when comedians rip off Mitch Hedberg’s shtick. It’s just that much worse when an ex- Disney Imagineer does it. Mitch is making jokes about you in heaven…

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  23. Fascinating.

    One comment: there’s a typo in this sentence. Should be “iPhone” not “iPad.”

    “Of course, there are exceptions — such as the iPad, which is essentially a new kind of Swiss Army knife.”

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  24. Very insightful. It leads me to believe that these games won’t be the hottest commodity around, it will be privacy.

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  25. What’s really concerning about life being a game is who controls the points. The incentives are there, sure, but who decides the morality? Who determines what constitutes a “good” person? Why would some activities be incentivized while others ignored? Who’s to say that sitting and thinking isn’t worth some points?

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  26. Does my lack of obsession with reality TV mean the next decade of entertainment is going to annoy me?

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  27. thanks for the bonus points for watching this video!
    i just leveled up! :P

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  28. Thanks for that fascinating video, Om. Now I have a legitimate reason to commit suicide.

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  29. Great video. Take two of his basic assumptions: technology divergence and well-designed achievements and game systems. Isn’t it inevitable that game systems will diverge too? The next great play: game incentive system aggregators.

    At some point, if these are well integrated with our lives, they are getting pretty close to defining and motivating ‘right living’, otherwise known as religion.

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    1. I thought the same thing – a system of arbitrary ‘points’, defined by some external authority, which leads to rewards for correct behaviour…definitely a religion by another name…and unfortunately like religion, it will probably only have a patchy rate of success in making people lead better lives.

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  30. I couldn’t quite tell if the last section, about playing games for points in every area of your life, was just a deep satire on consumerism. Imagine how horrible it would be to have to compete for points at every point through the day – far from making you a “better person” it would simply make you better at consuming advertising and products.

    The fact that people are taking this vision seriously, with only a handful saying it’s a dystopia not utopia, is even more scary. Jesse Schell is a smart guy, and I hope this was a satirical statement only, but from the way he presented it I don’t think so.

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  31. Brandon Kelly Monday, April 5, 2010

    This whole vision, while quite interesting, would allow the higest bidder to influence human behavior. Unfortunately, the highest bidders are probably not aligned with what’s right for the environment, nature, good health and stress free living.

    This vision will only propogate the Generica world we live in more rapidly. Instead, people need to get outside more. Take a bike ride and enjoy the fresh air while it still exists.

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  32. There are, actually, three things preventing this future: battery density (too low), plastics (petroleum scarcity), and, psychologically, people aren’t willing to participate in social networks to that extent.

    The psychological rewards for game performance can and will go down over time, as the effect is essentially endorphin based, and like all drugs, the effect decreases with repetitive use.

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  33. The most curious thing about Jesse’s presentation is that is suggests the creation of a new virtual currency. Just Imagine that this ‘point system’ he envisions is universal and persistent, perhaps based on a single platform solution (Facebook), or perhaps through some agreed-upon standard.

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  34. Una perla per chi ha seguito il #filog sulla Gamification, guardatevi questo video strepitoso! @DAccademia http://t.co/rIszpxQU

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  35. RT @vla23: Una perla per chi ha seguito il #filog sulla Gamification, guardatevi questo video strepitoso! @DAccademia http://t.co/rIszpxQU

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  36. #watching Video: Reality TV, the iPhone & the Future of Technology — Why It’s All a Game — http://t.co/BMU4Eywx via @vla23

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